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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 6: “Life Just Got Epic!”


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Steve Isaacs is a teacher of video game design and development at William Annin Middle School, in suburban Basking Ridge, New Jersey. William Annin Middle School (WAMS) is a public school with students from grades 6 through 8. In 2013, there were 1,409 students attending the school. New Jersey’s public school curriculum aligns to the Common Core State Standards.

Isaacs’ teaching was featured in a 2012 Joan Ganz Cooney Center and BrainPOP video case study series about video games in the classroom. He has written about the difference between game-based learning and gamification for ASCD In-Service, the blogging portal for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). In 2014, Isaacs was one of’s Teachers of the Month. is a nonprofit organization that advocates for computer science in the classroom.

Isaacs teaches about 120 8th grade students per year, meeting with a cycle of 60 per semester. The 7th grade has about 300 total students, of which 25 are in Isaacs class per 6-week cycle. The mix of genders in grade 7 is relatively even; however, in grade 8, there are usually more boys than girls enrolled. Because the 7th grade class cycle switched during observations—and because those students were primarily writing about, rather than playing, games—they were not observed. Data on the three grade 8 sections were collected. ← 95 | 96 →

Isaacs was observed for 2 nonconsecutive...

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