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Games to Ignite Brains

7439512656_04f88d7461_zHow about this for an idea? Your learners can game when they want at any moment during class. I know it sounds a bit crazy, so let’s put some structure and reasoning around it.

I’ve outlined in a previous post, my findings that quite obviously, the moment that any individual learner is ready to listen, read, watch or even learn will vary. To expect any class to turn up at a scheduled hour and fully engage in the same learning activity is literally treating them like products on a factory line and not the humans they enjoy being. Photo Credit.

I have 2 daughters, both brought up by the same parents who approach everything in life very differently. Why would we expect 30 young people form different life situations to behave and have the same needs for an hour?

e1yeaWhen I regularly divide my classes into groups, I often notice that a number of the groups have a member who seems distant or unengaged and I wonder how I can energise these kids to engage with the group or task during the short time that I’ve got them? (I teach in a high school still restricted by segregated, hourly subject lessons) Most of my class activities involve an element of problem solving. Examples might be, How are we going to reduce cyber-bullying in the school? What do the students need in a school app? Or even, How can I start my music career in New Zealand? It is the problem-solving part of the brain I want to activate in my students who are not in that frame of mind when I need it.

The other day, I noticed one of my daughters playing a puzzle type game on my iPad. It was obviously challenging and often frustrating but she kept at it regardless. The game was direct problem solving and my girl was deeply engaged. It was then I had an idea. If any learner who found themselves disengaged from a school task had permission to select from a list of problem-solving, “brain igniting” games, it might mean they return to the task more energised to tackle it or suggest other solutions.

Initial Trial.

e1ybfTo carry out an initial trial, I projected a problem-solving game on my board and invited individuals to have a single turn to complete the puzzle/level. After 2 minutes, pairs were coming up to have a shared turn. This turned into small groups and after 10 minutes had 8 people competing to make suggestions for the next move. What I noticed was that these 8 were not a normal grouping within the class but had selected themselves to share an experience. This had an immediate effect on the dynamics in the class. I have found that after this exercise, new pairings started appearing in the class and it definitely made it easier for me to suggest new groupings without any backlash.

Class gaming rules

  1. Time Limit: A set amount of game play per hour or per week might be allowed but there would be freedom to select when that time was used.
  2. The games would be form the endorsed “Brain-igniting” list.
  3. All games would be Problem-solving
  4. Gaming progress (levels) could be reported to class to encourage collaboration between students that might not otherwise connect.
  5. New Game teams are organised around individual’s favourite games

Class management

  1. e1yl0Ads: “The Games have too many Adverts!” Airplane mode (in the control centre) will remove most, if not all the ads that pop up.
  2. 2. Student suggestions – Students should be free to make suggestions for adding to the approved list. I think keeping it to about 10 will encourage more discussion in the class about solving certain levels. With too many games, the classes attention can become fragmented. Suggesting games for the list will give them ownership over their problem solving world.
  3. Students are allowed to connect over a game to discuss strategies to beat levels. This builds strong relationships which spill over into class tasks.

Brain igniting Games

So I set about searching and inquiring after entertaining puzzle games I could issue as an endorsed game list. These are just suggestions but will give you a starting point.

  1. VERY BAD CUBE
    VeryBadCubeiconThis game builds in complexity from the most basic of starts. Join all the cubes of the same colour. Sounds easy but had my classes connecting into larger and larger groups trying desperately to beat a level.
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  2. 2048
    T
    2048iconhis game is challenging and demands a little math. Same number blocks collide and merge into a single doubled number block. Trick is to not fill the board. Even my senior students play this by choice.
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  3. DUOLINGO
    Lduolingiconearn another language in a personalised, fun and accessible way. With an account, each student is automatically tracked and reminded to return to their 10 minutes a day if they forget. I’m learning Spanish along with the rest of my family!
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  4. 2 DOTS
    2dotsicon
    This game does not have a single solution for each level. This means it is less likely to bring students together but does quickly get an individual’s brain working. This too nicely grows in complexity and is good for the quieter students to work on alone.
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  5. THINKROLLS
    TThinkRollsiconhis is good for younger students but fun for all. A constant rolling screen of quick problems to solve before the character can continue on. My7 year-old daughter  played this game for much more than 10 minutes!
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  6. MOVE THE TURTLE
    moveTheTurtleicon
    This challenges with simple puzzles whilst teaching the fundamentals of programming. There are programming iPad apps but most allow kids to play games already made and Move the Turtle is the game itself and so is on my list.
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  7. POP WORDS
    popwordsiconThis is a great twist on the game Boggle. It has a individual time-pressure game where you try to find words on the grid before your timer runs out. It also has a great puzzle mode where the letter tiles disappear when used to see how many tiles you can score with just one grid. This is great for building literacy skills and again naturally draws students together to find new words.
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  8. MEMNEON
    memneonIconThis is a bit different. At first you think it’s just a very simple memory game where you only have to remember which neon lights lit up for 5 seconds on a grid to complete a circuit. It seems quite tricky so you find yourself developing your own strategies for remembering which lit up. I even started remembering shape names to jog my memory. This really gets the brain working hard.

Team building

Sometimes we consider the term team-building as only something employers organise. I’ve found this to be powerful in my classes, especially with boys, who are often less social and likely to work well in new teams. You may have heard of Google 20% time, well this is an endorsed form of team-building / brain ignition time. Give it a try!

EXTRA LINK: Games are good for you

Kids must code on iPads

hopscotch flappy

An important 21st Century skill

This post is about a topic and app close to my heart. Computer programming is the engine of modern life and dream maker for tens of thousands. More and more countries are introducing the subject as compulsory schooling at surprisingly young ages. The UK is introducing a national school programme in september this year whilst also funding yearofcode.org to increase momentum. Code.org is pushing an international message with big-name endorsement. Even small countries like Estonia have their 5-year-olds taking their first steps into logical problem solving. A site I’ve used for years is codecademy.com

estonia codeWhat learning to code offers young people.

Even I was surprised at how much my students have enjoyed their first experience of coding this year. In a number of ways, coding offers a ideal learning experience. Students receive immediate feedback from any attempt and can see the results of their endeavours without the need for teacher feedback. If the challenge is set at the appropriate level, coding automatically becomes a perfect example of gameification. It naturally encourages students to ask “what can I do next?”

code club ukAccessible to anyone 

Coding is problem solving and like any puzzle, it seems to immediately engage kids as long as the puzzle pieces are easy to play with and move around. That’s where Hopscotch comes to the rescue! I have been teaching coding for 10 years and have never seen such an immediate impact on engagement than that of touch-screen draggable commands. Hopscotch is a free app that has an online community to share your coding projects with. It’s easy and intuitive to play with and is appropriate from about the age of 4 or 5. You do not have to know anything about coding to give this a go with your class and of course there are Youtube video lessons.

hopscotch screeen Quick & keen

My colleague and I had written a typical coding introduction for our 12 & 13 year olds using Hopscotch but very quickly realised that the app negated traditional approaches as it was so intuitive. The students were creating shapes, drawings and characters within 20 minutes. They just wanted to play, discover and create and our teaching unit was far to slow. Obviously, we let them go for it!

codecademy“Let’s make Flappy Birds!”

Within the first hour, a 12-year-old had already realised the the ‘world issue’ that was “the death of Flappy Birds” could be solved with Hopscotch. It was great to see the students all working together and keenly sharing their discoveries. One student realised the the Emoji keyboard allowed for 100s more characters, another worked out how to colour the background in as sky and grass. The only element I had to directly help with was keeping score.

We were also amazed to get recognised by the folks at Hopscotch!

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hopscotch appPersonalised learning

One benefit of coding your own apps and games is keeping it personal. Students started twisting the Flappy birds concept into fish games or car games and it was as if I’d completely disappeared from the room. When using Hopscotch, students are constantly problem solving, working collaboratively and thinking creatively.

What’s coming next?

I have watched the development of this app and can’t wait to see the next version. There are a couple of significant programming tools missing but I am sure they’re on their way in future releases.

Here is a help sheet I produced from from my classes coding and I hope it helps.

Flappy Birds and code for other games in Hopscotch

hopscotch flappy

“School work is no longer school work when it’s recognised outside school” – @iPadWells

@ipadwells & OC on Hopsctch Blog

Teaching Math on an iPad

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1. HIGH SCHOOLS

AS IT WAS…

In my High school, one of the last departments to realise a use for iPads was the Math department. Note: As a UK born New Zealander, writing Math and not Maths is difficult but as most my readers are american, I’ll persist!  Also…. I’m not a Math teacher, so sorry if I upset anyone.

Their thinking was that Math had to be hand written and there was no digital functionality beyond a calculator that suited the learning of Mathematical problem solving.

Certainly things like movie making, animation and group work did little in the genuine learning of Math reasoning. Plus the age-old excuse that the exam was hand written and so experience was needed and the iPad was only a distraction from this vital practice.

THE CHANGE BEGINS…

ExplainEverythingThe first change came with using the app Explain Everything. This is often a comfortable first step into new pedagogy as it mimics the whiteboard but offers new functionality and workflow. This allows Math teachers to hand write their mathematical working whilst recording the lesson, including their voice. Uploading these skills videos to Youtube saves hours of time in the classroom repeating oneself and allows students to come preprepared or review after a lesson. Either way moving some or all of the standard Math teaching online saves time.

LET THE FUN BEGIN!

Now what can a Math teacher do with more time and a little more imagination? Here’s another popular starting point in the shape of a TED talk by Dan Meyer (Math teacher). He explains how challenging the students more and using multimedia to do this can hook the students into a genuine interest in Math, as apposed to the compulsory one they currently have to show:

After watching Dan’s talk, I realised that Math teaching could be more about students finding their own problems to solve in rather creative ways. Students could be freed from the classroom to challenge each other with videoed problems and limit the information provided. Remember the iPad’s app store can provide apps that just about take any type of measurement and mostly for free (See below).

“Best Math App” lists like this one focus on that Math Dan talks about that kids have to learn in school without worrying about why they might need to know it. In my mind, it now becomes less about finding the best Math teaching / learning app and more about building a set of measurement tools for life. These tools can then be used to make Math learning come to life and seem relevant.

MEASUREMENT APPS

MathApp1 MathApp2 MathApp3
Easy MeasureThere’s math to be learnt in the way this app works alone! iHandy LevelGreat general carpenter’s tool Measures HDLots a measurement tools in one including Seismic!
MathApp4 iphone-camera-icon MathApp5
Sprint TimerFilm moving objects / people with time stretched image Film with CameraJust video things happening and students find the maths! Home Design HD – Free
Lots of Math possibilities in planning and developing building models

For most students, this applied Math approach is far more meaningful and fun and can highlight the subjects significant place in their lives. Something that is not always apparent in traditional Math teaching.

2. ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS (PRIMARY)

The ‘real-world’ approach mentioned above could certainly apply to any student from about the age of 8. Before that, the library of basic Math and Number apps in the store comes into it’s own! Apps make Math fun from an early age and remove the fear factor whilst giving the all important instant feedback.

Nearly all basic Math apps are free and it’s just a matter of trying them out, Start by typing “Math” into the App store but sorting by popularity. Here’s a selection of the most popular. I personally liked the simplicity of “Summed Up” ($0.99) and the animation & game concept in “Hungry Fish”. I included Hopscotch, which is a kids drag and drop programming app as it allows kids to experiment with algorithms in a fun way and try out a lot of Math on the way.

mathapps3

SPECIAL KIWI SHOUT-OUT

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 9.50.48 AM100s Board ($2.99) is  ‘simple as’ (as us Aucklanders would say) but in it’s simplicity comes flexibility and a nurturing of children’s natural talent to invent their own games. It presents a simple 100s board and will highlight numbers to help young people count in 2s, 3s, 4s etc. It also has coloured & monster counters that you can place on numbers to invent games with. It hides numbers as well as highlights on touch. My 8 year-old immediately started inventing games for my 6 year-old including  “Higher-Lower” where in 7 goes, the youngest had to find the chosen number, whilst all prior guesses were highlighted. The face that it’s not a game in itself is actually a bonus as it extends kids’ imagination. Check it out!

100s Board is made by fellow Kiwi @MattJamesThomas.

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SUMMARY

The age and ability of the individual student will decide the best approach, be it applied discovery of Math or more rudimentary game play. Regardless, the iPad has much to offer in Math learning and I hope this helps those Math teachers who weren’t sure where to start.

Gaming as School Assessment?

What can schools learn from why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments? I’ve been reading this book by Jane Mcgonigal on the effect of and reasons why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments. Here’s Jane at TED summarizing the book in 15 minutes. The basic premise is that the continuous feedback and desire for self-improvement becomes the drive to continue.

It goes as far as to say that games that have a definitive end and can be won are less appealing. A classic example is “Tetris” which became one of the most popular games in history regardless of not being able to win it! It never ends, you just continue to challenge yourself to last longer each time, whilst receiving continuous visual and sound feedback.

Gamers just want work and learn! The more work the better. World of Warcraft has clocked-up 6 million gamer hours in about a decade! (That’s as long as humans have been upright!) It takes 500 hours of play to reach the highest levels in the game and this is now seen by gamers as a small amount of work time!

The constant desire to get more work done within the world, whilst continuously “levelling-up,” and the fact that one’s levels are shared across the system is what drives the engagement. The other thing going on in these games is learning. the students only really score points if they show they have learnt something new. I’m wondering if we can bring that level of drive & dedication to work and learn into the school environment.

So I thought I’d have a go!

Here’s an idea for a mobile app system used by teachers and students that could work in many schools to drive student engagement but also provide individual student performance analytics to the school.

Allowing for my previous blog posts, I must add that this would only work in a student-centred environment where students were self-directed on large enough projects that the teacher is free to only offer 1-to-1 guidance and have time to truly assess how each student is developing.

Step 1 (Objectives)

The school decides on about 8 core requirements for life in the 21st century. Skills that it feels students must be assessed on across all their school-life and students can then “Level-Up” on each day/week.

These might be things like:

  1. Creative Thinking

  2. Independence

  3. Leadership

  4. Physical skills

  5. Collaboration

  6. Sharing

  7. Language depth

The school could outline a matrix of examples of how students might behave and think to Level-up in each requirement.

Step 2 (Technical)

Classes are set up on a database system accessible through mobile devices by everyone in the school. An app is created with both a student and teacher version. A website also collates the data for the school leadership team.

Step 3 (Levelling-Up)

A Mobile app is used by all the teachers to simply issue points on-the-fly to each student. Any evidence at any moment, either in the classroom or when marking work in the evening can gain points in any of the identified core requirements.

The app design is key and is simple to use. The class list is shown and clicking on a name brings up 8 large buttons that allocate a point on each click to the student for any of the core requirements identified by the school.

TEACHER APP (MOCK-UP)

Step 4 (Feedback and Socialising)

Students download the student app and can login to view a live self-profile and see the levels increasing day-to-day. For fun they can design an avatar (maybe to illustrate a future career) and possibly even share their thoughts on their scores with other students in the school. Socialising about your levels using the app would also be key to the engagement. Students who have Levelled-Up in Creativity, for example, might share what they did to show creativity. Their peers might then attempt to model the same behaviour.

Step 5 (Student drive)

Students start to question at all times in the day how they might show evidence of creativity or leadership etc,  knowing they’ll receive the feedback on the mobile app almost immediately. They also understand the core skills are cross-curricular and essential to life in general. It also pushes the idea that any moment of the day is an opportunity for self-improvement.

…anyway, it’s just an idea and please feel free to make the system and become a millionaire! However, I might spend some time next year developing it.

STUDENT APP (MOCK-UP)