Using Video Games in the Classroom with Zack Hartzman | Episode 097

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Zack Hartzman is a Social Studies teacher at a high school in The Bronx of New York City. He has a Master’s Degree in the teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College at Columbia University. He has taught Global History, United States History, Economics, and Government. He is the founder of Hey Listen Games, a website where he creates curriculum and lesson plans for teachers to use video games in their classrooms.

Over the past few years, Zack has incorporated a number of video games, usually entertainment games, into his teaching. He started utilizing video games because he teaches at a school dedicated to newly arrived immigrants and English Language Learners who benefit from visual, auditory, and interactive learning. Video games have been very effective at both making the content more accessible and engaging for his students. What he has noticed is that there are almost zero resources (i.e. lesson plans) available online that actually detail how to teach with video games. Hey Listen Games provides full lesson plans, handouts, worksheets, slides, and rationales for video games across several subject areas. His objective is to provide resources so teachers can be fully prepared when they decide to incorporate a video game into teaching.

A typical day of Zach’s is to wake up around 6:00 in the morning, the school day starts at 8:30 but he usually gets there about an hour early for any preparation. It is roughly a 40-minute subway ride to his school, where every day he listens to a daily video game news podcast. It originally started as a hobby but became something that actually helps him learn about different games to actually teach with.

A story of a time where things didn’t go as expected for Zach is when he made a lesson using super smash brothers with the aim of helping his students understand how to look at graphs and part of the lesson depended on him winning the match. He expected to win but the student who came up to volunteer won. The thing he learned from it is that things can go unexpectedly and there might always going to be an unexpected outcome.

One of Zach’s favorite successes is when he brought a game to talk about immigration into his class. The game is Papers, please. It’s set in a fictional country and the player acts as border patrol to decide who actually gets to go into your country. It moved towards great conversations about why people leave their countries due to the fact he teaches at an international school and they were able to bring in a lot of personal experience.

Zach’s process for bringing video games into the classroom is to always start with what content he’s teaching, what’s the actual information and looking up different games that are in line with its contents. Then he can decide if it worth spending class time playing. Time is probably the bigger factor into if a game is worth playing in the classroom as this time is so precious and teaching with games might take time.

A best practice for him is to play any games as a class, instead of everyone having their own copies of the game, you’re just treating it as if you were watching a documentary or movie or TV show and just one student volunteers to play. His tip for taking turns is using checkpoints in the game itself, to keep it as fair as possible and the fact that not all students want to volunteer!

His favorite game is Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It wasn’t his first video game but was the first game that his brother and he played together and were able to beat, at 6 years old when it came out the world felt so big.

Zach would recommend Ash Brandin, especially her panel at PAX West to be on the show as they talk about exactly what we’re talking about here today and about using video games to teach. The book he recommends is The Psychology of Zelda. His superpower is his enthusiasm as when he brings in a game the students know it’s going to be a fun great lesson that they look forward to.

The random question for the episode is about the student (player) motivation! His final advice is to give game-based learning a try, to go for it and not be afraid since there is a lot of support available.

You can find Zach’s website at , you can email him heylistengamesinfo [at] and on Twitter @heylistengames_.


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2 Replies to “Using Video Games in the Classroom with Zack Hartzman | Episode 097”

  1. Pingback: Paul Darvasi finds the right videogames for engagement | Episode 104 – Professor Game

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