Game Design with Year 3/4

I don’t think I had ever thought I would spend a Friday morning designing a digital game for a 66 year old Grandmother to play. But I guess that is what you end up doing when you sign up for a workshop called “Gamestorming” – A way to generate transformative educational thinking!

Game based learning is an area that researchers are looking at more carefully because of the way that the process of learning occurs and also how it engages students (KQED, 2013).  Game design fits well with Design Thinking, the process or mindset of generating ideas to help create solutions to real life problems. Gamestorming is a creative way to generate and explore ideas and innovate with others.  Rachel Bolstad and Dan Milward used a combination of design thinking and gamestorming to get us designing our own games that Friday morning.

My reflection on the process of designing a game is that it was incredibly fun. I was fortunate to have a wonderful team to work with and we spent quite some time creating our play profile. “Raewyn” became a real person, she was someone we wanted to hang out with, and we wanted to make her the best game we could.  Using the process that Rachel guided us through we unpacked games, looked at elements of games we knew Raewyn would enjoy and looked for what she still might be missing… in the end we came up with a community based social action type game utilising Raewyn’s guerrilla knitting background and love of pictionary and bananagrams to help shape our thinking.

So… as all excited educators do… I got my class to do some gamestorming of their own.  The task being to design a new fitness game.  This was actually an idea I had suggested last term as we were exhausting our repertoire. So in random groups of 5 they got ready for their challenge!

The Plan

They started by using 3 different post-its to write down a digital game, a non digital game and a fitness game that they enjoyed. These got stuck round the room under those headings. So instantly that is 75 ideas to work with…

Then they needed to in their groups choose 2 of those post its from each category and unpack what you actually do in those games which makes them fun and challenging.  They found this bit quite hard and I had to ask lots of questions to help them get thinking.

The next step was to combine some of those elements to come up with their own game.  One team got their idea right away while others carefully thought about their game and took a bit longer.

The 5 games that were then pitched to the audience were as follows:

  • Plants vs Maths
  • Crossy Surprise
  • Hunt and Kill
  • Octocraft
  • Clash of Uno
The audience then gave feedback on post its using “I wonder…” and “I like…”

The students then spent time sorting out the data – which I quickly linked to our statistical inquiry from last term.  They needed to use the feedback to make any modifications to their game.  Again this was challenging and needed much discussion and filtering and negotiation.

So then it came to actually playing the games…Before we started I mentioned the idea of “fail faster” which I had watched in this YouTube clip that Rachel had shared with me.  It fits well with growth mindset, which the students are all well aware of.  Basically I told them that there was a high chance of the game failing on first play but that was ok, we almost needed it to fail in order to improve it.  An interesting concept in itself that I would like to explore more.

So with the only requirement for this game being that it was for fitness, 3 of the games were maths based and 2 were actual fitness games.  This was an interesting surprise.  I think that they were using a game that we play outside called maths chess and interpreting it as a fitness game because it is played outside (concept #2 to explore further).

The teams trialled their games on half the class to begin with and modified as they went.  I was luckily enough to have Marianne Malmstrom (Knowclue) visiting me that day and it was a great chance for me to reflect with her on our observations of the process the students were going through.  She noted that all of the students used positive feedback to help the team improve their game as well as noting the level of negotiation that occurred within each team but also with their players. Student leadership was also noted.

The two fitness games proved to be the most successful in their trial runs with students asking to play them again and students who weren’t playing them asking if they could play them too (they looked fun!). So after a democratic vote the students decided to play “Hunt and Kill” as a whole class.

This game according to the students has elements of Monopoly, Black Ops, Minecraft and Hide and Seek in it.  It is played in our school gully playground which is multi-levelled.

From what I understand of the game, the taggers find people who are hiding, there is something about a destination question asked (need to find out more about this part before I play) and if you get tagged you lose a limb.  When 3 limbs are lost, you become a zombie.  The role of the zombies is to push people out of their hiding spots.
The students played this game for 15 minutes before only 1 remaining “person” was left.  It was fascinating to watch. It had a level of complexity that I couldn’t quite understand because I wasn’t play it and everybody was engaged.  There were 24 quite sweaty children afterwards so it definitely constituted a fitness game! After the game the students reflected on the name of the game saying it didn’t really suit it because nobody actually gets killed.  Hugo, one of the masterminds behind the game told us that the original name for the game had been E-Limb-ination.  And because our class enjoys a good pun it was a unanimous vote that it should be ever known as that. 
The students told me that they would like to go through the process of ideation and feedback again and that they enjoyed working in groups. Last term their feedback was that they wanted more opportunities to create and have hands on learning experiences so I hope that the process of making a game allowed for that.

For me the process lent itself to a powerful learning experience. They had to be creative thinkers, solve problems, negotiate, work as a team, communicate, accept feedback, adapt, be flexible and be resilient to failure.  I am reluctant to link it with any particular curriculum areas because I am trying to break down the subject silos.  I do wonder how this experience will shape our future learning experiences and where we might end up next. Oh – I also better remember to get some more post-it notes!

Shouldn’t we be doing it too?

Source: Flickr

In February this year I wrote a blog post about The Key Competencies of Team Work.

As part of the #edblognz Connected Educators Month blogging challenge I have been asked to reflect on a previous blog post.  I have chosen this one because this year I have been continuously reflecting on the theme:

If we think it is good for our students then shouldn’t we be doing it to??

In my original blogpost I unpacked what the key competencies would look like if we applied them to how we work in teams within schools.  I want to go further now to address some of the other areas that I have been thinking about that require us to “practice what we preach”.
1.      Staff Meetings
In our classes we try and break down power dynamics and are moving away from the notion of “teacher as expert”. In staff meetings one person presents information for others to follow/engage with. 
In our classes we try different strategies to engage our students. We don’t just use the same one. In staff meetings, we tend to be given information transmission style and then talk in small groups.
2.      Professional Development
In our classes we differentiate our learning to meet the needs of our students. We use personalised learning or use UDL to help us design this.  We encourage student choice and interest. As teachers we get given “one size fits all” PD. We are told to prescribe to what our school prescribes to.
(Thanks for your thoughts about this Bede!)
3.     Leadership
In our classes we give our students opportunities to take on leadership opportunities however big or small. Everybody gets the opportunity to be a class monitor or to put their hand up for duties around the school.  In our schools we define leadership around management units and hierarchal models. 
(Some thinking about this comes from Ann Lieberman’s keynote at ULearn15 around everyone can be a leader!)
So why are we not translating what we do with students into our practices as professionals?  When we unpack our curriculum and our school values and beliefs are we neglecting to include ourselves in the equation?
Some food for thought… (also flick me any readings that relate to this please!!)

Which one should I pick?

Source: Flickr

I went to ULearn15 with this question in my head:

“Out of all of the future focused practices swirling around right now, which one should I be focusing on?”

I do get quite excited about current trends and am always willing to give something a go but I fear that this puts my practice at risk of seeming like I just jump into things without thinking. 
I currently love what I do around Maker Culture, coding, and using SOLO for self reflection. I am getting more interested in gaming in education and design thinking.  So basically my question comes from me reflecting “is this too much?”.
Thankfully I had a chance to reflect on this question while attending a session at ULearn15 with Karen Melhuish Spencer titled “Transforming our Students’ Experiences: Future Focused Learning Design”.
Karen led us through a simple model for reflecting on practice which allowed us to deeply think about what the values and beliefs are about learning and what principles of learning inform our practice. A simple model yes, however when you really start to think about unpacking the layers then much thinking and much discussion must occur.
Through this process I realised that I was able to connect those areas of my practice that I like back to my values and beliefs about learning.  For example, my Makerspace is about learners at the centre and I inherently believe that students should feel empowered. The word empowered also leads itself to thinking about choice, student voice, student knowledge and tuakana-teina. I also value many learning dispositions such as resourcefulness and resilience which underpin the Makerspace idea too.
Once you start thinking about the why and the what it immediately strengths what you do in your practice.  I feel confident in being able to articulate to somebody questioning my practice. I also realised that those “trends” that I am currently following or exploring I have thought about. That I am not doing things without that deep thought. That my practice is well informed and I can link it back to my values and beliefs about how children learn.  However I may need to make this more explicit.
The OECD 7 Principals of Innovative Learning are worth having a look at. This article on MindShift is a good one to read.
1. Learners have to be at the centre of what happens in the classroom
2. Learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone.
3. Emotions are an integral part of learning.
4. Learners are different
5. Students need to be stretched, but not too much.
6. Assessment should be for learning, not of learning.
7. Learning needs to be connected across disciplines
(Taken from Mindshift article)

How are others choosing what to do? Are you focusing on one thing or combining or have you focused on the pedagogical/philosophical basis first?

Blogging connections

Source: Flickr




#Edblognz challenge – find two bloggers you admire at ULearn15, shake their hand and write about it.

When I think about people who influence me through their blogs the first person who comes to mind is Steve Mouldey.  I have been reading Steve’s blog for more than 2 years now and it always entertains and challenges me.  I got to meet Steve face to face for the first time last year at ULearn and his workshop on creativity further provoked my thinking.

This year I actually told Steve that one of the reasons I like reading his blog is that he unpacks books that he has read and that means I don’t have to read them!!   The honest truth I know!  It’s just that Steve has a really good way of communicating the key ideas.  I also have been interested in Design Thinking and Steve posts a lot about this.

Steve and I being creative. 

So blogger number 2 for this post is Philippa Nicoll Antipas.  Philippa is someone I have a lot of time with. We run WellyEd together and interact both online and offline frequently.  As a blogger, Philippa is really good at articulating her deep thinking. She is honest in her reflections and poses meaty questions to get your thinking.  I actually remember the first post that I ever read of hers (way before I had met her). It was about what she was doing with her students and it got me really excited about things I could do in my classroom. Philippa is no longer classroom based but continues to provoke my thinking and entertain ideas relevant to my teaching practice.

Hoping osmosis of brain power happened while this photo was taken with Philippa 

Drama and Multiple Literacies

This term our school action research as been on using drama and multiple literacies.  My class have spent the term innovating on the Oscar Wilde story “The Selfish Giant”. Over the course of the term I have used a range of drama techniques with them to help develop their own version of the story and think about the characters, setting and the meaning behind their ideas.

The first reflection from my students perspective was that drama helped them write more fluently.

“I can see the characters and the scene and what is going to happen already”


I noticed that those students who usually take ages to write anything down were able to start their writing straight away.  I was also able to link their writing to their reading by using the term visualisation (which they do as a comprehension strategy) to thinking about how to make their writing more visual for the reader.

The students really liked the idea of innovating on the story and creating their own play.  I think particularly they were excited by their own voice being used.  That they were creating the dialogue, the music and performing it for an audience.

“The power to act” is one of the key definitions of learner agency (Core Education Ten Trends).   I noticed that the more agency I gave the students, the more involved they were in creating the play. I got the students to give me feedback on what roles they might like to play and took that into account when assigning each part.  Each part was given as much status – the chorus for example had an important part to play as did the Giant.

I only had one student who was unhappy about his role because it pushed him into an uncomfortable place of being someone that he is not.  He wanted to be a child, because he is a child already and he knows how to be one. This is the same student whose own learning goal is to be more creative.  His perception of himself is interesting and one I will continue to learn more about. I am interested in what his reflections might be now that he has performed the play.

As a class we agreed on a structure/outline of the scene order and what drama techniques we might like to use.  I let the students involved in each scene develop it on their own and then bring it back to the class for feedback.  Sometimes what they had created didn’t fit with the story or the message wasn’t as clear as it needed to be.  Other students gave feedback to help them make changes.  I enjoyed this “drama in action” approach.  I was able to use questioning to make sure that all the students were thinking about the bigger picture – that is how all the scenes together form the story.

When the students rehearsed in preparation for the performance in front of their parents I suddenly realised that it was all them.  It was their ideas, their dialogue, their music that was in this play.  That I hadn’t written any of it. Yes I had helped shape the play by asking questions and making suggestions but it was the class who put it all together.  Even down to the members of the chorus knowing when two chairs had to be put on stage – complete ownership of the performance.

And the humour, the humour!  No adult can write humour like a child can.  The dialogue was authentic and entertaining. The students remembered their lines because they had written their own!  And when it came to the performance it was me who made the only mistake! (I’d timed the projector to be turned on in ready for the multimedia green screen scene and it didn’t turn on!!).

So a week later reflecting on the process and the part that drama plays in literacy, I am reading again a book from my early childhood teacher training titled “Children, meaning-making and the arts” by Susan Wright. Multiple literacies is not new to me – but I find I am revisiting some ideas that originate in ECE. In this text it reiterates that written and oral language is a dominant discourse for communication (and understanding), however different cognitive processes occur when children engage with other modes. Using the Arts (dance, drama, music, art) allows students to not only create representations but manipulate them too!

In our version of the Selfish Giant, the students have manipulated the story to give it a meaning that is real for them.  They explored the actual moral (open your heart and let others in) and recognised the depiction of Jesus in the original story (the boy with holes in his hands).  In their story the boy became a spy who had been following the Giant around for 7 years and then sets a trap for the Giant by pretending to be unable to get up a tree.  The Giant helps him and the boy is surprised by this gesture.  The moral created by the 7, 8 and 9 year old children of my class then became “people can change”.  For me it shows how wonderful the minds of children are – that they will accept change and move on quickly from judgements.

So my reflection on my teaching is that I am going backwards to go forwards.  I want to explore further the use of The Arts in making meaning and to do this I am going to continue to explore some of the theorists and ideas that I did when I first started my teaching career. I still believe that what I learnt and applied to learning in the early years is relevant at all levels of the curriculum.

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy and also an educational idea that puts children at the centre of learning and focuses on the environment, making learning visible, collaborating with students/teachers/family and links to the community.  It is based in an early childhood context and has fast become an approach used in NZ early childhood centres and kindergartens. Reggio Emilia is Modern Learning Practice and I feel that it will begin to sneak in more and more as our schools move more towards collaborative spaces and team-teaching environments. WATCH THIS SPACE!