Fun and Games

Connecting with today’s mobile student through game-based learning technologies.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Lindsey Hill

CREDIT Evanced SolutionsIf you’re old enough to remember games created solely for desktop computers, you just might remember a popular game called “The Oregon Trail.” The game was first played by school children in the late 1970s to teach children about the realities of pioneer life on the Oregon Trail in the 19th century. Since the mid-1990s, the game has released over 12 new editions and is still used in classrooms today. But, while game-based learning may not be a new concept, gaming in the classroom has drastically changed since the original days of The Oregon Trail.

The Oregon Trail, which was once offered only on desktop computers, can now be played on mobile devices of all kinds. More than ever before, mobile gaming is being used to increase student engagement in everyday curricula. Although games as educational tools have been around for decades, we’re using them to even greater effect than we once did. 

Why mobile gaming in the classroom? 

Mobile gaming is a powerful platform directly tied to the interests of today’s digital kids. With adults and children using mobile devices more and more, these are tools with which children are familiar and embrace as a natural part of the equation for learning. 

As teachers consider their students’ individual interests and needs, mobile games are just one tool in the lesson planning toolbox.  If a game is deemed appropriate for the learning objectives, stimulating play and expanded learning through games can still hit core standards.

Children are more engaged when they are participating in hands-on activities, especially in virtual worlds. According to the nonprofit research firm SRI International, students’ retention rates increase to 90% when they’re doing something—on mobile devices—when compared to only 10 percent when reading, 20 percent when listening, and 50 percent when watching a demonstration. Using technology to enable kids to actively learn by doing is an effective way for educators to reach their students.

Furthermore, smartphones and tablets as educational tools incorporate individualized learning environments and can be tailored for each student’s unique learning style. For example, if a child has a learning disability, the technology integrated into the lesson can assist that child in understanding a concept that may be harder to explain without the tool.

Allowing students to bring their own devices (BYOD) to a classroom provides them with an engaging channel for independent study. A former student of mine, once stating the length of a book was “too long”, struggled with reading and barely picked up a book in class.  From the day she arrived with her e-reader loaded with new books, she began reading regularly and enthusiastically in class and at home. Her favorite reading materials were immediately accessible and the once daunting task became enjoyable since she only focused on “one page at a time”.

Through interests, differentiated learning environments, and individual choices, students respond well to the use of mobile games in the classroom. Because most children have access to a smartphone or tablet, they embrace their use of such tools as they move through school.

Helping teachers help others

As a former educator and currently leading reading engagement initiatives at Evanced Solutions, I have always been in favor of allowing students to use tools that engage them best. In my new role at Evanced Solutions, I spend time visiting classrooms (always loaded with tablets) to help other teachers understand the role of interests and mobile gaming in increasing student engagement and improving reading proficiency.

While visiting schools, one of my top priorities is to challenge the students to explore and pursue what interests them most. They can then use these interests to learn more about something they love. After I briefly model my own interest tree design, I separate the students into three stations to involve smaller numbers.

Game-testers: Students play current and beta versions of educational apps offered by Evanced Solutions. The ideas and suggestions from the students are communicated with our game developing team.

Interest Investigators: Students choose from tree handouts or draw an interest tree of their own.  Each branch consists of one of their favorite things. This helps the students discover their keenest interests.

Personal Engagement Discussions: I talk with students in a small group to help them discover how they can investigate their interests further.

As a part of my visits, teachers have acknowledged the importance of leveraging the digital lives of their students with the importance of following core standards. Teachers are better equipped with strategies to integrate students’ interests and mobile gaming into planning.

Although I’m a firm believer that all teachers should incorporate technological games into their lessons, teachers do encounter obstacles. Some parents don’t see the value in games during the school day and the training and funding necessary for educators to incorporate innovative tools is scarce. To overcome these obstacles, it’s important to remember that game-based learning does not have to be all-or-nothing. Keeping things simple by starting small and focusing on one piece of the curriculum is key. Encouraging families to play educational games at home together can benefit mobile gaming popularity in the classroom as a relationship-building experience, as well.

Mobile gaming to connect with mobile kids

Game-based learning has indeed been around for quite some time, but its innovations have caused today’s children to be known as the most “tech-savvy” of all generations. Traditional learning should not be replaced, but a good balance of methods is most effective.

The legacy of The Oregon Trail remains popular 40 years later. Whether through a classical game or a newly introduced app, mobile gaming is a very effective way to connect with today’s mobile kids.

Lindsey Hill is a two-time Elementary Teacher of the Year honoree and veteran teacher of 14 years. As the lead for reading engagement innovation at Evanced Solutions, LLC, she explores current trends in reading innovation to aid in the development of solutions that increase reading proficiencies among our youth. By spending time with parents, teachers, librarians and students in and out of elementary classrooms, Lindsey is able to demonstrate how kids can embrace their interests to learn and read proficiently.

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