Mario Kart in the classroom: the rise of games-based learning

Family gaming expert Andy Robertson assesses the new trend of gaming in the classroom where Mario Kart power-slides past algebra and Endless Ocean glides past geography. This is from the Telegraph…

The ‘gamification’ of particular tasks, to incentivise them with game-play rewards, has never been something I’ve been keen on.

The application of games in this way doesn’t serve either games or productivity well. I enjoy watching movies and reading books but I don’t want to “filmify” or “bookify” the less entertaining parts of my life – likewise with videogames.

I’m equally suspicious of those who want to justify videogames by their educational or health improvement side effects. Even the usually forward thinking TED gaming talks can fall into this trap.

We wouldn’t suggest that novels or films are valuable just because you learn things during the course of the storytelling.

But technology is becoming an increasingly important way of delivering elements of the curriculum. Apple have recently announced their new Textbook category in the iBookstore that offers students access to educational texts that can be highlighted, marked and searched without then passing on a dog-eared book to subsequent years.

Speaking to Nathan Lowe at The Filtch Green Academy school, which has pioneered the use of technology in the classroom, I was surprised to hear of the level of investment both in terms of money as well as space in the school day. “We currently have 100 MacBooks, 20 iPod Touch and 80 iPads for our 210 children aged 4-11… We have found that with a creative approach to learning and teaching, our teachers have managed to integrate technology into all subject areas.”

These are productivity tools rather than entertainment though, and much easier to justify in the classroom than video games. With this on my mind I was still unconvinced when I talked to Oakdale Junior (London Borough of Redbridge School) about its use of video games in lessons.

I was expecting some pseudo-gaming experiences that did little more than incentivise doing sums with pretty visuals and sounds.

However I found my distain turning to intrigue as I heard more about what they were doing.

Rather than using purely educational games, or culling gaming snippets for educational purposes, Dawn Hallybone has been integrating common or garden video games into the heart of her lesson planning at Oakdale. Off the shelf bona fide games as part of a lesson isn’t the gameification of education but Games Based Learning.

Wii titles like Mario Kart, Endless Ocean and Just Dance are used alongside more obvious educational games like Brain Training on the DS to enrich lessons in a variety of ways. Talking to Hallybone about the process it is clear that she understands that these games can engage students in an ongoing way because of their unique perspective on different subjects.

She described how she got hooked on the idea after a Derek Robertson talk had sparked interest at a recent Bett conference. “The borough bought a set of 30 consoles and schools were invited to bid and show how they would use them. We put a bid in were successful and trialled the use of them across the school – 30 consoles with 350 children using the Brain Training DS game for maths. This was in 2008.”

The focus was initially on maths but Hallybone explained that the benefits reached beyond this.

“Children have also learned through play — for them computer games are part of their lives – using this enthusiasm for games in a positive way promotes learning as well as enabling them to ‘fail’ and build up skills of resilience, team work, hand and eye co-ordination and co-operation.”

Hallybone has used a range of different games in her lessons, but it was interesting to hear how retail titles sit shoulder to shoulder with educationally focused games like Manga High. “Off the shelf games enable children to be immersed in rich environments – that can promote writing, speaking and listening skills, team work, maths, science skills in fact skills across the curriculum. Children do not necessarily expect to see this in the classroom but they are rich with learning potential.”

Asking her how Mario Kart fits into the curriculum it is clear that this is more than a gaming hook to get children’s attention before moving on to more productive territory. She rattled through a series of learning outcomes from the ongoing engagement with the game. “Maths: averages, decimal numbers rounding, sorting data, design. Technology: designing moveable vehicles, forces. Writing: character description.”

Less mainstream games also feature in her Wii powered lessons. Family favourite Endless Ocean as well as Wild Earth African Safari offer students a chance to enter a world, be that underwater or the African plains, they would otherwise have to learn about second hand.

Hallybone enthused about how well these games worked at sparking an ongoing relationship with certain topics that extend from the lesson to play time and back again. She named a few for me: “Habitats, descriptive writing, research, diary writing, settings, signals and use of signals to communicate.”

It may sound like these two games are purely designed for educational purposes, but play them for a short while and you discover a campaign mode, story, achievements and as much character progression as many more obviously game-centric experiences.

This scenario may be familiar for those who have watched The Wire. In Season four of the show, new teacher Roland Pryzbylewski uses a game of dice to teach his Baltimore students statistics. The setting may be very different but the theory is similar. Both Pryzbylewski and Hallybone have a respect for the games they are using educationally and give them adequate space to do what they do best — entertain and engage. The learning then comes as an inevitable side effect of a class sharing these experiences together – with the teacher steer conversation back to curriculum topics where appropriate.

Educating Essex school: 'All of a sudden these kids are hungry'
Trainee teachers struggle as bursary withdrawn
Categories: Technology.

Let us know what you think...