12 Tips For Starting A Game-Based Program At Your School

I see the fact that I’m creating this post as a fantastic sign.  Why?  Because, it means that the idea of using games for learning is spreading and that people are moving from an “ideas” phase to a “let’s do this” phase.  Several people have asked me how we got started with WoWinSchool and if I have any suggestions.  From experience, here are some suggestions that are emerging:

WowinClass1CV_1011171.  Put the kids first. It’s all about them anyway. You really must have a heart for them and what’s good for them.  Recruit educators who believe this first, because they’re the most important factor, then, recruit your gamer teachers.  Let this first suggestion frame every decision made.  (A big thanks to Diane Lewis for nailing this one at her VWBPE presentation on the topic.)

2.  Find the principals who will support you, champion for you, and advocate for your kids and the awesome things they’ll be doing.  Find the ones who “get it.”  If you can’t find those, find “the willing to get it” crowd.  Involve your district leadership as well.  Not only do they need to know what you’re doing they can also be a huge resource.

3.  Recruit your IT folks.  You’re likely to need some special attention from them.  Bring them on board as partners with your project.  Praise them and market how awesome they are as they support your project.  (They too often are overlooked or get a bad rap for doing their jobs.)  They’ll need to know what impact any games will have on things like bandwidth,  your filter, etc.  You may have to gather that research for them because they’re probably very busy with other issues.  My IT people have been amazing and have really gone above and beyond (such as providing bandwidth impact graphs, and helping to set up a MineCraft server on our local network).

4.  Start as a club.  Starting as a club is a great way to begin.  Clubs are a safe place to fail and they’re typically voluntary.  After-school, before-school, or during a club period is a great time to for your kids to meet, play, and learn.

5.  Find your “at-risk” learners and “fringe” kids.  Really, most of our students are at a minimum, at-risk for extreme boredom, and many of our labeled “at-risk” learners are simply bored with school and don’t see relevance.  These students are ideal and usually need something engaging and relevant to anchor them in school.  We’ve also seen some incredible things with students who are identified ADD/ADHD and even the mildly autistic.  Let the kids “own” (or “pwn“) their learning.

6.  Read and share your reading.  Have some supporting research.  We’re building a list at http://wowinschool.pbworks.com/w/page/5268741/Supporting-Research.  Also consider having a few copies of Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and Prensky’s Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning on hand to loan.holiadore

7.  Tie your project to one or more instructional goals.  Our primary charge is to foster learning, right?  It’s a big step for many to see video games as tools for learning so a clear alignment to instructional goals really helps.  This doesn’t have to be especially formal, particularly with a club format, but alignment to existing learning goals is a great idea.  Also, don’t neglect the opportunities that arise to address topics such as leadership, digital citizenship, and media literacy which are too often overlooked in our standard course of study.

8.  Get parents on board.  Communicate with them clearly and often about the project and your expectations, goals, and what will be involved.  Consider hosting a parent orientation event or informational videos that explain your project.

9.  Market your program.  Be transparent about everything, both success and failures.  Document everything because you’re a pioneer in an emerging area.  Market your learners’ work and connect them to a global audience.

10.  Invite visitors.  Even after you’re underway, many people still won’t understand what you’re doing.  Invite them to come see.  This not only broadens their understanding of the possibilities of game-based learning it’s another opportunity for your students to showcase what they know.

11.  Connect.  Connect and network with educators who are doing similar work.  Have them talk to your decision makers and district leadership.  Once your project is started, connect your kids with other kids!

12.  Remember suggestion #1.

These are some points that have helped make mine, Peggy Sheehy’s and Diane Lewis’ projects successful.  What would you add?  What have I left out?

-Lucas

So, What’s Next?

wowkidsLast year was largely an experimental year.  There were so many unknowns going into the WoWinSchool Project that our overall attitude was “Let’s see what this looks like,” and some aspects of the program were largely informal.  That’s not to say that we didn’t learn a great deal and that the participating students didn’t benefit from the program (and we from them).  Going in, we were unsure of even the simplest things like, “What happens when there’s a patch?” and “Will the network and firewall handle it?”

Those early hurdles are behind us and I’m very pleased to announce that we’re ratcheting the program up a notch for the coming year.  In the 2010-2011 school year, both Cape Fear Middle and Suffern Middle will offer a World of Warcraft-based language arts elective during the regular school day.  Development has begun on the course, the syllabus, and implementation plan.  So far, here’s what we’re thinking:

  • Though taking place during the regular day, the course will be hybrid, built online using the Moodle LMS.  This grants us the opportunity to be largely paperless (a good model for other classes!) and it makes the course granular and easily shared.
  • The course will involve a parallel reading assignment for students, probably a novel.  Cape Fear Middle will likely use Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
  • We are trying hard to get away from focusing on grades and are rather granting students XP (experience points) and levels for completing assignments.  Developing appropriate rubrics and scaling is a challenge.
  • The course will have an overall theme, probably based on “The Hero’s Journey.”
  • The course will be aligned to national/state standards and will supplement students’ regular language arts instruction.
  • Our goal is to thoroughly “mash-up” course and in-world experiences.

We have a tremendous amount of work to do to prepare and are excited about where we’re going.

-Lucas