A recent Joan Ganz Cooney Center survey of 500 educators found that half of all kindergarten through eighth grade teachers are now regularly using digital games in the classroom.
As part of my work to develop educational math games, we established a process for creation and educational integrity. Here are the five areas we evaluated that teachers can also consider when trying to determine what games to offer their students.
1. Define the Learning Objective
2. Describe the Learning Mechanic
The learning mechanic represents the actions we want students to take that will reinforce the learning objective. If our primary learning objective, for instance, is improved speed and accuracy, then we might want the learning mechanic to include an element of time.
3. Imagine What Students are Thinking
This element of the design might be the most critical. What do we want going through students’ heads as they are playing the game? Is it a quick retrieval process?
4. Pick a Game Mechanic
What’s the difference between a learning mechanic and a game mechanic? It’s important to the know the difference. Professional game designers have a lexicon for gaming elements that’s incredibly robust. They look at a learning mechanic of, for example, selecting the correct objects from a pool to match a target and come up with dozens of games built around that action. The games might include timers and a goal of clearing a board. Or they might involve collecting as many matches as possible while avoiding unwanted objects. We chose a clear-the-board game mechanic as the central focus.
5. Create a Theme Where the Mechanic Can Exist
Clearing the board can happen anywhere. It can be a somewhat familiar space, like an arcade where you pop balloons with a BB gun or a dirty floor where you mop up selected tiles. On the other hand, the space where the learning action occurs can be inventive and strange. Angry Birds being catapulted into space is not based on a familiar and real setting. It’s invented, and its originality is part of the draw.
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