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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

PD Reading Challenge: Connect to Enchant

Photo courtesy: Martin Deutsch from Flickr cc

The 2nd chapter in Kawasaki’s Enchantment focuses on achieving likability. Basically, be nice! Everything works better when people are nice and try to get along. He lists likability as the foundation to success, I agree. The steps towards likability are easy:

  • get close
  • make contact
  • get connected

As I read through his list I’m mentally ticking them off. So far I’m going OK with all of those points. The last one however is one I want to work on in 2012.

Build relationships/Connect

TLs often get stuck in the library with supervisory duties at lunch and recess so we miss out on the social aspect of the school staffroom. I plan to change that while I still focus on the many teachers that come into the library; they are my target audience to start with. They already come to us but I want to delight them so much they become the type of customers that help spread the word. So creating relationships with them is my first goal. I’m going to start with the simplest of things to get connected with other staff:

  1.  I’m going to change the way I enter the school. Starting on day one, I’m going via the main entrance rather than the back carpark. In this way I will walk by the general office and the staffroom every morning and evening. I’m bound to run into people – could it be as simple as that? Well a good start I believe.
  2.  I’m going to learn all the staff’s names – no easy feat, there are over 100 but I’ve been there a whole year now and still only know about 30 (and some of those are shaky). I’ve got a staff photo somewhere and I’m going to study.

I like the quote attributed to the Brafman brothers (authors of another book about making business connections):
“… the single most important factor in determining whether or not you connect with another person is neither personality nor mutual interests – it is simple proximity.”

Get eSmart-vsc — 2011 in Review

One of the projects I initiated and worked on for the year was our school’s digital citizenship website. At the end of the year WordPress sent out a very neat stats review presented in a very user-friendly way. You can see the report by clicking on the image above or the link:     http://getesmart-vsc.com/2011/annual-report/

It was not only fun to watch and informative but got me thinking about ways to improve the readership in 2012.

During Term 4, I worked out that we could insert an RSS feed into the school’s Moodle site that would run in the sidebar and have clickable links to the posts. That made it more visible to the in-school community, but as we tweaked the feed on the Moodle site just before holidays I have yet to see if it will boost readership.

Our subscription rate is low and that is what I really hope to boost. Not only is the rate low but half of the subscribers are from outside the school community. So next year I plan to:

  • post a bulletin on our school eWorkspace each time a new post comes out, using a one sentence hook or question as well as inviting people to subscribe to it.
  • have the library team introduce the site to all the new year 7 groups and encourage them to subscribe during their orientation.
  • email the H of D’s and Principals each time a post comes out inviting them to read it and subscribe. They had been invited to subscribe last year but none took up the invite. Advertise, advertise!
  • use more tagging of keywords in my blog posts for better search results. I’ve been slack about doing this.
  • share the posts out to my PLN to increase interest in that area too.

Gee, these almost look like New Years resolutions, but we won’t call them that, we’ll call them goals.