A couple of years into my teaching career, I worked at a school that wanted to incorporate computer games into their math instruction. While one group of students played the games, the others would receive instruction from me in small groups. Although I frequently incorporated games into my instruction in the past, I was surprised by the impact on my students when they played daily.
A Tool for Teachers
The presence of high-stakes testing has, in many classrooms, increased stress for both students and teachers. In addition, these tests often fail to capture what the student is thinking or where misunderstanding occurred. Digital games, in contrast, collect data on an ongoing basis, making it easier for teachers to use the data to support student learning as it occurs.
Once my students started playing computer games, I had tons of additional data that I could use to tailor my instruction. Additionally, the games would flag struggling students, enabling me to intervene without having to wait until the next assessment.
Games Increase Self Motivation
Another benefit of many games is that they increase in difficulty as students demonstrate mastery. This ensures that students are always challenged at a pace that allows them to gradually develop new skills. Games also allow the teacher to meet the needs of each student. In my classroom, I had students who were a year behind as well as students who were a year ahead in math; the games met their very different needs and allowed them to feel challenged yet successful in their learning.
Games also offer a more relaxed environment for students to learn that builds intrinsic motivation and persistence, which research indicates helps with long-term achievement. Students don’t expect to master every level the first time they play, and they tend to keep playing until they’re successful. This helps children build resiliency and encourages experimentation in problem solving. Also, games with high replay value help players to seek different solutions. Ultimately, we want children who won’t give up in the face of setbacks and who are willing to try a variety of options as they work towards success.
Games Encourage Collaboration
Games can also be used to encourage collaboration. After their math instruction was complete, my students would frequently chat about what level they had made it to in the game, what they thought was most challenging, or what they did to beat a level they’d been stuck on. Students wanted to help each other beat levels, facilitating peer discussions of problem solving.
Games, when well-designed and implemented, have enormous potential in helping students learn.