Starting from Scratch: Using gaming to teach social justice

Dr. George Noblit

The School of Education at UNC is dedicated to preparing educational leaders who are committed to values of equity and excellence. George Noblit, who teaches Social Justice in Education, believes that gaming is a tool that can be used to help students engage these issues.

The Social Justice in Education course examines how education can help create more fair and just societies, ultimately contributing to high-performing educational systems internationally. Students explore multiple perspectives on social justice; examine efforts at local, state, national, and global levels; and learn to articulate efforts in classrooms and schools with wider community initiatives. The course offers a thorough examination of the role of social justice in education. As Noblit explains, “Reducing inequalities requires working across sectors of life, and thus technology is now playing a major role in fostering access to knowledge and its interpretation.”

Students in the course develop knowledge of educative technologies as they work on social justice issues with the expectation that they will be able to use this knowledge to promote learning.

A game, you say?

According to Noblit, “Educational gaming involves both mastery learning and constructivist learning. Students will be asked to use a theory of how social justice-related knowledge, perspectives, dispositions, competencies and/or actions develop. These theories will become the basis of educational games that teams of students create.” Students will also develop games to teach specific content in P-12 curricula using Common Core Standards for use with future students.

The platform for game design is Scratch, a programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art. Scratch is a product of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and receives financial support from the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Intel Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Google, Iomega and MIT Media Lab research consortia.

Why use Scratch?
Like Dr. Noblit, you can use Scratch to enhance learning in your classroom. Here are some key features that make it ideal for educational use:

  1. The Scratch platform does not require extensive programming knowledge, so teachers do not have to worry about a steep learning curve. Scratch users include both elementary and doctoral students along with many students who fall in between.
  2. Students who create games to teach content are more likely to retain the content themselves.
  3. Teachers and students can connect educational content from internet sources by inserting links into games they create.
  4. Over 2.8 million Scratch projects have been created to date, so users can browse through other projects to get ideas that promote learning. Design tutorials are also available to get new users started.
  5. Scratch is free and available to the public. Users can download the platform (on both PC and Mac operating systems) at scratch.mit.edu.

The Social Justice in Education course will culminate in a gaming evening where the games are played by others and assessed on the effectiveness of the game in teaching the content. Also, LEARN NC staff will review the games for possible inclusion as resources for parent, student, and teacher use.

Researcher bio:

Dr. George W. Noblit is the Joseph R. Neikirk Distinguished Professor of Sociology of Education. Since 1995 Dr. Noblit has been the series editor for Understanding Social Justice, Education and Policy (Hampton Press). He studies the various ways knowledge is constructed and how the competition over which knowledge counts constructs powers and difference. Through a study of school desegregation, he began a program of research on the social construction of race, using ethnographic research to study schools and other educational scenes. Dr. Noblit is intrigued with how knowledge—often taken as good in its own right—is implicated in creating the very problems it is asked to solve. He is coeditor of Late to Class: Social Class and Schooling in the New Economy (SUNY Press).

A full biography can be found on the UNC School of Education website.

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