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Game-Based Learning in Action

How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games


Matthew Farber

How are expert educators using games in their classrooms to give students agency, while also teaching twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? This question has motivated Matthew Farber’s Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games showcasing how one affinity group of K12 educators—known as "The Tribe"—teaches with games. They are transformational leaders outside the classroom, in communities of practice. They mentor and lead newcomers to game-based learning, as well as advise game developers, academics, and policymakers.

Teachers in "The Tribe" do not teach in isolation—they share, support, and mentor each other in a community of practice. Farber shares his findings about the social practices of these educators. Game-Based Learning in Action details how the classrooms of expert game-based learning teachers function, from how they rollout games to how they assess learning outcomes.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the best practices of expert educators. These teachers use games to provide a shared meaningful experience for students. Games are often the focal point of instruction. Featuring a foreword from James Paul Gee (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, and Regents’ Professor), this book comments on promises and challenges of game-based learning in twenty-first century classrooms. If you are looking to innovate your classroom with playful and gameful learning practices, then Game-Based Learning in Action is for you!

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Chapter 3: Games in School


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As in some classrooms today, one century ago, students sat in rows listening to direct instruction from a lecturing teacher. John Dewey (1916) espoused the virtues of learning from playing and experimenting with abstract concepts (e.g., mathematical symbols) in a school setting. Dewey (1916) proposed that schools should be “equipped with laboratories, shops, gardens, where dramatizations, plays, and games are freely used, opportunities exist for reproducing situations of life, and for acquiring and applying information and ideas in the carrying forward of progressive education” (p. 190). He was one of the more notable progressive educators; he was an early proponent of experiential learning.

Fast-forward 100 years, and the conversation of reinventing schools persists. Factory models of education, in which children are grouped in grades based on birth year and learn in distinct content disciplines, have been called into question (Gray, 2014). The paradigm of active learning, rather than passive “sit-and-get” education, seems possible due to digital technology (Adams Becker, Estrada, Freeman, & Johnson, 2014, p. 8). Computers can create personalized learning environments that adapt to student ability (Adams Becker et al., 2014).

The promise of game-based learning is that it can “harness the spirit of play to enable players to build new cognitive structures and ideas of substance” ← 41 | 42 → (Klopfer, Osterweil, & Salen, 2009, p. 5). Game-based learning “structures learning activities around real-world or fictional challenges that compel learners to take on a variety...

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