Portal 2 is coming to the classroom:

Valve, the creators of games like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Portal, has launched it’s “STEAM for SCHOOLS” program and I think it is something to check out! Valve has adapted its game delivery service, Steam, for use in the school environment and has its sights set on helping the future generations through using Portal 2 to develop critical thinking, spatial reasoning, and collaborative skills.

Students playing games to learn? Some may scoff at the idea and I feel that most districts will push back some at first, but have you ever seen a student buy a new game and master it by the end of the day? Valve and teachers supporting the initiative are optimistic that the Teach With Portals project will have the same results – creating a fun learning environment that increases student interest in the STEM fields.

What is this Portal 2?

When Valve created Portal and its successor, Portal 2 — they stepped away from their successful, albeit typical, genre of shooter style games (which are significantly too violent for schools). Portal 2 teases the brain and is a puzzle based game – making users utilize a “gun” to create…portals to transport through each level of an abandoned subterranean factory to reach the surface. These portals allow you to move through the maze-like rooms using finesse and tactics to ensure you don’t run off your target point (Physics: conservation of momentum – you come out of the portal with the speed and direction you enter it with).

It is more complex and there are details that would take a page to describe, but the general sense of the game is here. Odds are that at least several of your students already play Portal or Portal 2 for fun. A Valve press release in May 2012 reported that over 8 million copies of the games had shipped or been downloaded with Steam.

How is this educational?

When Valve started to think about working with educators, they focused on STEM skills. They recognized these skills as being of high value to students and allows teachers to make concepts in physics, math, logic, spatial reasoning, probability, problem-solving, and collaborative learning interactive and fun. Students are able to be engaged with their learning and use what they know about their subject in a virtual world. Although debated, Dale’s Cone of Experience (seen below) is a good visualization of how we learn and retain information – doing and re-teaching provides the most retention for students overall.

Check out this short, four minute video created by Valve when The Evergreen School came to test out their project ideas in the fall of 2011.

I posted a blog article a week or two back about interactivity being the key to engaged learners — this video shows it in action. They will have fun and learn.

Teachers are also able to create and submit lesson plans that will be shared with other users and you are able to access other users’ lesson plans – it is very collaborative.

How do I make it happen and find out more?

In order to get your free educational licenses of Steam for Schools and Portal 2, you will need to apply for access. You can visit the Teach With Portals website and click the link in the top right corner to complete the application. 

You will need to provide the following information:

  1. The supervising teacher’s contact information
  1. Your organization’s name, address, phone
  1. The subject being taught
  1. The number of computers being used
  1. The number of students who will be users

Be sure to have that info when you fill out your application. There is are many more details that you can look over on the Teach with Portals website. I encourage you to look through the FAQ section and watch the video. There are also example lesson plans that you can look through and practice using Portal 2 or give the program a trial run. Forums are available for help and support.

Encourage your teachers and administrators to look into this free offering from Valve to enhance learning opportunities in multiple learning styles. Please share this article with your teacher friends and administrators via Twitter, E-Mail, Facebook, Google+, or word of mouth!

The blog author, Jeffrey Ream M.S, PPS, writes for The Counseling Geek. Connect with Jeff via email, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

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