Game-Based Learning: A New Priority for K-12 Grants
Game-Based Learning: A New Priority for K-12 Grants

By: Patrick Riedy, Grants Development Consultant - K-12 Education

School-aged children and gaming have become ubiquitous; casual and competitive gaming is a part of nearly every school-aged child’s daily activity. According to Pew Internet and American Life Project, about 99% of boys and 94% of girls play digital games about 7-10 hours per week.[1] These figures are not a surprise for anyone that regularly interacts with children and educators have long-ago incorporated games within their classrooms. Many schools across the country have set up after-school gaming clubs, integrated games like Minecraft or Roblox into their STEM coursework, or have developed Esports teams that compete in interscholastic leagues. At a time when student engagement and enrollment are down, many educational institutions are turning to game-based learning (GBL) to re-connect with students and equip them with the skills needed to tackle 21st century challenges.


The federal government recognizes this shift. The FY2023 budget explanatory statement “recognizes game-based learning (GBL) in augmented reality and virtual reality as an instrument to foster engaged and immersive learning in elementary education and encourages the Department [of Education] to consider incorporating evidence-based GBL as a priority in planned competitions in fiscal year 2023, as applicable.” While you may know gaming is popular with students, some of you may be asking, “what is GBL?” Generally speaking, it is a mode of play with specified educational outcomes. It is important to note that, in this way, GBL differs from Esports by moving away from competition and more towards an alignment with existing curriculum. Supporters of GBL argue that play is integral to children’s cognitive development and that digital games are able to motivate students to problem solve. GBL also offers students the opportunity to fail without much consequence, with most games integrating trial and error.


In the past, despite many benefits, securing grant funding for GBL and the required technologies has proven challenging. As a result, inequality amongst districts and schools that can afford to augment their learning environment with the necessary equipment and those that cannot has risen. So, even though the FY2023 federal budget directive doesn’t provide funding for a new grant program to implement a GBL model, this is big news for districts that lack adequate resources. With this guidance to include evidence-based GBL for planned competitions, we are likely to see well-known programs, like Education Innovation and Research and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, add competitive priority points for projects that incorporate GBL. With this inclusion, hope now exists for districts that want to take advantage of the immersion and engagement GBL provides.


What can you do to prepare for this upcoming priority? A great first step is to explore existing evidence surrounding the benefits of GBL. The Institute of Education Sciences’ What Works Clearinghouse provides an excellent starting point for schools looking for relevant literature. Next, familiarize yourself with the programs mentioned above. For instance, Education Innovation and Research has long held innovation in STEM education as an absolute priority. You can begin discussion as a team to discuss the myriad of ways GBL can enhance your current STEM curriculum. Next, utilize additional resources around you; vendors can tell you about appropriate equipment, and many also offer supplementary services and educational consultants that might provide further information about cutting edge resources. Lastly, determine your SMART goals. What are the specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound educational outcomes you want for your student and then incorporate what GBL would get you there.


The recognition of GBL as a useful instrument is an encouraging sign of things to come. Whether your district has been fortunate to incorporate gaming into your schools’ mission or it has been on your district’s wish list for some time, take comfort in knowing that opportunities await!





[1] Homer, Kinzer, and Plass, “Foundations of Game Based Learning,” 258.