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!!)

The Key Competencies of Team Work

Isn’t it interesting that when we talk about how students learn we mention words like “connected”, “collaboration”, “relationships” “interaction” and how the Key Competencies (KC’s) are an important part of the curriculum yet when we don’t always apply these to how we work together as teachers?

If we are to model to students how to work together to create meaningful learning then shouldn’t we be following the KC’s too?

An effective team of teachers, whether in a team-teaching environment or in a more traditional syndicate, need to work closely together to share ideas and discuss them regularly. One may not always agree on what somebody else has to say but disagreement or dissonance (love that word) is how we shape our ideas and reflect on our teaching philosophy. The aim is not to become cut-out teachers from the same mould for that would be boring and a little impractical.  Differences in teaching style are good. Interest in different areas of the curriculum are good. New ideas are fantastic! A team therefore needs to have some differences but also have cohesiveness. United but original.

How the KC’s might look like in a teaching team:

Reflective practice. Sharing ideas. Talking regularly.

Relating to Others
Establishing clear communication. Listening. Talking. Working together.

Understanding Languages, Symbols and Text
Having a common understanding of pedagogy that underpins our practice. Knowing about educational trends, ideas and language.

Managing Self
Effective communication. Being professional. Taking on roles and responsibilities to benefit the team.

Participating and Contributing
Being a member of a team. Bringing ideas to the team. Sharing at meetings. Sharing resources. Looking after each other, supporting each other.