Game Based Learning to Increase Student Engagement


Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Senate Bill 344 discusses graduation requirements that are aimed at best preparing students for graduation, specifically in a world that is increasingly focused on technology. This particular bill focuses on STEM education, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This bill acknowledges the importance of technology by mandating that students complete at least a half credit “featuring significant coursework involving technology activities.”


Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

No matter what instructional method a teacher attempts to use in order to convey material, the effectiveness will be slim to none if students are not engaged. Pearson describes student engagement as “the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities.” Especially in today's technologically advanced society, students are becoming disengaged with traditional methods of teaching and are eager to be involved in updated learning systems. Thus, in order to increase engagement, new forms of technological instruction, primarily gamification, are being used and can most definitely result in a positive difference in the lives of students of all ages across the state of Michigan.

Mainly, students are actually excited to take part in class activities. They can experience a new feeling of excitement which in turn leads to a willingness to participate and a newly found comfortability to try new things. Students lives will also be changed because, as studies have shown, students who are more engaged in the classroom tend to realize higher academic success. The combination of improved academic achievement along with enhanced willingness to be engaged are two big differences in students lives. Additionally, exposure to new forms of technology and teaching methods will allow for students to think in new critical ways about real-world problems. Therefore, adapting to a new method of learning will serve beneficial for a multitude of future endeavors. Whether it be in a career path or in team projects in future educational levels, people are constantly tasked with adapting to new systems or new technology.


How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

Topic Coordinator Lizzy Stone introduced the first discussion into the “K-12 Educational Achievement” section of the student caucus which aimed to address the poor academic performances of schools in the State of Michigan. What we were able to do through research was identify that the lack of student engagement was a main contributor to this poor academic performance. However, although we contributed to this discussion through the engagement perspective, we struggled to find one concrete solution to actually solve the issue. This continued until we came across the discussion revolving around the use of technology in the classroom which was created in the “Technology and Social Media” section. Through our research for that, we began to link the two components of technology and student engagement together to come up with our targeted proposal.


How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?


For my service, I volunteered primarily at the Ann Arbor Art Center. One of the unique elements about working at the Art Center was that I got to witness and take part in a number of educational sessions in which young kids were being taught a variety of different artistic method. It was very helpful to see how students were super engaged while doing artistic activities and how teachers were able to prepare effective teaching sessions. One element that was very interesting to see was how the Art Center used computers to add another educational experience. Students were able to take a break from their traditional drawing and painting, and work on digital interfaces such as Photoshop to translate some of their art skills through a new technological medium. This seemed to be one of the more popular activities, in large part because students saw this as something that could be very useful and potentially lucrative going forward. It was really interesting to see how much planning it took to create effective lessons, even for something that isn’t learning concepts the way that many school subjects are. This helped us understand how important it would be to create effective gamification learning platforms that are carefully crafted to accomplish specific goals. It was very interesting as well to see the way engagement ranged across the classroom, and it seemed as if the engaged students were much happier and were producing much more work than those who were disengaged. Overall, this service helped me understand the value of engagement while learning as well as how a strong organized teaching plan can have tremendously positive effects on student learning.


For my service, I visited Ypsilanti High School to tutor student-athletes to ensure that they stay academically eligible for the seasons. This service program was set up by the organization I am involved with here on campus called TAMID. I got to take part in one on one conversations with the direct target market of our proposal. Speaking with high school students, I was able to confirm my hypothesis, or at least find support, that many students poor academic performances were contributed a lot to their lack of engagement and/or overall disinterest in the current teaching methods. Students expressed their lack of enthusiasm of the traditional methods of teaching where instructors simply go through notes with little to no engaging activities. This service influenced my proposal because it gave me the initial understanding of how important student engagement is. Providing help to these young student-athletes made me realize how crucial it is to find new methods of instruction in order to get students excited about school once again. Many of these students even had trouble attending class. Attendance is also something that led me to researching this proposal. My initial thoughts were that an increase in excitement to go to class and be engaged would potentially lead to better attendance. Lastly, I saw how much these high schoolers enjoyed doing work together. Gamification greatly incorporated team-based learning and made me realize how having these students collaborate more could help with their engagement and overall academic performance from a grade perspective. Overall, the experience was very rewarding and extremely helpful for identifying a key issue in schools across the state of Michigan.


Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Our infographic: Technology in the Classroom


Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).


Name: Chris Schilling

Position: 6th and 7th Grade “Sports for The Mind” teacher

School: Quest to Learn

Quest to Learn is a public school serving grades 6-12 that focuses on new methods of integrative teaching, mainly through game based learning. With help from game theorists at the Institute of Play who design and help to integrate classroom games, Quest to Learn has been able to design a system where students can be excited to participate in classroom activities. We spoke with a teacher who has been working at the school for consecutive years to gather insight on the effectiveness of the program as well as his opinion on game based learning as it relates to our proposal.

Chris brought us through some of the technological gamification programs he has experienced with his students thus far. For starters, students were tasked with developing an Egyptian civilization and its infrastructure through the popular program “MineCraft”. Furthermore, open-ended city building game “Sim-City” has been used to demonstrate topics such as western expansion. In addition, a more customized game tasked students to get into groups and escape a virtual room using intuition, academic skills, and teamwork. Aside from these technological examples, gamification is also commonly used at Quest to Learn through physical means such as customized board games and activities. Chris stressed the fact that with game based learning failure is non-existent but instead is considered as iteration. As opposed to striving for numerical grades students try to progress from a “Novice” to a “Mastery” Level.

Chris also contributed to understanding the counterarguments to this proposal. Through his experience teaching in both a traditional school system as well as Quest to Learn he was able to provide us with a good idea of why people are “opposed” to game based learning. He touched on the idea that people feel as if, because Quest to Learn doesn't have the traditional school “look”, that it is not a structured system. However, he refuted with how there, in fact, is a structure and that they tend to have fewer attendance problems which would be a problem if the structure was so loose. Overall, Chris Schilling gave us perspectives from both sides of the proposal and truly helped in its development.



Name: Jeremy Engle

Position: Curriculum Design Leader

Company: Institute of Play

Institute of Play is an educational organization that looks to partner with schools to customize games and develop subject-specific programs to excite students. As described on their website, “Jeremy leads the development of curriculum (print and digital) and instructional materials utilized in IOP’s  K-12 programs, as well as teacher education and PD materials designed to support implementation the IOP model in classrooms. Previously, Jeremy worked in Mission Lab, Institute of Play’s research and design lab, as a Curriculum Designer with the faculty at Quest to Learn. During that time, he supported the development the school’s innovative curriculum with a team of game designers, curriculum designers, and teachers.  Jeremy has been a classroom teacher, professional developer and educator for over 20 years. He was a humanities teacher at Central Park East Secondary School, a literacy coach for Teachers College Columbia University, and a documentary-making instructor at the Educational Video Center. Additionally, he has taught media-making workshops to youth and adults across the country.”

We look at Institute of Play as a potential partner for our pilot program. We currently have a call scheduled with Jeremy for early next week in which we look forward to getting his insight on game based learning, its effectiveness, as well as our proposal pilot program as a whole.



Name: Barry Fishman

Position: Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Learning Technologies

Company: University of Michigan School of Education and School of Information

Barry Fishman is a professor at the University of Michigan and is one of the foremost researchers on how game-based learning technology can fit into the classroom. His research mainly focuses on “video games as models for learning environments, teacher learning and the role of technology in supporting teacher learning, and the development of usable, scalable, and sustainable learning innovations through design-based implementation research (DBIR), which he helped established.” Professor Fishman also co-created GradeCraft, which is a game-based learning management system. He also co-authored the Obama administration’s 2010 U.S. National Educational Technology Plan and was the 2010 recipient of the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize.

Our meeting with Professor Fishman was very interesting and helpful in understanding many of the games being developed. Professor Fishman was able to share updates on the current state of games being developed across the country, and some of the different focuses and goals they have. One such interesting goal that Fishman believed was crucial for a pilot program such as this, is the data reporting dashboards that are being built into many games. These allow teachers and administrators to truly understand that way in which students are learning, by tracking their progress and seeing their results as compared to the other students in the class and elsewhere. Another important consideration that Professor Fishman brought up, was that K-12 education typically teaches roughly 9-12 different units in a class and that often, games are designed to teach one specific unit, as opposed to all at once. This helps us think about how this game based learning curriculum could be designed, as it could be broken up by unit, and even by sub-units, in order to put together a comprehensive suite of games that could teach students, as opposed to focusing on one singular game. Overall, it was a great experience to speak with Professor Fishman given that he is one of the leading minds in this field and is up to date on the current state of game-based learning.


Describe the specific issue or problem, being sure to provide sufficient context so that someone less familiar with the issue has a sense of the bigger picture, but know that your focus here is on a more detailed spelling out of the specific problem or issue that you’ve identified. (250 words minimum)

Pearson describes student engagement as “the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities… a key construct in motivation research.” Students who are more engaged in the classroom tend to realize benefits such as higher academic success, better grades, and lower dropout rates just to name a few. However, studies conducted by Gallup have noted that only 55% of all US K-12 students are “engaged”, 28% are “not engaged,” and 17% are “actively disengaged” while taking part in classroom activities. This is an issue. While many forms of instruction have led to the current feelings of disinterest from students, we believe that one in particular is causing the largest effect. Technology in the classroom has the ability to excite students to engage in material. However, current uses of outdated technology is not connecting with students the way that it can to maximize both academic results and enjoyment in the classroom. These technological materials such as smart-boards and online quizzes/polling is good. However, with rapid advancements students are eager to be engaged in more advanced forms of technological instruction such as “gamification” (game-based learning). Michigan currently ranks 37th in high school graduation rate, 38th in NAEP Math Scores, and 31st in NAEP reading scores amongst the country’s states. That being said, we believe that changes in the technology the state uses to engage its students could lead to better student engagement which in turn will lead to higher levels of proficiency in those categories. Among other benefits, research shows that technological instruction can lead to a student learning objectives 30-80% faster. As we move forward with this proposal, we look to come up with specific solutions to updated forms of technology that can boost student engagement thus leading to a brighter future for the children who grow up in the state of Michigan.

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: "Gamification" (Game Based Learning)

With the internet at their fingertips, students seem to have shorter attention spans now than ever. We believe that traditional teaching methods are going to have to be updated to accommodate for students who crave newer teaching methods. We recommend experimenting with launching a pilot program at 3 middle-schools of different socioeconomic districts to test the effectiveness of integrating “Game-Based Learning” into classrooms. Companies such as Filament Games and Institute of Play have developed a multitude of lessons that teach students the same material as traditional notes but through game based systems. One of the programs from Filament teaches the basics of plant biology through “Reach for the Sun”. In this program, players are tasked with balancing the right amounts of nutrients, starch, and water to allow for the plants to grow and reproduce. Additionally, more advanced games such as GlassLab aim to tackle the pollution management issue through the popular game “SimCity”. This program is actually a partnership with the company who creates the game. “Through SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! students take on the role of mayor addressing environmental issues in a virtual city while maintaining employment levels and citizen happiness. It's designed for middle school students and aims to facilitate critical thinking for real world problems.” According to Jessica Lindle the general manager of the GlassLab initiative, students "get really emotionally attached to the characters" and are "totally vested" in the challenges. She also mentions that the purpose of the initiative is to take the “fun and attraction of video games to change outdated practices of testing and learning.” Other programs such as KinectEDucation use motion sensing technology to teach. Overall, our goal is to test out gaming programs such as these to increase student engagement. Finally, we would like to get corporates sponsors involved in order to cut costs.


SOLUTION 2: 3d Printers

3D printers are transforming engineering across a multitude of consumer markets. As their capabilities expand, educators have taken notice. Administrators have been looking to include them within their curriculums. In order to match this demand, c

3D printers are transforming engineering across a multitude of consumer markets. As their capabilities expand, educators have taken notice. Administrators have been looking to include them within their curriculums. In order to match this demand, companies such as Markerbot have developed software to capitalize on this new market. Marketbot is a popular company that has developed lesson plans using this new technology. Students at an early age are able to sit down and actually create something with ease. MakerBot’s “Thingiverse Education” is a platform with hundreds of lesson plans for classroom implementation which reached students using project-based learning. We recommend that a test program be implemented where a few schools begin to implement 3D printers into their curriculum. This could involve, for example, a project over the course if the year where students in groups could go through the lesson plans of a program such as Marketbot and at the end design their own concept or product. This product could tie into other fields/classes such as marketing it, developing a business plan, and understanding the engineering of it. Overall, we see this as a real world integrative technology that will only continue to grow in usefulness in the future thus preparing students for their future and their overall methods of solving critical situations while at the same time enhancing their engagement.

SOLUTION 3: Digital Textbooks

Our current society favors technologically savvy people. It is crucial that we look at the digitization of printed materials and how we can maximize the benefits of digital reading for our students. Specifically, physical textbooks are not only becoming too expensive (online textbooks can cost 50-60 percent less than print versions), but are actually becoming outdated as well. Thus students aren't responding well to them. Students take in information in a different way now than they did 10 years ago. These digital textbooks allow for students to use helpful functions such as highlighting, searching definitions or terms they are looking to find, copy and paste features, and audio help. Many of these digital textbooks also have engaging additional material such as interactive quizzes and puzzles. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) concluded  a study that found 81% of K-12 teachers believe that tablets/digital textbooks enrich classroom education. Not only is student engagement enhanced, but as is academic achievement. Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt conducted a test to compare how students would perform on standardized after learning Algebra 1 through the paper vs. digital version. The students who used the iPad digital textbook version scored 20 percent higher than those that used the traditional textbook. Lastly, simply put the technology just makes learning more fun. The interactive component excites students. We recommend allocating a portion of the budget to implementing digital textbooks throughout the state. Aside from the large upfront cost, this move would save all districts a lot of money in the long run.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

Topic Coordinator Jillian Goldstone provided our team with some great insight on how to improve our proposal. Initially, our work lacked a true direction with a clear, narrow, problem to address. Our goal to figure out a better way to utilize technology in the classroom was simply not being met. Unaware of our flaws, Jillian got in contact with us through the website via comments on our proposal as well as personal inbox messages. With her constructive criticism to narrow the problem we were able to reconstruct our aim and develop a much stronger proposal target. After such adjustments, the topic coordinator was much more pleased with the strength, and more importantly, the clarity of our proposal. The critique helped aim our direction to gear more towards solving the issue of enhancing student engagement through updating to newer forms of technology in the classroom.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

After participating in and reading some of the discussions on the caucus website relating to educational technology, we found that there were a surprising number of people who had doubts about putting technology into the classroom. At first, our goal was to explore how we could leverage the power of technology to better the education in the state of Michigan. We were surprised to find that Michigan ranks 37th in high school graduation rate, 38th in NAEP math scores, and 31 in NAEP reading scores. It was very interesting to discover that Michigan ranked towards the bottom of the 50 states, all despite having some of the best universities in the world and a long history of innovative and successful companies.

We spent a lot of time exploring how a variety of different technologies could improve education and how students enjoyed using them, but we eventually realized that we hit somewhat of a dead end having tried to tackle something as big as “improving education with technology,” which had endless possibilities and thus made it very easy to get lost.  One of our initial ideas for example was to implement Canvas-like websites into middle schools and high schools, in order to create the central hub that would be necessary to introduce more technology into classrooms. We decided to create a poll asking fellow caucus students how they enjoyed their use of Canvas in college, and if they had ever experienced something similar before college, or if they hadn’t, what they think they would’ve enjoyed and not enjoyed. We tested a number of other ideas, such as Smart Boards, but soon realized that these technologies were way too general, already in use, and didn’t solve a specific issue.

We decided to narrow our focus to one problem in particular: student engagement in the classroom. We were shocked to find that only 55% of US K-12 students are “engaged,” 28% are “not engaged”, and a far too large 17% are “actively disengaged.” This echoed one of the main critiques we heard in caucus discussions, which was that those who were against adding technology to classrooms just saw it as a way for people to get distracted, many people citing their own personal experiences and teachers who ban computer use in class for that very reason. However, we thought that perhaps the solution to this distraction, or the temptation to be distracted, could be solved by giving students something they are excited to be engaged with, and perhaps the only way to fight technology, is with technology.

After researching a variety of different trends in educational technology, we found one that fit perfectly with our goal: gamification. Gamification is the process of adding game-like elements to education, making it more engaging and help students learn and retain information more effectively. We also think that this increased engagement could greatly take away from potential distractions, now that education is using tools that used to be powerful distractions. After speaking with a variety of people, including Chris Schilling, a teacher at Quest to Learn, one of the most innovated gamification based schools in New York City, we learned about the different ways that gamification is being used to help teach kids. One particular element that we found to be very powerful was the incredible extent to which games were able to be used to educate. For example, one of the most popular video games MineCraft, was being used to help students in their unit of design thinking while also adding elements of Egyptian history. We see this model as something that the state of Michigan can learn from in order to boost engagement around the classroom and improve not only education level, but a student’s desire to learn.

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

Our chemistry as partners has served to be very beneficial throughout this research proposal. Both of us contributed quality amounts of background research as well as equal work into the actual written potions of the proposal. We both attended two office hour sessions together and for the most part worked at the same time and location for all other parts. Because we live together in the same house, we were able to do a lot of our work together, which helped us talk through our ideas and research in real time. Drew played a very significant role in researching the problem, while Noah spent time focusing on researching potential solutions. By splitting up this work while remaining in close proximity and communication to each other, we were able to help each other narrow our focus so that our research fit what we were looking to solve as a problem and so that our potential solutions addressed that problem specifically. One element that we focused on throughout this project was making sure we collaborated on as many parts of the project as possible. We were constantly drafting language, sending it back and forth, each adding ideas and making changes, in order to get to a result we were both happy with and that covered everything we wanted to be covered. By each participating in every meeting and consultation that we had, we made sure that we both had the ability to process relevant information and translate it into our proposal. Overall, our process was completely defined by collaboration and we were able to work on each piece of the proposal together, as everything went back and forth between us several times, giving each the opportunity to comment on work that may have been originally put into writing by the other.


The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... 55% of all US K-12 students are “engaged”, 28% are “not engaged,” and 17% are “actively disengaged” while taking part in classroom activities. Pearson describes student engagement as “the tendency to be behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities".

WHEREAS.... The State of Michigan lacks up-to-date technology in K-12 education to keep students engaged.

WHEREAS.... More engagement in the classroom has been associated with higher grades and lower dropout rates.

WHEREAS.... The State of Michigan ranks 37th in high school graduation rate, 38th in NAEP math scores, and 31st in NAEP reading scores.

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).


  1. Encourages that the State of Michigan implement a pilot program at three middle schools of choice to test out integrating game based learning programs into their current curriculum. These three schools should be representative of a range of socioeconomic statuses of its students families.

  2. Requests that the State of Michigan partner with Institute of Play as well as Filament Games in order to obtain help developing a customized and subject-based gamification curriculum. These games would be designed not to overtake current subjects, but rather serve as supplemental learning systems to the subjects currently being taught statewide.

  3. Recommends that the State of Michigan organize a committee of faculty and administrators from said middle-schools dedicated to communicating with partnered companies to design the curriculum.


What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Game based learning differs greatly from traditional school stereotypes of structured class with stationary students in desks and teachers lecturing notes. Thus, people claim that implementing game based learning systems results in a loosened, unorganized, structure for the students.  

2. Some believe that fast paced and immediate feedback causes problems with students attention spans. This belief is based of the idea that as a result, students begin to expect this type of immediate response in all other forms of education and in extracurricular activities.

3. Games encourage competition. Some believe that in classroom settings, especially at young ages, a lot of competition causes hostility between students which leads to poor teamwork and communication development.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

There are a number of costs to take into consideration for a pilot program that involves educational gamification. First, by only implementing the program at three different middle schools, it shouldn’t be terribly expensive to the state, especially when considering that this is an investment that could vastly improve education and lower costs in the long run. The other important consideration is that we are not calling for the entire development of a proprietary software system, rather that pre-existing software created by Filament Games and the Institute of Play be used to test whether this has long term potential and whether the state of Michigan should invest in creating a statewide curriculum program. Currently, Filament Games offers a number of games priced in between $3-$6 per account depending on the game. The pilot program could choose a variety of different game packages, such as Ruby Rei EDU (language learning game), Diffision (fractions learning game), Fossil Forensics (unity and diversity learning game), and Molecubes (science learning game). This package would have a total cost of just $15, and would cover a variety of the subjects being taught in schools at much higher costs. If this were to be executed at three schools covering 1000 students total, it would cost just $15,000 to test out what might be the future of education and gather data on its effectiveness. With a K-12 State budget of roughly $12 billion, this isn’t very much to test out what might end up being the future of education and what could put Michigan at an educational advantage for years to come, while also providing many potential cost savings. As we speak to two experts in the field next week, we should get a better idea of the actual pricing that these companies would ask for and perhaps this pricing would change, but if the pricing on the Filament Games website is accurate for this sort of program, this is a relatively inexpensive program that could potentially make a huge impact on the future of Michigan.


These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.

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Total votes: 34