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Innovative practice - A dog's life

A computer game that involves caring for a virtual pet has given the learning skills of primary pupils a boost

A computer game that involves caring for a virtual pet has given the learning skills of primary pupils a boost

The background

Three years ago, teachers at Evelyn Street Community Primary School in Warrington were looking to find ways to get boys more interested in English and, in particular, improve their writing skills. One answer seemed to be to let pupils write about what interested them most - and for many boys, the answer was characters in computer games.

The small primary school was also keen to find approaches that would better integrate ICT across the curriculum, and help prepare pupils for today's technology-driven world.

The project

The school now issues all of its pupils with either a handheld computer or a Nintendo DS games console.

In English, creative writing has been brought alive by encouraging pupils to play the game Nintendogs, in which players groom, train and care for a virtual dog. The children then write stories about their experiences with the imaginary pets.

The handheld Nintendo DS devices have also been used to help improve pupils' mental arithmetic skills by encouraging them to play brain-training games that set puzzles and maths questions to be answered against a time limit. The desire to beat previous high scores has encouraged them to try again and again.

In many lessons, the pupils will have the devices to hand. Louise Smith, the school's headteacher, says that pupils felt comfortable using the games consoles and handheld computers. "They use the computers as readily as pens and paper," she says.

The most important benefit, she says, is that the pupils have continued to use the gadgets outside school, helping them to reinforce learning at home and to study independently.

Children at the school now feel more engaged and motivated, which has helped increase the proportion of homework and other projects they have completed to nearly 90 per cent.

Tips from the scheme

Use of technology should be integrated into lessons as a part of normal learning, rather than as specific "computer time", as this will encourage pupils to identify the different resources needed to complete various tasks themselves.

Teaching using games consoles, while beneficial, should still be seen more as a supplement to traditional good teaching techniques rather than as an alternative.

Evidence that it works?

Since the scheme started in 2009, a study on pupils at the school who have used various "brain-training" games has shown that they make greater than expected progress.

Meanwhile, the school's overall Ofsted report has improved from "good" in 2007 - before the scheme was started - to "outstanding" last October. For this scheme, the school won a TES Schools Award for best e-learning initiative in 2009.

The project

Approach: Using handheld Nintendo consoles in the classroom

Started: 2009

Led by: Louise Smith, headteacher

The school

Name: Evelyn Street Community Primary School

Location: Warrington, Cheshire Pupils About 200

Age range: 3-11

Intake: Above average intake of those eligible for free school meals

Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2011).

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