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Game for a life

Pupils in the UK and New Zealand are collaborating to design a computer game that explores issues affecting their everyday lives. Stephen Manning reports

The idea of playing computer games to improve learning is not new, but what are the benefits if pupils actually create their own games?

A school in the North east has collaborated with another in New Zealand to create a 3D learning game called Life as a Teenager.

Thirty-three pupils aged 14 and 15 at St Robert of Newminster Roman Catholic School in Washington, Tyne Wear, held two video conferences in eight days with 20 pupils of the same age from Alfriston College in Auckland.

They compared notes about their everyday experiences and, in the interim week, put the resulting ideas into designing challenging tasks for their games.

These were centred around the five main aims of the Every Child Matters agenda: health, safety, achievement, making a positive contribution and economic wellbeing.

Consequently, some of them were quite removed from what might be considered the usual territory for this type of computer game.

One pupil, Liam Richardson, 14, focused on university finances - the player assesses advice from different people about coping with tuition fees, finding somewhere to live and deciding how much to spend on leisure.

The pupils were working on Thinking Worlds, an online "authoring engine"

fusing games technology with thinking skills, where users can create, edit and share games.

The project was directed by Andy Williams, centre manager for Sunderland City Learning Centre At St Roberts, which is on the school site.

"A lot of initiatives come in on issues that affect young people, but the children's viewpoint is often overlooked," he says. "Normally kids tend to give stock answers on a subject, but this project gives them a different voice."

That voice developed as the work went on.

"With bullying, for example, they began to think more about the social reasons why bullies are present in society - such as inequality and issues of peer acceptance. They had a more rounded view of it by the end."

Download the games from www.thinkingworlds.com. Go to Upload Tasks, Task Directories, then PSHE

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