What Embodied Play Ignited in a High School Social Studies Classroom
iThrive Sim: Follow the Facts offers playful, embodied learning for teens. Anthony Maida, a high school social studies educator, shares what the interactive, tech-supported experience ignited in his students and inspired in his classroom.
Play—like the learning and connection it fosters—is transformative.
To psychologist Peter Gray, Ph.D., play is an imaginative and active pursuit where the means are valued more than the ends. At iThrive Games, we know its power and use it to engage teens in their genius and meet their unique developmental needs, like identity exploration, social engagement, creative expression, and novelty.
A recent Nature article written by researchers from the UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent affirms what we've known from being in community with teens over the last five years: experiences matter. The data shows that as the teen brain develops, nurturing it with opportunities for young people to explore, make meaning, connect, and discover purpose fosters mental health and reduces the likelihood of a crisis. The interactive, embodied learning experiences we create with and for teens expertly embed these wellness-supporting opportunities, enlisting the body, mind, and emotion-evoking power of play to build social and emotional skills vital to teen thriving.
The experiences our iThrive Sim role-playing simulation games have created in classrooms across the nation are testaments to what embodied play can and continues to do for young people. Using online play and tech—two mediums teens know well—standards-aligned civic learning is fully integrated with interactive opportunities for self-regulation, peer connection, and real-world applications. Since iThrive Sim launched, over 2,500 middle and high school students have played a game on the platform, where they have had the chance to compromise, negotiate, and collaborate meaningfully with peers in real-time to work through complex crises and 'wicked' challenges. Middle and high school educators who have brought iThrive Sim into their classrooms and facilitated one or more of its tech-supported games have remarked on how the experience enriched their classroom with a new way of learning and connecting.
Below, high school social studies educator Anthony Maida from the Methacton School District in Philadelphia, PA, shares his experience bringing iThrive Sim: Follow the Facts to his classroom and witnessing firsthand transformative learning in his students.
Q: What is your philosophy on teaching and how does iThrive Sim: Follow the Facts fit into it?
A: I guess I'd sum up my philosophy of teaching by saying that this job isn't really academic. Much like parenting, teaching seems much more like a relational pursuit than an academic one, so building good relationships with kids is the most important step in the educational process for me. With that, I'm trying to create experiences and opportunities in my classroom that move away from the transactional relationships that students and teachers often have with one another and more toward the transformational experiences necessary to show true student growth. This is where iThrive and Follow the Facts stand out to me. I've watched 17- and 18-year-old students who might otherwise be disengaged in their own learning step up and take an active role. I'm seeing kids with their own challenges really engrossed in what they're experiencing.
Q: What does social and emotional learning (SEL) mean to you, and how has iThrive Sim: Follow the Facts supported it in your classroom?
A: When I hear social and emotional learning (SEL), my mind immediately goes to building and fostering empathy in students. More than any content I teach, I'm hoping that kids walk out of high school in their senior years a little more willing and able to understand what their peers might be experiencing. While running Follow the Facts, I can see students interact with peers they may have never spoken to or even considered in their previous 12 years of school together. The content on the platform is so engaging that it brings together a group of students with really diverse backgrounds and experiences, and they all work toward a common goal.
Q: What shifts or moments during the play experience stood out to you?
A: When my classes are going through Follow the Facts, I am listening and watching as they have conversations with one another surrounding the issues presented in the Sim, such as keeping people safe or being honest in their reporting. It is no secret that many students are coming to schools today experiencing anxiety around a whole host of issues, especially in the wake of the pandemic. The most rewarding part of the experience for me was seeing students who may experience some level of anxiety in every other interaction during their day come out of their shells and totally engage with their peers in a way that might not otherwise have been possible. Students who might have struggled to find their voice in a large class suddenly spoke up, advocating for a position in our class simulation. I think that gets to the transformational part of education.