Monday, November 28, 2011

Cross curricular gamified learning

Over the next 2 weeks I will be using a collaborative working plan based on the story of Santa being lost as part of my gamified learning in the classroom. I started the plan using Google Docs and posted a link to it on Twitter, within half an hour the plan had grown to 5 pages of cross curricular ideas and activities. You can acces the doc and add your own ideas to the plan here.

To begin the week I used the following presentation. The first slide takes time to work out but my class got there after a few questions and answers. One thing you must try to do is to take a step back, do not rush in with answers. Let the learners find the solution, give them time. Let them finish their ideas and accept every idea as part of the solution because even incorrect answers will help find the correct one. I decided to put ( ) around the 2 numbers and that did the trick, immediately a lot of voices told me the numbers must be coordinates. So off they went to find were the coordinates would lead to. They found Santa was on Henderson Island part of the Pitcairn Islands , located in the South Pacific Ocean. It's very remote so Santa truly needed their help. The next slides let them think first about what items they would take from the list to help Santa survive. They had to discuss with each other why they would take certain items and I listened in to many interesting suggestions e.g. Santa really needs to take the chocolate because he can not only eat it, he can make a drink out of it so that's two out of one! Many of the children automatically wanted to build rafts but after looking closely at their Google Map they thought it might be better to sit tight on the island until help arrived.

Searching formed a huge part of the challenge, children had to use search strings to find specific information that could help them decide what to do to help Santa. Wikipedia articles were quickly scanned for important information and shared with the groups. Each group went off on different though flows to begin with and even after collaborating with each other, many stayed on their original courses with just a little variation. One group is convinced that Santa can survive a journey by raft to Pitcairn Island so tomorrow my additional challenge to them is working out how long that journey might take.

Towards the end of the morning one group hit on a fantastic idea. They had been using the Google Map to decide if using a raft would be a good idea but then hit on staying on the island until help arrived. Why? I asked. One girl in the group called me over to demonstrate how she had used Google Maps photo layers to discover that there were quite a few photos taken of the island by visitors on boats! She quickly came to the conclusion that the islands were actually not as remote as first thought and used another search online to discover visitpitcairn. It was an exciting moment as it was one area of Google maps that I had not shown to the class but obviously one learner had. She quickly demonstrated her skill to others and very soon everyone was using the photos plugin of Google Maps to view the photos themselves.

A mystery awaits
View more presentations from Kevin McLaughlin.

Every day I use the gamified approach I am more convinced it is a wonderful method of inspiring children's curiosity and develop their creative problem solving. With today's emphasis on assessments for learning, testing for league tables, 'playing the game' to stay off Ofsted's radar, gamifying your learning may be risky to some but it is certainly worth it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gamification - Rules of engagement

Image courtesy of Clarita

As part of the gamification of my classroom and the use of gaming techniques for learning I am using my blog as a base for my viewpoints on using it as part of my teaching style, collecting the viewpoint sof my class, observing their learning and how they work during the lessons and reflecting on the use of gaming techniques. I have been given a boost in using these techniques from my Head Teacher who has asked me to demonstrate them to other members of staff. I only have to look at the faces of engagement of my pupils to realise that something is working and to listent to the feedback from my teaching assistant who has enjoyed the past 4 days immensely.

Rules of engagement
  1. You must develop a strategy if you want to employ the use of gaming techniques in your own classroom teaching and learning. You can't just add game playing onto a lesson as an extra layer. Granted, using the winning of points as a motivator does work but winning points is only a small part of game play.
  2. You can use game play techniques as a one off lesson but be prepared to extend the time you give to that lesson as the children will demand you to let them complete it, just like they do when playing a real game.
  3. Try to develop a strong narrative around your plan, build a story involving characters that children can relate to. They love power struggles, mystery, adventure, thriller, action - just look at the game titles that are popular with your own class and create a story loosely based on one of those as an idea.
  4. Be prepared for everything to fall apart, for your class to struggle at first before getting it. You will also find this difficult as you have to let the learners learn for themselves as far as you can. Guide them, facilitate learning when required, ask open ended questions and stand back. It's difficult but an essential part in my opinion so the class can discover solutions themselves.
  5. Don't be afraid to include challenging questions and investigations, in fact the more challenging the better as I discovered when I had included a problem that encouraged the class to use digital time even though they had not been shown how to do so by myself.
  6. Do include levels of challenge that will engage all learners regardless of ability.
  7. Allow pupils to return to stages of the game to replay them if they feel they need more time. Just like real games, replaying offers the gamer a chance to refine their skills, practise and learn from their friends.
  8. Game play learning encourages cooperation, collaboration and noise, lots of noise. So let the class get on with it, they will be discussing the problems they are facing in the game. It's a pleasure to listen to.
  9. When writing your narrative based on your plans make sure you have a clear ending. Games have endings so your game play learning must also have one.
  10. Get into character when introducing the game to your class, play atmospheric music to build the excitement, if the class have avatars that they use for online work then use these as part of the game.
  11. Class avatars are incredibly useful during this type of work and can be used effectively as part of the point winning process.
  12. Points are important, design how many points each part of the game will have and stick to it. When the class reach a certain total reward them. I am using 50 points for effort, 100 points for completion, 100 additional points for group work. Further points are awarded for additional skills used during the game. My class target for this week is 20,000 points. They are currently on 18,520.

These are my own ideas for using this method of learning. They may change over the weeks ahead and most likely will improve as I discover more about the use of gamification in the classroom. I hope you can find them useful too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gamification Day 2

Image courtesy of mconnors

Upon the advice of Alex Moseley, I thought about my "subjects, topics and learning objectives in game terms, rather than simply applying a layer on top". For today's Numeracy lesson I built up a strong narrative around the learning objective. I created a fictitious character, The Dangerous Spy, who was making his escape using his clever understanding of time. I broke the gamelearning into 3 stages, each having to be solved and demonstrated before moving onto the next stage and finally capturing the spy. And there was going to be a lesson observation by my Head Teacher too :-)
Stage 1
Children had to demonstrate they could read the time using o clock, quarter past, half past and quarter to. This was used as my review lesson to gauge understanding of basic time concepts. For the class it was their first chase after the missing spy. With every moment that passed the spy would be getting further away so the discussions around the room centred immediately on who was able to complete the first mission accurately. These children then used their expertise to teach others and demonstrate how to read the analogue clocks. All but 3 children completed this stage and they insisted on 'replaying the level' with me on the carpet.
Stage 2
Children now had to demonstrate they could read time to 5 minutes and had the option of writing their answers in digital format. I used digital format as an extra skill point and to my surprise, every learner tried to achieve it. This was all done with no IWB or whiteboard demonstration from me. Children who could do this appointed themselves group experts and advised their team players how to do it. My role became one of facilitating learners who found the stage difficult and I returned to my 'traditional' teaching role at these times. Four children found this stage challenging but enjoyed it as they wanted to catch the spy.
Stage 3
No one managed to get to this stage today and it has been left until tomorrow which left a dew children on the edge of their seats as they desperately wanted to complete the stage and catch the spy. The stage involved the use of real life skills - children would have to use the national rail website to find a train that would leave Leicester and arrive in London before 2pm on Saturday 26th November. Only by providing the times of departure, arrival and the journey length would the players be able to have completed the stage and face the final End of Level Boss - a question to test their overall understanding of reading from a timetable.
Points to note
I found a couple of children who found this work difficult and they had sat back in their groups to let the rest get on with the problem solving. Gamifying lessons or a series of lessons is a fantastic approach to enlivening lesson content and learning but I need to ensure that every child has access to the learning and does not feel left behind. Telling the time is a difficult concept and many children require many lessons to succeed, I have explained to my class that they can return to this stage of the game at any point in the week or coming weeks. The content, as it is, can be reused and 'played' again.

Positives to consider
Continued cooperation throughout the gameplay learning stages.
Discussions between learners demonstrated high levels of understanding and use of language to instruct others.
Learners were open to learn from others and not just me.
Learners felt more comfortable expressing their desire to replay the stage when their learning wasn't complete.

Final note
I am finding more and more that using this approach in class can not only benefit the learners but the teacher and your assistant (if you have one). My head teacher said the lesson was Good with outstanding points noting the 'creative problem solving' techniques the children used during the lesson and was impressed with their desire to learn. I am enjoying gamifying my lesson content more and more and I am now devising a block of learning that will involve a strong narrative, characters, sets, scenes - just like a game.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gamification begins

Image courtesy of Kakisky

I began using the techniques of gameplay as a learning style with my class today and it was a frantic, fast paced, period of learning. The buzz in the classroom was quite noticeable with another teaching assistant remarking at break how engaged the class were yet it was not all positive and that is to be expected with such a new approach.

Throughout these posts I will refer to gamification as gameplay learning (GPL) as that is the name my class have decided to call it.

I began the morning with a discussion about playing games. We created a list of gameplaying techniques that gamers use when playing games. I then got the class to help me create a learning in the classroom list that compared with the gameplay list. The similarities had the class in slight disbelief that gameplaying is tied to learning but they soon made the connections. At this point I played my introduction video (watch here) and they were literally sitting on the edge awaiting the rules of GPL. These rules are a first draft and will change.
To start I set the class one challenge in Numeracy - Can you tell the time to the minute using hands on a clock? This is taken from the UK National Curriculum objectives for Maths at Year 4 (age 8-9) and is an end of year target that children at this age have to achieve. No harm setting the first challenge very high I thought. The children got straight to the task immediately, focusing on the 'expert game players' for their lead. Any child could come to me for help, advice and explanations throughout the GPL challenge yet only a couple did so. What I saw amazed me, children who normally would not work together were engaged in the activity and helping each other with no issues at all. Every child was focused, every child was trying, every child was 'playing the learning game'. Throughout the challenge a group would ask me for the End of Game Boss level so they could prove their understanding. This was an essential part of the learning as I needed to know that each child in the group could solve the problem and show how they did it. To start with, only a few children in each group could show me confidently but by the end of the session every child in my class bar 2 could show a full understanding of the given challenge.

I was literally gobsmacked - it made me question my teaching style and whether I needed to improve. I loved it! Here were the learners in my class cooperating in teams to solve a given problem but at the same time demonstrate that each group player could do so independently. It wasn't all a complete success  as there were some learners who found the approach confusing and/or the work difficult. I soon returned to a more traditional teacher led approach with a small group of learners which quickly reduced in size to two children by the end of the session.

Tomorrow I have a lesson observation by my head teacher, I have described this approach to her and she is looking forward to it with an open mind. I have received a number of comments on Twitter and this blog which are helping me to clarify my thinking and develop my use of GPL throughout this week. I leave you with a few thoughts from my Game Playing Learners.

Until tomorrow gamers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gamification in the classroom

Image courtesy of kakisky

What is gamification of learning?
In it's basic form it is using the techniques behind gaming as a basis for classroom learning. Gaming involves problem solving, replaying parts of the game again and again until you get to the next level, finishing off an end of level adversary and can involve multiplayer opportunities where teams work together to solve the problems they face. As players progress through their games they collect power-ups, extra skills and always win points. A defeat encourages further gameplay until progress is made. Now imagine tying that into learning. Read more here.

How can it be connected to learning?
The gamification of a classroom requires a lot of thought and careful planning. It can't be just used without some thought given over to the process of using gaming techniques as a method of learning. If you visualise your termly plan as a game to play through then that will give you a start. Each subject you teach during the term could be a mission that has to be completed by the learners (players) and at the end of each mission the gamers/learners have to defeat an end of level boss to demonstrate their learning or work with a team member to help them progress through to the next mission. That's the general idea.
Over the next few weeks and then throughout the second school term I will be using these gaming techniques with my own class. Will it help to improve learning? Will it motivate my class, engage them? I'm willing to find out and I'm looking forward to the next few months ahead. I will post regular updates here on my blog and hope that it will help others to ascertain whether gamification of learning can be an effective form of engagement in your classroom.