Games Based Learning- Engagement in the Classroom

Welp here we go- this may be my longest, yet most important post ever,

I am a bit on the spastic side when it comes to my interests- personally and professionally. I like a lot of engaging causes and research and get as involved as I can in many of them.  I currently teach Forensic Science, Earth Science, Marine Biology, and Water in the Environment to 8th-12th graders at an all girls school (it is fun, challenging and a great experience- with many funny stories of course).  Back to the point- For about two years now, I have been reading about, watching TED and YouTube videos and presentations along with taking Coursera courses on Games(Gamification of Business with Kevin Wherbach and most recently Video Games and Learning with Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire-highly recommend both) which led me to pursue a part-time consulting position as a Subject Matter Expert at a local Educational Game Company.

As a Science Teacher, you hope that students can really experience Science in myriad ways before they graduate. There are so many experiences available in Science careers that covering material at Bloom's levels 1 and 2 cannot provide. The ways to engage students have changed, I wish I could say that it is in process of changing, however the students are different now, the teachers, administrators, state and national Departments of Education and instructional companies need to understand this. The students should not have to wait for adults to come around to the idea that education's primary goal for all of human history has been to communicate collective knowledge from generation to generation. This has changed. Simply and completely. Students now crave the skills and thinking strategies necessary to analyze and create content from information they are able to access across platforms in seconds. As a teacher, I feel my charge is to create a new attitude toward my role, foster, and engage students in all levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy, from Remembering to Creating.  Teachers and students right now are in transition across all levels of education and training in the work place.  Teachers are still being held accountable in many states and by No Child Left Behind legislation remnants to get students to the lowest levels of thinking-which is the memorization of facts.  Memorization will not and cannot continue to be the main goal of our country's education system. I am tired of seeing advertisements in all media platforms about how behind we are in Math and Science- We are behind because of standards that placed handcuffs on students and teachers to aim for the lowest levels of thinking and engagement. Children are built to learn, their brains are wired for learning in different ways, but the most important need of the brain is engagement. When anyone's brain is engaged, learning occurs naturally.  The concept of Flow- although hard to achieve in any school schedule as students move around to different classes throughout a day- can be introduced, practiced, and encouraged in the school environment when students are intrinsically motivated to succeed.

 I have heard the shortcomings of the U.S. being trumpeted from many media outlets. I look at this data and wonder if/how much other countries prepare students for the assessment used to compare students internationally- the PISA assessment- vs how U.S. students are prepared for it. Should the U.S. be focusing on PISA or continue with our current testing options- (SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT etc.) I happened to see that Forbes published an article today, Non-Scientific I realize, yet it included valid arguments and some data that is intriguing Could Falling Test Scores Be a Good Thing for the U.S.?. The piece about the GEM(Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) assessment is fantastic, showing an inverse result versus the PISA and creativity/problem solving. As we move away from the Regents exam here at Mercy, should we be celebrating that America, seemingly is being America. Fostering creativity, promoting problem solving, preparing students and the workforce to solve the problems of the future that we are not yet aware of?
Four years ago, as Department Curriculum Leader, I decided to take over our department's most feared class by teachers. It consisted of junior students that did not meet the prerequisites to move up to higher level science courses. The class was passed around each year and seen as more of a burden to each teacher and a necessary evil for most students, as they needed the class to satisfy their Science requirement for graduation.  I decided to take on the class as the department leader and make it into a desirable and enjoyable science elective(we had no other electives at that time).  I was able to secure a grant with the help of our media and relations specialist and an extremely forward thinking and enthusiastic local grant. The class became three classes in one. Beginning with Water in our environment-a special 8 week beginning to the class to raise awareness of the global water situation, water wars that have taken place, and examining how we treat our local water resources every day.  Marine Biology is our next 10 weeks, examining the animals and water of the ocean.  For 22 weeks we look at Forensic Sciences, from laboratory tests and techniques, to solving crimes and case studies. This is where the games came in.  As we examined another chapter in our textbook and I watched another episode of any of the hundreds of crime shows out there, I thought there has to be a different way to engage the students.  I had thought of this many times before as I have been playing games since I can remember- euchre at family gatherings, games with my parents- Life, Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, Trouble, Millionaire(local version of Monopoly) and also video games. My father and uncle had an Atari from before I was born in the early 1980's.  I remember playing all these games growing up, taking those ideas and creating games with friends and cousins outside or in other play spaces and playing sports growing up.  Games are an important part of many people's lives. In my classes 92% of students reported playing a game in the current month, 15% reported playing some type of game for 15 hours or more per week and another 23% reported playing games between 10 hours and 14.99 hours per week.  Games are a part of almost everyone's life. In any form, board game, card game, video game, sports, phys ed class, making up games with friends and family, games are everywhere. It was time to explore games in the classroom. The biggest obstacle- games in the classroom- ironic right? Whether you have ever thought about games as serious learning tools or not, I now smile, as I did on the day I first watched James Paul Gee discuss games shaping learning. I still love the look on student faces when I say we are going to play Clue together in class! They light up! Then confused or suspicious that this is type of trick.  Asking,"Wait-Really?" I date my movie preferences responding- "Really, Really."(Shrek) Then they get excited- truly excited. Seriously, it is a sight to behold.  We review the Bloom's Levels and where Clue might be on the levels.  Realizing that some students have not yet played Clue, we discuss the general premise and how it fits into our Forensic Sciences unit. We can look for and look at evidence all day, but if students do not know how to marshal an argument from the evidence to catch the perpetrator, then I am doing them a disservice.  Focusing on thinking about cases, creating systems to track evidence gives students opportunities to create their own understanding- along with trying to win the game. We play through one game of Clue DVD- excellent version- I recommend it highly- to allow students to engage with the game, learn the rules and to create strategies for themselves.  Once we conclude this game- then the Scientific Method is brought in to continue playing following this, students create a laboratory report analyzing their strategic hypothesis and data. Students then reworked their process and hypothesis to make it more accurate while playing.

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