Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quick Games

Time is always an issue at school.  There is not enough time in the day to everything you want.  Playing a game is often near, or at the bottom of the list. When do you play?  How can you make play meaningful (curriculum connected)? Why does play have to me meaningful?  I struggle with these questions, and others all the time.  For example; if I make time during centres for play, but I also expect students to write about their play, does writing about play justify the time I give to playing, or just take away from the benefits of playing?

One 'freebie' for play in the classroom is indoor recess.  Indoor recess, is great for introducing games and just playing. During recess I give my students choices of games to play in the class.  Some choose to play on the computer while others choose table top games.  These games are all chosen by me, so, while there is choice, it is still controlled by me.  We teachers are a controlling lot.  The challenge in building a collection of games for recess is finding ones that will only last 10-15 minutes, to make transitioning back to class work easy.  Here are the games I have in my collection currently:

Uno, Chess (not really a fast game), cards, Dominoes, Story cubesSpot itWe didn't playtest this game at all.  Almost all my games are easily found in book, games shops, and department stores.

Spot it, and Story cubes are the current favourite of my class.  These games are quick, and allow for many players.  I have watched half my class choose to play story cubes and create the funniest, strangest stories I have ever heard.  I have also used this in class as a fun oral activity, and a way to talk about units of organized thought i.e. paragraphs.

Spot it is a favourite because it is fast paced and very visual.  My ELL students in particular liked this one, as it does not require reading English text.  The last game on the list is my favourite, because there is a lot of thinking, and luck in a 5 minute -or less- game.  Students have to quickly read their cards and make a plan to ensure everyone else loses.   My students in grade 4/5 are a bit hesitant to play 'We Didn't Playtest this Game at All' because it requires a lot of reading when you are first learning to playing it, but my former students who are in grade 6/7 do come by my class to borrow it occasionally.

My latest game Duple I haven't yet introduced to my students.  For now it is sitting on my desk, driving my students crazy.  It is from the makers of Anomia.  I can't wait to play.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Creating Gamertags

I have a few names that I have used repeatedly as I hop from one computer game to another.  There are two names I use most often; both from my days playing W.O.W., but I have had other names in other games too.  Most of my friends and family have one gamertag that they use consistently on their main characters of any given game, and secondary names or names that are a variation of the main on other characters.  I am slightly jealous of this; that they have one universal gamertag that has followed them through all their role playing adventures.  I have not done the same. I think I am just too picky and indecisive.

Earlier in the school year, I decided that since my Minecraft Club members would be sharing my accounts, it would be a good idea to have them create a gamertag for themselves; to make it feel more like they had some ownership of their avatar.  Since the Multi-School Minecraft Server has an add-on allowing people to change their names by typing: /nick, I figured this would be easy.  Because I was doing this as a club activity, I didn't really plan out how I was going to teach the use of gamertags like I would have, if I was teaching a lesson in regular class time.  That was the wrong choice to make.

What I Did:

At the beginning of club time I had the students meet me at the carpet while they waited for their computers to log in, and spoke to them briefly about what a gamertag is, and how people often have one that they use across every game they play.  I gave examples of gamertags of people I know and told a story about how my friend had reconnected with another friend she had lost contact with when she stopped playing Dark Age of Camelot.  This friend saw an avatar with the same name her friend in Dark Age of Camelot run by her in the town of another game, and she was able to send them a direct message.  Because of this they were able to renew their friendship.  More importantly I spoke about gamertags can be one way of protecting their real personal information.   I then gave a few examples of tags being used.  I finished off by letting the club members know that they were to create their own gamertags for the next meeting in a weeks time.

What Happened:

I got some good tags, but more than anything I got a lot of long, difficult to remember names that were impossible to spell or read.

Things I Should Have Done:

- Given different strategies for creating a name i.e. based on interests, fandoms, genres etc.
- Practiced creating a gamertag with students i.e. if Harry Potter had to pick a gamertag what do you think he would use?  Katnis?
- Demonstrate effective uses of symbols and numbers in gamertags
- Insist that students be able to spell their gamertag.

What I Am Doing Now

For health I am covering online safety with a focus on cyber bullying.  As part of the overall online safety unit I will actually try address creating an online persona through gamertag.  Hopefully this will also lead into deeper questions and discussions about roles and responsibilities as a digital citizen beyond what we do in school.  For example: does having an online persona separate from who I am in real life mean that I can behave any way I want?

(My class uses Minecraft in the during class time so there will be a practical application to this exercise.   Especially since I will soon be moving to MinecraftEdu, which will allow students to pick there own avatar names and skins.)