June 17 2012

The Hills are alive ….

I recently attended my first TeachMeet. If you don’t know what they are, it’s worth checking them out – great professional development and dialogue with colleagues from all walks of life! At the Hills Teachmeet, we had beginning teachers, teachers in training, primary, secondary, head teachers, LOTE, English, Maths, deputies and principals, from public and private systems. We also had people presenting via SKYPE, one from their loungeroom in regional NSW, one from the side of the lake near his house in Victoria, and one from overseas somewhere! It was a great experience to be a part of, even through my terror.

Why terror? Well, I’m totally comfortable talking in front of my classroom. I can cope at staff meetings at school. But put me in front of an assembly with parents, or a group of people I don’t know, and my knees start to shake. I volunteered to do a PK session (20 slides, 20 seconds each) about my experiences teaching Gaming to my yr9 boys class last year, and I think I was lucky it was something I was passionate about, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it through!

It was a few weeks ago now, but I’ve been flat out with reports, so I’m only just now getting around to sharing this here, as promised to some tweeps at the time. You can view the slideshare of my presentation, and underneath it I’ve pasted my notes about each slide. They are pretty reflective of what I said about each one ….. not word for word though, as I embraced the PK philosophy, and just talked!

  1. My experience with trialling a unit of Game study with a yr 9 class I taught last year. Some successes, some challenges for the future.
  2. Boys class – 16 students, varied backgrounds, wide range of issues which have the potential to impact their learning. History of a distinct lack of engagement, particularly in English!
  3. This is what we have to cover in English –content, literacy, grammar, skills … it’s full on, and it’s often a very text-focussed course – often the biggest concession that is made to meet the needs of the students is picking a novel which has masculine themes if you’ve got a lot of boys in your class.
  4. Surveyed the class at the beginning of the year – and this is what they thought. English is rubbish. Lots of boring books. What’s the point? One student told me that “teachers think they can try and make it interesting, but I don’t know why they bother. English sucks”.
  5. I spoke to my HT, the principal, a lot of people around who were starting to look at gaming in schools, but there wasn’t really anything that FIT what I wanted to do… small sections of games used to illustrate a class topic, for example. But nothing holistic. When I told my class that in T3 we’d be working in our Interactive gaming room, which is usually just used for sports or drama, they were over the moon.
  6. They thought we’d be doing this all the time. A whole term of playing games? They were psyched, and started planning what games they’d bring in, if we had enough controllers, and whether they’d be able to play online or not.
  7. The reality was quite different. We spent the first 4 weeks of the term doing some solid in depth research. We looked at the background of the gaming industry, and their target audience. We studied ads for games, and looked at how they targeted that audience.
  8. These low literacy, low interest, low engagement kids got very familiar with these terms, and more. Before they picked up a controller in class, they were able to talk about stock characters, symbolism, and narrative threads.
  9. Our equipment in the gaming room – 3 wii consoles, 1 ps3, 4 networked pcs, 2 nitendo dsi’s and 2 PSP’s. Most students spent more time on the wii’s and PC’s, with almost no use of the stand-alone handheld consoles.
  10. These were our texts for the term. The class suggested games that would be appropriate based on our research, and also limitations of ratings. They were dying to play COD, but were satisfied with lego starwars and age of empires as suitably violence laden substitutes.
  11. So what were the benefits? There was a marked increase in the level of positive cooperation in class. The boys had to negotiate who was playing on which console when, what games were being used, who would work with who. It helped build cohesion in a difficult group.
  12. We got to deal effectively with a wide range of cross curricular outcomes – particularly HSIE and PDHPE. Incidental conversations about what Alice Leung was doing with Need for Speed in her science class led to some great discussions about what games applied to other subjects.
  13. It was important that this group recognised that what they were doing was significant! The emphasis on the rigourous academic study at the beginning of the term helped emphasise that this was serious stuff – as did my head teacher’s occasional input, when she’d pop in and say “wow, I can’t believe you are doing archetypes with this class, I’m not even attempting that with mine until next year!” It really helped to build their belief in their own capacity.
  14. They were the experts. I didn’t know how to unlock easter eggs on these games, or find the hidden levels. Mostly, I’d tell them “this is what I want us to be able to do” and they’d sort out what we needed, and how we’d accomplish that. It was certainly a challenging thing in some respects – to walk into a lesson and not really know what was going to happen – but letting the boys have the reigns worked fairly well.
  15. Biggest success was that they were empowered – they saw themselves as able to achieve, and it removed many of those barriers that they saw in front of them previously. When faced with a test at the end of the unit, they were excited, because they actually knew something about what was being assessed – and it was meaningful learning!
  16. EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES – improvement across the class in almost all cases, above the rate of improvement for the year group.
  17. Feedback from students was, not surprisingly, fairly positive. 🙂
  18. Maybe not 100%, but there was certainly an increase in attendance for this class, which continued after the unit was finished, into our Shakespeare unit in the following term. Not all teachers were happy about these kids showing up more – but it was certainly working for me!!
  19. Negatives – initial perception by other staff that this was a bludge, and that it was just a way to kill time and keep them entertained. Perceptions by other students that “Rodgers’ class are just playing games, it’s not fair!” were also difficult to address without them seeing what we were actually doing.
  20. It was almost too big a unit to try and manage in just one term – when I do this again, I’ll be looking at ways to limit it a bit, so it’s not bigger than Ben Hur. Limiting of the games studied, through consultation with class.
  21. I would so do this again – and I will be!
  22. Contact details.

Sorry about the “dot point” notes – next time, I’ll work out a way to share this more effectively. But there you go – my PK session from the Hills Teachmeet, about gaming in English!