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Showcasing Marcia Baldanza and "Games"

"As an avid game player myself, with an interest in how children learn, integrating games into the curriculum was a natural," said Marcia Baldanza, principal of Patrick Henry Elementary School. "Children learn best when the content is relevant to them and when they can connect new learning with old. Finding the Velcro to make those connections can be challenging, but with games, it's easy."

Students use strategy to stay afloat and sink the enemy in Battleship.

Baldanza's school in Alexandria, Virginia, has been holding "Family Game Night" for three years, with this year's attendance topping 175 people! After the first Family Game Night, where teachers noticed the enthusiasm of the participants, they requested a "Faculty Game Day," in lieu of a regularly scheduled faculty meeting. Then, the teachers starting asking to borrow games to use in their classrooms; now the school has established a huge game "check-out closet" that gets plenty of use.

"Games are used in two formal ways and in several informal ways at Patrick Henry," said Baldanza. "They are used in our after-school enrichment classes, Kid's Club, and in a class called Wanna Play a Game? that I co-host with a teacher. We have had the class for three years, and now have 12 students enrolled. Each class, we select one new game to teach along with familiar ones. We try to find games that connect to what the students are learning in class."

Patrick Henry's teachers borrow games that support their teaching; they even make up their own games. The school is classified as one with "high poverty," and getting kids actively engaged with curriculum content is critical to their achievement and success.

Games also show up in the cafeteria at lunchtime, before school, at recess, and through the checkout library. Parents even have asked to borrow games over the holidays.

"Both parents and students have responded to the games with enthusiasm," Baldanza reported. "Students like gaming because they have fun and learn at the same time, and having their teacher play along is motivating. Teachers like the games because they're always looking for ways to build personal relationships with students, along with ways to build academic confidence and skill. Playing games is effective, efficient, and fun!"

Students and parents go buggy for the game Buggo!

Baldanza feels that playing games has strengthened teacher-student and student-student relationships. Finding a first grader playing a game with a third grader during recess is common. As students borrow games and agree to return the materials in the same condition, they develop respect for themselves and others, as well as for property. The school has yet to lose a game or its parts! Skill in many academic areas has increased through games, but it is most evident in mathematics. Baldanza has seen growth in social and problem solving skills too.

"Games in my school have been a great supporting tool and have contributed to our success," she stated. "However, nothing beats solid curriculum planning, delivered by highly-qualified and motivated teachers like ours, supported by frequent monitoring of progress thorough data analysis."

Photos courtesy of Marcia Baldanza.

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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