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?


10 Responses to “12 Tips For Starting A Game-Based Program At Your School”

  1. liamodonnell says:

    Excellent post Lucas and very timely. I’m in the process of trying to get something set up at my current school and these tips will help me sell it to my principal.

    One thing I’m wondering about is the how playing a “teacher-selected” affects the potential learning opportunities? For me, authentic learning comes from the kids and their lived experience. Does choosing a particular game (ie “we’re playingWoW/minecraft and nothing else”) for the kids turn some of them off or dissaude the ones who would benefit most from playing because they’d rather play a fps? Is there a possibility to have kids come and play a game of their choice, but work on parallel tasks to build literacies? (ie one student writes a WoW quest and the other an imaginary mission for Call of Duty: Black Ops?)

  2. Lucas says:

    Great question, Liam and the answer is, “It depends.” (Don’t you love that response?)

    I think it depends on whether you have a short or long-term goal that involves a game. I think learner-selected games is very viable and even practical for more open-ended short-term projects. It may even be possible for longer-term projects if your learning objectives were structured accordingly. For our WoWinSchool Project, we really want to hit the fantasy/myth, reading/writing goals, and there are lots of group/leadership activities that we wanted to accomplish over the course of a school year, so in that event, a teacher-selected game was the best fit. If you were studying a bigger-picture topic like “The Quest” (a feature of many modern games) i think allowing students to select the game might work really well. Of course, learner-selected game might bring up other issues such as game ratings (as in CoD:Black Ops’ Mature Rating) or logistic issues if the play takes place on school-owned equipment and networks.

  3. Tyson Sigette says:

    I think this is great advice. I too am in the process of setting up an MMO classroom. I have permission to use the last few weeks of school to go full swing, but I have already had a few students run through the initial quest series of Lord of the Rings Online. I then had a class discussion about what writing activities they would come up with; we pulled out the state standards and I was just blown away with the student response.

    The students would love to write guides (technical writing), background stories (fictional narratives), and reviews (expository). One even wanted to argue that his class was better than the others because of the capabilities and usefulness in a group setting; this is clearly persuasive writing using compare and contrast. The reason that I was so very amazed was that I teach at an alternative school for students who have displayed a willingness to misbehave enough to be removed from their typical schools.

    I am reviewing the idea of awarding experience points and achievements (I think they are called deeds in Lord of the Rings Online) for completion of various activities. I am doing all of this to present at a technology in education conference. Any further advice from the gaming/education community would be great.

    Thank you.

  4. This goes back in time a little, but in 99-2000, I ran a game club at my Charter School in DC. At the time, our motivation was keep kids off the streets for a few hours after school once a week.
    It was a technology-focused charter school so we did pretty well. I had about 10-15 kids stay after every Friday. A few would bring their consoles, but quickly real-time strategy games became the big hit. WarCraft II, Starcraft, and Total Annihilation were the biggies. It was helpful that most RTS games then allowed you to legally install the game on multiple machines if you had a copy of the disk.
    One thing I noticed was that the resource-management portion of these games revealed hidden talents in a lot of my students. I remember one who was not a particularly motivated or academically gifted student in class, but he excelled at Starcraft. He had an uncanny knack at always knowing how much of each resource he had, and exactly when he needed to start looking for more. It was clear to me that this was an aspect of him that we weren’t able to nurture outside of the game.

  5. Okay, sorry for two posts in a row, but since Minecraft got mentioned again, I thought I would post this. I just stubled on it.


  6. Lucas says:

    Great example! Our kids can do amazing things. They’re very capable, it’s just that there’s often a disconnect between the traditional classroom and the way they’re used to being engaged (by media such as video games). It’s one of my big goals is to start pushing real, commercial off-the-shelf games into the classroom where they apply to our standard courses of study. And, one day, maybe we’ll begin to see “educational” games of a similar caliber.

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