Educators have had many challenges over the past decade as the educational system has undergone change driven by new government and community policies aimed at improving educational outcomes and shift...
Educators have had many challenges over the past decade as the educational system has undergone change driven by new government and community policies aimed at improving educational outcomes and shifting focus in line with changing career and industry landscapes. And like any large industry, there has been much disagreement internationally with some of the changes, most famously in recent time adding the "A" for arts to STEM to evolve it into STEAM education. And as blended and multimodal learning gains more and more credibility, a common question that invokes debate is whether STEAM educational games can be used as a serious educational tool in the teacher’s toolbox.
The meaning of knowing today has shifted from being able to recall and repeat information to being able to find it, evaluate it and use it compellingly at the right time and in the right context; using higher order skills, like the ability to think, solve complex problems or interact critically through language and media. In developing these skills, many STEAM education experts believe an important part of improving our current educational approaches should include a way to help kids learn from what they do best – play!
Games naturally support this form of education. Some experts argue that games are, first and foremost, learning systems, and that this accounts for the sense of engagement and entertainment players experience. STEAM educational games are designed to create a compelling complex problem space or world, which players come to understand through self-directed exploration. Their meta-game and quest systems are designed to deliver just-in-time learning and to use data to help players understand how they are doing, what they need to work on and where to go next. Games create a compelling need to know, a need to ask, examine, assimilate and master certain skills and content areas.
According to the PEW Research Center, as many as 97% of tweens and teens play computer games. Games are wildly popular among children and teens and many educators seek to tap into this popularity and use games to maximize engagement in the classroom and at home.
"Game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk taking, attention to detail, and problem solving, and all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school." – MIT, Education Arcade. Similarly, the Federation of American Scientists state that: "The success of complex video games demonstrates that games can teach higher-order thinking skills such as strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, and adaptation to rapid change. These are the skills U.S. employers increasingly seek."
Some of the most significant research on STEAM educational games and game-based learning is done by the Games and Learning Assessment Lab (GlassLab), which was established as a collaboration between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. The R&D is being conducted by the Institute of Play, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Pearson, Inc., Electronic Arts (EA), and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Their research has been very promising, with one study finding that when digital games were compared to other instruction conditions without digital games, there was a moderate to strong effect in favor of digital games in terms of broad cognitive competencies. "For a student sitting in the median who doesn’t have a game, his or her learning achievement would have increased by 12% if he or she had that game," reports the team for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In the world of education achievement, 12% is significant. In the same study, the researchers also looked at simulations, and in those studies, students improved by 25%. That’s huge.1
In a related study, Joan Ganz Cooney Center surveyed 700 K-8 teachers on how they’re using digital games in the classroom. Nearly 75% of K-8 teachers reported using digital games for instruction, with 55% of these teachers saying their students play at least weekly. Digital game using teachers also say they’re using games to deliver content mandated by local (43%) and state/national curriculum standards (41%), and to assess students on supplemental (33%) and core knowledge (29%).2
"By balancing gameplay enjoyment with an appropriate level of challenge, games have the ability to keep players in their own unique optimally challenging and engaging zone for learning," wrote Jan Plass, an NYU Professor of digital media and learning sciences. STEAM educational games allow students to learn at their own pace without constant oversight. Players’ experience can be tailored based on their performance and preferences. If they solve problems correctly, the educational game can adjust to present more difficult challenges. If they struggle with a concept, the game can present the same concept in a different context or decrease the difficulty level until the student gets it. An impressive new entrant to the market is Planeteers: a STEAMCraft Adventure which teaches STEAM education, coding and robotics using an educational sandbox, disguised as a video game. With similarities to Minecraft meets Scratch or Tynker, Planeteers has hundreds of STEAM education quests mapped to a comprehensive STEAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) that aims to teach kids important 21st Century skills in a fun, highly engaging open world environment. The next generation of STEAM educational games, Planeteers even teaches computer programming for kids in a fun interactive way. There are home and school versions, and we encourage parents to check out the games features.
Bill Gates famously said: "Imagine if kids poured their time and passion into a video game that taught them math concepts while they barely noticed, because it was so enjoyable." As investment in STEAM educational games grows, parents and teachers don’t have to imagine anymore, with new games released every month that augment teaching STEAM programs, computer programming for kids, robotics, engineering and design and other core 21C subjects. For more information, checkout our curated games list for the big five educational games your kids should be playing now.