Should You Gamify Your Classroom?

Video Game Controller

Video games and education are not usually spoken in the same breath, and when they are, it’s to bemoan how video games contribute to obesity rates, school violence, and diminishing attention spans. Educators are often skeptical because video games are so steeped in escapism; students neglect their homework in order to play video games, or turn to video games as a social avoidance tactic, and their development suffers across the board. But we’re here to tell you that it’s not all bad news.

If there is anything that we know about video games, it’s that they are here to stay. Statistics tell us that today’s students—often called the “Net generation”—spend an average of 6.5 hours per day interacting with various media (Annetta, 2008). That’s close to half of their waking hours! So the question being posed by today’s educational luminaries is this: can you incorporate video games into student’s learning processes?

Sasha Barab is an educational expert and noted advocate of game-infused learning environments. His articles and research have been instrumental in reversing the notion that video games are a detriment to education. His theories revolve around the idea of “transformational play” (Barab, Gresalfi & Arici, 2009), which is really just a fancy way to say that students must use their critical thinking skills to make decisions with direct consequences within their gaming environment.

Before you interrupt, let us hasten to say that we understand theories alone aren’t enough to go on. Educators don’t change their methodologies at the drop of a hat, nor should they. But video games represent a massive, mostly untapped reservoir of motivation. Studies have proven that kids tend to be much more emotionally invested in a game than in conventional curriculum, even if the material is virtually identical (Barab, et al., 2009).

Below are several examples of games that pull double duty as educational tools, and we hope they are helpful resources to you, should you decide to dip your toes in those waters.

The Learning Company has been producing crossover “edutainment” since the early 1990s. Their most popular franchise to date has been The Oregon Trail, which is loaded with historical and cultural content about America’s westward expansion, overlaid with a nifty game veneer. The game can be purchased on the iPad, for the price of a large coffee.  TLC also publishes a series of educational games in which students are super-sleuths hunting down the infamous Carmen Sandiego. The latest iteration is Carmen Sandiego: Adventures in Math, available on the Nintendo Wii. As an added bonus, the game’s subject matter was designed to align with Common Core standards.

The Games, Learning and Assessment Lab (GLASSLab) is a collaborative exploration of the positive impact gaming can have on learning, particularly in the STEM subject areas. The project works to identify elements of popular video games that complement school curriculum. Their biggest break-through to date has been the development of their own SimCityEDU initiative for teaching high school students how to put their STEM skills to work in simulated real-life scenarios.

The Atlantis Remixed (ARX) project is a computer-based learning platform that combines standards-based content and gaming in never-before-seen ways. Students ages 9-16 participate in “quests”—which are really disguised lesson plans—that touch on topics from writing skills to cultural history to social responsibility. For instance, in one activity students wander around a virtual world as investigative reporters, collecting bits and pieces of information which they must repurpose to write a persuasive paper. Constructive feedback is then given by the teacher, who plays the in-game editor to the students’ reporters. The program has enjoyed unprecedented success, and is currently used by more than 50,000 students, in nearly 1,000 classrooms worldwide.

And now two questions for our readers: first, what do you think of this idea? Second, have you used (or seen others using) educational video games effectively in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below.


Annetta, L. A. (2008). Video games in education: Why they should be used and how they are being used. Theory Into Practice, 47, 229-239.

Barab, S. A., Gresalfi, M., & Arici, A. (2009). Why educators should care about games. Educational Leadership, 67-1, 76-80.

Toppo, G. (2013, March 4). Video game invades classroom, scores education points. USA Today. Retrieved from

One Response to “Should You Gamify Your Classroom?

  • Amy Nieuwenhuis
    9 years ago

    In my JumpZone!, exercise room for stations, I use a Wii, an Xbox with Kinect and a PS2 with 2 game bikes. All games are active. We connect with kids on their level and hopefully encourage them to find games that aren’t so sedentary. I’ve been using these for 7 years.

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