New approaches to learning involving digital games

by Bryan Berry

I was interested to read Tom Martin’s blog post regarding Technology for Learning. Digital technology in schools has had a bit of press recently and you may have seen the BBC News article referring to the Decoding Learning report by NESTA. In this study researchers found there was no question that hardware such as interactive whiteboards, digital tablets or software such as educational games could help improve pupils’ learning if used properly.

The BBC report highlights that each year a staggering £1.4 billion is spent on technology for schools but, sadly, much of this technology is not used to its full capacity or in some cases it is lying unused. The report also states that too often new technologies are used without a strong understanding of their power to transform education, and many schools still use technology to support 20th century teaching methods and learning objectives. As mentioned previously, through its “Technology for Learning” CPD programme, the network of Science Learning Centres can support schools in developing pedagogies for using ICT in science lessons.

This report is also timely as Science Learning Centre South West has recently been involved in the British Council UnBox21 project. The project aimed to deepen teachers’ understanding of the role of digital games in teaching and learning, coupled with the development of 21st century skills, in the secondary science curriculum. It also aspired to build the capacity of participating science teachers to develop learning frameworks, embed games into curriculum planning and develop innovative learning and teaching practices.

Machinarium by Animita Design

The project involved 16 teachers from across the South West and 25 science colleagues from India, with the aim of developing activities that would incorporate commercial off-the-shelf games. Working in cluster groups, teachers were encouraged to develop creative activities that would integrate with their science curriculum plans.

One game that was very successful in promoting skills-based approaches to learning in science was “Machinarium” by Anamita Design. The game is excellent for consolidating knowledge about electricity and forces and building on the game’s skills-based approach. A variety of novel activities were designed by the participating teachers, for example, teachers encouraged students to design the next level of play or to use the science content in the game as a context for investigative work. Colleagues interested in digital games and learning may be interested to know that the game does not require purchase as the first three levels can be played as a demo version and can be accessed through the Amanita website.

Home Sheep Home by Aardman

Home Sheep Home by Aardman

Another free game that teachers used was Aardman’s ‘home sheep home’ game. This was used to support learning for forces and motion topics. With its likeable characters, the game is inviting and fun, particularly for KS3 students, but be warned, it is addictive! It is also based on a ‘level’ structure, which motivates the player and takes place in a scenario that reflects real-world physics. Making it available on your school website may be a challenge though, so make sure you plan ahead and involve your school’s network manager.

In case you are concerned about the use of games in the classroom, from the outset we encouraged colleagues to develop an action research approach and to evaluate the outcomes using the ITL LEAP21 (Learning Evaluation and Planning) framework. They were also encouraged to adopt appropriate strategies for implementation by referring to Futurelab studies on games in learning.

The UnBox21 project is in its final evaluation phase and an online CPD course will be available early next year. For other schools interested in developing the use of digital games, Science Learning Centre South West would be pleased to offer a “Technology for Learning” CPD programme based on the approaches used. The Centre is also leading an ASE Annual Conference workshop at the University of Reading on Friday 4 January 2013 between 1400-1600. Why not come along to find out more?

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