Last Monday, at the Eliminating Gaps – What really works? conference, I was invited to give a workshop by my LA on using technology to engage learners and ultimately narrow those gaps in attainment and progress. This followed a very successful project ran by Wiltshire ICT and Literacy Team called Playing the Writing Game (see previous posts for more details). Basically, all participant teachers across the county found that their focus groups of 6 vulnerable grouped children make at least 2 sub levels of progress during the six month project and finished the project with a much higher engagement in literacy and using ICT. Games based learning was at the core of this project and was the subject of my workshop. It was a bit like speed dating or a Teachmeet, where we had 6 minutes to show and tell the many virtues of GBL to one group of delegates and then each group moved in a round robin so all delegates got to see all four worshops.
I had brought along my ever growing collection of Wii games, along with pith helmets, night watchman hats etc to give a real flavour of what GBL has to offer. Of course, six minutes is a tight time in which to fit in all that could and maybe should be said about collaboration, engagement, emmersion, shared learning, build community, language opportunities and so on, but I did my very best! I also signposted the http://swgamesbasedlearning.wordpress.com blog that would give even more ideas and hopefully inspire them to have a go!
The surprise of the day was just how many Headteachers, teachers etc have devices which are currently redundant in the back of the cupboard and could be put to much better use. I can’t think of a better use than hooking those reluctant children in to a world which inspires them to write, talk and communicate.
All in all, a great day!
After a manic few terms, at last an opportunity to get stuck into some more GBL has presented itself. Since moving to Y4 in September, I have been searching for a Wii game to use in my guided reading and writing sessions (last year while in Y5, I used My Word Coach). I think I have found the perfect game – Margot’s Word Brain on the Wii. It has five main games like, wordsearch, word mine, a sort of scrabble game, a crossowrd maker and a game similar to Boggle. These allows all ability children to particiapte fully as you can find, search etc 3 – 6 letter words. We tried it out in class today and it went down a storm.
I was amazed that last year 28 out of the 30 children in my Y5 class had a Wii, and this year is no exception either. This makes life very much simpler as the children view learning using the Wii as a treat PLUS they are all so very good at using the controls etc. They can certainly teach me a thing or two…
So, the plan is now to utilise Margot’s Word Brain in daily sessions to improve word finding skills, vocabulary and have fun to boot!
We’re also using Wild African Safari as part of out Stories from other cultures literacy unit to enhance writin of settings and character descriptions. See previous posts about how we used it previously.
Let the games begin….
I was fortunate to be asked to present at SWGfL ICT conference for a second time last week following on from a very successful GBL project Playing the Writing Game (PTWG) in Wiltshire. I wanted to write a post about it because embarking on this particular project has sent me in an altogether different direction to that I was travelling before it began. The project as you will probably know if you have been following previous posts was to use games in the classroom to inspire and motivate underachieving and disengaged boys. More specifically, it was to improve their use of vocabulary (AF7). I have documented the progress of the project both here and via my class’ blog so there is no need to revisit, But what I wanted to write about was what happened as a result of the project. At the beginning of the project, Tim Rylands was brought in to kickstart our journey, he gave us the benefit of his extended knowledge on Web 2.0 tools, links, devices, strategies etc all of which were invaluable. But the advice to join Twitter was the first step to change. Of course I had heard of Twitter before and had a quick look, noticed what some had had for breakfast, saw when someone was travelling by train and giving a blow by blow account of the journey, and others that were commenting on the daily news. I couldn’t see the attraction if I was perfectly honest! However, if Mr R. thought it worthy of a mention then it must be better than I had thought! I signed up and started to follow all the people that Tim and Simon (our ICT advisor) followed. I soon realised that WHO you followed was crucial, they then in time followed back and my following and follower tallies were creeping upwards. A couple of weeks in and I was recognising a lot of names that I had heard of via the teaching community. It seemed incredible that one minute I was beginning a GBL project and the next I was tweeting, collaborating and sharing with luminaries in this field – amazing! Doors that I believe would be firmly shut by other routes were now being flung open and a warm welcome was being given.
That was nearly a year ago and I can honestly say I have never looked back. I have met (virtually and otherwise) a host of lovely people who although not friends in the normal sense of the word, are giving and helpful. I have presented at a Teachmeet in Bath (my first and definitely not my last). I have built a substantial Personal Learning Network (PLN) of contacts, experts, colleagues and gurus who I feel happy to contact my fellow tweeps about a variety of topics and questions. I can post a request and within 10 minutes receive upwards of 15 responses – fantastic! The project’s success also enabled me to have plenty to say about my experiences of GBL and to share ideas. I have liaised with Wiltshire and Swindon Learning Resources about content in their excellent multimedia boxes. Simon and I have created a blog called the South West Games Based Learning network which harnesses superb ideas and planning to enable others to ‘have a go’ and to read about others who have! This we hope will enable other contributors share their experiences too and be a truly collaborative project.
This blog and my class blog were also created to reflect and publish our efforts and thinking as the year progressed (and as a direct nudge from the tweeting community, @deputymitchell and others) and my children have absolutely loved posting and even creating their own personal blogs, discussing their daily learning which I was personally thrilled about.
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the conference and to have Tim sitting at the back and tweeting about me made me feel very honoured and proud. Several people have since contacted me as a direct result of the seminar who I am more than happy to help begin their GBL journey. A few posts ago I wanted time to reflect and assimilate all that I had heard and learnt from the conference. I’m still thinking how to implement a lot of what was said, especially from Ewan McIntosh’s keynote (he’s due to blog about it soon) – if you were there you’ll understand that I shall now be ‘conducting with my eyebrows’ to make learning a risk, challenging and meaningful. If you weren’t there then go to his blog and find out more, you won’t regret it!
So, in summary I have taken a different route that has given me so many cpd opportunities to improve my teaching practice. I have learnt more this year by joinging Twitter than probably in the last 3 by conventional means. I forget who said it (apologies) but Twitter is like a river that constantly flows, you don’t have to row back to the beginning in case you miss something. You simply join in when you need to and glean what you feel is appropriate for your situation. If the next year is as beneficial as this year has been, then I will have a lot to be thankful for by joining this particular social network.
Night watchman hats – check, map of museum – check, controller – check, let’s explore further!
Once again, the children donned the night watchman hats to play the Wii game. They think it adds to the atmosphere if they wear the hats whilst playing – and who am I to argue? The game, as the children are discovering is getting progressively harder in that time limits, challenges, baddies to avoid and places to get to are now the aim of the game. The environment that is being provided is still a stimulating one as the children find out that there is much more to being a night watchman than they first imagined. These feelings and thoughts have come in very useful when devising job adverts for an additional night watchman to work alongside Larry! The children were careful not to ‘give the game away’ by revealing the ‘magic’ that happens in their adverts. They simply made statements such as “must like history”, “enjoy learning about the exhibits” and “must ensure that all the windows and doors remain locked”.
It has become the usual routine to watch/play the game and then write. By doing this, the excitement of both can be maximised. The homework this week was based around researching a historical character from the game (which can be viewed in detail on the children’s blog http://bowoodclass.wordpress.com). This will form the basis of our infommercials planned for the forthcoming week or so (greenscreen technology permitting!!)
In the meanwhile, my hope is that the children continue to enjoy the work and the learning that is happening in Bowood Class. My Y5s (if their comments are anything to go by) are raring to continue this exciting journey. Below is the current display of this topic including the non-chronological reports (tour guides) and Akmenrah’s Tablet complete with ingots as in the game and film. The children used modroc and gold paint to create the centrepiece.
Having researched and snowballed information regarding the eight audiotours in the Natural History Museum, New York, the children now have all the information they need to begin writing a Tour Guide (non-chronolgical report). A selection of photographs and hand drawn illustrations will accompany the writing to make an attractive guide to provide additional information for those that visit. I will post photographs once they have been completed.
As part of our persuasive unit, the children have compared and contrasted a variety of museum posters advertising exhibitions in order to identify persuasive devices with the hope of replicating them for their own posters. This was very successful and the children were also able to identify who the intended audience was for each of them which was great! Once the conventions of persuasive writing were understood, the next task of our unit was to design a poster to attract visitors. Some very ingenious designs were undertaken, ranging from dinosaur, torch, key and Gum Gum head shaped posters. Most had eye catching colours, slogans, imaginative lettering and important information. I decided that a little experiment would be called for. Instead of me providing the children with a marking ladder setting out success criteria, I wanted to challenge the children to write their own and critically evaluate against it. Having marked their efforts I was very surprised at the quality of their evaluations. Memo to self – I need to do more of this!!!
Art this week has involved (among other things) making Akmenrah’s Tablet complete with ingots as featured in the game. As well as being fun, it will form an interesting centrepiece to my display! There was a slot this morning to play the game, complete with ‘night watchman’ hats to help the children become ‘Larry’! This met with some hilarity but no refusals, they really do love this topic!!! I have the photographs to prove it and will post them too!
So much completed already and it’s only Monday! Part 3 coming soon…
(Images courtesy of gamrreview.vgchartz.com)
New year, new term, new topic! A non-fiction unit that would encompass a big history focus as well as incorporating more games based learning incentives to encourage writing?? Night at the Museum film fits the bill perfectly. Much of my Christmas holiday was spent getting used to the game and all that it involved (with the great help of my 16yr old son, who was far more adept than I could ever be on the Wii!) Total immersion into the environment that the game creates lots of possibilities that tick lots of non-fiction boxes. After a couple of planning sessions with my fellow Yr5 colleague, we came up with persuasive adverts, tour guides (non-chron. reports), job adverts for a night watchman like Larry and infomercials to persuade visitors to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum which involves using ‘greenscreen’ technology!
We began the adventure by flying to New York using Google Earth (much like we did to the Serengeti National Park when using the African Safari Wii game). This sets a context and gives the children a sense of travelling to the USA to begin their new adventure. Let the immersion begin….
The organisation of 30 children was such that for the first 15 minutes or so, I picked 5 children from the hat to play the game while everyone watched. Although they have had experience in games based learning previously, I wanted them to get the story and set up of this great environment BEFORE having tasks to complete. Then the class were divided into groups which have a rotation of tasks to complete over the next few days or so. One group would be ‘Larry’ and play the game, another group would be writing down what it feels like to be left in a museum on their own for a night, another group had A3 copies of the floor plan to plot where the audiotours for the exhibits were and the last group took notes once the audiotours were activated. The information on these audio tours just gave a taster which the children wanted to explore more so, our ICT slot was spent researching the Easter Island statues, Aztec temples, California redwood trees, Grand Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt, T-Rex and Nautilus’. They got in their pairs and researched one aspect and then we ‘snowballed’ the information to ensure that everybody has notes on each aspect of the audiotour.
In order to keep the level of concentration and involvement as high as possible, we have about 20 minutes playing the game and the 20 minutes writing. This way they are keen to get back to the game but are also aware of the need to get as much information written in note form to enable them to produce a tourguide (non-chron report). Needless to say the children are keen to continue the process. That’s the story so far, more as and when it happens…
With encouragement from my fellow tweeters I have signed up for my first Teachmeet presentation which is being hosted at Bath Spa University on 7th February 2011 (5:30 – 8:30). It’s an opportunity for teachers to share ideas and insights using technology with other teachers. The informality of the event simply allows the time for teachers to talk to other teachers about what they are doing, about to do or would like to do. The collaboration aspect of the event is what I am most looking forward to and perhaps the opportunity to visit the university where I studied for my degree and PGCE.
Given what I have been doing in class for the last term, it didn’t take long to decide what to talk about – games based learning!! It will be a challenge to keep it to five minutes but a challenge I am willing to take on. I have had lots of positive comments from visitors to this blog and on Twitter about what has been happening in Bowood Class over the past eight weeks or so. Hopefully, the intention is to continue using games in my classroom, notably Night at the Museum 2 on the Wii and Just Dance, again using the Wii. I intend to post how I and my class get on with it all, so watch this space!
I am currently part of a LA project initiated by the Literacy and ICT advisory teams, that aim to inspire children to write using games as the driver in this aim. By using familiar games and gaming equipment in a different context – the classroom, children will then connect with the games and become immersed in an environment that inspires them to want to write. I have certainly found this to be the case with my class – they have simply loved Wild Earth African Safari and My Word Coach!
My enthusiasm for this way of learning has been inspired by three people in particular @dawnhallybone, @tombarrett and @primarypete_ who have all shared their expertise with me in this area of learning – thank you!
So whether you are giving a five minute presentation, a one minute – one tool idea, or being part of the enthusiastic audience, the chance to get involved in learning conversations seems to me to be a valuable aspect of cpd that promises to be worth the effort.