Category: Guest Blog
Personalizing Learning with the Excavate! Series of Games

We are back this week with another blog post from a great educator, Samantha McClusky. She is a Special Education teacher in Searcy, Arkansas. Below, she describes how she uses video games to promote personalized learning in her classroom.


The Magic of Interactive Lesson Plans

Teacher uses Excavate! social studies games with special education students

I teach in a self contained special education classroom, for students with behavior and social issues. Students are grades 7-12, with varying levels of academic achievement. I always look for new ways to teach my students, that meet their diverse needs. I love finding interactive materials to use through the use of my Smart projector and computer.

Dig-It! Games has had many interactive learning games that we have used with great success. Just a couple of years ago I utilized the Mayan Mysteries game in my classroom. I use the game from one computer and project it using the Smart Projector. Students gather around the board and get up and take turns during the game, answering questions, discussing scenarios, and reading instructions. They take turns to complete sections of the game and work together as a group to solve puzzles and answer questions.

As I teach students with varying levels of academic achievement, participating in these interactive learning experiences really helps them achieve with a whole group effort and the individual input helps them have pride in the groups successes!

Using Video Games in Special Education

Teacher uses Excavate! social studies games in special education classroom

The Excavate! games are just great! My students take it in turns to excavate with the tools, read the instructions and questions aloud, answer questions, discuss ideas, and complete the journaling. They are learning so much, and ASK for me to teach them MORE! We continue the learning by connecting the Excavate! game to unit lessons based on the same country, time period, and culture. As a class we have explored Ancient Rome for example, continuing our discovery through reading of texts, watching documentary based film, looking at math and science connections, and discovering the world through geography and history.

The Dig-It! games are like a springboard that students stand on and then leap from to WANTING to discover MORE. Learning through the game based format really connects learners of the 21st century to education, and helps them discover things that they may not have been interested in by just reading a text, or writing a research paper! It brings the learning to their level and excites them to take the learning even further.


Want to Learn More About Our Educational Video Games?

If you want to find out how to use our educational video games in your classroom, feel free to reach out! We believe that the engagement and excitement that video games bring to education can open the eyes of even the most reluctant learner. Find our library of games here. Our Excavate! series consists of Rome, Egypt, MesoAmerica, Greece, Mesopotamia, and Byzantium (coming soon). Also check out our other blogs about interactive lesson plans for ancient civilizations.  Email our Education Team if you have any questions!

You Might Also Be Interested In:


Teacher’s Game Review of the Excavate! History Series

As word about our Excavate! Series spreads, we have been honored to be in contact with amazing teachers who put it to the test. Below is the story of how we met our friend, Susan Honsinger, a gifted, computer, and math teacher at Saint Mary, a K-8 Catholic school in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. She also talks about how she uses the series with her students. Here’s her review of the social studies series.

Using Games in the Classroom

I first discovered Dig-It! Games in a workshop about game-based learning at FETC in 2015.  I was impressed at the demonstration of the Mayan game activities and thought, “This would rock in a social studies classroom setting!”  However, I was teaching other subjects at the time and didn’t get a chance to try it out.

Last spring, when brainstorming our 3rd – 5th grade gifted course outline for this year, I remembered Dig-It! Our gifted class this year meets once a week for 90 minutes, and the students have been exploring various ancient civilizations.  They’ve done research online and in books, and created posters about the elements that make up every civilization, and how those elements are found in their chosen civilization.

Social Studies teacher review for Excavate!

Social studies teacher review of Excavate!

Dig-It! Games’ Excavate! series – Mesopotamia, Rome, Egypt, Greece, and Maya (at that time, now MesoAmerica) – were a perfect way to get a little deeper into the cultures through exploring the artifacts that are dug up in the course of the game and they actually meshed with the chosen civilizations for our crew.  We spent some time near the beginning of our project playing through the games – with a little guidance, even the 3rd graders were able to easily navigate through the game.  They loved collecting artifacts and finding out more using the journal feature.

Teacher review of Excavate!

Teacher review Excavate

After we played the games, I left them available as a free time choice, and students tried out other civilizations!  I really saw the connections happening when our class started creating displays and “artifacts” from their culture to present later this year.  They were working with much more detailed, authentic visions of the items from their culture and making their own reproductions more detailed.


I really saw the connections happening…

Susan Honsinger, Teacher

I’ve heard students talking about artifacts they found and how those are used as they’re working on their projects.  One interesting note – we had a new student join the group, and the co-teacher suggested she play one of the Dig-It! Games to explore one of the cultures she was observing in the classroom.  She loved it, and a passing student said, “That looks even cooler than the Maya game!” (He had played an older version.) So the new games are noticeably visually richer just to someone walking past!!

Teacher review game Excavate

Teacher game review Excavate

I’m a fan of using games to reinforce learning, even if it’s bingo with order of operations on paper (which I did today with my 6th grade).  However, when something is really rich in information and visually engaging as well, that’s a double-win.  I see that the Excavate! games are embedded in student memory, and the facts and images they found there are being referred to in subsequent classes.  Playing these games solidified their learning in a major way, and I’m so pleased!!  I’d recommend any of them for a social studies unit, particularly from 4th through 8th grades.

Read More Excavate! Game Reviews

If this account hasn’t convinced you to try out our games, maybe last week’s blog post which highlights students’ feedback and reviews will. Please don’t hesitate to reach out (elisab@dig-itgames.com) for more information!

Learn more about our Excavate! series
Check it out

You Might Also Be Interested In:

More on Dig-iT! Games: We continue delivering game based learning products to social studies educators and students that make world cultures come to life in a fun and educational way.  Expand your world history lesson plans with games from the leader in ancient civilization education products.  Your students will thank you for it.


“The Vikings Aren’t Coming:” A Recap from a Summer School Game Design Workshop

By Kenny Reddington , Guest Blogger and Teacher at Robert Frost Middle School 

Last summer, a mutual friend, Dr. Alana Murray, offered to introduce me to some guy named Chris Magnuson who worked with an educational video game company called “Dig-It! Games.”  I cannot lie; with a name like “Magnuson,” I pictured him being a Viking—and who could pass up the chance to meet a real-life Viking who designs educational video games?

 

Chris offered to come to Robert Frost Middle School’s extended year program (EYP) and let our students test pilot a few new games that Dig-It! Games was working on at the time, and this seemed like a great way to get my kids to stop playing Pokemon Go (remember that?) for a few minutes and possibly even learn something in the process.  We agreed to two meetings where the students would beta test the games and provide feedback on their experience.  Dig-It! Games would then consider the feedback they received and refine their games based on the students’ input.

 

I got to meet Chris (who is, of course, not a Viking) and his colleagues, and I got to see firsthand how much my students enjoyed piloting the games, providing feedback, and retesting the games after Dig-It! Games made updates from their input.  We had the beginnings of something here.

 

Flash forward.  This year, my school decided to re-structure our summer literacy class and partner with Dig-It! Games to provide a curriculum that was fun, interactive, and educational.  In addition to purchasing and playing their learning games, we wanted the three-week class to center around peer-to-peer discourse and critical thinking skills.  Our goal was for students to generate game ideas (original or existing), design paper prototypes, and create narratives to serve as their games’ storylines.  Once done, the students would present their finished products to an audience.

 

In addition to working with Chris, Dig-It! Games’ Jessica Mlyniec and Elisa Bartolomeo-Damon designed and implemented instructional sessions for our students, one to be delivered each week of the course.  The first session revolved around piloting and evaluating video games, the second focused on creating narrative driven, goals-based video games, and the third session focused on student presentations and eventually became “Frost Game Con 2017”-an event for summer students to showcase their work to our administration, students, and Dig-It! Games.

 

The kids really enjoyed the program, and the framework allowed them opportunities to be creative, solve complex problems, and design a product that they were proud to display.  The students’ games at Frost Game Con 2017 varied from adventure games to maze-themed games to strategy-based games focused on world domination.  Not only was it a great experience to see the kids’ faces as they showcased their games and served as experts, it was a blast seeing the faces of our convention goers as they learned the rules and played the games.  Everyone had a terrific time and the kids learned a lot in the process.  We even had one group of students who went beyond paper prototypes and created their game so it was computer ready.

 

Working with Chris, Jes, and Elisa has been a great experience for the RFMS extended year program.  We created a high interest, interactive program that allows us to move towards our school improvement plan goals.  And the best part?  The kids had fun.  And the other best part?  We still have room to enhance the program even more!  (Based on our students’ feedback, of course.)  I am already looking forward to collaborating with Dig-It! Games again in the future to refine the summer EYP literacy program.

 

Now, if only I could get Chris to create a Viking game.

 


My Student Blew Me Away!

Developing games to support our mission of bringing the benefits of game based learning to the classroom is often a challenge.  What should be the next game we create?  How do we balance education with fun? How do we help teachers get the professional development they need to use games in the classroom effectively?  The encouragement we get from our users, reviewers and testers give us constant reasons to face these challenges, but it is the personal success stories that remind us why we do what we do.

This article is about Lisa Lewis, an education consultant that only recently decided to explore game-based learning.  She chose our top selling game, Mayan Mysteries™, to use with one of her students.  Mayan Mysteries has been recognized by reviewers as a best-in-class educational product, including a run as the #1 featured product for ages 9-11 on the Apple App store.  Here, Lisa shares how the experience of using Mayan Mysteries was not only eye opening for her, but also such a rewarding way of learning for her student.  If you ever thought the value of game-based learning in the classroom was a myth; this story might make you realize it is time to explore.

From: Lisa Lewis – Education Consultant

To: Dig-It! Games

A student I tutor, who is currently a 5th grader reading on a 3rd grade reading level, and is riddled with all types of learning challenges, showed me a thing or two the other day.  I thought I would try something different with him and I introduced him to Mayan Mysteries on my laptop.  Thinking to myself, there is no way that this student will be able to read, let alone comprehend the detailed information, I was hesitant to give it a try.  But I also thought how would I know if I didn’t give it a try.  The main question in my head was “How is he going to be able to maneuver his way through unfamiliar territory?”  I certainly was not going to be any help, because this was so far from my own comfort zone.

As the student logged into Mayan Mysteries, I could tell he was intrigued by the graphics.  His face lit up, as it has never done with me before.  He is so accustomed to our structured lessons each week.  We practice old and new vocabulary words, we read a text together and talk about it, and then we write using a prompt and a graphic organizer.  I didn’t scaffold anything for the student about Mayan Mysteries.  I merely said, “see what you can do”.

As he entered the Mayan civilization, he clicked through a few things to get to the actual listening and game part.  He listened intently to the voice as it read the very complicated text to him.  He watched with bated breath and totally disregarded anything I said to him.  I was merely giving him encouraging thoughts as he continued to listen.  Once the reading section was completed, the student proceeded to click on things and move them around on the screen according to the directions he was given.  Once he had everything in the places he believed they should be, he clicked something and the words “You Were Successful” came up on the screen.

 

ArtifactID1

He continued on for another two parts of the game and was once again successful with both parts.  I stopped him for a moment to say congratulations.  I also asked him how he knew what to do.  He couldn’t really tell me how he knew what to do.  I was assuming it was merely instinctive for him to know what to do.  I told him I was proud of him for maneuvering his way through the three parts that he had gone through.  I told him I knew it wasn’t easy, but that he did a great job.

DigginPuzzleartifactfound

I asked him what he thought of the game.  He said it was different than most of the games he had played.  I also asked him if he learned anything.  He said yes, but had a difficult time elaborating about what he had learned.  This is pretty typical of this student.  He usually gives one or two word answers and has a very slow processing time, as well as a severe memory issue.  He cannot recall for me what he has done earlier in the day at school, unless it is related to his Chrome book or what he has done during recess.

I consider this to be a big Aha moment for me and for the student.  He realized that he could accomplish something new and different.   He also realized that video games could be both educational and fun.   I learned that after all these years working in large groups, small groups and individually with children, that kids can still blow me away with what they can do when it comes to technology.  Just another teachable moment for me!


Learn more about game-based learning from our FETC 2016 workshop slides


Three Generations–One Educational Cause

Today, we’re proud to share a contributed blog post from our friend Mike Burke. We’ve gotten to know Mike through Dig-It! Games artist, Mikel Wellington–Mike’s son. He’s been a visitor to the studio and we were glad to have him with us on our field trip the Baltimore Museum of Industry last month. Read on to find out what Mike’s been working on behind-the-scenes…

Every successful business is the end result of a visionary CEO, Chairman or General Manager who takes their concept from an idea to a reality. Suzi Wilczynski is such a visionary. The vision? Dig-It! Games. They believe in the power of games to blend fun and learning. Suzi and her team of extraordinary artists, programmers, and producers have found a way to retain the interest in learning among all students, particularly at the middle school/junior high level.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet Suzi and to visit the Dig-It! Games studio, nestled in the heart of downtown Bethesda, MD. Attending one of their staff meetings (often referred as collaborations), I quickly learned this exclusive and non-traditional exchange of ideas fosters an unrestricted flow of thoughts, and concepts, “giving [the team] the opportunity to learn without the fear of failure,” according to Dig-It! Games artist (and my son), Mikel Wellington. This is the same opportunity that Dig-It! Games provides kids, with the use of game-based learning in the classroom.

Mike Burke and Menty

Right now, Dig-It! Games is working to develop a long-term science adventure for students called BEAKER, expected to release in early 2016. The team is working with middle school teachers to build the game, which will focus on the Periodic Table and chemical reactions.

The storyline and characters are what help immerse students in any game. In Mayan Mysteries and the Loot Pursuit series, students empathize with Charlie and Fiona—quirky, similarly-aged kids like them. For a brand-new game, Dig-It! Games is creating brand-new characters.

Education has always been a part of my family’s fabric of Life. My dad, a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education and my mom, an M.A. in English. One of the main characters in BEAKER will be based on my father, Dr. Gerald Burke. Together, Mikel and I have been researching his life.

Gerald Burke

My father was born in the Ogis section of Miami, FL. During his early childhood years his family moved to Belle Glade, FL where they became migrant workers. Picking beans and cutting sugar cane in the hot South Florida sun was motivation for my father and his brother, Robert to graduate high school and college (Florida A & M University) with honors and degrees in Chemistry and Biology respectively.

After a couple of decades teaching in Palm Beach County Schools, he pursued and received a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education in 1971 from Michigan State University. He returned to Palm Beach County Schools’ Suncoast High as a classroom teacher. My father retired in 1991, having left a strong impact on the lives of his many beloved students—both inside and outside the classroom.

The character of Dr. Burke will be leading players through BEAKER from start to finish, providing helpful hints and direction within the game. I wish I could tell you more now—but stay tuned on the blog for more information behind-the-scenes as BEAKER gets closer to the finish line!

A friend of the Dig-It! Games studio, Mike Burke enjoyed a successful 30-year career in Washington radio working for United Broadcasting Co, Radio Broadcast Communications, Inc., Radio One, WHUR Howard University Radio, Metro Networks and Bonneville International/WTOP as a Traffic Anchor & Reporter. Currently, he is an on-air personality with WFLM in Florida.


Error: Please enter a valid email address

Error: Invalid email

Error: Please enter your first name

Error: Please enter your last name

Error: Please enter a username

Error: Please enter a password

Error: Please confirm your password

Error: Password and password confirmation do not match