Why teach with Portals?

Physics classrooms are behind the times. At school, kids use 1990s technology (if they use technology at all) but then go home and play ultra realistic games. [Sidenote: if you clicked on the first link in this sentence, you found PhET, run by CU Boulder, which I actually use all the time. I don’t mean to bash PhET at all because it’s actually awesome and shows some great examples of physics simulators. They’re perfect in many cases for their ease and utility in the classroom. But there’s a big difference between them and modern games.] There’s a huge disconnect between what kids are exposed to and used to in terms of technology and what we give them in school. It’s no wonder that students are falling behind in science.

But we can adapt.

As teachers, we’re receiving students with the built-in capability to be fully immersed within game worlds. Why not use those same skills and game worlds to teach them physics? Give them something they’re used to and simply reroute their attention from killing each other (which is, unfortunately, what normally happens within games) to building physics experiments. It isn’t much of a leap, especially considering that Portal 2 is, at its core, one big physics puzzle after another.

We’re wasting valuable resources when we don’t harness our students’ innate ability to use technology and lose themselves in game worlds. Using some careful planning, teachers can create a classroom environment where students manipulate digital worlds to create measurable scientific experiments that run on laws of physics. It’s a unique opportunity for educators. For the first time, we can let students play god and design their own worlds. We can put students in impossible situations (for safety concerns or otherwise) that run on actual laws of physics and instruct them to run tests and see what’s going on behind the scenes. They can build their own virtual experiments as valid as their physical counterparts in less time and with less effort. Teaching with Portal 2 is about students actively building and applying what they’ve learned.

Basically, Portal 2 is a tool that allows for easy creation, manipulation and sharing of virtual worlds that run on actual laws of physics. What can be done with it is only limited by the creativity of the educator.

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