My name is Alice Leung and I’m the Head Teacher Science at Merrylands High School. Today I’m going to share with you Merrylands High School’s journey in games based learning. I’m going to outline what I’ve done with my classes and also what other teachers at the school has done as well.
Merrylands High School is a comprehensive high school in South Western Sydney of just under 800 students. We’re a year 7 – 12 school and we are regularly recognised for our innovative use of technology as well as creating and sustaining a digital culture amongst staff and students.So did games based learning start. It started with taking a challenge as an opportunity. When our first group of students received their laptops as part of the Digital Education Revolution, I noticed that almost every student had games loaded up onto their laptops within a few hours of receiving them. I saw them playing at recess and lunch, in the playground and in the library. They were sharing games and helping each other out. Many teachers did see games as a challenge in terms of off task behaviour but I asked myself what if we could extend students’ engagement with games in the classroom? I first just tried online games using classtools.net to make revision games. But then it so happened that the school got three xboxes when it purchased some TVs and that’s when I started using console games that won’t originally designed for educational purposes in the classroom.
GBL for me started as seeing challenges as opportunities. When the first lot of DER laptops came through, students had loaded games on them within hours. They were sharing, teaching other, concentrating even with the many different types of noise in the playground. Many teachers saw games on laptops as a challenge for off-task behaviour, but I thought what if students can learn from playing games? How good would it be if students were this engaged in the classroom?
So I started making revision games that were in the style of arcade shooting games using a website called classtools.net to revise the different types of chemical reactions. It was with a class that we can describe as “difficult to engage”. We also shared classtools.net with the whole staff at staff development day with a group of students from our technology leadership team making games for different KLAs and teaching the staff how to use classtools.net.
I also tried Immune Attack which is a role playing game where you are a mini robot and you need to navigate through the body, find the source of infection and undergo the correct immune responses in the correct order to fight the infection. This was trialled with a Year 9 class when we learnt about the human immune system. The game goes beyond the syllabus requirements of stage 5 science and even stage 6 biology but the students were able to succeed through quite a few levels.
This year the school got three xboxes as part of a TV deal. Formula 1 2010 on the xbox for my Year 10s to learn about motion and Newton’s laws. Students worked in groups to play F1 and we used it as a stimulus to discuss things like differences between instantaneous speed and average speed and the effects of friction of different types of surfaces on thrust. Students filmed their xbox game play and used video editing software to place text around the video to explain the motion of the car using Newton’s laws.
We also used Sonic Racing to design an experiment to test the use of mobile phones on driving skills. In groups students designed their own experiment where they used one course in Sonic Racing. They played the course normally and timed how long it took and counted the number of crashes. They did the same thing while talking on their phone. They found that talking on the phone took them longer to complete the race and they had many more crashes.
Year 7s used Kinect Sports to learn how to calculate average speed. Each student had a go at hurdles and the class timed how long each student took to run the 100m. They then used the formula speed = distance/time to calculate average speed.
We area also using Spore as a stimulus for teaching evolution. Spore is categorised as a “god” game and it’s from the creators of The Sims. You basically control the evolution of a species and you need to guide it from a creature living in the sea to creature living on land. You get to choose what features your species evolves to get and you basically choose features that will help you survive in the environment. The game has a lot of good science and a lot of bad science. We play the game and learn about the scientific perspectives of evolution at the same time. Students then evaluate the accuracy of the game.
We also experimented with gamification by bring gaming elements like points, badges, unlocking passwords and leaderboards into the classroom. The feedback we got from the students was that they liked working in teams, working at their own pace and getting points for submitting work, but they did recognise that the motivation was short lived. So what I learnt from this experience is that games based learning is more than just points and badges, it’s about goal orientation, personalisation of learning and having the right difficulty curve.
We have also got a student technology leadership team designing games. This technology team is made up of 22 students from year 9 to 11. They deliver professional learning to staff and they also team teach with teachers in our laptop induction program for Year 9s when they first get their DER laptops.
At the moment they are designing a game in Kodu for Year 6 orientation where they have created the layout of the school as islands. One of the games is about the roll call routine at Merrylands where the Year 6s will need to guide the Kodu character through a school maze and find the roll call room in under 5 minutes, which reflects our school having a warning bell 5 minutes before roll call starts.
We also have another group in our student technology team making a geolocation game for iPhones and iPods using Aris. They have designed 7 quests about the school where Yr 6 students will work in groups to find various locations in the school and learn about some school procedures. The first quest is called the social quest where you have to go to the canteen to scan a QR code for food, go to the quad and scan a QR code to put the food in the bin. We are at the debugging stage at the moment.
At Merrylands HS games based learning is still at the tip of the iceberg. We have started weekly after school xbox sessions to start spreading games based learning within the school community. Every Thursday afternoon I plug the Xbox Kinect into the interactive whiteboard and we just play games. I usually just stand back and watch the teachers play. From playing a discussion will just start about how we can embed that game into learning.
We have played various Kinect games and discussed how we can use them in our KLAs. Some teachers in maths have been particularly interested as almost any game can be used to learn about data and statistics. We’ve played Kinect Sports, Kinect Adventures, Sonic Racing and a National Geographic Quiz Game, which I deliberately made them play so we can all come to the conclusion that educational games are really bad.
During the Xbox sessions, me and one of the history teachers started talking about using Age of Empires for students to learn about ancient civilisations. We’re also looking into Tropico 4 to learn about different forms of government. Tropical 4 is like Sim City where you get to choose which style of government you’d like to be – dictatorships, etc and your people respond accordingly.
Some of the things that I want to do next – use Angry Birds to analyse projectile motion. My Yr11 physics class has finally started the HSC course and is up to projectile motion now. They’ve learnt how to use video analysis software to analyse horizontal and vertical components of projectile motion when they filmed themselves playing basketball. The next step is capture their angry birds game play and use tracker video analysis
One thing I really want to look at next year is Minecraft. I finally got to have a go at Minecraft at Macquarie Uni on Saturday. I was actually sitting next to Dean Groom’s son so he was teaching me what I should do. For some reason I was stuck in flying mode so I didn’t get that far. But there have been a group of kids that have come up to me wanting to start an afterschool minecraft group so it’s definitely something I’ll be exploring.
So why am I embedding games and why do I want to explore games further? We all know the statistics of young people playing games and the fact that over 97% of Australian households have some sort of gaming device. So kids are growing up playing games and that’s not the only reason
Games allow us to enhance learning and teaching. Whether it is used as an engaging stimulus, as a multimedia text, in the design process or to embed gaming elements into classroom. In the end it’s about enhancing learning for our students.
Level up! Games based learning at Merrylands High School