Non-profit GlassLab has been working with PopCap Games and researchers at Florida State University to help develop a more educational version of Plants Vs. Zombies 2 (PvZ2), one of PopCap’s many successful titles.
Called Use Your Brainz, the new title doesn’t make any changes to the core game, as PvZ2 already teaches problem solving. Instead, what Use Your Brainz does do is include programming to track student progress along several factors, to see how well a given student is progressing through the game, and how they are coping with problem solving strategies. Teachers can then use that information to monitor student progress.
The goal is to help students learn by making learning fun, utilizing existing, popular video games. A number of games teach problem solving or other skills, whether students realize it or not, and titles like PvZ2 could be implemented in the classroom. Since the game is already popular, it avoids the stigma of an “educational game,” which have a reputation for being less fun than their more commercial peers. Teaching often gets in the way of game design.
But with a system like this, which GlassLab has already used with SimCity, it’s possible to not only use the games to teach, but to track how well they’re actually teaching things. That information is important for GlassLab’s other goal, which is to help students connect the skills the develop while playing video games, with their real life experiences in the classroom. Education generally “sticks” more when teachers can connect the classroom to the real world, so it stands that doing so with video games would also help those lessons become more meaningful.
There is also a version of Use Your Brainz that teaches math, and does change some of the core game experience. GlassLab is working on a number of lesson plans that can be paired with the software as well.