Game-Based Social and Emotional Learning for High School English Class – Part Two

iThrive introduced Museum of Me to a class of high school students. Here's what they had to say.

By Susan Rivers
April 22, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I introduced in an article, Museum of Me, our game-based social and emotional learning curricular unit for English language arts using What Remains of Edith Finch. In case you missed it, you can read all about the details of how we used this game for identity exploration here.

Paul Darvasi, lead creator of Museum of Me, and his high school English class at Royal St. George's College in Toronto were the first ones to complete this unit. The students, all in their final year at the all-boys high school, graciously shared with us their thoughts on the unit as a whole, the game, and their identity explorations. Here are some of their overall impressions of the unit and the activities they completed both in- and out-of-class:

  • "This unit was a new and interesting experience I had never done in any classes. I was always very excited for this class due to its nature of new topics and activities."
  • "I would describe my experience with this unit as overwhelmingly positive. It allowed for more creative work both in and out of class than almost any other unit I had ever been in. It had strong academic value while also being fun and interesting."
  • "It was cool to think about my own identity formation and what objects/moments have attributed to who I am.

Gameplay offers an innovative and currently underutilized way to deeply engage students and support them in learning and practicing fundamental social and emotional skills. By using a medium that teens are already excited about, we are able to drive innovative thinking by allowing teens to explore themselves and the world around them in a safe, thought-provoking environment.

Since games are a medium seldom used in the classroom, we wondered if students found the game-based unit relevant and meaningful to their learning. Many of the students felt excited to be able to use a medium that they are interested in already and they also enjoyed the attention-grabbing plot and quality of What Remains of Edith Finch. They told us how games enable them to engage and encounter new experiences that they wouldn't otherwise be exposed to.

  • "I think that using games in learning is pretty cool because it is something that everyone our age is familiar with and can use pretty well. It also allows for each person to have their own experience and can learn the way that they feel is best for them."
  • "I think most teenagers enjoy playing video games, so when implementing it into school they actually become eager to do their work and will perhaps learn more."
  • "They [games] promote a stronger feeling of connection to the educational content that is being shared. Personally, I felt more engaged during class as I was constantly interested in the game material."
  • "I think that games are important in learning as they allow someone to explore knowledge in a way that isn't just reading from a textbook or watching a video. I find it very interesting to be able to learn interactively, in-fact I find that I absorb more knowledge in a game than in a textbook."

Throughout the unit, students played What Remains of Edith Finch as a group, which in this case meant one student had the controller while the others watched the gameplay unfold. Students alternated who had the controller during and across each class period, and observing students made requests of the student in control throughout gameplay.

We weren't sure how the students would feel about this experience, as we know that impressions can be very different when watching someone play a game versus actually playing it yourself. We were curious about how students responded to the group play structure, and whether this hindered their learning or expanded it. Overall, students were supportive of the group gameplay, for a variety of reasons, although some definitely wanted to be in control.

  • "I think that it doesn't make much of a difference for a game like Edith Finch because it is more like watching a movie, unlike something like Call of Duty where it's more skill-based and is boring to watch if you're not playing. It is sometimes nice because you can just sit back and enjoy the game."
  • "It was like watching a movie when others were playing, but more engaging because you could tell the player what to do. I think that it is enjoyable watching, but obviously more enjoyable playing, but also shouldn't really be changed because we were still engaged."
  • "It is interesting to see where other people chose to search as well as how others who are not playing interact with the person using the controller."
  • "For me it was fine. Obviously I would like to have full control (I actually didn't even play once!) over the game but watching worked as well. It was interesting to see what decisions my classmates made and compare that to the ones that I would have made."
  • "It was slightly irritating, as it is not as an enjoyable experience watching someone else set the pace for exploring the game."
  • "Edith Finch is a very visually appealing game so there was no problem with me stepping back and observing due to the beautiful graphics. This, in turn, engaged me more as a backseat observer."

Students shared with us what was most compelling to them about the thinking, learning, and creating they did during the Museum of Me unit. They really appreciated the class discussions and having the chance to share personal stories with their peers. Some admitted to taking a little more time to warm up to the idea of being personal, but once they did, they expressed how much they learned not only about themselves but about their classmates as well.

  • "I really liked the final Museum of Me project at the end of the unit. It took me a while to be comfortable, but in the end I enjoyed working on it."
  • "Okay, it was a little uncomfortable being that personal, but by the end of the unit it was fine."
  • "I think I did learn a lot from the meme one not only about myself but about other people based on how they view themselves and how they think others view them."
  • "I found it allowed us to express ourselves in ways we usually can't."
  • "I think this unit builds over time in a very unique way. It starts slowly with a series of simple worksheets and whatnot and it slowly evolves until you reach the Museum of Me assignment. In this latter half is where I think the majority of the learning occurs and is also where 100% of the creativity comes into play. So overall it was very strong on both counts."
  • "The promotion of a more personal connection to the unit. No teacher has ever attempted to combine personal with curriculum and it was a pleasant surprise. It allowed me to develop a more emotional connection to the course material."

Student work for the Meme creation assignment


One of the key areas of focus in our Museum of Me unit is exploring identity and how our identities are shaped by those around us. We wanted students to think about the roles that they play in school and at home, and the ways that the labels and masks they put on (so to speak) reflect those identities differently. We asked the students, "How did your understanding of identity — both your own and others' — change over the course of the unit?" And here is what they had to say,"I think my understanding of myself definitely changed a great deal, through the Museum of Me project I was able to deal with some aspects of myself that I never really had before. Also through talking about the projects I learned about my friends too."

  • "I really noticed how much other people have an effect on one's identity."
  • "In terms of understanding my own identity, it changed in the sense that I became more aware of what things have helped to form my identity. I was not aware of just how many items/people/moments have had an effect on my identity formation."
  • "This unit really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and took a look at myself. I normally don't talk about myself this much, and this gave me some new retrospect on how I view myself."
  • "During my identity of me assignment, I realized how much of my identity was created by my parents when I was young but as I began to grow up, more of my identity is shaped by my friends and my personal choices."
  • "I learned a great deal about myself in the construction of it and definitely felt that I knew myself better on the other side." 

The Museum of Me unit ends with a culminating project where students design an autobiographical exhibit to explore their own identity formation. Each student curates a collection of artifacts which may include pictures, letters, journal entries, quotes from role models, and more. Students create narrative labels for each artifact describing its relevance to their own identity journey and they are given free reign for the format of their museum. Some students with Darvasi's class created interactive narratives using Twine while others created journals or interactive, physical objects. Here's what they had to say afterward:

  • "The most compelling part of this unit for me was the Museum of Me project. I had to think about myself as a person and what things attributed to my identity formation."
  • "Museum of Me was particularly appealing, I found that I was willing to fully invest myself into the project and received greater satisfaction from the final product than I usually do with other projects."
  • "I liked Museum of Me because it allowed me to look back into my past and speak about how it formed my identity."
  • "Museum of Me project because it allowed us to take our own path and create a fun final product that was enjoyable to make."
  • "Museum of Me was absolutely the most enjoyable simply for the fact that it allowed for so much creativity and exploration which is both fun and very intellectually stimulating."
  • "I learned most from the Museum of Me project in terms of social/emotional intelligence and learning. I learned how games can be used to tell stories and used to connect with students as well as how they can be used to reflect upon your own life."
  • "The most recent assignment, Museum of Me, was the most enjoyable assignment because I got to use things that are part of my identity and showcase them in a portfolio type style of online pictures to show the class."

We designed the Museum of Me unit as a demonstration project to showcase how games can be integrated into meaningful classroom learning in a way that provides engaging and collaborative discussions with teens. The pilot run of the unit showed us that students found it to be both enjoyable and interesting. Even more important, they said it gave them the ability to learn not only a lot about themselves but their peers as well. And, they even said it was cool! (whew!)

  • "That it's creatively stimulating and promotes insight on personal identity; as well as, innovation within the classroom. It's important for boys, in particular, to reflect and understand their emotions and learn more about how identities don't reflect everything about you."
  • The majority rated it as the best unit they've ever had!  And with this sign of support from our most important audience, onward we go to create more game-based units for high school students!"

If you would like to use the Museum of Me unit in your classroom, download and learn more about the unit here.

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Student work for the Journal entry assignment