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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 2

The New Rule of Educational Video Games: Don’t Be Boring [Video]

We’ve come a long way since Oregon Trail

“For many kids, traditional education is neither relevant nor engaging,” wrote game designer Alan Gershenfeld in the February issue of Scientific American. “Digital games, on the other hand, captivate them.” The good news is that “even games that seem to have no redeeming value can deliver positive, lasting neuropsychological effects.” The better news, Gershenfeld argues, is that properly designed educational games, informed by research, have the potential to transform education. Game-based education isn’t there quite yet but the earliest contenders have begun to appear, and they range from modifications to existing games to tools for redesigning entire curricula. Here’s a peek at three of the most interesting.

1. qCraft
If you know a child over the age of five, you have heard of Minecraft, whose devoted 25 million–plus players spend hours constructing worlds from LEGO-like blocks. qCraft is a modification of Minecraft designed to introduce players to a few of the freakier concepts of quantum physics. This video gives a good introduction.

2. Gamestar Mechanic
The process of designing a video game turns out to be an intellectually engaging task, one that exercises many of the higher-order skills emphasized in the Common Core. That’s why more than 6,000 schools and after-school programs have begun using Gamestar Mechanic to teach kids to design their own games. Since its launch in 2010 Gamestar Mechanic has been played more than 15 million times in 100 countries, yielding 500,000 original student-designed games.

Gamestar Mechanic Trailer from E-Line Media on Vimeo.

2. Historia
Rick Brennan and Jason Darnell, social studies teachers at Lanier Middle School in Texas, responded to their students’ utter lack of interest in history by making a game of it. The original version, showcased in the following video, was analog—based entirely on paper. This year, the company that Brennan and Darnell created, Histrionix Learning Co., together with E-Line Media and Upper One Games, will release a digital version of Historia for interactive whiteboard, tablet and Mac/PC.

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