Making Games in Schools Workshop, 17th – 19th
March 2010 By Ray Mathias
As mentor * for MGiS I see my role as a critical friend (and
occasional adviser) to the project.As
well as seeking to support the success of MGiS, I am also interested in the
lessons that we can learn from it, which might inform similar projects in the
future. So I come to the project with
several questions, from ‘how does the Adventure Author software work?’ to ‘how effectively
can a making games approach be integrated into classroom teaching?’ to ‘how far
could we extend this approach across disciplines/the curriculum?’ It is self-evident that if learning to use the
software is not a barrier to using it, and the games it produces are good
quality, then it will engage some students. However, will engagement lead to deeper
learning and will the range of students who engage with game-making be wide or
Judy and Catherin’s suggestion that I join one of the MGiS
teacher workshops seemed a good opportunity to experience the project at first
hand and maybe answer some of these questions.
The workshop was extremely well organised and created a
professional atmosphere in which the teachers felt they were ‘valued’ and being
offered a high quality training experience.The course was well structured and the content was very comprehensive.I especially liked the way that the course
was embedded in the broader context of professional development, learning
theory etc., but without detracting from the core tasks of understanding how to
use the software in the classroom.
A particularly valuable activity was meeting a teacher (and
19 of her students) who had been part of the first training cohort. The students and teacher were convincing
advocates for the MGiS model. It was
clear that the approach had done much to enthuse and engage them. Generally, the students reported that MGiS had
changed their approach to story-telling and this was supported by the teacher
who reported that students had been motivated to write much more, and more
creatively, in essays. The only real
criticism seemed to be that some students would prefer a more modern game
environment. The teacher had ‘no buts’
about the MGiS approach.
Participating in the workshop allowed me to understand how
the software works and to appreciate the flexibility and power of the MGiS model
when engaging students. The
participating teachers were very impressed with the course and the potential of
the project.MGiS is clearly an
excellent opportunity for cross-curricular working in schools.
The ‘hidden questions’ in the project (does a games making
approach increase student’s logical and computational thinking skills) will
only be answered once the in-school phase of the project is completed and all
the feedback and evaluation is completed.If MGiS delivers evidence that game making has a positive effect across
disciplines (benefitting both literacy and computing skills) this will support
the argument for more gaming (and more cross-curricular working) in schools.
*MGiS is funded by the
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of their Public
Engagement programme.Each project
funded under this programme is allocated a mentor to support and advise the
We had another excellent MGiS training session in December, working with the new cohort of teachers who proved to be a highly creative and reflective bunch and very enjoyable to work with! They have all now scurried back to their schools and are busy planning and preparing - and even blogging - as they get their projects underway. I am looking forward to visiting! Follow the MGiS project blogs to keep up with all the school developments with MGiS.
And I have had fun to date visiting the Cohort 1 schools, seeing some great work and exemplary practice. I was very interested to see how well the computer science-English department partnerships have been working in the two high schools who have opted for a joint approach. The central role of the fantasy text has been very helpful for all concerned, giving a focus to CS lessons and bringing staff and pupils together in a strongly creative way. I've made a new page on the site to gather thoughts about all things fantasy, so do please send us your ideas. Richard, too, is doing sterling cross-curricular creative stuff in his P7 class and the kids are equally well-motivated. I am looking forward to visiting the Cohort 2 schools this term, especially now the snow has eased!
We are encouraging our project teachers to develop their practice and deepen their understandings around games in schools (although it has to be said they're already pretty far down this track!). We hope all teachers will enjoy our new page for learning professionals which has with lots of useful reading and information related to games and learning in the classroom, including a link to the General Teaching Council for Scotland who can give accreditation for work in this field.
We are busy making preps for training Cohorts 3 and 4 in quick succession, so time is running out if you want to apply - see the project info page to find out more. It would seem we are already over-subscribed for Cohort 4, but there may still be a chance of joining Cohort 3 if you have a strong application and are quick with your technical checks - very, very important! No good having great plans if the kit ends up letting you down . . .
We had a fantastic two and a half days' training with Cohort 1 colleagues back in September, exploring the software and the principles of the project but also discovering the delights of sucking tea through chocolate biscuit straws, so we now know how to improve the content for Cohort 2!! We then set everyone loose to plan and execute their projects back in school, and preparations for this have been going well (see Tony's blog on progress at St Aloysius, top left, including possible cake-baking ventures by English teacher Ryan, all in a cross-curricular cause, of course). Everyone now seems poised to work with their pupils from the second half of the term onwards and in many cases schools have wooed other departments such as geograpy, MFL and business studies, forming teaching partnerships in the true spirit of A Curriculum for Excellence. We also have four fine Heriot-Watt PhD students to support schools with technical matters, which is a great bonus for the project. As the classroom-based work unfolds in the coming weeks we will give you news of progress - and each school will be linking a blog to this site, so you can hear from the horses' mouths just how it's all going!
And now my thoughts are turning to Cohort 2, whose training begins in December. We have already had much interest and it looks as though we might already be full, but do please submit an application in case we have a last-minute casualty (as happened in September) or if you want to be considered for Cohorts 3 or 4: http://judyrobertson.typepad.com/adventure_author/2009/05/mgis-4-deadlines-for-applications-20092010.html. We can offer on-the-ground support if you are reasonably accessible from Heriot-Watt (about a 50 mile radius), but if you have the technical back-up in school and feel you could cope on a remote support basis, do talk to us to see what might be possible.
Schools from Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Moray and West Lothian are joining us for the first round of Making Games in Schools, kicking off with a residential course at Heriot-Watt University from 2-4 September. We'll be encouraging them to blog their experiences and are very much looking forward to seeing what they do with the NWN2 and Adventure Author software in their classrooms. Watch this space for further news of their exploits!
Applications are steadily flowing in for the Making Games in Schools project, some for cohort one, some for cohort two, and we are delighted to be in a position to say that the first round of training will definitely be going ahead, such is the level of interest as the last few applications make their way through the ether. Judy and I will be looking through all the applications in detail early next week and will let everyone know our final decisions as soon as we can. It's very encouraging to see so much enthusiasm, and we do appreciate some schools being flexible about which cohort they join.
I must add that it's been fantastic to see how good the bids are - we tentatively asked for at least two classes and two teachers to be involved, but in most cases far, far more than that will be brought on board, and over a longer period that we had dared hope, with all sorts of plans for cross-curricular projects and wider staff training, too - thank you, brave pioneers all!
More news soon of the final group for cohort one . . .
If you are thinking about applying for the Making Games in Schools project, the dates below show how we are planning to time the four cohorts over the coming year. Each will begin with 2.5 days' training at Heriot Watt University for successful applicants and projects will then run in schools during the ensuing weeks.
Applications should reach us by the following dates:
Closing date: Friday 12 June 2009
Training 2-4 Sept 2009 Project to run during Sept/Oct
Closing date: Friday 30 October 2009
Training 9-11 Dec 2009 Project to run during Jan/Feb 2010
Closing date: Friday 29 January 2010
Training in early/mid March 2010 (TBA) Project to run during April/May
Closing date: Friday 19 March 2010
Training late April (TBA) Project to run during May/June
For more information, download the MGiS information sheet and application form:
A big hello to those who attended Educators' Day at the NILE conference. I hope you enjoyed it. Here are some resources to get you started if you're thinking about following up on the projects you heard about.
I am awash with recent academic reading about children's writing in a visual age, and realising that we know way too little about how our children are making their stories when they set to with all the power of the NWN toolset and the Adventure Author plug-ins at their finger tips. As teachers, we are going to have to bone up on changing views of literacy if we are to keep pace with our children; we are going to have to find out as much as we can about the interplay between word and image as children increasingly create narratives using both, with both modes carrying valid and often sophisticated meaning. We can't fall back on the old prejudice of placing less value on the pictures, giving the words higher status - there is a a symbiotic relationship going on that we need to understand and need to be able to talk about. In developing our research through the Adventure Author project, we are ahead of the game, but there is still much to be done to really understand how stories are made (and interpreted) in this multimodal way.
The world told versus the world shown Gunther Kress, Professor of English Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, says of multimodal messages, "There is a consequence for notions of meaning: if the message is realised, 'spread across', several modes, we need to know on what basis that spreading happens, what principles are at work . . . Making meaning in writing and making meaning in reading both have to be newly thought about." He asks some searching questions to which, as a profession, we don't yet know the answers: "Can image do things that writing cannot do? Or what is it that writing can do that image cannot? . . . And so the really large question is, what is distinctive about the resource of writing [for making meaning]?" Kress also says, "I think we need to be wary of being fooled by the seeming stability of the word [notably the book]."
Kress is clearly a pioneer in the field of "visual literacy" - and there is a pressing need to update our thinking, our teaching and our children's curriculum - but much of his work is based on static images, and he admits that the surface has barely been scratched in terms of moving image and the animated, interactive experience of the video computer game. Enter the Adventure Author research team . . .