GAMeS Could Lead to Higher Test Scores

“Almost all kids play video games, a cultural phenomenon that is here to stay,” said Matt Dunleavy, an assistant professor of teacher education and leadership in the College of Education and Human Development, which includes the GAMeS Lab. “We hope to capture or leverage its powerful immersive capability to enhance instruction.”

Through its iLearn project, the GAMeS Lab is developing iPad and iPod touch-based mobile technology applications and testing their efficacy in the city of Radford and Pulaski County public schools. The work is underwritten by a $1.6 million grant from the Virginia Department of Education. The grant also enables the GAMeS Lab to provide training and training materials for teachers on how to most effectively use the iPads and iPod touches that the school districts have purchased and deployed.

student using an iPod touch for a reading lesson

Traditional methods for teaching children the “Three R’s” are being enhanced with instructional technology, thanks to Radford University.

“Everything we do is geared toward enhancing teaching and learning with mobile technology,” Dunleavy said.

For example, children holding GPS-enabled handheld computers or cell phones would walk about in a designated place and respond to video, audio or text information cued by their arrival at a particular point. In a game called “Buffalo Hunt,” with content based on Virginia SOLs, students learn about Native-American culture and about teamwork. Students on their school playground might become virtual Native-Americans facing two questions: Why are their people getting sick? Why are the buffalo dying?

Besides the two local school districts, the GAMeS Lab is working with New River Community College (NRCC) to design and test games that can support the schools’ drive to achieve SOL benchmarks with a series of apps and games for students of all ages.

“We work across the K-12 spectrum and focus on mathematics, where SOL scores are critical,” said Tom Brewster, deputy superintendent for administration and academic support for Pulaski County Public Schools. “We have created a hybrid of early adopters among our faculty and high-need classrooms to see what can be done with this technology.”

According to Brewster, it is too early to empirically assess results of the technology in Pulaski County, but “formative evidence” shows scores improving. The scores from the schools’ final tests at the end of the current school year will more clearly tell the tale, he said.

The RU team and its partners are following the students’ progress with great interest, Brewster continued. “The developers at the GAMeS Lab have been very creative and are highly engaged in the product and its effectiveness in the classroom. They want to know, ‘Does it work?’ and eagerly solicit feedback from the teachers.”

Dunleavy said the lab is “working to marry the power of the pedagogy we find within video games with the latest in cognitive science on how people learn to create a package that students find engaging and that they are willing to do in and out of school.” In collaboration with NRCC, the GAMeS Lab has developed 18 standards-aligned apps, which have been downloaded over 44,000 times from seven different countries through Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes site. In March the GAMeS staff released a new game, “Disaster Chasers,” and within two weeks it was downloaded 6,000 times.

At Radford’s McHarg Elementary School, Carol Wojtera has incorporated the technology in her first-grade classroom to augment conventional teaching. She uses iPod touches in activities like word study, reading comprehension and math drills.

“I can’t imagine teaching without them,” Wojtera said. “I love being part of something that is paving the way for other students and teachers.”

Wojtera pointed out that the games and apps are just part of a technology package that the iLearn project has brought to her classroom.  She uses the platform to create specialized podcasts for her students and to make “Keynotes” presentations that are accessible to the students in free times during the day.

“We have fewer students who seem to feel left behind, so I see a tremendous impact,” said Wojtera, who has used apps from the GAMeS Lab to help her 21 pupils master SOL-mandated skills like telling time and working with money.

Wojtera describes the relationship between her school’s faculty and the GAMeS Lab team a partnership: “It is nice to have developers who can listen and help create solutions that are specific to my classroom.”