My First Steps As A Gaming Teacher

I originally wrote this for this site.  I thought it might get more exposure if I republished it here.  The link below has some other entries from another teacher that I partner with in using Civ Lab to Teach his students.

Let me being by prefacing that this post is about my personal experience using gaming as a method of teaching and is weaker on the professional discourse.  It talks about my baby steps into this world of using games to teach a large group of students Social Studies Concepts and how I became a CivLab convert .  I think that Mr. Parry summed up the use of CivLab in a way that showcased all of the benefits of using the simulation in a professional manner, but I think that some of my own background is applicable here.  I am humbled to have been included in the inner circle that has helped develop the system into what we have today.  I have been using CivLab in classroom for four years and my part of the story is different than the Parry Brothers that were pioneering this system, which is why I have included it here.  My teaching career has been a journey and will continue to grow as I grow as a professional, just like any teacher’s.  I felt that this section would help those trying to understand where we all came from using this system. 

The Primordial Ooze Of My Teaching Career and my First Steps as a Gaming Teacher
In 2008, I moved schools and was feeling a bit like a fish out of water.  I had just moved states and everything around me was different, except the teaching strategies that were being employed in the classroom.  They were all the same.  We made posters, did research projects, gave students notes, and gave traditional reading assignments.  What constituted good teaching was the same and everyone celebrated the “Best Practices” that had been printed repeatedly throughout the educational discourse for the last 20 years.  I kept doing what everyone had done for years, until I met a fellow teacher that introduced me to a concept that had an aura of educational power and potential that most people were afraid to touch:  Educational gaming as a class instead of an individual.    

The power of the use of a video to teach students has been discussed for years and been beaten to death.  Some say that a computer can never replace a teacher.  Others have touted the benefits that could help those who struggled in a traditional classroom.  But overall no consensus was ever reached and gaming had a remained mostly an individual experience in a computer lab by each student.  From my own experience, I played video games like Number Munchers or Oregon Trail, whenever I went to the computer lab, but I always felt like I lacked guidance from the teachers on what I was supposed to get out of these games.[1]  Usually, it seemed like a way for my teachers to take a breather from the hubbub of the school year and let us have a little fun. 

So when I became a teacher, I had almost dismissed the power of gaming as a teaching tool.  No classes at the university discussed this topic.  Sure we talked about the power of the internet or how a blog might be integrated into a classroom that I was sure would not have the technology to implement these things.  When I student taught I was relegated to an old overhead projector, a copy machine that was jammed half the time, and computers that were about five years old in the Media Center.  Talk about not being excited about the power of computer gaming in school.  It just wasn't feasible and so many teachers I talked with thought fun stuff like that was not for the serious business that is school.  How could gaming ever be used to reach everyone in a classroom full of thirty students?

My discussions with Mr. Parry launched my brain into a tizzy.  I spent a couple of my off periods discussing the finer points of how to use a video game in my classroom to teach economics and government concepts.  It was exciting!  My passion for gaming could be translated into something that was remarkable for learning! 

After our discussions, I quickly went home and pulled out my laptop to begin working on tailoring Capitalism II as a way for my students to learn.  I was teaching self-contained Special Education Government classes at the time.  Many of my students had failed government previously and hated the economics unit with a passion, because if taught through notes it can be dry as the Sahara.

I was determined to give this a try and, quite frankly, I was scared.  This could totally bomb.  I could be verbally assaulted by my students.  My finicky laptop might not work or shut down.  Who knows?  But that day I witnessed something that I have never forgotten.  I taught students with learning disabilities as a whole class how to build a store, sell items, how to gain imports, sell exports, compete with competitors, brand a product, and balance supply and demand.  I did all of this without a single moment of misbehavior and even the students that usually checked out became interested.  The girl that always proclaimed how much she hated government became a leader that helped her class sell shoes and make the most profits of any of my classes.  Talk about a good day! 

After all of this happened, I was hooked and convinced.  I used the same strategy the next year, with student that were in the Autism Spectrum/ED Program and came up with the same results.  Students like games.  They liked controlling the simulation and enjoying the immediate outcomes.  They learned how to work together and practiced the art of human discourse to make decisions.  My students all scored well on the economics unit exam both times I used the strategy.  I felt like I had done something spectacular and I wanted more.  So when I was offered to teach US History the next year and be a part of the multiple school experiment that was CivLab, I jumped at the chance.  If I was working on this by myself and it was good, what could I do with a game that involved multiple schools and classes competing against one another at world domination? 

Looking back on those days, I had stepped out of the primordial ooze of my teaching career and was in a more advanced place.  I was ready to take on a bigger project and do it year round!  The next installment of my journey will be coming soon!

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