Games-based Learning: Hunting and Planning

MineCraft

After talking with my boss (Head of Learning Resources) and with one of the school IT staff who is very supportive of games-based learning, we have decided to pursue setting up a Minecraft private server and beginning a small after-school group in the library next term. The MinecraftEDU wiki has been an invaluable source of information about getting started with this. We plan to purchase a few seats and find a few reliable students who are already keen Minecrafters to mentor a select group of interested teachers and students. 

MineCraft has a fantastic YouTube channel with how-to videos as well as promotional ones. I’ve embedded their official trailer below – I am always amazed at the creative/design possibilities; I know I’m about to hit a steep learning curve and don’t know how much time I want to devote to skilling up in this game but I do want to get good enough to gain a real appreciation for what can be done with MineCraft. 

 

SimCity (Urban Planning elective)

One of the younger teachers at the school recently approached me wanting some help with finding resources for her Urban Planning class. She wondered about the possibilities of using SimCity so this is a second game we are looking to use in teaching and learning. The biggest problem so far is finding a legal version to purchase and download – there is no shortage of sites selling illegal ones! We had originally wanted one of the older SimCitys that didn’t have so many bells and whistles — the older versions concentrate more on the actual principals of design, but the hunt is proving difficult. We found out that the code for the original SimCity was released into the public domain a few years back and that some schools were using this free option. It sounded good!.

After a few days though, I got this note from Dion, my IT Guy:

I had a good look at Micropolis (the free version of SimCity) on the weekend, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it working on Windows, and I couldn’t get it working through the web.  None of the code has been updated since 2008, so it may be that our computers and version of Windows are ‘too new’ to run it (I also had to install a bunch of stuff to support it).  I did get it working on Linux, but I don’t think we’d be able to get connections to a Linux server working in time to be useful.

We may end up having to buy one of the newer versions after all. In the meantime I found that there was a relatively cheap iPad app, SimCity DLX so Caroline (the Urban Planning teacher) and I loaded it up and had an explore. She is really pleased with what it can do. Our iPad program begins next year and only for Year 7’s so this is not an option for the Year 10 classes, but if worse comes to worse, Caroline could use her iPad and play the game a few times using whole class decision-making sessions. Students then have the option to play at home on their own as reinforcement.

In my surfing travels I also ran across this resource which looked worthwhile: SimCity and Urban Planning 

This is a WikiBook and is a guide for ‘ the casual learner about how Will Wright’s popular game SimCity relates to urban planning and how concepts were utilized in the game.’ (WikiBooks). 

Given the challenges so far, I think I’m going to limit my pursuits to these two games.

 

 

Games-based Learning: My PD goal for 2012

Video games by Caitlan Monahan

Video Games courtesy Caitlan Monahan Flickrcc

I’m a big fan of play – it is one of the most authentic, engaging, rewarding modes of learning.

My old school (primary) was heavily into play-based learning but now I work in a high school. We have rules banning students from many online games and I understand some of the reasons why (time/task management issues, IT issues), but I want to bust through that rule and claim gaming as a tool for students and teachers.

I’m not a gamer; I don’t even know a lot about the world of online games except what I’ve watched (and ok, played a bit) as my sons grew up – they loved Runescape, WofW, Sims etc. and what I saw was good (apart from the odd blood splatter). They had to deal with online social issues sure, but even those were worthy learning experiences.

So this year I’ve made investigating and implementing some online games-based learning activities as my Professional Learning goal for 2012.

Step 1 has been about building knowledge and exploring the topic. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve been looking at:

What is Games-based Learning?

This great blog piece (click on the title above) helped me understand the different ways games can be applied to education/learning:

  1. Educational games apps to teach skills
  2. non-educational games to use in conjunction with a topic
  3. non education games that inspire or engage in a learning project

Favourite quote from the piece:

I see a great potential in what I call non-educational games becoming a learning experience for young children. When I explain this to others, I start by explaining all of those other events we plan for our early years children such as going on a walk, visiting the post office, hanging the washing out to dry… When we are performing these tasks, they are not educational. It is what we do as educationalists before, during and after the event that makes it educational.

Pedagogy always comes first!

Victorian PLN: Unit 11: Gaming in Education

The State Library of Victoria’s Learning Services put together a very comprehensive introduction to gaming in education as part of their PLN program. It’s definitely worth working your way through it even though the program is finished. It covers all the 5W’s. It also includes  a wonderful webinar that was put on by Paul Callaghan, games developer and the organizer of FreePlay Independent Games Festival. The webinar is available to watch and really filled some gaps in my knowledge

“Games in Education” Webinar

Paul covered the opic of how games of all sorts have shaped us, and talked about:

  • games as tools
  • games as culture
  • how games create a space for learning
  • games literacy (and how important it is)

I also subscribe to a Scoop.it stream called, Are You Game, curated by Judith Way (thanks Judith!). Judith is great at including all the current trends, research, news and educator’s blogs out there.

One of the articles I ran across has given me some real insight on directions and interests of the large players in the educational games arena.

For the Win: Serious Gamification: Gaming as an educational Tool

My favourite quote from this article:

Anthony Salcito (Vice President of Worldwide Education, Microsoft):

Anthony wants to lift the way in which technology makes a difference in the classrooms by looking at the motivation of the learner or player of the game. He says there has to be a platform of optimism making students feel they have an impact in their world and community so that learning becomes relevant to what they hope to achieve. Students who get an “F” on their papers conclude they can’t understand that subject whereas with a “Game Over” screen, gamers come back and try harder while learning from their mistakes. So the assessment models in schools are often not motivating while the language of games has an incentive for students to learn from their mistakes and move on.

However, I disagree with Mr. Salcito when he says teachers are saying students learn better by teachers teaching to the test. This is a system that is being forced on teachers, not chosen by them.

Step 2: is all about talking to members of the school community and strategic planning. I’ll blog about that in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toolbox: e5 iPad Apps

Next year the Year 7s at our school will be bringing their iPads to school. This is part of the plan to answer the Big Question presented to our teachers at the end of 2011 —

How does Vermont Secondary College better prepare its student and teachers to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?

The Year 7 iPad Program is also meant to significantly reduce the number of text books purchased by families as well as offer additional organisational options and creative tools to staff and students.

As a teacher librarian it is my role to evaluate and recommend resources of any sort to support high quality teaching and learning.  So I began to read blogs about apps for education, I listened to individual recommendations, I  uploaded and trialled hundreds of apps over the year but only passed on a handful to specific teachers. I began to question the quality of educational apps available (most seemed like gimicks, games or had limited use). Were we expecting too much too soon? I decided I needed to use a different approach.

I’ve followed Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of  Langwitches Blog fame for several years and found her charts:

to be exremely clear and easy to use. It got me thinking …

The Victorian DEECD (Dept of Education and Early Childhood Development) recently introduced its e5 Instructional Model into schools and VSC has been trialling it for the past 12 months. My question became: How could I support teachers to implement the e5 Instructional Model via the iPad Program? Was it possible to create a chart that would be  easy to use and  could provide apps suitable for each of the facets of e5? I decided to take the DEECD up on their invitation to:

…  engage with the e5 Instructional Model as a framework for defining what high quality instruction looks like in the Victorian government education system.

And here is what I’ve come up with —

 As I worked through the model applying it to the apps I trialled, I had several things in mind:

  • to look for apps that were not specific to Key Learning Areas (not always possible)
  • to choose apps that could support teachers, students or both (not just students)
  • cost should be minimal
  • check the terms and conditions (especially with regard to age restrictions and ownership of uploaded work)

I found that:

  • many apps suited more than one of the facets of the e5 Model
  • there were many suitable high quality apps not listed in the educational section of  the iTunes Store
  • the apps I trialled and found suitable for the Engage facet of e5 tended to be subject specific so I sampled from different learning areas and included them

To make this chart more accessible I’ve turned it into a pdf file, you can click here to download. Any comments or constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. I’ll blog again when I get some feedback from the teachers at the high school.

Our 21st Century Destiny

Maybe you have to be a librarian to get excited about the Library management system but I hope not! Especially when it comes to the Destiny Quest feature of Follett’s LMS that we  launched a couple of weeks ago at school. It’s so slick and user-friendly that I’m hoping the whole school will be kicking into high gear over it.

What does Destiny Quest do?

Well it will took our catalogue from this:

Regular Destiny page at log-in

To this!

 Destiny Quest Homepage

Destiny Quest Homepage

This is a little pet project I had at the end of last year that was on a back burner until our IT team had time to upgrade the system (sadly we were behind about 5 versions).

So now searching looks more appealing and much easier to read. But wait there’s more! You can also:

  • customize the look of your page
  • write reviews
  • friend people and recommend books/websites
  • place holds on books
  • check your overdues
  • make wishlists
  • make resource lists
  • check your reading history
  • see what’s new to the library collection

And to really pull the library into the 21st Century ….

  • a smart phone app that connects to your library (go to iTunes store or Android Marketplace)
  • an iPad app that connects to your library.

Our school is beginning a one-to-one iPad program next year (incoming Year 7s); this wonderful Library Management System will mean that we remain front and centre – students will be required to install the library app as part of their suite of apps and we’ll be showing them how to use it as part of their Library orientation.

What more can I say except …
SQUEEEE!

 

Operation Lift Up Thine Eyes

Photo courtesy: elenahneshcuetphotography on Flickr CC

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but I’m on a secret mission at my school. Libraries have always been a place of sanctuary for those who find the social culture overwhelming or less than friendly. I’ve decided to take that role one step further and become proactive rather than just offer a haven. My secret mission is to find ways to boost  the growth of that positive culture of support learning communities are meant to have. I want to try and shift general student culture a little from the teen gossip/judgement/exclusion/bullying that is a  growing global trend. I want to try and move kids closer to a culture of acceptance/self-confidence/assistance/inspiration. I’m convinced the library can play a central role so I have several small operations I’m launching from our corner of the school.

OPERATION: 43 THINGS

43 things is a social media site all about setting goals and supporting others to meet their goals. Participants are able to blog about their progress, give and receive ‘cheers’ for their progress, comment to encourage others and share tips on how they’ve succeeded in reaching a goal. On Thursday I introduced 43 Things to one of the classes I teach in Library. Last week I had them think about some goals for their wide reading. On Thursday they set up accounts, typed in their goals and blogged about why the goal/s they set were worthwhile to them. Being the social media savvy bunch that they are, they also quickly found each other on the site, subscribed to each other and ‘cheers’ and positive comments flew back and forth. The classroom teacher and I are ‘following’ them too to monitor appropriate online behaviour and to offer our positive encouragement. So far it’s been very successful.

OPERATION: TED Talks Thursdays

I’ve started a school account for TED Talks and am compiling a play list for TED Talks Thursdays. Starting on March 22 we will be showing a single TT on a fortnightly basis in the library on the big screen. I want to amaze, amuse and inspire the kids; I want them to think about possibilities and get a glimpse of the people out there in the real world making a difference. TED Talkers are truly passionate, often wonderfully geeky (that’s a compliment) or unique and they make our world so much better. Excellent examples of why we should value uniqueness and accept others for who they are.

OPERATION: Poster Plaster

There are a heap of great motivational posters out there that go waaaaay beyond those fuzzy waterfall photos with syrup-y sayings under them (guaranteed not to grab any kids attention never mind consideration). I’ve been busily collecting samples on my Pinterest board and am hunting up places to purchase or recreate where possible. Here’s a link for the place to purchase the Holstee Manifesto and the Cult of Done Manifesto. I want to put some of these high impact posters up around the library and around the school.

There are a couple of other plans rolling around the back of my mind but these are my current plans. I think they fit in beautifully with our school motto — “Lift Up Thine Eyes” and I’m looking forward to observing and noting any effects they may have at school. I’ll let you know how it all goes.