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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 10: “How Can I Twist This Game to My Purposes?”


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Back when he was a high school teacher, Seann Dikkers used the video game Civilization in his classroom. Only he did so without a computer. He appropriated it to meet his curricular goals by stripping out the basic core mechanics of the game—trading, moving along a game board—and used it to inform his class instruction. Dikkers wrote, “All I needed to do was create a game based on the core elements of Civilization. More broadly, many other digital games can be deconstructed accordingly” (2015, p. 11).

Dikkers is an associate professor at Bethel University, and he has broken down different approaches from researching teachers who use games. “One approach is adoption, where you adopt the child [the game] that it is into your lesson plans,” he said, late in 2016. To adopt a game outright is to use it exactly as it is, with no modification. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is an example. The game teaches typing right out of the box. “The other approach is adaption—when teachers adapt games to their purposes. And the third is appropriation, which is when parts of games are pulled out and used to drive instruction.” Dikkers appropriated the core mechanics of Civilization to drive his instruction. ← 161 | 162 →

From what Dikkers observed, appropriation occurs more frequently with individual teachers than within communities of practice. “There isn’t necessarily ‘a tribe...

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