Although growing numbers of children and teachers play video games outside school, rarely are video games referenced or integrated into the school curriculum. This is despite the central role that video games play in the lives of so many young people.
Teachers should consider integrating video games into the middle grades curriculum. Here's why:
1. Video games are fun. They make learning engaging and rewarding and give students something to look forward to at school.
2. Video games are interdisciplinary. Teachers can make interdisciplinary learning connections between video games and virtually every subject area.
3. Video games demonstrate new ways of learning. Many researchers who explore the structure of video games argue that most are in fact learning systems that teach, according to James Paul Gee in What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.
4. Video games promote problem solving. As L.A. Annetta and others point out in their October 2007 article in the E-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, many video games encourage experimentation and the testing of new ideas.
Video games will never replace the sandbox and playground in the real world (nor should they), but they are already opening up new opportunities for young people to experiment with innovative forms of play and problem solving, unrestricted by time and space.
5. Video games teach the past. Many video games, such as "Civilization" and "Gettysburg," aspire to recreate an authentic historical experience. Such games are the perfect launching points for historical research and place analyses, according to Andrew McMichael, author of "PC Games and the Teaching of History," published in the February 2007 issue of The History Teacher.
6. Video games are future oriented. Many video games imagine future worlds that extend trends we see emerging in today's world. Futuristic war games envision an insecure world. Certain strategy games imagine an ecologically depleted world. The issues these games raise are relevant to the challenges young people may face in the future.
7. Video games are cultural. Virtual worlds serve as societal simulations, complete with clan membership, cooperative ventures, and diverse cultural groups. In video games with virtual worlds as diverse as "Second Life" (www.secondlife.com), academics and young people alike are, for the first time, exploring the implications of membership in a virtual community.
8. Video games are controversial. Talking about video games with middle grades students can foster intelligent debate and discussion about important social issues.
Implications for Practice
With the above in mind, here are several teaching ideas that integrate video game-related activities into the middle grades classroom. These activities address a number of subject areas, with an emphasis on language arts and math.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Ask students to write a "choose your own adventure story," a narrative with multiple pathways that can then be adapted for use in an adventure video game where players make decisions about the plot.
The reader is presented with two options as to what happens next in the story. Each option directs the reader to a different page in the story where the story unfolds very differently.
ESRB Ratings Review
Ask students to review the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings system and propose changes. The ESRB ratings system is the standard by which every commercial video game on retail shelves in the United States and Canada is rated in terms of its content.
Students can visit the ESRB website …