A high school teacher uses video games to get teenagers energized about English.
By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo
The Challenge: Get high school students interested in journalism and help them pass the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT).
The Solution: Use a journalismthemed video game to entertain and inform.
Lessons Learned: James Pedrech, OCT, had a handful of Grade 10 English students who struggled with the journalism units they needed to master for the OSSLT. “We had some students who were close to passing, but were just a couple of questions away,” says the department head of English, and Canadian and World Studies at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Strathroy, Ont.
Pedrech needed to get the teens excited about investigating and reporting, so he drew on his expertise as a video game developer. Over the last five years, he has created a number of games for his students. For his Grade 10 English course, he designed Deadline, a game that features 3-D characters and a noir-inspired backdrop. Students play cub newspaper reporters who must identify proper headlines and use proper quotations while they uncover a mystery.
Pedrech knows the storyline matters as much as the lessons. A good narrative keeps his class interested, and the more they play, the more they learn.
“I’ve tried to create a narrative with all the elements of fiction — a little mystery, some conflict and a climax,” he says.
Observations: The game play has paid off. “The students’ understanding of journalism and writing news articles has definitely improved this past semester,” Pedrech says.
He isn’t alone in his assertion that video games can help students. James Paul Gee, a faculty affiliate of the Games+Learning+Society group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, agrees. Gee’s research indicates that games are excellent teaching tools because they are designed to educate and entertain.
But games alone may not generate better classroom outcomes. Pedrech notes that alongside playing Deadline, students write articles for a school newspaper and for a pre-OSSLT exam. “The goal is to use a variety of techniques that help students learn,” he says.
Pedrech invites other teachers to use any of his games in their classrooms. To access the games, visit bit.ly/1p9RSrk.
He believes anyone can develop games. But for people who have no experience, Pedrech suggests starting with simpler ones, such as those he developed to help students remember sequences of events. In Order: Ancient History deals with historic events; In Order: Macbeth involves the storyline of Shakespeare’s play.
Pedrech says he’s happy to answer questions about this process. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also suggests asking students for help.
Helpful Hint: Deadline may look as if it was an expensive game to develop, but creator James Pedrech says it only cost about $100. He saved money by scouring DAZ3D.com, a game source material website, for images and templates on sale.
What You’ll Need:
Steps to Take: