Games in Education - Resources for the K-12 Classroom

Curated by Sylvia Martinez, M.A. Education Technology

This wiki started as a companion to the K12Online 2008 Presentation - Kicking it Up a Notch: Games in Education. (see embedded video on the right - 23 minutes). I now use it as a virtual handout when I speak and write about games and learning.

Sylvia Martinez
Sylvia Martinez

On this page...

Supporting links and info for this presentation


Contact info

What is this about?

There is a lot of hype about how games are the future of education, but little to guide teachers how to dig past the hype and find games that really work for them. There's a lot of wishful thinking that goes along the lines of, "Kids love games, kids hate school, so if we just sneak the school stuff into games, kids will love learning." Unpacking the misconceptions in that claim is something I dive into in the video.

Here's a short version of what I believe about games in education and what resources you will find here.
  • Games and play are historically a well-regarded way for children to learn everything from social skills to logical thinking. Video games are no different, and just like all games, some are better than others. Chess, for example, is a better game to choose for the classroom than tug of war. Although you could certainly argue that tug of war teaches something, I think there is a vast difference in the potential for a wider and deeper learning opportunities from chess. I believe teachers can select games that maximize learning opportunities.
  • There is a big difference between the question "Are games good for learning?" and "Are games good for the classroom?" In many cases, the compromises needed to squish a game into a classroom setting takes the fun and challenge out of the game.
  • There are many types of video games. When you hear, "kids love video games", it does not immediately follow that all kids are going to like all games, nor that all games will teach the same thing to all kids.
  • Many games designed for the classroom are "game-like" in that they borrow the vocabulary and graphics from games, yet the experience of the "player" is no different than with a paper worksheet. Calling a 10 question multiple-choice test "leveling up" does not change the fact that it is a multiple choice test.
  • Teachers need to be clear about what they believe about learning, and then compare a game with those beliefs. Many games claim to have revolutionary learning capabilities - but learning is what happens in the brains of students, it is not delivered to them. And if a teacher does not believe that delivering content is learning, they need to maintain that belief in the face of breathless claims and fancy graphics.
  • I remain a "skeptical optimist" about the potential of games in the classroom for two reasons:
    • I haven't seen much really good stuff, despite the hype. I share some things I think are good in the video and in the links below.
    • Whenever there is money to be made, marketeers rush in to promise revolutionary results. Money makes the hype worse, and makes teacher's jobs harder since they have to sift out more hype.
  • I believe that the pinacle of using games in the classroom is having students program their own games. I offer resources and encouragement for teachers to try this. It's not as hard as you may think.

I've recently been getting requests to Skype into a conference session or a teacher-ed class to have a Q&A about this presentation. I'm happy to do this. I also have a 60 or 90 minute version which can be a webinar or conference session.Contact me by email at:

Other ways to watch the video: Direct link to video. The video is also available in these formats to download:
Original (23:07 Run Time; .mov, 50MB) iPod Video (23:07 Run Time; mp4, 34.3 MB) Audio only (23:07 Run Time; mp3, 11.1 MB)

Supporting links and resources for the presentation

I've organized this list into sections that loosely match the organization of the video presentation and sessions I do at conferences. If I've left something out, or you have a specific interest you don't see here, please email me!

Why games?

What's wrong with edutainment?

So what do you use instead?
  • Finding Good Learning Games - a blog post (by me) about examining your own beliefs about how learning happens to help find games that match those beliefs.

Two games that are "good" examples of learning games as opposed to games that present and drill content:
  • The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. The Wikipedia article has descriptions of the puzzles. It's not online, but it's cheap and well worth it - buy it. Note: it is an older game, so be aware of system requirements.
  • Gazillionaire III- Gazillionaire is an award-winning simulation game. It puts the player in charge of a trading ship in a fun universe filled with great characters. This a simple, classroom appropriate game that can easily be the basis for many lessons on resource management, economics, planning and collaboration. (Windows only)

Serious Games

  • Serious Games website - home of The Serious Games Initiative and a clearinghouse for serious games and serious game developers in health, education, and business.
  • Wikipedia entry for Serious Games - contains a list of serious games and many links to more support materials.


Examples of Serious Games Used in this presentation

Casual/ Puzzle/Logic Games and Sandboxes

Games in the presentation

Other games
  • Gazillionaire III- Gazillionaire is an award-winning simulation game. It puts the player in charge of a trading ship in a fun universe filled with great characters. This a simple, classroom appropriate game that can easily be the basis for many lessons on resource management, economics, planning and collaboration. (Windows only)
  • Classroom activity with Plan-ED - I didn't have time to talk about this game, but it's on my blog here. This is a cross-curricular activity requiring mathematical skills (pattern recognition, planning, and analysis) and language arts skills (written and verbal).
  • Finding good logic games - There is no "one" great place to find games, and certainly there are great games that aren't technology based. Online, searching for "logic games" is a mixed bag, with some sites that are too ad-filled, and too many distractions for students. If you are interested, probably the best thing is to follow the blogs of logic game enthusiasts, for example PC Logic Games, which, despite the name, often reviews free online games. One site that at least offers good reviews of the games is Caiman Free Games. Just avoid the shooting games and the games labeled "educational".

Look for:
  • game play you can plan and discuss
  • programmable
  • supports big ideas
  • offers multiple ways to “win”
  • slow play not twitch play
  • something you can get better at

Virtual Worlds

  • Teen Second Life in Education - If you are interested in using virtual worlds in the classroom the best place to start is with Peggy Sheehy and the work she has done with Teen Second Life at Suffern Middle School in New York. Note: Teen Second Life has been merged into the regular Second Life, so some of the older resources may not reflect current reality. However, the work done in regards to youth identity, agency, and community are timeless.

  • Quest Atlantis - For ages 9-15. It's a little tough to figure out what exactly you DO in Quest Atlantis, but it seems to focus on environmental awareness and social responsibility. It's free, but they prioritize the applications, and it's not clear how many they accept. Although it runs in a browser, you must download a special version of Internet Explorer (Windows and Mac) and open a firewall for the connection to the server.
  • River City - For grades 6-9. As visitors to River City, students travel back in time, bringing their 21st century skills and technology to address 19th century problems. Based on authentic historical, sociological, and geographical conditions, River City is a town besieged with health problems. Students work together in small research teams to help the town understand why residents are becoming ill. Students use technology to keep track of clues that hint at causes of illnesses, form and test hypotheses, develop controlled experiments to test their hypotheses, and make recommendations based on the data they collect, all in an online environment. It's free to schools, with free online training. You have to install an application and run Internet Explorer (Windows only)


Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Games

  • Using Myst in the classroom is the blog of Alex Finlayson, a teacher in Queensland, Australia. Extensive documentation of his lessons and resources using the game MYST as a grade 5 literacy unit.
  • Use of Myst as literature - Videos created by students to advertise the game, poems, etc.
  • Myst Resources - entries in the blog of Kevin McLaughlin, a teacher in the UK. Be sure to click "older entries" at the bottom of each page to see all the posts.
  • Flunking Spore - video game failed by scientists - From my blog. The new game Spore came out with a lot of hype about how it would teach biology, but it looks like it doesn't. It's a good example, however, of the wishful thinking in the education community about gaming, and the ability of marketeers to exploit this hope to make money.


Note: there are many, many games that quiz students on content. I just don't put them in same category as simulations and games that require critical thinking. It's sometimes hard to figure out which games are games and which are simply "game-like". You just have to play them. There are clues, however.
  • "Mini-games" is a dead giveaway. These will always be simple click/twitch games that may use a content pool to deliver a continuous stream of "content"
  • Descriptions that use the words: content or deliver
  • Assessment that includes "time on task" (a school invented term)
  • "So much fun the kids won't know they are learning!" - Run away! Kids who play games aren't being fooled into playing them. They play them because they are challenging and fun. Don't look at games as a way to "trick" students into learning, games work because they are NOT tricking anyone into playing.

Why Use Video Games/Overcoming Objections

“Game-like” attributes for a classroom - James Paul Gee
Gee says that the most important things to learn from video games are how attributes of games translate to making classrooms more effective and engaging. It's shortsighted to be so literal about "games in the classroom."

    • Identity
    • System thinking
    • Interaction
    • Explore, think laterally, rethink goals
    • Production
    • Smart tools and distributed knowledge
    • Risk-taking
    • Cross-functional teams
    • Customization
    • Agency
    • Well-ordered problems
    • Challenge and consolidation
    • Situated meanings
    • "Just in time" and "On demand"


Communities for using games in school

Game Design in the Classroom

Communities for teaching game design in the classroom

Seymour Papert - Collected Worksand Wikipedia entry. Seymour Papert is the father of educational computing and invented the Logo programming language. He often talks about children making games as part of his vision that students use computers as constructive materials in every aspect of education. A good article to start with is Looking at Technology Through School-colored Spectacles.

Research which supports the value of game programming as an educationally valuable activity for children of all ages.

Alan Kay - creator of Squeak & Etoys - TED Talk - A Powerful Idea about Teaching Ideas. Wikipedia entry.

  • The Game Maker’s Apprentice: Game Development for Beginners by Jacob Habgood & Mark Overmars (Amazon link)
  • Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children’s Learning (Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, 1995) (Amazon link) (Questia link)

  • Open Directory – Programming Languages for Education - Hundreds of annotated links to programming languages with an educational goal.
  • Squeak/Etoys
  • Scratch - be sure to look at the section of the website for educators and ScratchEd, an online community. LOTS of resources to use, especially if you are new to teaching programming.
  • Alice - Alice is a 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Developed by Carnegie Mellon.
  • Logo - Wikipedia entry (good explanation and many links).Logo Foundation - links to the many versions of the programming language
  • MicroWorlds - Commercial version of Logo. The LCSI company supports Logo language learning around the world. It does cost money, but you get a lot of resources and support in return.

General Papers
Moving Learning Games Forward (PDF)- takes a look at the gaming landscape, both learning games and commercial games, and makes recommendations to a broad range of stakeholders on reinforcing and expanding the growing interest in learning games.

Debunking the "video games cause violence" myth
TIME magazine - Video Games Don't Make Kids Violent:
A review of the research field of violent video games:
Recent study finding no link between video game violence and youth violence:

Sylvia Martinez is a veteran of interactive entertainment and educational software industries, with over a decade of design and publishing experience. As President of the non-profit Generation YES, Sylvia works with schools world-wide to bring authentic technology experiences to students through projects and service learning. Generation YES offers resources to help schools create technology programs that involve students as leaders, mentors, and teachers in their own schools and communities.

Prior to joining Generation YES, Sylvia oversaw product development, design and programming as Vice President of Development for Encore Software, a publisher of game and educational software on PC, Internet and console platforms. Sylvia was also involved in the company's Internet initiatives, including, the award-winning web site that provides math help to students worldwide.

For seven previous years, Sylvia was an executive producer at Davidson & Associates/Knowledge Adventure, a leading educational software developer. She designed, developed and launched dozens of software titles including Math Blaster: Algebra, Math Blaster: Geometry and Maurice Ashley Teaches Chess. In addition, she was responsible for Educast - the first Internet service for teachers that provided teachers with free news, information and classroom resources.

Prior to joining Davidson & Associates, Martinez spent six years at Magnavox Research Labs, where she developed high-frequency receiver systems and navigation software for GPS satellites.

Sylvia has been a featured speaker at national education technology conferences in areas ranging from the use of the Internet in schools, technology professional development, student leadership, project-based and inquiry-based learning with technology and gender issues in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) education.

She holds a Master's in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University, and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Contact info
Twitter: smartinez
Skype: sylviakmartinez
View Sylvia Martinez's profileon LinkedIn
View Sylvia Martinez's profileon LinkedIn