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Modern-day video games immerse players in a virtual world where they assume a starring role in an adventure of some kind. Players choose an avatar and proceed to run, jump, shoot, capture, explore, and carry out different kinds of missions to win rewards. Such games create high engagement in the players and keep them playing for hours on end. What is it about video games that cause players to be so engaged? Whether it is the heroic cast of characters, compelling story lines, or the motivation to achieve big goals and gain rewards, video games certainly have a way of capturing your undivided attention. Players feel a sense of urgency and challenge that keeps them focused and motivated to continue playing.

Very similarly to the gaming world, actively engaging students is an important goal in education. “Teachers want to reach and engage their students in innovative ways,” said Mark Espinola, CEO of Ballard & Tighe, Publishers. This is why education developers have turned their attention to games in recent years. Combining the intriguing aspects of games with good instruction encourages students to get excited about learning. Providing rigorous content through a game-based format produces a state of focused motivation and promotes deep learning. Players are in charge of their progress and are encouraged to take risks to achieve their goals.

Specifically designed for the rigors of the Common Core State Standards, Word Raider: Escape is an online academic vocabulary game where students master academic vocabulary typically found on state standards, standardized exams, and academic word lists. The game was created with the best features of modern, immersive video games in mind. It focuses on general academic vocabulary because that has been identified as a major factor influencing the achievement gap between English language learners (ELLs) and English proficient students.

A recent report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that “students who performed well on the vocabulary questions also performed well in reading comprehension” while students who do poorly in vocabulary also gain low scores  in reading comprehension (NAEP, 2012).

The report highlights what research has shown to be a direct relationship between vocabulary knowledge and the ability for students to comprehend a text.

Word Raider was developed using the best vocabulary teaching practices. Players explore and collect an “inventory” of words that they use to complete various games and puzzles. Every word is encountered more than 10 times in in reading, writing, speaking, and listening tasks. By the time players complete their last quest in the game, they will have taken at least 1,100 assessment items without ever realizing it.

Players document and track their words in a virtual dictionary. The dictionary includes:

  • An animated word tile that comes to life to illustrate the word meaning Part of speech and inflections
  • A student-friendly definition
  • A student-friendly sample sentence using the word in context
  • Word family (derivations of the word) and sample sentences

Through the dictionary, players can also earn more points when they power up their words by completing writing and speaking tasks.

  • Write the word
  • Write a sentence using the word
  • Record a sample sentence using the word
  • Record an answer to a prompt to demonstrate word understanding

The benefits of delivering Word Raider in a video game format include: increased student engagement, instant feedback, repeated exposure to increase retention of meaning, differentiated instruction, access at home or after school, and a teacher portal to monitor student progress and mastery.

To find more about Word Raider, visit www.word-raider.com

National Center for Education Statistics (2012). The Nations Report Card: Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments, NCES 2013 452.

 

Henrike Lode is a game developer from Copenhagen, Denmark, born 1985 in East Germany. She studied ‘Media and Computing’ in Berlin, and helped students learn programming as a tutor/teaching assistant. As a scientific assistant at the research centre for computer games and interaction in Berlin she established and supervised a motion capture studio and held workshops teaching students how to use it. She then proceeded to take a Master’s degree in Game Design at ITU Copenhagen in order to get closer to realizing her dream: “make learning fun” and is currently founding a company with her team to further develop Machineers.

Despite the fact that more and more parents, teachers and game developers acknowledge the educational potential of computer games, good learning games are still rare. This is partly due to a lacking collaboration between educators and game designers/developers and partly due to poor research.

In their Master thesis project at ITU Copenhagen, Denmark, the Games students Henrike Lode, Niels Frederiksen and Giuseppe Franchi explored options of how to improve the design of learning games to achieve a better reception from players and provide a better learning experience. They developed the learning game Machineers, a 2D puzzle adventure that stealthily teaches logical thinking, problem solving and procedural literacy to children from 10 to 14 years. The term ‘procedural literacy’ describes the ability to read and write processes, a skill that serves as a basis for understanding programming and other higher cognitive skills, like creativity and innovation.

During their research they found that good educational games should move away from the behavioristic learning approach, where learning exercise and reward are not connected, which leads at best to extrinsic motivation and rote memorization. To use the full potential of learning games, the learning activity itself must be intrinsically motivating: game and learning content should not be not viewed separately but merged together.  In Machineers this was achieved by representing each learning aspect with a visual metaphor, which behaved exactly like the concept, but looked like an everyday object that the player was already familiar with. Those single pieces of information were then used as puzzle pieces that could be combined in a number of different ways, creating different meanings.

Intrinsic motivation was established by combining the puzzle elements to a bigger machine that would deliver strong audiovisual and also performative feedback.

 

Many children have developed some form of an aversion or a bias towards learning itself and learning games, which can be a problem for the learning experience. There is a good chance that keeping the serious purpose of the game secret and making the game look and feel like any other commercially available title helps establishing a positive mindset towards the game and increases the students motivation to engage with the material. This is why in Machineers there is a strong focus on high quality visuals, character, dialogue and story design.

This means also that the children can’t necessarily make the

connection between the experience in the game and the underlying context of abstract programming theory by themselves. Learning games are not meant to replace teachers and classrooms but instead should be used by teachers to enrich the lesson and encourage students to engage in the topic outside of the classroom.

So far Machineers has been tested quite a lot with children from 9 – 14 as well as older players to confirm its optimal usability, intuitive controls, use of help options, etc., but what we haven’t tested yet is how the game could be integrated into a classroom setting. This is where you come in. If you are teaching any IT or technology related subject or would like to use our game for any other reason in your class, please get in touch. The game is being constantly developed further,  with the next part of it to be released in September 2013 and the developers are always looking for play-testers and focus testers, preferably amongst children from 8 years upwards. With the help of your feedback they might be able to improve the game in a way so it will fit your needs.

Email: henrike@machineers.com
Website: www.machineers.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Machineers
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Machineers

 

by Yasemin Allsop

When I first told the news to the class of children whom I teach maths, that we will soon be using iPod Touches in lessons, the reaction I received

was very interesting. They were screaming with excitement as though I’d told them that they had won the lottery.  I wondered why. Why were they so ecstatic? Would they behave in the same way if I had said that we will have laptops in the classroom? What did they expect?  To learn better… or were my lessons so boring that iPod Touches would make them more fun. I don’t know, maybe..

I spent a considerable amount of time evaulating some maths apps which would be suitable for the topics studied. I had 21 children and only 20 iPod Touches, so some had to share. This wasn’t a real issue as some of the children prefer working with a partner rather than working alone.  21 pupils from a Year 5 class (ages 9-10, 14 male and 7 female) took part in the project. The children had higher mathematical skills than expected for their age levels. They were from four different classes and did not have much intercommunication with the children who were not from the same class as them outside of the mathematics classes. They sat in mixed gender and ability groups not necessarily with children from their own class. I selected these children as I teach mathematics to them every morning, which allowed me to implement multiplication and division mathematics games on iPod touches into their  regular daily numeracy lessons. This was the first time that they had used mathematics games on iPod Touches in the classroom.

The Learning with iPod Touches Project lasted for a whole term. The data collection was administered at four levels. Firstly at the beginning of the study before allowing the children to use the iPod Touches, an online survey was completed by the children about the use of technology to understand their experiences with iPod touches and other technologies. Secondly the questions ‘What do you expect to learn from using an iPod touch that you can’t from other technology?’ and ‘What are the ways of learning multiplication and division calculations?’ were asked, and a children’s concept map of their discussions to answer these questions were written down on a A4 sheet by them. Analysis of the data from this document was based on identifying words that indicated their perceptions and expectations from learning with iPod Touches.

The findings of this study indicated that the students perceptions of learning mathematics with games using iPod Touches was a positive one. This conclusion can be confirmed by the data evidence presented. The results of the post-survey showed that the participants felt good about having had an opportunity to use iPod Touches and reported that using an iPod Touch was fun. They also disclosed that they learnt better when using an iPod Touch (71%). Furthermore they agreed that using an iPod Touch made learning mathematics more interesting (100%) and easier to learn (71%). The survey also revealed that the students were confident in their technological skills as they noted they didn’t need any special training to use iPod Touches.

Nonetheless they agreed that using an iPod Touch made their learning more fun and interesting, there were a number of students (29%) who didn’t know if using an iPod Touch helped them to learn better. This may tell us that the iPod Touch may not be the most appropriate tool for teaching all students and therefore educators need to employ different methods and tools for teaching and learning to meet the needs of all students. 

Although the students’ perceptions of using iPod Touches was more about the affordances of the device, this can also be used for understanding their learning experience. Their comments about their perceptions of learning such as; the visual features of the games, content, learning by doing, being in control, collaborative working, learning without realising, motivation and failure provides us with an insight into how they think and learn.

Students also reported that they liked having an opportunity to complete the same task many times until they were happy with their scores. When their score was low, this was not seen as a failure, simply as ‘low score’. This is very important for two reasons; firstly it encouraged students to try and do better which will impact on their confidence level, secondly it gave them the ownership of their learning. They didn’t act because they received feedback from a teacher to do better, they decided for themselves, which score was enough for their expectations and which actions to take when they got low score; re-try or move onto a new task. This study shows the importance of understanding children’s idea of learning.  It was not the purpose of this study to measure learning gained by playing games using an iPod Touch, rather this investigation wanted to find out simply children’ perceptions. When used together with well designed learning activities the iPod touch offers many opportunities to increase interactivity and students engagement with learning. The findings presented that learning with games using iPod Touches had an impact on children’s learning by making it more interesting and fun, but it is difficult to measure if this had any effect on the students’ actual learning.

 

 

 

Watching a Hollywood movie a few months ago brought many thoughts to my mind. The old wise monk was sitting in his mountain top monastery. He was getting ready his tea and also having a conversation with his student. The student had so many worries about what was happening in the world. The monk took the tea-cup and began to fill it. As it overflowed from the younger monk’s tea cup, spilling tea onto the table. The student monk held out his hand to signal to the elder to stop pouring. He told him it is full. The old monk answers: “Like this cup you are full of opinions and speculations. To see the light of wisdom, you must first, empty your cup.”

Some may ask what the link is between this conversation and ICT in education. Well, I believe that our ICT lessons have not been as boring as some politicians suggest. Some of us had cracking lessons.

It is rather about the content of our technology lessons, how it has been delivered and made relevant to students. Yes programming will probably enrich our lessons and take it to a different stage, but  research shows that there are so many amazing tools that we have been using also have a great potential to implement technology into our curriculum.  The example from the Holywood movie reminds me that the students brains are like a cup and we have to stop filling it up with irrelevant knowledge and spend more time on transferrable skills to equip them with the wisdom of life.

At that point I would like to mention another movie which was about Hypathia, the great teacher from Alexandrea. She asks the children many questions, yet doesn’t just stand and tell them everything she knows, she allows them to think and experiment with their ideas, sometimes for months.

So when we translate this to today, we are very good at firing thousands of pieces of information and knowledge at our students, but not giving them enough time to apply and develop their own ideas. Much of this knowledge won’t even be remembered, as it is not useful for life! So the issue is not about technology, or which tool is better, it is more about how we approach education in the whole. You can tell a group of children how to create an animation, but then if you do not give them enough time to plan and work on a project, how will they develop their applying skills, or team working, organisation, creating, critical thinking or most importantly communication? Well, some may ask ‘Is technology is the only way to achieve this?’ and the answer is, of course not, you can use drama, PE and many other subejcts, however, the kids love technology, so why not use it to reach and teach them. I haven’t tried programming with a class yet. I will start teaching it from September. We will see how it goes. So, come on give programming a chance, lets find out if we can re-shape our ICT in our classroom.

I love the idea of this game. On Games-ed it says ‘Sustainaville tackles issues around sustainable development such as environment, health, crime, economy, poverty and resource use’.

Visit http://www.games-ed.co.uk/sustainaville.html for more information.

Read Stephen Reid’s thoughts and experiences on using Riven in the classroom.

The link is:

http://ahigherplace.co.uk/riven/