As an elementary teacher, I try to make learning fun and engaging for my students. I look for opportunities to bring games into my instruction because that’s something that students love. Every day I use games as part of my 20 to 30 minute math RTI (Response to Intervention) block. The games the students play require them to use and practice the same math skills we work on in our math lessons. Some of the games are digital games, but I also use a lot of board games. My students love having the chance to play games each day. It disguises the fact that they are “learning” because it feels like we’re just playing a game.
The same thing can happen with digital games in the classroom. I came across a video by Common Sense Education that gave some tips for using games for learning. One of the tips that stood out to me was “treat games as experiences, not instruction,” (Common Sense Education, 2016). I thought that this tip made a lot of sense specifically when trying to justify use of a game in the classroom. Games should not be a replacement for instruction. That is the job of the teacher. Games should be used to enhance instruction and enable students to gain experience with the subject matter.
Rebekah Stathakis an author and world languages teacher wrote an article for the website Education World that gave more good reasons for bringing games into education. One thing she said was that “students learn through the process of playing the game,” (Stathakis, 2013). This has a lot of truth to it. Students learn when they play video games on their own time. They learn how to do things and learn from their mistakes. By bringing games into the classroom, students can work and learn in low-stakes environments while still having the chance to learn. Stathakis also presented another reason for using games in the classroom that I thought was spot on. She said that “students build a variety of connections with content and can form positive memories of learning” while playing games (Stathakis, 2013). Making positive memories of learning stood out to me. I think that it’s important to always help students feel positively about what they are learning. For the most part, people play games with the intent of being happy. By bringing games into the classroom, students should feel happier thoughts towards the content and as a result, retain the content better.
In my second grade class, it is challenging to find and use digital games in English Language Arts. My experience incorporating games into my ELA instruction is very limited. There is a website called SpellingCity.com that has games for students to practice their spelling words. I put up the lists for the school year, and students can get online and practice whenever they want. I have used the games as part of my centers rotation and as an activity for students when they finish their online quizzes in the computer lab each week.
Another digital game that I have used with my students is a reading intervention program called IStation. It uses a variety of games and activities to help remediate or advance students in reading. The games in the program are isolated activities that do not connect to an overall goal. My students enjoy playing the games, though there are other games they would rather play.
In my experience with digital games in the classroom, I have found and used the most games in math. It seems like it’s either easier or more needed to make games for mathematics. Two math game sites I use with my class are Reflex math and Prodigy Math. Reflex is a fact fluency practice program where students answer basic math facts to play mini games similar to something they might play on a tablet or iPod. Prodigy Math is a turn based battle game where students answer math CCSS aligned questions to cast spells and defeat enemies. I incorporate both of these games into my daily math routines so students have 20 or so minutes to play games to reinforce the math topics they need.
Overall, I am all for using games in the classroom. Any way I can get my students interacting with and using the content is a win in my book. Games hold students attention and engage them in ways that practice pages cannot. Games should be one more tool that teacher have in their toolbox to reach students.
Common Sense Education. “Using Games in the Classroom.” YouTube, 22 Dec. 2016, youtu.be/o6IELVV2xLQ.
Stathakis, R. (2013). Five Reasons to Use Games in the Classroom. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/reasons-to-play-games-in-the-classroom.shtml