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How to Start Incorporating Games Into the Classroom

From dice to educational video games, classes led by instructional technology teacher Ryan Read are increasingly full of game-based learning! Ryan's responsibilities at Jackson Charter School in Rockford, IL include supporting other teachers as they try out new modes of instruction in the classroom. Ryan shares his experiments with technology and game-based learning extensively on Twitter as @Ryan7Read. Intrigued by Ryan's interactive lesson ideas, we asked him a few questions on how to help other educators get started with game-based learning!


Calli Welsch: How did you get started incorporating games into your classroom?

Ryan Read: I first started a few years ago, as I was using story dice to give students random choices with an assignment. I started modifying and creating various games around using dice for learning. This includes test reviews, problem-based learning, bell ringers and app smashes.


CW: What have been some of the biggest hits, as far as particular games or lessons, with your students?

RR: The biggest was my App Olympics, where students have to play in a type of end-of-the- year Olympics within various applications on iPads. They had to create lessons and projects throughout various stages of the games. The top three winners of each one went to the next round and then ended in a battle royale around a boxing augmented reality (AR) game. It was a big hit with my students and has been practiced since. 

What I have noticed with students is that when there is competition, there is direct engagement when it comes to their learning. They aren’t trying to beat their high score, they are trying to improve on their previous learning and take it to the next level. It really fosters engagement.


CW: How do you see game-based learning impacting student learning? How about for math in particular?

RR: With game-based learning, students become more engaged with their learning. They go from struggling to finding a way to overcome that struggle and start looking for solutions and innovating strategies on their learning.

Math, I have found, is always the biggest struggle with students, myself included. For math, I have used traditional games like dominos, dice, cards and even chess, to give students an outlet for game-based learning. Games help students learn and practice everything from addition and subtraction to more complex concepts in algebra and geometry. 


CW: How would you describe your school’s math culture? Has it changed over time?

RR: My current school has moved from a traditional model to a more game-based learning and blended learning model with ST Math and other digital platforms. 

Most of my students enjoy math, they know it's part of their lives and that they need to understand it. However, when they need to learn larger concepts there seems to be a decline in engagement. Once they start to understand concepts and connect them to the bigger picture, that’s when attitudes and self-efficacy change for the better.


CW: I noticed you sometimes incorporate game characters into other lessons. Why?

RR: I have found that when students see a familiar character such as JiJi or Mario, students are able to relate better to the learning. They have a relationship with the character already and so they have an easier time transitioning to new lessons.


This fanart of JiJi, the penguin from ST Math, was created by instructor Ryan Read. 

One example that worked very well was using JiJi from ST Math as the character for a Breakout EDU for 5th grade. In Breakout EDU, students solve puzzles to open the locks within a time-limit. The clues for this Breakout EDU were aligned with the various lessons students had been learning during class time. By bringing JiJi into the lesson, students were able to make the connections between their learning in ST Math and the Breakout EDU clues to solve the puzzles. 



BreakoutEDU lesson featuring JiJi fanart created by Ryan Read.

CW: What kind of support do you see from your school leaders for game-based learning?

RR: I am seeing more and more support for game-based learning, which is a great thing, but it’s not something new. Going back 30 years (I’m old) to my own grade school days many of my teachers used game-based learning with our lessons and activities and when that happened, there was high achievement. I’m seeing that being embraced again in the classroom.


CW: What advice do you have for educators about starting to implement game-based learning?

RR: Start small. you don’t have to turn your classroom upside down on Day 1. Start with something small like teaching fractions with dominos and then applying it to your lessons. From there, I highly recommend the book: Explore Like a PIRATE by Michael Matera or his website: Both are full of awesome ways to bring game-based learning into your classroom. I also recommend Quinn Rollins' Play like a PIRATE; the book  brings fun and games together in ways that allow teachers to take their classroom to the next level.


Interested in learning more about game-based learning? Check out:

This post is featured on Math IS Real Life.

Calli Wright

About the Author

Calli Wright is the Education Engagement Manager at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing board games and editing their rules, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWrights.


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