Friday, May 29, 2009

Computers and Video Games in the Classroom, How To Set It Up and Keep it Going

This past school year, I had set up four older computers in my classroom with video games (strategy games), including Free Civ, an open source version of Civilization, and Zoo Tycoon, an interesting game in which the player builds a zoo and takes care of the animals. As this was the first time I was using games in the classroom, I didn't build too many learning objectives around them. I offered my students coupons that bought them time to play the games.

Right from the start, Zoo Tycoon became very popular. Free Civ was popular among a few of my more analytical students, but it is definitely an advanced game for elementary students. I allowed them to continue to "buy time" to play these games, and would monitor their progress. I asked them to take their game seriously and act as if it were an assignment, and most of them did, they took their zoo or civilization seriously.

This got me to thinking about the next steps here. Of course, most teachers are limited in their classroom by the number of computers. This past year I had 18 students and 7 working computers (8 if you count the laptop, which they usually used only for research). This upcoming year, I will have 28 students and 8 computers (9 if you count the laptop). So there has to be some creative planning.

The way I planned computer usage last year is I incorporated it into the classroom environment. The first way I did this is by making the computers a station in my literacy groupings. My literacy groupings this past year (under the guided reading model, a requirement of my school district) had students rotate on a daily basis through four different stations (they would do one station a day for a period of 45 minutes) including vocabulary, book productions (brochures, dioramas, etc.), silent time, teacher time, group reading, scholastic newsletters, and computers. In computers, they were given various tasks to complete that went with our current book or their current individual choice. During the course of the year, they did powerpoints, video projects, webquests, blogging through Moodle, reviews, and many many other tasks.

I am going to incorporate something similar this upcoming year to include the video games in the classroom. I see valuable learning opportunities in playing strategy/simulation games. I would like to have my students complete tasks when the play Zoo Tycoon, tasks that could be science related (biomes for example), math related (they could keep a log of money spent and do some long term graphing), and reading (have them find books or information about the animals in the game and study them).

Oddly enough, what got me thinking about this was Roller Coaster Tycoon. That's right, THE original RCT. I pulled it out last night and was playing it, thinking about how cool it would be for students to get a shot at building a theme park. Of course, I don't want to overwhelm them, so I think I'll start with Zoo Tycoon, and when most of the class is getting tired of it, maybe move to Roller Coaster.