Get pupils moving: try a shoot 'em up

Copy computer games to inspire enthusiasm, PE teachers told

Henry Hepburn

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Computer games are widely condemned as the antithesis of physical activity, gluing children to settees when bygone generations would have been playing football in the street. But leading figures in PE have told teachers that their lessons should be inspired by computer games like Call of Duty, to better engage young people and encourage them to learn new skills.

Len Almond, former director of physical education at Loughborough University, said the excitement, emotional engagement and sense of empowerment young people experienced when playing computer games were not always matched in school. Call of Duty, in which players take on the role of a soldier, was highly sophisticated in how it held players' attention over many hours, he told TESS after addressing the Scottish Association of Teachers of Physical Education (SATPE) earlier this month.

Research by Canadian academic Tim Hopper had revealed the educational underpinning of many commercially available games, Mr Almond added. "This was all self-directed learning - there was no tutor - because the games expected kids to explore and find things out for themselves and have creative responses, and they could come back and correct their mistakes," he said.

"I'm not saying children should play more computer games, I'm saying we need to learn the lessons and apply them in education. Education will become better: we'll have more responsible and independent children, who feel they have a stake [in what they are learning]."

Mr Almond's comments at the SATPE's annual conference were partially endorsed by the organisation's president, Aberdeen PE teacher Iain Stanger. "In these games, kids get rewarded for their tenacity, their participation," Mr Stanger said. "If something goes wrong they go back and they try it again. I think it's about trying to reward kids for that."

Computer games also exposed the shortcomings of a traditional approach to PE, where teachers concentrated on basic skills first, Mr Stanger said. He contrasted this with Call of Duty, in which players launch themselves straight into the game rather than spending a tedious hour learning how to shoot.

The same approach should be taken to sports such as basketball, Mr Stanger added: start by letting children, however inexpert, revel in the excitement of playing, then hone their skills. "Then you've got the hook, and that's what happens in these video games. They go in, they play, they're maybe not successful, but they go: `This is fun, it's exciting, I want to get better at this and develop these skills,' " he said.

But gaming culture had its drawbacks, Mr Stanger warned. "There is a danger in this [computer] games world, where it's, `Oh, I'm out, I'm dead - I can just start all over again.'

"There are potential benefits, but I'm also worried that the whole gaming culture has impacted on resilience - there's no consequence of giving up, because it's just `reload and start again'. You can't stop a game of football and say, `Hold on, we're losing 3-0, let's start again.' "

University of Dundee education lecturer Derek Robertson, an expert on computer games, has set up a schools project using the building game Minecraft. He highlighted several commercial computer games that had proven suitable for PE lessons. Football Manager could build an appreciation of tactics, he said, and dance-based games could encourage girls to do PE.

According to Mr Robertson, it was a myth that children were "hypnotised and beguiled" by computer games; he said the games' appeal lay far more in being able to take control.

He also disagreed that playing computer games was a solitary pursuit. Young people went online to seek out communities of players and feedback was often intrinsic: players could pause the game to practise skills and have them assessed, he said.

"These things are right at the heart of computer games," Mr Robertson added. "That's why they are so successful - you are not alone."

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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