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Social Emotional Learning and Video Games

Impact Games & Middle School Curriculum

At the Center for Games & Impact we envision a world where we understand and optimize the unique power of games for learning and social impact. One of the central ways we work to make our vision a reality is through innovative games and game-infused solutions for education. Together with our studio partner, E-Line Media, we are building middle school cross-curriculum, game-based curricula and community packages that make Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, along with 21st Century and social-emotional learning objectives engaging, relevant and empowering for both teachers and students. Our suite of games provides multiple storylines and entry points to contextualize the value of these standards and skillsets in terms of engaging and relevant research and impact projects.

Committee for ChildrenRecently, we have become more interested in the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) as central to children’s success in school and beyond. Our partners at E-Line Media connected the Center with another organization committed to changing children’s education and lives through programs for preschool through grade 8. A team from Committee for Children, whose mission is “to foster the social and emotional development, safety, and well-being of children through education and advocacy,” visited the Center and taught us about their programs and research-based social-emotional learning materials to help children succeed in school and in life.

The Impact of SEL in Schools

Through SEL, students develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate care and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. Recent analyses of SEL studies in schools indicate that it can have a positive impact on school climate and promote a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students, including:

  • better academic performance (achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction),
  • improved attitudes and behaviors (greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior), fewer negative behaviors (decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals), and
  • reduced emotional distress (fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal).

Putting SEL Together With Games for Impact

Committee for Children’s core program, Second Step, teaches skills for learning and social-emotional skills such as empathy, emotion management, problem solving, and self regulation. These skills empower children to protect themselves, work through problems with empathy and reason, and respect others’ points of view. Schools become safer and calmer places where teachers can teach and children can learn. Currently, Second Step is widely used around the world. ..

“We are increasingly interested in new ways to structure and deliver our programs and materials,” said Brian Smith, a Committee for Children research scientist. “There is a lot of interest in game-infused learning and moving more of what we do online, but it has been kind of a puzzle to us because we don’t come from that world. When we had the chance to talk to the teams at E-Line Media and the Center for Games & Impact, it opened our eyes to a lot of possibilities.”

“It is easy to see how our visions for a better future overlap,” said Sasha Barab, executive director for the Center for Games & Impact. “I can already see how we might create learning journeys for middle school students where players work through missions that teach Committee for Children’s Second Step program content, but our orientation to game-infused solutions means we don’t just leave the learning there. The idea that the roles a player takes on in-game are meaningful and transformative in our greater world is central to our program designs. We also can see the possibilities for exciting peripheral experiences where, as students master social emotional skills in-game, teachers are able to use hub areas and classroom dashboards to acknowledge the real-life practice of these skills in the classroom and around the school. Parents can get involved remotely in ways that might not have happened before. Classes, schools, and districts can all be connected to each other to set and track, validate, and inspire social change goals important to their communities. These are just a few of the ideas that come to mind and the possibilities are quite exciting.”

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The Center for Games & Impact (CGI) mission is to investigate, innovate, and cultivate game-infused solutions to society’s biggest challenges with the goal of unleashing the unique power of videogames to create sustainable solutions for society’s biggest social, cultural, scientific, economic and educational challenges.

E-Line Media is a publisher of game-based learning products and services that engage, educate and empower, helping to prepare youth for lives and careers in the 21st century. E-Line works with leading foundations, academics, nonprofits and government agencies to harness the power of games for learning, health and social impact.