Reality is Broken?


Currently reading Jane McGonigal‘s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World and am amazed at how it mirrors the work I have been doing recently in Assessment for Learning.

Areas of commonality for both games and assessment for learning are:

Control – gamer/student is at the centre of the experience

Rules – gamer/student operates in a system where there are rules to follow/obey

Goals – gamer/student needs clear goals and actionable steps to reach those goals/targets

Feedback – positive feedback mirrors back to gamer/student what they’ve accomplished and is both qualitative and quantitative

Visible results – gamer/student needs & wants to see results directly, immediately and as vividly as possible

Is this why the Assessment for Learning work has resonated so strongly with me?


Is this why games based learning has held my attention for so long as the way forward?

Probably Obviously a combination of both!

2009 – The Year That Was

2009 was a huge year of personal learning outside of my classroom and I’d like to recognise that the opportunities that arose over the past 12 months were a direct result of the work I had been doing in my classroom in 2006, 2007 and 2008 (so thanks to all of those talented and amazing students who taught me so well and allowed me to work along-side them).

2009 presented the chance to share what I had been up to with others far removed from my little classroom in a suburb of Sydney. So here’s how it went:

January – saw me travelling throughout the UK on my Premier’s English Scholarship, making and meeting friends and seeing first hand Games Based Learning in classrooms. I was very excited to attend my first Teachmeet (on my birthday) at BETT09, and amazed to catch up f2f with many of my PLN.


February – March: I had the opportunity to present at a number of conferences and Professional Learning workshops at a local, region and state level, sharing how I used web2.0 technologies in my classroom.



April – May: Back with the DET I was involved with the Blog trial and took part in f2f meetings with like-minded educators from around the state to assist in the department developing a blog platform for all DET students and teachers. Began writing a Narrative Unit for the Curriculum Directorate based on a digital game for use with Stage 2 students.

June – July: Travelled to Washington, USA for NECC09 where I took part in many fantastic workshops, tutorials, discussions and events. Met up with some in my US PLN and joined in my first “Web2.0 Smackdown”! Moved on to Barcelona where I nervously presented at my first international conference, and then learnt a great deal at an imagination conference in Vancouver. Whew! A really busy month or so :-}


August – September: Back at school and trialling a wiiMusic project with my class – fun, interesting and many more possibilities to be explored here! Presented again at Sydney University for eLit (Primary English Teachers Association).

October: Headed back to the US to present at a Visual Literacy Conference in Chicago where I showcased the visual literacy aspects and opportunities of web2.0 tools and applications. Had the chance to visit Yellowstone Park whilst travelling – unbelievable :-0


November: Visited Canberra and Parliament House to receive my National Teaching Award for Excellence by a Teacher. An exciting and really proud moment of my career and year!


December: Found out that my joint proposal for a workshop at ISTE 2010 (in Denver Colorado in June 2010) was accepted so can look forward to further travels mid year 2010 already.


So that’s it – a busy year out of my classroom where I have grown as a learner, presenter and person. I’ve been able to see a bigger picture and refine my thinking in many areas, but have been affirmed in many of my deep beliefs about learning, children, and authenticity.

Thanks to the countless people who have shared so much of themselves with me this year – f2f, on twitter, through blogs and conferences. I love learning with such a diverse and supportive group of dedicated professionals.

With 2010 upon us lets take a breath, think peaceful thoughts and then get on with another great year of learning and sharing. We WILL make a difference!

G’Day to a Good Day!

Here is a “lost” blog post that I wrote after taking part in a full day Tim Rylands workshop (last month in Kent, UK)

An outline of the workshop is available on Tim’s site, here, and the combined thoughts and reactions of the day can also be found, here, written by Gail and myself.

The day really sparked my thinking – especially in regards to the framework I am piecing together ­- using computer games creatively to enhance and encourage student writing.

Two ideas that I keep coming back to are giving students

1.    permission to wonder


2.    permission to play.


Permission to wonder, to  share your thinking, to brainstorm, to develop creative ideas, silly ideas, the freedom to pose possibilities and run with them.

Too often this step is non-existent in the writing we do in our classrooms, in our haste to get to the written text, the conventions and the punctuation we dismiss this gathering and sorting of ideas – thus depriving our students of a wealth of interesting and exciting possibilities that they can choose to use in their writing.

Giving students the permission to play also supports student language acquisition by making the collection of ideas, words, phrases and sentences

·      physical,

·      active,

·      kineastheic,

·      REAL.

This activity and movement, I‘ve noticed, is vital in my school and class setting, so I was interested to see Tim employing techniques and strategies that got the students moving.

The students gained much from physically linking movement with words – I wonder if this could be connected to “muscle memory” that dancers use????

Thanks Tim for a fantastic day – you are still sparking my thinking and learning – even from this distance. Amazing 🙂



Fireside Chat with John Johnston

The best laid plans of a bracing walk through the wilds of Scotland with John were overthrown by the weather, and so we spent a great few hours in the cosy surrounds of the elegant lounge room at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel (in the west central Highlands of Argyll).

We chatted our way through most of the ills facing education today, planned and plotted how to fix the world and made our way back to what we were all up to and planning for the next year or so.

In The World According to Three Educators by a Fire, this is what we came up with:

Know your goals as you set out.

Take a steady approach, but always with your goals in mind.

Be prepared for serendipitous events, embrace them, use them and learn from them.

Allow students to lead their learning – support, encourage and celebrate learning as it happens.

Need to backward plan at times to enable a more open and exploratory type of learning to take place.


Thanks John, with your knowledge and understanding of students, learning and ICT I know you will continue to make a positive impact on learning in North Lanarkshire schools.




East Lothian Inspiration

A HUGE thank you to Ollie Bray who organized a busy and information packed Wednesday that took us to Wallyford Primary and Musselburgh Grammar to see Games -Based Learning in action in a variety of classes and age groups.

Gail and I were accompanied by Margaret and led out by Ollie to see a range of game platforms being used by great teachers, enthusiastic students and a proud & passionate Mr Bray.

Without exception, students from the two schools were engaged and enthusiastic about the use of games in their classrooms. Whether the games were being used for skills practice, skill speed improvement, concept development, or as a context for learning new skills  – students responded to the playfulness and fun of the games.

This allowed teachers to harness and support this enthusiasm into meaningful learning experiences for their students.  Maths drill and practise became purposeful and competitive; story writing was embedded in a shared context; and dance and movement was personally challenging with goals and targets to keep on track.

It was interesting to see how the teachers “unpacked” the learning taking place with their students. Discussions, suggestions, strategies and rules could be seen in charts and on walls of the classrooms that indicated the learning that was taking place was deeper than the skills emphasized in the games themselves.


Problem solving strategies were listed and articulated, child protection issues were talked about and solutions offered, management routines were developed with and by the students. All of which engendered ownership of the learning that was taking place, and the strategies and routines that students could use to confidently use and make the most of the games and learning they were involved with.

All in all a wonderfully fun and enlightening day in many ways. Thanks to the teachers who were so willing to share their classes and teaching with us.




Why & How: Computer Games & Writing?

I have been using games in my classroom for nearly two years now and have been constantly surprised at the excitement, success and achievements of my students in this time. My students’ writing has especially been of interest to me and I have thought long and hard about how and why using games elicits such wonderful responses.

I first used PS2 game back stories as models (in 2006) for my students to write their own stories with surprising results. I then moved on to the very different and beautiful Samorost and Samorost 2 games as stimulus (2007) with again, wonderful results.

Using historical stories to build their own games, and write the back stories (also 2007) encouraged the students to come up with interesting and well thought out ideas.

Most recently I used Mario and Sonic at the Olympics as stimulus for writing poetry, which also yielded positive results.

Lots of different games, from internet based to COTS, yet all had great impact on the quality of the writing produced by my students. Why? How?

Well, in a coming together of ideas and professional learning over this time, I’ve read “Out of Our Minds. Learning to be Creative” by Sir Ken Robinson. So much of what he said made sense to me and led me to this post of thoughts as to why using games with my Primary aged students helps their writing.

The use of the games allows for and promotes creativity!

Robinson refers to creativity as

  • doing something
  • an action
  • applied imagination
  • valuable
  • public
  • original
  • a process rather than an event

most of these aspects can be linked to the use of computer games within my class. Perhaps my students are creatively learning – is that it?

I would love to know what you think 🙂

Collaborative nature of using games with the whole class on the big screen enables all to participate at whatever level they are comfortable with: amateurs, newbies, competents all have some stake in the game; all have important comments and views to share.

Newbies are seeing things for the first time – they can often share new perspectives that competents and amateurs hadn’t thought about.

Newbies ask questions that competents and amateurs can try to answer – by articulating what they know and teaching others the whys and hows of the game, strategies, language and information within the game can be shared.

Sharing of knowledge, ideas, vocabulary and the “piggy backing” of thoughts helps to grow new ideas and thoughts. Robinson says that we make sense of the world by trying on ideas for size. Shared vocab, shared imagery – this belongs to all of us. Sharing of the language involved provides models and scaffolds that support all learners – ESL, language disordered, struggling and advanced users of English. 

Sometimes the class starts with a common sentence, and everyone builds that sentence into something new. New vocab has meaning; new ways of saying something are shared and modelled. The language belongs to all of us, it gets better and more descriptive the more we use it and mould it to what we want to say.

Striving for more – students push themselves to get better/ be better. They work and think hard together, as a class, to achieve, to make the work stronger, the images clearer and the language richer. Students enjoy the notice, the acknowledgement of their classmates when they come up with a great idea, word, image or phrase.

During the game and the learning sessions, students are working for the common exploration of the game, the theme, the topic; they are working together to explore and imagine. There are no grades, no external reinforcement, just a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they can do. Pushing past what they thought was their best, to speaking, writing or thinking something that is new, improved and satisfying.

A community. My students are not isolated it’s not them and a blank page – everyone starts together through talking and suggesting. The game provides a shared beginning with lots of “jumping off” points to get them started and on their way.

The oral aspect is vitally important for all students. Trying out ideas, and how they sound in English, and how they might best be written is hard for my ESL students- many of whom don’t yet have a strong idea of exactly how English should sound.

Acceptance of their ideas, providing alternative ways of saying the same thing, playing around with the language in a supportive way builds up the sense of community – everyone has something to offer.

Drama is a fantastic way to tease out new ideas and concepts especially when students are struggling with finding the English words for what they are seeing. Even advanced English speakers are able to develop their vocabulary through dramatic representation of what they are seeing and doing on the screen, in the game.

Students are motivated to try new ideas, new imagery, new ways of approaching writing in a supportive, yet exciting environment. My students are in a familiar domain (computer games) and can relax into the rigorous school domain where they are expected to write (in English) about unfamiliar topics, events and experiences. Their motivation seems to run deeper than simply playing computer games in school. They are being asked to do more than just play the game – they are being asked to think, to respond, to create, to move past the actual game in front of them, to record and deliver their ideas in new and interesting language.

Safe risks where students are encouraged to take risks and realize that to fail (some ideas they have will be better than others) is an important part of learning. Sometimes the flow of ideas and talking is so fast that it’s hard to get what you want down, but in this environment my students can see that their writing is not permanent – they can change it, add to it, re-arrange it, and if they really don’t like it cross it out or leave it and move on. Robinson beleives that creativity involves a dynamic interplay between generating ideas and making judgements about them. We get more ideas, and better ideas through taking these safe risks in a supportive atmosphere.

How different this is from the prolonged agony of no ideas, an empty white page and 20 minutes to write something, anything, at all. When all there was time for was to write down the first thing that came into your head, and it stayed there on the page mocking you (but it really didn’t matter because you didn’t need to read it again anyway. The teacher was the only one who read your work!).

The excitement and noise of ideas bursting forth, of being re-written and re-worked, of being tried out and accepted or laughed at and rejected, only to be picked up again later and turned into something useful. Or the quiet of pencils scratching workbooks, students mumbling sentences under their breath and a sigh of success as their writing works out and they finish off with a flourish and a grin J


I don’t know ………, I’m scratching for answers or insights into why gaming offers such impetus to my students. Is it the creative aspects of the tasks that appeal and resonate with the students? I do know that using computer games has impacted strongly and positively on my classroom over the last two years. Hopefully I’ll find out more (answers or questions – I’m not sure) when in Scotland and England early next year!

Image: ‘The Questions Crap



I have always got my class to set goals at the beginning of each term or semester. I think that this is one small way that my students can learn to grow as effective and more independent learners. I think that setting  goals for the term or semester can help my students organise themselves and “learn to learn”.

Goal setting is important

  • to focus
  • to get involved
  • to “own” learning
  • to build confidence
  • to motivate
  • to set what needs to be done
  • as a path to learning

Some times and classes are more successful than others –

  • is it the particular students, their understanding, their commitment?
  • is it the structures or scaffolds that help the students to set goals and targets?
  • is it the follow through/reminding / checking / follow up that SUPPORTS students and keep them focussed?

Students gain much from articulating their goals and their targets to reach their goals, and in my experience they need to

write it down

mark it off

check it


look for “personal bests”

celebrate reaching targets

think about the goal

affirm themselves

Student goal setting needs to be open, students need to be accountable, they need to be able “see” and “say” their goals and targets.

You’ll find some useful proformas to adapt and use this semester, and a SMART site  might help.

Now, in the spirit of keeping on, we will track where  we want to go this semester ….

Image: ‘P1000737.JPG

ReView and PreView

 timeout.jpgAfter an interesting week or so on Jury Duty I’m back – rearing to go after an enforced “time-out”. 

My last week at school saw me using our new laptops in my room. After a frazzled first session – sorting internet cords, and placement of the laptops within the room – we made a great start at our individual maths focus contracts. The students felt responsible for getting on with their work and seemed very motivated to work on their own to complete the maths topics they needed to work on. 

The setting up of the laptops got quicker over the week and the students came up with exciting ways to take advantage of the laptops when they were set up. We had a great session with the kids working in threes using Google Earth to locate places referred to in the “Behind the News” current affairs program we watch each week. 

My use of the iWB was probably not as exciting as I had hoped – a few techno problems, but they will be sorted soon I hope and I will continue on (and on and on!) 

My focus for this coming week will be:

  • Laptops – in the room as much as possible – set up and ready for the kids to work on.
  • Writing Focus – narrative using an internet game again to support and motivate students and improve their writing. This time I will start with the planning of the game narrative: does it fit the planning model we are using? How does it differ? How are the different parts of the narrative linked to each other?

            Hmmm, lots to work on here!

  • Look at using the DSLites for daily? thrice weekly? basic maths practise. I’m sure this will really motivate the class to improve their basic operations skills, and by recording their scores we can collate and graph results. This will link in to the Data section of our Mathematics curriculum, and “interpreting graphs” is an area my students need to work on.

        The DSLites are set up to use in the Library at lunchtimes so I will have to make sure we use them first thing in the morning and then reset them up ready for lunch 🙂

 Heaps to look forward to……. BIO!  (bring it on!  😀  )

Image is “Timeout” by katenet

My Week in Preview


Thanks to a motivating post from Jess McCulloch (language teacher from Victoria, Australia), I am trying out a preview post to focus on the week ahead.  

Jess said, “I get to think about what I really want to get out of this coming week which allows me to focus my planning a bit more. I’ll be able to check back at the end of the week and see how I’ve gone and then start all over again for the following week. Hmm, could be a good process!”

I agree! I always seem to have a plethora of things that I have to accomplish, it all gets overwhelming, so I give up and accomplish very little at all. I’m hoping that by focussing and writing down a few items to concentrate on, I will be able to keep what is important at the forefront of what I am doing, and I will be able to actively work at achieving/doing what I set out to do.

1. Laptops: I am going to take advantage of our mobile school laptops in my room. My students can use them for their individual “Areas of Focus” work in Maths. This will allow everyone to work through the protocols of using the laptops, as well as having the opportunity for some on-line Maths work.

2. iWB: I will use my board in three new ways this week (Thanks again Jess  🙂   )

3. Blogging: tutoring of class “newbies” by class “oldies”  worked really well last week, so I will continue this week by focussing the class on

  • positive commenting – keeping conversations going
  • “inside” a blog – how to find your way around, what it all the headings mean, how to post

So, I know exactly where I want to go this week (and I’ve written a blog post too 😛   ) and as Jess said, “Bring It ON!”

Image is “Focus” by ihtatho

Connected Students @ Connected Learning

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On Wednesday a group of students from our school (Belmore South PS) – including 3 AllStars – represented us at the “Connected Learning Conference” at the Novotel Hotel at Brighton.

The students formed a panel to discuss their experiences using GameMaker to make digital games.

Students demonstrated their completed games, walked through how to make a game, and held a panel discussion about the value of making games in class, the educational benefits, what they learned, and their thoughts on game making. The students even answered questions from the audience.

The response from the teachers and educators in the audience was positive- and the students were professional, passionate, articulate and impressive.

Congratulations to everyone involved – you are a credit to youselves, your families and your school – thank you.