Mission US: For Crown or Colony is an interactive game that allows students to step into the shoes of a 14-year-old apprentice who closely experiences the events that led up to the Boston Massacre. The game was extremely successful, and developers plan to launch a second "mission" in January, where students can follow the experiences of Lucy, an escaped slave preceding the Civil War.
While technology and digital media are not the silver bullet that will transform schools overnight, in the hands of a skilled teacher, video games can engage and challenge students in ways that a history textbook cannot. A great amount of research has gone into the effectiveness of using video games in the classroom. From giving students the ability to deeply analyze and interact with material to providing immediate feedback, video games create learning environments that define clear goals, encourage motivation, and scaffold learning to meet the individual needs of each student. The teacher then provides the interpretation and the ability to help the student plan and move forward in their learning.
So what does a classroom look like that has effective teachers using video games to enhance learning? Likewise, how do you incorporate a game like Mission US into your curriculum?
Sarah Carlson, a social studies teacher who now works at Malcom Price Lab School at Northern University High School, won the Mission US Teacher of the Year Award in 2010 for integrating the game into her American Revolution unit.
"Any opportunity to get students as the center of the learning is important, and I knew that most of my students were more interested being on a computer instead of listening to me lecture," stated Carlson. A professional development lecturer spoke to Sarah about the benefits of incorporating online virtual learning as a cornerstone of 21st century skills. "After playing the game myself, I knew students would instantly take to this sort of learning."
The Education Development Center conducted a study--which included several Iowa teachers--over the effectiveness of using Mission US as a supplement to an American history unit. The study concluded that using the game had several positive effects on learning. Students were more emotionally and intellectually engaged during the interactive lessons, and learners who struggled academically, performed better in the Mission U.S. unit compared to most other units.
The game's flexible format allows for use in the classroom, at home, in the library or media center, or anywhere there's a computer with an Internet connection, and students can work alone, in pairs, or in groups. Sarah's students, of all ability levels, found something they liked about Mission U.S. "The learning conversations that took place were of a much higher level," she said.
However, students will gain the most if their game play experiences are supported by classroom activities, discussions, and writing exercises guided by a teacher's expertise. The website provides a wealth of materials to connect the game to your own goals and objectives. "The supporting materials with it were great," said Carlson. "All of it was ready for me to use or not use."
This video game, in other words, puts historical events into context, helping show that history is more than memorizing facts and dates. It's a story with characters who made decisions that were complex and not always right. While the game is not the perfect answer to teaching history, it is an supplement that can help students engage in history in new and unexpected ways. "That's the important part to remember," said Carlson. "The game helped make learning more relevant, so that my students were more attentive, more focused, and much more interested, and that's what counts."
Subjects: Social Studies