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Widely varying approaches tackling all subject areas liven up dreaded worksheets and textbooks

The new frontier of education, many experts believe, is video games. While the field is still maturing, most objectives can now be enhanced with games that allow students to collaborate and learn with more engagement while teachers are free to spend more time observing and helping, and less time at the whiteboard. Many of these games also offer parents and teachers tools to monitor progress on specific learning objectives.

Some of these, like Portal and Minecraft, are well-known. But game makers are now collaborating to extend the reach of classic games to serve more targeted teaching objectives.

The list below is a sampling, not comprehensive, of the range of educational video options now on the market. Some of these are only available through bulk licenses to schools, while others can be downloaded and used at home.

1. ST Math

Spatio-Temporal (ST) Math is a visual and interactive math program offered by the nonprofit MIND Research Institute. It uses interactive and visual learning, rather than starting students with math symbols. Students navigate a penguin named JiJi through space, learning geometry, fractions and algebraic thinking, and are then gradually introduced to symbols. The game features a strong back end that allows teachers to monitor progress and gives students real-time feedback.

2. Dragonbox

This premier offering from WeWantToKnow, a learning games publisher, tricks kids into learning algebra by offering it as a puzzle. Students as young as 4 or 5 begin by trying to "get the box alone" on one side of a divide. No rules are explained. The child has to figure them out on his own. Numbers are little critters, and negative numbers are a dark inversion of the critter. The equations gradually increase in complexity, and new principles are introduced. After awhile, x begins to replace the box, and a negative sign replaces the inverted critter. Before the child knows it, he is doing algebra. Dragonbox also offers geometry and advanced algebra versions. Available on various platforms for under $10.

3. Game Over Gopher

Developed by Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University, Game Over Gopher teaches graph coordinates by asking students to keep gophers from eating a giant carrot. The gophers move along grid lines, and students are asked to locate assigned coordinates while juggling defensive machines that stuff the gophers with carrots to deter their aggression. It's an addictive game with surprisingly wide age appeal.

SEE MORE: Games could be the next frontier in teaching

4. Slice Fractions

This free game from Ululabs asks students to help a wooly (and chirpy) mammoth navigate a broken terrain by breaking up barriers. As the mammoth moves along, students learn numerators and denominators, symbolic and numerical notation, and compare fractions through induction. As with many dedicated education games, this one comes with back-end tools that allow the teacher to assess progress and figure out which concepts need reinforcement.

5. Portal

Portal is an immensely popular and sophisticated puzzle game that challenges users to navigate between rooms toward an objective by creating portals between them. Some teachers have used the Portal 2 Puzzle Maker to teach spatial reasoning, basic geometry, statistics and research design, as well as how to do research with a team. Students build their own puzzles and then predict and analyze how successful other people were in navigating them, for example.

6. MinecraftEDU

Kind of like Legos in virtual reality, MinecraftEDU allows teachers to build social and logistical challenges centered in specific curriculum. MinecraftEDU is a version of the original program built by TeacherGaming, a Finnish company. Based on the cult classic Minecraft, the EDU version allows teachers to set up tasks, create a controlled collaborative environment and create prebuilt worlds that match a wide variety of teaching objectives. TeacherGaming says that over 5,500 teachers in over 40 countries have used MinecraftEdu to teach subjects from STEM to language to history to art.

7. Argubot Academy

A text-based argument game from the nonprofit Glasslab Games, Argubot Academy is set on Mars, where colonists use "argubots" to conduct argument duels about how to solve problems facing the new colony. Students must use facts and data, evaluate claims and backing, and distinguish different types of "argument schemes." The game fits the Common Core by helping students evaluate and form their own persuasive nonfiction writing.

8. SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge

Also from Glasslabs, in cooperation with some of the biggest players in the education reform movement, this game adapts the class Sims platform to ask students to work together to balance competing needs of economic development and environmental safety in a growing city. Students learn to collaboratively solve problems and understand complex systems.

9. Never Alone

From E-Line Media and Upper One Games comes this highly acclaimed interactive adventure designed to teach players about the native Iñupiaq Alaskan culture, history and environment. The game was actually created by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, is scrupulously accurate and detailed, and has received rave reviews from all corners.

10. Walden, A Game

Built by the USC School of Cinematic Arts, this richly detailed game allows players to become Henry David Thoreau on his adventure at Walden Pond. Based on Thoreau's classic "Walden," players find food and fuel, make visits to nearby Concord, and enjoy the wilderness through four seasons on the pond. The game interweaves signficant portions of Thoreau's text and is designed to serve as an entry point to the book.

Related links:

Department of Education seeks to harness video games for learning

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