Video games in the classroom? Some Prince George’s County teachers say yes

Tyrone Frierson, a teacher at Capitol Heights Elementary School in Prince George’s County is convinced that video games are an effective learning tool in his classroom. He uses Minecraft Education Edition to teach concepts to his fifth-grade math students.

“Minecraft works perfectly with [teaching] volume. You don’t have to buy those little counting cubes that some people use in order to teach volume,” Frierson said. “You really don’t have to buy anything because you have the blocks there and you can do everything and volume or cubic.”

Minecraft is a “sandbox” game which means it doesn’t have a required storyline. The game, created in 2009, allows players to explore different worlds and even design their own worlds or structures using 3D blocks. Schools pay a license of $5 per user for access to the game, according to its website.

The Maryland Society for Educational Technology, a membership organization focused on improving teaching-learning processes with technology, hosted a webinar on gamifying learning on Wednesday night.

Gamifying is when subjects like math, science or history are taught through the lens of a game. The technique often promotes creativity, collaboration, problem-solving skills, student engagement, and STEM skills.

A screenshot of Minecraft.

Jake Voshell, a technology trainer for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said video games like Minecraft benefit the learning process and present students with a challenge.

“The idea that making things harder on students is actually a good thing. There’s a whole field of research that shows that getting kids to the point of having that productive struggle is one of the key factors, achieving deeper learning,” Voshell said.

Frierson also leads an afterschool program called Girls Who Game, a program created by Dell Technologies and Microsoft. Elementary school girls from across North America spend afternoons learning skills through Minecraft and they compete in solving real-world scenarios.

For example, Frierson’s students were tasked with designing a COVID-19-friendly school in the virtual world. He said the students used what they learned about the pandemic to create a school that had fresh air and ventilated classrooms to minimize the spread of the virus.

Clarissa Burton, a technology trainer for Prince George’s County Public Schools suggests that before assigning projects, teachers should walk students through the game with an introductory course.

“You’re going to have students that are phenomenal in Minecraft that can build buildings beyond what you could even imagine and then you’re going to have students that have never even opened Minecraft. So to get everyone on that same basic level, it’s always good just to start an introductory lesson,” Burton said.

The Maryland Society for Educational Technology will continue its learning series on Dec.14 with a session on more strategies for gamification.

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