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A New Way of Teaching

Photo by Harrison DiCocco

Ever since kindergarten, we’ve been told, “No electronics in the classroom!” That was when learning was relatively easy. All we had to do was learn the alphabet and the only test that we had to worry about was how to count to 100 in front of the teacher.

At least that’s what I remember.

So, when did games start to integrate themselves into learning? Well, according to Matt Miller Author of “Ditch That Textbook,” teachers have been practicing “Constructivism”, or the use of games during learning, for decades.

“Constructivism is about making meaning of a new topic by creating something,” Miller said. “Games can help us construct our understanding of new topics, creating our paradigm of the world around us and the lens through which we see it.”

Miller taught high school Spanish for 11 years in West Central Indiana, but started lecturing in professional development workshops and writing books and blogging on new and different ways of teaching about four years ago.

“Ditch That Textbook” was a result of Miller realizing that teaching his students from the course textbook was sometimes more of an obstacle than helpful.

“Eventually, I realized that there had to be a better way (to teach) and I started teaching less and less from the textbook until I ditched it completely,” Miller said. “The book is my encouragement to educators to look at our craft from a different perspective and not to accept the status quo as the only way of teaching.”

Until recent years, teachers would try to stay with traditional learning games like the classic whiteboard review game. Each student would get the small, dirty whiteboards and a marker, which nine times out of 10 would be out of ink.

Now, more and more teachers are embracing the power that technology with regular video games and phone games can have on helping students learn course material whether it be through cell phone review games like “Kahoot!” and in Miller’s case, a game based off of “Clash of Clans.”

Now, we all know how easily we get sucked into playing games like “Candy Crush” or “Tiny Tower,” which Miller admits is a personal favorite among many others.

“There’s that innate drive, almost addiction, to playing games,” Miller said. “As an educator, I knew that I wanted to examine that to see if it could be applied for academic gain.”

According to Miller, there are a lot of games that can be incorporated into learning.

“I’m not sure that (games) have challenged the way that students learn, but they definitely have more motivation and incentive to learn in many ways,” Miller said.

Miller says that during his classes, review games were always the highlight for his students as well as himself. Miller would place his students into multiple clans on “Clash.”

He decided that he could either fight the game or find ways to incorporate it into the coursework. Miller said that his students would help him fine tune this rules of the game and would often beg to play it when they would come into the class.

“I think they saw the same kinds of fun, incentive, and motivation for playing games showing up in that activity,” Miller said. “They knew they were having fun and learning, and when that happens, that’s the best version of education in my mind.”

Miller says that with all of the other study games and phone games, teachers can do a lot to use them to the student’s advantage.

“There are lots of apps out there that are educational in nature, and in many cases, there’s research to back it up,” Miller said. “For example, at RetrievalPractice.org, cognitive scientist Pooja Agarwal lists flashcard apps and classroom quiz games like “Kahoot!” are effective ways to study according to brain research.”

According to a Great Big Story video, which touched on the subject of video games teaching real-life lessons, focusing mainly on “Clash of Clans,” even teens and adults can learn things from playing interactive games.

Featured in the video was game enthusiasts, Kama and Joe Totherow. The couple works to find real-world lessons.

“In a cooperative game, the game itself is trying to defeat you,” Joe Totherow said in the video. “So, you do need to work together and coordinate your efforts. “Clash of Clans” is a good an example of a cooperative game because you want your other clan mates to do well. As you play, you can see the very specific skills that can be developed as you leverage the game intentionally in that direction.”

The Totherows say that playing games like “Clash of Clans” is an investment portfolio.

“It supports your choice making it terms of long-term investment and savings and short-term investment,” Joe Totherow said. “And it’s not just for kids, but you also see it with adults. Adults can get better at this stuff by playing these types of games.”

Kama also commented on the influence of video games on education.

“Surely the games may change over time, but we in our desire to play together and have immersive experiences of being in a community – we’ve been doing that forever,” She said to which Joe Totherow followed her statement by saying, “Having people play cooperative games where it enhances their communication, enhances leadership – cooperative games are a rich vein to mind, in that regard.”