A daily dose of Dr Kawashima

26th October 2007 at 01:00
Henry Hepburn reports on how a computer game has created an atmosphere of learning and a sense of calm in a classroom.There is no shortage of damning media coverage about the impact of computer games on young minds.

Whether provoking hyperactive bouts of violence or slack-jawed indolence, the consensus is that absorption in screen-based entertainment can do no good. So it takes one aback to hear a head-teacher talking about how a computer game can set pupils up for a productive day of learning.

Stella Andrews, of St Columba's Primary in Dundee, was impressed with the impact of the 10-week project that saw a P5-6 composite class playing More Brain Training from Dr Kawashima every morning. "It set an atmosphere of learning in the room, in a calm and peaceful way," she said.

The class of 30 became much more settled and the children were so busy working on their individual consoles that class teacher Jillian McLean reported "real quiet" first thing in the morning.

In an interview that can be seen on the Learning and Teaching Scotland website, she said: "I have never seen that level of concentration and quiet. They are so busy, they are really into it. It wasn't like that before."

As one boy in the class said in another interview: "There used to be fights as everyone was arguing over the reading books and stuff."

Such was the enthusiasm among pupils that the game was a hot topic of conversation throughout the school day, and they would regularly stop staff in the corridors to relate how they were getting on. "It made learning fun and cool," Mrs Andrews said. "That's what the pupils said - 'This is cool.'"

She attributes its success to pupils being in control of their learning, stressing that "they recognise it as a learning tool, not as a game".

Dawn McPherson is mother to 10-year-old St Columba's pupil David, who with Connor Burry travelled to the London Games Festival this week to show delegates how the game helped their learning. She admits being sceptical about the use of computer games in school, but now struggles to think of any downsides. David was doing well in school, yet has noticed a big improvement in his maths.

She remarked on a healthy competitiveness that developed among David and his classmates, who would phone each other in the evening to compare scores.

Although David was disappointed when the consoles were taken away after 10 weeks, Mrs McPherson believes the benefits have outlasted the project. "We've seen a big difference in his concentration and enthusiasm," she said. "He's much quicker at his work and wants to do more at home."

Teachers were concerned about how the children would react to consoles being taken away after the project ended in March, but report that improvements seen during the project appear to be lasting.

Mrs McPherson is unequivocal about the prospect of seeing the game used more widely: "It would be great to see it in all schools."

David, meanwhile, is saving up his pocket money for the pound;100 he needs to buy a console of his own.

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