Technology Tools
Technology Tools

Educators often take advantage of educational technologies as they make the shifts in instruction, teacher roles, and learning experiences that next gen learning requires. Technology should not lead the design of learning, but when educators use it to personalize and enrich learning, it has the potential to accelerate mastery of critical content and skills by all students.

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Primary Contact Name:
Jay Bachhuber
Award Date:
June 2011
Grade Levels:
Language Arts, Social Studies, Science
Free to teachers at

The Innovation: Wordplay Games

Two narratively- and conceptually-linked online games offer a playful, collaborative environment to help students develop their vocabulary skills without taking up a lot of valuable instructional time:

  • Code Invaders introduces individual students to multiple-meaning words needed to fulfill their mission in the second, team-based, game. Puzzles within an arcade-style digging game ask players to use context clues to understand and differentiate among three definitions of multiple-meaning words.
  • Cipher Force pushes student teams to think more explicitly about the different meaning of words. Success depends on players’ ability to create an image code—a set of three images—of the word definition for the other players to decipher. Students pick the code images from a gallery of photos, which they can alter to highlight certain features.

Both games use social studies and science vocabulary from the Academic Word List, a collection of words frequently used in academic texts. Students learn a specific set of high-frequency, multiple-meaning words. More generally, students develop the ability to use context clues to determine the meaning of multiple-meaning words.

Common Core State Standards: The games help science and social studies teachers integrate Common Core literacy tasks into subject-area instruction. Different versions of the games offer vocabulary specific to English Language Arts, science, or social studies.

Code Invaders

Cipher Force

Results Achieved

English, social studies, and science teachers participated in the project’s field tests. For many, it was an introduction to games that support student learning. Social studies and science teachers began exploring how their students’ word knowledge might shape their understanding and engagement in the classroom.

  • Many students reported that projects’ games differed significantly from other educational games they had played.
  • Some students said the games were more fun than other games they had played in school, but they also appreciated the games’ educational aspects.
  • Students exhibited greater word familiarity after playing the games:

The Grant Project

With NGLC funding, the project team developed new versions of the games for online play; created social studies and science vocabulary word groups and in-game assessments; and conducted a field test at two schools to evaluate their implementation model’s viability and the games’ impact on student learning.

Post-project, EDC’s long-term goal is to pursue additional funding to refine the games through further research.

"Cipher Force is exercise for my brain."

–Middle School Student