Educating through games is a valid approach for all ages
Although using games for educational purposes is nothing new, it does still seem that many educators see a Game-Centred Approach (GCA) to learning as something best used with younger pupils. As you move up through the education system the focus understandably shifts to a more academic approach but game concepts can be of immense value in skills development among teenagers and young adults.
Games can have a significant impact in both increasing engagement and also motivating students to try harder. Used well, the competitive structure of many games can encourage students to push themselves that bit further and, when the game is structured such that it depends on teamwork to win, it can also help groups of mixed abilities to achieve progress together.
In primary school, the value of a GCA is widely recognised and, as this article highlights, universities such as Oxford and Edge Hill are looking closely at how games can be used to improve maths skills. It’s an approach that should be used much more throughout the education system, particularly at secondary level, where it can provide an opportunity for students to change gear and approach serious learning topics without the stress that often accompanies exams and other tests.
When we developed our life skills programme, Keep the Cash!, we knew instinctively that a game structure was the way to go. We wanted to take students through the reality of running a home, getting a job and other connected real-life scenarios but understood that those scenarios weren’t particularly thrilling in themselves. After all, most adults don’t relish the thought of having to do their monthly bills or negotiate with the bank.
But the great thing about games is that they are goal-oriented. Whatever scenario you put your players in, they will be working to an identifiable goal, which encourages them to concentrate on the end result and makes the challenges you set along the way much more compelling because they lead to a specific goal.
Ask a group of Year 12 students to calculate the monthly bills for a household and they’ll most likely see it as rather prosaic and uninspiring maths test. Ask them to do it alongside a series of other challenges within a time limit, before racing to get their scores up on the leader board, and their attitude changes completely – they treat it like a game.
As any teacher knows, gaining and holding the attention of the group is crucial to being able to impart information effectively and using a GCA is a great way to do just that. Create a game where your students are playing round-by-round, and therefore repeating tasks, and you help them to learn through repetition. Vary the challenges as you go and you avoid repeat tasks becoming boring. Have a clear goal to aim for and you can get them to immerse themselves in whatever tasks you set along the way.
Providing our young people with the range of life skills they need in today’s world – managing money, understanding risk, effective personal presentation and the like – is as crucial to their chances of building the lives they want as their academic qualifications. For many, such as the increasing number of graduates that will find themselves in low-skilled jobs after leaving university, they may arguably be more so.
We should be using all of the educational tools available to us to ensure that this generation develop a resilience and skills base they can depend upon to help them through life. And if we can get them to enjoy that learning in the process, then we’ll have a much better chance of preparing them for the game of life.