GlassLab Working on Next Generation of Educational Gaming

Kids will soon be able to play six educational video games that developed by GlassLab, a nonprofit video game development group in California. The game development group is based at the California campus of publishing powerhouse Electronic Arts (EA) and has received a $10.3 million grant to create video games that they expect will change the way kids learn.

Designers at GlassLab have teamed up with educators and scientists to create the next generation of educational video games that can teach skills and concepts beyond rote memorization. Kids will be able to learn how to construct a wind plant and how to build a solar power plant in a virtual world, writes Sarah Butrymowicz of The Hechinger Report.

Kids are already playing video games in the classroom, but in the majority of schools, video games are used sparingly if at all. Most classroom video games are little more than glorified worksheets or dressed-up drill-and-kill test prep.

“[We’re] working toward this dream that we won’t be taking a test, but we’ll just know from your learning and game play how you’re doing,” said Kurt Squire, director of the Games Learning  Society Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a group that designs and studies educational video games.

While video games will never completely replace other types of learning or standardized tests, they’ve got untapped potential, proponents say. Games can require higher-order thinking that goes beyond the constraints of a normal exam.

GlassLab is developing its first game, named SimCityEDU, which is aligned with Common Core Standards and their scientific counterpart, the Next Generation Science Standards, to make it easier for teachers to integrate it into their classroom.

SimCityEDU will teach kids about environmental problems like pollution and how systems operate—the relationship between a city’s population, budget and power plants, for instance—in order to improve broader problem-solving skills.

To succeed, players must predict consequences. For one mission, students must reduce pollution while simultaneously growing jobs. If they simply demolish coal plants, they lose jobs. The city’s budget limits how many solar or wind power plants they can build.

GlassLab isn’t the only outfit trying to re-make the image of educational gaming. Newton’s Playground, developed at Florida State University, is designed to teach basic physics concepts such as gravity and kinetic energy by having students draw ramps, levers and pendulums to move a ball toward an end point.

Boston’s EdGE, a part of the math and science research organization TERC, has developed Quantum Spectre video game that makes players use mirrors to refract laser beams.

The theory is that in mastering these games, students will have picked up some understanding of the laws of science, even if they haven’t realized it. The next step is making that connection clear for them, whether through teacher-led lessons or the game itself.