As if You Needed Another Excuse to Play Video Games

Just call him, Mr. Chief.As a student. I've done it. As a teacher, I've advised against it. As a self-proclaimed "geek," I absolutely love it. What am I talking about?

Playing video games.

From my Atari to my Xbox 360, I have enjoyed the beloved past time of spending countless hours in front of the television, button-mashing away on the game controllers. Whether it was Pitfall on the Atari, or Halo 3 on the 360, I've always been in awe of the design and fun of video games.

And now, some teachers have found that video games can actually elevate a student's performance in school.

In January 2009, Crenshaw High School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, launched GameDisk. This small pilot program takes state-based standards for high school art and math and incorporates them into the multimedia platform of building video games from scratch. This innovative program was conceived and created by USC professor Victor Lacour, associate director for game research at the university's Viterbi School of Engineering. The pilot was implemented at Crenshaw by Scott Spector, the LAUSD's director of educational technology.

Cathy Garcia, one of the two teachers who participated in Crenshaw's initial spring 2009 program, highlighted a few extraordinary classroom moments. "Although these students often have a difficult time engaging with mathematics, they threw themselves into the task of mastering the programming in the GameMaker software," she wrote in a year-end evaluation. "The normally rambunctious students were silent and engaged with their work -- enjoying themselves while working out problems on ratios, proportions, graphing, and conversions."

By March 2009, at the initial pilot program's halfway point, the Crenshaw students had completed their assigned game, so, working in teams, they chose new games to build. In April, the teams showed off their new games at the Information Technology Conference (Info-Tech), a convention where 90-plus schools presented technology-based projects.

Spector remembers a ninth-grade student with mild autism who stood up at the convention and presented his team's game. "He suffered from communication problems, but in this class, he became the team leader," Spector says.

Programs such as this should be available in all schools. We live in a technology driven world, so developing curriculum that embraces tech, only seems right. If done correctly, it could help increase student engagement andlet them learn about things they use in their everyday lives.

Now before you toss that history book aside, and go play Madden NFL 10 for "educational purposes," remember it is the process of developing these games that is beneficial.

But then again, there's nothing wrong with a little "research and development."

To read more about the GameDisk program and the use of video games in the classroom, click here.