From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Charter school teacher turns geopolitics into a game

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: February 17, 2014 - 6:51 PM

Proving there’s more than one way to teach geopolitics to a class of ninth-graders, Eric Nelson, a social studies teacher at North Lakes Academy in Forest Lake, created a fantasy football-style game that has his students “drafting” countries - whose conditions they monitor on a weekly basis - and competing head-to-head.

The early results have been promising, Nelson says, as his students are more engaged and their analytical skills have improved. The game, called Fantasy Geopolitics, has also been featured on CNN.com and Mashable, a leading digital culture blog. Its scoring system is simple enough: points are awarded based on the number of times a country is mentioned in media outlets like the New York Times. This is where a basic knowledge of current affairs comes in handy — for example, stories mentioning Russia have spiked in recent weeks with the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

On the game’s Kickstarter page, Nelson says:

“We're not just trying to gamify learning. We're going after the ‘learnification’ of gaming. We encourage students and teachers to get curious about the world in which they live and then become fans of global competence, all the while playing, reading, and learning! The game is a vehicle for deeper learning. There are so many interesting digital resources available, but nothing that brings them all together in one place around an engaging learning game like Fantasy Geopolitics!”

Although the so-called gamification of education has gained wide attention in education circles, Nelson admits its efficacy in the classroom is largely anecdotal for now.

In 2003, University of Toronto researchers published a report, titled “A Practitioner’s Guide To Gamification Of Education” that sought to “define gamification, deconstruct the process of gamifying a learning program, explore the limitations, and review successful implementations of gamification.”

The report says:

Ben Leong, Assistant Professor at the School of Computing, National University of Singapore (NUS) states that there should be a clear understanding that gamification is independent of knowledge or skills. Gamification directly affects engagement and motivation and it indirectly leads to acquiring more knowledge and skills. Gamification encourages students to perform an action; for example, motivating students to practice computer programming will increase their skill and motivating students to memorize consistently can increase their knowledge.

Nelson, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, and then went to the University of Minnesota where he earned a master’s in social studies education. 

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