Sessions 7 & 8: Game creation and curriculum applications

Last week we looked at using games as a stimulus for learning. We considered ways in which learning can take place within games, such as SumDog, and ways in which games might be used to stimulate learning across the curriculum, such as Kinectimals.

Over the next two weeks we’ll explore how children can use software to make their own games and tie these games based learning (GBL) strands together by planning some curriculum applications.

One of our key themes is children as creators of content, not just consumers. This is a phrase that you’ll often hear applied to the emerging revised ICT curriculum: find it in TES Scotland (Nov 2012 Scratch that Programming Itch) and in The Guardian (Sept 1012 The UK’s attitude to computer education needs a reboot), for example. Earlier this year Michael Gove suggested, “Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch” (Jan 2012).

Scratch is a free visual programming language developed by Mitch Resnick and the Lifelong Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab. Although it has a range of uses, we’ll look at it as a platform for games design. In this context, it makes an engaging way to introduce programming skills and collaborative problem-solving, as well as offering a creative opportunity for children to demonstrate their understanding of a topic by turning it into interactive content.

Within Scratch you choose backgrounds, sprites, music and sounds, and clip them together like a jigsaw in the scripting area to make sequences of instructions defining their behaviours. Sequences are broken down into conditions and actions such as ‘if..then..else’ or ‘’. This introduces programming logic and problem analysis without the need to write complex code, allowing young learners to be creative and successful straight away:

Here are some example games which your Year 5 and 6 children might work towards programming with support. Click on the green flag to start and the red dot to stop:

  Angry birds from Simon Haughton: type an angle for the bird to hit the pig.

  Whack-a-witch from Code Club: catch the witches using the mouse

Duck Shoot from Teach ICT: target the birds with the mouse and shoot with the spacebar.

Shark Attack from Teach ICT: Make the shark follow your mouse, eat the fish and avoid the octopus.  Download the code for these and other examples here. Younger children would start with much simpler projects. We’ll look at a set of Scratch cards for  beginners.

You’ll find lots of online resources, lesson plans and ideas on the Scratch Ed website, where you can also share your own projects and download others’ projects to remix. If you share your own project you can get the embed code to put a working copy on your blog. Here’s how to do this

It is useful for children to consolidate understanding of these introductory programming concepts by revisiting them in a different environment. You might consider Kodu on Xbox or PC, another free visual programming tool in which you create a 3D virtual world and manipulate characters; 2DIY3D in Purple Mash and 2DIY from 2SimpleLittle Big Planet on PS3 and PSP; or the free iPad apps Cargo Bot and Daisy the Dinosaur.  Have a look at my collection of Primary Programming resources on Pinterest, where you can download Scratch game instructions and Scratch cards for beginners.

Here’s a video I helped to make where Matt Lovegrove’s class of Y4 children create games for Y2 children using 2DIY. Notice how well they take the audience into account in planning and revising their games, and how the activity allows them to apply their maths and science knowledge in a meaningful way:

Your task as a teacher is to apply these GBL ideas to a classroom context and plan a curriculum-based activity that will enable all to achieve, whether they are using games as a stimulus or creating their own games. We’ll challenge you to make an example resource and lesson plan in groups, with ideas for a unit of work on a GBL theme.  You could base your ideas around games playing, games making or a mixture of the two. Think about the age and ability range you have in mind, and which areas of the curriculum the activity might address.

If you’re working with Scratch or other games creation software try to think of ways of scaffolding the game-making experience: by working with a limited selection of blocks; by solving a problem within a game; by continuing to develop a a pre-made game template; by dismantling projects to see how they are made; by changing the characters, setting or theme; or by introducing one new aspect to the game such as enemies, a time limit or a score. Here are some great ideas from Ollie Bray about how a computer game design project using Scratch or Kodu could be linked to almost every subject on the curriculum.

Alternatively, if you are using games as a stimulus for learning here are some excellent examples of GBL in action: Bernadette Donald using The Land of Me to instigate outdoor learning in KS1; Endless Ocean on the Wii inspiring endless learning in StirlingOllie Bray describing the use of Guitar Hero as a context for learning in Falkirk; the Consolarium blog discussing Nintendogs used in KS1 in Aberdeenshire; Dawn Hallybone using Zondle and Mario Kart in Redbridge; and a fantastic Podcast on the use of Angry Birds game in KS1 from November Learning.

Finally, consider which Teachers’ Standards are most relevant to your work. You may find it useful to bear these in mind:


1 Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

  • establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect
  • set goals that stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds, abilities and dispositions

2 Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

  • be aware of pupils’ capabilities and their prior knowledge, and plan teaching to build on these
  • guide pupils to reflect on the progress they have made and their emerging needs
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this impacts on teaching

4 Plan and teach well structured lessons

  • promote a love of learning and children’s intellectual curiosity
  • contribute to the design and provision of an engaging curriculum within the relevant subject area(s).

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”

Abraham Maslow, American psychologist, 1908-1970

(cited by US Play Coalition)  



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