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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

OST & Gaming: Angry Birds, Portals, Minecraft, Oh My!


“Five more minutes, please!”

Sound familiar? This was my request to my parents every time we were leaving the pizza place and I had not yet conquered the next level of Pac-Man. I never thought I would hear this from students attending an out-of-school-time program during the summer in Austin, Texas. Yet, this past summer, this request was asked so much that parents spoke to program leadership about extending the summer program beyond the standard four-weeks.

Why were kids so excited about staying in an OST program and during summer, no less? Well, it all can be attributed to one word – gaming.

If we actually paid attention to the mainstream press, we would believe that video games were a plague upon our youth. I mean surely these games turn charming, law-abiding young citizens into overweight, diabetic, sociopathic youth that have a loose grip on reality. I have to admit that when I drive in Houston traffic, I wish I had a special missile launcher from SpyHunter to clear the way.

All humor aside, I hear arguments against video games everyday. Yet, I also hear strong, passionate advocates for rote-memorization, use of worksheets, tenacious academic tutorials, and increased standardized testing. We all have our own beliefs on that magic silver bullet that will “fix” our ailing education system as well as our thoughts on what enhances the educational gap we are seeing in our system.

I would challenge us to look into new creative paths that take us out of our comfort zones and can be truly tested in innovative out-of-school-time programs. I would like to present three ideas for you to consider.

Number One – Angry Birds!

This addicting game can be found on any platform for as low as free to $4.99. In addition to being just fun to play, this game has a ton of educational resources tied in to it. Early learning programs can use Angry Birds to inspire letter recognition and spelling. Elementary programs can use Angry Birds to reinforce number sequencing, basic math, and even delve into drama and art. Take a look at this teacher’s blog post regarding the many lessons she has found around the use of Angry Birds.

I’ve used Angry Birds with secondary students to teach upper-level math ranging from basic graphing, to quadratics, ending with parabolas. Our best use of Angry Birds was building a life-sized slingshot that launched angry birds at a wall of boxes in order to knock down the piggies on the boxes. We got the idea from this YouTube video.

Number Two – Portals!

You will not find a more interactive, fun, and challenging game than Portal or Portal 2. Initially developed as a puzzle game for Xbox and Playstation, the Portal Video Game series have evolved into one of the simplest ways to teach Physics to youth. Players are guided through a series of puzzle challenges in which they use a portal gun to create entry and exit portals that defy 2 dimensions. Thus gamers are required to use spatial reasoning and logic to play. The great thing is that the company who owns the rights to the game series (Valve) allows educators a free license to some aspects of the game. They have also created a special website that has program-ready lessons available for all. Check out Teach with Portals and let your program jumpstart youth into a real STEM activity.

Number Three – Minecraft!

This game has been called a sandbox construction game. While there is a game element to Minecraft, the real power lies in the ability of the user to develop their own world and items in that world. Some people have called Minecraft a digital Lego box and tout the game as having the same impact as Legos (how many of your programs use some aspect of Legos – like Lego Mindstorm?). Y

ou can learn more about various lessons, tutorials, and other items from the Minecraft Wiki. If you want to take it step further, check out the new free version for Raspberry Pi. This credit card sized computer is inexpensive (about $25) and is being used all over to teach coding and maker-related activities. Now, it can be used to generate virtual Minecraft Worlds. This takes the T in STEM to a whole new level.

I could go on about the benefits of so many gaming systems that you could implement in your program, but this is supposed to be a blog post, right? I hope that you will check out one of the three options I listed and see if you can turn gaming from what the mainstream press thinks it is, to an amazing tool in the hands of OST educators.

Last, but not least, I had two eggs, a banana, and Crystal Light for breakfast, while playing Disney’s Hidden Worlds on my iPad. =)

Author Profile: @shawnpetty

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