Game for fun in core lessons
Children can learn without enjoying themselves, just as they can have fun without learning. But when enjoyment and education go together, the learning lasts and they come back for more. So what makes learning fun?
To judge by the pupils at Symington Primary in South Ayrshire, the answer seems to be computers, humour, variety, vivid images, cute characters and a sprinkling of graphic but non-lethal violence.
Joy Melville's P5 class is using one of the many games on the recently released Scottish edition of EducationCity.com, an online resource for ages 3 to 14.
On the interactive whiteboard a boy in baseball cap and blue jeans is seated in a metal chair looking anxious as a speech bubble appears above the head of the red-suited quizmaster standing beside him: "I think of a number, add 2, then multiply by 3. The answer is 18. What was my number?"
"What do you think?" Ms Melville asks her class.
"Three" "You're guessing. Work it out. You know how. Come on, the clock's ticking."
The girl at the board clicks on "4", then tenses, waiting to see what happens next. Two large metal electrodes descend slowly and hover menacingly above Stig and the quizmaster. A bolt of jagged blue electricity zaps the latter, making him jump clean out of his shoes.
"Yes!" the children cry. "Got it right."
So what happens if you get it wrong?
"Stig gets fried instead. He goes 'Ooyah', his trousers fall down and you can see his underpants," the girls explain, giggling.
EducationCity.com has maths, science, English and French games to suit children of all ages up to 14 and both sexes. Other favourites include Stop the Clock, Crazy Golf and Tomb of Doom.
"There's this game in English called Water Raider," says Imogen. "You have a water gun and ghosts come up with words on them. You have to shoot the ones that are verbs and you have to go really quickly."
Katie's favourite is Fantasy Football, which manages to make punctuation appealing. "Usually you're just doing it from a book. But on the computer it's interactive, which makes it much more interesting."
Matthew likes Slam Dunk. "A word comes up and you have to shoot and try to get all the balls into the right net for each letter."
"My favourite is Temple Crusade," says Sarah. "They ask you questions in maths and you use the keyboard to jump to the right pillar. If it's the wrong one, you get spiked."
Calum enjoys Tin Can Splash. "A can comes along the river and you have to say where it is on a grid. Then two men hit it with a stone. I like it because it's challenging."
Having seen EducationCity.com demonstrated at a Sett show, Ms Melville, Symington Primary's information technology co-ordinator, was impressed, she says, even though the resource at the time was only mapped to the English curriculum.
"What appealed right away were the graphics and the humour," she says.
"Children are more open to learning if they are enjoying themselves.
"With a lot of internet sites, you expect so much and get so little. With this there are hundreds of games and lots of variety."
EducationCity.com is very easy for pupils to use, she says, either on their own or under the supervision of a classroom assistant.
"We've tried all the games and none of them freezes. There are no glitches.
With some educational software, it's tear your hair out time."
"We started with maths, but it's great for other subjects too. It makes grammar, which can be pretty dry, really interesting. Water Raider, for instance, takes them from thinking a word is a verb or adjective to knowing that it is.
"If they don't know they can't make the shot - and they love to hit those verbs."
Having used the English curriculum version of EducationCity.com for a year, the Symington Primary pupils now have access to the Scottish version, with games in each of the four subjects mapped to 5-14 attainment outcomes, strands and levels.
Maths at level C, for instance, has 20 games for number, money and measurement ranging from Crazy Golf to Dancing Robot. English at level D has 17 games for writing, from Fantasy Football to Moon Mission.
EducationCity.com is now the most popular choice for Happy Half-Hour on Fridays, when the Symington Primary pupils can do what they enjoy. "But you can lose five minutes each time you're naughty during the week," says Kirsty. "Then it turns into Sad Half-Hour."
www.educationcity.comannual licences in each subject: levels A-C pound;60, D-E pound;40, early years pound;40