Using Game-based Learning in the Classroom to Develop Productive StruggleOn August 10, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
If you’re in the world of education, you’ve probably heard of the idea of productive struggle by now. This idea that making things harder on your students can actually be a good thing. It sounds a bit counterintuitive at first, But there’s been a growing body of research that shows that getting kids to the point of productive struggle is actually one of the keys to achieving deeper learning. It makes a lot of sense when you think about your brain like a muscle. You know that to build muscle requires pushing your body to its edge, engaging it in a state of effortful exertion. This is the point at which new muscles grow. Productive struggle in learning is a lot like this, where to achieve deeper levels of learning requires pushing your brain to its edge. But getting a whole class of students to engage at this level of thinking is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. So what do you do? Well, let’s take some lessons from a medium that’s really good at consistently engaging kids to a point of productive struggle. The medium we’re going to look at is games. Well-designed games have a unique quality that engages kids and effortful thinking while they’re solving a problem. Not all games do this, as many can merely be a routine task with a game layer slapped on top. But for the ones that are designed well, it can be really powerful. Let’s take a look at some of the key principles that well-designed games embody; the attributes that sit under the hood that help make games an effective medium for engaging kids in productive struggle. First, games take a problem based approach to learning. Rather than telling students how to do things, games present them with a scenario: a puzzle they must figure out. When students are presented with a meaningful problem to solve, they become engaged in trying to solve it and in the learning that ensues in the process Second, in games you are learning by doing which really means you’re learning by failing. You’re exploring and reasoning through multiple pathways until you figure out one that works. This is the culture of how games work. And the result is that it creates an environment where it’s safe to fail and make mistakes, as this is all part of the natural process of problem-solving and learning. Third, games provide students with informative feedback as they progress. While exploring multiple pathways, the mechanisms of the game help reveal when they’ve gone off track. This provides feedback for the students to course-correct as they move on to find the solution. And fourth, games provide an experience of progressive growth. They begin at a low floor, which makes the activity immediately accessible for any student to engage. They then gradually move towards a high ceiling, allowing all students to move to their edge, and experience progressive growth in the process These are some of the basic principles games embody to engage students in productive struggle. Try bringing some of them in the classroom. Whether it’s starting a lesson by posing a novel problem, Or introducing an activity where kids engage hands-on and learn by doing, Or bringing in ways for students to receive feedback on their thinking through the lesson, Or starting the lesson at a low floor and moving up to a high ceiling. Any way you do it embodying these principles in a learning environment can help make deeper learning possible. Join us in helping reimagine education at MIND Research.