Classes are start­ing to re­sem­ble ar­cades

The Standard Journal - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Michael Melia

WALLING­FORD, Conn. — It’s 1 o’clock on a Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in Walling­ford, Conn., and about 20 chil­dren are watch­ing a screen at the front of the room as they take turns nav­i­gat­ing chal­lenges and col­lect­ing vir­tual cur­rency to un­lock pow­ers, out­fits and pets for their char­ac­ters.

The game they’re play­ing has some sim­i­lar­i­ties to the on­line bat­tle game “Fort­nite.” But the kids aren’t fight­ing one an­other — they’re rack­ing up points for par­tic­i­pa­tion and good be­hav­ior in their class­room at Dag Ham­marskjold Mid­dle School, where their teacher is pre­sent­ing a home eco­nomics les­son with help from Class­craft, a fan­tasy-themed ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram.

“It’s ac­tu­ally a lot of fun,” said 13-year-old Caiden McManus. “The pets — that’s my fa­vorite thing to do. To train the pets, you gain as many gold pieces as pos­si­ble so you can get the new out­fits and stuff.”

Peek in­side your av­er­age class­room these days, and you’re likely to see teach­ers us­ing apps, web­sites and soft­ware that bor­row el­e­ments from video games to con­nect with stu­dents liv­ing tech­nol­ogy-in­fused lives. By all ac­counts, they’re fun to use, and stud­ies have found that some can be ef­fec­tive. But there is also skep­ti­cism about how often stu­dents who use them are bet­ter ed­u­cated, or just bet­ter en­ter­tained.

Dag Ham­marskjold con­sumer sciences teacher Gianna Gurga said she had been look­ing for a way to get more out of her stu­dents. Stu­dents have been more mo­ti­vated and per­formed bet­ter in her classes since she be­gan us­ing Class­craft in spring 2017, she said, and she has signed up a hand­ful of other teach­ers in the school.

“My kids are so ad­dicted to it in the best way pos­si­ble,” Gurga said.

In one ses­sion, the class­room filled with sus­pense­ful mu­sic as Gurga be­gan rapid-fire ques­tion­ing. With each cor­rect an­swer, cho­sen from mul­ti­ple choices on the screen, stu­dents gained points that could be used for avatar up­grades, priv­i­leges like lis­ten­ing to mu­sic in class, and a com­pe­ti­tion against other class­rooms. The avail­able char­ac­ters — war­riors, mages and heal­ers — each have dif­fer­ent pow­ers and must col­lab­o­rate to suc­ceed.

Points are awarded for class par­tic­i­pa­tion as well as good be­hav­ior, but the kids can also be pe­nal­ized, as was the case for one of Gurga’s sev­enth-graders who told a class­mate to “shut up.”

A mid­dle school in New York City, Quest to Learn, was the first pub­lic school to fully em­brace game-based learn­ing when it opened nearly a decade ago. The Man­hat­tan school, de­vel­oped by game the­o­rists with the In­sti­tute of Play, has been closely fol­lowed since by re­searchers hop­ing for hard ev­i­dence of re­sults from tech­nol­ogy-in­spired gam­i­fi­ca­tion.

In the last school year, 43 per­cent of Quest to Learn’s stu­dents were up to state stan­dards on the state English test, com­pared to 41 per­cent city­wide, and 29 per­cent of its stu­dents met state stan­dards on the state math test, com­pared to 33 per­cent city­wide. But ad­vo­cates say stan­dard­ized testing alone does not tell the story. Out­side stud­ies have shown growth in soft skills such as col­lab­o­ra­tion, cre­ative think­ing and em­pa­thy, ac­cord­ing to Ross Flatt, di­rec­tor of pro­grams and part­ner­ships for the In­sti­tute of Play, a non­profit stu­dio that uses game de­sign prin­ci­ples to de­velop new learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

/ AP-Michael Melia

Fifth-grade stu­dent Ash­lynn De Filip­pis (left) works math prob­lems on the DreamBox sys­tem as teacher Heather Dal­ton (cen­ter rear) works with other stu­dents in class at Charles Bar­num El­e­men­tary School in Gro­ton, Conn. A wide ar­ray of apps, web­sites and soft­ware used in schools bor­row el­e­ments from video games to help teach­ers con­nect with stu­dents.

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