School visit with Dawn Hallybone

After seeing Dawn Hallybone speak about using Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS at Learning Without Frontiers 2011, I have followed her work through her blog From Dawn till Dusk where she writes about her experiences using Games-Based Learning in her classroom. When organising this trip I got in contact with Dawn, and she was more than happy to have myself and Adrian Camm visit her school to see her students in action.

Firstly we visited Dawn’s Year 5 class, which is equivalent to a Victorian grade 4 class, for a maths session. Dawn began the session by getting students into pairs and distributing the class set of Nintendo DSs with the game Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training in them. The students worked together in their pairs on the Time Lapse mini game, where players are presented with two analogue clocks and need to figure out the time difference between the two. Dawn reminded students that they needed to be discussing how they were working out the answers to the questions – this was clearly something the students do when they use the DS in pairs. The students engaged in some really great discussion about how they worked out each answer, and were able to clearly articulate their thinking for each question. The grade remained focussed and engaged for the 10 minute warm-up on the DSs.

 The student discussions included some great peer reflection, peer teaching and self-correction as the students discussed any errors made, or how they reached the correct answer through their working out.

The next part of the maths session involved an activity that both Dawn and I have run in our classrooms – Mean, Median and Mode and data creating using Wii Sports (Bowling).

Here’s how Dawn did it last year. Here’s how I did it last year.

Students were moved into four table groups and three Wii remotes were shared. One student at a time from each table took their turn to bowl, while the rest of the grade recorded the results on a table Dawn provided them with. At the end of each round, students had 1 minute to work as a table team to work out the mean, median and mode of the data they had just collected. After that minute, the teams compared their answers and discussed why they might have gotten different answers (the table I was working with somehow recorded a 6 as an 8, so there was some discussion about how this affected the results).


By using this format, Dawn’s students were all engaged and on task for the entire session, even though only one student at a time could bowl, and everyone got one turn each. By giving students one minute to analyse their data and find the mean, median and mode for each set, and by repeating this at the end of each round of bowling, Dawn gave her students the opportunity to work out different things each time, to gain confidence through the repetition of the activity, and to work as a team to collaborate on all three required answers. The use of small white boards on each table was of particular interest to me, and has me thinking I might try to raid the P-2 area of my school next week and get some of these – students were asked to use these to record the definition of mean, median and mode in their own words for the group to refer back to throughout the activity. Such a simple idea but so effective for students, and something I haven’t used in my middle-years classroom before. I agree with Stephen Heppell‘s thoughts on writing surfaces in learning spaces, but in the absence of tables and walls my students can write on, I think the whiteboards are a good start (and they’re portable!).

Here’s a video on Stephen talking about writing surfaces and learning spaces.









At the end of the session students were able to define and explain how to find the mean, median and mode of a set of data, and identify the learning focus of the lesson. It was a fantastic lesson and I will be running it again. Last year I had small groups of students work on this activity independently as part of a rotation of activities, but I liked how Dawn’s session kept all students engaged and encouraged group discussion and collaboration to analyse a set of data they themselves had created. The whole group activity also allowed for more teacher support for students than the small group rotation did, which is another reason why I will run the whole group session next time.

A big thank you to Dawn Hallybone for welcoming us into her classroom and organising a great school visit for us to see GBL at Oakdale Junior School!

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BETT 2012

I am currently in London attending conferences and conducting school and university visits as part of my project to investigate best practice in Games-Based Learning in Education. I attended the BETT 2012 Show and Collabor8 4 Change (a BETT Unconference) on Thursday and attended the BETT Teachmeet on Friday at Olympia London, on Hammersmith Road.

BETT Show 2012

BETT 2012 The Bett Show was absolutely huge, as it was last year. Hundreds of people attend the show over the four days from January 11th – 14th, and this year over 650 exhibitors set up booths to show and sell their products, ranging from Learning Management Systems, Interactive Whiteboards and online security systems to 3D televisions, 3D printers and Learning Spaces Designs. In regards to Games-Based Learning, there was nothing to see. No Nintendo or Sony displays showing the use of their products in schools, and while Microsoft had a rather large booth staffed by about 30 people there was not an XBox360 in sight. One exhibitor caught my eye with a banner saying “immersive gaming environment”. When is was shown the game, it consisted of 4 worlds where students could click on things and be presented with a question that could be set by the teacher in any subject, which they had to answer. This, to me, was nothing new, not an immersive gaming environment and not what I was looking for. The graphics were very nice though.


There were approximately 120 educators, consultants and presenters at the Thursday night teachmeet, and sessions were run at tables for groups of around 10 at a time on a variety of topics. The atmosphere was one of buzzing enthusiasm as people chatted away as they arrived and found their first session. My Australian accent attracted a bit of attention (there aren’t many Aussies at these conferences!), and people were interested to hear what is happening in Victorian schools. As the night wore on and as I visited more sessions, it became clear that the presenters worked for companies and were promoting their products, asking for feedback on their products, or sharing about a project in schools using their product. One company asked us for ideas to include in their next publication for teachers. So, for me, the Thursday night teachmeet was not really a professional development opportunity for attendees.








The Teachmeet on Friday night was a different story. Hosted by Dawn Hallybone, the event was a lively one. It seemed that most of the people there knew each other. It was just the same as the Victorian educational technology community when we see each other at events and conferences, with people recognising each other from their Twitter avatars or blog photos, or having an ‘aha’ moment when they realise they are talking to someone they have been in contact with on Twitter for years. Presenters were chosen at random to speak for 7 minutes at a time, and were not allowed to try to sell any product during their time on stage, or they would be “camelled” off (I wish someone had tried a sales pitch, I wanted to see what “camelling” was).

There were some really interesting projects shared with the audience during this Teachmeet. Paul Hutson (@nightzookeeper) started the evening by talking about Studentsmeet UK, a global online presentation event for secondary school students.

Next, Sylvia Martinez (@smartinez) shared a great video with the audience highlighting what students are capable of when given leadership in their learning. Have a look at this website for more about Student Leadership in the Digital Age.

Simon Lewis (@simonmlewis) is a head teacher of a school in Ireland that has developed an iPhone/Android App for parents, which includes a calendar of important dates and events, a newsletter and a Google Form to parents to report their child as absent from school.



Gary Stager (@garystager) was as entertaining as always, and shared some great stories of powerful learning. See some of his stuff here.



Colin Hill (@ChilledTeaching) shared a fantastic looking resource which publishes eBooks for free. I’ll definitely be having a very good look at this when I get home and the Wi-Fi is more reliable.



Emma Taylorson (@emmtaylorson) and Amy Parkin (@amyparkinbed), two 2nd year education students, gave excellent presentations in only 2 minutes. Emma’s presentation focussed on collaboration in the classroom, and Amy’s was about students programming games in the classroom using a tool called Kodu and an XBox360. This was what I had been waiting for! GBL!!! Another thing to investigate when I return to Melbourne.

There were more presentations than the ones mentioned here – I will try to locate a list of all the presenters and their websites and post it here.

Friday night’s Teachmeet was, by far, the most relevant and informative event that I attended during BETT 2012. Tomorrow we are going to visit the school where Dawn Hallybone implements GBL with her students using Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii.

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Lure of the Labyrinth – Visualising Thinking


We are now in our third term of using Lure of the Labyrinth as part of the maths curriculum in the 5/6B classroom this year. We have been able to incorporate one hour per week of game time in our timetable as part of our maths program for most weeks. Student enthusiasm towards the game has not lessened with continued use – there are enough puzzles and levels of difficulty within the game to keep students challenged and engaged throughout the year. Even when all the pets are rescued and the bad guy is defeated the game can still be played. None of my students have finished the game yet and only one is even close to completing enough puzzles to finish it. I completed the game a couple of months ago and discovered that you do not need to complete all levels of all puzzles but must master all levels of some puzzles in order to achieve the goals within the game that allow the player to finish it (earn coins, buy tools required to overcome obstacles, unlock required rooms etc).


Students use graphic organisers with increasing confidence and are now able to explain how they benefit from recording their thinking and exploring more than the answer the game is looking for – each puzzle presents different numbers to each player.


When students play the game, I am truly a facilitator for learning. I no longer get questions like “how do I do this?” but students call me over to show me new discoveries and share their knowledge with me.
DSC_0237As student confidence with the game and the problem-solving skills required has increased, I have seen more and more students begin to create their own graphic organisers for the puzzles. Some draw organisers similar to the one downloaded from the game website, others come up with different ways to represent their thinking on paper. One boy still refuses to use a graphic organiser, printed or drawn, but when you sit with him and get him to talk you through what he’s thinking, it becomes clear that he really doesn’t need one – he’s a talented visual thinker and a natural with numbers. In this way the game caters for a wide variety of thinking skills.


Many of the characters in Lure of the Labyrinth are featured in a book I purchased from my local post office on the holidays called Monsterology. As a grade we have been able to make links between the game, this book and other texts such as the Harry Potter series. Mosterology is part of a series of books and students have starting bringing other titles on the series to school to share with the grade.

I continue to be amazed at the depth and breadth of learning opportunities presented by Lure of the Labyrinth. Games-based learning has enabled my students to make connections such as the ones mentioned here, and as the year goes on they have done this with less and less guidance from me. The students really are driving their own learning both when playing the game and following their own interests from the game. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

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Designing Secret Fortresses in 5/6B




I stumbled across this book, Rule the World, by Klutz, while browsing the shelves in a little bookshop in Caloundra while on holidays. It’s proving to be the best find I’ve ever made. The activities in the book have inspired many engaging literacy activities linked to VELS level 4.



We have done activities based around several of the 119 Shortcuts to  total world domination, including selecting rulership styles, creating mottos, writing fan letters to ourselves, designing handshakes and telling near-death survival stories. Students have achieved great results in writing, and artistic talents have shone through in this unit of work. Our latest activity in the unit is Design a Secret Fortress.



Students needed to select their style of fortress (castle, treehouse or dormant volcano fortress) by using the decision-tree flowchart in the book. The flowchart in itself generated some good conversations, and I may try an activity where students create their own.



When the students had determined which fortress was best for them, they were given the design brief and assessment rubric for their task. Prior to this year, the students in my grade had never used rubrics. The use of rubrics with 5/6B was introduced in response to students having a general feeling of doing well at school without knowing how well, as shared by parents at parent-teacher interviews. Student feedback indicates that the design brief and rubric make explicit every expectation within the task, and there are no forgotten details or surprises closer to the due date. Students understand exactly how to achieve excellent results for any given task, and there is still plenty of room for individual ideas and artistic ability.


The assessment was drawn from VELS  Level 4 Design, Creativity and Technology. The focus for students was to identify when they changed their design, why they changed it and how it would work better than the original design.


The reflection table guided students in recording their thinking and identifying strengths and weaknesses in their designs. The design brief provided boundaries which some students really needed and others struggled with (“can I have zombies PLEASE?”). I created the design brief with student input by typing it with my laptop plugged into the Interactive White Board. Students were provided with about 5 hours of class time to work on this, and took their projects home to work on them there. Students searched the internet for information on ways electricity is created and collected, the weights of different materials such as metals, medieval weaponry, world maps to choose locations and more.


This was an engaging activity, and held the interest of the boys in the grade, which can be difficult for some literacy activities, particularly in writing. Students are becoming increasingly confident in using rubrics to assess their own work and develop personal learning goals as a result of their learning experiences.

The documents in this post are images that can be saved by right-clicking on the and selecting Save Image As… from the menu.

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More of Nintendo DS in Literacy

5/6B have continued to explore the use of Nintendo DS in Literacy for the duration of this term, with really interesting results. Students have continued to bring in their own Nintendo DSs and games to use in class, and have been happy to lend their DS to others when needed. There has been no damage to DSs or games, and no property has gone missing, as students have always taken the greatest care with the property of others.

We have been able to work with certain learning foci when using the DSs with different games all at once, because we don’t have a class set of games and there is no game that all of the students have. I have found this to be a challenge and feel limited in the depth of learning that can occur for students without the same game for each student. At this stage we have done a lot of work with comparing and contrasting characters (with links to books, movies, websites) and vocabulary.

When we began the trial I found that student responses when looking at characters were a bit shallow, and students spent time describing what characters wore and who they talked to. Students were not thinking about why a character behaved a certain way within the games they were playing. My thought is perhaps this is because the character is controlled by the player. I encouraged students to make links with characters who appeared in multiple media formats, such as Harry Potter, and use previous knowledge to enhance the depth of the characters in the game. I also found that students were not aware of the back stories of well-known characters such as Mario and Luigi (did you know that their names are Mario Mario and Luigi Mario? I felt I should’ve known that, given they are the Mario Brothers, but I’d never made that connection). I showed students the official Nintendo website and some interesting details came from that. Students really loved sharing this new-found information with the grade and it led to some “OMG really?” moments as well as increased depth of character analysis from students.

Another focus that developed through the limitation of not having a class set of games was comprehension of the text within games. Students were presented with a number of unknown words within an unfamiliar context (eg wizarding world) but were able to play the game without fully understanding the text. One exception to this was when one student played Nintendogs but did not give the dogs food or water because she did not know the meaning of famished or parched. Another student suggested that famished meant hungry, making a link to the word famine, which had generated discussion during another literacy activity last term. There have been many links like this during the use of DSs in class, and students have become adept at making these links in all areas of their learning, something they could not do at the beginning of the year.

Students have developed the ability to think laterally when seeking information about a text. Students move around the classroom when seeking word definitions and details about characters; they grab dictionaries, ask someone if they have dictionary apps on their iPod Touch, ask to borrow my iPad, use a school netbook or desktop, ask someone in the grade. Rarely, and usually as a last resort, they will ask me and I will direct them to some other source of the information they need.

So far I have learned that the use of DS in Literacy is inherently engaging and exciting for the students, and has enabled them to develop skills in research, lateral thinking, character analysis, looking beyond the surface, making text-to-text links and more. Fears held by some staff and parents that property would be damaged or stolen have not been realised, and students have shown that they are responsible with the DSs.

The problem for me is where to go next with this? I have self-funded all of the gaming consoles in the classroom (Wii, PS2, xbox360 plus a DSi and 3Ds with several games) and I cannot afford to purchase class sets of games. My students are not the only ones developing their skills in thinking laterally!

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Lure of the Labyrinth Presentation at VITTA Conference

Today I was part of a DEECD Presentation at the Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association (VITTA) Conference in Melbourne. I presented on Lure of the Labyrinth, how we use it in the classroom and the effect it has had on teaching and learning. Here are the presentation slides and notes.

Slide1This year we were selected to be part of the Innovating With Technologies Serious Games Trial. We are exploring the effects on teaching and learning of the game Lure of the Labyrinth as part of the games-based learning approach we use in the 5/6B classroom.


The Education Arcade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and FableVision in conjunction with the US Department of Education created Lure of the Labyrinth in 2009. It is an online, immersive environment where players take on the role of a mathematician in order to progress through the game. Also, it is free, requires no downloads and runs on any computer with the latest flashplayer, which is also free.

In Lure of the Labyrinth, you begin by selecting a pet (mine was an Armadillo named Pete). You then read the comic about how you are walking your pet when it is kidnapped. You follow the kidnapper through the sewers to TastiPet, a hidden factory run by monsters that produces pet food. You must go undercover disguised as a monster and work in the factory in order to find and save your pet. The narrative, which incorporates aspects of Greek mythology, runs throughout the game as you are presented with a series of codes to help you locate areas of the factory you need to work in. Each area of the factory is presented as a puzzle with three levels of difficulty to be mastered. Players must gain mastery in several areas in order to complete the game and rescue their pet. The mathematical concepts in the game include: factors, ratios, positive and negative integers, fractions and finding the common denominator, area and perimeter, number patterns and interpreting graphs.


Lure of the Labyrinth has a built in assessment and monitoring tool for teachers. I set up my grade in 5 mixed ability groups and gave them their usernames and passwords. As administrator of my grade I can monitor how students are using the message boards to assist each other and ask for assistance. I can deliver warnings for inappropriate use of message boards and suspend their capability to use them, which I have not needed to do. I can monitor how many times a puzzle is attempted and the success rates for each puzzle as a percentage, enabling me to inform my teaching.

The game can be played in narrative mode, where players can move around rooms, solve puzzles and progress through the game. It can also be played in puzzle mode, which I use for directed teaching moments when clarification of a concept is required, as I can have all students on the same puzzle at the same time.

The game website provides educators with lesson plans, graphic organisers, videos and comprehensive instructions and suggestions to help teachers use this tool in the teaching of maths.


As part of the Serious Games Project, I asked a small group of students what they thought were the most important skills for using Lure of The Labyrinth. It was really interesting that the maths skills were not mentioned by the students – they were more focussed on team work and communicating with others. With my assistance we also identified visualising thinking as an important skill, and the students could relate this to the use of the graphic organisers. To assist with assessment using Lure of the Labyrinth, a colleague and I put together this VELS Matrix, which links each puzzle to aspects of the maths continuum across multiple progression points. I use this to work with small groups of students at their point of need.



This slide shows an example of how I use puzzle mode for directed teaching moments in the game. I used observations and discussions during use of Lure of the Labyrinth and activities in our Maths Plus program to determine that there was confusion between area and perimeter among the majority of my students. The use of LOTL enabled me to devote extra teaching time to this topic while still moving into other topics with the Maths Plus program. Through repeated use of the North Garden Puzzle, along with explicitly modelling the use of the graphic organiser, students had ‘aha’ moments as they linked the concepts in the puzzle to what they had experienced in previous maths sessions. I found that once these moments occurred in a structured setting, they began to occur in general game play as the students became more practiced at linking the game to explicitly taught concepts. These links have provided the most powerful learning moments for my students, as they are discovering them in their own way and in their own time.


The data in the above slide is from this year’s Student Opinion Survey Data. This is the tracked cohort data, so the same students’ opinions are shown over 2 years, with the bottom row of each data being for this cohort’s grade 6 year.

LOTL has had many positive effects on the teaching and learning occurring in 5/6B. Students take risks and explore things in all areas of the curriculum now. Communication and collaboration is happening as an everyday part of everything the students do. Students create their own graphic organisers to visualise their thinking in non-LOTL maths sessions. As a teacher I am a facilitator for learning, not the giver of knowledge. Students facilitate the learning of other students. Our school’s attitudes to school data has improved dramatically, for several reasons, but students have named Lure of the Labyrinth as being part of their stimulating learning, and as we know, when students are engaged and stimulated in their learning, classroom behaviour is not an issue.

Lure of the Labyrinth is available here.

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Level Up – New trial of Classroom Rewards System

With the implementation of a games based approach to teaching and learning in my classroom this year, classroom behaviour has been excellent. Students are engaged, excited and enjoy taking risks with their learning. They collaborate and support each other, and the learning environment is happy and safe. But things in the playground are a bit different. The students aren’t being as supportive of each other in the yard as they are in the classroom. I’m hearing about name calling and exclusion while the students are outside, and time spent dealing with these issues is eating into learning time. I wanted to find a way to apply the intrinsic motivation to achieve that games based learning has given my students to areas outside the classroom. As a result I have come up with a new “gamified” classroom rewards system that I will be trialling with my grade starting this week.

The new rewards system was created as a way to link the games based learning happening in the classroom to student actions and behaviours outside the classroom in the hope that the students will want to “level up” as they do in games by behaving appropriately in the yard, completing and submitting homework on time, taking care and pride in their work and showing leadership skills when working in teams.

Each student will start off with their “phone”, which has a screen with 15 spaces for “apps” which can be earned at any time. The apps I have created are related to areas I want to focus on with my students, eg Mathletics, Lure of the Labyrinth, team work, leadership, creativity. All of the apps students can earn have points, so if a student submits their homework on time 5 weeks in a row, they get the Homework 5 app to velcro onto their phone. If a student submits their homework on time 10 weeks in a row, they return their Homework 5 app and receive the Homework 10 app instead (levelling up).

I created all of this with Comic Life 2 (Mac version), using all of the great fonts and gradients withing the program. I used no particular colour scheme except for the rainbow gradient – apps with a rainbow background are the highest level app achievable for a given area.

The Master Builder apps are to acknowledge student growth in the use of Google Sketch Up to design and create 3D buildings as part of our economics unit, Picasso apps are for artistic efforts and creativity, the World Ruler apps are to reward students for excellence in our literacy unit “How to Rule the World” based on the book by Klutz and the Splendid Jollygood apps will be used to reward achievement and mastery in Lure of the Labyrinth (the term “splendid jollygood” is a bit of an in-joke with my grade – it is a quote from a monster in the game that my students have taken to using).

I look forward to trialling this new approach to behaviour management outside of the classroom with my grade. I hope that this approach proves to be an intrinsic motivator for my students as they watch their phone fill with apps they have earned through their hard work and positive behaviours at school.

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