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Posted by on in Game-Based Learning

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As my first grade students left for their holiday break, I told one of the children to have a wonderful vacation. He sadly looked at me and said, "I'm not going on vacation. I am just staying home." I explained to him that by vacation I meant not coming to school. His reaction made me think about how many students never get to travel and experience the joy of visiting popular vacation destinations. It seemed, however, that a solution to that problem was sitting in my classroom waiting to be unwrapped!

I had an Xbox 360 Kinect system in my classroom. We were using Kinect games for learning and I had recently been given a copy of Kinect Disneyland Adventure. I took it home for my grandchildren to play while visiting for Christmas, and it turned out to be an authentic trip to the Magic Kingdom. Players enter Main Street USA, collect autographs from Disney characters in an autograph book, and use a map to select the lands to visit in the park. Pirates of the Caribbean, It's A Small World, and all of the other favorite rides from the actual park are part of the game. It is as close as you can come to an actual visit without traveling there.

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Using the game as a basis, I planned a unit for my students to "go on vacation" while learning and using a variety of standards based language arts, math, and geography skills! Working collaboratively in small groups, representing families, the students used the internet to research and develop a plan for taking a trip to Disneyland. In an authentic planning experience, the students learned to read informational text, evaluate information, and make informed decisions. They learned map skills, using online travel maps and maps of the park. Math and personal financial literacy skills grew as the kids learned to use calculators, to work with large numbers, and realized that vacations require long term goal setting and saving. There were plenty of opportunities to practice writing skills as well, as they created travel brochures, journals, and postcards for the trip. 

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