When is it okay to play in school? Even before NCLB, creative teachers were often told that their students played too much in class. “School is hard work, fun is not an option.”


And with the emphasis on test prep, test taking, test review and students in special test taking classes for next year’s test, teachers across the country are finding less and less time to simply let student brains do what they do best, having fun and actually learning something rather than simply memorizing tested factoids.

The March 2008 issue of Education Leadership focuses on this question, especially in the article Testing the Joy Out of Learning.

From the motivation literature, we know that learners are more likely to enjoy learning when activities are meaningful, fun, or interesting. Yet, again and again, high-stakes testing diminishes the fun and meaning of learning. Under pressure to prepare students to perform well in math and reading, teachers engage in repetitious instruction that boils down content to isolated bits of information, leaving little time to engage in creative interdisciplinary activities or project-based inquiry.

But brain research would support those teachers looking for ways to engage their kids with creative strategies and activities. Nick deKanter of Muzzy Lane Software, creators of the very sweet Making History WWII simulation, summarizes a lot of the current research when he says:

We don’t learn because we’re engaged. We’re engaged because we’re learning.

I’m convinced that problem-based learning is one of the best ways to teach social studies. And I am equally convinced that appropriate video games are great problem-based learning tools.

Konrad Glogowski posted an eleven minute video that introduces us to how a group of teachers at Kimball Union Academy used the game Civilization III to teacher world history. The video has some nice teacher comments as well as comments from students.

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Of course for most of us, the problem becomes one of finding the time to prep students, play the game and debrief afterwards. Perhaps most important, we must convince administrators and fellow teachers that having fun playing a game is a good thing.

Hopefully the Kimball video can help.