By Emily MacLean
All children love playing games and the concept of using games to foster learning is nothing new in education. When a few teachers got together to see how they could leverage their students’ love of playing games, a narrative of quests, competition, bonus levels, points and badges evolved. The Battle 4 Chatz took gamesbased learning to a new level, where the students became the game in a blended learning environment. The game was created for a Year 5 Space and Shape mathematics unit created at Chatsworth International School in Singapore, where three classes battled each other to take control of seven zones around the school through seven levels of learning. When the idea was first discussed between the Year 5 team and the Director of Education Technology, they thought that it would be a fun way to deliver mathematics content, but they never expected the level of engagement, excitement and learning that would ensue because of it.
Each level began with a video provoking the objectives for the level by a mysterious redhooded character known as MR. ME, who wove the narrative of the game together. From there, students were given the main quest activities that were directly linked to the curriculum expectations, along with optional additional activities that pushed their thinking further, explored other mediums of self-expression and even allowed for students to create further tasks as challenges for other teams. Each level was associated with a number of learning expectations where points would be award for tasks completed. Students would earn points individually, with the goal of having the highest cumulative points as a team for each level in order to gain control over that particular space in the school.
The tasks for each level of the game were posted online on the game site. This allowed the students to access the activities at school and from home. Having the game content available online required extensive collaborative planning amongst the teachers to ensure all of the activities were created for the beginning of each week when the next level would begin. There was little teacherdirected instruction; students used the online training dojo for support, with the instructional videos and games, and inquired into how to solve their queries or asked their teammates for support.
As students completed each task, their work was reviewed by the teacher to receive points for achievement and instant feedback. Their points were documented in a spreadsheet that was used to update the level leaderboard (a graph) on the game site in real time. Students were empowered to learn at a comfortable pace and to support other students on their team in order to help further the class within the game.
For the culminating task, the students battled against the boss – the teachers. All points from the previous levels were destroyed by the teachers and the students had to work with members of the other classes to complete the final task and win the game. This eliminated competition between classes and encouraged collaboration and support within the whole year group. The students moved around the seven spaces to find creative ways of documenting their understanding of the learning expectations by recording audio, constructing a model, videoing a demonstration or any other method they felt would show their learning. The data gained on this day confirmed the student data that had been collected throughout the unit and was a way to celebrate the students’ success learning individually and collaboratively throughout the unit.
When planning out the game, teachers thought about which game elements would be crucial to the storyline they wanted to create for the students. It was important to focus on the game elements that were most relevant to the goals when constructing the game, as there were many to choose from. Looking at successful games that they wanted to model their approach after, they focused on the following game elements:
- Narrative hook: Firstly, teachers wanted to have a narrative that was continuous throughout the game. They did this through their weekly videos and the concept of the teams battling each other for supremacy throughout the game.
- Sandbox approach: Teachers wanted to give students the freedom to explore the entire environment the game took place in. This included the online realm and activities in the classroom, but also the school campus that became a part of game with the seven game spaces and QR codes for bonus activities hidden throughout the campus. The students were encouraged to explore their learning in all of these environments to unpack how mathematics evolved in the game.
- Instant feedback: Teachers wanted students to receive instant feedback throughout the game as a way to improve and motivate them to continue. The instant feedback was given to students when they conferenced with their teacher after they completed each task, with a score of 1,2 or 3. This gave individual feedback to students so they could continue to revise their work if need be until they were able to achieve a score of 3. These scores were then represented visually as live graphs to show team standings and motivate the teams to continue to work towards taking over different areas of the school. It was important that students saw the value in both individual and team progress.
- Achievements: Most games have rewards or achievements throughout the game. This can be unlocking new levels, gaining bonus points, or extra gear for the player. This is extremely motivating for the players as it is a way to show praise for accomplishments while pushing them to move further in the game. In Battle 4 Chatz, badges were awarded for various things such as completing a certain number of tasks, supporting other players, contributing new tasks, or creating instructional tools for others. These digital badges were shared with students by the teacher, which the students could then display in their personal ePortfolios.
- Choice and agency: Inquiry learning promotes studentdirected and studentinitiated learning. In Battle 4 Chatz, students completed core tasks but then were encouraged to choose from a range of additional tasks and challenges to show their understandings in different ways, allowing students to be in control of how they were learning, the pace of learning and the difficulty of the tasks.
- Player-generated content: Many games allow for players to construct their own environments and narratives. The students were encouraged to create their own challenges for their peers while also consolidating their own content knowledge in the construction of these tasks.
- Fun: This was essential to the vision. Teachers wanted to make something that students would want to do each day and something teachers wanted to be a part of too. The more the game evolved, the more the students wanted to play and the more teachers were driven to continue to construct the game. There were a lot of laughs as a team and with the students throughout this journey.
Along the way, there were many unexpected benefits to this model of learning. The school received positive feedback from parents, who were delighted by their children’s excitement towards mathematics, the conversations they were having with their children about mathematics at home and the level of transparency of content with the game site online. The students really internalised the idea of game elements to enhance learning, with many students using various game elements in their future projects and assignments to enhance their own work.
After sharing the project at a number of conferences across Asia and online, other schools have successfully adopted this learning model. This type of games-based unit could be created for any grade or subject by using different game narratives. Battle 4 Chatz positively changed the way the school’s students engaged with mathematics, making learning fun, engaging and far from traditional models of teaching.
For more information, please see a complete overview of how the game was constructed at bit.ly/battle4chatz and the game site used by students at bit.ly/B4Cgamesite
Emily MacLean is an international educator working at Chatsworth International School in Singapore as the Education Technology Coach. She is a Google for Educator Certified Innovator (GUR14), a Google for Education Certified Trainer and an Apple Distinguished Educator (Class of 2015). She enthusiastically supports teachers across the primary school to effectively integrate education technology into the classroom. She is currently completing her Masters of Education (Information Technologies) from Charles Sturt University.