"Good students are good students no matter what, but what the video game did was bring up the poor student, who doesn't work well in school," McDivitt said. "When we went to the computer game, those kids were just excited and along the way they engage in the learning process without knowing it. It might be a little trick, but that's OK."

Kristin Thompson, one of McDivitt's students, said playing Making History in class was a refreshing break from the traditional classroom setting, and it enhanced her comprehension of World War II.

"I did enjoy playing Making History -- not just because it got me out of class -- but because it was fun, and I got a better understanding about World War II by acting it out instead of just reading it in the textbook," Thompson said. "It was difficult at first but after I caught on to how to play, it was fun and a more interesting way to learn."

The Gaming Classroom

Muzzy Lane, the company that designed Making History, is betting video games will soon become a substantial part of a teacher's curriculum. The firm is developing a game called Making Money that will teach entrepreneurship, stock market strategies, and business policy and management. It also is creating a game called Living History that will teach what life was like in different periods of history.

Making History is catching on at various schools nationwide. It's used at the University of Illinois, Salem State College, Southeast Missouri State University, the College of Charleston, and Des Moines Area Community Colleges, as well as several high schools.

The National Education Association (NEA) accepts that video games can have value in an educational setting, but does not endorse or advocate any particular video game.

"Computer games and simulations can be an important part of the educational experience," said Reg Weaver, president of the NEA. "Many educators are discovering and lauding the benefits of incorporating computer games into their curriculum. Technology has changed the classroom exponentially."

In October 2005, an NEA representative attended a forum on educational games presented by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). The forum had various panels that addressed what benefits video games offer in an educational setting. Topics at the conference included the difficulty in adopting new instructional models like video games, the need for new forms of assessment, resistance from educators, attitudes about games, uncertainty about the effect of games on learning, and preparing teachers for new roles with new skills.

There was strong consensus among summit participants that many video game elements can be applied in education, according to the FAS summary of the event. According to the report, some of the major findings of the forum were that many video games require players to master skills that are in demand by today's employers, and that a program is needed for research and experimentation to enhance the development of educational games.

"The strength of some games is that they support complex thinking and require thinking about how to manage resources and how you sequence events," said Kay Howell, vice president of information technologies projects for the FAS. "Those are very important skills when you get to real jobs -- skills hard to teach in a typical classroom setting."

However, Howell said video games used in classrooms should have a curriculum built around them so that teachers can use them more effectively.

McDivitt's Vision

Because of the success of Making History in his world history course, McDivitt decided to add The Sims -- a video game where players create characters with different personalities who interact with each other under one roof -- as part of his sociology course for the 2006 school year. McDivitt is

Chandler Harris  |  Contributing Writer