Sunday, 20 March 2016

Game Design - Connecting curriculum areas

I started this year with the aim to challenge myself and others around me to do things differently. This started by creating a unit of work for my Year 9 PE class with their Technology teacher using the NZTA Game Design Competition being run this year. The main objective of the competition is to get young people creating games that enhance road safety. The more I looked into it, the more excited I got about the possibility of creating a unit that had students learning about road safety while in two curriculum areas. Interestingly, as my students have taken part in it I realised it would have worked well had we integrated other learning areas into it as well.

Overview of what we did
We are lucky enough as a school to own 12 mountain bikes. Some students brought their own bikes in and after adding my own bike we nearly had one bike for each student. In PE we spent the first couple of weeks looking at bike skills, going over road rules, practising our communication on bikes with signals and encouraging the students to ride bikes as much as possible. From there we started to look closer at what potential hazards existed for urban cyclists. We used GoPro Cameras attached to students and their bikes to investigate these hazards. Meanwhile, in Technology the students were learning about the design process and were putting it to use as they started to create their own road safety games in groups. We have just finished a two week block that was set aside in both curriculum areas for the groups to work on their games to allow students quality time to make a quality product.


What have I observed so far?
It was interesting to find out that only eight from my class of 26 owned a bike. I had at least four students who could not ride a bike or who were not confident on them. It was particularly satisfying to see the progress that the students with less confidence on bikes made. Hopefully I have enabled them to consider engaging in this form of exercise and mode of transport in the future. One question I have been left with after thinking about the lack of bikes or bike skills that these young people have is what effect this is having on our roads later down the track as these young people become drivers of cars.

 Another interesting observation is how engaging the use of technology can be. When I brought the three GoPro cameras out there was much competition because everyone wanted to wear one. By placing the cameras on different students and their bikes while they were riding around our local community, we were able to gather great footage from different perspectives. When the class watched this footage it was amazing how engaged they were with it and how this led to some fantastic discussions around road safety when different aspects were seen on the footage. 

I have also been really interested to watch how the groups have used the 12 hours of PE and Technology time over the last two weeks to really make some progress with their games. I have seen highly functioning groups getting through a number of different tasks and taking part in some great learning. I have also seen some groups really struggle with self management when it comes to getting on with the game design, given the more independent nature of task. The last activity the students had to do was to share an example of something they felt they or their team had been doing well in, relate it to the key competencies and talk about an area that they need to improve on still. The main theme coming out from all groups was that managing self was the one area that everyone needed to improve on. For me as the teacher, this was absolute gold as it allows me over the next couple of weeks to dig deeper with the students to see how we can improve how the student's manage themselves in these situations and look to develop better strategies to improve. 

I'll be really interested to see the final games that my students come up with. Some may have a chance at doing well in the competition. Some may not. The one thing I am certain about is that this task has allowed students to learn more about road safety, something that effects everyone. They have had the opportunity to make a game that could help to improve road safety for them and others. Lastly, they have taken part in a process that has allowed them to learn more about how they learn, create/make and interact with others, which surely will help them as people in our community.     

An example of a modern learning environment in action  
As I walked around talking, helping and motivating my different groups over the last couple of weeks as they worked away on their games, I reflected on how it was exactly the modern learning environment in action. I had students sitting around tables creating game scenarios on paper and devices. I had students on devices learning to code and learning to use other online game making software. I had students outside painting boards for their board games and I had another group in the workshop cutting game pieces out. I also had two students on bikes capturing footage from GoPro cameras to use as backdrop scenes in their game. We often hear about the so called "bean bag schools" but it's not about the furniture it's about the pedagogy and the ability to be flexible.

Integrating curriculum areas, why do that?
The students like it! When students were asked in recent learning conferences what they liked about being in this class, many replied along the lines of "I like how what we do in PE relates to what happens in Tech".  I also believe that a lot can be gained by students making or producing things and therefore why can't more that one curriculum area contribute to the learning around one project? I'm really looking forward to connecting with a teacher from another curriculum area next term to see how I can create another good learning experience for the students in my class. To be able to work with another teacher for the good of the same students has to be better than keeping to yourself. I have really enjoyed planning, bouncing ideas around and working alongside another teacher from another learning area to create a more meaningful learning experience.

Why do I like the idea of Game Design?  
First and foremost, let's face it - people like playing games. I'm also a big fan of design thinking and believe it has the potential to help learners not only be creative but also to have empathy and to be people that actually make things happen. Therefore, getting students using the design thinking process was high on my priority list. Creating a game that allows students to understand more about issues that exist on the road for those that use it has to have some benefits. Enabling them to create something that could have positive social change is fantastic. Student agency is big in game design. It enables students to control so much of what they are doing. Students create the narrative, they choose the type of game they want to make and they learn so much about themselves and the others they are working with as they turn ideas into a real game!

Would I use game design in the future? Yes!

Learning outcomes for the unit 
Students making safe decisions on the road while riding bikes (A3 Safety management)
Using technology to gain a greater understanding of the environment they are in (B3 Science and technology)
Having students regularly riding bikes and enjoying that as a physical activity(A2 Regular physical activity)
Getting students to learn the design process and design thinking
Students working in groups to create a game that could help promote road safety (C3 Interpersonal skills)
(D3 Rights, responsibilities, and laws; D4 People and the environment)

+ Technology Curriculum Objectives  



  1. Hayden - this is a fabulous post. Pedagogical activism. I just love the way you have used the NZTA game design competition as a catalyst to design for for so such a diversity of deep learning outcomes around citizenship - an effort worthy of a "dead 'brill" epithet at so many levels.

  2. Great example of the NZC in action!