Most of the teams were adults (even: real companies), but a team of students from Blatchington Mill School won, with their idea for an iPhone/iPad app: “My Science Lab”.
Team: Quantum Games
The three students named themselves “Quantum Games”: Jon, Nick, and Oli. All three of them have been studying for their GCSE’s in parallel with this project.
They’ve been supported by Mark Leighton, Assistant Head / ICT Director at the school.
For mentoring and game-development expertise, they had me – Adam Martin – previously CTO at MindCandy and NCsoft Europe, now an iPhone/Android developer
The students chose to focus on a game that would help other students revise the “Momentum” part of GCSE Physics.
In summer/autumn 2012, they learnt the basics of game design and development. We didn’t do any formal teaching – they simply had to pick up the skills they needed as we went along. YouTube videos, and “trial and error”, were our primary techniques…
By the end of 2012, they’d written their own physics engine, some basic gameplay, and a simple simulation of an exercise/problem in Momentum.
The big thing this month has been BETT. Pearson had a large stand, and asked the students along to talk about the project. They gave an excellent presentation to an audience of approx 30 people at BETT, covering the background and some of the things that went well, that didn’t, and what they’d learnt from it.
Leading up to BETT, they worked hard to squeeze in a new build of the game, with a rethink on the interactive sections and how they hang together. Unfortunately, we hit what seemed to be a major bug in Unity’s camera-handling, and none of us could fix it in time (nor could we get an answer from Unity support in time). But the students managed to invent a workaround at the last minute which worked fine for demoing at BETT.
The game isn’t finished yet – GCSE’s and schoolwork left too little time to complete it before BETT – but we’re very close now. The students are aiming to finish it off this month and next, and I’m hoping I might even be able to take a copy to the GDC conference in March (taking place in San Francisco, GDC is the commercial games industry’s main annual conference).
In the meantime … you can sign up now on the Quantum Games website (http://quantumgames.co.uk), and we’ll email you as soon as the game is ready – or sooner, with a private beta-test!
I have been thinking quite a bit about what has really changed in schools in the last few years – well actually since schools were invented. I went to a school in Harrow, but not Harrow School, which is famous for teaching a long line of public figures including several prime ministers. Harrow School was founded in 1572 and in those days (as indeed back to ancient Greece) education went like this:
- someone (in high office) decided what facts children should learn
- a special school (which came to be called a university) was set up to teach adults these facts so they could pass them on to the children
- these people (who came to be called teachers) would stand at the front of the class
- the children would sit at desks in rows facing the teacher
- a means of displaying the facts would be put on a wall behind the teacher – this was called the blackboard
- when there was no more room to display the facts, a rubbing device would erase some or all of the fact, so more could be put in their place
- the rubbing device could also be thrown at a child to maintain control – a wooden stick was a useful backup device.
- periodically the children would be required to show that they had remembered the facts. Occasionally just some of the facts had to be regurgitated – this was called a test. At other times all the facts had to be seen to be remembered – this was called an examination.
- if you passed examinations, you were entitled to rise higher in the system. If you failed, you remained at that level, almost certainly for the rest of your life (unless your family had money).
- someone (in high office) decides what facts children should learn
- special schools (called a teacher training colleges) have been set up to teach adults these facts so they could pass them on to the children
- these people (still called teachers) stand at the front of the class
- the children sit at desks in rows facing the teacher
- a means of displaying the facts is put on a wall behind the teacher – this is called the whiteboard
- when there is no more room to display the facts, a rubbing device can erase some or all of the fact, so more can be put in their place
- the rubbing device (and cane) are no longer available (health and safety reasons) for maintaining order – this enabled the invention of the electronic whiteboard
- periodically the children are required to show that they had remembered the facts. Occasionally just some of the facts have to be regurgitated – these are called SATS. At other times all the facts have to be shown to be remembered – these are still called examinations.
- if you pass examinations, you are entitled to rise higher in the system. If you fail, you remain at that level, almost certainly for the rest of your life (unless your family have money).
- with a grading system every students starts by thinking they are an A+ – from there, the only way is down
- with a games system, you give experience points, so everyone is working their way up
- there are opportunities for collaboration – bonus point for all students if some do well – gives an incentive to support the high achievers
- but could also design topics to enable the more able to help those doing less well – such that one only goes on to the next “level” when all the students have “made it”
- a sense of “agency” – feeling that you have control over your own destiny – that your choices matter
- agency is a scale – the more you have, the more likely you are to succeed, the less likely are you to be put off by failures.
- agency can be improved by playing games. In games, direction can be clear – you try things and fail, then start all over again until you get there
- external motivators and how the playing of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) encourage learning – best if cross-disciplinary, designed not to be specific to one type of person only
GoveWho decides what facts children should learn? Rather than answer that directly, I would pose another question: what skills/qualities should a young adult have? Maybe those of curiosity, being articulate, how to have good relationships, how to be a team player, how to survive difficult times. Perhaps the only key skills that are needed in the first instance are “bootstrap” skills – to speak, to read and write, and how to find things out. Then rather than have someone else decide what is learnt, allow children to learn what they want albeit in a guided way. Teacher trainingSo goodbye teachers, hello guides. Good guiding practises will be developed over time. These may be disseminated at guide camps, and on web sites. And of course, they are skill that will be picked up and practised by children at they guide and get guided. Front of classGuides can mingle/sit with groups of students. Guides can be the students themselves, and because they become proficient at guiding, they are able to carry on doing this throughout their lives (even if it is not their main profession). Back of classThere is now no absolute need for a desk, or even a classroom. Children can work in smaller groups, and this could be in a library, museum, a workplace, a beach … Blackboard/whiteboardA £3000 whiteboard can be replaced by 15 computer tablets – there should be one per child, and children should not be firewalled from the internet – they must find out how to use it responsibly. Rubbing devicethere is no modern equivalent for this – instead of erasing, think bookmarking. The ability to retrieve things you’ve seen/like/want to pass on are, imho, key skills Examsok, this is the one big area where gamification plays an important part. Reasons mentioned above – summary: completion of “levels” before moving on. Some means needed to make sure that “progress” is being made by all – leader boards – then pay more attention to those that are at the lower end. Pass or failnow, no need for cut-offs at certain ages. The system become more seamless between child/student/graduate/worker. Less boundaries between learning skills/practical skills/artistic endeavours.