I love hearing from innovative teachers who are exploring new ways of taking advantage of video games in their classrooms. I’ve recently been speaking with Megan Pusey, a science teacher with a penchant for gaming at an all girls secondary school in Australia.
Megan’s students finished a physics unit with Portal 2 last month. Girls and video games aren’t traditionally associated together, so who better to help us understand the classroom dynamic between girls and games than Megan. Check out what she has to say about girls, games and her classroom in our interview below. Even if you aren’t a teacher at an all girls school, Megan has some great insights for anyone preparing to teach with games.
MP: I’m a science teacher at an all-girls school in Australia and last year I tried using Portal 2 in one of my physics classes to see what would happen. I am also a gamer at heart and was inspired to combine my two loves of gaming and teaching by blogs such as Physics with Portals (and the fact that Steam for Schools was offering copies of Portal 2 for free). During 2013 I taught three classes of 25 students and ran about 6-7 sessions using Portal 2 embedded into the regular physics program. This is the last compulsory science course for these students (15-16 years old).
CP: Do they love it? Hate it? Feel hesitant but come around? Avoid it at all costs? Are there any interesting stories that came out of your Portal unit?
The girls had mixed reactions to playing video games in class. Some students were very excited about it and only one or two students had played Portal before. A majority of students did not see themselves as ‘gamers’ and were resistant to the idea and reluctant to try. They saw video games as ‘not their thing’, they were scared they ‘wouldn’t be good at it’ and it was ‘something their brother plays’, not them.
I remember having a conversation with one student who said in disbelief “You’re forcing us to play video games in class?” to which I replied “Yes! Give the first level a go and if you don’t like it you can stop playing.” The student didn’t stop playing. Many of the reluctant students really came around to the idea after they gave Portal 2 a go and realised it was not what they thought video games were like. It challenged the girls and required them to use their brain. Some students even bought a copy of Portal for their own personal use after enjoying it in class. A few students didn’t enjoy Portal 2, they were very resistant to trying it. Most of the students in this category have chosen not to continue studying Science this year.
Were you surprised by any of their reactions?
I was surprised by how much conversation Portal 2 created amongst the students. Many would work together in teams to solve the puzzle rooms. If anyone was stumped by a puzzle they would ask other students who had already completed the puzzle for help. Many students were frustrated when they kept failing but there was a sense of accomplishment when they finally conquered the puzzle.
Did the girls learn more with Portal than they would have otherwise?
I’m not sure if the students learnt more using Portal 2 than they would have otherwise. Learning is extremely difficult to measure. My goal for using Portal 2 was to show students that Physics can be applied in unexpected places (such as video games) and to keep the topic interesting and engaging. I used the Portal 2 lessons as more of a lab/practical lesson where students would take measurements within the game and apply their knowledge of concepts they had learnt in class. Portal 2 also allows students to simulate actions they can’t do that in real life (e.g. jumping from a height to measure acceleration due to gravity).
How did your co-workers react?
Many of my co-workers were intrigued by what I was doing. They had not used commercial video games in the classroom before. Some of my colleagues are still unsure of video games and have no inclination to use them in class. Most of my other colleagues have an open attitude would be willing to explore the use of video games in class. However, they all said they would need some training first to learn more about video games in order to use them effectively in class.
Did your thinking towards video games in the classroom change based on your experience?
Last year was my first time using video games for the purpose of teaching and my thinking towards it has definitely changed. I was experimenting a lot to see what worked and what didn’t and one big discovery was that to get the learning goals across I had to supplement the game with other activities. These activities stimulated the students’ thinking about the physics concepts, otherwise they just saw it as ‘playing games’.
Any advice to teachers who are considering using games in class?
Be familiar with the game your self
Spend some time playing the game you want to use. That way you can help students if they ask questions or get stuck. You will also quickly discover if the game is suitable for your purposes.
Give students time to become familiar with the game
I had students who had never played a first person shooter before, so using the keyboard and mouse at the same time to move around was very alien to them. They needed time to get used to the game and how it works before learning could take place.
Direct the learning
You can’t expect students to achieve your intended learning goals by just playing a video game without any teacher support. Students aren’t going to notice things like the conservation of energy unless you help them see it.