EDU-GAMES TO FIGHT SUMMER BRAIN SLIDE
This summer, schools of clownfish will become shark bait, hordes of zombies will die (again!) and a man will be repeatedly shot from a cannon – all in an attempt to prevent “summer brain slide”.
For the last couple of years education technology teacher John Rutherford has used an award-winning games-based learning system he co-developed to tackle this well-documented problem. The success of the project has been remarkable and proven to benefit a huge range of students. In the pilot year the most successful student was one who was classed as having special educational needs due to literacy problems. Last year that claim went to a student who had completed (not merely played but actually completed) over 200 interactive learning games across a wide range of subject areas. With this in mind and, encouraged by some schools districts, lots more schools are getting on board and looking forward to more literate, better-educated students arriving back after the long summer vacation.
The project does not try to fight against the young generation’s love of gaming (a common stance exemplified by President Obama’s recent comments on the damaging impact of games consoles on education). Instead it embraces such interests and uses a wide range of fun and effective game engines as the conduit to developing literacy and subject-specific knowledge.
The system used is an online resource called What2Learn (www.what2learn.com) which provides free accounts for students and teachers to access thousands of learning games, the number of which is increasing all the time. Although originally developed for use in the classroom, being online with no need to download additional software makes it perfect for learning during vacations as it can be accessed any time anywhere. It taps in to many of the features youngsters love about web 2.0, for example they get to design their own character from scratch which they get to enhance over time. e.g. with soccer shirts, backgrounds, pets and much more. These extras require them to spend credits that are earned through the completion of learning games. They are also able to link themselves to their friends so they can compete in a league to see who can complete the most games. Instant feedback and guidance within the games ensures they are able to improve and develop.
From the perspective of parents and teachers, providing access to a huge bank of resources such as this would not be enough to make the project successful. It is essential that the progress students make is recorded and rewarded. Automated reports on student activity and progress from within teacher accounts make this easy. It is even possible for parents and teachers to quickly add their own questions and answers to the game engines and see scores attained in these new games, making it easy to tailor the content to the personal requirements of a student or class.
To ensure maximum engagement it was recognized that parents needed to be well-informed about the problems of ‘summer brain slide’, the benefits of the project and how to use the resource. This was carried out through presentations and through the school newsletter. The vast majority of parents were more than delighted to have something of educational value they could get their children to do for half an hour at various times throughout the vacation. Students also need to understand that the school will be monitoring student progress and will reward those who achieve the most upon their return.
Along with co-developer Nick Romney, John has been eagerly pushing the boundaries of how effective such a resource can be. Most recently this has been exemplified by the addition of a further in-built reward and underlying game within What2Learn. Drawing on the amazing global popularity of games such as Farmville, all What2Learn students are now given a farm to care for and develop. Of course, to do so requires them to spend credits that can only be earned through the completion of learning games. The farm develops over time, providing children with a strong draw to encourage them to return regularly.
Having recently picked up a Microsoft-sponsored award recognising the “impact and improvement” in learning it has enabled, the resource is rapidly gaining momentum as a tool for enabling learning outside the classroom. For example, in the UK it is used across southern England and London for students who are unable to attend school for medical reasons. An independent review of its use for this found just one major complaint – one child was unhappy as his mother had thought it was so good that she had forced her son to use it for hours each day. Poor soul!
- Smartkiddies – games for all subjects
- Free games-based learning accounts for US students
- Pursuit cycling – London 2012 educational game