Wisco Teacher Dominique Lark Teaches Like a Gamer

Dominique Lark moved from student to student answering questions and checking in on them while they played their math games

Before Dominique taught fourth grade, he was a mayor who designed and engineered hundreds of cities from the ground up. He conquered continents through the ages of history, directing armies across battlefields and building civilizations. He taught himself strategy and tested his logic and problem solving skills every chance he had. From a young age, he learned how to think like a scientist by manipulating variables and experimenting through trial and error.

In other words, he’s a gamer.

Dominique cut his teeth on SimCity, Age of Empires, and Command & Conquer. Now, he shares his passion for games and learning with his fourth grade students.

It’s Dominique’s love of teaching kids and his lifelong interest in games that makes him a fun Field Day Fellow. He joined us as a 2016 Game Design Fellow and was just what we needed as we dove into designing science games. Who better to have on our design team than someone who knows about kids, the classroom, and good games? Dominique has years of first hand experience bringing games into his classroom — he does it everyday with his fourth grade students.

These fourth graders played math games together in Mr. Lark’s class

Dominique teaches at Huegel Elementary (a Madison elementary school with one-to-one access to Android Tablets). We had the privilege of seeing how he incorporated games into his teaching style.

We noticed right away that Dominique doesn’t use only digital games in his classroom, he also gets the kids moving around and playing physical games.

Students loved the “brain break”

After finishing up a vocabulary lesson in class, Dominique offered a “brain break” to his students. Students’ faces lit up with smiles as they scurried to the rug at the front of the room. For the next five minutes, they tossed a rubbery toy brain around while doing some deep leg squats. Giggles rippled through the classroom as the brain flew across the room and landed in kids’ hands…or at their feet. When the on-screen timer went off, the kids’ “brain break” ended, and they were ready for a math game on their computers.

“Your first job is to complete a task in DreamBox, then you can choose a game selection from your tablet,” Dominique instructed. (DreamBox is an online, subscription based, math games program.)

Some of the kids sped through the DreamBox assignment, eager to move to a game of their choosing. One boy said, “I love Math Playground. It’s awesome.”

“My favorite part of the day is math,” shared a girl. “I get to play math games!”

“I vet the games ahead of time to make sure they’re an effective use of time,” Dominique explained. “The best games help them deepen their understanding of a topic.” Then, he lets his students explore and review those games. The highest reviewed games become more regular menu options on their tablets.

“Some students like to review skills they already know. Others choose to challenge themselves,” he said. “Games help the students see how much fun learning can be. The more positive connections they make with learning, the more likely they are to remain engaged and learning.”

“We talk about thinking like a gamer in class,” Dominique said. If a student is having a hard time with a topic or concept, he encourages them to put on a gamer hat. “I ask, ‘If this was a game, would you give up right away? Or would you try a different strategy?’ I want my students to cultivate an attitude beyond memorizing facts, details and information. I want to encourage students to take time, to take initiative and leadership in their learning.”

Dominique believes thinking “like a gamer” will help the students beyond their studies. “Life will throw a bunch of different scenarios at them. I want them to be problem solvers regardless of the scenario. I want them to think outside the box and try new things.”

“The work we’re doing here at Field Day could have incredible impact on a lot of people’s lives,” Dominique said. “It’s rewarding to show the joy of learning and how much fun it can be.”

We are privileged to have such creative and innovative teachers like Dominique working directly with us. They understand the unique institutional requirements, standards that have to be met, the flow of a classroom, and the workload that has to be juggled by teachers and kids.

As a Field Day Fellow, Dominique and the other Fellows brainstormed and generated game ideas around concepts that are difficult to teach. They gave feedback, play-tested and shared valuable ideas for how the games could be improved. Together, we’ve come up with more exciting games in The Yard.

PS. Field Day is launching 9 new games set in a world called The Yard. They line up with national standards. These games are 10–20 minute interactive science games for kids in grades 5–7 to explore, play, and experiment with science. Designed to make complicated systems easier to understand, the games are quick to set up and simple to play. They run on any browser and DON’T require user accounts or setup — just start playing!

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