April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Wii Have Fun and Learn | The Gaming Life

Video game play can support the curriculum in many exciting ways

What would you do with $10,000? A small group of special education students at Agnes Macphail Public School in Toronto, Ontario, transformed an old sea shanty into a music video to answer that question. With the help of their teacher and teacher-librarian, they entered the Best in Class Fund contest, an annual technology grant awarded by Best Buy Canada for innovative ways of incorporating technology in the classroom. The grant is intended to help fund schools with new consumer electronics that support the education-focused projects presented in their proposals.

The project won second place and, to our surprise, the prize money had been upped and we were awarded $30,000 in store credit at Best Buy. The team decided to purchase two Nintendo Wii game systems, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit, and Wii Sports with part of the grant money. While the original intent was to use the Wii as part of the school’s mandated daily physical activity, we have discovered that the Wii can help us in many more ways than we originally anticipated.

Wii Learn

Kathy Sanford, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria, Canada, wrote in her article, “Videogames in the Library? What Is the World Coming to?” (School Libraries Worldwide, Edmonton: July 2008. Vol. 14 Iss. 2 pg 83) that video game play supports learning in many complex ways. She cites researchers such as James Gee, Henry Jenkins, and Leanna Madill who note the educational benefits of gaming. None of our staff read any studies extolling video game use prior to the acquisition of our Nintendo Wiis, but we experimented based on our own game play experience and our ideas for planning engaging lessons. Since we obtained the Wiis in early 2009, my staff and I have expanded on our original plans for using the consoles and now we incorporate a lot of critical thinking in addition to meeting provincial curriculum expectations.

For instance, not only have we had our students use Wii Fit to exercise in the class when the gym was unavailable, but we also conducted media literacy lessons for our grade six students by focusing on the coaches in Wii Fit. The students examined the coaching avatars and made observations based on the gender roles portrayed, such as why does the female instructor wear a belly-baring top instead of a t-shirt like her male counterpart?

When I had to teach dance and media as reportable subjects for a grade three class, I brought in my own copies of Just Dance, Just Dance for Kids, and Just Dance 2—video games that are fun and provide a healthy workout. Both boys and girls loved beating their individual high scores —I’ve never had so many children ask to re-do an evaluation over and over because they wanted to improve and they wanted to have fun. We also examined many aspects of the games and the students identified how different elements, such as the song selection, scoring mechanism, and DVD case covers, helped identify the targeted audience.

When scheduling dictated that I teach an intermediate vocal music class for a year, I turned to Rock Band as a socially acceptable way for teens to sing. The seventh and eight grade students appreciated the objective and impartial way they were evaluated by the console, the immediate feedback they received both during and after their performance, and the option to perform in front of their peers or in private, based on their comfort level.

Recently, I’ve connected with Julie Johnson, a special education teacher at Goodfellow Public School in Barrie, Ontario. To date, she is the only other educator I’ve met in the province that regularly uses a Wii as a tool for curriculum delivery. Julie obtained her Wii as part of a Managing Information for Student Achievement grant and she created literacy and numeracy centers based on the hit Nintendo game Mario Kart. More information about her progress can be found on her blog, http://gamesbasedlearningblog.blogspot.com/. We have collaborated to help students that struggle with appropriate positive social conduct. We have clubs at our schools that help specific boys with taking turns, patience, and using praise instead of put-downs. Our clubs faced each other in a friendly Mario Kart competition via our hooked-up Wiis in June 2011.

Thanks to Julie’s influence, I’ve discovered the Consolarium, a Scottish game-based learning research organization. “The Consolarium has worked with roughly 500 teachers in Scotland so far to retro-fit commercial off-the-shelf games into the teaching and learning that happens in nursery, primary and secondary classes. This means taking a game that was not originally designed for education and adapting its use so that it can be used to address educational needs and aspirations for learning.” There are dozens of ways that educators can use video games in the classroom and school library. Check out the Consolarium’s website, http://www.imaginegames.eu/eng/Case-Studies/The-Consolarium, for some of their ideas and suggestions.

Wii Have Fun

Melanie McBride, a Canadian educator and researcher, cautions educators in one of her posts on www.melaniemcbride.net not to “colonize or inscribe play” when appropriating video games for school use. When we purchased the Nintendo Wii game system for our school, we didn’t want to leech all the fun out of video games and use them only for instructional purposes. Playing video games in school for reasons other than meeting curriculum expectations is just as valuable.

At Agnes Macphail Public School, we have had a long-standing tradition of Games Day. Held on the last day before winter vacation and spring break, students rotate in small groups to different classes to play games such as checkers, Blokus, or Bingo. We added the Wii as another station, playing games that the students may be unfamiliar with, such as Outdoor Challenge. The students have fun and they also get a chance to hone their cooperation skills, learn to lose or win gracefully, and solve problems or challenges that come their way.

We have also used “game time on the Wii” as an affordable prize for school fundraising ventures—winners have the opportunity to gather a group of their school friends to play at lunch, supervised by a teacher. Even teachers use our Wii as a stress reliever and as a chance to socialize and exercise simultaneously, facing each other in Wii Sports or dancing together with Dance Dance Revolution.

Try It Out

In my conversations with like-minded, gaming-friendly colleagues, I have realized that teacher-librarians shouldn’t incorporate video games into their school libraries just because it sounds “cool” or because they read about it in a respected journal. Video games are the comics for this decade. At first they were spurned by most school libraries as “junk,” and then they gradually became more and more accepted until their benefits could not be denied. It helps to be a player yourself, so that if you are faced with any objections from administrators, other teachers, or parents, you can defend the inclusion of a particular game with knowledge and passion. Eli Neiburger, in his article for School Library Journal, “Games…in the Library” (July 2007, p. 28) encourages librarians and teachers to first play the games themselves before suggesting ways to use it in school. So, if you are interested in using video games in your school library program, the first piece of advice is to try playing some of them yourself.

Sharing an initial purpose for using video games is my second piece of advice. It helps to have in mind what you want to do, but don’t be limited by your plans—often the best ideas come from the students themselves. In Scott Nicholson’s gaming census study about gaming in libraries, “Go Back to Start: Gathering Baseline Data about Gaming in Libraries” (Library Media Connection Vol. 26 Iss. 5 pg 52), various school libraries set goals and outcomes for their gaming programs, such as attracting underserved groups of users to the library and allowing users to improve their skills and knowledge.

Acquiring a game console is a key step to making video game use a reality in your school library. A school cited by Laila Weir in her article, “Wii Love Learning: Using Gaming Technology to Engage Students” (www.edutopia.org), used a parent donation to purchase three Wii consoles. Teachers can bring in their home gaming systems. Schools can apply for grants or enter contents to obtain the technology. The momentum this sort of endeavor creates will propel the creative, entertainment, and educational use of video games in the school library in ways you may never have imagined.

Diana Maliszewski is a teacher-librarian at Agnes Macphail Public School in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.