Games are bloody great!

Photo Credit: Viral Pirate
Photo Credit: Viral Pirate

What makes a game great?

Challenge without being overly difficult.

I think back to a game which I found incredibly frustrating when I first started playing it. However it became more accessible as I became more familiar with the game mechanics and controls – Disney’s Castle of illusion.

This game also has a beautiful narrative which really draws the game player into the game – the narration in this game is absolutely first class (as exampled by my son and daughter’s wide eyes and open mouths as the narrator continues to retell a disneyesque tale of woe and wonder).

I could see this game being a wonderful tool to use with younger children in years 2-4 (grade 1 -3). The problem solving element and fine motor controls also give this game extra cache.

Narrative and Story line.

If a game has a strong story line then you will immediately become more attached to the game. This includes the interaction between different characters, the conversations they have, sudden revelations, the build up, tension created…etc. There are so many games which have these elements – Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, Resident Evil/Biohazard, Bio Shock, Mario, Starcraft 2…this list goes on.

However, I think the one game narrative which really stood out for me was the original Tomb Raider. I played this as part of a collaborative gaming experience alongside my university flatmates – come on, we’ve all done it.

The whole experience was highly addictive and massively enjoyable! The story-line and problem solving made us work together to solve the various different levels. It didn’t actually matter that we weren’t always the game player; it mattered that we were all contributing something to the experience (whether we were shouting encouragement, offering advice or playing the game).

Whilst playing some platform games on the iPad, I have actually had my children come over to watch me play the game (my wife isn’t too happy about this by the way). As they watch me, they give me advice and encouragement. They have actually clapped me on the back, hugged me, encouraged me, berated me, smiled, cried and screamed at me. Imagine what this would look like in the classroom?

Problem solving and Reward.

It goes without saying that problem solving is an incredibly important part of the game – maybe the most important? If there are no problems to overcome then there is no point to the game. You have to have two things to make this part of the game work – you need to have the process of trial and error (which needs to be just right to make it accessible but not impossible) and you need to have a reward to match the effort you have gone through to solve the problem.

One of the most important parts of this process is the link between the narrative and the reward. I honestly can’t remember the number of times I have completed a level only to be blown a way by the follow-up story; an example being the sudden revelation that the ‘end of level boss’ is merely a smaller part of a much bigger problem.

The reward must also provide the player with a suitable prize if it is to be of value. Personally, I enjoy games where the prize somehow allows the player to better their character, business, empire or nation. One game which I think does this really well is X-COM! This is a brilliant game for those who are interested in strategic thinking, tension, narrative and turn-based tactics. What makes X-Com work so well is the way you have to capture aliens or alien technology to gain access to better resources for your own team of hard-ass alien fighters. Coupled to this – I have to say, that generally, I am a massive fan of the:

find tool – research tool – reward = new mega tool for game character(s).

I am aware that many or most of the games I have mentioned are, on the whole, unsuitable for the classroom. However, there is undoubted potential for games of all types, to be used in the classroom. The key is to access and adapt these game elements in the activities and lessons you plan. Then you can begin to engage the children in a way which hasn’t been used in times past. It doesn’t have to be online games. It can card, board, paper or physical/sports games.

Way of the Game cycle

Narrative – Problem to Solve – Challenge – Reward with narrative – Problem to solve – Challenge…    

Weekly ‘End of level Boss’!

This week I intend to continue introducing the game – Civilization Revolution for the iPad into pre-lesson, break and lunch time sessions. The only difference being that I will ask two different pairs of students to trial the game this week. I am also going to ask the previous pairs of students to complete the following Google Survey. Hopefully, this will give me a better idea of game’s ability to engage and activate the student’s interest in History.

Early indications suggest that the students enjoy the game and are eager to continue playing it; in fact, one of the students has enjoyed it so much that he has decided to buy the game.

However, it is also fair to say that they while they have enjoyed playing the game they haven’t found it as easy as they first thought and are struggling with the king or mid-level difficulty rating.

If any of you are interested in having a go at introducing the App, I have included two very poorly-made videos I used to introduce the game to those students who were trialing the game.

Video One

Video Two


I’d rather be a farmer!

Photo credit: Larry Cuban on school reform

From the ages of 17 to 22 years old, I spent numerous Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays working in a variety of factories. I have worked in furniture factories, crisp factories, video-packaging factories; I have even worked in slaughterhouses. During my time in these factories, I worked in various locations found inside most modern factories. These included the assembly line, the packaging zone, the storage bay, the canteen and the warehouse.

So..what did I learn from my time in factories?

I didn’t like them! In fact, I really didn’t like them!


I didn’t like them because I didn’t feel challenged. In fairness, it must be added that I was also extremely lazy when I was 17 to 22 years old.

Did I learn anything?

Yes. Absolutely!

Was it worthwhile learning?

Hmm…I definitely learned a variety of factory skills (life-skills?) i.e. how to correctly wrap plastic roll around a large cardboard box or how important it was to keep your knife sharp when you were slicing through a dead turkey.

Personally, I found the work unrewarding, repetitive and dull. I just didn’t gain any sense of satisfaction from the different jobs I was doing.

And now we are calling the current, and previous, 150 years of educational modus operandi ‘The Factory Model’. Wow! I mean from a personal and research point of view the term certainly seems to fit; and that my friends is worrying!

Ironically, the skills required by the game curriculum—problem identification, hypothesis testing, analysis, interpretation, and strategic thinking more closely align with the new economy than does the “factory” model of curriculum, which privileges following directions, mastering predefined objectives, performance on highly structured tasks, and intellectual obedience (Gee, Hull, and Lankshear 1996). In short, schools are designed around factory models of education, where the goal is to efficiently produce standardized learners and, most importantly, sort students into those groups and games are products of the new economy, where the goal is to think creatively with digital tools (Bowles and Gintis 1976; Lagemann 1989).  Changing the game – what happens when video games enter the classroom – Kurt Squire

There is no denying that factories are an essential part of the industrial world, but do I really want my children, and the children I teach, to be a part of this system?

I don’t know how many times I have seen educators use this animated video of Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Educational Paradigms’ to espouse the virtues of the creative over the factory model of teaching and learning.

Yet no matter how many times the different groups of educational lecturers, teachers and administrators infuse the audience with Mr Robinson’s superb ideas and summaries, we always come back to the baseline – does it fit into the current school and curriculum-based system that we operate?

And the answer is most definitely ‘No’!

Is this where we leave it then? Again the answer is most definitely ‘No’!

I suggest that in today’s digitally flipped world we are being given more tools than ever to create farming zones within these rigid educational factories. Some of these tools include the flipped (or rotated classroom), Student led learning as well as Gamification and Game-based learning.

Right now, even if you had the ideal game—a more polished Civilization III or perhaps a Full Spectrum Scientist, it is not certain that such a game could even survive in today’s educational environment as our contemporary educational systems do not know how to sustain a curricular innovation built on the properties that make games compelling. Changing the game – what happens when video games enter the classroom – Kurt Squire

Game-based learning allows the factory to become a farm

Here is an example of how you can start to bring the rural creativity of farm-based learning into your factory. This Historical game is based on a previous game-based learning activity which I posted last year.

Can I also add that I trialled this lesson with my Year Three (Grade 2) students last year and that it worked like a dream. Reactions included intense dialogue which lasted into the break time and beyond, personal refection on their failure as an individual/group or class, the unfairness of the whole game and the difficultly of living in the Stone Age.


Unit plan – Lesson 2

Weekly ‘End of level Boss’!

This week my end of level boss will be to introduce the game – Civilization Revolution for the iPad into pre-lesson time /break time and lunch time sessions.

Although all the students already have their own iPads, they don’t have this game on their devices so I will provide two pairs of pre-selected students with my own iPads and ask them to try and complete one game (over the course of a week) on intermediate level difficulty.

The reason for this – After reading the article Changing the game by Kurt Squire I am interested to see the reaction a more compact/child friendly version of the game might have on my own students. I aim to use a high achieving none-game playing pair of students and a lower achieving game-playing pair of students to test the game as future platform for Historical learning within the classroom/school.

Results of last week’s ‘End of level Boss’!

Overall, the students seemed to love the game.

However, the most interesting aspect of the students playing the game Nitrotype , was my introduction to another game – Dance Mat typing. If you are thinking of teaching ‘Touch Typing’ I would definitely recommend this as a possible game-based solution.

Player Two’s Turn

Card game collaboration
Card game collaboration

An extract from a conversation which took place between two teachers playing the teaching game!


Player 1: Games in the classroom? I don't understand!
Player 2: What don't you understand?
Player 1: know games are games. They aren't learning.
Player 2: Yes they are. 
Player 1: How? 
Player 2: Well, children learn to play the game, they learn to work out new strategies to complete the game and they reach a goal - so they achieve and earn rewards.
Player 1: But they are just playing! They aren't learning!
Player 2: So playing isn't learning?
Player 1: Well...yes it is. Well, it sort of is. But it isn't proper learning.
Player 2: What does proper learning look like then? 
Player 1: You know the stuff we do every day! Book work, reading, the teacher explaining stuff to children.

I used to be just like Player 1!

What caused me to make such a U-turn on the Game Highway?

I guess it started one day about six year ago when I suddenly realised that I didn’t enjoy some of the things I was asking my students to do in the classroom. One great example of this would be ‘morning activities’ – this takes place at that nether-worldly time of day just before the school day starts when children are often given onerous tasks like spellings, maths review questions and dictations to complete.

At some point, I just thought these tasks were exactly that – TASKS – you know like Hercules and his twelve tasks (did he really enjoy slaying giant snakes, lions and wild boars?). I hate the word ‘task‘! It has such negative connotations. ‘Game’ sounds so much better.

So I decided to change these tasks to games: Top Trumps, Playing Cards, Dice games were all introduced. Gone was the dull silence of children pretending to enjoy the morning tasks. Instead, we had conversation and collaboration taking place in the classroom – ‘Oh Happy Day!’

So I guess the question that needs to be asked is ‘Why, when it comes to gamification and game-based learning, are some educators still stuck on level one playing the part of player 1?’ Even today, in a world where gaming has grown to such an extent that it now has it’s own e-sports channels on YouTube, there are still many educators who refuse to see the woods for the trees.

I believe that much of this Player 1 attitude comes from fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of letting go of what works. Fear of losing control. So much Fear! I know this attitude is particularly prevalent in education, where a stereotypical view of the classroom still exists across much of modern society.

I suppose that I get a little worked up and stressed by this whole idea because I love games; whether they are online, tablet/computer-based, board, card or sports related. I have certainly seen and felt the undeniable benefits that games offer!

There is no doubt that online games opened my eyes to culture, history, nature and science. This is one of the reasons why I love the combination of game-based learning and gamification that is the middle school History game Historia. I wish I had been a History student at this middle school; learning History at middle school was very different for me – it usually involved me copying from the blackboard and answering lots of dull questions on even duller subjects.

So what do I feel when I play games?

I feel immersed, energized and part of something. I also tend to feel very competitive, frustrated and addicted (depending on the game I am playing). The reactions displayed by Libby, in this video, during her player to player battle on Mortal Combat is how I imagine I react when I play similar video games.

I have seen the joy that children get from competing and collaborating (inside and outside the classroom) on different games against/with each other. I know that game based learning and gamification are both fantastic opportunities to make the learning process more enjoyable and engaging.

And so I am going to make my classroom’s learning environment as game-friendly as possible!

Weekly ‘End of level Boss’!

This week my end of level boss (something challenging but incredibly rewarding if it is successful in the classroom) will be to introduce the two typing games – Baronvontypefast and Nitrotype. The reason for this – I am now teaching in Year 6 (Grade 5) where we have one to one iPads and ChromeBooks; this makes speedy typing a priority.