Festival of Gaming

At this time of year I love reading everyone’s wrap up of the previous year. Highlight, lowlight, best of.  I am not usually one to write that sort of thing, and if you look back over my year of blogging I haven’t been one to write much at all. No, this is not gong to be a promise to write more but I thought it would give me an opportunity to blog about something I wish I had through the year, the gaming inquiry my class did.

Rigor had been a word I had tried to ignore for so long when it came to inquiry but I think in this inquiry I got the true sense of the word. It feels like I have come full circle in my thinking about inquiry.  From the rigid ‘you’ll do inquiry my way, my process’, to the ‘let the kids go and they will learn’ inquiry. This inquiry was somewhere in the middle.  Did the students have complete freedom to direct their own learning? Yes. Did I influence that decision? Yes, probably. Many times I started my sentences with “It is up to you but can I ask….” and “Have you thought about…?”

The inquiry group was 24 boys who were interested in computers, games, Lego and paper planes.  The first few weeks were spent getting to know what our interests were, identifying what we knew and coming up with some questions which would drive our inquiry.  We found a common love of gaming and groups were formed by the students and the following questions developed.

  • How is music used in gaming?
  • How do you make a good game?
  • How do you make an open world game?
  • How do you get real things in games?
  • How do you make an arcade game?
  • How do you make a game?

And off they went!  During our check ins (Time for sharing what everyone was doing and discussing our next steps) we came up with ideas for finding out what we needed to about gaming.  Some students reviewed games using Sploder and Scratch, others followed tutorials on how to use different platforms. Max from grade 6 was called in as a Scratch expert.  Meanwhile, Max in grade 3 used Code Academy to learn Python. Surveys such as this one asking about the use of music in gaming were analysed to help one group design their own pieces of music using Soundation. Images of arcade gaes were used to come up with a criteria. And yes, there were lots of games played. Some students became experts in certain areas and Max and Gareth skyped another school to teach them about using Sploder.

As the groups developed their own knowledge, changing their opinions as they went and asking more questions a culture of sharing was developed where groups helped each other out in their quest to make their own games.  The music group made music for another group’s game.  Experts using Scratch helped out the music group. The list goes on.

As the games neared completion it was becoming clear we needed to share them. At a later check in it was decided we should have a festival of gaming, both as a website and an event. The festival would have a few aims. Firstly an opportunity for us to share our learning, also to get feedback and finally to prove to our school community that gaming is a good thing. Before the festival there a few things that needed to be done. Marketing had to be organised, venues booked, and the games would need to be finished.  As part of the designing process we knew it was important to have users test our games before the final showcase so the students invited their peers and parents to try out their games, then made the final changes to them in preparation for the festival.

The festival was a huge success.  With large numbers of the school community turning out to play the games, give feedback and learn about gaming through the students led workshops. It was at this stage and during the reflection the following week that I really got to see what the students had learnt about design, the creative process, inquiring, collaborating but more so the confidence they had in their own learning. And this wasn’t from me letting them go nor from telling them how to do it.  But from setting the culture, modelling the inquiry and for one group, me even being a team member sharing ideas and contributing. Would they have pulled it off without me? No.  Would they have had as many people visit their website had it not been for me?  Would the group with the arcade game thought of the idea without me.  Probably not. But what I did do is show them how next time they can do it on their own.  I modelled to them how amazing curiosity, inquiry, determination and failure can be.

Visit the Festival of Gaming Website here to play and review the games and see the videos and gallery.

Watch me talking about the inquiry for AITSL’s Teacher Feature.

Minecraft and Me

I love putting myself in the student’s shoes. It gives you a sense of what we as teachers put them through during a learning experience.

For some time now I have heard many people talking about the game Minecraft.  I really wanted to know more about it but had put it in the too hard basket after making a couple of attempts to work it out.

Minecraft is a 3D game of blocks where you are dropped into a world with limited tools and need to use the resources around you to survive from the monsters, which come out at night.  It is a little like being dropped into the middle of Legoland. Like the real world you are subject to the elements of the environment you are dropped into, like snow or rain.  In the first day you are dropped into a new world the race is on to find shelter before night falls.

Yesterday, I finally decided to set aside a couple of hours and have a play.

 In their shoes lesson number 1: It takes me a long time to take a risk and have a go.

Before I signed up I had a look around the Minecraft website.  Although there was plenty of information on it, most of it made little sense to me.  That was until I saw a video about surviving your first day in Minecraft.

In their shoes lesson number 2: I need to do more than reading to understand.  When I see something in action it makes more sense.

So it was time to jump.  I signed up and I felt confident that I knew what to do during my first day in my new world after watching the video.

 Somehow I survived my first night with my life in tact.  How I am not sure.  By daylight I realised how to get out of the game and head back to the tutorials.

In their shoes lesson number 3: I don’t remember anything if I haven’t applied it.

 After watching the tutorials for a second and then third time  I felt confident to get back in and have another go.  This time I made progress.  In the first day I was able to make a crafting table and then I had time to go digging for coal.  That is when I found that if you mine down far enough you will come across lava.  And lava will kill you if you fall in it!  Obvious? Well, I realise that now!

Back to the tutorials I went.  This time I found that I could change some settings and make the monsters disappear.  <sigh of relief>

In their shoes lesson number 4: I don’t learn under pressure.

So I spent the next six hours slowly making my way through a few achievements and learning the ways of the world in Minecraft, with the help of the peaceful setting. I have now built a house with doors, lit a path between my house and where I am mining for resources and this afternoon I even put a lovely garden of flowers along the side of the house.

In their shoes lesson number 5: Learning something new takes time

So what did I learn?

In the first few hours in Minecraft I learnt:

  • It rains a lot in the jungle.
  • A good sense of direction in life does not equate to a good sense of direction in a game.
  • Lava kills.
  • Creepers are mean.
  • You can’t break a rock with your fist.
  • The days go very quickly when you are working hard.

I also learnt a lot about me:

  • I don’t like violence or scary things.
  • I like to have order (The first thing I built was a shed to store my tools and at the end of every day I organise my inventory)
  • I am a creature of habit.
  • The environmentalist in me shows through in a game. (I couldn’t kill an animal.  The kids in my class are looking into whether I can survive in Minecraft as a vegetarian and today they showed me how to make shears so I can get wool from the sheep without killing it!)
  • When I become frustrated (like being lost for 45 minutes) I like to take a break, walk away and then come  back to what I am doing.

This morning I couldn’t wait to get to school and share all I had done with the boys in my class (I don’t have any girls playing Minecraft.  Yet!)

The first 20 minutes of school was a great conversation about what I had done.  They were all bending over backwards to share with me what I could do next. In that time I was able to connect with them more than any other time this year.

Now I can’t wait to see where this Minecraft journey will take us. And what I can learn next.