Friday, 19 December 2014

MinecraftEdu - Brief Intro

A brief intro, because I've got a feeling this blog will be a little Minecraft heavy this year!

Minecraft has unbelievable potential for use in schools if, like everything else, we use it when it really is the best choice and don't try and force it into the curriculum. That said, the more you use it, the more you see how it could fit with a little tweak here and there :)

If you are going to use Minecraft, I cannot endorse MinecraftEdu strongly enough.

The added features you get make the minimal fee absolutely worthwhile. Couple that with the ever-growing resource bank and other dedicated blogs like (@EduElfie's and it's a complete win!

What are you waiting for?

Award Winning Use Of Sketchup

A while ago I dialed in to the webcast of the National Digital Learning Event to see if there was a chance we'd win the award we were shortlisted for. I was greeted with this...

Innovative use of a digital technology - we'd used Sketchup.

Sketchup - free (love that word) 3D Modelling Software.

Ok, not technically a game so probably shouldn't be on this blog  - but you could make a game from your creations if you wanted! (Plus where else would I show this stuff off?)

If you've never used sketchup, here's how it works...

1) Start with a blank canvas containing 3 axis and a horizon (so you don't end up building upside down).

2) Draw straight lines...

3)...until they meet. When they do, the shape auto-colours to show you.
 4) Create another shape inside the original rectangle.
 5) Use the 'Push/Pull' tool to pull up just the outer shape. Can you tell what it is yet?
 6) Go on adding more shapes...
 7)...pushing and pulling...
 8)...until you have...
 9)...a structure resembling a house!
10) Carry on building until the structure is complete then use the online library to furnish the house and render textures and colours on walls and floors etc.

So What Was So Innovative?

  • Each child in Y6 used sketchup to build, furnish and render a house (LOTS of maths involved)

  • Then they scanned in and imported the work they were most proud of in Y6.
  • This work was then placed around the house - art work on walls, written work on desks and e-work on screens.

  • Then they created a fly through video to showcase their work, wrote a commentary and recorded the commentary over the video.
Have a look at the video below to find out more about the project and see the finished product.

National Digital Learning Award video from Ynysowen Primary on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

KenKen - Mental Maths Brilliance!

Although it may look like just another Sodoku spin-off, don't be fooled! Kenken is a serious mental maths workout. Ok, so the example given above is it little simple, but you need to start simple to learn. 

The rules:
  1. The numbers you can use in a puzzle depend on the size of the grid. If it’s a 3 x 3 grid, you’ll use the numbers 1–3. In a 4 x 4 grid, use numbers 1–4. In a 5 x 5 grid… well, you can probably figure it out from there.
  2. The heavily-outlined groups of squares in each grid are called “cages.” In the upper-left corner of each cage, there is a “target number” and a math operation (+, –, x, ÷).
  3. Fill in each square of a cage with a number. The numbers in a cage must combine—in any order, using only that cage’s math operation—to form that cage’s target number.
    Example: Your target number is 5, your operation is addition, you’re using the numbers 1–4, and the cage is made up of two squares. You could fill in 2 and 3 (because 2 + 3 = 5) or 1 and 4 (1 + 4 = 5). But which number goes in which square? Read the next instruction!
  4. Important: You may not repeat a number in any row or column. You can repeat a number within a cage, as long as those repeated numbers are not in the same row or column.

This is fantastic to use as a mental maths starter. You can get as many different difficulties as you like from the KenKen site. Try getting year 6 to work up to solving something like this...

...and in the process enjoy the benefits of having a games-rich classroom.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Garage Band (iPad)

GarageBand is incredible. For a few of your finest pound sterling you get a fully fledged recording suite with a whole host of instruments and a bank of preset sounds. And the children love it. What are you waiting for?

Some songs sound like they were made on an iPad using Garage Band. Others can be mimicked incredibly easy. I'm always on the look out for these types of songs as they are great fun to use with children in school. The children get a (at times instant) feeling of accomplishment as the iPad does the hard part for you. This makes it a great tool to practice the art of performance and, as you get more skilled, composition.

I've uploaded some slides I made for you to have a look at. You can get theme here through google drive or here through the TES resources site (if you use TES you'll get the tracks embedded to play along with). 

They cover the songs 'Don't Stop Believing', 'I'm a Believer' and 'Smoke On The Water'. All you need to know is that for 'Don't Stop Believing' you need the smart keyboard, on Grand Piano, autoplay #1 at 100bpm. 

Apart from that, listen to the tracks, work out the drum beats (or a simplified version), master the guitar and bass riffs and have a great time with the children performing some anthems!

Other songs that work well but that I haven't created resources for:
And If you're feeling really bold try these (I haven't yet):
As you can probably tell, my method for finding songs that 'work' in GarageBand is to get on youtube and have a good look around.

Combine lessons spent on these songs with discussion and analysis of the musical elements we need to cover (pitch, dynamics, tempo, attack & decay, timbre, texture, silence, duration) and you'll end up with some great music lessons.

In my class, after we'd perfected a couple of songs I asked the children to experiment and make their own cover version by changing any musical elements along with instruments. We worked out pretty quickly that a nice soothing cover is possibly by using strings and acoustic guitar. How you record this process is up to you/your children but you can be very creative.

I also played around with class structure, moving from experimenting in groups to working pairs to introduce them to the basics of multi-track recording. You'll be surprised with what they come up with, I guarantee it.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Sim City

When using games in the classroom, you can use those that have a really clear learning outcome or those which facilitate further learning acting as more of a stimulus. Sim City is one of those games which does both brilliantly. In fact, I began using it as a game to tie together a topic and ended up seeing a whole host of direct learning outcomes which I just didn't realise would be there!

Note: I used the iPad version although I'm sure the PC version would suffice.

If you've never played it, you start with a blank landscape. You can edit the position and size of the water and foliage (something that users will want to do after they've played the game for a bit - position of these can be quite crucial). From there you can select the year your city will come into existence, give it a name and declare yourself mayor. Now you set to work constructing your new utopia.

Another note: If you elect to start in the year 2000 you'll have pretty much everything unlocked and open to you in terms of energy sources, sanitation options etc. If you start in 1900 these become available as time passes in line with when the developments were made originally. This means you can effectively play through the 20th century and see how developments and advances in certain areas affect your decision making processes. It also opens up great discussion around how the decisions world leaders are affected not only by the benefits of new developments, but their financial and human costs as well. Pretty deep for a £4.99 app - and we've barely scratched the surface!

As you  (and students) play the game you'll learn first hand about so many things. Here's a short list of the main challenges I saw students face when using Sim City.
  • The need for balance between residential, commercial and industrial areas - with supply and demand constantly shifting as population fluctuates.
  • The need to balance the books by changing taxes, ordinances and departmental budgets.
  • The different options available for powering a city and their environmental and cost implications.
  • The need for effective town planning in regard to public services (schools, colleges, universities, police stations, fire stations, hospitals, prisons, libraries, museums)
  • The need for effective town planning in regard to transport links (road, rail, air, sea).
  • The need to ensure water supply and sanitation to all areas of a city.
  • The need to budget to replace items that reach the end of their useful life.
  • The political issues that confront leaders when trying to please the masses (advisers and petitions come rolling in regularly).
  • What to do with waste.
  • How to manage pollution.
To be honest the list goes on. And on. For a long time. The outcomes and outputs that arose from these challenges were fantastic and where further clarification or depth was needed, we'd had the perfect introduction. 

The game is complex. It does take a little while to get off the ground with a new city. But we all know that games teach problem solving really well - and this is no exception.

So what are you waiting for? Get this loaded onto your iPads and turn your upper KS2 class into a games-rich classroom. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fantasy Football (FPL) is the official website for fantasy football in the UK and it can be used to great effect in classrooms!

Firstly - it's fun! And if we don't have fun we might as well go home.

Secondly - it has numerous ways to be used in maths. I'll run you through the way I used it.

We began with a few football themed maths lessons. I made the broad statement, "I like football because there are lots of goals scored." This is nice and vague and can generate some good discussion. It allows for debate and opinions but can also be investigated. After pulling up the scores in the premier league for the last few weeks, we studied mean, mode, median and range and drew some conclusions.

But I wanted a way to keep this ticking over, so I introduced the class to fantasy football. I set up my team (with their help) and we discussed the need for a balanced team and also managed to stay within the £100,000,000 budget that the FPL website allows.

Once the team was picked I sent letters home inviting parents to set up teams with their children and enter the school league and see if they could beat the teachers. With the competition element, engagement was high and we were off to a winning start.

From then on we checked the scores on a Monday morning to see who the movers and shakers from the weekend were. I'd then use data from the league or teams within the league to set mental maths starters, generate questions in lessons or even base whole lessons on throughout the season. Some of the regular warmup activities were:
  • What was the mean/mode/median/range of this week's scores?
  • Which class has the highest mean this week?
  • Who did best this week - girls or boys?
  • What was the mean score or each player in a specific team?
  • How many points behind Mr Hills is Mr Rothwell? 
You get the idea.

So from very little in terms of time invested by me, we got something that rolled on all year, fed nicely into lessons, got children using maths skills of their own accord, engaged parents, captivated pupils and all for free! 

It's year round ideas like these that will create a genuine buzz and will bring longevity to your games-rich classroom

Monday, 14 April 2014

Class Craft (.com)

Gamification of learning just got epic - and free (for now). It's like 'Classroom Dojo' but with way more going on. Fully customisable, it's great for classroom management and engagement with learning. Head to, get signed up and get every lesson you deliver gamified in your games-rich classroom

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Dance Central in PE

Want a unit of work that covers pretty much all of the 'Creative' elements of the national curriculum PoS for P.E?

Look no further than Dance Central - or any dance game for that matter. This just happens to be the one I've used!

I've taught dance modules in P.E for years and never seen engagement and participation like I did when I fired up the xbox and loaded this game.

Boys who normally slink to the back and make excuses not to dance were at the front of the queue begging to be next.

Lesson Structure
(Assuming a 6 week term)
  1. Familiarisation with game. Dance to lots of songs on easier settings
  2. Choosing a song whole class will learn. Set to hard mode and learn the steps from the built in tutor. Record steps by using same logos displayed on screen for referring back to.
  3. Practice dance, learning moves for whole class performance at end of lesson. Keep on recording steps they have learnt.
  4. Challenge - use the steps learnt to choreograph your own dance to a different track in pairs/groups. Each group with an ipad to record and self evaluate as they go. Record on paper their dance - how they choose to do this is an open task.
  5. Continue choreography. Have extension tasks for those early finishers (e.g. add in a lift or balance). Dance must be 90% complete by end of session. 
  6. Final performance and evaluation. Videod for evidence/sharing on school website.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Rock Band Project

"And the winner of the battle of the bands is..."

Rewind 6 weeks.

"Kids, welcome to the new term...let's watch 'School of Rock'."

...109 minutes later...

"That's our project for this term."

It was awesome! The children had the following tasks over the course of the term:

  • Form a 3-5 piece band.
  • Choose a name
  • Choose a song from Rock Band or Guitar Hero (we had both)
  • Rehearse it to perfection (over the course of the term)
  • Design a logo
  • Design and make costumes
  • Create invitations and flyers for the battle of the band
  • Plan and carry out a band photo shoot
  • Edit to photos from the photo shoo
  • Give a presentation to peers about their band and their choices
  • Argue in a debate - 'All children should learn musical instruments'
  • Articulate their point of view from the debate in a letter to a newspaper
  • Design and create a website for their band
  • Design and create an album cover
  • Use Garage Band to create a composition
  • Study sound and amplification
  • Create a film script
  • Design merchandise to be sold
  • Take part in the battle of the bands
We also had a live band come in to school and do a small gig and workshop for the children.

Most afternoons worked on a carousel basis allowing children regular access to the game to practice their songs and general enjoy themselves.

The battle of the bands came and went and the evaluations from children and parents were extremely positive. For half a term we very much had a games-rich classroom

Monday, 7 April 2014

Epic Results with Citadel (planning included!)


The 'game' where nothing really happens...
which is why it's so good!

I've used this extensively in multiple schools, always to superb effect.

A beautiful 'game' designed to show the potential of the graphics engine in an ipad. There are no missions, no quests and no objects to manipulate. It is the perfect setting for fiction work - with no distractions! Citadel takes you so far and then invites you to let your imagination take over.

I've always coupled this work on King Arthur and the knights of the round table. I'm sure the chronology doesn't match entirely but it works well regardless! 

Recently I coupled this with Myst and a few other games-based learning activities over a 5 months period. I also took some baseline and summative data on attainment and attitudes towards writing. My plan was to see if I could get the boys in Y6 to radically improve both of these. It worked. Hugely. 

To give you a head-start, here's my planning. I've appended all the resources that I can. Also worth a look is the work done by Porchester Junior School. If you're planning to use Epic Citadel, you should definitely check out their pages.

Whatever you do with Epic Citadel, it's going to grab the children's attention and imagination. They'll love using it and you'll love the results. It is so rich, which makes it the perfect game for your games-rich classroom

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Avatars - more than an image?

Plenty of research shows that when people use an avatar that, for whatever reason, they deem desirable, they act in a more confident way - sometimes for the rest of that day.

With the launch of Hwb+, children will be designing an avatar to use, probably using a site like DoppelMe or PlanetCreation.

So... let them be creative, let them create an avatar that they are proud of and then use it outside of Hwb+. Display it in the classroom, put it on their drawer, learning diary or desk. Make sure that they will engage with that avatar daily and enjoy whatever benefits come from having a class of more confident learners.

You'll have no way to quantify the effect, but you'll be one step closer to a games-rich classroom.

Why games and why blog about them?

Short answer: 
Participation > Engagement > Motivation > Attainment, Achievement > 
Accelerated Progress.

Longer answer: 
Games work on many levels, all of which can benefit the learners in our classrooms if used well. This blog is my little addition to the already substantive collection of ideas and resources that exists on sites like Educade, Games in Education or just a vaguely accurate Google search such as this one.

Games can be used for direct learning outcomes, a jump-off point for more in depth learning opportunities or to affect the learning culture or environment. The latter option moves us from the realm of games-based learning to gamification of learning. Both have their advocates, both have their critics, but if used well, both can have phenomenal results. Both will also feature in this blog as a classroom with the best of both will be a games-rich classroom. 

That'll do by way of introduction. I'll get into specific games and ideas soon, but for now have a gander at this.