At SchoolSphero Team
Education and video games are more compatible than you might think.

It may seem an unlikely pairing, but video games can have a positive influence on how students learn. We often think of video games as recreational, but they can actually be used as tools to support teaching and to engage students in new, interactive ways. Not to mention, 91% of young people say that they play video games, meaning that educators can tap into the medium and “speak the language” of modern generations. 

The logic-based storylines of video games and the cognitive skills required to play them fuel concentration, memory, creativity, and teamwork in players. What’s more, in an increasingly virtual world, video games can help students develop necessary awareness and navigation with digital tools. That’s why video games can be especially impactful in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) – because these subjects tend to embrace the most up-to-date resources, and have problem-solving at their core. 

Here’s why education and video games are more compatible than first expected, and how to most effectively combine the two in STEM subjects. 

How Video Games Garner Interest for STEM Subjects 

Today, 66 percent of Americans—more than 215 million people of all ages and backgrounds—play video games regularly. Three-quarters of players are over 18, and the average age of a video game player is 33. Across all ages, players are about half female (48 percent) and half male (52 percent). As generations that grew up with video games start becoming more and more of the majority of the adult population, the old stereotypes of video games “poisoning minds” is fading. Instead more people are accepting them as useful tools—and not just for entertainment purposes. And teachers are no exception. 

More than 70% of teachers report using digital games in the classroom. For years, video games have complemented learning by honing students’ analytical skills and preparing them to make decisions in fast-paced scenarios. For STEM subjects, video games are a fun, practical, and enlightening way to explore complex concepts. Plus, video games are immersive, so they can capture students’ attention and harbor curiosity and motivation. 

In particular, video games proved their value in education during remote learning where they facilitated virtual classes. For example, one school asked students to play Assassin’s Creed – which has an education mode – because of its research-based depiction of ancient Greece. After playing the game, students had to write a report about Greece and its distinguishing features. 

Minecraft equally boomed in popularity, as the simulation game can boost learning around environments, ecosystems, and spatial awareness. Some teachers report integrating Minecraft for math too, using it to model geometric concepts. Others have applied it for engineering projects, where students have had to design and implement infrastructure to combat climate change. 

Elsewhere, Minecraft has an education mode that comes with a suite of pre-made lesson plans, as well as customizable lesson plans for teachers to create their own student journeys according to specific STEM themes. Minecraft is unique also because its education resources have integrated with lesson plans and kits for computer science and coding. 

Understanding Video Game Design 

Game design has grown in popularity lately, with bestselling books like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow inspiring young people to try a career in the position. At the same time, famous game designers like Shigeru Miyamoto, Gabe Newell, and Sid Meier have opened the doors for budding designers to enter the industry more easily. 

Video game design is the process of shaping the content and rules for a game. It demands a range of skills such as coding, critical thinking, teamwork, and communication – much like the skills gained from studying STEM subjects. By integrating video games into education, teachers can capitalize on student interests while encouraging them to develop and practice all the skills involved in game design. Because of elements like storytelling and visual design, video game design can also be an excellent way to help foster interest in STEM for students that lean more toward traditionally artistic or creative subjects. 

Becoming a game designer means students have to immerse themselves in the world of hardware, software, computer science, and engineering. Students need to know how to make scenery look realistic, to devise journeys that make sense, and to portray movements and interactions as digital renderings. 

Teachers who opt to use video games in classes can encourage students to discover the granular elements of game design, and guide them toward STEM classes that will empower their progress toward the role. 

How to Use Video Games in Education 

Playing video games can improve metacognition, which is students’ capacity to think about their own thinking. Good metacognitive skills have been linked to better academic performance as it prompts students to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and make changes accordingly. How, though, can educators best bring video games into their curriculums? 

To start, teachers can ask students to play video games that align with the content of the lesson. For example, the game Portal makes sense in a physics class because players have to use the laws of physics to advance through a series of test chambers. Likewise, a game such as Europa Barbarorum would be ideal for a history course, as players have to navigate important stages of civilization as it unfolds. Avenger’s Creed also connects to Social Studies topics while having a more direct link to STEM disciplines.  

Teachers could additionally use video games to build literacy skills among students. For instance, games with complex narratives like Destiny and Beyond: Two Souls can assist students in writing plots, testing hypotheses, and connecting events. They also encourage students to listen to precise instructions, consult maps, and experiment with different tactics – activities that can all boost STEM learning. 

Educators can suggest that students play and research video games to then form their own version of a game, too. Creating video games is a long, detailed, and expensive process, so giving students the task of finding the right tools, budget, and workflows to make a game is a great collaborative project. This can be an opportunity for students to showcase their expertise in a specific topic and convert it into a game, or they may choose to dive into an area of STEM that they are less familiar with to help enhance their comprehension of it. 

Video games aren’t the enemy of education, they can be a powerful resource to motivate students, push them to innovate, and accelerate their STEM learning. Especially in the digital world, video games can be a space for students to understand technical storytelling, mechanics, and construction.  

Much like the games themselves, educators can be the narrator that sets out the parameters for students, but ultimately allow learners to follow their own path and reap their own rewards. 

Ready to transform takeaways from video games into real-life STEM solutions? Uncover how Sphero robots can advance students to the next level. 

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