By Andrew Miller
Video game company Valve is going deep into the education world with a new initiative using Steam, their free online game platform where users can download games and communicate and play with other players. The initiative is called Steam for Schools, and a free educational version is now available to teachers to use in the classroom.
What makes it unique for schools is that all functionality unrelated to education is disabled and only certain games are made available for teachers and students.
The first major games used in Steam for Schools are Portal and Portal 2. In the games, the main character solves puzzles and problems in a three-dimensional world. As it's explained on the site: “Players primarily interact with the world by using a hand-held portal device to place interconnected portals on walls, floors, or ceilings. Once a pair of portals is positioned any object entering through one portal will exit though the other.” In addition to these two versions of the game, there's also a Portal Puzzle Maker, whereby teachers can make their own puzzles for students to solve.
For those willing to experiment with games in class, some ideas on how to use Portal:
PHYSICS: One of the most obvious targets of Portal is the use of concepts in physics. From exploring gravity and friction, to terminal velocity and conservation of mass, there's a wealth of specific sub-topics within general physics that can be targeted explicitly. In addition to learning and exploring these concepts through playing the game, students can create their own games.