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BTW was created by Patrick & Julie Johnson, two Canadian educators with an interest in eduction & technology. This site showcases our interactive IBOOKS for students, but we also explore educational issues in our INQUIRY segments and share lessons/teaching ideas in our TEACHING TOOLS sections. Use the Labels section in the sidebar to navigate by topic or simply browse.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Using Video Games At Home For Learning Over the Summer

Laurie Watt from the Barrie Advance newspaper recently came by for a chat about my Mario Kart research project results (literacy & math). She asked me if there were ways parents could use video games to enhance learning over the summer.
I thought this was a *great question* and liked it so much I decided to make it into a blog post!
Many of the ideas from my Mario Kart project could be used at home and there are a few others I've throw in too. Thus, in the context of playing the game, a child could also:
  • describe a character, kart or race course
  • create a new character, kart or race course
  • write a story, an interview or a script using the character or the new characters
  • compare this game to another game & write a paragraph
  • create a poster advertising the game
  • design a race (obstacle) course outside, or using blocks or lego
  • create a racing team, design your logo, advertising, plan a race itinerary and use a budget (as per the Consolarium & Brian McLaren's Formula 1 idea)
  • create Mario character puppets and put on a puppet show
  • design a board game using Mario characters & places

Moving beyond the Mario Kart game specifically, many of the above ideas could be used with other video game titles. For instance, think about the option: "compare two games and write a paragraph". Instead of using Mario Kart, per sea, choose other games...say Call of Duty & Halo. Recently, I asked a group of Gr. 7's to compare COD and Halo and they buzzed for over an hour, hotly comparing and rating the two franchises based on a number of criteria (that they developed themselves). (In case your wondering, Call of Duty came out on top!). They were having so much fun with this topic, I doubt they realized I was setting them up for a persuasive writing piece...

These students were experts, by the way. They knew all the ins/outs of Halo and COD and could speak with knowledge and confidence about the topic. All they needed was the right venue, a little bit of guidance from me...and it all came forth organically...

I personally see video games as being on a 'story telling continuum'. Stories are told via different media: comics, novels, short stories, poems, movies, commercials/ads, to name a few...and, also, I would add: video games. As such, comparisons between all the different modes of story telling can make for an interesting exercise! So, for example, you might compare Harry Potter books to the movie...and also now to the Lego video game. You might take a Star Wars video game, compare it to a movie or a book...or write your own short story, poem or digital narrative with something like animoto. com about the Star Wars universe.

Once you open your mind to the possibility of games-as-a-vehicle-for-learning, numerous ways to engage and expand learning suddenly appear!

So, if kids are playing games over the summer, why not take that interest and organically expand it into fun learning areas? As I mentioned in my radio interview with the CBC, video games need to be thought of as more than just time wasters. My own children (aged 4 & 6) have spontaneously turned their interest in Mario characters/games into learning-play (ie: writing books, designing game levels, dramatic performances--all without prompts from me!) and I've seen this happen through out my research project, where the interest and enthusiasm intrinsic to the students leads them to think that the activity I've provided (a writing task, lets say) is more 'fun' than 'work'. The COD/Halo activity above also illustrates this. Students were learning in spite of themselves!

The enthusiasm is there...it might just need a little bit of direction/guidance/prompting. Try one of the ideas above over the summer with the gaming kids/teens you know, and let me know how it goes!

Happy gaming over the summer! And happy learning too!
Julie Johnson


  1. For kids that haven't got access to consoles but do have access to PCs they might like Primary Games Arena.


    It's completely free to use and no sign up/registration is required.

  2. Ooops, this time with a clickable link (Hopefully) ..

    For kids that haven't got access to consoles but do have access to PCs they might like Primary Games Arena.

    Primary Games Arena

    It's completely free to use and no sign up/registration is required.

  3. Thanks! Always like to know about educational on line games.