One important initiative is the delivery of self-contained learning experiences and games specifically designed to teach content which is aligned with the needs of classroom educators and homeschoolers.
In the spring of 2015, through Iocari Games, we piloted our first curriculum unit for two 8th grade social studies classes at Miller Creek Middle School. Under Iocari, we designed our initial game to provide a content-rich context for situated learning, wherein students were given individual ‘characters’ to play, and were organized into “family groups” that represented a specific socio-economic background. We then asked the players to collaboratively craft solutions to complex problems derived from a narrative we presented as news headlines covering technological, social and political developments spanning 60 years of history. Alongside the problems we posed to specific individuals and family groups, we engaged the students with a simulated economic model which served to exemplify the growing disparity between the classes and between the conditions in the northern and southern states, and emulate actual economic exchanges.
Our purpose was to create an engaging environment and narrative that would stimulate learning, critical thinking and problem-solving, and to teach empathy for the life of an everyday individual from the period. History comes alive when a player engages with events as though they were directly involved. A deeper understanding of the causes of economic division and ultimately the root causes for the American Civil War emerged for players as a result of “living through” the experiences presented as opposed to simply reading about them in a textbook. By the end of the game, students had developed a much richer and more nuanced concept of the history and living conditions of the day.
Although the individual classes played the game only for a few hours a day, we witnessed a marked increase in motivation and engagement which expressed itself in several measurable ways. For example, players in the game would demonstrate insights from the time period that they could only have gathered through research outside of class and through discussion with their classmates. Students would engage in strategic conversation and collaboration in breaks and during lunch, planning out their next moves for the game. We also received reports that the students discussed the game with friends and family not directly involved in playing the game. Students exercised creative license to craft novel solutions, including skills-retraining and entering into partnerships and marriages between families. Players demonstrated divergent thinking and engaged their creativity in ways that a standard, lecture-driven curriculum does not support.
Through Iocari Games we intend to continue to develop this and other curricular units to meet the needs of teachers in public, private and home-school settings. Through The Game Academy, we wish to implement and deliver these curricular units to a broader audience. We envision providing these units as packages that educators can run for themselves in their own classrooms, and under The Game Academy, we intend to deliver a training program to teach educators how to be effective game masters for the materials, and to provide instruction and support for the more complex parts of the game.
Through The Game Academy, we also hope to engage with home-schooling and other alternative education families, and to implement our curricular units as means not only to teach specific subject matter of interest to these students, but also to provide the benefits of social-emotional learning and collaboration that they may be missing in their particular contexts.