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  • Writer's pictureZack

Hey Listen Games: One Year in

What's going on everyone?

It was one year ago today that I launched Hey Listen Games. For several years I had occasionally thought about how cool it would be to bring video games into my classroom. Every time I looked for ideas online however, I couldn't find a single resource or lesson plan to work from so for a while, I stayed away from the idea. There are resources out there for educational games, but I wanted to bring in standard entertainment games. I wanted to find ways for students to engage with games that are usually played for fun and connect them to the content in my class. After a couple of years teaching with comics and movies, I decided that I really should give video games a chance.

So I started making my own lesson plans using video games that I already owned, or that are free to play. I started off simple in my social studies class with games like The Republia Times to teach about propaganda and Papers, Please to teach about immigration. In my advisory class I started to use games like Celeste and Florence to teach about resilience and relationships. I even had the crazy idea to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to teach my students how to create and properly interpret graphs. And let me tell you, these were some of the most engaging lessons I have ever had the pleasure of teaching my students.

They loved it. Not a head down or sleeping kid has ever been found in one of my classes while using a video game. Obviously I can't just teach with games every day, but my students were always eagerly waiting for the next game I brought into class. I knew that something special was happening. I started talking to other educators around the country that also use video games and who also share similar experiences. There is an entire game based learning movement growing because of how successful some of these lessons can be. It was at the beginning of 2019 that I decided I should be sharing my materials and lesson plans with anyone who wanted them. I have also made a point that all of my materials on the site are and will remain free to use. You are more than welcome to donate to Hey Listen Games, but I don't want to charge people to access teaching materials.

So I started compiling everything I made, decided on a name, bought the domain, and started to teach myself some web design. And now we have Hey Listen Games. I launched the site with ten lessons and started aimlessly sharing my new site wherever I can. I posted it on Facebook, several different subreddits on reddit, and even made myself a Twitter account in order to follow and share with other teachers and educators. Almost immediately I started receiving tons of positive feedback about how cool some of the lessons are. That was a big relief. Making this site has definitely been a time commitment and it was really refreshing to see that people liked the materials I was sharing. Because of this I have continued making new lessons, some I have taught with and some that I hope to teach with at some point in the future. There are now lesson plans for more than thirty different games available on Hey Listen Games.

I've since been invited to speak on a number of different podcasts, write for a couple of other websites, and even lead a professional development session for other teachers. You can read/listen to some of these instances here. My favorite events to partake in are my appearances on panels at various PAX conventions. PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) East, South, and West are a series of video game conventions held around the United States that I have had the pleasure of guest speaking at. My absolute favorite was definitely this most recent PAX East where I led my own panel alongside five of my students. They were able to discuss among other educators about their experiences learning through video games.

I decided I wanted to do more than just the occasional lesson as the previous school year was coming to a close. So I went to my principal with an idea to create a new elective class at my school using video games as the main texts. I normally teach Social Studies, but I wanted to dabble in some English Language Arts. I pitched it as a way to help prepare students for the New York Regents Exam in English Language Arts. Passing this exam is a graduation requirement that many of my students, all of whom are English Language Learners, struggle with achieving proficiency. I wanted students to play through and analyze the various literary elements found in the two video games Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch. Part of the Regents exam asks students to analyze literary elements in a text and I thought this would be a fun way for many of my students, especially those who love to game, to learn these skills. The full unit is here.

I've taught the unit now to two different classes this year and each time has been such a pleasure. It is so refreshing to see kids walk into class excited nearly every single day. The freedom of curating my own curriculum was a nice deviation from teaching my normal Social Studies class. I got to teach in completely my own style at my own pace. I blogged about the entire experience here if you are interested in reading more.

Going forward, I am about to start a new unit in this elective class about different styles of storytelling. We will be learning about visual storytelling, nonlinear storytelling, and dialogue choices. To do this, we will be playing Journey, Tacoma, and Life is Strange 2: Episode 1. This unit will hopefully begin on March 20th, but with all the school closure due to Coronavirus, this start date may change.

Thank you all for continuing to visit the site and read about my experiences teaching with video games. And an extra thank you to those who have gone on to try some of these lessons. I am always looking for feedback and your experiences help me improve my practice. For any of you who do go on to teach one of these lessons, please tell us how it went in The Teacher's Lounge. It would be amazing for you to share your experiences with other educators.

Back in January of 2019 I had mentioned to my girlfriend at the time (she's now my fiancé) that I wanted to create my own website. She told me to go for it if that's what I really wanted and she has been by my side every step of the way. She's traveled with me to conventions and she is the one responsible for proofreading my shitty grammar in each and everyone of these posts. Writing has never been my strong suit. My life and this website would be very different (i.e. worse) without her. So as you all continue to read my posts in the future, remember that she is the reason any of my ideas come out making sense.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to another year,


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