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The K-12 program is designed to benefit every child by providing knowledge essential for everyday life and future career. However, many students often experience difficulties with some subjects, especially mathematics. The most frequent issues, according to the recent studies, include the difficulty of understanding mathematical concepts, the lack of logical thinking skills, and the struggle to develop a successful problem-solving strategy (Drigas & Pappas, 2015). Educational leaders face a need to create an environment that would facilitate students’ understanding of mathematics.
Game-based learning can become a way of solving this issue. It is believed to positively influence student achievement and motivation in settings that can be both formal and informal (Foster & Shah, 2015). The Math Blaster is a computer game that has been chosen as a tool for teaching the multiplication table to fifth-grade students. It combines entertainment with learning and allows children to understand mathematics in a fun way.
The Math Blaster is a first-person MMO game that has an outer-space setting. Players get to customize their characters at the beginning and engage in different quests. The game has a step-by-step guide that enables players to learn the mechanics, as well as understand the basics about how to score points, achieve goals, and complete missions. The built-in tasks given by non-player characters are also designed as instructions that facilitate the game understanding. As players run around the locations, they can meet other users, which makes the environment look more engaging. Although the graphics of the Math Blaster are relatively simple, they make the process attractive.
The combination of the online gaming process with teachers’ instructions is a model for the blended learning scheme. The Math Blaster game can become a part of the blended learning environment that combines formal lectures given in the classroom with the time spent at the computer (Kintu, Zhu, & Kagambe, 2017). Game tasks may be done either in school, or at home, and performed both individually and collectively.
The primary goal of engaging fifth-graders in playing Math Blasters is to help them learn the multiplication table. Some studies explore the benefits of game-based learning combined with formal education. Some of the features that video games have may be used to provide knowledge about mathematical concepts. For example, games succeed in capturing the players’ attention, making them focused on goal achievement (Drigas & Pappas, 2015). Another feature of computer games is the need to repeat one activity multiple times, which helps to develop a habit (Drigas & Pappas, 2015). Such elements of game-based learning may be applied to a formal classroom setting. For example, a strategy developed through a game process can be used to solve mathematical problems in class.
However, there is an important detail about using game-based learning as a part of the school studies. Research suggests that for games to be effective in building skills, they must be closely related to the studied subject (Tobias, Fletcher, & Wind, 2014). In other words, many games can develop skills like concentration and problem solving, but the tasks must deal specifically with mathematics for players to understand this subject better.
One of the best elements of playing computer games is that children do it voluntarily, that is, their interest is genuine, and motivation is high. However, it does not necessarily mean that interest in playing a game will result in motivation to study mathematics as a school subject itself (Tobias et al., 2014). Thus, computer game missions must be related to the curricula. Nevertheless, the positive effect of gaming, according to Tobias et al. (2014), is that it may stimulate improvements in some cognitive and psychomotor processes. Another fact is that time spent on study material positively relates to the learning outcomes (Tobias et al., 2014). While sitting in class does not necessarily mean acquiring new knowledge, learning through games is fun and engaging. It is associated with time spent on exploring the subject.
Math Blaster can be played on a PC or a tablet. The Internet connection is important as well as the game is a classic MMO which is run on external servers. There are certain requirements regarding the memory size and graphics capabilities of a user’s device. However, the game is relatively low-demanding regarding technical characteristics, and most players can run it on their devices. Besides, players should be able to use speakers or headphones, as the built-in instruction lines and sounds facilitate the gaming process.
The format of a blended learning environment gives teachers the role of guiding the learning process while giving students flexibility in a part of their studies. An instructor should give formal lectures to the class, combine them with the Math Blaster game, engage students in communication activities, and evaluate their progress. The game-based learning part should include teachers’ help and instructions that facilitate the individual player experience.
The standard scheme would have an instructor first giving a lecture about the principles of multiplication to a class of fifth-graders. Then students are expected to use strategies explained during lessons to solve problems in the game. Besides, teachers can explain the principles of the Math Blaster mechanics and answer any questions that may arise regarding the gaming process. This step aims to facilitate students’ first steps as players. Studies suggest that novice players usually waste time to learn how to navigate the game before fully engaging in problem-solving tasks, which makes prior instructions important to them (Tobias et al., 2014). Besides, this step allows students to further relate to their teacher in a case they have any questions about the game.
Another role of the instructor is to coordinate group activities associated with the gaming process. While students may play the game individually at home, there should also be a possibility for them to engage in group sessions organized in class. This step aims to show children the engaging way of studying mathematics, which is not linked solely to individual studies. Research claims that interest in a subject itself results in a more positive attitude towards games based on it (Drigas & Pappas, 2015). An instructor should guide communication in groups to resolve any issues and to set strategies for problem-solving.
Finally, a teacher may use the process of communication as a part of the ICCE framework, which is designed for evaluating students’ progress in mastering game concepts (Foster & Shah, 2015). The goal is to make children inquire, communicate their ideas, construct knowledge, and express themselves through play. Communicating their questions, findings, and emotions is one of the ways to receive feedback about how Math Blasters game is affecting their understanding of multiplication concepts. The role of an instructor is to properly evaluate this information on every stage and to balance the blended learning environment to make the game-based section of it more beneficial for students.
Drigas, A., & Pappas, M. (2015). On line and other game-based learning for mathematics. International Journal of Online Engineering (iJOE), 11(4), 62-67.
Foster, A., & Shah, M. (2015). The ICCE framework: Framing learning experiences afforded by games. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 51(4), 369-395.
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Kintu, M. J., Zhu, C., & Kagambe, E. (2017). Blended learning effectiveness: The relationship between student characteristics, design features and outcomes. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(7), 1-20. Web.
Tobias, S., Fletcher, J. D., & Wind, A. P. (2014). Game-based learning. In J. M. Spector et al. (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 485-503). New York, NY: Springer.