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Making learning playful with 20 digital games

Child psychologist and ‘play expert’ David Elkind states that “adults respond negatively to play because they define it as simply having fun and, therefore, as a waste of time. But though play can be fun, it contributes to the best kind of learning.” In the past decade, this idea has inspired apps, websites, and most importantly, curriculums. Now it’s easier than ever before to make learning powerful and playful with digital games. Here are 20 digital games to help educators inspire STEM notions, explore social studies, or check for understanding in their classes.

Making STEM less scary

American students ranked 31rd out of the 35 OECD countries in math and 25th out of 35 in science in the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). There is room for improvement and digital games can help increase not only grades but, most importantly, student engagement.

  1. Brilliant

Brilliant is a course library full of puzzles and challenges to help students master key STEM ideas through problem-solving.

2. Solve Me Puzzles

You can also check out Solve Me Puzzles for loads of free online math-based puzzles like the intriguing “Mystery Grid.” You can even create and share your own!

3. Brush Ninja

If you’re looking for less abstract challenges, use Brush Ninja to transform whiteboard doodles into animated gifs. Animation not only helps with memory, it’s also great for creating guided math problems.

4. Legends of Learning

For your elementary school students, Legends of Learning is a free instructional website bursting with educational math games for grades 3 through 8.

5. Kinetic City

Kinetic City, for grades 3–5, has a fantastic array of science experiments and games.

6. The Yards Games

The Yard Games is full of 10–20 minute interactive science games for students in grades 5 through 7.

7. Space Place

NASA’s award-winning Space Place website captivates students with hands-on activities about Earth science and space.

8. Interactive Simulations

For older grades, the University of Colorado’s Interactive Simulations, founded by a Nobel Laureate, creates free interactive STEM simulations and engages students with a game-like environment.

9. EcoMuve

EcoMuve is a wonderful curriculum developed at Harvard that uses an immersive set of games to teach students about ecosystems.

10. Energy Systems Map

Explore the energy system by Student Energy and accelerate our transition to a sustainable energy future by engaging with this interactive, game-like map.

Captivating students with social studies

A 2012 study commissioned by Duolingo states that it takes 34 hours on the language learning website to learn the equivalent of one semester at university, suggesting that it is perhaps even more effective than traditional (and expensive) language instruction. That claim is debatable, but it’s undeniable that students do love to challenge each other on interactive platforms.

11. Market Watch

If you want to teach your students about basic economics, use Market Watch to make students compete to build their portfolio and respond to the markets in real-time.

12. Geoguessr

For geography, your students can have fun using maps to guess locations around the world with Geoguessr.

13. WikiWhere

Competitive students will love to test their knowledge about major cities and geographical locations with WikiWhere.

14. iCivics

iCivics teaches students how the government works as they take on the roles of activists, judges, Congress members, or even the President to promote civic engagement.

15. Classcraft

Classcraft has boundless games for social studies, from geography and history to political science and language instruction. Its vivid colors and detailed drawings make paying attention to the facts presented easy for students and its competitive games facilitate memorization.

Checking for Understanding

Even exams can become fun, intriguing activities with digital tools such as 16. Online Game Builder, 17. Educandy, 18. ClassTools, 19. Factile and 20. Gimkit to create online quizzes and Jeopardy-style game shows.

The bottom line is that playing isn’t just playing. The University of Massachusetts Amherst, for instance, has shown that game learning helps build an emotional connection to the subject matter, provides opportunities for feedback, and can easily be personalized or differentiated for students of varying abilities. And remember that the countless apps, websites and free templates listed above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to transforming dull classes into engaging playtime — there is so much more out there that can help you make your classes fun!

Mon Mar 16, 2020
by Breanna Morsadi and Jenny Landes
practices tools digital games
719 Words

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