Using Games to Teach Real World Problem Solving Skills

“When or where am I going to actually use this?” My guess is that every teacher has heard a student utter these words somewhere along the way. As teachers, it is our responsibility to capture students’ imagination to help them connect what they do in the classroom with the world around them. Yet, how can we, as teachers, help them not only acquire the educational content we are teaching, but also the ability to use content to solve real world problems?

I believe the answer lies in game-based learning. Video games are practically second nature to the majority of students today. As players, they always want to know what is next, what is behind that obstacle and how can they advance to the next level. Using what they know about the characters, their abilities, the hurdles and the environment, they attempt different ways to achieve the game’s objectives. In an academic game, this trial and error approach builds students’ knowledge, not only of the content itself, but also how to apply the content in different ways to advance.

Through their own pace and rhythm, students can trace back to a place in the game they made a mistake, conclude what went wrong, dig into the educational content and, ultimately, change their approach to solve the problem. Correcting his or her own mistakes is infinitely more valuable for a student than having them retrospectively pointed out.

In the Triseum calculus game, Variant: Limits, this theory holds true. I showed the game to my 15-year-old son who loves playing games but knows very little about calculus. He moved through the game’s task and challenges to figure out what to do next. Of course, his progress wasn’t without failure. He is too young to know and understand the depth of the calculus concepts, but his trial and error approach enabled him to draw some important conclusions in a more intuitive way, applying what he learned from both his successes and failures. This is problem solving at its best; not to mention, he got very excited to formally learn calculus!

Game-based learning also creates an ideal environment for student collaboration, a valuable lesson these students will carry into their careers, no matter their chosen field.  Playing in pairs, interacting with each other and helping each other navigate through the game deepens their knowledge of the concepts while, at the same time, developing their social and teamwork skills.

Academic games don’t just teach us content, they teach us how to think creatively and use the content to solve problems. What’s more, the game-based learning experience integrates something students  likely enjoy doing in their free time with tangible learning, and that is what learning should be – fun, deep and engaging!

About the Author

Anica teaches math at the primary school Toplički heroji in Žitorađa, Serbia. She is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) and a Scientix ambassador. Her passions lie in new education technologies and developing students’ digital skills for the 21st century, engaging them in a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and their applications in real life.