Learn Science While Playing Video Games?

For decades, video games and education have gone together like oil and water. No matter what attempts were made to merge the two, it seems students and teachers had to pick between one or the other, with The Oregon Trail being the only tolerated exception to the rule. But a growing number of educators have become open and eager to use video games in the classroom, especially when it comes to teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Now, a video game developer has stepped up to attempt the seemingly impossible: convert a popular video game into a modern educational platform.
Valve recently launched a free initiative called Teach With Portals that aims to help teachers use the game Portal 2 (click here for a review) to engage students in learning STEM and critical thinking. By converting its level-building software, Hammer Editor, into a much easier to use interface called Puzzle Maker, Valve has made it possible for anyone to design challenging Portal rooms. The Teach With Portals website also offers community-submitted lesson plans (here’s an example of a harmonic oscillator) that utilize the game and align with national STEM standards so teachers can directly incorporate them into their curriculum. Teachers can sign up for the ‘Steam for Schools‘ beta program, which offers a limited version of the popular Steam gaming platform that hosts the free version of Portal 2 and the Puzzle Maker.
The inspiration for Teach With Portals came in part from a project called Learn With Portals, in which seventh graders from Evergreen School in Washington who were working on a spatial reasoning project visited Valve last year. From the video, it’s clear what an eye opening experience it was for the Valve staff to see students’ interest and creativity sparked by their game: