Games Bring Learning to Life -Jim Pedrech, Canada

By now, it’s widely accepted that games-based learning can be highly effective, and no one would dispute that games generate unbridled enthusiasm among students. Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Jim Pedrech has taken the use of games a step farther, creating new games that are perfectly suited to his curriculum goals and his students’ needs.

Pedrech, a self-described “pedagogical late bloomer,” began his teaching career in a hogwan (a privately-run, after-hours institute) in South Korea. “I think I was more of a deliverer of content than a teacher, someone who dutifully does his job without really understanding its potential,” he says. “Most of the lessons I was teaching were about grammar and structure (which are certainly important), but there was no creativity or higher-order thinking.”

Ultimately, a stint teaching writing made all the difference for Pedrech. “Although the change didn’t happen overnight, seeing students express meaningful ideas was, well, addictive,” he says. “Looking back on my career so far, I can see a steady progression from that initial ‘Aha!’ moment to today.”

That progression ultimately led Pedrech to a winning approach to teaching: creating the conditions that allow students to excel. “If we can provide them with the right environment and good starting points,” says Pedrech, “students will continually amaze us.”

To help his students prepare for a standardized test that required them to write a news story, Pedrech built “Deadline,” a game that puts them right in the middle of a newsroom, with all of the associated challenges and lessons. He demonstrated the game to me at the recent E2 conference in Redmond:

According to Pedrech, students adjust quickly to a game-based approach, given their familiarity with games as entertainment. But even more important, they learn more deeply.

“What’s amazing about [games-based learning],” he says, “is that the students’ retention of facts is so much higher because it’s always in context.” Like many educators, Pedrech has discovered that the multi-sensory nature of games makes helps students retain information in a way text books can’t.

“At the moment, my Media Studies class is producing a video short that is essentially a live-action version of a famous video game,” Pedrech notes. “I can tell you that watching the students build something for an authentic audience, collaborate on an open-ended project, and problem-solve on the fly is simply amazing. It is also interesting to see how little I am needed. While I start each class with a quick overview of what we need to accomplish, most students already know what they need to do; they just need me to get out of their way. Give students engaging and authentic tasks, and they will always surprise you with their ingenuity and creativity.”

Working together with his students, Pedrach has created games that immerse students in ancient Egypt (Land of the Pharaohs), Victorian England (The Paulsford Mysteries) and great naval battles (Victory at Sea). He’s also introduced a simple, flash-based template that enables both students and teachers to create interactive walk-throughs for historical recreations and novel studies.

Pedrech shares his approach with other educators (and students) through Sways, his website and blog. And judging from reviews, he’s making a big impact on his students.

In the words of one former student, “I had Mr. Pedrech FIVE times in high school! He was by far my favorite high school teacher! …Mr. Pedrech changed my life and interests in an overwhelming way. Because of what he taught me and also how he taught (partially in this unique way) I have been able to be a successful student at the university level.”

Way to go, Mr. Pedrech!

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