The 2011 Horizon Report, by the New Media Consortium, identified game-based learning as a trend that will gain significant popularity in higher education within the next 2-3 years. There has always been a lean toward game-based learning in elementary and secondary education, but I see the trend changing there, too.
At both the elementary and secondary levels, I see technology-based games used more frequently and sometimes as a substitute for equally effective non-tech versions. At the high school level, I am hearing more teachers talk about using a “level up” system for projects as well as a heightened interest in simulations, though I don’t know that implementation of either of these types of game-based learning is very widespread yet.
As I look more closely at technology, I am more convinced that tech tools can have the greatest impact when they allow students to communicate and collaborate. This is one area where tech can take us farther than traditional, non-tech, teaching methods.
One such game-based technology that assists students with communication and collaboration is virtual manipulatives. The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives has an amazing range of manipulatives available for free. These manipulatives help students from Pre-K to grade 12 build concepts and skills in mathematics. The manipulatives are flexible in that they can be used to help students visualize a new concept but can also be used to practice skills and play games helping to solidify a recently-learned concept.
Using one of the virtual manipulatives, I developed a lesson plan for grade 6 students titled Catch a Thief! The game utilizes a four-quadrant coordinate grid as a model of a city map. Student use coordinates and time data to determine where a thief may have hidden a briefcase of stolen money.
This lesson plan purposely does not require students to use the virtual manipulative during group work. Most classrooms do not have access to enough computers for groups to work at them simultaneously. The more we incorporate technology into the classroom, the harder it will become for a teacher to manage group time on a single computer. This lesson plan utilizes the technology when it can serve the greatest purpose — at the beginning of the lesson to introduce a new concept and at the end of the activity to help students communicate and display their solutions and their reasoning. In both cases, the technology is being used by the entire class.
I believe there will come a day when all students in every classroom will have a computer. For teachers and students who are lucky enough to have 1:1 access today, students can use the virtual manipulatives individually for greater practice. Since 1.1 access is not the norm, I created this lesson so that it is just as effective for the one-computer classroom as it is for the 1:1 classroom.
Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
National Library of Virtual Manipulatives http://nlvm.usu.edu/
3.1 Media Utilization — When designing the lesson plan, I kept in mind the media available and the time constraints of the average classroom. The lesson plan was designed with flexibility so it works just as well for the 1:1 classroom as it will for the classroom with a single computer.
3.2 Diffusion of Innovations — Research has shown that students who are engaged in and can relate to a topic of instruction will not only learn but will retain what they have learned. Learning can be improved by constructing lesson plans that use innovative tools like the virtual manipulatives in combination with engaging topics.