What makes a classroom? Four pieces of drywall, some paint, and a few chairs. Three hundred years ago, local schools consisted of one classroom. Wealthier students simply used a room in their own house along with a private instructor. But whether in a brick schoolhouse or a dining room, regardless of time and technology, two things have remained. A teacher and their students.
A good teacher is devoted to strengthening their community, one lesson at a time. A great teacher is devoted to connecting with their community, one student at a time. Connection yields trust. Trust facilitates learning. In this digital age, it’s easy to isolate. Deep meaningful connections can be hard to come by. Consequently, so can trust. But screens don’t only isolate, they can connect people. One way they do so is through video games.
Dating back to the most ancient cultures, games have provided a way to capture ideas and share culture. They are one of our earliest and most used forms of social bonding. Today’s video games serve a similar role. Much like books, video games can tell stories, share cultures, and connect people from all over the world. Most importantly, the youth of today are steeped in video games, which makes video games the perfect medium for connection and instruction.
So, whether you want to inject more fun into your class, explore new ways to teach old subjects, or simply reach a struggling student, here are five video games you can bring into your classroom.
This game is amazing for the classroom. Sometimes it feels like everybody has played Minecraft, and kids are no strangers to it. According to a recent survey, a whopping 53% of children aged 6 to 8 play Minecraft (theconversation.com). The original version of Minecraft was all about crafting, building, and exploring a digital world. But the designers didn’t stop there. They made a version of the game exclusively for teachers to use in the classroom.
Minecraft.edu consists of several different digital worlds that your class can experience. Each world is tailor-made to allow the teaching of different subjects. These subjects include STEM, history, culture, language arts, social-emotional, equity & inclusion, climate & sustainability. A class can be taught inside the digital world with endless visual representation and interaction for the students or it can be used as practical applications for lessons covered in class. Either way, Minecraft.edu offers up to 600 standard-aligned lessons and complete curriculums that the teacher can utilize. The course work spans all the previous subjects mentioned as well as Coding and other 21st century skills.
One area where this game shines is how affordable it is for schools. If you have a Microsoft 365 account or are a school administrator or teacher, Minecraft.edu is only 5$ per user per year. That’s pretty cheap for access to a game that can engage all types of learners and brings creativity and fun to the classroom.
To get started using Minecraft.edu, go to their website for their information page, What Is Minecraft Education? | Minecraft Education Edition, and make sure to check out their free demo lesson. Additionally, you can read about the game’s many lessons via their resource page, Minecraft Education for Educators | Minecraft Education Edition. Never played Minecraft? Worried you won’t be able to teach inside a video game you’ve never played? Not to worry. Minecraft has got you covered with free courses to become a Minecraft certified teacher, which you can access here: Training for Minecraft Educators | Minecraft Education Edition
Classcraft takes gamification to the next level. While the free version of the game can be used for classroom management and student character creation, the premium version is where it shines. Students design an avatar that they level up by completing personalized learning quests. Eventually, their character becomes strong enough to complete the finals for that year. Each new level comes with level rewards like new clothes and pets for their avatars, which act as great incentives for students to keep playing.
Each quest is fully controlled by the teacher, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. While you can create characters and questlines to teach exactly what you need to cover, you will also have the ability to download questlines and curriculums that other teachers have put together to cover the standardized lessons.
The premium version of Classcraft can be more expensive than Minecraft.edu if you have a low number of students. Instead of charging per user, the game is a straight 120$ for the year. But it does provide a comprehensive experience. The best part is that Classcraft fully integrates with google classroom and book widget. The students will be able to press a link in-game and be taken right to an assignment or an online quiz that will be graded right there.
Head over to Classcraft.com to discover more about how other teachers utilize it to motivate students through storytelling. Make sure to get a quote for their schools & district pricing plans.
Prodigy is a beautiful in-browser game that is specifically geared for teaching math to K-8th graders. Students create an avatar and progress through the storyline of a math magic prodigy attending an academy. Along their journey, they face many monsters that they must defeat. Players battle by solving math problems to cast their magic. Get the problem right and blast the monster away. Get it wrong and your magic misses. Then the monster gets his turn!
Prodigy boasts teaching 1500+ math skills. Teachers will create a class code, allowing students to log into the same area of the game together. If you share your school’s info, Prodigy will share actionable insights about where the students are struggling or excelling. Students also play in their proximal development zone so they won’t get too frustrated by math that’s too hard.
The game has a paid and free version. The paid version simply allows for the equipment students get to give them power-ups and the avatar’s pets to level up. Overall, it is a great little game that any student can play as long as they have a computer and internet.
To get your students started simply access prodigy’s website to create a free teacher account, Free Math Learning Game for Kids | Prodigy Math Game | Prodigy Education (prodigygame.com). P.s. They are working on a version of the game that teaches English, which should be coming soon.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins Tour mode!
Oh yes. It’s Assassin’s Creed. Now you might be thinking, “I don’t want my students surrounded by blood and violence!” Good, neither does Ubisoft. That is why they created a safe and clean educational mode for Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This mode allows players to explore an open world map of ancient Egypt. This contains zero combat and quests. Instead, students can take control of famous characters of history and enjoy immersive exploration and guided tours. The 75 digital tours cover everything about Ancient Egypt from its deserts and pyramids to the Romans' rule there.
Though the subject matter is quite specific, it is a super cool way to learn about History that engages students with something they love. This game is ideal for a classroom with a small number of students or homeschooling since you need to buy the original version of the game to get access to the discover tour mode. Of course, if you don’t want to buy multiple copies of the game, you could always have the students take turns controlling the character. That being said, pre-owned versions of Assassin’s Creed: Origins can be found for as cheap as 8$ online.
If you’ve been dying for a cooler way to interest your students in ancient Egypt, check out more info about discovery mode here: Discovery Tour Mode of Assassin's Creed: Origins | Ubisoft Help
Dungeons & Dragons
Even though it is technically a role-playing board game, roll20.net brings Dungeons and Dragons to the video screen. This game requires a little more work on the teacher’s behalf initially, but its flexibility and applications are limitless. The standard version of D&D is better suited for older students and would need to be simplified for younger kids, but the core aspect of D&D is that it’s an adventure. That adventure largely takes place within the shared imagination of the players, which makes it a really fun game for younger kids. With roll20.net, teachers can add a virtual map and character tokens for students to take control of as they progress through different adventures.
Though D&D is best at increasing students’ communication, problem-solving and social-emotional skills, I have had great success using it to teach everything from ESL and writing to science and critical thinking. It all depends on how you structure your adventure.
Want to teach math? An evil wizard has locked the keys to the kingdom in a large castle that the students must explore. Each room has a puzzle, an enemy, or some other kind of obstacle that can only be beaten by solving equations. Literature? History? The students find themselves caught in the middle of historical or mythical events and must use their knowledge of the subject to survive as the story unfolds. Speech? Students are trapped on a deserted island and must find a way off it, but their skills alone won’t cut it. At every stage, they must persuade/debate with locals to help them.
The possibilities are endless. You as the teacher are the architect of the story. To get started on bringing D&D to your classroom computers go to Roll20: Online virtual tabletop for pen and paper RPGs and board games, create a free account and have your students do the same. Have the students create a character (very simplified for younger kids), and you can assign their character some skills based on what you are teaching (reading, math magic, persuasion, etc.) Then create a simple story with a few obstacles centered around what you are teaching. You’ll have to learn to use roll20’s site functions (uploading maps & tokens, how to give players control of characters, etc.). There may be a bit of a learning curve for teachers to become good storytellers/facilitators of the game, but if you put a little bit of time in, you’ll be rewarded with a game that can teach anything. In a very short time, setting up for class will be a breeze. And you might even have a little fun doing it!
Ultimately, any game you find that helps you bond with your students is the right one for you. Don’t be afraid to take what would be fun for them into consideration. Learning and growth are all about connection. Students, especially younger ones, don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Use these video games as a way to meet your students where they are at so that you can shape history together.