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PLAYMAKERS is an exploration of the experiences and innovations that are leading the way for learning design in the twenty-first century. The videos in this series introduce you to a range of people working at the intersection of games and learning, from teachers who happened on the power of play through trial and error, to commercial game designers who set out to make one great game and ended up empowering millions of users to make their own.
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STEM Educators Academy
Building Bridges

Play-based Professional Learning Connects Classroom Teachers with Community Educators

In the afterschool space, a new breed of professional development programs are expanding learning opportunities for urban youth by cultivating partnerships between classroom teachers and community-based educators. Through programs like the STEM Educators Academy, formal and informal educators are working together to design and deliver aligned curriculum that is engaging, rigorous and inquiry-based. Games have a lot of potential to bridge formal and informal learning environments, and game design offers a process through which educators can begin exploring this unique type of collaboration.

In the STEM Educators Academy, games are helping to build a bridge to support powerful collaboration.

TASC is partnering with two New York City-based cultural organizations to provide professional development to formal and informal STEM educators in some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities. Educators come to the program in teams of three: one teacher and two community educators, who engage in joint professional development and coaching. There are two strands, based on two particular approaches to innovative STEM teaching: New York Hall of Science is leading a strand focused on design-based activities, and Institute of Play is leading a strand on game-based activities — with the common focus of using collaborative teaching to improve STEM instruction in school and after-school programs.

In this video, we visit the STEM Educators Academy at Institute of Play and the New York Hall of Science to look at similarities between the design-based strand and the game-based one. We talk to facilitators and program leaders from TASC about how this unique approach to professional development can provide better learning opportunities for educators and students alike.


We asked TASC and Institute of Play a few questions about what teachers can learn from the role of games in this unique program.

How does your approach to game-based learning connect to or build on established teaching practices?

TASC: Game-based learning practices build on project-based curriculum design and inquiry-based learning because games require students (and adults) to think. In a game, you have to make choices, strategize, connect and apply knowledge, concepts, and ideas, ponder and evaluate moves. All of these actions move beyond reciting facts and ideas to thinking critically about and applying facts and ideas. To have students think critically brings a purpose to learning and I think well-designed games have the power to do just that.

How does this program change teaching practice? What does the change look like?

TASC: This program is strengthening inquiry-based learning and the notion that we learn by doing.  Instead of students reading about how a paleontologist observes and classifies fossils, they take on the role of a paleontologist and observe, classify fossils, discuss with fellow paleontologists (their peers), draw conclusions, and build consensus, all scientific practices of a paleontologist but through a game simulation. Or instead of creating a diagram of herbivores, carnivores, decomposers, and producers, students can design a game where they take on the roles of each, make predictions, observe, and draw conclusions on how they are affected with changing scenarios. Game-based learning brings concepts and scientific concepts to life allowing students to have voice, choice, and become active participants in their own learning.

Institute of Play: Professional development is an opportunity for educators to experience the kind of learning they want their students to experience. The STEM Educators Academy was a week where educators were engaged at every moment, there was a challenge they had to work together to overcome, and they were always learning by doing. We also explicitly modeled discussion practices throughout the week, as ways to help teachers overcome challenges as they work together – the same challenges their students might face when they do group work.

One of the main outcomes of this program is a process. Rather than sitting down with educators to help them plan September-October curriculum, we were helping them create process changes that will enable them to continue working together. There was a lot of reflection and goal setting built into the program, in order to help each team create a shared vision of what the collaboration would look like in the future.

What resources are available to help teachers implement game-based learning? Where can teachers find communities of practice that support implementation?

TASC: Institute of Play gave educator teams a portfolio of resources to begin designing and implementing game based learning into the classroom. TASC observes educators teams in the Dimensions of Success (DOS) tool to coach teams and inform professional development offerings.

Institute of Play: Institute of Play’s TeacherQuest program offers a flexible range of workshops to support design and collaboration. The Institute also offers a number of resources, including games, case studies and tutorial videos, and curriculum exemplars, Many of these resources are freely available through partnerships with Edutopia and Share My Lesson, or through our website.

What kind of resources are needed to implement a professional development program like this?

TASC: This program was designed for schools with an after-school program run by a community partner. For it to work, schools and their community partners need to have a shared vision which values hands-on learning. Schools – in particular, principals and STEM teachers – need to see the value of working with community educators to expand both how and when kids learn. Only if they see these potential benefits will they be willing to commit the time and resources for professional development and collaborative planning and teaching. Time commitments can vary, but In the case of the STEM Educator Academy, science teachers attend approximately 42 hours of professional development during the summer and school year and collaboratively plan and teach with community educators an additional 72 hours per year. Costs are shared by schools, community organizations (with public funds earmarked for after-school programming), and a private foundation.


About the Teaching With Games Series

Data from the 2012 Joan Ganz Cooney Center national teacher survey showed that few teachers are exposed to game-based learning in pre-service training, and that teachers usually provide their own ongoing professional learning on games and learning. This series looks at how teachers can be exposed to games through various forms of PD.  From a game-based approach to teacher education at ASU to play-based professional learning for informal learning environments at TASC, this series takes the viewer on a journey of innovative and novel approaches to teacher PD.

The series is a project of the Games and Learning Publishing Council and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The series is produced by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the Institute of Play.

PLAYMAKERS is an exploration of the experiences and innovations that are leading the way for learning design in the twenty-first century.

This series is made possible through the generous support of the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.