Why Do We Need More Game Play in Social Studies?

Summary: Why should learning Social Studies be entertaining? Social Studies is just reading dusty, boring old books, isn't it? You'll never get me in interested in that.

Educational Technology and Game Play Can Motivate Students to Learn Social Studies

My teaching experiences have convinced me that educational technology and game play can motivate students to learn Social Studies. In the 1980’s, I truly enjoyed teaching a self-contained class of 11 year olds who questioned everything. “Why do we hafta study this?” was their mantra. They had a good point. Their textbooks were boring and had inadequate illustrations. My job was to make it exciting and relevant to my students and their world. One way was by using game play with technology.I also disliked history, having dozed off many times in my past classes. How could I make history interesting and relevant to both my students and myself? With only one computer in the classroom, we used it as a learning station for 2 pupils at a time. Alternatively, we would have a group presentation for all of my 28 students at this one screen. Students in front sat on the floor, in middle sat on chairs, in back were standing. I would sit in a chair beside the keyboard and randomly call on a pupil to choose the answer for what was presented on the computer or have all the students raise their hands to vote on what to do. We would discuss their answers and reasoning.

2 Edutainment Options for Social Studies

  1. The Oregon TrailOur first eLearning program was “The Oregon Trail.” Time jump to the 1800’s where you are a settler leaving Independence, Missouri to travel 2,000 miles of rough terrain to arrive at the verdant valley of Oregon City. You survived if you made good decisions. My students loved debating about what were the best choices to make. They wanted to learn more about the Oregon Trail. I had them do research, draw maps and write imaginary, illustrated journals of life on the trail. No two journals were alike. The students wrote creatively using unique colorful adjectives, similes and metaphors as if they had actually experienced it! “The Oregon Trail” is one of the best examples of edutainment elearning. We need more like it.
  2. Where in the World is Carmen SandiegoOur second program was “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. What an exciting way to learn geography. Encyclopedias, Almanacs, and Atlases were passed out to the students so that each was holding at least one book. The goal of the game was to track villains around the world who had stolen something like the Eiffel Tower. I would say, "Someone who has a book about the Eiffel Tower, please look it up and show us what it looks like and where it is located." We began the game by first going where the crime took place and looking up information about that country. Then, obtaining geographical hints on where the thief went next, we used our references to help us explore the world and capture the thief. I wished that I could customize the software to match what the students were currently studying. Win or lose, students learned and practiced research skills and the fundamentals of geography in an entertaining way.

This is just a sample of edutainment options for Social Studies. There are also simulations like "Age of Empires" and "Civilization" that motivate students to learn the real history as opposed to possible alternative histories. More eLearning software and related lesson plans are needed that encourage students to dive into Social Studies where we "learn from the past, live in the present and plan for the future."Now I love both learning and teaching Social Studies. I keep students awake by engaging them through gamification.