Leveraging Game Design to inform Student-Centered Practices

Audiences: 6 - 8 Teachers , 9 - 12 Teachers
Levels: Intermediate , Advanced

Session Description

I love video games because I find them to be challenging, frustrating, fun, rewarding, and engaging, and that is what I want my students to experience in my math classroom. I wondered how video game designers purposefully implement features into video games to make them challenging, fun, rewarding, and engaging. I also wanted to find strategies to meet my students where they are.

My research and experience playing platform video games has helped me identify ten guiding principles of platform video game design. I have implemented strategies based on a handful of those guiding principles; strategies that increased my students’ engagement using storylines, offering student choice, and lowering risk of failure. This session will be in three parts: First, a discussion of the ten guiding principles and my implementation successes and failures; second, participant work time to choose one or two principles and design a strategy (with a guide); third, how to collect data and measure the success of a strategy. There will also be time for additional questions.

District Information

Boston public schools roughly enrolls 52,665 students across 125 schools throughout Boston's neighborhoods. The student demographics are roughly 41.9% Hispanic, 31.5% Black, 14.2% White, 9% Asian, 3% non-hispanic/multiracial, .3% Native American, .2% Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, 45% First language not English, 30% English learners, 20% Students with disabilities (students with an IEP), 6% English learners with disabilities, 70% Economically disadvantaged, and a 4-year graduation rate of 72.7%.

Francis Patrick Pina

Francis Pina is a Boston native and a 9th and 10th grade mathematics teacher at Charlestown High school. He attended Boston Public Schools his entire K-12 education and earned a BS in Economics from Boston University. After working a few years after his undergrad, he attended Harvard Graduate School of Education to earn his MEd in Secondary Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction.

Francis has extensive experience working with students of diverse populations in the city of Boston and strives to implement a creative, engaging, and student-centered math curriculum for his students to achieve great success. Francis previously taught at Codman Academy Public Charter School in Dorchester, MA. for four years, was a Lead Teaching Fellow at Year Up Boston and a summer Math Teacher with the Steppingstone Foundation for three years.

Francis was a member of the Better Math Teaching Network, a community of teachers, researchers and community leaders who collaborate to analyze current research and share ideas to transform math instruction in high school and promote a more student-centered curriculum, from 2015 to 2018, and a Teach Plus Policy Fellow for the 2017 - 2018 school year. Francis is currently continuing his teacher leadership work with Teach Plus and researching the ways and in which video games engage teens and how to transfer those principles to engage students in the high school classroom.


Additional Resources


Principle 1: Active & Critical Learning
A player is required to actively participate in the videogame, using the controller (or their body with Next-Gen systems), to make progress. he early levels in a videogame are used to form “generalizations that are fruitful for later cases” (Gee, 2008).

Principle 2: Semiotic Interaction
The graphics, sounds, and responses a videogame gives to the player. Semiotic also represents the context of interacting within the videogame environment. Being in one situation in one videogame may mean something completely different from another videogame.

Principle 3: Input Amplification
Is the amount of feedback a player gets from the Semiotic Interaction Principle. When a player pushes a few buttons on a controller, the feedback given back could be points, coins, a power-up, explosion, or all of the above.

Principle 4: Identity Adaptation
Is the interaction between the player’s “real-world identity” and the “digital-world identity” (Gee, 2008). When a player starts to play a video game, they gain “the potential to join and collaborate with a new affinity group” (Gee, 2007). The player is not only living and interacting in the real-world with their personal identity, but they can now interact with a specific group of people to discuss hints and tips for specific games.

Principle 5: Low-Risk
Is represented by the life-bar, life-cluster, save-points, and continues a videogame has. Gee (2008) asserts that “videogames create […] a learning space in which the [player] can take risks where real-world consequences are lowered.”

Principle 6: Actuated Difficulty
Is the modifications a player can make to increase or decrease the video games difficulty. Players “differ in a variety of ways, including how much they are willing to challenge themselves, and they play video games for a great variety of different purposes” (Gee, 2008).

Principle 7: Storyline
Is one of the key drivers for emotional investment in playing a video game. In a video game, the player who is the “receiver of the narrative want and needs to interact with and influence” the narrative “on the fly” (Prensky, 2001).

Principle 8: Materia Conservation
Is how a player decides to use materials, power-ups, and objects in a videogame when the materials, power-ups, and objects are limited. The decisions made by a player to conserve power-ups and powers truly depends on the context of the game.

Principle 9: Forked Pathways
Is the options a videogame has in its design that allows the player to choose how they will go about achieving a goal or beat the game.

Principle 10: Scaffolded Training
The way a videogame is design to teach or allow a player to learn how to play and interact within the video game’s environment; the “space” a player is given to learn the game.

Gee, James. P. (2008). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy &
Learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Heacox, Diane, EdD. (2002). Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How
to Reach and Teach All Learners, Grades 3 – 12. Minneapolis, MN: Free spirit

For Google Classroom