“Game” is not a four-letter word

By Daniel L. Scroggs, Manager, Virtual Learning/Special Projects/Administrative Technology Support, Department of Technology

Have you ever watched someone who has never bowled before try it for the first time? Or seen a beginner on skis, experiencing shaky legs? Or perhaps you have been lucky enough to see a first  grader stick his tongue out and squint his eyebrows in pure concentration as he tries his very best to make that perfect capital “A.” 

Each of these activities whether they are physical, mental, or a combination of both, require practice.  And as every teacher or parent knows, one of the most difficult things to do with children is to get them to practice something over and over again until they become proficient.  For many years in education, we have struggled to find a method to encourage students to “practice” a learning activity. Too many times in my own classroom experience I have heard students say, “Do we have to do all these pages?” or “I don’t understand why we have to learn this.” 

Our students, especially in today’s fast-paced, instant answer for everything, “if I don’t know it, I can Google it” world, need a new set of techniques that embraces their own learning lifestyle.  One industry that understands this and that has been too long overlooked by education is the gaming industry.  Have you ever watched a child or young adult play a video game and repeat a certain activity over and over again until she finally reaches her goal?  Creating something that challenges us yet entertains us is a strategy the gaming industry has understood for years and is the reason that online games such as World of Warcraft currently sit at around 10 million subscriptions.  It is the same philosophy that is behind simulators that teach pilots and astronauts. 

It is with this in mind that Baltimore County Public Schools has established the Learning in Virtual Environments Project (Project L.i.V.E.). Funded with a Race to the Top grant, Project L.i.V.E. offers students and teachers the chance to interact, test, play, and even create their own learning games based on the BCPS’ curriculum. 

Students in the virtual learning environment at Chesapeake High School

By offering these “games” for students we have seen student engagement and performance rise.  Many students have come to me saying, “I have learned more about this subject by creating this game than I ever would have with my textbook.”  Our simulation software, jointly produced by gaming industry professionals, Johns Hopkins, and its Applied Physics lab, offers students the “reasons” they often seek as to why they are learning a particular subject. 

By putting students in a virtual world of learning, we are using the same techniques the gaming industry uses so successfully.  This is a bold step for Baltimore County Public Schools.  Today’s gaming and virtual technology can make learning both meaningful and enjoyable for our students.   And if we build it, they will come.

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