Games + Learning + Society 6.0 . . . Video Games and Education


Kurt Squires opened the GLS 6.0 with a presentation based upon the premise games are good and games can support student learning. He believes there has been enough research to prove games are good and do make a difference to student learning.

He proposed good games and learning are equal possibility spaces. Games can be fun. Not every game is great or even fun.

What makes a good game?

  • sense of orchestration of time
  • choice of character
  • geography is important
  • game consists of sets of choices and consequences
  • given goals: short, medium, long term (that you really want to do)
  • and incidental goals occurring along the way.
  • Making own story / own game.
  • Game is a balanced progression – map mastery of learning and the development of novel strategies.

Games provide what is missing from real world

  • social possibilities
  • be something you’re not
  • learning is social
  • productive possibilities

Hierarchy of Gamers

  • Newbie – curious
  • Competent – mastery – involvement
  • Master player – systems level – community leader and  – call to leadership
  • Tinker – modding & changing games – addictive
  • Designing own games (red = Social Context – involvement in a deeper way)

Games Rubric

  • good choices / consequences
  • designed for systemic understanding
  • transgression / can’t do in real life –
  • immersion strategy
  • socialable
  • inspire creativity
  • ramp from consumer to producer smooth
  • are the biases interesting one

How do we make GOOD learning games? Need to understand

  • What do we mean by games?
  • What do we mean by learning?
  • How do we learn through games?

Observe – action – reaction- practice – evaluate- re apply understanding-

Kids become interested in information gathering and developing personal expertise.

Games need to be matched to the curriculum. They need to be

  • Purposeful and carefully designed
  • Interest driven – concentrated work – satisfaction
  • Tasks have to be freely chosen – Montessori

Signs of normalisation in a classroom are a love of:

  • order
  • work
  • concentration
  • self discpline
  • independence
  • generosity

For students to be game designers the tasks they are undertaking need to be authentic. It is the authenticity that makes the difference.  The game that is an add on to the curriculum and does not grow out of quality teaching practices and the curriculum has little validity.

ARIS . . . Mobile Learning Programming

What does the acronym ARIS mean? It stands for Augmented Reality & Interactive Storytelling. It is being trialled and developed at U.Wisconsin Madison.

How do we access and manage ARIS?

  • downloadable to the iphone.
  • over time more features will keep coming through Apps Store.

ARIS Program allows non-programmers to make mobile games this includes using QR codes
ARIS Alpha Editor is open source under MIT licence. It has two components:

  1. Switch iphone settings –
  2. Laptop programmer-

It is best to test directly on the device.

This workshop was great and even a technomoron like me had developed a small game and trialled it in the 2 hour workshop. It is a program that can be used by students and teachers to share learning and understandings across all KLA’s.

Students do it their way and they do it well!

Last week I had the pleasure to witness seven Stage 3 students from our school demonstrate their skills at making games to an audience of 80 teachers at the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Connected Learning Conference last week.

Three of the students presenting at the Conference had formal training in how to use Gamemaker at the end of 2006. At the end of that project the students said they had enjoyed the experience and learning about Gamemaker but they hated the way they were taught.

Before the next round of game making began students involved negotiated a Design Brief for the games they were to make. Brainstormed elements of a good game and developed a rubric with the criteria for evaluating their work.

The other four students were then taught by their three expert peers using a pedagogical method that suited their purposes and which would have sent me crazy. Between them, in 10 school days, they had created 4 maze games for students in a Stage 2 class to play as part of their unit on the Solar System. These games were also entered in a Learning Resource Awards competition for students.

The Belmore South students in their presentation demonstrated to the audience that their learning had incorporated most of the qualities identified in the NSW quality teaching model. The two students Sam-James and Sharliyah who demonstrated how to make a basic game showed a deep and thorough understanding and knowledge of the requirements of programming a digital game. The other panel members Aisha, Farabee, Yilmaz, Martin and Jasmeen demonstrated their games. They too demonstrated a deep understanding and knowledge of digital games structure and programming.

The panel chaired by Naomi, a Year 4 student, revealed the students’ evaluation of how their gamemaking experience progressed and why this kind of learning activity has an important part to play in their classroom.

It just goes to show you that if we listen to students and respond to them they will show themselves to be learners who are:

  • self motivated
  • enjoy taking ownership of a project / activity
  • capable of purposeful creativity
  • enjoy peer to peer teaching and do it very well.

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.

Technology, Games and the whole damn thing . .

While it is really good to be living in the peace and relative freedom that exists in this large land of ours, Australia, it has enormous drawbacks and detractors.

Our country is so large, our population so small and so isolated. To engage in dialogue with educators who have similar views and ideals is nigh on impossible. I am lucky that Kim Pericles and I work in the same school.

We are fortunate in that the experience we had in the UK earlier this year has made us aware of all the possibilities that exist when it comes to integrating technologies with classroom teaching practice.

We came home full of enthusiasm and a desire to make a difference and since then we seem to have been standing still caught in a web of indecision, so much to do, where to begin and how to begin.

It is wonderful to see that so many of the people we spoke to in the UK are now working together on things that we were talking about with them. They have taken Gamemaker, Missionmaker, Neverwinter Nights and Thinking Worlds and begun to do some serious study into the effects that game making has upon children’s learning and creativity.

They have the backing and the blessing of Learning Teaching Scotland, they are able to communicate face to face working within 60 minutes of each other, to share ideas to develop pedagogy and appropriate practice.

We feel like we are lone voices in the wilderness. Our system and the bureaucrats are obsessed by literacy and numeracy results. Each Principals’ meeting I have been to this year has been obsessed with the data and how we (our area, our region) look as a reult of the zillionth analysis of the data. Why can’t we let go and try something different that might actually engage our students and switch them on to being self directed learners.

We have applied for an ASISTM (Science, Technology and Mathematics) Grant to work across NSW BOS, with NSW DET Centre for Learning Innovation, Macquarie University and several professional teaching associations and a cluster of five schools, 2 High Schools and 3 primary schools. We want to look at developing the use of play and gamemaking in the development of creativity and enrichment of our students language learning experiences and also as a means of turning students onto programming, maths and physics. It seems like the decision about whether we are a worthy project is taking forever. Meanwhle LTS are motoring along doing great things.

And now you have elive to look forward to.

The NSW Centre for Learning Innovation is about to release a video on using Gamemaker in the classroom, we have been sharing teaching / learning strategies about the Interactive whiteboard and this has been filmed by the CLI for use in classrooms across NSW, especially as now the NSW Government has promised 1 interactive whiteboard per school as a matter of policy.

The NSW DET Centre for Learning Innovation has been fantastic they are a group of educators who want to fly ahead with encouraging teachers and students to use technology in a variety of different ways in the classroom. They can see the possibilities and have provided our school with enormous opportunities and encouraged Kim and I in our endeavours.

The NSW Board of Studies are also interested in promoting the use of technology, especially as they are undertaking the rewriting of the primary Science and Technology syllabus. Technologies, web 2.0, gamemaking and the mobile technologies all being well suited for any scientific explorations. The technologies;however, should not be limited to the science subjects. There are all manner of creative, language and social benefits acruing from the imaginative and creative use of these tools. if only we could get rid of this noose that is about our necks.

SCRATCH: a Game authoring tool, or is it the 21st Century LOGO?

MIT has been at the forefront of Technology Innovation for a long time now. Papert being the guru. Henry Jenkins and a plethora of game makers, educational technology tools, Logo, Robotics, AI . . . need I go on.

Trawling through blogs as one does when one has time I noted Derek Robertson mentioned a new program from MIT suited to game making / authoring. It is called SCRATCH.

It’s structure is not that dissimilar to Game maker 6.0 and functions in a similar kind of way suited maybe to a younger age group. A Logo like thing with the capacity to import and manipulate graphics of your choosing with sound and animation etc.

Our Year 6 students are quite accomplished game makers, players and animators I have asked a couple of them to critique SCRATCH and let me know what age group they think it could be used with and comment on what  they see as it’s main curriculum use. Stay tuned for their comments I’m sure they will help us in our evaluation.

Another observation is that it seems to perfom same funtions on the computer screen as the little Bee bots and Probots. It looks like it might suit ages 6 to 10, maybe younger for some really digital savvy bubs. We’ll investigate.

Couple of other things happening around games at Belmore South Primary School at the moment (inspired by what we learned from TLScotland’s Derek Robertson at the Consolarium). We have adapted what we saw to create programs of work  that are designed to suit our students’ needs and fit our learning outcomes using games’ consoles.

  1. An infants  family group class consisting of Kindergarten, Year 1 +2 students is using the Playstation 2 with an eye toy to practice and enhance the students fine and gross motor skills. It will be interesting to note how they perform in pre and post test situations. They are buddying with a Primary family group of Year 4, 5 + 6 students who know how to use the PS2, this is necessary because the teachers don’t have the knowledge of their students in regard to the PS2:however, they can see how the PS2 can be used in the educational context to enhance the students learning experiences – Judi Leonard and Kim Pericles are the amazing teachers.
  2. A Stage 3 class (Kim’s) are co-developing a PE Skills program. They are using the new NINTENDO WII to practice and develop the skills of tennis. The students’ prior knowledge about tennis has been accessed and it will be interesting to see how this project unfolds.
  3. The Game Maker Pilot Project we worked on with the NSW DET Centre for Learning Innovation is being launced next week and will be available for other schools in NSW to trial. It is interesting to note that Jake Habgood has disappeared from Game maker site and Mark Overmers is now taking the lead. I believe Game maker is a good program.
  4. Some of our Year 6 bloggers are now turning their hand to web design and will be working with younger students to ensure our website is up and maintained. Our technology committee agreed we would not have a website operational until; the students could run it. They are now able and it will be up before the end of term.

Knowledge building networks . . . is Wiki the way to go?

A cluster of 5 schools plus assorted experts and associates, are about to embark upon a project revolving around students making computer games of various sorts. I was reading John Connell’s BLOG and he asked the question when did “I” appear in the word project. He has caused me to reflect upon how we might keep “we” and “our” in our project. 

The schools to be involved cover the spectrum of Kindergarten to Year 12. In this range there is a diversity of pedagogies and approaches taken to student learning. Ideally by the end of the project new classroom practices and new networks will have been developed.

I have been reading Scardamalia (2002) on knowledge building networks. She claims that if communities of practice do not have an intentional goal of learning and producing knowledge they descend into “shallow constructivism”. She continues learners need to be engaged in activities at a level of deep understanding about why or what they should be trying to learn.

The purpose of knowledge building networks is to engage groups in producing their own knowledge. This is a profoundly
authentic activity. It would appear that it would be just as appropriate to use this methodology with young and inexperienced learners as well as with those who might be called experts.

The essential elements of this approach are:

  • Learning is intentional

  • Knowledge building is collaborative

  • Learners are responsible for setting their own learning goals

  • Ability to identify problem areas or areas of weakness

  • Collaboratively determine the best way to solve problems as they arise

  • Ideas and explanations are developed and shared publicly with peers

  • Peers offer suggestions about, alternatives to and reflections upon ideas developed

  • Through identifying weaknesses and refining ideas the group advances its understanding of the project

Focus must always remain on

  • The ideas and knowledge being generated

  • The tasks and activities undertaken are seen as important as long as they continue to be the appropriate tools for enabling knowledge creation.

It is apparent we could use a wiki or wikis to support students and teachers in their knowledge creation. Wikis lend themselves to supporting such knowledge creation if the group is highly structured with a shared learning goal. 

To make sure we are to move forward in our professional practice we need to keep Wengers (1998:269) words firmly in our minds.

 If an institutional setting for learning does not offer new forms of identification and negotiability – that is, meaningful forms of membership and empowering forms of ownership of meaning – then it will mostly reproduce the communities and economies of meaning outside of it.

Summary of insights / skills gained on Study Tour of England and Scotland.

Summary of insights / skills gained on Study Tour.

There needs to be a shift of power in the classroom BUT “moving old minds is difficult” (McFarlane:2007@ BETT).  

The most important change is to recognise that the students’ informal learning (out of school) needs to move towards formal (in school ) learning. Schools need to recognise that  students’ skills are appropriate and relevant in a learning environment. 

Key Phrases that have made an impact:  “support more learner / learner interaction to  move power from tutor to learner . . .  the wise leader might create space where learner and tutor feel comfortable interacting and learning from each other.” 

New technologies, outside the learning space are providing opportunities for interactivity. They involve:

  • Choice
  • Control
  • Communication
  • Communities

Concepts of creativity and originality are being challenged.

Space and identity are being re-defined.

The way we solve problems and raise questions is being transformed.

Citizens can build their own communities and networks online. 

In the 21st century it is necessary to look at transforming:

  • Curriculum to be about knowledge creation, collaboration, community building
  • Pedagogy. Who teaches? Need to be authentic, immersive and reflective.
  • Institutions need to be experienced personally to understand strengths and weaknesses.

Blurring boundaries between learning, playing, communicating, socialising and working.

 Learning is about relationships NOT IT. 

Are we adding new tech tools onto an old system , , ,  or do we need to create something completely new? 

Directions to be taken:

  • Digital games
  • Handheld technologies
  • Online creative communities
  • Managing face to face interaction

Web 2.0 and Learning


  • creating content
  • writing for pleasure support
  • informal learning (digital show and tell)
  • Personalisation
  • choice / voice S
  • elf esteem  S
  • Sharing
  • Reflection and review 


  • Writing for an audience 
  • Proof reading,
  • fact checking  
  • Awareness of different perspectives  
  • Evaluation and discernment – issues of trust, ownership and authority 
  • Social Construction and collaboration


  • Multimodal literacy
  • Speaking and listening 
  • Engagement           
  • Accessibility   
  • Lesson recording
  • e-portfolio 

Games are one aspect of ICT that can have a very powerful impact on students learning to be effective citizens of the future.  From my observations of students at our school and of students in the UK the results are the same students are totally immersed and understanding of what they are doing. Games are:

  • Interactive
  • Pedagogically well structured
  • Encourage interactivity and learning
  • Active not for consumption
  • Able to engender flow
  • Totally engaging
  • (some) are about storytelling

Three main approaches to games: 

  1. Educators and/or game developers produce games for students to play and learn
  2. Integrate commercial off the shelf games (COTS) into the classroom
  3. Students build their own games, using specialist drop and drag software.

Most in classroom use and research into students making /
authoring their own games is in the primary context with children aged 9 to 12 years. These projects integrate the games based materials into the curriculum or are used to support and develop the students storytelling and writing skills. 
We had the pleasure of meeting with Judy Robertson of Heriot Watt University and talking with her and her team about the Game Authoring tool they are developing for neverwinter Nights. We visited Ancrum Road Primary School in Dundee where the use of game authoring tools has been trialled. It was inspirational.

The project we have undertaken at Belmore South Public School, in conjunction with the NSW Department of Eduction and Training’s Centre for Learning Innovation is at the cutting edge.  

What’s changed for you?I did not believe there was much place for commercial off the shelf games in the classroom, after visiting the Consolarium in Dundee and talking to its Director Derek Robertson I am prepared to investigate this idea further. As a result of our experiences at the Consolarium Belmore South Primary School has a Playstation 2 with I-toy , a WII and several DS Lites with games. We will be developing learning programs utilising these consoles, recording and monitoring our findings as we go.

I am committed to the powerful nature of students authoring games and the impact it has across a wide area of the curriculum: literacy, science, mathematics. It addresses all aspects of the NSW Quality teaching model as well as many other NSW DET and Federal Priority Programs. I now believe that the only way to begin to prepare our students for the future is to teach them how to learn and that the most effective way of handling knowledge and content is through networking.  

The only way to make a difference as a leader is to gather a network of open minded principal colleagues (from both primary and secondary schools) and develop a knowledge creating, sharing network where our knowledge and skills are diverse and complimentary and we are committed to the vision of preparing our students to become effective citizens of the future. Quality pedagogy, ICT and games, as an element of IT, are pivotal to this process. 

The school leader is the lynchpin in any change. It is up to leaders to model and lead staff.

Post BETT 2007 thoughts

BETT 2007 was  4 days jam packed with all manner of ICT paraphenalia. What was seen, heard and felt covers a broad spectrum: exhilaration, excitement, challenged, stimulation, tired, affirmation, depression, disappointment, claustrophobia, freedom, overwhelmed, fascinated.

The majority of the seminars attended were well worth queuing for at the ticket desk as early as possible in the day.

Angela McFarlane’s analysis of the impact of technology upon education as being “disruptive”. She suggested Technology becomes disruptive when it moves the power balance  away from the teacher and into the hands of the students.

A fine example of how this theory has been used positively was shared at the Dfes stand by Dan Buckley and the crew who worked on the Islands of Scilley Project. It was a fine example of how the schools in this area moved the emphasis from the teacher to the student. Probably the very best practical guidelines as how this can be done to be found at the Show.

The emphasis in Professor McFarlane’s presentation and Keri Facer’s were both loud and clear. There needs to be learner to learner interaction to move power and responsibility from tutor to learner. Children should have control / say when it comes to their learning and know their contribution will make a difference.

Many students outside of school use the Web 2.0. They are used to making choices, taking control, creating, communicating and participating in a wide variety of communities on line. Much of this is adhoc.

To facilitate student control the social aspect of technologies could be used in schools to support learning.  As educators we need to learn from the best of what is happening in online creative spaces and apply these in the classroom.

This is a most frightening proposition for many educators. It is disruptive to traditional views of how a classroom should work.  

This is where I was disappointed and depressed about what I saw at BETT. It seemed that much of the commercially produced material were based on blackline masters, teacher directed, test oriented and a dumbed down curriculum. The presentations whilst colourful and animated showed a total lack of respect for the capabilities, capacities and interests of students who are digitally savvy. Then there were all the platforms designed to control information flow and determine what can and cannot be seen by students.

Don’t get me wrong there is obviously a place for commercially produced material of quality. The most refreshing innovative and exciting student centred software packages that were at the Show were the Shoofly Publishing Connected Curriculum Literature materials: Moon Buddies, Jack and the Beans Talk and Angel Boy. They are great stimulus materials. Anne Curtis and her colleagues show flair and an understanding of how to motivate young people. The Stage 3 teachers at Belmore South have been quick to pick up on this upon our return to Sydney. It is good to see Shoofly’s software  nominated for the prestigious upcoming awards.

The other software that was appealing is the Shakespeare Works package because it’s novel approach is designed to engage and stimulate students.