Boxing clever: revision where no one is bored

5th June 2009 at 01:00

Thinking outside the box takes on a whole new meaning when the conversation is actually about boxes. It could get confusing if the Prestwick Academy pupils explaining a new concept in games-based learning weren't so articulate.

"We spent a lot of time designing the box because that helps sell a game," says Patrick Millar (S3). "The games don't cover everything, but go in- depth into major aspects and events. So for the war in the trenches, we looked at weapons, conditions, the soldiers and their daily routine, who they were fighting - all the things that matter."

Games-based learning is an established method of motivating youngsters. Long before computers, young people were learning from a different type of game - the board game - and finding it fun. They still do, says Erin Cox (S3). "We used to just get our notes out when my friends and I revised, and read over what we'd done in class. This year, it was so much better because we had the board games. It was a laugh, and it got more of it into our heads."

Using games is a big improvement on revising with notes, Patrick says. "A lot of people are turned off instantly when they look at walls of text. They can't get a hold of it. It's too much all at once. This helps them take it all in."

The board games Patrick and Erin are discussing are not in the shops yet, because they were designed and put together by themselves and their classmates - as were a dozen others on topics from coal-mining and railways to life in the trenches.

It's a novel approach to learning that had its origins in the imagination of history teacher Elizabeth Geddes. "I was teaching religious education the first time I tried it - with Hinduism. I got images enlarged and pupils used them as a backdrop for games. This time I gave the pupils more freedom.

"I explained they were going to make a board game in groups that would help them revise a given topic. Then I gave them a pro-forma I'd prepared with guidance on what to do and where to start, and let them get on with it. The secret to making it work is to give them ownership."

There is another motivating factor. "In my opinion, competition is the key," says Patrick. "It stimulates you. It makes the people who are less skilled want to become better."

It's another aspect of giving ownership to pupils, says Ms Geddes. "When they finished designing and making their games, they had a few periods of playing each other's. It helped them revise the topics, and we then got them to peer assess by giving marks for different criteria - design of board, clarity of directions, information on the topic, design of pieces, objectives, teamwork."

At the end of an in-service session given by Ms Geddes, staff from several South Ayrshire schools admire the board games. "That was great," says Marr College's school librarian Morag Adams. "And very helpful to me since I'm going into primary teaching this year. It's active learning. The kids are participating. You're drawing on all their skills. It's great for A Curriculum for Excellence."

That variety of skills is a key feature of the approach for Prestwick Academy classroom assistant Alison Baird. "I really liked how she got the kids to come up with the idea for each game, and then to manufacture them. It brought in lots of skills - artistic, logistic, teamworking," she says.

Games-based learning blends new approaches to learning with traditional ways of having fun, says Ms Geddes. "It develops numeracy, literacy, problem-solving, critical thinking - and you can do it in just about any subject."

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