What if School Camp was a game?

Preparation for school camp usually involves a bit of cut and pasting of timetables, groups and gear lists, some goal setting and perhaps some team building games.

This year I wanted to try and do things differently. Activated by my involvement in the recent Games for Learning conference, I asked myself the question “What if Camp was a game?”

My thinking behind this was that designing games is an effective way for students to learn content knowledge through process. Engaging with the content in this manner would generate discussion and new thinking.

So what did I want my students to learn? Our camp setting was changing from a “Hi-di-Hi” affair to more of a “Survivor” context. Students would be experiencing a range of physical and mental challenges that would require a wide range of dispositions. If we were prepared mentally for this, then surely we could reach our potential on this camp.

Table top role playing games (RPG’s) are experiencing a bit of a resurgence at the moment and several of my students actively participate in games in this format. Most of us will remember “Dungeons and Dragons” a popular RPG from the 1980’s that has since appeared in the popular Stranger Things series. These games require you to play in character and make decisions in the game based on that characters strengths, weaknesses and possessions. 

Students in my class were going to need to design an RPG in which the different characters of the game needed to have certain attributes that would help them deal with the challenges that they may face at camp. They were also going to need to come up with some possible scenarios that they might have to face.

First students would need to know how a table top RPG works and for that we played the game “Hero Kids“. I got several students to be the game master for their groups and let them lead this part of the process. Learning through play is essential.

The ideation phase of the game design used Design Thinking so that character attributes and scenarios were closely aligned with what they would actually be experiencing on camp. And in regards to that, we did not give them much information about the camp itself aside from a verbal description of the setting and a list of possible activities. They even had to come up with their own gear list for the character.

The verbal description of the setting was purposeful as we wanted them to create a picture in their mind and then on a large piece of cardboard of the camp itself. This created wonder and reassurance for some but without giving too much away.

Play testing allowed other students to try out the games and have new experiences. Students became experts and teachers. The learning environment was a hum of collaboration.

So, how did this all transfer to camp itself? What we noticed as teachers is that students were able to problem solve, they offered support to others, they were resilient and showed growth mindset when faced with adversity.  Their conversations on camp mimiced those that they had had in the game.

There was only one point of confusion from a student in my class who asked “so are we going to have to roll a dice everytime we need to make a decision?” This made me smile.


Podcast review: Games are good for you!

Note to Self: The Secret to Making Video Games Good for you 

Produced by WYNC studios 

Cross posted at Gamefulpraxis.com

Quite often gaming is looked at in a negative way so it is refreshing to hear research that frames gaming in a more positive way. This particular episode is an interview with Jane McGonigal a researcher at the Institute for the Future. Yes this is a real place and yes I want to go there!

Jane’s research focuses on the neurochemical changes that happen when we are playing and how we can better understand how our brain works when we are playing. How can we “hack” this experience and apply it to our real lives in those moments when we need more resilience?

To quote Brian Sutton Smith, Developmental Psychologist and expert in play:

“the opposite of play isn’t work, the opposite of play is depression” 

McGonigal further unpacks this quote to state that when we are playing games the positive emotions that we experience such as; joy, wonder, excitement and success, are the opposite of the clinical diagnosis for depression. Woah! Well okay, that’s a bold statement! But to give it even more credit, this is research based on which areas of the brain area stimulated/under-stimulated in both states!! Maybe video games really are the new self help! I’ll be reaching for the iPad next time I’m feeling a little down… (my wondering here is if anyone has done research that measures shift in emotion when going from sad to playing games???)

Candy crush saga, Bejewelled, Solitaire… you know those games that you just play that don’t seem to be of any value yet you spend hours playing while you take a break from reality? Are they actually valuable then?

Well, when we are able to stop thinking about things that are bothering us and take a break from reality we are incorporating techniques from both cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation. I interpret that as gaming as meditation, gaming as a healthy way of disassociating. I can hear your brain right now crafting an argument against this and that’s cool because this is all sounding way too good right? McGonigal also did a meta-study of 500 pieces of research about gaming and wellness. Half of those found negative correlations, half positive. The key to positive outcomes was the ability to relate game play to reality in a meaningful way. If you were unable to do this games became an escape from reality, a downward spiral. Life gets worse, play more games = unhealthy outcomes. 

Unfortunately this is the picture of gaming that is painted in the media, and is on the mind of parents of teenagers. That is not to say that this negative image doesn’t exist, it’s just really hard to break when you are someone like me trying to use games and game design in education in a positive way. McGonigal has found research that supports the idea that escapism games are okay for us in short bursts. They can even help us break habits like sneaky snacking (I am actually keen to try this one and am tempted to put a post it note on the packet of biscuits saying “play a game instead”). She also points out that self-regulation is optimal, play the game to help you but know when you’ve had enough. Choose the game and see what it does for you. Jane actually designed her own game to help her through a bad case of concussion.

Her advice to parents is also very poignant. Do not shame your children about the games that they play. Do not tell them they are wasting their time or that they should be doing something else. If we frame gaming negatively like that then we stop that relationship between gaming and reality that was mentioned earlier. They will think games are for escape and they will head down the negative path. Instead ask them: “what have you gotten better at since you started playing this game?” Be interested in what dispositions they can transfer into their real life. If a child can talk about these abstract ideas then they have made that link, if they are referring only to things that exist within the game then they need us to help them bridge that gap.

The last question that Jane McGonigal was asked in this interview related to games and addiction. Addiction as a “thing” is currently being challenged in the science world and the latest research is saying that addiction is a goal orientated action that gets stuck on one particular thing. With gaming the person needs to transfer those things that give them that “buzz” into other activities so that they don’t get stuck with that one thing that gets them feeling like that. That makes me sense to me. Perhaps we need to be more aware of how we can shift children and teenagers especially towards other similar stimuli?

There are so many games out there that challenge people and build on skills needed in the real world. When you play online with and against your friends there are also many benefits. A good game has transferable skills. Games can be good for you but ultimately it is you, the player that needs to make decisions about what you play, why you play and how long you play for. Own your gaming and make it part of your life not an escape from it!

Play – Word for the Year

Source: Flickr


Play is my word for this year.

You can:

Play with words
Play with ideas
Play with numbers
Play with friends
Play with science
Play with music
Play with drama
Play with colour…

The list goes on.

I chose the word play because it was a word I could also share with my students.  I wanted it to become their word too.

The word play has injected life into ideas. It has created a classroom culture where through the idea of play, children can become the experts. An environment that values play also values risk taking, challenges, creativity, fun and laughter.

We all know how to play right?

And for me as an educator it allows me to play with my students. To see learning through their eyes. To have fun and encourage creativity.

Tests have become Spongebobs and P.A.T’s have become Patricks. It’s okay to fail! Actually it’s awesome if you you #failfaster (a key element of successful game design and one that promotes risk taking). You can learn through playing games, you can even learn from designing games to play. Take peoples offers and add to them. Take part in drama games and release your inhibitions.

Play in our Year 6 classroom is compulsory. Is it in yours?

Press Play: Lets play games!

Photo Credit: derekdavalos

This post is a collaboration between Diana-Grace Morris and Leanne Stubbing from #WellyEd as they explore further the place of  games in education.
Why Game Based Learning?

I think Games Based Learning is Future Focused.
When I use the words like future focussed learning, I am referring to the process of doing, acting and thinking differently in such a way where it is not just what a student knows but what they can do with what they know. Critical to this is the doing, acting, thinking different –  with others.
Based on playing Never Alone  and seeing the games my students are creating, I think it is possible for Game Based learning to be a vehicle for thinking about the present and future differently.
For myself, to teach, act, think differently requires the classroom teaching/learning space to oscillate between certainty and uncertainty. The certainty of curriculum knowledges applied into a variety of certain and  uncertain spaces. An uncertain space is one not previously understood, where we are unsure what to do.
I create spaces for my students to design games in class because I observe the students relating to each other in ways I haven’t seen or heard in other curriculum areas.  When students are creating games the classroom soundscape literally activates the room. The room moves quickly from silent, to slow talking, to loud fast talking, then drops down to silent and re loops. I refer to this soundscape as the “hum” There is a learning hum going on and it is not the same learning that’s happening in my numeracy and literacy lessons.
Game Based Learning can nudge ‘strong collaboration’ amongst students. Not only are students creating something that they could not create on their own there is tension – a lot of it. We need our students to experience these tensions and move from social collaboration to team collaboration. To move towards Strong collaboration I think the  Key Competencies  need to be firmly anchored into the teaching / learning process.

Thinking that inspires me…

Game based learning links so well with play based learning.
“Play should be our greatest work, as it is the biggest driver of innovation”

The type of energies that we use when we play allow us to think more creatively.  We use multiple intelligences. During play we demonstrate an ability to think beyond the unimaginable, change and manipulate ideas and collaborate with others.
In the 1980’s a father invented a game of make-believe for his 12 children to keep them occupied over the summer.  The children were  sailors on a ship. Their father, formally in the navy himself, was able to help recreate his place of work.  The children took on all the duties required to man the ship.  It was as realistic as one could imagine and the rocked back between work and play.  Actually the lines between work and play were somewhat blurred. The game lasted for years and in recent reflection those children (now adults) were able to make direct connections with the skills they learnt during their make believe play and what they now do in their jobs as adults.  .
So if we take this example of play as work and apply it to our classrooms one could argue that the more realistic the experience the more authentic the learning that occurs. Role play is a highly engaging way to interest students in the potential problem solving of wicked problems. Teacher in role is one of my favourite ways to introduce new learning experiences. What if we took that one step further and blurred the lines of work and play so that our experiences in the classroom had a direct effect on our community outside the classroom?  What if the games we designed had purposes beyond our own enjoyment? Or is the process more important than the product?
Then there is play for the purpose of play alone.  The “suspension from reality” where we can take risks that do not have a direct effect on our lives (Gee as cited in Wheeler, 2015). I can fall off the ledge in Temple run and get another life!! I can feed a monster the wrong colour condo and risk him getting angry and then change my strategy to get more points.  I can persist at finding the right path to the next level. I can work out new ways to do things. The world will still turn, the sun will still rise and I will still have reports to write! Haha.
Unless we are playing alone, play involves complex negotiations of turn taking and rule following.  The neurons are firing! The social skills we develop during play have direct influence on our brain development (Hamilton, 2014) therefore playing is good for you! Bonobo monkeys have been observed to use play to connect with each other, to cooperate and create together. From an evolutionary perspective, play is embedded in everything we do (Behncke, 2015).
The more I look at play the more I see potential for it as a vehicle for learning. Games are a form of play, one that our students are already engaged with. Let’s build on this!


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!