Mucking around

My current attempt to integrate Xbox racing games into science is generating interest amongst a fair few teachers. My class loves it. As one student said today “All classes should have an Xbox”.

So why aren’t more classes using the Xbox?

A few weeks ago I ran a professional learning session for science teachers on how they can integrate Xbox games into teaching Newton’s laws of motion. I suggested an array of activities to cater for students of a range of abilities. Yet the Xbox booking sheet only holds my initials as no other teacher has requested it for their classes. As the faculty’s head teacher and the school’s technology coordinator, I want to reflect on how to encourage teachers to implement what they learn in professional learning sessions, particularly with technology.

There are many reasons why teachers may not implement what they learn in professional development courses. However, I want to focus on the need to ‘muck around’. With technology in particular, it’s essential to muck around and spend time to explore the software before deciding how to use it to enhance learning. In a reading I had to do for uni Richardson (2009) highlighted that teachers need to make a personal connection with the technology before being able to consider the pedagogical implications of the technology for their classroom practice. IMHO, to make this personal connection, you need to muck around.

With the Xbox, I spent a lot of time mucking around (playing three different racing games to decide on the best game for my class, which game mode to use, which race track, difficulty level and how much freedom students had in choosing players and racing tracks to ensure time efficiency). Then there was mucking around with hardware. Which data projector was best? What cables did I need? Overall it involved two weekends of playing Xbox at home, several visits to video game shops and several hours of playing the Xbox at school. And I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! 🙂

In contrast, the other teachers didn’t have this opportunity.  All they had was a half hour session of me showing them how to set up the Xbox, how to play Formula 1 2010 and the various activities they can implement for their classes. They didn’t have the chance to discover for themselves how the Xbox worked and the potential it can have on their students’ learning. They didn’t have the chance to muck around for hours playing different types of games and reflecting how the games can be used in their teaching.

The hard part now is how do I create these opportunities where teachers can muck around, self explore and reflect? How do I create opportunities for teachers to want to muck around?

Note: The school’s teachers have been fantastic at adopting other technologies such as IWBs and 1:1 laptop initiatives. Perhaps the Xbox takes relatively longer to get used to.

Will I have the time? Xbox and Newton’s laws

I started using the Xbox with my YR10s to explore Newton’s Laws of Motion. Students are working in groups of 3 or 4 and are filming their gameplay on Formula 1 2010 with the webcams on their laptops. Two lessons of Xbox later, 5 groups have filmed their gameplay with 2 groups left to go. After they film their gameplay, they will import the film into Adobe Premier Elements and annotate the film to use Newton’s laws to explain the race car’s motion.

This got me thinking about time. Whether I’ve got the time to do such a project. In previous years, I would just teach Newton’s 3 laws with a prac or two assocaited with each law. This would’ve taken 3-5 lessons. However, with the Xbox involved, it will now take me almost double the amount of lessons. While I know using the Xbox activity will allow students to use higher-order thinking skills of analysing, evaluating and creating, I also feel the pressure to “get through the content” to prepare the Yr10s for the School Certificate Exam. Time taken away from “content” or exam preparation is often sited by teachers as a reason not to integrate multimedia technology in their lessons (Complexities and challenges of integrating technology into the curriculum)

In an age where there seems to be an increasing emphasis on high stakes testing (eg. NAPLAN and MySchool), are high-stakes testing really the best strategy to use to ensure that all our students are prepared to partcipate in a 21st century digital society? There are so many YouTube videos out there telling teachers and the community that education needs to change because technology is evolving so fast. We need to develop our students’ critical thinking skills and the ability to adapt to change. I want to do this. I want my classroom to be a place where students use technology to develop these skills. But at the same time I worry whether that’s taking time away from NAPLAN, School Certificate and HSC preparation. Maybe it’s time we need to rethink how we assess our students.

Xbox and Isaac Newton

 I have recently acquired an Xbox 360 for the science faculty at my school. I’ve always been an enthuaistic gamer (more into Nintendo games like Zelda) and have been investigating games based learning for a while and was deciding whether to try out the Xbox, PS3 or Wii in the classroom. But then an Xbox 360 was handed to me!

My Year 10 class are studying Newton’s laws of motion at the moment. I liked the idea of using commercial games to support learning rather than using educational games. I came up with the idea of using a car racing game for students to learn about Newton’s laws. They will work in small groups where the gameplay will be recorded, then imported into a video editing software and add text annotations to explain the motion of the race car using Newton’s laws. Their end product should be something similar to this.

Now that the activity is in place, the next step was to find the most appropriate game. I tried out Need for Speed Shift as it came free with the Xbox console. While the graphics were awesome and the game gave a “real driver experience”, the game took too long to load and there were too much of the storyline to get through before you could play the game. I needed to get my whole class playing the game in two to three lessons and Need for Speed Shift just takes too long.

The next game I tried was Formula 1 2010. The initial game set-up took a while (choosing teams, driver names, etc), but once that’s done, you can just race around a grand-prix track in one or three laps – perfect for students in the classroom. After spending a weekend trying out all the tracks, I worked out that Melbourne and Montreal were the easiest. I might get all the kids to be Mark Weber and race in Melbourne just to be patriotic!

All I’ve got to do now is to actually implement the activity, which will be in two days time. All equipment are set, activity sheets (Xbox project newtons laws_wordpress) are done, other teachers have been trained, and one of the deputy principals will be visiting to see how it goes. Wish me luck!