Monday, May 26, 2008

Civilization IV: Testing the Waters

Video game-based learning is a topic I've written about a few times on this blog. The past couple years my students have played the video game Venture Africa--an effort on my part to teach them life science standards.

Another game that I've considered having my students play is Civilization IV. I can't think of a better, more engaging way to teach the social studies standards for my state (or any state for that matter). A few things have been holding me back from using the game though: (1) I cannot afford enough copies to even have my students play in small groups. (2) The game is so sophisticated that the learning curve may be too great for my students to get anything out of it. (3) I haven't had time to play the game enough to find all of the connections to our social studies curriculum. Obviously, teaching with video games is still such a new approach that a great deal of justification would be necessary.

With those considerations in mind, I asked three of my students if they would be interested in giving up their daily recess for a few weeks to play Civilization so that I could observe and take notes while they played. This has been taking place for a little over a week now, and I'm pleased to say that I'm almost 100% sure that my students will be playing the game next year. Here is what has convinced me:
  • One copy of the game is all that will be necessary for the class to play. With a Smartboard, the kids can team up and play turn-based games (I believe this is called Hotseat). With the game running on my computer and projected on the Smartboard, a team of four students can gather and make their moves while the rest of the class researches and plans.
  • As far as learning the game, my students may never be able to uncover all of its features. What makes video games so engaging though is the challenge of learning what makes them work. Through trial and error the three students that I presently have playing the game have discovered what makes Civilization work and what it takes to be successful. It has been helpful that one of the students is familiar with the game, having played it at home, and is able to assist the other two when they are not sure what to do next.
  • It's almost inconceivable that a game like Civilization could be so engaging for players when one considers how boring social studies is for so many kids. Many of my students have had little interest in anything they have read about government, economics, history, or geography this year. Yet these are the very concepts that one must master in order to be successful in the game. I've been looking through the socials studies book that I teach from, and there are almost endless possibilities for combining student readings of the book with playing of the game. Here are some examples:
    • Geography terms - Parts of a river (I believe this is in chapter 1 or 2 of the textbook) - Rivers are found throughout the game. When a student team settles near a river, ask them to use their textbooks to find out what part of the river their city is located on.
    • Natural Resources (chapter 1, lesson 4 and then again throughout the book) - Resources play a huge role in the game. They also show up throughout the book. Students could use the textbook to see what products come from different types of resources so that when they encounter them in the game they know what the resource is and how to use it.
    • History of New England States - (chapter 3) - The early settlements in New England occurred along the coast because deep harbors allowed ships to get in and out easily. Students can use this knowledge when creating new cities in the game.
    • Economics - (chapter 3) - Industrial economy is a vocabulary word in this chapter. Students learn about Samuel Slater and his textile mill. Knowledge of this would assist students in understanding what is taking place when they see water mills appear in their cities.
There is SO much more to write about. I have really only scratched the surface. Other ideas?

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