PlayMaker School Brings Gamification to the Classroom

For some, gamification of the classroom — that is, education driven and delivered through games and simulations — is still only a theory, but for one company the concept has gone far enough to make it a reality. GameDesk, an organization that has been developing several game-based approaches to learning, has now progressed to putting these approaches into an actual classroom. Buoyed by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GameDesk has now finished enrolling the inaugural class of the PlayMaker School which opened its doors for the first time September 7th, in Los Angeles, California.

PlayMaker will be modeling itself after the first game-based school ever opened, the New York-based Quest to Learn. The school will be using gaming concepts in in its lesson plans, but unlike many other game-based proposals, the focus will not be exclusively in computer-based gaming.

The goal is to engage students in both high-tech and low-tech games and modular, instructional activities. Individual students will work with an “Adventure Map” that will guide them to choose their own path, allowing for students to control how they learn and when they learn it. These modules will be not only individual tasks, but will also include group work. In a unit on kinetic and potential energy, for example, students will watch videos, play games, create digital roller-coasters, and create real-life models.

PlayMaker won’t be just a school. In a way, it will serve as a nursery for educational ideas that Lucien Vattel, the executive director of GameDesk, hopes to spread to schools all over the country.

Nor will PlayMaker be the organization’s only laboratory. A recently-won $3.8 million grant from AT&T will go towards creating a “classroom of the future” incubator, called the Learning Center, which will serve as a testing area for newly developed digital academic tools. The grant will also be used to develop a free online portal that will allow teachers and educators access to digital learning content, along with providing them with ideas on how best to integrate them in their traditional classroom programs.

As part of the professional development for the PlayMaker School, GameDesk also initiated a collaborative called DreamLab focused on not only creating many of the GameDesk’s projects, but also how to implement and sustain them. Instead of simply creating and implementing, however, they design in collaboration with student and teachers, to ensure that real needs are being met well. Although still in its infancy as a component of GameDesk’s work, DreamLab hopes to provide professional development for teachers on site.