Game-Based Learning and Simulations

Games are nothing new for technology.  We’ve always had a variety of types of games from action-adventure that started in Atari and Nintendo to more strategy-based games such as Warcraft and Command and Conquer.  For the most part, educational games have been developed but often lack the depth or complexity of games intended for entertainment.  There are plenty of flash type games online that educators usually use for low-level thinking skills such as math computation and spelling and vocabulary type games.  Although these certainly have some educational value but as a teacher, I’ve usually don’t allocate too much time to these in the same way that I don’t spend too much time on drill and kill skill worksheets. However, games are coming increasingly complex and realistic and a more recent genre of games has emerged including simulation and 3D virtual games such as Second Life, Sim City and most recently, Minecraft.

These games have captured my attention. I must confess that I am a bit of a gamer myself and really enjoy strategy type games or simulation type games such as Civilization or Myst. I love the challenge and the thinking skills involved with these games.  I also see the educational value of these games as well.  The Horizon Report (a publication that discusses emerging technology in education) predicts that it will play a significant role in education over the next 2-3 years. For an excellent read on this topic, read Marc Prensky’s article “What Kids Learn that’s POSITIVE from video games” .  To sum up he points out that kids learn the following real-life lessons from video games:

  • Cause and Effect
  • Long term Winning vs Short-term Gain
  • Order from Seeming Chaos
  • Second-order Consequences
  • Complex systems behaviors
  • Counter Intuitive results
  • Using obstacles as motivation
  • The Value of Persistence
In other words, kids (and adults) are learning things like: creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, persistence and lateral thinking. All essential skills for working in today’s 21st century.
I have recently been exploring a game called Minecraft. At first glance, it looks like a game in which you run around mining rocks and hiding from monsters. However, if you actually play it, you’ll see that there are so many other possibilities. It allows for users to create, design, explore and craft different buildings and structures. It introduces users to a simulation where you need to find resources and use your imagination to design just about anything you want. Another value of this game is that you can work in “creative/peaceful mode” and use multiplayer functions to allow multiple users to create things together.
I continued to explore this game and education and found out that there were already a group of educators using it in the classroom. Check out some of these great links to sites:


My current plan is to start using it with 3rd Graders to create a Math project in which they designed a garden with limited resources and calculated the area and perimeter. I am also starting an After School Activity with some students 3-5 in which we are going to design the new campus for our school in collaboration with some High School students.

QR Codes-Linking two worlds

I recently attended a conference in Singapore called Learning Roundtable which was essentially how to effectively use iPads in classrooms and schools. One of the most interesting workshops was by John Wolfe and using QR codes as learning tools.  I really liked it as I could immediately see the educational value of QR codes as it helps link the real world to the digital world and also takes advantage of mobile devices. I had seen QR codes around but really didn’t understand what they were or how they were being used.

So what are QR codes? 

QR codes are a lot like bar codes that on food products. The difference is that they use both horizontal and vertical lines of axis so can hold much more information. By using a QR reader on your phone, you can scan it and it takes you to a digital link.

What possible educational value do they hold?

I think there are so many. Students love codes and there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding codes. Here are some ideas:

Literacy-There are ton of possibilities. John Wolfe mentioned a few ideas on his site but one effective way that he had used them was he had students create 60 second book talks using Photobooth, created a QR code for it and then printed out the code and put it on the inside of the cover of books. What a fantastic way to link print to digital media!

PE-I thought there would be lots of possibilities if you already have iPod touches in your school as you can download a free QR reader and you could use it in PE for orienteering. Have students find the codes around a field which give you clues and directions to the next location.

Social Studies/Humanities- For field trips, students could go to actual locations and using mobile devices, they could record a video or text about what they learned about particular works of art. Then, create QR codes to link this information for other students.

Math- John mentioned that he has seen teachers create QR codes which link to online videos for Math textbooks. What a fantastic way of making textbooks more engaging!



If you would like to start creating your own QR codes, you can set up a free account on Snap Vu which allows you to edit the content but maintain the same code (so you don’t have to keep printing out new codes). It also tracks how many people have actually used your code. The one little glitch is that when you put in your URL sites, make sure they are already shortened by a site like as I tried to copy and paste a long URL from my google site (see above) and it didn’t work.

Are you using QR codes? Leave a comment with your idea!


iPads-A new tool for Digital Storytelling

We recently got a class set of iPads after writing a grant to the PTA. We have been trying to use them in different grades and subject areas to maximize learning across the school. They have been used in a Grade 1 class for digital storytelling. Many students love the camera app where they can take photos and videos of different books they read and using another app called Sonic Pics, weave them together into a story.

I also have decided to use iPads as a tool to help struggling writers as my Master’s thesis this year. I am measuring the impact on students’ attitudes, achievement and engagement in Grade 5.

We have been using them in Grade 5 most recently as a tool for writing. Students had already finished writing their memoirs and using an app called StoryKit, they are turning them into digital stories. They use text, photos, drawings and audio. Students were incredibly engaged and very excited to be using these cutting edge tools. They will publish their stories and put them on their digital portfolios when they are finished. Below are some photos and videos from the class.
Edit: Of course we gave them 10 minutes to play with the app before we actually used it in an authentic learning context. They made up their own mini-stories. I didn’t know if using text would appeal to them or not but many of them found it easier than a keyboard!
Here is a quick sample of a published story on StoryKit: