Supporting Games and Learning in the Classroom

When implemented with intentionality, games positively impact teaching and learning across ages and educational settings. According to Mindshift’s Guide to Games and Learning, the benefits of digital gaming for learners includes the development of metacognitive skills and empathy, as well as breaking down barriers between subject areas and supporting neural plasticity. Games can improve focus and reaction time while incrementally developing intelligence. Games also support positive moods and social-emotional growth (Shapiro et al., 2014, p. 6). Despite the positive benefits, incorporating games into the curriculum can create obstacles. A survey from the Games and Learning Publishing Council explores the barriers that teachers face when attempting to implement digital games. These concerns include: Time, cost, lack of resources, the emphasis on standardized testing, difficulty finding quality games, unfamiliarity with technology, and lack of support from administration and parents (Shapiro et al, 2014, p. 27 – 29).

Source: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

Key Questions

Do games really help students learn?

The Games and Learning Assessment Lab (GlassLab), established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a recognized leader in the world of game-based learning. A 2013 study by GlassLab concluded that “when digital games were compared to other instruction conditions without digital games, there was a moderate to strong effect in favor of digital games in terms of broad cognitive competencies” (Shapiro et al, 2014, p. 9). The study also found that by interacting with digital games, students have the opportunity to increase achievement by 12 percent compared to their counterparts who did not utilize games Similarly, interacting with computer simulations supported student improvement by 25 percent due to the opportunity to experiment and explore in a safe environment (p. 9). 

How do teachers use games in the classroom?

Digital games are used to reach a variety of goals and objectives for both students and teachers. 53% of teachers suggest that video games as a way to promote collaboration among students. Interestingly, the grouping data does not match this belief. 

Grouping key points: 

  • 52% of teachers use digital games as independent activities. 
  • 34% of teachers utilize digital games in small groups with 3-5 students per group. 
  • 29% of teachers implement digital games within the whole class setting (Shapiro et al, 2014, p. 10). 

Teachers look at other criteria beyond collaboration and grouping when selecting which games to implement. Peer reviews play a significant impact: “48% of teachers base their game selection decisions on what other teachers say about the game” (p. 10). 43% look for games that include ways to track and assess learning, as well as ways to manage the classroom. It is also important to note that personal experience factors into teachers’ decisions as well: “42% base their decision on personal experiences and preferences related to the game” (p. 10)

Don’t kids already spend enough time in front of screens?

Rather than eliminating screen time in the classroom, teachers can use media use as an opportunity to build cognitive skills, enhance problem solving skills, and “supplement non-digital learning” (Shapiro et al, 2014, p. 13). It is important that teachers teach and model appropriate digital citizenship skills as students become connected digital citizens while also emphasizing the importance of physical books and various forms of communication (p. 13). 

MindShift Guide to Digital Games and Learning also shares 2014 screen time recommendations for children. Listed below are the updated screen time recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

Screen time recommendations: 

  • Children younger than 18 months – Avoid screen time, except video chats
  • Children ages 18 – 24 months – Parents should choose high-quality programming and consume it with their child. 
  • Children ages 2 – 5 years old – Limit to 1 hour of high-quality programming per day. 
  • Children ages 6 and older – Create clear and consistent limits. Media should not hinder sleep or physical activity (AAP, 2019).

Shapiro et al. (2014). Guide to digital games and learning. Mindshift. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019). Media and children communication toolkit. Retrieved May 1, 2019, from Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx

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