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.

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