Helping Students Help Themselves: Tales from a Middle School Classroom
When using games in the classroom, teachers need to design their implementations in ways that fit their goals, the format of their class, and their students’ needs. Each classroom environment is different and it is not uncommon to find teachers with different implementations and even cases where the implementation may change over the course of the school year. As game developers and researchers, we take special interest in how and why teachers choose to use our games.
The Radix Endeavor is a multiplayer online game designed to promote understanding and engagement in secondary math and science. The Radix team recently talked with two middle school science teachers who have been implementing The Radix Endeavor in their classrooms for the past several months. We wanted to know more about their reasons for using the game and how they were choosing to fit it in with their existing curriculum.
Radix Team: Why did you choose to use Radix in your classroom?
Mr. Anderson: I chose Radix to use with my 7th grade life science students because it was a new and creative learning tool…it was clear that this resource was more than just a game and would require a higher level of thinking from the students… I felt that the support I would receive would help to keep my students engaged throughout the process.
Mr. Anderson: I chose to utilize Radix in my classroom in order to provide my students with an opportunity to use something they enjoy outside of class (video games) in a classroom setting where they could actually learn something from it. To “play” while learning is everyone’s dream… especially when you are a Middle or High School student! The goal was to provide an exciting, attention grabbing avenue to learn about science content and application skills.
Radix Team: How have you chosen to implement it and why?
Mr. Avery: Students were assigned the tutorial quests, and later a set of science quest lines that related to the topics covered in our district’s 7th grade life science curriculum. Students were initially given class time to work on their Radix quests. This gave me an opportunity to see how students would access and interact with the program, as well as questions that they might have as they worked through their quests. Students also had the opportunity to collaborate with peers to problem solve and answer each other’s questions.
Mr. Anderson: My main purpose for using Radix in the classroom was to allow students to participate in a fun yet challenging game where they could not only learn about various scientific concepts and terminology, but most importantly they would be honing their problem solving skills through critical thinking opportunities. I gave each student a hard copy list of the quests I assigned them. I asked them to always keep that sheet next to them when playing as another way to visually keep track of what quests they were completing. Students were given approximately 1 to 2 class periods every 2 weeks to work on radix. They were also encouraged to play during Study hall or at home. The concepts that were woven through out [sic] the program were spot on regarding standards. Watching students develop inquiry skills and utilize critical thinking while working through problems was truly eye-opening! The frustration would run high…. but the satisfaction of achievement would run even higher.
Radix Team: How has your implementation changed during the time you have been using the game? What effect has it had on the classroom?
Mr. Avery: As students became more familiar with the expectations, less class time was devoted to Radix, and students worked on quests during their own time. Students continued to ask questions of each other as they worked on quests during study periods and at home. Students have also had the opportunity to work on quests that were not assigned as they found things that interested them in the program.
Mr. Anderson: There is no doubt, especially as teachers, that our natural instinct is to “control” every situation or want to help students when they run up against a brick wall. However, in a very short time, I found myself changing the way I was doing the business of radix. I went from running around a room of 20 students, to slowly watching those students figure out ways to solve their own problem. THIS is the gift of Radix……..helping students help themselves! In slowing down my need to help, I found my students were learning to come out of their shell and ask others around them for help. They worked cooperatively and respectfully as they were all in this together. Problem solving and inquiry skills, attention to character directions, and overall desire to participate in this opportunity were the greatest challenges of the game, yet the greatest opportunities for reward.
Games can be fun and engaging tools for the classroom, but there isn’t necessarily one right or wrong way to incorporate them into the classroom, as the experiences of these two teachers show. There’s also no harm in starting out one way and changing things up as you go along. Empowering teachers to use the game as a tool, and to fit the needs of the students in the classroom, leads to meaningful experiences for both teachers and students.