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?

Ulearn 101 – how to make the most out of your ULearn experience

After waiting over 2 years to go to Ulearn I am pleased to say that it was worth the wait. What an amazing opportunity to connect and collaborate with other teachers.  I am going to have to unpack my learning and aspirations over several blog posts as the amount of learning I am processing right now is actually quite phenomenal.  I thought I might start with a list for new players:

1. Start connecting now.  You don’t have to wait until you get to go to ULearn to connect and engage with leading educators.  Twitter is full of them.  You can create your PLN (personal learning network) so easily from your living room.

2. Core Education made a wonderful effort to provide live streaming of the ULearn conference and you can watch those breakout sessions now on their YouTube channel.  There is even one about twitter for beginners (see point 1).

3.This month (October) is Connected Educators Month.  But even if you are reading this and it’s past October you can still make use of this google doc “Starter Kete” to help you engage with the digital world.

4.There are several other amazing groups and events including TeachMeetNZ, Google Educators group, Educamp, and Eduignite.

Oh, so you realise that my list hasn’t actually “arrived” at ULearn yet… that’s because this groundwork helps make the ULearn experience much more enjoyable and rewarding.  You’ll see why in the second part of the list:
5.  So before you go to ULearn you have to pre-book your breakout sessions.  My bit of advice on this part is to do your research.  Who are the presenters? Are they connected educators themselves?  I trawled through Twitter researching mine and I am pleased to say that I made excellent choices.
6. Sign up for the Twitter dinner.  I have heard a rumour that the lovely Danielle Myburgh is organising next years one.
7. When you get there, make yourself known.  Add your twitter handle to your name badge.  Tweet where you are.  Introduce yourself to people that you have only interacted with online. Be brave – your Twitter PLN family will soon be your new real life friends.
8. Go to the Twitter dinner/Google Educators drinks or any other additional social functions.  It is a great way to meet people with similar interests or to find out that one of your twitter friends also happens to live 100m from your house.
9. Tweet your thoughts.  This is a great form of note-taking as you can retweet and add to others thoughts too.  Then when you get back home you can relive the experience by using Storify to collate your own tweets and that of others.  Make sure you hashtag everything.
10. And last but not least remember when you get back to your school and things get hard and your suddenly not around those people that “just get it” that you still have your twitter PLN.  Be connected and keep being inspired.

Keeping up with my students

It was bound to happen.

I try my very best to keep up with what is happening in education right now.  I’ve read a few things about maker culture and coding and identified that they would be next steps for my own development.  I have enrolled in workshops at ULearn to help me get a firmer understanding of what that would look like in my classroom (and to give me hands on experience).

Too late!

Both these things are sneaking their way into my classroom.  It’s like I have left the door open wide enough that students have enough agency to share what their aspirations are.

The first time I noticed something was when I “caught” some kids hiding behind my teacher station writing their own version of code.  Then there were bits of paper with coded messages.  Then there was something written on my whiteboard.

And then a student said to me “I want to know how you make the internet and websites! How do you create all that?”

Perhaps the most powerful question I have had this year.

This lead to an amazing learning conversation with my student looking at me for the first half of the conversation like “do you actually know what I am asking you?” and then with high raised eyebrows and a whopping big smile when I showed him code.org and scratch websites.

The next day he came back to school telling me that he had already created a game using code.

The moral of the story is that you can’t stop the inevitable from happening.  Our learners are consuming, filtering, modifying and exploring ideas at an amazing rate.  Bring it on I say!

My flappy game I created