Andrew Miller

Game-Based Learning and a Whole Child Approach

Game-based learning (GBL) is a current trend in education reform and, as it becomes more widely implemented, we must make sure we do not simply focus on the tools. Using games for learning is a great tool, but only if the use is intentional and aligned to best practices for student learning. GBL can, in fact, be aligned to the Whole Child Tenets—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged—further leveraging it as a legitimate instructional model to reach all students.


Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

Many games for learning promote health and well-being. Superbetter was just released, which includes a learning platform with quests and challenges targeted toward various physical fitness and mental well-being goals. Another fun mobile example is Zombies, Run!, an app that turns running into a zombie apocalypse story. Plenty more games out there can also help engage students in healthy activities in a fun way.


Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

One of the essential design principles of GBL (and games in general) is the safety to fail. Often in education, whether through punishing students by grading formative assessments (or not replacing earlier failures with successful summative assessments) or lack of multiple drafts, we teach students that they only have one shot to get the right answer. Games, on the other hand, make trial and error a safe norm. We can use GBL to foster a safe space for learning in our classrooms.


Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

GBL's intent is to create an engaging environment where students learn both content and 21st century skills. Games engage our students through careful creation. From leader boards and avatars, to freedom to fail and immediate feedback, games and game mechanics can provide another learning model to engage our students.


Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

GBL aligns specifically to the "personalized" aspect of this tenet. Although games are often collaborative, all games have important, individualized quests and missions. In a game that requires the player to learn content, the game is highly personalized. Success is only achieved through the individual's play and learning.


Each graduate is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Games are often quite challenging. Game designers spend time making the flow of the game perfect, where there is just enough challenge, but not so much that the game is impossible. We can use GBL to create an appropriate challenge to learn and practice content.

Through intentional and careful implementation, educators can use GBL and various games to address and meet the needs of the whole child.

Andrew K. Miller is an educator and consultant. He is a National Faculty member for ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.


Comments (1)


April 19, 2012

I think educational games for children are excellent teaching them and at the sam time keeping them entertained.  One particular app that many parents might find useful is A Jazzy Day app.  Its a great introduction to jazz music for young children, and it will get them reading.

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