Note: This is a sponsored blog post for Legends of Learning.
I've been following the work of Legends of Learning from the start. They have developed a very interesting ecosystem (no pun intended) for Games to teach Science concepts. Legends of Learning essentially opened up their platform for developers to create and publish science games to teach to specific science standards. Games can be reviewed and rated by both Students and Teachers. I love this idea as it provides an opportunity for good games to rise to the top while not so good games won't survive. I suppose we could teach Darwinism through this vetting process.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a strong proponent of game based learning and a critic of game based learning done poorly. I tend to favor the use of commercial games in school but would definitely LOVE to see more commercial quality games that are intended for learning. Often, however, games for learning often fall victim to the over used "chocolate covered broccoli" fate and serve more as a digital worksheet than a game.
There are certainly games for learning that are quite promising in terms of maintaining the balance of commercial quality and impact for learning. One prime example is Eco, by StrangeLoop Games.
Eco was built from the ground up as a commercial (AAA) quality game intended for use in the classroom (and beyond). Eco is a multiplayer game that tasks you with maintaining a sustainable environment while achieving the goal of saving the world from being destroyed. This destruction would be the fault of the humans (the players of the game). Sounds like a worthwhile objective to me! The game is a Global Survival Game that involves the players in gathering resources, building, farming, hunting, etc. There is a political element as well where players can propose laws and the other players vote to pass or deny the laws, further impacting the game-play.
Back to Legends of Learning. I love that the Legends team has recruited educators and students to help inform the process through the rating system and their ambassador program. There is a very active community of educators that participate in the forums and provide feedback to the team and directly to the developers. Most of the educators are Science Teachers. Some are game based learning enthusiasts while others are new to game based learning and being introduced to GBL through the Legends of Learning platform. This comes with it's pluses and minuses. On one hand, educators are bringing games into the classroom which is wonderful. On another hand, some may be happy bringing a 'game' that plays like a quiz with a mini game as a reward and assuming this is a good example of game based learning. This begs an important question. Is a quiz based game that teaches a concept followed by a mini game that allows the player to run and jump in a short mario type level better (or more engaging) than learning from a text book? Perhaps, but should we expect more? The argument most GBL purists would raise is that the learning should be embedded in the game play. Many games that are created for learning serve more like a digital worksheet and from a Game Based Learning standpoint there is a very significant difference.
Legends of Learning is working hard to create a niche in terms of bite size games that teach isolated concepts based on Science standards.This is a noble effort and hopefully it will be successful over time. The clear benefit is that teachers can pick and choose activities that aim to address specific learning outcomes. Within the platform, teachers can see the ratings, game description, and the type of game (quiz, instructional game, simulation, etc.). Teachers can create playlists to provide a number of games for their students to play through. The system collects data based on student performance. All of these elements speak well to the educator trying to bring games into their classroom while feeling confident that the game is covering the intended learning outcome.
I've played many of the games and some have merit as a game to teach the concept while others feel very much like a quiz followed by an unrelated minigame as a reward. My hope is that educators and students will continue to examine the games on the platform with a critical eye to ensure that truly meaningful games rise to the top. I will say that I've heard from many educators that they have enjoyed bringing the Legends of Learning games into their classroom. Likewise, the games have been met with a shared enthusiasm by the students. I would love to try some of the games that have been highly regarded.
Earlier this year I began an effort focusing on the theme "What Kids Say About Games...And Can We Listen" based on the #SXSWEdu session I was presenting with Matthew Farber, Susanna Pollock, and Louise Dube. It has been a great project and I plan to continue having students exercise Student Voice through Game Reviews. Who better to speak to the quality of these games than students, right? I teach game design and development so my students look at games through the lens of a beta tester / game developer. They have been taught to analyze games based on the merits of commercial games. As such, there can certainly be a bit of a bias as they are playing commercial games and comparing these games to those. While that may be a bias, I think it is valid that they should demand a level of quality from the games that are brought into their learning environment.
On to some of the student Reviews.
Rebecca, an 8th grader in my Game Design and Development course reviewed Angry Contraptions:
Today we played games from Legends of Learning and they were very educational.
Storyline/Engaging:There wasn't really a storyline for the games. More of just a hit the target games but it was very addicting and I wanted to keep playing until I beat the level. I probably would not play it outside of school though.
Learning:The goal of the game is to teach students about the laws of motion in a fun yet educational way. There are questions along the way to engage the mind and retain knowledge.
Fun Factor:The game was lacking a bit of the fun meter. I felt like I was learning a lot more than most games and the game was also frustrating when the balls would stop moving just before the level would have been completed
Overall:The game was a very simple and educational game and I think it would be useful for those who are just learning this topicSeamus shared his thoughts on Tower Puzzle:
In Legends of learning, the mini game I was playing was Tower Puzzle. It was my favorite out of all of the games, because I liked the feature of when the player completes the questions, and get to try to get the ball to reach the bottom. There is no story line for this game, the premise is just answer the questions to get coins, and get the ball to the bottom. For the entertaining part, I would not play it outside of school, because my type of games do not fit into the category of education, and was not having fun while playing this game. It is a good learning game for kids though, and I support it. I also think that this mini game is about learning and not about coins, and by that I mean that there is some though provoking questions that influence the education part.Andrew had some interesting thoughts on playing through Selective Farming, a game that has elements of a money management game mixed with learning about genetics:
I found the game very fun, breeding animals to get better traits while also trying to earn a certain amount of money. The game would've been a lot better in my opinion if you could continue playing after you reach your goal. You start your farm with some cows and cauliflower, you can breed these to get better traits so they are worth more money to sell. You can also buy more things to breed so they can be sold to get out of debt.
The game teaches players about genetics and artificial selection through the tutorial. It then lets them experiment with this and do it themselves in a simulation to see the potential benefits and consequences.
Anthony also shares his thoughts on Selective Farming:
Legends of Learning Review
In the past I have always enjoyed learning from games rather then using a textbook. "Legends of Learning" gives children the opportunity to learn via computer games.
In the first game, I was tasked with creating a profitable farm in order to pay off my Grandfathers debt. Their were message boxes to explain cross-breeding which was the lesson. My farm started with 2 cows and a garden of cauliflower. I had to breed the cows in order to make a better one. Then I could sell one of the original cows. Repeating this process over time increased my profit and price per bucket of milk. The same concept applies to the cauliflower.
Overall I really enjoyed learning this way. I felt I really understood the lesson being taught. I would definitely love to learn using games in the future.
Kieren writes a very thoughtful review about Selective Farming as well. Definitely worth the read!
Another one of my 8th graders, Sophia, shares her thoughts about the game Selective Farming. It is interesting to see her perspective regarding the gameplay not really teaching any content and her feelings about the game in general.
To read more of my student's game reviews, please check out the Legends of Learning Game Review Pinterest board.
To provide a little more context, I chose a different science standard for each of my three 8th grade game development classes and created a playlist based on the standard. I would like to see more flexibility in the play list feature as I did find that I wanted to add games from different learning objectives and would have liked for students to have the ability to move around through the play list on their own or even explore the games on the platform without needing them to be 'prescribed' by the teacher.
I hope you enjoy the student reviews. I really think we owe it to the children we serve to embrace their feedback and listen to them. I hope the developers of these games and Legends of Learning see this as valuable feedback to incorporate moving forward.