My interest is in helping acquisition and retention of history, science, and evidence-based cause-effect thinking, particularly in middle-school students. I have built a successful app from working with a middle-school science teacher and student (Science 8, available on Google Play, Apple App Store, and Kindle Fire App Store), and am looking for a partner to try out some other ideas.

Reusable Games, Reusable Content

The following describes the goals of my spreadsheet-based learning games and how they work. For all inquiries from educators looking to partner on the development of a sheet-based learning game, please reach out to me at: [email protected]. There is no cost and no technical work for you.

Learning & teaching—made easier

My first goal is to help students learn. Specifically, I want to help middle school students learn subjects that they find boring. These are subjects that require a lot of knowledge and require them to not only learn facts, but also to develop an understanding of how those facts relate to one another. Memorization is boring, but playing with facts can be fun.

History is this type of subject. Students have to learn not only what happened and when, but also how these events are related and particularly the order in which they occurred. The trouble is, history can be hard for some students. Some find memorizing facts tedious. Others don’t learn well from studying books. Others struggle to meaningfully link concepts together.

For this reason, I have worked to develop learning games that can engage students with diverse interests and learning styles by providing an interactive, differentiated, and, above all, fun way to consume and learn content. Reading books is great. Playing games is also great! Why not do both?

My second (related) goal is to help educators. I know from past experience tutoring (learn more about me and my team here) that quarter after quarter, year after year, teachers are faced with the daunting task of helping dozens of students, all with different learning styles and preferences, learn concepts that might not particularly interest them. So how could I make teachers’ jobs easier with a simple yet scalable solution?

The answer was to build my learning games into game apps and online games. But not rigid, single-purpose games. Flexible game frameworks that would allow anyone—teachers, parents, even students themselves—to use their own content on any topic and have it instantly become a ready-to-play game.

So how does that work in practice?

Sheet-based learning games

The simplest way to make a learning game that can be used for any topic is to design it to read spreadsheets. Yes, spreadsheets! So that’s what I did. Excel, Google, take your pick. To make it more interesting, I added an image for each item.

I have five different games that all read spreadsheets and load images, then run the game on that content. You can use the same content for all 5 games, or unlimited sets of content for the same game. Better still, it works immediately. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Build a spreadsheet that contains a list of items with a description and an image for each.
  2. Ideally, have one numeric value (e.g., date or count) for each item (two of the games require this).
  3. Put the spreadsheet and the images on a server, and tell the game where to find them—or give them to me directly and I’ll connect the dots for you.
  4. Play!

Want to teach something a bit more complex? No problem. There are other (optional) columns for additional items, such as who did it, the item’s category or ‘clues’ or ‘parts’ (one of the games is based on clues, another on categories), and for some of the games you can add any columns you like (‘effect’ and ‘influence’ are good ones already supported).

Here is a sample spreadsheet to give you an idea of what one looks like. 

Once you’ve done it once, you’ll see that it’s easy enough for anyone to do it, even your students.

How to get started

The best way to see if a sheet-based learning game is right for your students is to try one out. Mixed-Up Museum is the easiest to start with: it is online, in 3D, and the easiest to play. You can try out the game within a few hours of sending me a spreadsheet and images (or putting them on your own server and telling me where it is).

The online 3D game Mixed-Up Museum can be hosted on any server—your school’s server, my server, an organization’s server, or a friend’s server.

Puddle Hopping is a mobile app and an online browser app. Content in the store app is pre-applied but the online version can all be populated with any content that is on any server. Puddle Hopping is available for iOS, Kindle Fire, or Android, and is available online (for browser) as well.

The online games in Puddle Hopping can be hosted on any server — your school’s server, my server, an organization’s server, or a friend’s server.

For any questions or inquiries, please write to me at [email protected]

See also an idea for Threads — Classroom version, a simple history game.