On your marks, get set, Wii

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Swimming, running, hurdles - in the classroom? Aberdeenshire pupils on the Beijing trail are preparing via an unlikely source

Swimming, running, hurdles - in the classroom? Aberdeenshire pupils on the Beijing trail are preparing via an unlikely source

When sports day was rained off, there were no tear-stained faces among the six-year-olds at Elrick Primary.

The Aberdeenshire pupils came inside for running, swimming, hurdles and javelin, using the Wii game they have been working with during the term - Mario amp; Sonic at the Olympic Games.

Anyone who thinks there's no exertion involved when you're racing with a Wii would just need to look at the faces of P2.

When they're swimming, it's not just their hands that are thrashing the remotes, they get so excited some of them are even running on the spot - Wii pink faces contorted with concentration.

As they compete in races against each other, the children mimic the physical activity of their chosen sport, flailing the motion-sensitive wireless remotes around. At the same time, they are watching the progress of their chosen onscreen characters as they battle to the finish line in events like the 100-metres or 200-metres swimming races.

"It's exhausting, it's really, really tiring - you can tell, after they had done one of the races we felt our heartbeats. And they shouldn't be moving their legs, but they do," says their teacher Michelle Law, with a laugh.

Research by Gareth Stratton and colleagues at Liverpool John Moores University has already shown children expend a small amount of energy competing on activity-based computer games, compared with what they would do in real sports.

But at Elrick Primary they're getting the best of both worlds and in fine weather the kids are outside doing these activities for real, as part of this project which is timed to coincide with the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8.

Mrs Law has already seen the psychological benefits of using real-life and virtual activities in tandem. "We take the tournaments we play on the Wii outside into the playground. There are always different winners - there can be people who are really good in class on the Wii and there can be people outside who are very good runners," she says.

Pupils in P2 have paired up with P4 and 5 for this Olympic project, using the game as a starting point for a range of cross-curricular activities on the Olympic theme. Today, they're staging a presentation to show off what they've been doing - it begins impressively with the music from Chariots of Fire and the children running in carrying national flags. Then they show some animations they've created, based on their recent sporting activities, using the Digi Blue video camera and editing package.

Back in class the Wii-ing begins in earnest, although for obvious reasons Mrs Law says she hates calling it that. But she's very pleased with how this project has developed: "It really supports team building, it's built a lot of their confidence up and they've found out about the world - all the different countries. They'll see the Olympics on the television and it will mean a lot more to them because of the work we've done in class."

Using the computer game as the context for further learning, pupils at the school have created art work on the Beijing theme - with a papier mache dragon which leads the mock opening ceremony they stage for visitors and parents. They've also produced Chinese lanterns, which decorate the classroom, and teachers have used the Olympic theme to teach geography, maths, science and language in a way which seems to have grabbed the children's imagination and attention.

They track the Olympic torch on a map, they've made models of athletes in art and, as six-year-old Lauren Hunter reminds everyone: "It helps you learn about the sports that keep you healthy."

""But we don't use this all afternoon, do we boys and girls?" says Mrs Law.

"No, but it would be ace if we did," a voice pipes up.

Her P2 pupils have been buddying with a P45 class, whose teacher, Naomi Gallagher, described some of the benefits: "The buddying has been really good," she says.

"The older ones get the idea of helping the younger ones and the younger ones can look up to the older ones.

"We have used it to explain and understand the rules in various sports. We have held a tennis tournament where we had seeding and rounds which went through to a final. We also did science with it because we looked at the trainers different sports people used and then we designed our own trainers,"

She says it has also encouraged teachers to communicate and share ideas: "We learn from each other and it makes us talk to one another and find out what we are all doing."

Cerys Malcolmson Smith from P4 says: "I think it's really fun because in other schools you don't get to use it but in this one you do. When I use it my face goes all red and I feel really tired and it's really good exercise."

Lewis Rae, 9, says it's a fun way of learning. "When my mum and dad were little they wouldn't have anything like this. But I've got one at home, so they use that," he says.

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