Engaging girls with games in education
If asked to describe a typical gamer, most people would probably describe a teenage boy playing games in his parents’ basement. Stereotypes do not always match reality, however. Most game players engage in social play by playing either with another person or online, and girls make up 47% of all gamers. What research has shown is that girls are drawn to games for different reasons than boys and that the factors that motivate girls to play are also important aspects of learning. Researchers are investigating how to create games in education that motivate girls and encourage all students in learning.
There are two key factors that motivate girls to play games: context and relationship. Girls enjoy games that allow them to solve problems in context and they prefer games with real world applications. They are also more drawn to games that include the collaborative aspects of social media and help them achieve something they see as making a positive difference in the real world. While drawn to games that include crossover characters from other media such as books or movies, girls also prefer games that closely simulate the real world.
One example of a game designed to engage girls is “Martha’s Marvelous Machines,” a collaborative project between Second Avenue Learning and the Rochester Institute of Technology. The researchers tested the physical science game with a group of middle school girls to find out if the game would increase their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Researchers discovered that when they were able to connect concepts such as springs and levers to real world situations, player’s engagement dramatically increased. When concepts were connected to a real world context, girls were talking about physics or game play 76% of the time and were only off topic 5% of the time. Urban, suburban, and rural students all demonstrated significantly increased STEM affiliation after playing the game.
The challenge is bringing those concepts into the classroom. The social and creative aspects of gaming attract girls, but educators may see the social interactivity as distracting from learning. However, allowing students to engage with a subject through a game prior to instruction on the topic actually increases student interest and engagement in the lesson. Games designed to appeal to girls may help interest girls in STEM subjects, but they also help all students develop the problem solving and collaborative skills they will need to function in the workplace.
What differences do you see in how boys and girls approach gaming? How can we design educational games to appeal to both boys and girls?
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