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!

Human Robots

Today I tried something a little different in my Makerspace session. Kids faces when I said we wouldn’t be using the iPads for coding today:

What? Coding without iPads. NO WAY!!!

I used a lesson from Kodable that looked at programming human robots. That is, writing code for somebody else to follow to do an obstacle course. This also turned into a dance. This also turned into Miss Stubbing doing box jumps onto chairs and press ups.  I actually think the kids were starting to take the mickey!!!!

I really enjoyed what happened in this lesson because the learning was both kinaesthetic and visual. Kids were jumping around all over the place. I was jumping all over the place. Students tested their code on me and on each other. And sometimes the code did not work!!!

At one point I was in a “doing the splits” position and supposed to be moving into jumping onto a chair. IMPOSSIBLE!!! The code needed to be changed. Try, change, try, change…

Me going from the splits into a jump

And just another reason why I am so keen on coding with students. Amazing problem-solving skills and hands on learning. And we didn’t even use technology!!!

P.S. Afterwards one student said to me “I’d love to make real robots”. Ah guess what kid? YOU CAN!!  Hooked!

Waitangi Day

One of my friends puts Waitangi Day as her number one public holiday. She puts it above Christmas and Easter. For her it is one of the most important days of the year. Last year she hosted a lunch that included a secret santa (not sure what you’d translate that to?), and games. This year she visited Archives NZ to see the Treaty and then we caught up for a drink in the sun.

When I asked my class if anybody knew what Waitangi Day was about only one student put their hand up. This made me feel so sad and disheartened. Admittedly they are only 7 & 8 year olds but they know what Christmas is do they not?

At that very moment I made the decision that every student in my class would have the opportunity to learn about their bicultural heritage. That as New Zealanders they have the right to know it but also the obligation to be part of it.  I started off by presenting the 3 P’s to them:




These are the 3 principles that I will weave into my daily practice and conversations with the children. They need to have an understanding of why we use tikanga and te reo Maori in our classroom. I want them to leave my class at the end of the year with the understanding that it doesn’t just stop once they leave my class. I will fulfil my obligation by making sure that I work in partnership with the tamariki and their whanau, that I protect the taonga of New Zealand (which includes the tamariki), and that we participate in tikanga and te reo Maori on a daily basis.

note: apologies for the missing macrons. Blogger was not cooperating on this!