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  • Writer's pictureJolie Radunich

3 ways game learning can motivate students to level up

My 9th-grade math teacher couldn't believe I'd been studying math on IXL for 5 hours one weekend.

When I handed in my printed proof on Monday morning, I was met with a sarcastic, “Did you leave the webpage running?”

I honestly answered no.

5 hours is a LONG time studying. How was I able to keep it up? I felt determined to earn my final challenge ribbon. Even with a few missed answers here and there, by Sunday evening I’d done it.

The greater reward? I aced my final algebra exam and earned the respect of a tough teacher.

If I'm honest, I was already an intrinsically motivated student who wanted to perform well. At the same time, I did need to put in extra work to earn my math grades. Games and competitions helped me. And I know I'm not the only one.

Here are three ways games can inspire students to keep working at school.

Play just enough to keep coming back

Game learning should support students without overwhelming them.

Celebrating the end of a chapter with a classroom competition leaves kids ready for upcoming tests and craving more fun. The excitement won't fade as long as teachers don't overuse these learning tools.

I never felt inundated with consistent gaming for 8 hours at school and several more hours doing homework.

Make learning equal entertainment

I had CD after CD of her journeys from Fairytopia to the Diamond Castle. I lived almost exclusively in hot pink. Why wouldn’t 10-year-old me want to solve logic puzzles and memory games with Barbie?!

One of my greatest Christmas gifts, a hot pink Barbie B-Book computer, connected my entertainment icons to the math skills I needed to succeed.

As I mentioned earlier, I was intrinsically committed to trying as hard as I could. I didn’t NEED this computer.

But to a student who feels more disconnected from schoolwho knows? Adding an element of pop culture to learning, like the Barbie B-Book, could be the saving grace that gets them engaged.

Play anytime, anywhere

Competing to earn the fleeting honor of fastest typer on Mavis Beacon was a race run strictly at school. This is where my friends and I had access to the software.

Some games can be played when the final bell rings.

Game learning outside of the school day gives kids the opportunity to sneak in extra learning minutes:

  • in a car ride home from a sports practice.

  • while waiting for food at a restaurant.

  • in the comfort of their home.


Whether or not games are involved, no one can promise that five hours of math will feel like it flew by.

What is guaranteed, at least right now, is that using game learning feels less and less common as we move through each grade.

With the right checks and balances, it's more than possible to expose our kids to games and motivate them to learn.

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