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Game On!

In a game-based classroom, students aren't the only ones learning in new ways.

Ask West Pender Middle School language arts teacher Scott Deasy what has changed in his teaching since he began using role-playing video games such as Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars 2 in the classroom. “Everything,” Deasy will say.

“Two years ago, when I decided to turn the structure of my eighth-grade language arts game into a digital game through 3D Game Lab, I had no idea how it would revolutionize my teaching,” says Deasy. “I was simply looking to make class a little more manageable and accessible and use some of the motivational techniques inherent in gaming.”

Enter Lucas Gillespie, a former teacher who is now the instructional technology coordinator at Pender County Schools in North Carolina. Gillespie, a veteran gamer and a leader in the use of role-playing games in the classroom, is considered an expert in helping novices and veterans integrate gaming in classroom curriculum and even locate funding sources. Gillespie helped Deasy learn the rules of the games, how to involve his students, and how to manage the digital technology.

Looking For Links?

Gaming and instructional technology expert Lucas Gillespie welcomes questions, anecdotes, and tips, and offers a window into the “gamified” classroom on his blog

Check out the WoWinSchool Project wiki, the "collaborative workspace for the development of instructional items for the use of MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, GuildWars2 and others, in a school setting."

The MinecraftinSchool Project wiki allows educators to share how they're using Minecraft in the classroom and to crowd-source lesson planning. 

The Story and Game Academy wiki lets educators share ideas, curricula, and game-based projects and serves as resource for bringing video game-based learning into the classroom. 

Today, Deasy is off and running. “The learning curve was steep,” Deasy says, “but after seeing how much I can do with it and how willing the students are to gobble up what I put together for them, the more I want to do. It’s definitely not easier, but the quality of work, and the greater sharing and learning outside of the classroom is amazing.”

Cape Fear Middle School social studies teacher Craig Lawson agrees and points to his own experience. “We brought World of Warcraft first as an after school club,” with a language arts curriculum focusing on literature and the hero’s journey,” says Lawson. “This year, I’m teaching seventh-grade social studies and integrating the Minecraft game into my classroom. “

Lawson’s students create their own towns, governments, and economies with their peers. The course goal is to simulate events and concepts in the game to allow them to relate to the concepts and ideas we are teaching in class.

“Good games mix the right amount of rigor, tension, failure, and success in this perfect storm of entertainment that activates and engages our brains in often complex higher-level thinking skills to solve problems,” says Lawson. “They encourage exploration, transference of knowledge, creativity, socialization, and many other highly valuable 21st-century skills that employers value in their employees. Perhaps even more important, they make learning relevant.”

And the impact on classroom teachers? “I enjoy grading now because I see kids really thinking and exploring material,” says Lawson. “[Some] parents tell me this is the first time their child has done well in language arts.”

Visual arts teacher Sara Toothman agrees. “All of these gaming experiences have without a doubt enriched my own pedagogy,” she says. “I’m a much happier person while teaching and enjoy the epic quests just as much and look for ways to join in whenever possible. My students are demanding and blissflully engaged and incredibly productive with their time in class—something that most teachers dream about.”