It’s Not About The Game!

by Dawn Hallybone

At first, this may seem a strange title for an article about using computer games in the classroom – but bear with me!

I use computer games in the classroom with the children in school – why? I believe that they both engage and enhance the curriculum in a really positive way. I was introduced to Games Based Learning two years ago, as a result of my Borough co-ordinator hearing Derek Robertson talk about the work that he and others were doing in Scotland. Derek is passionate about using games in the classroom and the work that is on-going through the Consolarium is an inspiration to me and many others.

We use the Nintendo DS and Wii with a variety of consumer off the shelf (COTs) games, in a variety of settings. In school we have 30 DS consoles and 2 Wiis used across 12 classes. With the DS we use the Dr Kawashimas Brain Training programme – across the whole school. Each year group is timetabled to use them once a week. They are used for example as a mental maths starter – with my middle maths group we use them three times a week – looking at a variety of games each day. Time lapse is one I use every week – but have the children in pairs – discussing strategies on how they have worked out the question. This has been particularly useful for them to develop their problem solving skills, as well as working on time which is a problem area. As one Year 6 child commented ‘It’s like putting maths in a 12V food blender!’

We also make use of Pictochat - this is a form of instant messaging on the DS console and a great tool for use across all areas of the curriculum, I like to use it in Literacy, by asking children to describe a scene or event. Starting with one word, and asking the children to move from ‘room’ to ‘room’ to see all the suggestions and then use this as a starting point for building up and extending the vocabulary in the class. This principle can also be applied to every subject in the curriculum, a great tool that is part of the console.

Looking at other ways of using the consoles – we carried out a Professor Layton project with our Year 6s last year and this time instead of the children having one console each – we gave one console to groups of 6 children. Professor Layton is a non-linear puzzle game, which we used across the curriculum for 3 weeks; it gave the opportunity for maths, Literacy, Geography and art work. It also involved great collaboration, team work and speaking and listening. We used the game as a contextual hub – to ‘hang’ learning onto. In terms of game –play, we only played for about 20 minutes ‘normal’ play time; the rest of the time was spent on cross curricular activities based on the game.

As Derek Robertson has said ‘It’s just another tool’ – and a valuable one in my teachers toolbox. It does not replace ‘traditional’ methods of teaching and learning but is used alongside to enhance the learning experience. The same is true when using the Wii in the class as well. Last year, the Redbridge Games Network was set up and involves 6 schools (so far) who are exploring the use of ‘games’ in the classroom, this involves COTs games, games that the children can create using 2DIY and games online. Part of the network is also looking at using the Wii in classrooms to improve writing. We are slowly building up a library of games that we feel meet this need and since September 2009 have been using these in all the schools involved and writing and sharing our experiences on our network blog.

The best advert for using the games in the classroom is the children themselves and what they feel about using the games in the classroom:

By using electronic games we learn more because it’s a bit like secret learning! While your brain tells you that you’re having fun you are actually learning!

These ways of learning are exciting, fun and enjoyable, you get your results immediately and you are allowed a bit of freedom; because despite what anybody can do children are and always will be competitive, and get bored of the usual sitting in a class room. Our generation are able to learn and connect in ways that our grandparents could never imagine!

Some people say that having Nintendo Ds Consoles in school is distracting and off-putting. If you think about it there are a lot of games you can play. For example, Oakdale use brain training to help their mental arithmetic skills and telling the time. Their Year 6s also use Another Code R in literacy. They are continually jotting bots of important information down and writing predictions, characters and short stories. Via doing this, they are using their imagination, working as a team and improving their writing and thinking skills. They're learning without even realizing it!

It is clear from these quotes that for the children that it’s not about the game, it’s learning in a fun way that is both relevant and a ‘real’ experience for them. Perhaps my favourite quote from the children is this:

Technology and Education make a perfect match for a better future.

I couldn’t say it better myself!

Dawn is the Senior Teacher/ICT Co-ordinator at Oakdale Junior School in the London Borough of Redbridge, a past recipient of the Handheld Learning awards.

This is an abbreviated version of an article which appeared recently in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for teachers and leaders of educational ICT (education technology). You can read the full article here. Dawn will be speaking at the Innovation in Education: Transforming Learning in the 21st Century conference in London today.