photo courtesy of Clover_1 on Flickr

I have been thinking a lot recently about video gaming and what we can learn from it as educators. This is not a new concept or a new discussion. I’ve been seeing things happen in my classroom that really make me think there’s something to this idea.  My recent reflections and changes in classroom practice don’t actually involve my students playing games to learn new skills or concepts (though there is research about the positive effects of this), but rather on the broader structure of games in relation to classroom practices.

For one, while watching my students play games I notice that they easily just click ‘retry’ or ‘new game’ or ‘start over’ and keep trying until they master whatever skill that game’s level requires. They don’t worry about making mistakes because they know they will get another chance. They learn more and more each time they have to do a level or game task over. We should be building these kinds of experiences into our classrooms.

In addition, games provide immediate feedback. Not just any feedback, but usually feedback that helps a student fix or improve on their previous performance. We should be giving students as many opportunities as possible for useful and timely feedback.

Games also have a purpose, an underlying goal.  Sometimes there are mini-goals that help get you to the final goal, beating the game.  Players can focus on the mini-goals rather than be overwhelmed by the ultimate goal of beating the game. There is usually something that indicates how far along they are toward their final goal, which makes them feel like they’re getting somewhere.  We should be setting manageable goals for our students that help them move toward mastery while providing timely feedback on their progress.

I have been giving my students chances to revise and revisit their work, and I find that they learn more from this experience than they do while creating the project the first time around. I have also been having them share their work with their peers to solicit feedback.  From listening in on the sharing sessions, I also find that they have to explain their choices in their work, which means they are thinking about the choices they make.  As for goals, I have been making a point of breaking projects down into manageable chunks and focusing on small goals for each class period so students are aware of what they are focusing on and so my assessments are focused on the mini-goals that will lead to mastery.

Don’t think that things are as perfect as they sound. Adding these gaming-like aspects to my classroom is a new endeavor, which means I’m still figuring out the best way to implement the approach into my classroom. However, the immediate effects and results have been noticeable.

I am interested in reading more about the Quest to Learn school in  New York City, which focuses on gaming concepts throughout their curriculum.

I would love to know your thoughts.


  1. Reply

    Amazing! I've been a proponent of video games all my life (grew up on RPGs and Mario), but your deeper considerations of the benefits is eye-opening! Thank you so much!

  2. Reply

    A few years ago I was actually spending a significant amount of time creating video games for my precalc class, but I found it really difficult to come up with games that necessitated the kind of high-level math I was aiming for. I think an answer might lie in computer programming: programming can be much more complex than a simple game, but retains the features of immediate and non-judgemental feedback.

    I've written a little bit about this at my blog: I think the non-judgmental bit can be the most important, and constructing frameworks in which they can do anything they want and get automated feedback can be effective in giving them that feeling of "oh, I'll just try this, and then this, and then this."

  3. Reply

    I've never touched a video game. But you make sense. With the money we spend on data system for command and control, and driving creativity out of schools, we could recruit twenty-somethings to set up gaming programs. In their spare time, they could help out us old school teachers. Or better yet they could teach the students to teach us.

  4. Debbie Vaughan


    I am currently reading "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel H. Pink. In his book, he talks about gaming and the benefits gaming has for helping people with spotting trends, drawing connections, and "discerning the big picture". He also reported a study that found physicians "who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37% fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the tast 27% faster than their counterparts who did not play". Your reasons have a more immediate impact for our students. Immediate feedback for the students while they learn and remember is a goal of our department. Thanks for the new idea.

  5. Reply

    It was a joy to read this well written blog by a dedicated teacher. I taught for 35 years and supervised student teachers for a term. We must raise our collective image. You are so right on about gaming. I used laptops often in my classroom, with sites/games/activities that allowed fourth graders to reinforce/master concepts taught in a fun way… a way they wanted to practice! It provided instant feedback for students to correct misunderstandings much faster than a paper assignment that takes time to be corrected by a teacher. Thanks for sharing your ideas on this important topic.

  6. Reply

    Thanks for the replies everyone. For some reason, comments were disabled for a while–I just fixed it. Sorry for not responding in a timely fashion!

  7. Reply

    Thanks for sharing the post, Carlton. I like the idea of learning about the game or learning from the game. I know a few teachers who incorporate game development into their teaching. They find this helps kids connect better with content.

  8. Reply

    Very true! It is kind of crazy how abstract textbooks can be. It makes true transfer of knowledge nearly impossible. Not only might programming help, but letting kids try scenarios out in a game and then following up with tangible math problems that address the same concepts might help with transferring what kids know toward the more abstract way we see it in a text book or standard math problem.

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