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Adding “Game” to Your Classroom: Can Video Games Enhance Motivation?

by Neil Finney

The idea of incorporating video games into our classrooms is a relatively new, and for many of us, intimidating notion. Put simply, by planning video gameplay – or aspects of it – into our lesson and unit planning, we can reach our learners in creative and alternative ways. Many of our students spend countless hours online and using video game systems; adding “game” to the classroom is a potential way to merge the home and school spheres of interest – to boost student learning and motivation.

 […and your “inner” teacher asks…]

But can it work?

I am currently planning a unit where I will use Mario Kart Wii as a vehicle to carry curriculum and address learning goals for my grade 8 students. This will be the first in a series of articles that explores the journey and results of “gamifying” the learning experience.

But video games are the problem that is eroding our student’s attention span, so why would we bring them into our teaching programs?

The educational world is in flux and constantly changing. Our students are constantly bombarded by media messages and a ‘gaming’ culture. Why not try new avenues and ideas to explore if enhanced student motivation and achievement is possible? By offering an opportunity to participate in video gameplay – in the classroom – we can provide a new experience to ground the content and product goals of our lessons.

How can you justify playing video games instead of doing “real work”?

Our purpose as teachers is to educate students to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners. If there is a chance that video games present an opportunity to ‘hook’ a student into the promise of learning, we should explore it further. Instead of using trivial numbers on worksheets to complete math problems and calculations, we could develop key ideas and lessons around the ‘experiential’ data gained from playing the games.

For example, to teach the skill of finding measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode, range), we will use the race times that students achieve from the Mario Kart video game. For the past 3 races, what has your mean race time been? What is the median race time for the class? What is the range of the data collected?

How can I even get started in trying video games in my classroom?

Start with the students. Create a survey that asks for their input and ideas about using video games in the classroom. Provide them with the opportunity to shape their learning through a vehicle that you have chosen. Have them offer subject connections, writing form ideas, media projects and discussion prompts about video games in the classroom. The entire experience could be a “teachable moment” shared between teacher and student about “risk taking” in the learning. Above all else, enjoy the experience. You will absolutely learn more from this than what you usually do in the classroom. Model what it means to be a lifelong learner for your students – by walking the walk.


How would you use video games to teach students about a curriculum subject? What questions do you have about gamifying your classroom?


During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.


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We've Been Gamifying All Along?!? Are You Gamifying Your Class? Gamifying: Can the Buzz of the Business World Wow Educators Too?
We’ve Been Gamifying All Along? Are you Gamifying Your Class? [Infographic] Gamifying: Can the Buzz of the Business World “Wow” Educators Too?



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  • Aviva (@avivaloca)

    Neil, I really like this post of yours! Last year, I used NINTENDOGS to teach my Grade 1′s about living things and my Grade 2′s about animals. This linked directly to our Science topics at the time. While my students loved this gaming approach, I had a few reservations. No matter how hard I worked at bringing the curriculum to the forefront, I found that more time was spent on the game itself. Yes, this provided lots of problem and collaboration opportunities, but was it the best use of classroom time? I’m not sure. What have you noticed with your experiences? I’d love to hear!


    • neil

      Hi Aviva. Thanks for the connection to your own experience with incorporating video games into your teaching practice. You’re absolutely right. There has to be parameters setup that clearly guide the “game time” and the curricular activities derived from it. But, just as we provide extensions and opportunities to expand on the learning – why couldn’t we also provide these things through the vehicle of game time? Perhaps for those students who push for more time to play the game, that is our “carrot” to keep them engaged and interested in this particular learning environment. We add marbles to jars for student or class rewards. We give out points towards fun activities that seating groups or house colours try to earn. Why not transfer the same “gamifying” concept towards the game time in a calculated or measured way that will still lead back to the learning? I don’t know. New ideas certainly breed new questions and concerns – I think that is what drives the discovery and its effect on our methods.

      I would love to hear from other educators on this one, too. Who else has tried video games in their teaching? What do you think of this idea?