Teaching with Games: TeacherQuest’s District-Wide Vision

March 05, 2015
By Educator Innovator

This article is part of the Teaching With Games case study series at Institute of Play, produced in partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. For more case studies and related resources, visit Playmakers.

Game design has unique relevance to effective teaching—it develops the skills teachers need to create engaging learning experiences where students can take on meaningful roles, explore complex problems, test out different solutions, and get feedback to help them improve. In professional development, game design also has the benefit of giving teachers a framework to practice collaboration by design. Through the TeacherQuest program, Allegheny County teachers are working with Institute of Play—an Educator Innovator partner—to build a learning community dedicated to collaboration and iteration across sites, putting games and game-making at the center of a new movement in district-wide innovation.

TeacherQuest takes the professional development playbook from Quest to Learn, the innovative public school developed by Institute of Play, and adapts it for educators working across different contexts. Piloted in Allegheny County in Summer 2014 collaboration with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the program uses the Quest model’s game-like approach to help teachers design powerful game-based and game-like learning experiences for their students.

In this video, we spoke to Institute of Play designers and facilitators, as well as the teachers who participated in the TeacherQuest Summer Institute pilot, about their experiences with this hands-on design-based approach to professional development, and what effect the ability to create and modify games has on their teaching practice as well as their ability to work together towards a shared vision of what learning can and should be.

We asked our program facilitators a few questions about what teachers can learn from TeacherQuest. Those interested in game developer takeaways should check out the Q&A on gamesandlearning.org.

How does your approach to game-based learning connect to or build on established teaching practices?
TeacherQuest: When we first started doing TeacherQuest, we heard from teachers that the program was not just helping them make and use games, it was helping them teach the way they knew they should: focusing on student-centered learning, allowing for student inquiry and project-based learning, giving students opportunities to take on roles and grapple with real world problems, and collecting evidence of student learning. What’s striking is the extent to which games and game-based learning can be used as a Trojan Horse to get to all of these other powerful, transformative practices that are grounded in research about how students learn best.

How does this program change teaching practice? What does the change look like?
TeacherQuest: On a practical level, educators leave TeacherQuest workshops with the ability to use games in several different ways: as tools for student engagement; as tools for supporting and assessing learning in traditional content areas; and as tools for supporting and assessing development of 21st century skills.

But the larger change we see in this program is actually a shift in identity, as teachers begin to think of themselves as designers. In the program, we see educators collaborate with each other, take more risks and iterate more freely, and use design thinking to solve complex problems. When educators experience this kind of learning and embrace these design practices, they are able to create these kinds of learning experiences for their students as well—the kinds of student-led, inquiry-driven, and project-based learning approaches that we all want to see more of.

What resources are available to help teachers implement game-based learning? Where can teachers find communities of practice that support implementation?
TeacherQuest: Since 2009, Institute of Play has been creating resources to support the implementation of this approach at the New York City school Quest to Learn. These resources include games, case studies and tutorial videos, and curriculum exemplars, Many of these resources are freely available through partnerships with organizations that are doing great work to build communities of practitioners dedicated to innovation in education, like Edutopia and Share My Lesson, or through the Institute’s own website.

What kind of resources are needed to implement a professional development program like this?
TeacherQuest: Of course there are resources required for the workshops: facilitators, carving out time in teachers’ busy schedules, finding a district or organization to provide financial support.

But there are also resources that you need in order to create structures that support lasting change and transformation through continuous feedback and community collaboration—for example, a community website, design challenges to keep teachers engaged and give them opportunities to continue practicing what they learned, evaluation systems to help teachers understand how they are doing, and feedback mechanisms to help the facilitators improve.

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.

By Ilena Parker
Original Post/Institute of Play