Making games in the classroom

I’m particularly pleased with the work produced by my KS3 students in ICT this term.

Many of my key stage 3 students focused on making platform games. We looked at a variety of different platform games old and new. We started some of the games that I grew up with – Chuckie Egg, Manic Miner (got to love that 8-bit music) and Donkey Kong. We talked about how games have changed over the years as technology gets better and cheaper. We looked at some modern platform games (Sonic the Hedgehog, Tomb Raider, Super Mario 3D). We discussed what has changed – the graphics have improved, the environments are often 3D etc. What do they think games will look like in 25 years time? Exciting, isn’t it?

However, we identified common themes for platform games – baddies, collectibles and, of course, platforms. The students then sketched out designs for their games on paper. Once their ideas started to form we started work at the computers. Using 2DIY we designed our game environment. Most of the learners designed their characters in 2Paint a Picture or Dazzle, although some chose to find and alter images they found on the internet. Once we had designed the platform layout in 2DIY and had imported our characters we play-tested the games to ensure that our characters could reach all parts of the play area.

We designed our baddies and imported them into DIY, choosing how we wanted them to move around the play area.  After adding collectibles to the game we added sounds. We used Audacity to record and edit sounds for the elements of the game and wrote instructions.

At each stage of the process we play-tested each others games, suggesting ways that they could be improved. Sometimes we did it verbally in the class. Sometimes I uploaded their unfinished games to the ICT Gallery, and had the students play the games and leave helpful feedback in the comments field (being careful to use pseudonyms – an essential e-safety strategy for the students to learn). We’ve been working with the students to help them critically evaluate their work, and I was very impressed by their taking ownership of their games and commitment to making them as good as possible. It is very easy to export 2DIY to Flash files, and therefore embed them into webpages. Because their games were to be posted online it really gave the students a sense of audience and a commitment to making their work as good as possible.

I was delighted with the results. This game was created by a KS3 student who is profoundly autistic and difficult to engage. The work was almost entirely independent. This game was created by another student with Downs and ASD who is largely non-verbal.  We’ve never seen him so focused at school as when he was creating it. Have a look at Riverside’s ICT Gallery to see other examples,

What have we learnt?

  • to use the most appropriate software to achieve a task, and to combine ICT tools
  • to critically evaluate our own work and the work of others in order to make improvements
  • to exchange information with orhers using digital communication
  • to understand the benefits of online communication and to manage some of the risks associated with the digital environment through the use of pseudonyms
  • to understand that work can be saved and retrieved, and that mistakes can be easily rectified by saving our work as we go along and using the “undo” button.

Kids love games (so do I, as it happens). I am convinced that games present fantastic learning opportunities for all kids, but especially those who are “hard to reach”. So often students work is being produced for an audience of one, the teacher. By posting their work online (via the school blog, Facebook and Twitter feeds) it gives their work a context and utility. The learners are often more tech-savvy than their parents. Parents of SEN students are used to seeing low quality work, it was lovely to see parents genuinely delighted at seeing their children developing skills that they themselves don’t have.

The experience has been positive for me, and I am determined to integrate games further into the ICT curriculum. Minecraft is incredibly popular amongst many of our learners. MinecraftEdu is a mod which is designed for classroom use. There seems to be an active online community of educationalists who are developing educational resources for the game, and I really look forward to seeing how I can apply it in my own SEN setting.

Half term fun

My son, Leo, and I have been having fun making a film with Windows Live Movie Maker. It’s changed significantly since I last used the one bundled with Windows XP. As you would expect, a great deal has been made of the social networking functions – and it now links directly with Facebook & YouTube et al.

The stripped down interface actually made it a doddle for my 7 yr old to cope with. We got the music off the Audio Network, which is an online database of audio files licensed for non-commercial use and accessible via the LGfL USO.

Enjoy!

Belkin WeMo Switch

I happened across the Belkin WeMo in the Maplin catelogue.

It’s basically a wireless switch that toggles plugs off and on via an iPad app that works as a switch. The overenthusiastic American geek in this video demonstrates taking a photo a fan to map to the switch that toggles the fan on/off. Maplin sell the switches for £34. It seems so much cheaper and sleeker than the wireless SEN equivalent (£159, not including the wireless switches). I could imagine it being used, for example, in life-skills to turn a blender or kettle on.

I’m yet to find any reference to these being used in an SEN context, and I am not sure if they will even work across our wireless network at school. However, if the can be made to work and are built to withstand the daily battering that all school equipment receives I think there are many educational possibilities for this piece of kit.

When the new budget arrives I shall get one to test out. I can’t wait!

Oolone visual search engine

I have been planning a unit on internet search with some of my KS4 students. I fell across Oolone on Richard Byrne’s Free Technology for Teachers blog. Instead of returning results a series of text descriptions of the results, it returns screenshots of the pages. This might make it a little more accessible for some of my less literate or EAL learners.

SITPLUS Project

I recently downloaded SITPLUS – created by the  Cerebral Palsy Centre APPC of Tarragona, Spain.

It converts movement detected from a webcam into sounds – as well as creating animations on screen. It works beautifully, and I can see loads of applications for the software – both in therapeutic and educational settings. I can see a particular use in cause and effect work with learners in the early P levels, who find switches difficult to access.

The software is free (downloadable from here). We already have pc’s in classrooms and webcams are cheap – so the price is right.

I can’t wait to try it with some of my PMLD learners.

 

Switch progression

I have been using switches extensively for the first time this year, and have been thrashing around trying to find a decent model to follow with my PMLD students. I came across Ian Bean‘s Switch Progression Roadmap on the Inclusive Technology website. I’ve found it a really good model to follow with the students. It contains lots of practical examples, and has been a really helpful resource. I have been using switches in the dark room with the sensory equipment, the OmiBeam, with fans and other electronic equipment as well as with computers.

To help with assessment, I have created these recording sheets, with the progression taken from Ian’s work.

No point reinventing the wheel! ;)

Website

Following the new DoE guidance we have overhauled the school website. The key requirements are:

The key requirements for publication are:

  • details of the school’s pupil premium allocation and plans to spend it in the current year; and, for the previous year, a statement of how the money was spent and the impact that it had on educational attainment of those pupils at the school in respect of whom grant funding was allocated;
  • details of the school’s curriculum, content and approach, by academic year and by subject (including details of GCSE options and other qualifications offered at Key Stage 4 (for secondary schools), and approach to phonic and reading schemes (for primary schools));
  • where applicable, details or links to the school’s admission arrangements, including its selection and oversubscription criteria, published admission number and the school’s process for applications through the local authority ;
  • details of the school’s policies on behaviour, charging and SEN and disability provision;
  • a statement of the school’s ethos and values.

The September 2012 OFSTED framework also suggests that inspectors will scrutinise school websites prior to inspections so we needed to ensure that the website was up to date and features the information required.

Our website is through Green Schools Online, and their support is fantastic, so the process wasn’t too painful.