What is Games Based Learning? My reflections from TeachMeet

I haven’t felt the need to define what Games Based Learning is on my blog as I’ve been too busy trying out different strategies and resources. However, at TeachMeet Play in February half term, I presented for 7 minutes (yeah right, more like 30 minutes!) on these strategies and what Games Based Learning meant for me. Alongside me at the event, Ray Chambers (@lanky_boi_ray) and Bill Lord (@Joga5) also presented and discussed their experiences of gaming in the classroom. We all work with different age groups so our reflections and advice vary which has provoked me to write this blog post.

Three types I’ve tried:

Educational Apps to teach a particular skill (Apps Based Learning)
Children use apps on the school iPads to practise skills such as counting, adding, forming letters etc. Within these apps are some form of rewards which motivate children to continue in the game. I sometimes use these apps as a stimulus in a group teach but more often children access them independently.

Non-Educational Games to teach alongisde a topic

There are groups of people who have a bad perception of gaming and game hardware. I have heard comments like ‘it doesn’t do children any good sitting in front of those games for hours on end’. This is something I once said, as I have never really seen myself as a ‘gamer’.

Today, I see a great potential in what I call non-educational games becoming a learning experience for young children. When I explain this to others, I start by explaining all of those other events we plan for our early years children such as going on a walk, visiting the post office, hanging the washing out to dry… When we performing these tasks, they are not educational.

It is what we do as educationalists before, during and after the event that makes it educational.

Therefore, what can we do before children play on Kinectimals? Well I might set up a writing activity with themed paper featuring images from the game. “What do you want your animal to do when it’s your turn on the game?” The children are motivated to write a list of tricks “jump, catch, throw, sit, roll…” and they write these ideas down.

When it is their group’s turn on the game, set up as part of the provision in the class or in a separate space with an adult helping children to troubleshoot during game play, the children can read their writing and perform these tricks. This gives writing and reading a purpose, but also gives the short gaming session a purpose too.

During a short session playing the game, the children might unlock a new part of the island or a new mini-game within the level they are on. This naturally excites the group and they are motivated to tell the rest of the class (storytelling which forms your whole class teach). The group might also want to go away and collect the resources they need to set up a real life version of the mini-game they have played. For example, if they unlock the obstacle course on the level they are on with their Kinectimal, the group can plan and set up an obstacle course outside by working as a team – the game has told them what they need and the sequence to set it up and use it appropriately!

When planning for Games Based Learning, you need to have played enough or all of the game so that you can prepare for all possibilities. You might also need to restructure your planning. The next time I teach with Kinectimals my planning will feature ‘Before gaming’ ‘During gaming’ and ‘After gaming’ activities which can be guided or independent activities.

This is how I have used Kinectimals to support the teaching of Animal Homes on the X Box Kinect. You can read more about that here… The reason I used the Kinect is the controller-less nature of the device. As children use gestures to control the game play, they are able to interact easier and with more confidence. Older children in the school have used the Nintendo Wii. Tom Barrett previously taught a Sealife topic with a year 5/6 class at the school, and used Endless Ocean throughout the topic to encourage his class to research Sealife independently. Short gaming sessions occurred frequently so that new discoveries’ were made by the class.

Non-Educational Games to inspire a project

This aspect of gaming in the classroom was inspired by Emma Dawson’s work with Mario Kart in a Key Stage 1 setting. I used the driving game built in to Kinectimals to inspire a project on toys. You can read more about this here, but here is a brief description of this method. We used iPad apps to design cars and built ramps to investigate how cars travel fast or slow down ramps. Some boys even explored how cars fly by pushing them up the ramps, aiming them in to containers. Great fun was had that afternoon! We also investigated how electronic toys move, using BeeBots. The new BeeBot app in AppStore is a new way to use these resources and I am looking forward to introducing this game to my class soon.

Using Game Hardware with Apps to teach a skill
I have been following Ray Chambers for sometime and I am excited by his app development for teaching and learning. Ray creates educational apps to use with the Kinect on Windows. You can read more about this here..

What others say…
At TeachMeet play, Bill Lord (@Joga5) explained that a game can be a starting point in a lesson to introduce a new concept, particulary effective for mathematics teaching. For example, Bill has played Mario Kart with his class, but the gaming was only a short part of the lesson. Once the children had generated enough lap times from several races, the Wii was switched off and boxed up. Bill used these lap times to engage learners in data analysis, a tricky area of l
earning for his class, but by the context of Mario Kart made this learning a little more comfortable and purposeful for the class. Bill reflected that gaming should be short and sharp, as it is a tool to engage children and the real learning takes place beyond the game. Gameplay in the classroom hands the lesson pace over to the children and gives them a voice, it can “shut the teacher up” (his words, not mine!)…. Though I am always keen to reduce my amount of teacher talk!

After Bill’s presentation I did wonder how long younger children need play on the game, in order for learning to occur. Younger children do need time to use the technology effectively, and also time to share and observe others. As the Kinect uses whole body gestures as a control this could be impacting on the future of technology. The future of Windows and the use of cameras in NetBooks and tablets may make use of the Kinect technology, moving devices away from finger swipes on glass surfaces. Therefore children do need to spend time mastering this strategy for controlling devices. The following link is a great blog post from Bret Victor about the future of technology and how the current vision in technology may have reduced humans physical skills to a single finger tip swipe…

What’s the point?
Gaming is in children’s homes. It should be in school too. It’s all about what the teacher does before, during or after the game play. Gaming can reduce teacher talk as we need to listen to what aspects of gaming engages children. That’s when the game play ends and the learning begins…

However, the nature of the Kinect promotes Physical Literacy and gives children an opportunity to practise hopping, jumping, stretching and other gross motor skills in a purposeful context. When children are playing these games for fun, at home or in my classroom, teachers can observe these physical skills and assess children’s abilities. I have seen special needs children jump and balance in game play, supporting their IEP targets. These large skills can then be transferred into smaller skills using apps on the iPad and other touchscreen devices.

So. What is games based learning? I still don’t know, as the technologies develop and re-deine the environments we use everyday, it steers the future of technology in different directions. Whatever gaming we use with our classes, we need to be critical about its use and be clear on the purpose.

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