Do You, Should You, Kodu?

Dear Blog…

I’ve been neglecting you….

It would be fascinating to see how Adrian Mole would read to this generation if he was just starting out on his Diary adventures!

I am aware that I have been neglectful of my blog (unforgivable in these times) but I have been roused back into some level of correspondence with you due to the fact that I have begun reading 21st Century Boys: How Modern Life Is Driving Them Off The Rails And How We Can Get Them Back On Track by Sue Palmer. I am in the early stages but the opening pages are very thought-provoking so I am looking forward to delving deeper into what seems to be a fascinating study / observation.

Analogue Learning…

If you have read my pages before (and I humble thank you for taking the time to do so) you will be aware of my interest in introducing Game Based Learning into my classroom. There are already many more learned practitioners than I working in this medium (Tim Rylands for one) and I will be forever playing catch up but I feel that I am making enough inroads to be able to share some thoughts on the matter. I am very fortunate to have a principal who is willing to allow me to work in this medium with the children knowing that I am trying to improve engagement and interest in learning. So, again, I thank her and her (perceived) wisdom.

Thinking outside the Eggs Box (Sorry Ollie!)

Ollie Bray from Scotland is one of the pioneers of Game Based Learning in Britain. Having had worldwide success with his project of integrating Xbox360 and Guitar Hero into the classroom to encourage collaboration between primary and post-primary schools, Ollie has been advising the Scottish Government on the merits of Game Based Learning through the Consolarium project.  He is someone who makes me think (and if that means me being quiet for a while, there are a lot of people who would like to thanks him!). He also introduced me to the merits of using Kodu in class and, although initially suspicious, I have to say a big ‘Thank you’ for the introduction.

I have mentioned the use of Kodu on here before but haven’t gone into a lot of depth. Over the next few posts I intend to give you a brief outline of how I introduced Kodu into the classroom and the effect it had on some of the children and their learning. I hope to give you some ideas that you might want to consider trying out with your own class. Remember, we expect them to learn from their mistakes so we should also be prepared to make them!

Session 1 – No Computers!

The Wednesday afternoon classes are intended to give our children experience of a range of skills. We offer them Basketball, Netball, Gaelic Football, Dance/Drama and ICT.

I introduce the children to the concept of creating a game or a level within a game and what is involved – the thinking skills, collaboration, cooperation, etc. This is nicely done through the use of Portal and Portal 2, by Valve. This game is simple in its concept – yet mind-blowing complexity in its application. In a nut shell, players have to get from one side of a room to another using a ‘Portal’ gun. I hope the video above helps!

I sell the same concept to the children – transport an egg from one side of the classroom to the other using a Pro-Bot floor robot and K’nex construction rods. To build the excitement, I drop one of the eggs into a bowl to let them see it smash – the others are hard-boiled but they don’t know that! The Pro-bot has holes at each corner specifically designed to take K’nex rods. And so the teams of 4 from P5 to P7 set off to complete the challenge – over three 2 hour sessions. The teams have to design a cradle that will hold the egg securely in place while at the same time plotting a path from one door of my classroom to the other. Both tasks require a lot of cooperation and collaboration at the heart of their thinking skills – the corner-stone of cross-curricular skills. The children throw themselves whole-heartedly into the project to be the first to build the cradle successfully and navigate the simple path in the quickest time.

The buzz of excitement that is generated in these first few classes is special! The children want to succeed – there is no fear of failure. This is a feeling that we, as teachers, would love to generate about all areas of learning that we undertake with the children but, in reality, of course it isn’t always like this. The groups want to learn how to do the task. They want to get involved and solve the problem. They enjoy the competition factor as well – looking for that edge over the other groups in the class. All these things add up to a wonderful introduction to GBL in my class, I feel.

Pro-Bots are programmed; instructions are recorded, edited (and edited again), on the computers; routes are measured and converted between units; eggs are measured in tiniest details; sturdy (and not so sturdy!) designs are crafted, changed and rebuilt to support the precious egg… and so on. The direct and indirect learning that takes place is great to see. After completing the task, the children then evaluate their learning using a FlipCam to record their thoughts and ideas. Again, I can not emphasise enough what a superb addition to the classroom these cameras are. Children want to record their thoughts to share with the class and, in turn, we can evaluate each others’ ideas and models.

I hope you find this a good introduction to GBL in my classroom and I will be following it with how the unit progressed throughout the term in the very near future. As always,  I would welcome any thoughts you might have on anything I post.

BTW – Kodu is a free download and is compatible with C2K(NI) systems. Some in that team see the value of initiative and are always willing to help so I, for one, won’t be giving the grief that I have in the past. A big ‘Thank You’ for your help – I won’t embarrass you if you are reading this but you know who you are!

To Follow:

Playing the Game – Kodu introduced

Outside the Game – Literacy and Numeracy Skills

Further Ideas for the classroom

Teaching Plans

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