What would be the right approach for you to bring video games in your classroom?

Here there are some tips from us:


Exemplary no 1 – ‘no curriculum’

This example might be an odd one, but includes something all of us teachers should think about once in a while. What if we’d use a game, any game really, that is exciting for students, once per week. The game would not be that ‘educational’, but we would reflect on what happened, how did it go and have a bit of fun. This could be the last session during the longest day of the week.

Why? We know that especially boys have trouble finding motivation in school. We’ve also witnessed that games have an over-arching positive impact on the learning atmosphere, but is the real reason the game? Most likely it is the fact that students are enjoying, having fun, and loving what they are doing. One example, coming from a teacher from Helsinki is: ‘I just want to get this game, so I can have that one lesson each week that I know is exciting for my most challenging and disconnected students.’ This type of activity, whether it’s a game or not, has a positive impact on the learning mood. Games provide an easy tool to build these exciting moments.

All of us should have that one lesson per week that we could invest in making our students excited and enjoy school. Event for that one lesson.

How to do it:

  • pick a game (ask your students)
  • ask your tech people to make it work
  • when the lesson is here, play
  • play for 75% of the class and reflect the remaining 25%

While the lesson is active, go around the class, discuss with your students, ask what they are doing, ask them to share, plan, collaborate etc. Don’t make it too formal.


Example no 2 – ‘Finding the curricular fit’

Finding a good game for something is hard, especially if you don’t play games yourself. Looking for recommendations makes this a bit easier, but trying to find a 100% match to your particular curriculum is nearly impossible. What you need to do is to turn this challenge into an opportunity to reflect and learn potentially deeper. Games can often include simplified or caricature examples of real-life phenomena and this helps the learner to go grasp the concept before going into greater detail.

What’s important is that the learner can ‘play’. Answering multiple-choice questions is not playing per se (opinion). What is playing is when the learner can interact and tinker with the phenomena we are trying to learn. A bad example would be a game you play and occasionally you are prompted with questions. In these examples, the playing and the learning are disconnected. A good example would be a game about atoms where you actually play with atoms and the mechanics related.

Leave enough time for the students to play. You’ll quickly notice when they start losing focus. We would not recommend you playing a game and then doing exactly what you did before. Instead, follow what the students play, ask them to report their findings by taking notes while playing, and then saying them out loud. Collect your students’ ideas to the board and systematically go through them and build the phenomena at hand from their findings.

The lesson could look like this:

  • 5mins setup with the assignment: play this game and take notes about what you learn about atoms
  • 15-20mins of gaming
  • One or two reminders of what we are supposed to be doing while playing. (2 students 1 computer or 3 students 2 computers can be a good split)
  • Last 15-20mins collecting their ideas and formalizing the concept: atom.


Example no 3 – ‘The one game to rule them all’

What if a game would be the one platform to collect all that we learn? Maybe not ‘all all’, but all within a single theme. This could be what we call in Finland ‘phenomena based learning’. It means that all that is studied connects to an ‘umbrella’ phenomenon.

Cities: Skylines is one of those games that are a massive platform for many learning opportunities. It’s a city simulator and a city builder. So let’s decide that our phenomena for this month is a ‘City’. All or most topics that we study during this month are somehow connected to this theme. In math class we could calculate area, density, road network length, fancy algebra, science class is pretty straightforward and in a language class, we could visit a foreign city (imagine) and use the language.

Every day or a couple of times a week the students would visit their city project where they would implement all they have learned to the city. Students, take notes on each lesson on how this could connect to the city theme and then mark those down also on your grand plan and presentation when you get the chance to demonstrate your magnificent city.

This requires very little preparation from the game perspective. Just an open mind to see the value in students building their outcomes in a different format. You will be surprised!


Example no – ‘No game approach’

Sometimes you don’t even need a game. You only need to be interested and open to approaches your students propose. A teacher once told that she just started asking about what games her students play and to present their favorite games. Her most ‘challenging’ student approach her with iPad full of creations within a game and at that point the teacher realized the creativity in that student and the effort the student puts in when interested. This is a true story. We hope that all teachers thrive to have these empowering moments with their students.

How to approach this could be as follows:

  • invest 15mins of your class time to discuss games
  • ask if there would be games that your students think could fit school
  • next time there’s a homework project that could be done in a game as well (your students can prompt this) allow your students to present the project with the help of that game
  • We guarantee you will be surprised!

Result: you only need to talk and acknowledge games to yield their power!