Teach Through Play: Minecraft

I intend to use the Teach Through Play series to provide ideas on how teachers can educate through games. In this blog post I want to talk about teaching history through Minecraft.

Minecraft is an interesting game. Most popular games rely on action. Minecraft relies on a creative mind. The creative minds who play Minecraft have come up with many things. From simple block houses…


to historical monuments… Read more ›

Posted in Education

Our Games Work!

I’m a certified teacher in the state of Massachusetts. Currently, I spend a portion of my time teaching Pre-K. In the classroom, I’ve used PBnGames’ AlphaBuddy, an educational video game which asks students to find and press letters on the keyboard, on a couple of occasions. Both times it was very well received.


(left) The colors roll down the screen until (right) a letter appears!
Push that letter and hear the audience cheer! Hooray!

Like a guest speaker, an educational video game brings a fresh voice into the classroom. It can teach material from a new perspective.

My personal experience is this: Yesterday, October 2nd, I was teaching a lesson on sounding out letters of the alphabet. Our game, AlphaBuddy, was a natural companion. As the letters appeared on the screen children took turns sounding out the letter and then pushing the letter on the keyboard. In the game, a correct answer yields a very satisfying cheer – a sound the children were eager to replicate. After each child had a turn, we went outside to play.

We’ll play AlphaBuddy again in the future, as every child wanted to keep playing. I think my experiences epitomize why educational video games should be tools for all teachers. They enrich the educational process while keeping it fun and appealing.

Posted in AlphaBuddy

An Entertaining Education

I’m not one to invest in any form of media for character development or extensive fictional vocabularies. I’ve always enjoyed media which challenges or teaches me – such as Uberschizoid mode in the game Schizoid or the ESPN film Let Them Wear Towels – or does the exact opposite and allows to my brain to take a rest – such as Creative mode in the game Minecraft or most any Will Ferrell (comedy) movie.

Shaq and Will Ferrell

Shaq and Will Ferrell filming a comedy together. That’s two thing I like in one picture!

Like any other form of media, games can impart information which can be referenced after the audience has moved onto other tasks. I could write about a number of such games. But there’s one game in recent memory which really piqued my interest in the subject matter because of the knowledge I gained while playing. That game turned me into an appreciator of the sport of basketball.

I’ve always enjoyed playing or watching football, baseball and hockey. But, up until last year, I didn’t understand basketball. Every basketball game seemed to play out the same: the team playing defense got the basketball, dribbled the ball to the other side of the court and passed the ball to an unguarded teammate whom took a shot, preferably a 3-point shot. And this process repeated for forty-eight minutes. Using this logic, taking an open 3-point shot with Shaquille O’Neal (aka Shaq), a basketball legend, was never out of the question. Shaq made 12,498 shots in his career. One was a 3 pointer. What I’m saying is, if I was going to make sense of the game of basketball, I needed a reality check. That reality check came in the form of a video game, NBA 2K12.

NBA 2K12 has a game mode called My Player. In that game mode, a player can take a fictional NBA player and play as him for the entirety of his NBA career. Smart play on the basketball court is rewarded with skill points which enhance the fictional player’s abilities.

NBA 2K12 My Player Stats

Improving a player’s stats with skill points earned in NBA 2K12.

“Smart play” in basketball? I had no idea what that was. At first I set my player up for 3-point shots. But I kept missing and my team kept losing. I soon found out my player was best at mid-range shots, shots which are about 3 to 5 feet closer to the basket. The reality was that my player wasn’t great at everything, he had a role. Unlike LeBron James, I couldn’t make every shot on the court with consistency (yet). If I could find a way to escape my defender and take an unguarded mid-range shot, great! I’d take it! If not, I had to do something to try and set up a teammate who could take a higher-percentage shot. The more I played, the more my understanding of “smart play” took form. And as my understanding took form, so did my interest in playing real basketball.

Before NBA 2K12, my roommate and I would head to the park across the street from our apartment and play catch multiple times a week. We’d play H-O-R-S-E or a pick up game of basketball too, but those were rare. It’s no exaggeration to say that after playing NBA 2K12, I started playing basketball on a daily basis. If my roommate wasn’t around, I’d grab the basketball and go shoot and run the court on my own.

While playing NBA 2K12 hadn’t improved my physical skills, it had improved my mental skills in basic, but important, ways. For example, I no longer crowded a teammate whom had the ball. I originally assumed crowding – or standing within ten feet of – a teammate was the best way to get the ball and take a (horrible) shot. After playing NBA 2K12, I realized it allowed my defender to get close to the ball and attempt to steal it while still being able to cover me.

Since playing NBA 2K12, I’ve had a greater appreciation for the game of basketball when watching on TV. I understand why picks are set, I understand why lanes should be filled correctly when in transition offense and I understand the benefits of choosing zone defense and man defense. But perhaps most significant is that I enjoy playing the sport far more than I ever did. And it’s all thanks to an education I got playing a video game.

Posted in Education