Can games really be a key part of education?

We have all seen “educational games” – but can games form a serious part of the curriculum in schools and colleges? What are the challenges of incorporating games into a classroom? We talked to Dr Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE and former commissioner for education at Channel 4, about the possibilities and the pitfalls.

It’s sometimes a hard slog convincing people that games have a role to play in education. What do you think is the most telling piece of evidence that shows they do belong in the classroom?

The feedback from Digital Schoolhouse workshops shows how engaged children are by the play-based learning model of using games in the classroom. Children instinctively learn through play, and by harnessing the enthusiasm that children have for fun and engaging activities for educational purposes, we’ve had real success in teaching the new computing curriculum. We know that 99% of children across the UK play games; we know they learn best when engaging with activities they enjoy. Bringing these two together creates the perfect learning model.

Nesta has reported that 53% of 8- to 18-year-olds make their own games already and 33% would like to be creating games. Digital Schoolhouse gives children the opportunity to create through learning. Games are naturally creative in themselves, and their very mechanics are all about learning, understanding. Making a game uses a unique fusion of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) subjects in a way that few others do. Using this model to teach the computing curriculum will prepare children for the jobs of tomorrow, today.

What’s the best example of the use of games in education you’ve seen?

We’re lucky to see many great examples of games being used in education through the development of Digital Schoolhouse workshops. We’ve worked with a variety of fantastic games companies, from micro-studio Code Kingdoms all the way up to Disney. Playful game techniques don’t have to be purely digital either: we use jigsaws, board games, 3D-printer pens, dance, magic and music to create interactive experiences through which children learn basic computational skills.

The industry expertise that’s implemented into the workshops ensures that there’s real curriculum-based value in what the children are doing, even though to them it feels like they’re playing.

Not every use of games in an educational context is a success. What advice would you give educators about using games?

Educators need to be clear about the educational value of the games that they are introducing into the classroom. Be sure of what the game will add to the planned outcomes of the lesson, and ensure you reinforce what learning the game is providing the children. Make sure the children are aware of the skills they are learning through the play.

And what are the biggest potential pitfalls?

There are few pitfalls to using games in the classroom as long as objectives are clearly mapped out and the students are playing the game with the knowledge that they are learning transferable skills. The only real pitfall is other people thinking that the method is just about letting children play games without realising the true educational benefits behind the lesson plan.

Which companies and educationalists would you highlight as doing the best work in education and games?

Code Kingdoms is making massive leaps in teaching children coding, with its involvement both in Ukie’s Digital Schoolhouse project and also its own Code Club.

We should also mention the London mayor, who has been extremely supportive of the Digital Schoolhouse project, and we wouldn’t be in a position to have reached over 5,500 primary-age pupils across London without the financial support of the GLA. Now the challenge is to extend this model across the country, and the globe! But we need partners and help to do that.

Finally, teaching kids to code is a really hot topic at the moment. What do you think of the current educational approaches to coding?

The change to the new computing curriculum from the outdated ICT curriculum – through the Next Gen Skills campaign which Ukie ran and funded – has been received well. The rise of unplugged teaching methods, as used by the Digital Schoolhouse, have had a great response from pupils and teachers alike. We just need to ensure that approaches to teaching coding creatively remain fun, engaging and relevant to the educational needs of children in today’s quick-changing digital world.

This is an independent article from the Alphr editorial team. This content was produced to the same impartial standards as the main content on our site, but paid for by Intel because they like people who like this topic. Thank you, Intel!

NOW READ THIS: Games as motivation: What teachers can learn from game designers

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