reconsidering games

"I'm thinking of quitting the Pen Pal networks, Paul."

"I think it's a mistake.  It's imperfect, I understand.  But you're imperfect.  Hell, sometimes your verb tense is imperfect, do you abandon that?"

"It's just that it's become a place of games.  Join my Agribusiness.  Engage in organized crime with me.  Tell me where you are and we'll play four square together.  I joined the Pen Pal networks to engage in a conversation about learning."

"Do you want to know the people your so-called PLN?"

"On some level, yes."

"Then you have to play.  Think about it for a moment.  In your neighborhood, do children meet together and sip tea or do they play first?"

"They play."

"Why is that?"

"It could be emotional immaturity. Or it could be that they learn something from each other.  Maybe cooperation.  Maybe decision-making.  Maybe it's what helps them clarify roles."

"Exactly.  So consider this: what if games are a natural phenomenon?  What if they are a part of how we train for life?  And what if adults still need some training?  And what if it is a part of how we get to know each other?  Wouldn't that deeply human process be a part of a Pen Pal network?"

"Games just seem shallow."

"So, sit out and stay on the sidelines.  Enjoy your philosophical interaction.  But don't get elitist about games. There's a depth to them that you miss when you dismiss it all as shallow."

For what it's worth, I have no intention of joining a make-believe mafia or a pretend agribusiness. Still, it has me thinking about my class. It has me wondering whether there is educational value in using games in the classroom.  Don't get me wrong, I don't want to use another Word Search or Tic Tac Toe.  Both are pencil-based, but based only on rote skill review.  But I'm wondering if there is a value in playing pretend, interacting with one another and using a pencil-based game in learning.

So, PLN, I'm curious about your take on games in the classroom.  What games do you use in the classroom?  What games allow for deeper thought?  Is there a danger in competition?  Or can competition be a valuable tool for learning?  Is there a difference between games and simulations?


  1. This was a valuable topic. Where is the discussion on simulation games and roll-playing among us? I am not the master game player in the classroom. We do this occasionally, but I know I could incorporate far more into the day. As you point out, games need not simply reinforce knowledge and comprehension. I used to play more simulations with my class: I modified Monopoly to demonstrate market and command economies. I created risk boards of the Roman Empire to explore imperialism. Your article reminds me that I am not tapping into game play very well right now with my fourth and fifth graders. I know they would be up to a few games.

    Games can be so competitive though. They exemplify the serious game of grades our kids pal even when individuals like Joe Bower (or myself) work to eradicate them from their classroom. I gravitate toward cooperative games or games challenging individual performance.

    I wonder what #edgames would net me on Twitter? Nothing apparently.

  2. Games = Simulations

    The more real the better. Outcomes that matter are key.

    Competition is good, not bad. People (kids included) yearn for competition, and they will create competition out of the silliest things if you try to take it away from them. Don't take it away, use it to your advantage.

  3. Eric Biederbeck7:13:00 PM

    My math class is pretty much games based- kids play rummy, memory, and other games to help them grasp ideas of fractions, decimals, geometry, number sense, and so on. And I haven't talked about the probability unit! I've found that kids will often mention these games to their teachers the next year or year after when they are reviewing a concept or doing something that involves one of the concepts I've taught them. Obviously this suggests that those games have helped them really learn the concept so there must be something useful about them! On a side note, I do have to be very explicit in explaining the rules to the students. It amazes me that students do not know the rules of rummy at my grade (6th grade) a game that I used to play with my parents (in the 80s) all the time.

    In science, I've used simulations as part of our life science unit and again, teachers tell me about my students citing these simulations when they are reviewing, etc in future years. I think the active part of them must do something for some students that allows them to hold on to that learning.

    I can't possibly see teaching without games and simulations and not just because I have a lot of fun with them too!


  4. As I am transitioning from working in game design to working in education, I have more to say on this than will fit in a comment. Here's a few of my thoughts.

    Yes, I intend to use games in my classroom. How one would use games in a classroom would depend a lot on the subject. I think games lend themselves well to teaching math since both games and math are, at their core, abstractions and models of reality.

    Doing a mathematical analysis on even a simple game can lead to deep thinking. Consider how many possible ways a game of tic-tac-toe can be played, and you're talking about combinatorics and symmetry and game theory (which has far less to do with games than one would think for the name).

    To a game designer, the big difference between games and simulations is that games have goals (get the most victory points, earn 10,000 credits, rescue the princess, etc.). In a classroom, this distinction may matter less, since the real or meta goal is to learn something from playing a game rather than to win the game.