Video games that take students on virtual excursions to a powwow or to collect herbal remedies are proving to be useful tools in reinforcing educational concepts.
Game developer 7 Generation Games of Minneapolis brought a sampling of its products to the 31st Annual Minot State University Spring Honor Dance and Powwow Celebration this weekend.
AnnMaria De Mars, 7 Generation Games president and a former teacher, said the company began developing games about five years ago with the help of Native elders. The company has conducted design workshops with students at Four Winds and Warwick schools on the Spirit Lake Reservation. Four Winds has used the games in its afterschool programming, and Warwick incorporated the games into its curriculum.
All the games revolve around indigenous culture. One game has scenes from a past MSU-hosted powwow. Developers also include Native children as voice actors in recording the scripts.
“We try to make everything authentic,” De Mars said.
Spirit Lake and the Turtle Mountain schools are among schools in the country that utilize the video game software.
Growing Math, a free platform developed by 7 Generation Games, is being made available at no cost to schools in communities with indigenous populations in Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and the Dakotas. Teacher training is included. The project is fully funded by a $1 million COVID-19 Rapid Response grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Schools are invited to participate by contacting [email protected]
In addition to the USDA, 7 Generation Games has received funding through the National Institutes of Health.
The company’s first research used pre-testing and post-testing on education standards to determine how students who played the video games for 10 weeks would fare against their peers. The results showed a 10% improvement by students who didn’t play the games and a 30% improvement by those who did, De Mars said.
Going forward, the company had a difficult time persuading schools to participate in research by offering the games to only half their students, because they saw how well the games worked, she said. So the research was changed to compare the progress of students who played more regularly to those who did not.
Results showed significant improvement by students who played more regularly, but it also found a sweet spot of a half hour of play three times a week that seemed to be optimal.
Games can be played online or off-line, making them suitable for schools or homes that don’t have internet or lack reliable internet. If a connection is lost, the games retain data that can be uploaded later so students don’t lose points or credit for their efforts.
The company has grown from two employees to about 12, several of whom work remotely from different areas of the country. 7 Generation Games now offers 14 games, of which 11 teach math and three teach decision making. The company also has developed games that can help teach languages, including an English/Spanish version that is being used in Chile.
The company’s growth has been by fueled by an increasing interest from schools.
“It’s really exploded in the last year,” De Mars said. Usage of the company’s games has quadrupled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as educators have sought out new ways to encourage learning in the changed environment.