Game-based learning has deep roots in digital programs, including “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and “The Oregon Trail,” and trusted classics such as chess. As teachers try to incorporate the most useful educational tools, can today’s STEM students benefit from game-based learning?

Thinking back to class in the 1980s, computer lab was a time for educational electronic games, which simply seemed fun, and in class, game-day Mathopoly was always a hit. Though today’s teachers can still remember walking into the air-conditioned computer lab, or choosing a favorite board game for game-based learning, times have changed. As technology advanced, it seems games and gadgets became a nuisance in classrooms, as teachers fought against these promising educational tools that turned into distractions when used improperly by students. Stringent board of education policies might also cut into educational game time in the classroom that was once thought to be innovative and pioneering.

The challenges presented through game-based learning allow students to use problem solving through experiential practices. Rather than memorizing formulas, students build an understanding regarding how to implement concepts to solve problems and apply them to real-world issues.

In her 2012 paper “Beyond Textbooks and Lectures: Digital Game-Based Learning In STEM Subjects,” written for the Center for Excellence in Education, Sarina Rapini revealed that game-based education is a useful educational tool that is experiencing a resurgence.

“Reading about the greenhouse effect or static equilibrium can only explain so much until one understands how those concepts operate and fit into the surrounding world…Games encourage students to make their own experiments and hypotheses without a strict or set direction, which make them perfect for STEM subjects. Games give life to definitions and abstract concepts by letting the player experience them.”

Game-Based Learning

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By incorporating the following practices within the classroom, you can bring game-based learning back to your middle- and high-school STEM students:

  • Always be prepared For students, learning is a process of trial and error. The same could be said of successfully teaching through game-based learning. A game that works for girls in math might not appeal to their male classmates. Plan lessons with fun math games that cover similar concepts and organize students into groups whose members will benefit the most through a particular game.
  • Play with your friends Game-based learning has found its way into many teaching programs around the world. Schools such as MIT and education departments such as Education Scotland are helping teachers and education-degree candidates implement game-based learning in their classrooms. By reaching out to colleagues around the globe, STEM educators in the United States can find camaraderie and learn how to implement game-based learning within their own classrooms.
  • Don’t forget the fun! Learning should be fun and kids will respond to a teacher’s excitement. While they might seem a little silly – or even crazy – those quirky middle- and high-school teachers who are excited about their lessons and teach concepts in a distinctive manner are the most memorable. Students will respond when an educator allows their love of teaching to shine through in the classroom!

Once students discover the fun of STEM through game-based learning, show them how they can channel a passion for math into a fascinating career.

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