Mainstream Video Games for Education

Higher Power Training is a leader in the instructional design and training industry because of the success in thinking outside of the box to design and develop unique and creative training solutions to maximize human performance technology.  An example is the program Higher Power Training produced for grade school teachers designed to utilize mainstream video games to excite students and reinforce California State Standards required for state testing.

Teaching Guide Overview

Bring the world famous Shamu into your classroom to help your sixth grade students learn the valuable research skills.  This guide offers two lessons that will combine the excitement of the ocean and video games with many of the 6th grade California science standards; and the best part of the lesson is that it requires little preparation to integrate such an engaging educational experience.  Students will have the opportunity to learn how to effectively observe, gather, research, and record scientific information in lesson one.  While lesson two forces the students to think critically about the information they gathered and the information presented to them in the form of the video game.  The students will also be introduced to biotic and abiotic factors that influence marine life and gain a better understanding of these influences.

On top of the amazing platform to educate your students on scientific research techniques, students will also be exposed to various puzzles and challenges that will require teamwork, problem-solving skills, and the ability to think critically; all skills important for students to develop.  This guide will present an overview of the game as well as offer two easily implemented lessons specifically designed for the game.

Sea World: Shamu’s Deep Sea Adventures Description

Shamu’s Adventures was created within an adventure platform and is a commercial-based Xbox game.  The game is structured with missions; each mission of the game requires mastery of previous missions.  The game offers three different levels of difficulty.  Although the game is a commercial-based video game, it provides a useful introduction of various marine life species, diet of some of these species, and habitats of the ocean.  The game records your total score – based on your success in each mission; you must also monitor your oxygen level and health to remain alive.  The game offers coaching and valuable advice from a wise manatee ensuring that each student has the best opportunity to succeed in each mission.  The game offers another valuable attribute by incorporating various challenges and puzzles that require problem-solving and critical thinking to complete.

Using Sea World: Shamu’s Deep Sea Adventures in the Classroom

Shamu’s Adventures is an enriching educational tool to engage 6th grade students to develop the necessary scientific research tools required by California State Standards. The students will develop the skills to work effectively in a team with delegated tasks.  The students will collectively observe the finer details of the game, learn how to use field guides to identify various species, research a number of facts about the various species, and finally analyze the facts to help them determine fiction and non-fiction within the game.  This use of teamwork, problem-solving skills, research ability, and critical thinking is invaluable to these students, especially when they students are extremely motivated through the constant interaction of the video game.

The Advantages of Teaching with Games

Videos games have the potential to enhance a student’s educational experience by engaging students to think about a subject matter critically as they work to be successful in the game.  Shamu’s Adventures takes many of the complex factors of the ocean and presents them in a platform that is fun and exciting; excellent source for learning 6th grade California science standards.  Video games are many times structured with a behaviorist platform, providing immediate rewards such as advancement to the next level; this gives students the feeling of accomplishment.  Shamu’s Adventures is no different; the game is separated in level requiring success in the previous level to move on.  The game also provides rewards for eating krill, breathing air, and finding all necessary artifacts; while the gamer loses power by running out of air or becoming unhealthy due to lack of food or coming into contact with other dangerous species.

Goals and Objectives

The objectives of the lessons offered in this guide are designed for 6th  grade students to learn and retain the tools necessary to be successful in the California science standards; primarily the ability to use field guides to collect, organize and analyze data.  The information the lessons focus on are the biotic and abiotic factors of the underworld such as predator and prey relationships, physical anatomy, habitats; additional standards that fall under the California science standards for 6th grade students.  These goals will be accomplished by motivating students to develop the skills necessary to work successfully in a team, problem-solve, and think critically through the use of a commercial-based video game.  As an extra bonus, students will also develop tools necessary to research information on the Internet, participate in meaningful classroom discussions, and have an opportunity to express their creativity through artwork.

Grade Level Standards and Content Area

These lessons were created with 6th grade California science standards in mind, however they can be adapted to serve 4th and 5th grade students as well.  The specific standards being addressed within these two lessons are: abiotic factors such as habitat; biotic factors including predator/prey relationships and external anatomy; and scientific research tools including collecting, organizing, and analyzing data.

Where the Game fits into the Curriculum

Since this game was designed primarily as a commercial-style game rather than an educational-style game, it is important for the students to have a strong foundation of the biotic and abiotic factors of the ocean as well as an introduction to the value of possessing scientific research tool.  Therefore, this game would fit best towards the middle to end of the curriculum so that students can be more aware of the subtle lessons being taught throughout the game.  This will also allow students to feel more confident about the information, thus encouraging them to think more critically.

What Teachers Need to Know Before Beginning

Teachers should have a complete understanding of biotic and abiotic factors assessed in the 6th grade California standards, as well as the basics involved in scientific research.  They should also have a clear understanding of how the Xbox console and Shamu’s Adventures video game work.  Ideally, the teacher should have the ability to complete the entire game so that they are prepared to offer assistance as students advance to the higher levels.

Hardware Requirements

To be an effective lesson, you should have an Xbox, Shamu video game, and television or monitor for every three – four students.  As the teacher, you should also have an Xbox game console, Shamu video game and a digital projector to use as part of your introduction presentation, assistance and game review.

Lessons Overview

Students are broken up into groups of three or four and will complete two lessons: Species Identification and Fiction vs. Non-Fiction.  The lessons have been created to incorporate an educational component to a commercial-based video game.  These lessons address several 6th grade California science standards including biotic and abiotic factors and scientific research tools.  The students will be required to work well in teams and utilize problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

These lessons will require the teacher to work more as a facilitator rather than a proactive teacher.  It is beneficial for the teacher to present the game on a projector initially, but than allow the students to explore the game and complete the lessons at their own pace.  The teacher will then hold a very valuable classroom discussion at the end of each lesson and assign the extension activities provided below at their own discretion.

Before the lessons can begin, the students are required to read the manual to understand the controls of the game as well as all symbols within the game.  Once they start the game for the first time, the students will be prompted to complete a tutorial; it is necessary for each student to complete the tutorial.  Once the tutorial is completed, they can move on to the game and lessons.

Lesson One

Lesson one is called Species Identification.  As students begin to make their way through the video game, Shamu’s Adventure, they will encounter a number of species that can hurt or help Shamu.  By identifying physical attributes of these species, students will be able to use the field guide to identify the various species.  Students will then be required to gather information, using the field guide, on each species to aid in answering a series of questions as well as in the classroom discussion.

Lesson One Goals and Objectives

By successfully completing lesson one students should be able observe, gather, research and record data.  The students will develop the tool to identify unique physical attributes to help them identify various species using the field guide, and then collect other valuable biotic and abiotic information on the species; information should include diet, predators, and habitat.

Lesson One Setup

The teacher must first divide the students into groups of three or four.  Each team must have an Xbox console, video game, and monitor.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to hand out the provided field guide and fact sheet  as well as offer assistance throughout the lesson.  It is recommended that the teacher should show an example of the process by presenting Shamu on a projector screen and then having the entire class use the field guides to identify her species and collect the necessary information (diet, predators, and habitat) to complete the fact sheet.  Once the introduction is completed, the teams must read the manual together and complete the tutorial individually.  One these prerequisites have been met, the teams can begin lesson one.

Lesson One Activity/Gameplay

A valuable skill for 6th grade students is to use field guides effectively.  Students should also be able to observe, collect, research, and record scientific data.

  • Step 1: Duties should be distributed to each student on the various teams. These duties include one student playing the game; one – two students using field guides; one student recording the information on the fact sheet.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to have students rotate duties throughout the lesson so that each student is provided with equal opportunity.
  • Step 2: Mission 1 does not provide any samples of species identification, however provides students the opportunity to become familiar with the Xbox console and Shamu video game.
  • Step 3: Lesson one officially begins with Mission 2 of the game.  Each time Shamu encounters a species that either hurts or helps Shamu, the team of students need to look closely at the details of the species.  It is recommended that the gamer “pause” the game with each unique encounter to complete the lesson.
  • Step 4: The students with the field guides will take the observed details and use the field guides to help identify the name of the species.
  • Step 5: The team will use the field guide to collect information necessary to fill out the fact sheet.
  • Step 6: Continue the game until you have encountered each of the species at least once.  Once you have encountered a species and gathered all necessary information, the students do not need repeat the process with the same species unless it is deemed necessary by either the teacher of students.

Lesson One Follow-up/Debriefing

The teacher should conclude lesson one with a classroom discussion.  The discussion should include general topics such as what students liked and did not like about the game, what they found to be difficult, and what they found to be easy.  It is critical to address these specific questions:

  1. How many species did each team identify?
  2. What were the most difficult species to identify?  Why?
  3. What were the easiest species to identify?  Why?
  4. How did each species affect Shamu in the game?
  5. What species were most abundant in the game?
  6. Where does each of these species exist in the food web?  Predators?  Diet?

Lesson One Extensions

A very valuable tool for students, especially in the 6th grade, is the ability to research and gather information via the Internet.  Depending on the teachers’ and students’ resources this extension activity can be completed in the classroom or at home.  Students are required to select three species which they identified in the game and find three unique facts about each species using the Internet as their resource.

Lesson Two

Lesson Two Goals and Objectives

Lesson one created a foundation for students to develop skills to observe, research or gather information, and record information.  Lesson two is titled Fiction vs. Non-Fiction; and will help students analyze the data.  In this lesson, students will recognize that commercial games many times bend the truth to create a more exciting and elaborate story, similar to books.  The goal of this lesson is for students to become motivated to learn through the constant engagement and interaction within the game; and to think critically about the game and character involved.  As students continue to play the game, students must think critically about the physical factors involved with each species they encounter; do the actions of each species match with the findings they researched in lesson one?  If not, how are they different?  If the game was to be designed with an educational platform, how would they change it?  Ultimately, the students should have a better understanding of the species involved in the game while developing critical think skills.

Lesson Two Setup

It is the teacher’s responsibility to hand out the provided field guide as well as offer assistance throughout the process.  It is recommended that the teacher emphasize the difference between Fiction and Non-Fiction.  Students are required to not only identify the differences, but to actually provide details on how they are different.  The teacher should use Shamu as an example and give specific details on how Shamu is a fictional character in the video game.

Lesson Two Activity/Gameplay

A valuable skill for 6th grade students is to think critically.

  • Step 1: Duties should be distributed to each student on the various teams. These duties include one student playing the game; one – two students should recording observations from the game; one student recording the information on the fact sheet.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to have students rotate duties throughout the lesson so that each student is provided with equal opportunity.
  • Step 2: The teams should continue the game where they left off in lesson one.
  • Step 3: Each time Shamu encounters a species that that the team has already identified, they should observe and collect information about the species in the video game; the information should be divided into two sections: fact and fiction.
  • Step 4: Once the students have completed their allotted game time, they will compare their notes from lesson one with their notes from lesson two to complete Appendix D.
  • Step 5: If the students missed valuable information within the game, it is recommended that they return to playing the game to collect the necessary information.

Lesson Two Follow-up/Debriefing

The teacher should conclude lesson two with a classroom discussion similar to lesson one.  This discussion will focus more on the specific questions to help the students think critically about what they have learned:

  1. What was different about playing after completing lesson one?
  2. What were some of the fictional aspects of each species?
  3. From what they learned in lesson one, what are some the non-fictional attributes of these same species?
  4. If this game included more realistic characteristics, how would the species and environments need to change?  Focus on habitat, the food web, and other physical and/or biological attributes.

Lesson Two Extensions

To complete this lesson on a fun and successful note, assign the students a creative homework assignment.  Have the students create their own illustration (captured image) of what the game would look like if it was an educational-based video game.  The students should focus on making their illustration as realistic as possible; utilizing the facts they collected throughout lesson one and two.

By Higher Power Training: Providing Instructional Design and Training Services since 2000

Teacher Resources

Gamespot: Offers captured images, reviews, similar games, and a forum.

Team Xbox:  Offers captured images and game summary.


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