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  • Writer's pictureZack

Hey Listen Games: Two Years In

What's going on everyone?

It was two years ago today that I launched Hey Listen Games. I've been in the classroom now for seven years and video games have been a part of my practice for about five of them. For a couple of my early years I had occasionally thought about how cool it would be to bring video games into my classroom, but every time I looked for ideas online, I couldn't find a single resource or lesson plan to work from. This caused me to hold off as I did not want to dedicate time to something I didn't really know how to do. There were plenty of resources out there for educational games, but I wanted to bring in traditional 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. Behind sports, gaming is the largest entertainment industry. In some shape or form, it is massively present in the lives of our students and we should all be looking for ways to incorporate gaming in some capacity into our education. 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 that I have ever had the pleasure of teaching my students.

They adored these lessons. Not a head was down in my class while I've used video games to teach. By no means are these lessons 100% perfect each and every time, but they combination of my enthusiasm for the content of my class and the medium of video games really brought out my potential as an educator. 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. Under normal circumstances I use a video game in class about once a month, but I knew that something special was happening. I started talking to other educators around the country, and world, who also use video games and shared 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. Teachers are underpaid as it is and I'm not looking for to make your pockets any thinner than they are. If you do decide to support me on Patreon however, we can find time to sit down together and actually work through making a lesson/activity of your own.

So I started compiling everything I had 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 could. I posted it on Facebook (my facebook account has since been deactivated), several different subreddits on reddit, and even made myself a Twitter account - in order to follow and share with other teachers and educators. There are currently 8,200 followers and counting! Almost immediately, you all started reaching out about the possibility of using these lessons yourselves and even giving me a ton of feedback and ideas. 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.

Life has gotten a bit more exciting over the course of these two years. I've since been invited to speak on a number of different podcasts, write for a couple of other websites, lead professional development session for other teachers, and even stream video games weekly with a small group of content creators at G33ks Like Us. Towards the end of 2020, the work here at Hey Listen Games was actually recognized by The Game Awards! I was one of 50 content creators chosen as a part of their inaugural Future Class. The Future Class was created to recognize the work done by people who are elevating and diversifying the gaming artform. A big thank you to my wonderful wife for nominating me. When she mentioned she wanted to submit me as a Future Class candidate, I thought there was no way I would get chosen - I'm a teacher, not technically a part of the gaming industry. But then I got the email that I was picked and it really helped validate the work I have been putting in here. Creating curriculum, lesson plans, a website to share the lessons, and blog posts eats up a lot of time and I often find myself wondering if it's actually worth it. Being chosen for Future Class proved that it is on a larger scale. So definitely expect more lessons and content from me in the future and a big shout out to all of you who have used/adapted/modified the lessons here in your own classrooms. Also, go check out the other members of the Future Class because there are some really amazing things happening out there in the gaming industry.

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 and I have had the pleasure of guest speaking at a few of them. 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. These students in particular took an elective class of mine where they analyzed video games as literary texts.

This class was a passion project of mine. 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 taught the unit to two different classes last year and each time was 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. I had to modify the class towards the end of last year since we rapidly switched into an online learning environment because of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in that setting though we were able to play through a number of games online through Zoom or Twitch. We played a wonderful little mobile game Assemble With Care, donned the cowl in Batman The Telltale Series, and played through the wonderful WWI narrative game Valiant Hearts: The Great War. We weren't going to let learning from home stop us from having our fun.

This year I had to put this elective class on hold this year due to the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic and school shut downs. I have been teaching remotely this entire school year. Due to scheduling conflicts, my school can't really offer any elective classes at the moment. I eagerly look forward to resuming this class when schools open back up. In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for teaching with video games in my United States History class. The most recent game I used was Donut County in a lesson on gentrification.

Thank you all (currently over 1,700 members/subscribers!) 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 and provided me with new ideas and feedback. I am always looking to learn about your experiences in order to 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 wife - 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 every one of these posts. Writing has never been my strong suit and oh boy, does she let me know it every time she reads one of these posts. 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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