Proven tactics make it a winner

27th June 2008 at 01:00
It is not often pupils are encouraged to play a computer game at school with the head's approval. Emma Seith reports
It is not often pupils are encouraged to play a computer game at school with the head's approval. Emma Seith reports

Yehuda Shinar is credited with helping the English rugby team win the World Cup in 2003, and his winning theories were used by the Scottish swimming team ahead of their 2006 Commonwealth Games medals haul. Now, his triumphant ways are being instilled in Scottish pupils via a computer game.

The Winning Game is designed to teach youngsters how to think under pressure. The concept is simple: you propel balls into your opponents' side of the pitch, and try to stop them doing the same. Angela Porter, the director of the Glasgow School of Sport, compares it to Space Invaders.

But this computer game, the Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation claims, has the potential to enhance sporting and academic performance. The charity has invested pound;300,000 in its development and, after the summer, it plans a phased extension to all Scotland's schools, which it hopes will instil a winning attitude in pupils.

Last year, work began on developing the game based on Mr Shinar's 12 principals of winning, which include time management, sticking to proven tactics and seizing opportunities. It has been trialled in a number of schools, including the Glasgow School of Sport where Ms Porter says she is "sold on it".

The game is being piloted in Perth High in computing, English, technology, modern languages and PE. S4 pupils began using it over a month ago. Liz Boyle, a psychologist at the University of the West of Scotland, will evaluate its impact on self-concept, self-regulation, self-motivation and academic performance.

The game intends to make pupils think. They have to defend and attack simultaneously, prioritise to maximise points and pay attention as a coach hollers instructions at them. All-important, however, is the debriefing session at the end when they analyse their performance and work out how to improve.

Perth High pupil Anna Weddereurn is 14 and wants to be a doctor. She believes the game's strategies will help achieve this. "The main message is that you can do anything if you persevere, keep trying and focus," she says.

The techniques that are taught in The Winning Game can be applied to school work, according to 15-year-old Catriona MacQueen. "When you get back an essay, it makes sense to go over it and work out what you could do better next time."

Penny Burns, 14, and Hannah Furness, 15, also feel the game is teaching them valuable skills. However, some people might get bored, says Hannah - she suggests adding more levels. Meanwhile, Penny confides, it is not a game she would play at home.

There is more work to be done, admits Matt Seeney of Dundee-based games company TPLD, which is developing the game. In the final version, for instance, pupils will be able to create their own characters.

Having seen the way her pupils panicked during their S3 examinations, English teacher Toni McCluskey is an avid supporter, believing it will help them think logically.

Matthew Mackie, the computing teacher, feels the time it takes to deliver the game is well spent. "The time we spend on this now we'll get back in the future, because the students will be more motivated," he says.

Jim Scott, the head, agrees: "It's worth a few periods from nursery to S6 to try and build this set of skills."

However, not everyone is a convert. Kitty Hall, 15, has been playing The Winning Game in English. "All the things it tells you are quite obvious, like it's good to realise where you went wrong so you don't do it next time," she says. "I don't think you're going to make the same mistake again and again once you've made it the first time."

The principles are common sense, admits Ms McCluskey, but pupils need reminding. "These are things they already know but don't necessarily do."

According to Dr Boyle the game's success hinges on whether or not the pupils transfer the skills The Winning Game teaches into their everyday lives. "Does it make them more effective learners and help with motivation?" she asks.

In September she should have the answers.

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