Game Over - Teaching on the edge of chaos

So this is my attempt to capture some of the chaotic magic that was my first foray into team teaching and integrated teaching with the fabulous Danielle Myburgh.

Game Over was what we refer to at HPSS as a small module. This is a module that runs for one term and integrates two learning areas under the umbrella of a term long concept. 

The concept of Space and Place had guided the planning of all modules in Term Two across the school. Danielle and I worked to together to develop a module built around our learning areas of specialisation - my area English and Danielle's area of Science with a little Maths thrown in for good measure. Our aim was to develop a module that we thought might capture the interest of our particular clientele - Year 9s with an approximate 60/40 ration of boys to girls. We knew we had a whole lot of keen gamers and we loved Sci-Fi and the novel 'Enders Game', after a bit of thrashing about - Game Over was born. 

Our initial plan was to explore the idea of gaming and the gamification of war through a novel study of Enders Game. I would lead the close reading of the text and Danielle would explore the nature of science through science concepts that arose in the text such as gravity and elements of space. We also knew we wanted to get them to research scientific discoveries that piqued their interest as a springboard for a piece of creative writing, we also wanted them to explore further the idea of gamification in education and develop their persuasive writing skills by arguing for or against gaming in school. We were also keen to get them to develop an educational game (off or online) and create a Booktrack to create a soundscape for the Sci-Fi creative writing - all of this over 9 weeks when we see them once a week and Danielle and I (okay mostly me) was away doing local and national work around elearning and future-focused pedagogy. Easy. Hmmmm. More like chaos. 

Surprisingly, we actually covered most of this and more albeit at the expense of anything actually resembling a novel study. Here's what it actually looked like. 

Students were introduced to a range of scientific discoveries and technological developments by being given a term such as the Internet or Facebook and asked to put themselves in order of when they were developed without saying a word. Students then shared when they thought things were introduced or invented and Danielle used this as a means for setting the historical and contextual scene for our study. Students were then issued a copy of Enders Game which they set about reading. Over the next few weeks they continued to read the book whilst engaging in discussion online and offline about different elements of the text (character, setting, theme, plot etc) via a book group/online Moodle forum they were allocated to based on their own predictions around how quickly they might read the text. Each student took a turn as forum facilitator posting up suggested questions to guide discussion. This worked well but possibly not as consistently in-depth as a more teacher directed study - but then again how much of that is actually processed by the learner when we basically give them 'the right answers' rather actually being given the opportunity to simply share what they think. 

I know whilst I was away Danielle explored the nature of science and conducted experiments to demonstrate how gravity works...but I might let her explain that. There was also other science learning that is not covered here.

It was at this point I got a bit excited and thought it would be cool to bring in some experts to expand our learners horizons. 

Our first round of visitors was one of my lovely ex-students Greg Williamson who is now completing his game development qualifications through Media Design School and is a passionate advocate for gaming in education. Greg came in and showed students what his studies involved and highlighted how his school English and Maths learning prepared him for game development. He also shared with him research around why education must embrace gaming as a means of effective teaching and learning for the 21st century. Students were engaged and inspired.

The same day we also had in Craig and Chaz from Booktrack and Booktrack Classroom who came in to show our students how they could create a soundscape for a piece of text that not only enhances the meaning of text but captures the reader in a way that simple text might not. If you haven't explored Booktrack, you must. It can be used a number of ways. You can simply explore the website and read the texts and listen to the soundscapes already published - texts range from full length classics such as Shakespeare and Dickens to contemporary literature published by established and budding authors. This is a fabulous way to engage readers and has already proven to encourage students to read for much longer than normal. But this is just the start, you can also use Booktrack to encourage close reading of a text. This is how we explored on the first day. Students pasted in an excerpt from Enders Game chosen because it described a particularly important setting. Students then had to read the text very closely so as to be able to chose how they might best add ambient sound, music and sound effects to help enhance the mood and tone of the piece - an awesome way to engage students into genuinely reading without them even realising that they have read, re-read and pulled apart a text in a way that would be rare for any Year 9 to do, with little or no encouragement. We then used this learning give students a way to enhance their own writing later in the term. Booktrack is all kinds of awesome.

Dmitrey and his Thought-Wired team

Our other visitors, one of the following weeks, was a crazy treat for our learners. I came across Dmitry Selitskiy and his Thought-Wired work on a visit to The MindLab earlier in the year. Dmitry Selitskiy is an IT software developer who established the company Thought-Wired which brings together his skills, with those of Dr James Pau (mechatronics engineer) and Sarvnaz Taherian (psychology major) to develop cognitive neuroscience software that allows people to control and move things via thoughts and brainwaves read by headware fitted with nodes that are attached to computers and through the software they create can be used in a number of ways....or something like that. They were like some sort of super cool, super cool dream team that blew our students away, demonstrating how the technology worked and encouraging the students to trial it. The level of focus and excitement was insane. Teenage brains were literally exploding (virtual barrels). Dmitry and his team explained how it worked and shared their vision of where this technology was heading, particularly in the area of neurogaming. All kinds of awesome, just ask Danielle...I think she might have been even more excited than our students.

After a series of spectacular visitors it was time for students to get down to business. Students had to complete a proposal for both the persuasive and creative writing options. For the creative writing students had to research a scientific discovery of their choice, students had a Pinterest board of ideas to get them started. They then had to explore how this might provide inspiration for a piece of Sci-Fi creative writing. They all also had to explore the persuasive writing options researching the pros and cons of gaming in education, coming up with a potential plan for formal essay. Students also had the opportunity to either develop a Booktrack to enhance their writing or develop an educational game to support their gaming in education argument.

Students then made a choice to develop one or the other. Drafts were shared via Google docs and both I and a peer or family gave them advice and feedback. Writing and drafting time was provided along with a SOLO rubric that they could use as reflection and next steps tool. Today they shared their final drafts along with their Booktrack or game via Moodle Assignment. 

They ended the day with students reflecting and evidencing their learning in MyPortfolio. Finding three pieces of evidence of learning from the module and explaining what each piece of evidence demonstrated about their learning - some nailed this, others are still getting their heads around this whole eportfolio business.

We got there! It was awesome and more than once it was chaos!! So, what were the challenges?? 
Having so little time and team teaching was new to me. Danielle was magic but in our slightly insane combined excitement and two learning areas we got caught up adding more and more awesome into the mix. This I am pretty sure overwhelmed both us and the students at times. I also have to admit I don't believe we really did the novel study justice. I have learned from this experience that I have to learn to do less, better. What was awesome? So much!! The integration of learning areas forces a creativity I have never really experienced before. The team teaching created opportutnities for learning about another learning area and  an opportunity to be exposed to my colleague's (yes you Danielle!) pedagogical awesomeness first hand. Also the fact that we were with the class for 2/3 of the day we also had the benefit of time within a school day where we could invite in fabulous guests and still have time to build on the learning and inspiration they provided. I have never seen students engaged and excited about learning in the way they are here. I have of course had very engaged students before, but somehow here it is different and their ability to articulate and reflect on their learning is huge. 

All in all it was an epic term and I am more than a little sad that Game Over is now genuinely game over.
Sarvnaz Taherian
Sarvnaz Taherian


  1. Awesome read! Sounds like the students had some fantastic learning experiences.


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