Practising creative writing on a digital Safari
‘The most powerful learning tool ever created’ is how Lord Puttnam described the video game. The use of this technology within the classroom has been gaining momentum in the UK over the last couple of years, this has been led by Scotland and the work of the then Consolarium who were at the forefront of this technology.
For the last six years, both as a practitioner and as part of my school community, I have been looking at the impact games can have across all areas of the curriculum. In this post, I am going to look at using it to engage writers and visit places from the classroom that would normally be inaccessible.
Using the Nintendo Wii and the game Wild Earth African Safari, my class and I were able to explore Africa. The learning rationale for using the game was simple; I wanted to immerse the children within a 'safari' to give them a stimulus for their writing and to extend their knowledge of habitats. When looking at the use of digital games for learning, the Wii is a good place to start: it connects to your interactive white board and enables the whole class to explore while one or two taking control. However, I was also drawn to this choice of game in part by the pupils.
I chose the co-operative mode to play this game, with one child being the photographer and the other 'driving' and navigating their way round. Throughout the game the children are reminded of the primary and their secondary objectives. There is also an environmental impact meter they need to be aware of that decreases as the players negatively impact the environment they are moving through (which can occur by disturbing other animals or causing too much noise). At timed intervals, the players' roles switch throughout the game. I also told the class that once those 'on' safari had taken five pictures they would also swap.
To maximise the learning based on the game, the class was arranged into five groups; three groups were 'on' safari, one group made notes describing what they saw using adjectives and adverbs, while the last group gathered facts about the environment or animals as was relayed by the game.
The pairs of children worked together well - they had to co-operate, and they also had to take their time as they soon realised that the controllers and the movement within the game were very sensitive. The rest of the class joined in with enthusiasm calling out - 'the baby elephant is over there!' while the note-taking groups frantically scribbled.
After the hour 'on' safari, the groups went back to their table where they carried on talking about the game and sharing what they had found out - this was then shared with the whole class. A class fact file was assembled on elephants and those that had been in control talked about how they had felt, while those observing gave words to describe the scenery. The writing tasks that followed were an information page on elephants and a diary entry of our first day on Safari.
The benefits of this for a teacher are numerous. First, the children were in control of their learning - not only literally, but also when they decided where they would go collectively and when they were in charge of making notes, describing how they felt and what they saw. Equally, the writing they produced was fantastic.
The Wii was used multiple times over the course of the week with other activities, including debates on how to protect endangered species and environments, how we can look after our own environment and how to encourage animals to live in our habitat. Along with games, we also made use of online tools such as Google Earth, YouTube, webcams for watching animals live in the wild, Purple Mash and Switcheroo Zoo.
Using a game like this as a contextual hub for learning in the classroom is a very effective way of reaching out and enabling all learners to succeed and develop. It provides a clear focus with understandable links to their learning. It also allowed us to reinforce the idea that it is ok to say 'I don't know' and to 'fail' as long as the students tried again which the game, and games-based learning in general, allows us to do. It seems that Samuel Beckett's words are ideally suited to the class and games-based learning: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.'
But you do not have to stop with a safari; you could also explore other places, like the Ocean depths by using Endless Ocean 1 or 2. This is already happening in schools across the UK. Examples of how these games have been used can be found here, here, here or even here.
Nesta's games in education blog series seeks to encourage a wider discussion. To share your thoughts, ideas and questions please comment below, or tweet using #gamelearning