Sep 26 2016

3 Ways Video Games Can Help Students Thrive

Game-based learning boosts motivation, literacy and social skills.

Imagine a school where each subject, from mathematics to history, has a gaming component. That’s the case at Quest to Learn (Q2L), a sixth- through 12th-grade school in New York City.

The school opened in 2009, with an emphasis on integrating games into learning, such as a one-trimester gaming experience in which a scientist travels through the human body, a post on Edudemic reports.

A 2016 survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that 47 percent of children aged 4 to 13 play digital games daily.

Worldwide research has shown that students who game are seeing in-game success translate to school. Research out of Australia shows that students who played online games got higher scores on standardized tests than students who spent their free time on social media.

“When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in math, reading and science,” says study author Alberto Posso on Business World Online.

At Q2L, the goal is to apply this passion for gaming to everyday education by using technology like Chromebooks and tablets, while still sticking to the education standards that students must learn — and they’ve seen success with this. The Q2L website reports that the average one-year rate of educational growth for an eighth- to 10th-grade Q2L student is on par with that of a college student across all four years of schooling.

Though devoting a whole school to gaming might seem extreme, EdTech has reported on some other ways teachers can add gaming to their curriculum.

Also, when the long-awaited Minecraft: Education Edition officially launches November 1, teachers across the country will find gaming as a classroom activity more accessible.

If you’re still not sold on the idea, here are some great ways video games help students learn.

Gaming Creates More Personalized Learning

Technology in general is a huge tool in making classroom learning a more personalized experience. With a game like Minecraft, students can expand their creativity and make entire worlds on their own, but gaming can offer significant insight into how students learn.

EdSurge reports that on the first day of class at Punahou School, in Hawaii, computer science teacher Douglas Kiang gives his students an online quiz that uses reactions in gaming situations to understand learning styles.

“I use these results to inform how I make groups and … ask kids to collaborate,” Kiang tells EdSurge. “[It has] helped me appreciate my students for their strengths.”

In a 2016 report from the Centers on Innovations in Learning, Karl M. Kapp writes that game-based learning has a lot of advantages over traditional instruction.

“Game-based learning … enables each student to have a personalized learning experience with the same content at his or her own pace,” Kapp writes. “Students can review content if they wish, speed ahead, experiment and experience the game differently than fellow students and still reach the same learning outcomes.”

Advancing Literacy Through Games

It might not be surprising that playing games on the computer can sharpen tech skills, but students can also use video games to help with reading.

In a 2014 Wired story on the power of Minecraft, Hannah Gerber, a literacy researcher, found some 10th-grade students spent only 10 minutes reading in English class but spent 70 minutes reading at home about games.

Games researcher Constance Steinkuehler also told Wired that when reading about a game they were really interested in, students were able to comprehend at a level much higher than their normal reading ability.

“They’re really, really motivated,” Steinkuehler said in the article. “It’s situated knowledge. They see a piece of language, a turn of phrase, and they figure it out.”

At Q2L, in a course called “Being, Space and Place” seventh-grade students study a combination of social studies and language arts by pretending to be spies for the king of England and acting out the role of museum curator.

Fifty-four percent of Q2L students scored at a proficient level on the Common Core Standard for English Language Arts, compared with 30.4 percent of students citywide.

Playing to Increase Communication, Cooperation

For multiplayer online games, such as World of Warcraft, players often need communication and collaboration skills to succeed. KQED News shared 2014 research that found that more than half of teachers reported that the use of video games in the classroom fostered a climate of collaboration.

Also, for students with special needs, Common Sense Media reports that games that offer safe chatting can provide the confidence boost needed for social interactions.

Research out of Columbia University found that young children playing video games not only scored better academically but also had better social skills than their peers.

“Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children,” says assistant professor Katherine M. Keyes, on “These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community.”


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