FEATURE

Toolkit for Avatars and Activists

Playing digital games can help students learn about social justice issues. Explore with students the value of digital games they already play, and then work with colleagues to research additional games.

Digital games can be valuable in a number of ways; students learn through play and internalize the lessons. There are many games that teach history and social justice, yet, as “Avatars and Activists” explains, these games are often underutilized in the classroom. One reason is that teachers have so few opportunities to engage with students around digital games, or to research what games are available and how they might support the curriculum. This toolkit offers suggestions on how to explore the role digital games could play in your curriculum.

 

Essential Questions

1. What can students learn from playing a digital game with social impact?
2. How can digital games complement other strategies to teach social justice topics?
3. What are some games that can be part of a social justice curriculum? 

1. What can students learn from playing a digital game with social impact?

2. How can digital games complement other strategies to teach social justice topics?

3. What are some games that can be part of a social justice curriculum? 

 

Procedure

1. Explain to your students that you are learning how digital games can help teach social justice. Tell them you want to include their perspectives in your research. As a class, generate a list of digital games students currently like to play—in or out of school. Keep in mind, it’s likely that you have students who are not familiar with particular games or who might be less interested in gaming than some of their peers.

2. Once you have generated a list, ask one student to be a volunteer expert on each game. Break the students into small groups with one expert in each group. (It is possible that not every game will be represented, depending on the length of your initial list.) In each small group, ask the expert to explain what he or she knows about the game. Then, have students discuss these questions:

  • Does the game teach about history, current events or social justice? How so?
  • How does the game represent different groups of people? Does it counter stereotypes? Does it reinforce them in any way?
  • What lessons might the game teach about fairness? Diversity? Justice?
  • Is there anything objectionable about the game that would make it inappropriate in an educational setting, such as reliance on stereotypes, gratuitous violence or depictions of illegal activity? 

      Ask the groups to report their findings to the rest of the class.

      3. With your colleagues, spend some time researching the games suggested by students and that are available online at gamesforchange.org/play/. The games on this website are organized by age group and topic, among other categories. Consider the following questions:

      • What might students learn from these games that they do not learn from other types of mediums?
      • Which games appear to be more or less valuable to your students? Why?
      • Which games would you incorporate in your curriculum?

      4. Plan a lesson that incorporates a digital game.  

      5. Share your new findings with your students and implement the lesson. Afterward, reconvene with your colleagues and reflect on the following questions:

      • How did incorporating a digital game, as well as discussing digital games, enrich students’ learning?
      • Did the game engage students in social justice issues to a degree other teaching techniques have not? How?
      • How might “games for change” become a more consistent part of your curriculum and practice?