Well, we had our first big teachers workshop for Ecobugs last week, and it went down really well.
The teachers were very enthusiastic about the project and thought that it would link really well a lot of objectives that they were working on in the classroom. I've got a lot more detailed notes from the session but for now I thought I would just highlight the big reflections.
The 2 big stand out points from the day for me were:
- that teachers are really creative when it comes to tying activities (like playing the game) to diverse curriculum objectives
- rather than worry too much about having students learn directly through the game play of Ecobugs, what we should be focussing on avenues for teachers to extend the learning from the game into other areas.
So while the teachers all agreed that the science behind the game has to be realistic and have a reasonable level of fidelity, what they were more interested in how they could use the game as a stimulus for learning in other areas of the curriculum. For example, taking the data from the children's bug hunt and using that to teach creating bar charts / pie charts etc in a maths, or the students writing a story about the bugs they caught to support literacy development. Using the game as a stimulus was seen by the teachers to offer the children more 'authentic' material to work with.
Also we thought that perhaps that individual teacher's might play the game once or twice a year to introduce or support learning about a science related topic and that would be it. But the teachers were saying that they'd be equally interested in using the game as an ongoing resource and playing several times over a year. This would give the students to opportunity to compare the results of the games over the year, compare their class results with those from other classes, and crucially use it accross different subject area, including maths and even Physical Education (as part of orienteering).
This has really tightened our focus on how we are offering teachers the opportunity to get raw information out of the game when the dust has settled from the game play. For example stats about how the bugs were caught, or the science relating to the different types of bugs we have created. We're currently finalising the wireframes for the web site and this is featuring as a core part of this process.
This workshop has also made me reflect on the digital games for learning genre as a whole. Frequently I see 'serious games' striving really hard to have a high level of fidelity, and trying to teach students everything through the game play. This is expensive and makes the game complex. But really what these teachers were saying is that they don't want the students to learn everything through the game. The game was seen as a tool to support teaching, and teachers were more interested in the adaptability of the game and how it could be used to support different lessons, rather than the specificity of the learning to a particular subject area. Does this mean that educational games devoted to teaching particular areas are doomed to failure? ;)
Lastly the workshop reminded me of one of the reasons why I enjoyed teaching in primaries more than secondary, and that's freedom. The primary curriculum in England is much less tied down than the curriculum for older students. This means that the teachers can use more creativity in their planning, but also have more freedom to work in a way that is flexible for students. So if they want to take half a day off timetable to pursue a cross curricular educational activity they can. As always, this makes way more sense to me than expecting students to respond to sitting in a room for 50 minutes to learn a specific thing about English every Tuesday morning at 9am.