Can Video Games Supplement Curriculum?

Educators believe that video games improve children's engagement, with positive results seen by the introduction of new digital technology in the classroom. More and more, educators are taking advantage of these digital advances to supplement instructor-led curriculum.

The online games have helped students who typically struggle academically, such as English as a second language learners and special education students, writes Allie Bidwell of US News.

"The classroom you went to school in is almost the exact same classroom you'd walk into today, but the level of engagement our kids get outside of the classroom has changed dramatically," said Jessica Lindl, general manager of the digital gaming company GlassLab and a spokesperson for the game SimCityEDU. "Teachers are almost the entertainers trying to find whatever tool they can to try to engage their kids."

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

GlassLab's game designers teamed up with educators and scientists to create the next generation of educational video games that can teach skills and concepts beyond rote memorization. GlassLab's first game SimCityEDU 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.

The SimCityEDU game helps engage kids while also improving their basic cognitive functions and critical thinking. In the game, students serve as the mayor of a city and are immediately faced with challenges – they must address environmental impacts on the city while maintaining employment needs and other relationships, according to Lindl.

Lindl said that it is important to use games as a supplement to classroom-based learning. Video games in the classroom provide teachers, administrators and parents with a plethora of data to give assessments on students' performances, Lindl said.

"When you think of learning games, engagement and game mechanics is exciting, but there's a critical value proposition around game-based assessments that we're seeing," Lindl said. "Teachers, students and parents can have in the moment understanding of what the child is learning, how they arrived at that learning and accelerate what the learning is, as opposed to waiting weeks down the road."

The competition mechanism can also lead to increased engagement for those using games in the classroom. At Mario Umana Academy in Boston, students from kindergarten through eighth grade have been using a program called First in Math since 2010.

"I think certainly competition could be viewed as positive and negative, but right now it seems to be in this building a rallying cry for the school and an issue of school pride, where they can say that as a school we are working very hard to be number one in the state," Principal Alexandra Montes McNeil said.

Students see the competition as a motivating factor to help them achieve their math goals, according to Montes McNeil.

Ellen Latham, an eighth grade math teacher who pushed to bring the program to the schools, believes First in Math helps students build on basic math skills that many often struggle with, such as addition, multiplication, fractions, and other standard math curriculum.

In the math games, students are rewarded for solving problems with speed and accuracy, which helps them break through those barriers, according to Latham.

Montes McNeil noted that the school's math scores on state tests have gone up substantially, by about 20 to 22 composite performance index (CPI) points. And each year, the scores have gone up on state metrics by five to seven points.

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