What is this about?
The essence of the Montessori educational system is the interaction of pupils with specialized, hands-on teaching materials. In different words, learning is viewed as a continuous process that comes best by interacting with materials and not by listening to someone's talk. There are several possible ways to realize interaction with materials. For example, it is possible to set up a laboratory where each pupil will be able to perform some sort of laboratory exercises (or experiments) to get to know various aspects of matter. Economic restrictions do not make it not possible to have all sorts of laboratories for all pupils in any particular school. However, it is possible to use computers and to set up some sort of virtual laboratories instead. In fact, such virtual laboratories can be seen as a sub-case of the Game and Learning approach, the latest trend in education, which is in line with the Montessori principles (note the significance of play in learning is strongly supported by the established pedagogical theories). In a nutshell, this approach advocates the use of video games in education. Thus a virtual laboratory can be seen as a role-playing game where players assume the role of, say, doctors and/or patients. Then pupils may learn the basics of the cardiovascular system by playing such a game. Naturally, one can develop video games for any field of study.
Games are fun but what makes them enjoyable is the built-in learning process. As James Paul Gee put it "[a]t a deeper level, however, challenge and learning are a large part of what makes good video games motivating and entertaining. Humans actually enjoy learning, though sometimes in school you would not know it." (Good Video Games and Good Learning, Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Vol. 85, No 2, pp. 33-37, 2005). Video games often offer an effective, interactive experience that motivates and actively engage pupils in the learning process. Typically, game-based learning applications can draw us into virtual environments that look and feel familiar and relevant. It seems this is motivational because we can quickly see and understand the connection between the learning experience and our real-life work. However, one can say that this connection between learning experience and real-life does not come automatically (there is lot of scientific evidence for that educators are often needed to bridge this gap). Another important aspect of this kind of learning is the fact that learners can make mistakes in a risk-free setting and through experimentation, pupils actively learn and practice the right way to do things. This keeps them highly engaged in practicing behaviors and thought processes that they can easily transfer from a simulated environment to real life. Gee concludes that these characteristics of games allow "players [to] feel a real sense of agency and control and a real sense of ownership over what they are doing. Such ownership is rare in school."
Game-based learning has a number of advantages when compared to traditional training. For example, it is cost-effective and low-risk. In addition, there are significant learning advantages. For instance, learners can re-enact a precise set of circumstances multiple times, exploring the consequences of different actions. Also, well-designed games allow learning experiences that are not possible otherwise (e.g., by deliberately causing the biggest possible virtual explosion to understand why gas line disasters happen). The significance of game-based education is manifested by the many conferences and workshops that take place around the globe. Also, EPALE is promoting the use of game-based education.
This project does not aim to just show that games are beneficial for the educational process. Our goal is twofold. First we aim to show how games can enhance the learning process. In particular, we plan to explain how video games can be used to enhance learning for various disciplines. Second and most important, we will teach pupils and teachers how to create their own video games. But this is not enough! It is far better to let pupils develop their own video games for a hypothetical class they will choose. For example, if a group of pupils want to "teach" Hooke's law, they can design a video game whose users can extend or compress a virtual spring according to this law. Interestingly, the creation of a video game that teaches physical laws is an excellent example of STEM (Science, Technology, Eng. and Math.) education.
Based on this it is extremely important to understand how different cultures perceive fun in learning. This will help us to better understand how to prepare games that can be used in many and and different cultures. At the same time it would be interesting to see how certain approaches have different effects to groups of pupils with different cultural background.