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July 11, 2014

California school integrates play with learning

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Imagine going to a school without desks or worksheets. Learning takes place while sitting on couches, using computers, playing video games on plasma screens and role-playing. That’s what sixth grade is like for students at the private New Roads School in Santa Monica, California.

PlayMaker School, an innovative teaching program at New Roads, was designed by nonprofit company GameDesk in 2012. Founder and CEO of GameDesk, Lucien Vattel says the goal is to teach students by making them want to learn instead of forcing them to learn.

The games engage students in a wide range of subjects covering everything from physical geography and tectonic plates to emotional learning and how to cope with stressful situations.

In the case of physics, PlayMaker students learn not through a textbook or by being told what happens in physics, but by experiencing it for themselves. Students play a Wii game called Aero by wearing homemade wings and simulating the act of flying.

“It teaches you the basics about how birds move their wings to get lift. It teaches you in another stage about gravity, weight…It teaches you about everything that has to do with flight,” sixth grade student Nolan Windham excitedly explains.

The New Roads School is currently the only school with the PlayMaker program, but the company hopes to expand to other cities and schools across the country. Yet there are barriers to this goal, including schools with smaller budgets and fewer resources that may not be able to afford the new technology and convincing educators who believe in the traditional method of teaching to change.


Warm up questions

1. Do you like to play games?
2. When you wake up in the morning are you excited to go to school? Why or why not?
3. Have you ever noticed if you perform better in classes where there are a lot of worksheets and lectures? Or do you perform better when you are allowed to be creative and discover things on your own? Why do you think you may do better in one class or the other?

Discussion questions

1. What are the advantages and challenges of using game-based learning in the classroom for both teachers and for students? Use specific examples from the text or video.
2. Do you think that you would do better in school if more classes integrated play and games into the day? Explain your answer.
3. Can you think of a subject where using games would make it more difficult to learn? Why might that be?

Writing prompt

1. What’s your least favorite subject at school? Now try to imagine a creative game-based way that might make it more fun. What would that look like?
2. Now think about your favorite subject and visualize it being taught through games and play. Would it make it even better?

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