How video games can help students in class, at home

Adults worry about kids' video game time constantly. A researcher suggests that video games can really help kids at home and in the classroom. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Adults worry about kids’ video game time constantly. A researcher suggests that video games can really help kids at home and in the classroom. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Games are a daily part of our existence for most of us.

We play video games on our phones, our tablets, our computers, or TVs … almost everywhere.

We take part in games through rewards programs, accumulating points with our favorite restaurants, hotels and stores to redeem.

Elements of games are showing up more and more in classes and schools, as well. It’s no surprise … at all ages and in all walks of life, we just like to play.

If anybody knows their games, it’s Jane McGonigal. She’s the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future. (Yes, it’s a real organization!) You might have seen her TED Talk, “Gaming can make a better world.”

Jane was the guest on a favorite podcast of mine, “Note to Self.” It’s an NPR show hosted by Manoush Zomorodi that fashions itself as “the tech show about being human.” (If this new podcast is your main take-away from this post, that’s a pretty good one!)

As they discussed games and what has been learned about them, I kept thinking, “Wow, this could really help students and what we do in the classroom!”

Here are some of my top take-home messages from that episode:

Wondering whether you should add elements of games to your classroom? The benefits can be more than just extra repetitions, McGonigal says. fMRI scans show that video games stimulate the opposite feelings to depression.

Some people can self-medicate depression (to some extent) by playing video games, she said. McGonigal quoted play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith: “The opposite of play isn’t work; the opposite of play is depression.”

We can give students a boost by incorporating some of those game-show-style formative assessment games like Kahoot!, Quizizz and Quizlet Live.

Can video games be a good antidote to problems students have? Yes, McGonigal says. For example, a short burst of a tricky puzzle game like sudoku or Cut the Rope can provide a boost of energy and motivation. Think of it like a dose of medicine: play for a short burst and then turn it off. A quick puzzle-game break could be a nice investment of time during class!

Games that produce a flow state (like Reigns) can reduce anxiety or stress when played for about 20 minutes. If you’re not willing to concede that large a chunk of time, just telling students about this strategy can help them help themselves.

Ever worry that your students spend too much time playing video games? How about your own kids, or yourself? McGonigal says playing video games can instill values like grit, persistence, community and creativity.

So, how can you tell when video games are helping or hurting? One way, McGonigal says, is to ask this: What have you gotten better at since playing this game? If kids (or anyone) can identify the skills they’re gaining from their play, it can be productive. Try asking that question the next time you chat with students about their video games.

Question: What do you think of all of this? What has been your experience with video games and yourself and/or your students/children? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

  Date Event / Event Details City / More Info
+ 10/23/2017
8:30-3:15 p.m.
Show-Me Curriculum Administrators Association SMCAA Osage Beach, Missouri
   Private Event
+ 10/30/2017
8:00-3:30 p.m.
Sedalia School District Sedalia, MO
+ 11/07/2017
8:00am-3:00pm
Goshen Local Schools Goshen, OH
   Private Event
+ 11/15/2017
NIESC Plymouth, IN
  Venue:Christo's Banquet Center
830 Lincoln Hwy E
Plymouth, IN 46563
Private Event

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7 thoughts on “How video games can help students in class, at home

  1. Video games are an integral part of my life. There are some small physical benefits video games give, like increased hand-eye-coordination but I think the emotional or social lessons they teach are far more useful. Someone who is on the leader board for a FPS game for a month shows massive dedication. A person who can play Sid Meier’s Civilization IV for an hour and balance all the complex and moving pieces has incredible problem solving abilities. Who plans and organizes a 40-person raid on an MMORPG without incredible people skills? Take any kid who says they aren’t smart, and ask them what video games they’ve played recently, I’ll bet you’ll find something they’re good at.

  2. Thank you for this post! Let me tell you why I believe in the power of video games and kids.

    My son was diagnosed with Petit Mal Epilepsy (absence seizures) at the age 8. Based on the extent of brain damage from the seizures, his doctor believed he was having undetected and frequent seizures starting at the age of 3. This has left him with cognitive delays and memory problems.

    He developed an interest in computers and gaming at an early age and like many youngsters, he became somewhat obsessed with Minecraft. Before we knew it, this kid who struggled so hard in school, was now teaching himself how to use sophisticated programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Cinema 4D, Camtasia and others to not only develop first person game play, but also intros and outros for other Youtubers. Even though he could charge for the work he does, he enjoys doing the animations so much that he does them for free.

    Now that he is older, and his tastes have grown up, he has learned how to build a stronger gaming computer (installing graphic cards and such on his own), how to use hardware (Elgato) to link his computer and Playstation 4 together so he can record other games.

    Also, he is very shy in school and has a small circle of friends. But, by using online game play and his YouTube channel, he has extended his circle of friends from not only from across the USA but around the world as well. He Skypes with friends that he has made from around the world and is learning about different cultures.

    He now realizes the importance of subjects such as Math, English and History and applies them to what he does. He works very hard in school because he wants to pursue his dream of being an animator or even an IT specialists. Gaming has given him real life skills that he will be able to use later in his life.

    If you want, you can check out his channels (first person play) http://bit.ly/2a99ylo and (intros and outros) http://bit.ly/29VLGq8

  3. For me, video games have been a part of my life for 20+ years ( I’m 27 now ) and they gave me a lot of skills.

    1) I pretty much learned English by playing video games, my first language is french, I played RPG games when I was younger, in order to advance in those types of games you need to read what people have to say and complete quest. I had to make associations between words and pictures.

    2) It developed my patience, again with RPG games, those types of game take a long time to finish, you need to train your characters to get strong, then you need to find money for better gear in order to advance.

    3) They taught me the value of money like I said before you need to make/save money for better gear in order to advance, I learned that if I save up enough money I can buy the BIG armor instead of the cheap ones.

    4) I developed my logic like you wrote in your article about puzzle games, they help you develop your logic, by making you use your brain in order to advance in the game.

    I became a father last week and I can assure you my kid will play video games, I think they are really important in a child’s life.

  4. You are right. I have been playing games for last 10 years as a full time game. It help me a lot about my life, learning many skills and tricks. I never get board when i play games otherwise i help me to get out form many difficult situation.