In New York City, there is a private school that has taken to heart the bit of advice ‘make learning fun.’ Quest to Learn, which opened in 2009 for students sixth grade through ninth, is a small school that centers its entire curriculum around the concept that anything can be taught via games.
Staffed by game designers and curriculum specialists right alongside teachers, Quest to Learn uses digital games as a learning tool for every subject, from art to biology. Some of them are games made to be educational: “The Way Things Work” is a story-like game in which students navigate through a virtual human body like a maze, learning math and anatomy together along the way. Others are mainstream video games that can be turned to the school’s purposes, like the building-slash-programming game Minecraft or the tactical game Civilization. (The failures of those games in the areas of physics and world history, respectively, are also turned into teaching moments.)
Quest to Learn isn’t alone in trying to forge ahead into a future of education by entertainment: The White House is seeking $4 billion in funding for an initiative to put games in every school to pique interest in literacy and computer sciences. Another game from the White House lets students play their own way through the campaign trail and the byways of government, hoping to inspire youths to become politically active.
The Quest to Learn teachers do have some areas they have to be careful, they’ve identified. The games are prone to making students competitive where they don’t need to be, expecting rewards for every kind of success, and leaving behind students who are better at the content of the class than the mechanics of the games. But there are many kinds of game, meaning the kinks can eventually be worked out.