This is a post that should have been written weeks ago, but what with the end of term, leaving schools (more on that later) and joining a new one, I haven’t had chance. But I wanted to share my experience of something that others such as Dawn Hallybone, Tom Barrett and Pete Richardson have been doing for years. Games-Based Learning.
Firstly, I feel a little embarrassed blogging about it as if it something new. It isn’t. Pete’s and Dawn’s blog posts are over 3 years old and Tom’s was written in 2009! So it isn’t a new thing for many people. But it was for me, and I know that many others will see it as something they haven’t tried either.
Our topic in Year 3/4 for the Summer term was Water. Now, the curriculum was fairly subject-specific with little crossover between subjects, so alongside this Geography topic of water, we did look at liquids and solids for half a term in Science, but then moved onto Living things/food chains in the second half-term. Literacy included topics such as adverts and stories in imaginary settings. So not all subjects linked to water, and I wasn’t responsible for some subject areas (like Literacy) meaning that I couldn’t link water/oceans to everything. It meant that the Wii was really only used in the afternoons. By the time we got started with the Wii, after many weeks of other things, there were only around 3 weeks of term left.
I began by clearing a wall in the classroom for our display. The thinking was that we would use this to document our findings along the way. Nothing fancy, just scribbles, questions, post-its and ideas. The best type of display!
So, to explain Endless Ocean…as a game, it’s a bit dull. It’s not a fast-paced action, shooting, racing game at all. It is also 6 years old meaning that the graphics aren’t amazing and I was honest to the children about this at the beginning. I wanted to fend off any negative comments about the game-play or graphics and the children were great, they didn’t moan although there were a few sarcastic comments about the lack of HD or the pixellated fish. The main purpose of the game is that you are on a boat along with an ocean-wildlife expert, but she can’t swim. So as the diver, you get to explore different areas and see what you can find. Every so often, a mission gets emailed and you can follow the mission to go to a certain part of the map or you can do what 90% of my children did, ignore the missions and just go swimming. Once you are through the training (which takes 15 minutes and I did this at home) then you have the whole map to explore.
As you swim, you will encounter various different creatures and to start with, they are unknown. By stroking them (yeah I know) you find out their name. The more you interact with a particular species, the more information gets added to their fact-file. Every time we found a new creature, we wrote the name on a post-it and added it to the board. The children generally had 10-15minutes each controlling the diver and quite often there would be 10 or more children sitting around next to the diver asking questions, giving tips or drawing sketches…or avoiding work by ‘helping’ but we soon dealt with this.
The children who weren’t involved in the dive party tended to be researching information about each creature, finding facts or looking for pictures online. The nice thing is that, as it was the end of the year, they had already been “well-trained” to find information and images themselves. They were able to copy these onto Publisher for example, resize it if necessary and then add a reference to where the photo came from. I was there to help, but this was them working together, sharing learning and developing team skills along the way.
Every now and again though, the class stopped. The first time was when we saw a humpback whale swim past. The diver screamed with excitement and the class all came to watch, even people from outside the classroom just popped in for a second! It was great to see them organising the next steps. One grabbed a camera, another the Playbook (and tweeted the photo) and others grabbed books or netbooks to find out about the whale. (Here’s a video from YouTube of a whale in the game)
There are some odd points, every 3/4 dives you need to go into the cabin and select the rest option to sleep. Nothing happens except it won’t let you dive until you have slept! Also, occasionally the boat gets a visitor in the shape of a penguin, walrus or seal. No idea why, they just turn up. Which is quite cool, but a little strange.
As part of our Literacy, we looked at the story of “A Whale’s Song” and we wrote descriptions of whales and of being in this mysterious world underwater. Instead of just writing that they had seen a dolphin, a fish or a whale, they began describing guitar fish, humpback whales and all sorts-of different things that we had found on our safari.
What worked well? I think that even if they hadn’t been so ICT-savvy, I could have used this topic to teach them how to research and find information but because they are so used to using the internet now, this meant that these aspects worked like a charm. Also, when we looked at food chains, many used the information they had found on Endless Ocean to help construct their ideas. It was amazing to see their cooperation and I really think they gained a lot from working together. It was great to see the gamers helping the non-gamers with controls, showing them how to swim, turn and find fish.
What would I do differently? I’d make sure that it linked with our Literacy too. We could have written postcards from the boat, news reports of our findings, recounts of our adventures, poems describing what we’d seen and much more.
Overall, the children loved it. I know that some parents and some members of staff thought we were just playing, but once we had found 30+ species in 3 days, we managed to convince a few that this was a learning tool and something a little bit different to just using the internet or books to find out about ocean life. As one child said: ” I can’t even swim on my own, but I’ve just been on a coral reef with a sea turtle”. Awe and wonder. Maybe that’s what it is all about?
Techy point – How does the Wii connect at school? We used the red/white leads to connect the audio and the yellow lead connected to the same panel our whiteboard normally went into. Took about 30 seconds to setup!
Oh and the game? Second-hand on Amazon from £8