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How Gaming Is Changing the Classroom

Your favorites, like Angry Birds and World of Warcraft, are leading the educational gaming revolution.

By the time she’s 21 years old, a student will play nearly 10,000 hours of video games. But can kids play their way to learning? An increasing number of educators are recognizing that students aren’t responding to old-school lectures, and they’re looking to engage the gamer generation by bringing gaming into the classroom.


Since 2009, an entire school, New York City’s Quest to Learn, has used gaming-based learning principles to help students achieve. Instead of sitting kids in front of a screen all day, the school uses a gaming curriculum centered on systems-thinking. It helps students learn history and math by adopting the behaviors and habits of, for example, real historians or mathematicians. To top it all off, the students are also learning how to design their own games.

While there are plenty of learning games made by educational software companies, savvy educators are going directly to the popular games their students are playing outside of school. Earlier this year, John Burk, a ninth-grade physics teacher in Atlanta, taught his students the laws of physics using the highly addictive game Angry Birds. Instead of a dry lecture, Burk used the birds catapulting into the sky to demonstrate projectile motion, and thanks to gaming, it only took 30 minutes for the students to grasp the concept.

Similarly, the Pender County, North Carolina schools are using World of Warcraft to teach language arts to middle schoolers. World of Warcraft’s epic fantasy setting works well as the students read classics like Beowulf or J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Academic standards are incorporated when students have to compare the characteristics of a hero in the literature with those in the game, or write a personal narrative from the perspective of the main WOW character, Aezeroth.

Why does gaming work so well as a learning tool? Games have clear rules and objectives that students can understand and work to achieve. And there's no denying that the really well-designed ones are easy to get immersed in. They also have plenty of bells and whistles to motivate players. Even if they don't do well at first, eventually they are rewarded for their persistence. Given the eagerness students show to play games, the gaming revolution is probably in classrooms for good.

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