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He’s using video games to teach physics

By Tyler Dukes
Correspondent
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Cameron Pittman is a physics and chemistry teacher at LEAD Academy in Nashville, Tenn. At Physics with Portals ( http://physicswithportals.com), he writes about how teachers can use the 3-D puzzle game “Portal 2” to help students learn about the physical world. Follow him on Twitter as @cwpittman. Questions and answers have been edited.

Q: When did you first get the idea to teach with video games?

I’ve been teaching with video games since I started; this is my fourth year of teaching. I’ve been a big fan of video games my whole life, and it seemed pretty natural to me to use the simulator aspect of video games in my class. The University of Colorado at Boulder has a great website called PhET where they have a lot of simulations.

After about the second year of teaching, I realized I wanted more. I wanted a full-scale physics simulator my students would be able to explore in class, and it seemed natural to me to use video games because a lot of them run on physics engines that accurately portray the laws of physics in the real world.

Q: What are you learning about how your students are benefiting from this method of teaching?

That’s a great question, and I’m still trying to figure that out myself. In some ways it’s been a very good idea. But in other ways, the data is still out. When it comes to getting students motivated and excited about class, I think video games are clearly a great route. The kids were pumped.

That’s like half the battle, especially with physics, which is typically a dry, difficult class. When it comes to actual data – did my students actually learn more – that’s still up in the air. There’s a lot of research that needs to happen before we can definitively say it’s better or worse than teaching traditionally.

After all this time teaching with video games, I see them as just another medium for conveying information.

You’ve got books, magazines, videos – these are all different media. None of them are inherently good or bad, effective or ineffective teaching tools.

It’s just a matter of how you use them. With the right book, the right teaching, the right resources, I think the medium of video games can be extremely effective in the classroom.

It’s just a matter of time before we figure out the best way to use video games in the classroom and just how effective they can be.

tyler.dukes@gmail.com

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