Creating a game – a positive impact on learning?

By David Luke.

I have had an interest in programming and creating games since I purchased a BBC Model A in the 80’s (the good old days!). However, it was only recently that I have actively promoted the introduction of games making into the ICT curriculum.

Two factors prompted my decision. Firstly, the introduction of the renewed ICT framework in spring 2008, which introduced learning objectives around ‘sequencing instructions’ and opened up options other than control. Secondly, the availability of easy to use games making software, which had the capacity to build games with a very professional feel.

My early research into games making software led me to conclude that there were two very good options, Mission Maker (Immersive Education) and Games Maker 7 (YOYOGames). As a result of further investigation I decided to go with Games Maker 7, the key reasons being ease of use, price per install, and pupils could also download it for free to use at home.

In the summer term of 2008 we launched a training package which included skills training and a full day developing a scheme of work, involving representatives from half of our secondary and middle schools. The scheme of work was then introduced to all our secondary and middle schools, at the following Subject Leader Development network, with an understanding that they could then use it as a basis for development in their own departments, with additional support from the school improvement consultants, if required.

A number of schools requested the additional consultant support, including one of the middle schools I normally supported. From the initial meeting with the ICT Subject leader it was clear that there was an opportunity for an action research project around a number of aspects of teaching and learning, including the impact of delivering the Games Maker project as a course through the VLE. The questions we agreed to try and answer were:

  1. Games playing is predominantly a boys’ activity1,2 (see references at the end of this article); therefore, will learning activities around making a game have a negative impact on girls’ learning?
  2. Will a problem-solving approach to games making engage the pupils and accelerate learning?
  3. How will a blended learning approach, including face to face and VLE delivery of the course, impact on learning?

Target Audience:

Year 7 (11-12 years) and/or Year 8 (12-13 years) pupils in mixed ability groups in a co-educational environment.

Planning Stage:

  1. The initial stage was to agree the minimum criteria that the pupils’ games would be expected to meet. They were:
    1. A main character that moved in the four main directions.
    2. No character could pass through the maze walls.
    3. A main character that would face the direction it was moving.
    4. Objects that had to be collected to complete a level.
    5. Doors that only opened when all the objects had been collected.
    6. Aliens/Monsters that would kill the main character on contact.
    7. Some Aliens/Monsters that could move vertically and others horizontally.
    8. At least three different levels of increasing difficulty.
  2. Agreeing the minimum specification for the games led to identification of the key skills pupils would need to learn in order to have the opportunity to meet the above criteria. From this information the resources were developed.
  3. The tasks were then created as learning modules on the VLE, each learning module consisted of a number of pages and attached assignments to complete and upload, which could then be marked online by the teacher.

The five tasks were as follows:

Task 1 - What makes a Good Game? In which pupils played three games to identify good points and areas for development, apply existing criteria and develop their own additional criteria.

Task 2 - How is a game made? Consisting of seven problem solving activities to develop the basic skills.

These resources were created as learning module pages on the VLE, each page consisting of a downloadable partially working game, some basic instructions and, when required, downloadable sprites and sounds.

The pupils were asked to download and play the game, discover what was working and the code that made it work. They were then asked to either add extra instructions, correct existing instructions or both.

Task 3 - Planning the Game! One lesson in which the pupils plan the game using a downloadable template.

Task 4 - Improving the game! A dip in selection of activities which pupils can use to improve the game e.g. scoring systems.

Task 5 - Destroy the Beef Burgers! As task 4, but specific to creating a shooting element to their game.

The initial development of the resources were carried out in conjunction with an ICT subject specialist in a secondary school, but the VLE course was specifically created to trial with year 8 pupils in a middle school.

Trial audience:

Year 8 middle school pupils grouped for ICT into three sets based on their mathematical ability. In total there were 90 pupils with a gender breakdown of 52 boys and 38 girls. Each set had a total of 1.5 hours per week with the course lasting 10 weeks.

Course delivery:

Sets 1 and 3 had input from both the consultant and the subject leader, whereas set 2 only had input from the subject leader. The consultant supported the first two lessons, followed by the fourth and seventh lessons. Lesson seven was used by the consultant to introduce the purpose of the online poll, which was to be the main source of feedback.

Lesson one introduced the idea of a VLE course and explained Task 1, which the pupils then completed independently with support where required. Pupils were asked to upload the two assignments which were then marked online with feedback.

Lessons two and three concentrated on the problem solving activities in task 2, the majority of pupils working independently through the activities. A number of pupils completed these activities within the time and therefore planned the game in advance of lesson five.

Lessons four/five concentrated on the planning their game, with the plan being uploaded for marking.

Lessons five onwards pupils developed their own games using the activities from task 4 to enhance their games.

Whole class inputs from the subject leader and/or consultant were used to set the scene for each lesson and expected outcomes for the different groups of pupils. Small group inputs focussed on specific issues with which the pupils required additional support.

A small number of boys had already downloaded Game Maker at home and had partially developed games prior to this course starting. They were provided with the opportunity to dip into both tasks 2 and 4 to support further development of their games and more or less worked independently from the other pupils.

To see the findings from this research, please view the article online, where you will be able to see the results along with charts.

David is an ICT Consultant for Kirklees.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for educational ICT professionals.