Games for Education 2010
On October 8, I did a slightly-updated version of my workshop on using games for teaching. Here are the games I talked about in the workshop, plus some others. 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. If you have any suggestions to add to the list, let me know!
Playing Games in the classroom:
- My wife pointed out this site to me: Microsoft Office Game Templates. Properly speaking, from what I can see, it's not a site with games on it. Instead, it gives you programs and PowerPoints, and Excel files that allow you to play games in the classroom. Apparently, some teachers absolutely love it. Not my sort of thing (not pretty enough--I'm too much of a snotty game geek), but I can totally imagine this behind really useful for many teachers.
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-schoolers 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 may be, um, questionable, unfortunately.
- Lots of teachers already know about Starfall, a site with lots of simple reading games. I honestly am not crazy about the quality of these games, but they're not designed for me. My daughters (7 and 4) absolutely love it, so they must be doing something right.
- 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. The only one I can find right now (but a pretty good one) is Outbreak (about managing Montreal’s 1885 smallpox outbreak).
- There are a ton of economic and strategic warfare simulation games. A quick search PlayThisThing would find you some interesting stuff (e.g. the intriguing looking Making History: The Calm & the Storm)
- If you're okay with your students playing war-games (this is definitely worth debating, but I don't have the space for that here, so I leave it up to you), here are a couple of simple military simulators that can be of some educational value: The Battle of Waterloo is an extremely simple, but well-illustrated and explained web object that simulates decision-making in the famous Napoleonic battle, and Warfare 1917 simulates trench warfare in WWI. Obviously, there are a billion wargames out there, many of them highly-complex simulations, and if you follow the links near the bottom of this page, you'll get much more.
Math & Science games:
- The Nobel Prize has a website, and it has a number of small games on topics related to Nobel Prize research. One is The Mosquito game, which teaches about malaria. Another is The Diabetic Dog game, which is a tamagotchi-like game about the concept of insulin and blood sugar.
- 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.
- A Japanese math puzzle game (like Sudoku, but better) called KenKen. My wife teaches middle school math, and she loves this (it may be a bit hard for younger elementary students without modification, but beyond that, it's good for all ages).
- Contagion is a game about disease outbreak made by the education program at York University. They spent a lot of time and effort on this project, and it's been tested in many schools.
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 Farmer, 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. A simpler game like this is at Persuasive Games called Windfall.
- 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. It says on their website that they stopped selling the game this summer (July 2010). However, they've provided a link to a follow-up game I haven't personally tried: People Power: The Game of Civil Resistance.
- 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).
- Kodu isn't exactly a game--it's a system that lets you make games. It's very accessible, and for kids with the right mindset, this is a great way to learn some of the principles of logical thinking and programming. I've heard of kids as young as 5 play around with this with adult supervision, although it's really more suitable for, say 4th grade and up.
- 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
- Again, I'll stress the Bonte games (listed above in the elementary section). After giving my session, several teachers mentioned they found the games quite addictive.
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.)
- PlayThisThing is one of the best review sites for free, free demo, and shareware games available on the internet (although be aware that many of the games and the reviews can be quite offensive to many people, including some of the games they call "educational"). This link will get you to the list of all the games they've tagged as educational. They also review board games, by the way. Game Tunnel is another general-purpose indie site with lots of reviews.
- Newsgaming is a now-defunct studio that did 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 have 3 games linked to this site, 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.)