Digital games based learning . . . safe and engaging

Digital games are “hard fun” (Seymour Papert)

There are many factors to be considered when using digital games in education. It is not a matter of sticking the student in front of a computer screen, loading the game and hoping for the best.

Not all games

  • are good educational games.
  • provoke higher order thinking, creativity and problem solving nor do they provide challenge.
  • encourage active involvement, many are passive rote learning, single player games.
  • are based on the desktop or laptop computer.

Digital games are also available anytime anywhere on Nintendo DS Lites, Sony Playstation Palms (PSP), mobile phones, Ipods and touch screen phones.
Digital games can also to be played on Sony Playstations 2 and 3, the X-Box or using the Nintendo Wii.

Digital Games on any of the above devices can be played alone, in a group or with the rest of the world.

Games can be used simply as rote learning tools these are not the sort of games we are discussing.

The digital games we work with are the kind which see the imagination soar, set challenges and problems to be thought about and solved, provide opportunities to create and share.
They can be games which simulate real life situations.
They can be games which allows students to create their own worlds for gamers to explore and learn about.

The most important aspect for us is these games can be played with safety on reliable inexpensive high quality equipment.

It is for this reason that our school has been diversifying our technology acquisitions during the past few years to include the above handheld and console devices. Digital games motivate the students through their world and can be safely incorporated into engaging curriculum based  instruction.

To develop teachers expertise, interest and confidence we have Technology Fairs where teachers share their expertise or interest in a particular digital game or device with their colleagues. During these sessions they work in small groups and are asked to evaluate each game and device shared at these fairs as to how they might incorporate them into their class programs.

Most games used in our school are commercial off the shelf (COTS) available for anyone to purchase others can be accessed through the internet.

Many digital games are very good but some are dreadful. We apply very strict criteria to the digital games we use in our programmes.

Our criteria for  a good digital game are:

1. It is fun to play
2. It is challenging for different levels of ability, therefore it needs to have different levels of difficulty built into the game play.
3. It is accessible for different types of players, ie, there has to be something in the game for everyone.
4. It provides a relevant learning context and content.
5. It provides the player with the opportunity to create.

As James Paul Gee, professor of educational learning sciences, at Phoenix University observed “a game that is too easy will be criticised . . . and will not be a success. A game should be challenging, fair and deep. If it’s not, it won’t sell.”

When used properly digital games serve to uniquely motivate, teach and encourage students; poor performing students or underachieving students can be motivated and capable students will ask both relevant and important questions concerning themselves and the world.

For digital games to be effective in an educational setting the teacher and students, need to be confident of the outcomes to be achieved when using the digital game/s. The games need to be age appropriate and highly engaging.

When using digital games in the learning environment the teacher has a responsibility to:
1. Determine if the game is the best type for her purpose.
2. Be clear about the learning outcomes to be achieved.
3. Plan lessons accordingly
4. Talk to the students about the game, ask questions to establish the appropriate setting and context before the game is played
5. Negotiate with the students how the work involving the game will be assessed and develop a rubric designed to measure learning.
6. Provide regular feedback and evaluation.

Teachers check out DS Lites

At Belmore South Public School students have been using DS Lites in several classes for over 12 months.

Ms Fanggiadae’s Stage 2 ‘s used them to promote thinking and problem solving skills.

Mrs Pericles Stage 2/3 class used them to explore the Oceans from a scientific and literary perspective.

The DS Lites had been available to students during lunch time in the Library; however, for most of the teachers the DS Lite was a brand new experience.

The way the teachers approached the technology was quite different to the students in Stage 3E.


DS Lites . . . expand students’ capacity for learning while playing.

While in Scotland, more precisely Dundee. I had the pleasure of visiting Derek Robertson in LTS  Consolarium. My colleague Kim and I had an amazing time engaging with hardware and software that appeared to have great potential in the classroom.

LTS were running a trial using the Brain Training Program and Derek reported that all students had shown improvement from point of pretest to the time when we were talking to him ( see Derek’s Blog).

Kim and I left Derek with so many ideas swimming around in our heads.

The first thing we did was go and buy 2 DS Lites and a couple of the programs Derek had recommended. That night rugged up warm and cosy by the fire in St Monans we played with the DS Lites, engrossed and engaged by the challenge they afforded us as adults, and adult learners at that.

The programs we had were Dr Kawashimas Brain Training, The Big Brain Academy, Phoenix Wright, Sponge Bob Square Pants and a Tamagochi style program, the name of which eludes me. Since then we have purchased many more as well as another 8 DS Lites for the students in Stage 3 ( Years 5/6).

These little machines and their programs were easy for us to master and neither of us would consider ourselves amazingly good with technology;however, we were hooked. As educators we could see the possibiities and the benefits were potentially enormous.

First of all of the programs we looked at are those that claim to be Brain Trainers . . .  Dr Kuwashima’s Brain Training picked up on a clever marketing ploy when he named his program Brain Training. The program requires a Brain Age Check. It uses the Stroop test and 20 x calculations to determine this. The the student undertakes daily brain training, which is charted over a period of time, to develop their brain age to the ideal 20 years. Each activity / game played trains the brain. Initially braining training involves only 3 components: Calculations x 20, x 100 and reading aloud. All depend on accuracy and speed. When the program determines the student is introduced to the other components: Low to High (numbers); Syllable count; Head Count; Triangle Math; Time Lapse and Voice Calculation. Sudoku games are also available for practice.

Our school has a couple of copies of Dr Kuwashima’s Brain Training. There has been huge demand on this program because of clever marketing program where it was promoted as a package that developed learning and delayed the onset of altsheimers in the elderly. We found the basic facts elements of the program really good and the training sound; however, the passages to be read in the initial test were way out of the range of our children. English as a second language also limited accuracy for reading the the speed passages as well. The notion of a younger brain is all very well for older people it is not as motivating for younger people. Our students will;however, trialling this on a daily basis

The program that we are more positive about testing at our school Belmore South Public School is The Big Brain Academy. It works on the principle of increasing the brain’s weight. This is more more appealing to the students. The program offers a test that is taken to determine intial Brain Weight. The student’s results are anlaysed and a diagram informs them of their areas of strength and weakness. They choose to practise accordingly. They test themselves on a weekly basis to test overall improvement. They practise skills daily.

The categories that determine the brain weight are ability to : analyse (reason), think (logic), compute(math), memorise(memory) and indentify((visual). In this program the games, their structure, the graphics and the challenge are all is engaging and motivating for the students.

Each category consists of three different activities with three levels of difficulty. When the students achieve a cetain score they achieve either a bronze, silver or gold medal for their effort.

Another advantage that the DS lites have is that they can be connected via wirelss. This allows the students not only to practise skills singly. They are also able to test their skills against their peers.

The DS Lites also provide a reasonably inexpensive way for our students to play a variety of computer games. This is good preparation for when we begin to analyse games in preparation for them developng their own Games.  They are asked to evaluate the games in terms of what constitutes a good game.

 They will begin to do plan and develop their own games in Semester 2 using either Game maker 7.0 or Mission maker. They cannot make a game without developing an appropriate narrative for its context. To play as many games as possible critically will give them good background.