The ED Games Expo Comes to the Kennedy Center

Did you know that game-based learning is gaining popularity in education as more young people and adults learn from games in and out of the classroom? Well-designed games can motivate students to actively engage in content that relates to coursework, and to master challenging tasks designed to sharpen critical thinking and problem solving, as well as employment and life skills.

On January 8, 2018, the 5th annual ED Games Expo occurred at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The event was organized in collaboration between the Department of Education’s (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Kennedy Center’s Education team. The event showcased more than 100 learning games, most developed with funding from 17 different government programs within and outside ED. The games were for students of all ages in education and special education and covered topics across STEM, reading, social studies and social development. Many incorporated emerging technologies, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and maker spaces with 3D printing stations, as well as engaging approaches to learning, such as narrative adventures and puzzle games.

A Unique Opportunity

This year the Expo featured panel sessions with game developers and live demos by more than 80 developers from around the country. At a daytime panel session on the Millennium Stage titled “So You Want to Be a Game Developer,” 13 different game developers shared inspiring stories for why and how they became game developers. The audience included more than 500 DC-area school students, many of whom took the microphone and asked questions such as “What is it like to be a game developer?” and “What can I do to be a game developer?”

The live demos of learning games and technologies occurred across multiple galleries on the Terrace Level of the Kennedy Center. Across the day and into the early evening, the students and more than 200 other visitors played games while meeting face-to-face with the developers. The experience provided a unique opportunity for attendees to discuss how the games were developed and to learn about the research findings on how games can impact student performance.

Learning Games Emerge Across Many Government Programs

Along with being a fun and rich learning experience for everyone, the Expo demonstrated the impact of a wide range of government programs that invest in learning games as a strategy to advance their mission to support education and learning.

At ED, seven programs that support such projects were represented at the Expo. Four are operated by IES, through its Small Business Innovation Research Program, Research Grants Programs in Education and Special Education and its Assessment Program. Other ED programs included the Office of Special Education Programs; the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education; and the Ready to Learn program.

Outside of ED, learning games at the Expo were supported by ten different government programs, including the SBIR programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Institutes for Health and research programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. A group of games were also developed from programs at USAID, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lastly, the Kennedy Center joined the Expo this year in recognition of the arts and creativity embedded in the game development process.  The Expo provided tangible opportunities for students to learn directly from game developers how they use the creative artistic process to design multi-modal, differentiated games that are engaging, customized learning experiences for all. Through its Education programs, the Kennedy Center encourages a broad audience of students and stakeholders to consider game development as an opportunity for a range of learning experiences, through concept ideation, design, coding, graphic art creation, musical score writing and performance, or research and evaluation during and after development.


Edward Metz is a Research Scientist at the Institute of Education Sciences within the Department of Education, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs.

Jeanette McCune is the Director of School and Community Programs in Education at the Kennedy Center. 

Follow IES (@IESResearch) and the Kennedy Center (@Kencen) for updates on the next ED Games Expo and other initiatives.

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Item Date: 
01/18/2018 - 4:08pm