Gaming it up

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Challenge your students to develop their design skills and stimulate their inner strategist with these online resources and apps for the classroom.

Incorporation of game design in the classroom is becoming recognised more and more as an authentic and meaningful way of teaching students thinking skills. Game design tasks help students to develop and practise complex problemsolving skills and can increase teachers’ engagement with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and provide a context for examining effective pedagogy around these issues.

As explored in several articles in this issue, game design can be a very motivating pedagogical tool for getting students engaged in learning. Recent research has shown that students at KS3 who developed games had more positive attitudes toward mathematics and had higher levels of intrinsic motivation and deep strategy compared to students who played games developed by others.

How can game design be incorporated into the classroom? From tools that are specific to the computing curriculum to innovative ways of connecting games to thinking and creative processes, there are lots of resources out there. This collection of apps and digital resources are some of the latest tools for introducing students to game design concepts or to help them refine their more advanced technical skills.

Tiny Tap (EYFS – KS2)

Tiny Tap is an app builder that empowers creativity and allows teachers, parents and children to create their own personalised learning apps and to play ones that have been developed by others who use the platform.

Possibilities for projects include games, puzzles, quizzes, e-books, soundboards, interactive presentations, digital textbooks, photo albums and various classroom activities. The digital content is interactive and can be custom-made or tailored from a vast content library.

The content library is called the ‘Creativity Museum’, which is a searchable collection of games and books that have been developed by teachers, parents, developers and authors from all over the world. As a bonus, the content can be filtered by country so it is easy to find material that may match your own curriculum. Material is well categorised and can be browsed by topic, author, type, etc. There are sample learning plans and options to send lessons directly to students within the app, which is great for assignments and quizzes.

There is even a section for Project-Based Learning that allows students to build portfolios of interactive presentations. Although there are some games that children have created, most of the apps are made by adults to meet the needs of the children they work with. There are free and premium options available and the website is very well organised.

Overall this a very versatile app that would be a great addition to the arsenal of anyone working with children from nursery through to Year 5.

Kodu Game Lab (KS2 – KS5)

Kodu Game Lab has taken the challenge of programming out of game design, allowing young or inexperienced students to make 3D video games without having to write code. It is a tool that lets students create games on PC and Xbox via a simple visual programming language. Students can develop the creative, problem-solving and storytelling aspects of game design through visual menus where they can point and click to create objects (and worlds) and define their behaviours in the game through visual, Lego-like ‘if this, then that’ statements. In addition, students can share their worlds and games online for others to play and have the opportunity to see what their peers have been developing and sharing online.

Kodu provides various Project-Based Learning curriculums for topics such as ‘Space Science and Mars’ and ‘Applied Algebra, Geometry and Data Collection’, along with many tutorials on how to use the platform and how to approach game design. Kudu has been around since 2009 so many teachers and students have had the opportunity to use it and there seems to be many tips and project suggestions online.

Several reviewers have commented that it is not the most intuitive programme to get started with, but most note that once the initial stages have been learned, it is easy to use. The tutorials may not be best suited to young learners, but with guidance from someone who has rudimentary knowledge may be enough to get the younger set started. There are many professional tutorials available, including through the online learning platform, so these initial challenges are not insurmountable. There seems to be a wider scope for high school students who may have some rudimentary coding knowledge to get started with it.

As an introduction to programming, Kodu does a great job of showing how designing a game requires breaking the problem down into individual parts. The colourful blockbased code encourages discovery-based learning by toying with a core foundation of computer science: procedural logic.

Sound Shapes (KS2 – KS5)

Sound Shapes is a music game for PlayStation that allows students to design levels and create music. Players navigate a blob character through various obstacles and challenges, completing ‘albums’ of levels that unlock new sounds and shapes that can be used to create their own levels. The game provides a rich musical track that is influenced by a player’s action and its level editor allows the user to compose music that integrates with the visual world.

Sound Shapes doesn’t teach traditional music notation, but it allows students to intuitively learn principles of rhythm, pitch and timbre by experimenting and creating their own electronic music loops in the robust level editor. Options include modality (major, minor, pentatonic, chromatic) and speed (by adjusting the BPM), and students can observe how rhythmic subdivision works as they arrange symbols on a grid-like sheet for playback.

It is an excellent platform for teaching kids the basics of electronic music (loops, layering, digital sounds), music composition and game design. Pedagogically, students learn by experimenting in a forgiving and encouraging environment and the design itself is visually appealing, which helps inspire a creative approach.

There is a small cost for the game and it does require a PlayStation console. However, the game offers an exciting and inspiring way to allow students to tap into their digital music creativity while learning the basics of coding as well.


Creative Teaching & Learning