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  • Games have long been used for developing both skills and knowledge in the education sector. As digital technologies continue to develop, the range of digital learning games also continues to grow, driving an area of learning called game-based learning. It is not new, but it is using new digital tools and platforms – and there is an accompanying pedagogical shift from using games to motivate and engage students in learning to using ‘serious games’ as the basis for knowledge and skill development. ‘Gamification’ describes the process of applying game rules to a learning process.

    Rights: NZCER

    Games for Learning research project

    Rachel Bolstad from New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) is researching games for learning.

    New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Senior Researcher Rachel Bolstad undertook a national research programme into how games and simulations can help us think differently about learning and exploring what teachers and students are doing with games in the classroom.

    Rachel blogs about game-curious teachers and how they see games as a “rich resource space that can be shaped, moulded, stretched, and connected to a very diverse range of curriculum and pedagogical goals”. Not surprisingly, playing games is only the tip of the iceberg, and the games themselves are not always the main focus. Games hold multiple opportunities, and for some teachers, it is the “coding and digital technology skills”, while “others are interested in play-based learning and role-play”. The teachers involved in Rachel’s research “don’t just use games as a resource to learn something from, but as something to learn through, and this involves engaging with games in all manner of ways. As a player, designer, maker, fan, or critic, and sometimes as an expert who can use their game knowledge and skills to teach others.”

    Role-play – playing the game and reflections

    Michelle is a primary teacher of a year 5 and 6 class. She adapted a Science Learning Hub activity to focus on the life cycle of the longfin eel. She discusses her students’ reactions and learning when participating in a role-play activity demonstrating the precarious state of our longfin eel. She describes how her students developed an empathetic view because the topic was relevant to their lives and they were highly engaged.

    Select here to view video transcript and copyright information

    Many of the activities on our site involve role play, for example, ethics and transgenics, fisheries or microbes. Our recorded webinar Understanding science through drama looks at how drama can enhance students’ learning experiences to help deepen their understanding of science concepts and the nature of science.

    We also have a range of card game activities such as Fighting infection card game and Using rongoā Māori.

    Increasingly, teachers are seeing games and game design as a vehicle for the development of students’ thinking and other key competencies as well as more specific knowledge and skills. Following on from participating in a game, there is richness in unpacking the experience as a class discussion and/or literacy activity. There are also opportunities for further learning for students in digital technologies and art, creating future coding and artwork for future games.

    Our recorded webinar Digital tools for science learning introduces easy-to-use digital tools such as Arduino Science Journal and micro:bit that can engage learners in real-time data collection.

    Some citizen science projects use aspects of gaming to encourage participation, Stall Catchers is one example.

    We feel an ethical obligation to extract as much value as possible from every minute that a person spends playing Stall Catchers.

    Stall Catchers

    Educational gaming

    See below some examples featured on the Science Learning Hub.

    The Science of Medicines – Unlocking Curious Minds

    The Science of Medicines – Whakatere Waka was an innovative, hands-on education project programme that used te ao Māori perspectives to build conversations and confidence around medicines. We have videos of young people sharing their insights about medicines and about designing serious games to promote community awareness.

    The D-Bug Game Design Challenge

    Antonia Hoeta is a microbiologist and a gamer. She explains why creating games is an excellent way to help tamariki and rangatahi understand science concepts and ideas.

    Select here to view video transcript, questions for discussion and copyright information.

    Game design is a creative way to build science literacy. It combines aspects of science, technology, digital technology, literacy and the arts. The activity Game design for viruses and vaccines has tips, resources and questions to aid ākonga in creating the game narrative, environment and rules. Games can be digital, tabletop or even 3D dioramas.

    Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth

    In Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth ākonga take on the roles of scientists and engineers to help solve the planet’s environmental and energy issues. Teaching resources include engaging videos, student workbooks and online game maps. It’s all curated in this activity.

    This interactive image map shows steam coming from a geothermal power station, with buttons to go to for further information.

    Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth – resources

    This interactive introduces and houses resources developed by Magma Drillers Save Planet Earth – a University of Canterbury project funded by Curious Minds.

    Select here to view the full transcript and copyright information.

    Kiwi Kai

    Kiwi Kai is a browser-based virtual farm that explores the relationships between healthy environments, kai, people and communities. It is supported by articles that unpack science concepts, te ao Māori and food production, enduring competencies and key terms.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Students exploring Kiwi Kai’s virtual farm

    The Kiwi Kai online tool is designed for year 5–8 students, introducing students to sustainability issues encountered with farming and food growing. They learn about different knowledge systems to find sustainable solutions to commonly encountered rural situations.

    Play the Kiwi Kai virtual farm

    Games and space

    Help ākonga discover more about space and human impacts with these activities – great science and technology learning experiences:

    Useful links

    Water Games is a collection of different games addressing various water challenges.

    TKI has further information about gaming for learning.

    Check out our Gaming and virtual learning – Pinterest board.

    The NZCER Games for Learning project is complete, but see the stimulating reports.

    Read this North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) blog article Serious Games for Coastal and Marine Conservation, Management, and Adaptation – Find a Game for Your Work!. has simple online games with ecological messages. The audience is from age 6 and upward.

    Watch this YouTube video of a talk by Dr Michael Harvey on the use of gamification in junior science classes to increase engagement.

      Published 2 November 2016, Updated 23 November 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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