Since when did I become a gamer?

80’s gamer wearing Atari vest. I’d totally rock this look.
This year my interests in education have led me back to the future. My thinking is sprinkled with automaton, science fiction, gaming and the Anthropocene. I blame Danielle Myburgh and her brilliant EdchatNZ MOOC (massive open online course) on the Future of Education. I blame Rachel Bolstad for wooing me with Enders game at a Core Breakfast 3 years ago and then attacking my brain cells this year with Ready Player One.
I have game on the brain.
So much so, that I watched two gamer documentaries back to back yesterday. I know! Major geekdom. (For those that are interested they were Atari: Game Over and King of Kong).
Gaming is fascinating.  Atari itself created the possibilities of the computer through exposing young players through gaming. They were such simple looking games which required so much complex thinking. Like the hidden easter eggs, imagine how cool it would be if you found one of them. Playing games has so much complexity.
I introduced some of my Year 6 students to the first introductory chapter of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It opened up a conversation right at the very heart of educational future. What if the world does get so bad (tweens and teens love all that dystopia) that we are going to have to “plug in” to a virtual reality? Are we going to be able to influence reality while in the virtual world? I was so surprised at how much my students knew about gaming and it’s history. Gaming just about playing games, it’s a culture, it’s a knowledge bank.


Science fiction is freakily predictive. It’s a medium in which big future issues can be explored. Perhaps it’s a good way to talk to students about possibilities? These books have predicted the future or should that be reframed as the possibilities that can happen.

My class have also been playing and reviewing Curriculum for the Future. In this game they help convince a panel of adults what the new school curriculum should be. These curriculums are different from the ordinary and show some fantastic possibilities. “Why don’t we do some of this stuff now” – said Miss 10 and I agreed.

So right now I am seeing gaming both digital and table top, as being ways in which we explore ideas, work with each other (“I love how interactive my learning is when I play a game with someone” – Mr 11), create new possibilities and have some fun. Play has uncertainty and we need to experience this to prepare us for the uncertainties we are yet to face.

Call me a gamer if you wish… Games are the key to our future.


I always say that I want my students to be resilient.

I think (in my head) that resilience is something you just get from moments of failure, of trying again. For feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Those things that make you stronger mentally to cope with the next challenge.

What I hadn’t thought about was what do our students need that resilience for now in terms of their mental health.

This article looks at the mental health of New Zealand teenagers and the increased amount of teens taking medication for depression and anxiety.  The article was timely as I had just had a discussion with a dear friend of mine about her own teenage son and his battle (well more her battle) with what is clinical depression and what is just normal teenage emotional development.  I was horrified to hear that half of his friends are on anti-depressants. It made me wonder about quick fixes, trends and what on earth is happening????

The article suggests that the current generation of teenagers may not have the resilience to cope with increasing pressures or “triggers” of today’s society.  I want to stop at the point and come back to my role as a teacher. Is the resilience I am trying to build in my classroom enough? Are the students who are in primary now better prepared for what’s to come? Were our current teens “cotton-wooled” as the article suggests? Can I do more?

Then I read this awesome article on the Minecraft Generation from the New York Times. Here are these students who create their own problems for each other. One student quotes within his creative landscape: “The journey matters more than what you get in the end”. And here we are back to one of my favourite things in education: Play.  The unpredictable nature of play, the social nature of play and the unmistakable way in which play can be a rehearsal for life. So how does this fit in with the resilience/mental health train of thought? Well in minecraft kids are constantly hacking the system and making it work for them, they negotiate and create their own communities, rules and manage resources. They are effectively solving the world’s problems while playing a game (Seth Frey).

So our students are capable, and they have shown themselves to be capable and resilient problem solvers in these online gaming environments. So how can we use this to encourage our students to use their skills in the real world?  And if I/we are successful in building up resilience in the classroom environment how much of this will spill out into their “real world”?

Interestingly Francis Valentine from The Mindlab recently quoted in this article that what we are doing in education now will take another 6 years to see the impact. This will happen when our problem solving, critical thinkers begin university and start questioning (those practices?). So what I am interested in keeping in the loop with is the resilience of young people. Are we making a difference? And perhaps I too will have to wait 6 years to see those results… (hence my documentation of my thinking at this time).

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!

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?