When I was in middle and high school, I earned bad grades. They were bad enough for me to be kicked out of my magnet high school. They did let me back in, and eventually, I got it together. However even in those down years there was one bright spot on my report card… history. I did have great history teachers, some that I even keep in contact with today. My love for history started somewhere else, Age of Empires. Age of Empires is a real time strategy game where you play as a civilization on a map and try to conquer the other civilizations. The ins and outs of the game are not super important, but it suffices to say that you have the option of playing campaigns that mirror real history. Those long nights I spent in front of the computer pretending to be Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great actually prepared me well for history class. It’s not like all of the content I needed to know was in the cutscenes of the game, but it gave me a base of prior knowledge and an interest in filing in the gaps.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the same is true of many kids today. When I teach the American Revolution, without exception there are kids who reference Assassin’s Creed III, a game where that war was the backdrop of the plotline.
This has extended to other subjects I have taught, too. In English, I had a student that hated reading but would read any amount of text if put in the context of a role-playing-game. While teaching math during e-learning, it is my job to monitor student internet usage and close tabs that are not directly related to the work at hand. The most common site I close is Prodigy, a math game that I showed them at the beginning of online learning to keep them busy.
All of this begs the question: Why don’t we lean into this? Why don’t we use games more? And as far as I can tell … the answer is because it doesn’t feel right. People feel like if the learning is fun and engaging then they aren’t really learning. More specifically, that it’s not preparing them for real-world application of the skills. It is true that the history tests they take won’t be a real-time-strategy game and the math test they take won’t be an RPG. However, I would prefer to fight the battle of getting them to concentrate on something boring for a few hours at a time with content they know, as opposed to boring them to the point where they never learned the content to begin with.
Nobody is saying that we should replace school with some online videogame. (Though if the results were there I would not be opposed). I am saying we should utilize student’s natural desire for fun and engaging games to hook them on learning. We shouldn’t be so set in our ways to deny them that opportunity just because it didn’t exist to the same extent when we were in school.