Games for Education 2009
On October 2 & 9, I did an updated version of my workshop on using games for teaching. I re-post here a mostly-updated list of games that can be useful for teaching. I'm under no illusions that this is the best of such lists, but I hope that some of the stuff here is useful for you.
Elementary School Games:
- there are dozens of games aimed at kids from 4 to 12 or so at www.primarygames.com. It’s an aggregation site: I don’t think it makes any games itself—it finds them from all over the place. So take care here—some of them are pretty good, but some of them aren’t. There’s another list I haven’t had a chance to really look through carefully here, but it looks promising.
- PBS & CBC have a wide range of online games, usually themed to their shows, but some good stuff nonetheless. Usually aimed at younger children. Ditto my favourite: Peep and the Big Wide World (although this is really almost more for pre-schools than elementary kids).
- Bonte Games has some great logic puzzles that are certainly appropriate for upper-level elementary students, and might even be okay for some younger students. They're fun for adults too, by the way. The only two I've played are Factory Balls 2 and Duck Think Outside the Flock, but I'm sure the others are good too. Oh, and some of the banner ads are, um, questionable, unfortunately.
- I have scattered other elementary-level games throughout the lists below
- Dr. Kevin Kee of Brock University has been involved in student-made history games: Outbreak (about managing Montreal’s 1885 smallpox outbreak) and the Niagara 1812 games (a set of games about the war of 1812).
- There are a ton of economic and warfare simulation games. A quick search Manifesto Games would find you some interesting stuff (e.g. the intriguing looking Making History: The Calm & the Storm)
Math & Science games:
- The Mosquito game, which teaches about malaria
- New commercial math game called Dimenxian M (although as a gamer, I have to say it’s a frustrating game to play—this genre of game demands high quality, and it’s not that great)
- mid-level elementary game The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective is fairly slick in terms of its presentation. It’s a little moralistic, but that shouldn’t be a problem for younger kids.
Broader social studies:
- Food Force, a UN-sponsored game about food relief operations, generally geared to the 8-12 year-old set.
- Peacemaker, an intriguing and mature simulation about trying to resolve Israeli-Palestinian struggles. This one isn't free, but it might be worth paying for.
- 3rd World Famer, a great simple simulator of the economic and social difficulties confronting farmers in developing nations.
- Electrocity, a simulation of development and power consumption (which could also work for science courses) put out by a New Zealand electrical utility. Of course, as with all simulations, it incorporates certain assumptions about the nature of the world, but that’s okay—it’s worth talking about. This game would be more suited to older students.
- The Redistricting Game is about drawing electoral boundaries in the U.S. It's surprisingly fun--rather light-hearted and oddly challenging. It's of mixed value for Canadian students, but you could give it a shot. Naturally, it has a strong political agenda. Definitely for older students.
- A Force More Powerful is large-scale simulator of non-violent protest. Pretty involved, but definitely interesting.
- Crayon Physics, a really popular indie game where you solve puzzles by drawing any object you’d like. I hear that Scribblenauts is much the same thing with words, but I haven’t tried it yet (plus, it requires a Nintendo DS).
- Language games: Scrabble and equivalents, the PopCap word games
- Reasoning games: Soduku, low-tech games from Everett Kaser (the one I know is Sherlock), there are a million of these out there—do a Google search or go to some of the general-purpose indie sites listed below
Physical fitness etc.:
- Dance Dance Revolution. The classic Japanese dance game requires an active workout.
Good sites with catalogues of Educational, Serious, Persuasive & Activist games:
(Warning here: because these are sites with a lot of different kinds of players, you can find some pretty disturbing stuff on some of these sites—material that is not appropriate for kids. And because links lead to links, be careful about the access that young students have.)
- Game Tunnel is a general-purpose indie site with lots of reviews.
- Newsgaming is a site that does topical activist critique of current events and culture. These are decidedly slanted political games, usually, but simple, accessible and provocative. Not for everyone—and probably only appropriate for upper-level high school students. They currently have 3 games, all of which deal with terrorism: September 12, Madrid, Kabul Kaboom!
- Persuasive Games is another opinionated game-making site. These games are generally more polished, however, and deal with a broader array of topics.
- Matrix Games sells dozens of fairly high-quality historical games. The vast majority of them, however, are hard-core, highly-complex war games. Not really for the casual gamer or most students.
- check out Manifesto Games list of educational indie games. Manifesto Games is a now-defunct site that tried to create an alternative indie game culture & business. For now, anyway, they’ve left the site up with the games they had on it when it shut down mid-2009. Most of the stuff featured here is of reasonably quality, although some of it will probably not fit your taste.
- Brettspielwelt is a German site with inconsistent English translation. It’s a place where you can try out dozens of high quality German board games (Germans make the best board games). The educational value varies, but if you want to try some high quality board games—maybe to buy and try in class?—this would be a good place to go. Requires a log-in, and is not the easiest site to figure out.
- Boardgamegeek is a your one-stop location for information about any non-computer game ever created. Its Wikipedia-like database is so huge, it’s hard to believe. The gamers there have lots of helpful feedback, resources and reviews. If you’re thinking of a board or card game, this is the place to go.
Large-scale commercial simulations:
(Note that most of these games have some very troubling ideological implications--they tell stories, whether they intend to or not. To my mind, that's not a reason to avoid them, it just means if we teach with them, we really need to help students articulate what the games say about the world and evaluate whether those stories are ones we want to accept.)