Game-based learning catching on in schools
Brenden Sewell, Quest Atlantis Remixed's executive producer, said that support has grown for using games as legitimate education tools.
Instead of pulling out books and paper at Nature Hill Intermediate School in Oconomowoc, Wis., on a recent morning, sixth-grader A.J. Remus and his peers practiced language arts and social studies in a mythical, virtual world.
Known as Quest Atlantis, the multi-user, 3-D interactive space allows students to direct avatars on screen through different environments to solve missions based on academic concepts and social skills. Chat windows allow them to engage with classmates’ digital personas, and with the avatars representing students working simultaneously in different states or different countries.
“You have to read a lot, and the stuff you submit to the Council has to be good or you can’t move on,” explained Remus, as he took a break to engineer a digital house.
In keeping with Quest Atlantis’ role-playing theme, the deciding “Council” is really technology teacher Sue Bolle (just don’t tell the kids).
Video games have long been associated with the entertainment industry, but the notion of using them for play and academic learning is starting to gain traction as a way to reshape education in powerful new ways.
The Oconomowoc Area School District, with about 5,200 students west of Milwaukee, has become a leader in trying out game-based learning models, which has included new classes for students to design games. At the same time, it’s pushing teachers to adopt new instructional techniques that rely on new media and position students to take more ownership of their learning.
At a time when rapid changes in technology, greater expectations for student achievement, and tighter fiscal environments are challenging schools, the district is one example of how to rethink traditional models of education, the focus of a new series, “The Changing Classroom.”
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The work has been under way for at least five years, and it’s helped lay the foundation for a recent and controversial announcement: The district intends to restaff the high school next year with 15 fewer teachers, and to pay $14,000 annual bonuses to those who can pick up the extra work and “transform their teaching,” as Superintendent Pat Neudecker puts it.
Even with the new stipends, the district estimates it will save $500,000 a year annually under the plan.
Models for incorporating games in education, and the proposed restaffing plan at the high school, aren’t the only big steps taken by Oconomowoc to stay current with the digital revolution.
It’s completing an $800,000 high-speed fiber-optic network upgrade to expand wireless access. A bring-your-own-technology initiative is being piloted at the middle and high schools, to allow students to use their own handheld devices in the classroom.