ISSN 1470-5524

Practical advice for colleagues who use, teach, lead or manage information and communication technology (ICT) in schools.

07 October 2010

For Subscriber

In this issue

Editor’s opinion

Next steps

News, featuring conference dates and concessions, the British Education Secretary’s speech, e-safety, e-protection, and several other things too.

Quick looks, a new section in which I give a one line mention of interesting stuff I’ve discovered, including a couple of ultra-cool websites and guidance from Ofsted, the inspection body in England & Wales (but some of the advice would, I think, be useful elsewhere too), plus items from the USA, India and UNESCO.

But the main thrust of this issue is games-based learning:

It’s not about the game! Dawn Hallybone discusses activities surrounding games to maximise the benefits of games-based learning.

Red Mist, the prison-based video game. Jude Ower tells us about a game which is won or lost by the state of your emotions!

Creating a game – a positive impact on learning? David Luke reports on research he and colleagues undertook to determine, amongst other things, whether games-based learning disadvantages girls.

Games-based learning: a personal view. Mother and computing graduate Amanda Wilson gives her opinion of games-based learning.

Battling the barriers of games-based learning. John McLear explains how he set about developing a search engine for educational games.

There are more articles to be published on the games-based learning theme, but as the newsletter was becoming longer and longer I decided to spread them out over the next few issues. I hope you find these articles interesting and thought-provoking.


Contact details



Want to make your ICT lessons more interesting? Then Go on, bore ‘em: How to make your ICT lessons excruciatingly dull is just right for you. Find out more about this incredibly low-cost, high value book here.

Editor’s opinion

This is the first of two or three games-based learning issues, in which several experts discuss the use of games in learning. The articles have been written by people from within education and from outside it, and include summaries of research undertaken. I’ve deliberately stepped aside and given this issue over to the guest articles, but if you’re desperate to hear from me on the subject please see The value of games in education: a case study.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my suggestion that we connect on Linked-in. Just to reiterate, Linked-in is a professional social network, like Facebook but with none of the peripheral stuff like games and tagging photos. This is what I recommend:

  1. Ask to connect with me. If I accept, and reciprocate, we both potentially benefit.
  2. Join the Vital community. I have to declare an interest here, because I’ve been taken on as a forum moderator, but I was registered even before that happened.
  3. Connect with me on Twitter. I’ve found that I pick up a lot of good information through that sort of serendipitous CPD.
  4. Attend one or two of the conferences listed in this issue or last week’s issue. I’ve managed to obtain discounts for several of them for subscribers to this newsletters.
  5. This is a new suggestion this week: offer to write an article for this newsletter. It will get decent exposure, and of course you can have a short bio and contact and/or website details on the bottom of it if you wish. See under “Next steps” (below) for further details.

On the subject of Linked-In, Graham Brown-Martin of Learning Without Frontiers (see under Conferences coming up, below) emailed me to remind me of the fact that when you join Linked-in you can also join various interest groups (or start your own). Graham says:

Here are some common interest & professional networking groups that I host - each are amongst the largest groups of their kind on LinkedIn with great discussions breaking out all the time:




Digital Safety -

As Graham pointed out, joining a group means that you can start to get the benefit of the Linked-In network straight away. I belong to several groups, including all of the above plus, amongst others:

e-Portfolios in schools

ICT in Education Professionals


Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce

About the editor

I’m an independent educational ICT consultant based in England. I’ve been in education since starting work in 1975. I’m a member of the British Computer Society, ex-Chair of Naace and a Fellow of the RSA. To find out more about me and what I do, please visit What I do.

Next steps

If you enjoy reading this newsletter and find it useful, there are a number of ways you could help to keep it going:


New website update

Being a masochistic sort of person, I recently started a new website, as I mentioned in the last issue. I think you may find much of it relevant to your work even though it’s not an educational website as such. Called Writers’ Knowhow, its objective is to point out useful stuff to people who use technology in their writing. As the strap line puts it: Technology for writers made easy. There’s a series running at the moment called 13 Things You Didn’t Know About Word. Progress is slow but steady. I have discovered something that hadn’t occurred to me before: what matters is not just having the ideas and writing articles, but establishing a rhythm of writing. When it comes to the ICT in Education site, for example, I write either first thing in the morning, or late at night. Consequently, the website is updated virtually daily. Pressures of work have prevented my getting into a similar routine for the new website, but I am determined that it will happen. Take a look, and if you fancy contributing, get in touch (contact details are towards the end of the newsletter).

Conference Concessions

As I said in the last issue, there are a few conferences coming up for which a discount is available to Computers in Classrooms subscribers. In the list below, I’ve marked these with an asterisk. I’d like to express my thanks to those who kindly offered a discount, these being Graham Brown-Martin (Learning Without Frontiers), Constantina Christophide (Inside Government), Steve Bunce (Northern Grid Conference) and Richard Curtis (Training Seminar). In addition, the Westminster Forum conferences all offer a 15% discount to teachers and other public sector workers. The RSA talks are free, and usually last only an hour or two. The Teachmeets are free too, but you may need some money for drinks.

Conferences coming up

Several conferences were included in the last issue too. The following ones are either new or changed slightly. Please refer to last week’s issue for some discounts which are still relevant.

(Listed in chronological order)

Vital IT Specialist IBM Workshop, Southbank Fri 08 Oct 2010, 10:00 - 15:30 Free conference, but only to first 25 applicants! But there are two more if you miss this one – see below. Takes place in London. See the Vital website for other conferences.

Virtual Round Table Features more than 40 presenters, from the 8th to 9th October. Check the start time in your location by going to the website. The conference is free, but the organisers are hoping to raise money for a teacher training grant for language teachers, from voluntary donations. More details about the grant here.

Vital IT Specialist IBM Workshop, Warwick Fri 15 Oct 2010, 10:00 - 15:30 Free conference, but only 25 places. Takes place in Warwick. See the Vital website for other conferences.

London Grid for Learning Conference Focusing on the use of the London Managed Learning Environment, this is aimed at colleagues in primary education, and costs £48 + VAT (including lunch). It takes place on 1st November.

Conference: Vital IT Specialist IBM Workshop, Winchester Fri 12 Nov 2010, 10:00 - 15:30 Free conference, but only 25 places. Takes place in Winchester. See the Vital website for other conferences.

* Learning Without Frontiers Conference 9th-11th January. Formerly known as the Handheld Learning Conference, this promises to be a veritable extravaganza. It takes place just before BETT 2011, from the 9th to the 11th January 2011, so what you may want to do is plan a whole load of professional development for yourself, and your team if you lead one, for that week.

If you book and pay for the LWF conference by 31st October 2010, using the link below, you will get 10% off the price!

I’ve written a bit more about the Handheld Learning Conference here.

To book and pay go here:

and enter the code ictined by clicking on the Discount Code button. Note that the code is case sensitive.

BETT 12th-15th January. This is free (although you have to pay for some seminars to guarantee a place). Always useful, for new product information, interesting seminars and meeting people.

Michael Gove’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference

To read the speech in full, go here. I had a very quick look, and the focus seems to be on learning history, and discipline (eg the Troops Into Teachers programme).

Assessment for Learning and popsicles

Rules of Engagement is an article I wrote about the assessment for learning (AfL) techniques shown on British TV recently. The article seems to have touched a nerve (there were comments about it in one of the Naace discussion lists too). What do you think?


UK’s Safeguarding materials have found a new home: I’m not sure how long this will remain the case, but from November 2010 Becta’s pages will be available from the National Archives site.

On the subject of e-safety, I was very sad to hear the news that Jim Gamble has resigned from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) over a disagreement with the Government over plans to subsume CEOP into the new National Crime Agency. I’ve heard him speak a couple of times, and he doesn’t pull any punches. In one esteemed gathering of about 500 people at a Naace conference, he said “At least some of you in this audience have an unhealthy interest in children”. He also said that the term child pornography serves to legitimise it: it’s not pornography, which is something that consenting adults can choose to be interested in, it’s child abuse. I hope Jim finds employment that enables him to carry on the work, but I’d like to wish him good fortune in whatever he chooses to do.

Huffpost Education

The Huffington Post has started an education section, which includes a series called Classroom Heroes. I think it will be interesting to see the Huffington Post’s stance on education issues in general.

Technology implementation in schools is in crisis

That’s the conclusion drawn from some recent research according to Leslie Wilson, writing in Digital Learning Environments. Now, the newsletter is sponsored by HP, so it’s perhaps no surprise that these particular results are cited as key factors in academic success, given that technology use features prominently in them, but it’s an interesting list nonetheless. Look for the section headed Key Implementation Factors.

E-Consumer protection consultation

The UK Government is carrying out a consultation on this topic (ends 13th October 2010). It covers three main areas: Empowering Consumers, Promoting Business Compliance and Enforcement. Further details and the links to the consulation are on the Office of Fair Trading website.

The issues facing ed tech leaders

What do you think are the most pressing issues facing education technology leaders? Please take part in this very brief survey. I’ll be analysing the results again soon. Thanks to those who have responded since I mentioned this in last week’s issue.

Quick Looks

The idea of this section is that it will give you the heads-up on interesting stuff I’ve come across, but not had enough time to go into in any great depth. Hopefully, I’ll return to some of the items and give a more considered opinion. Anyway, these things have caught my eye recently:

How to avoid committing social media gaffes Interesting article from eSchool News. You have to be logged in to read it all, but registration is free.

ICT in Bangkok: UNESCO has published ICT Transforming Education: A Regional Guide, which looks pretty interesting. Go here to read all about what its 130 pages contain, and to download the pdf version.

Educational Freeware As this issue is a games special, it seemed only right and proper to include this cornucopia of free educational games. Worth checking out I think, as it covers a range of subject areas.

Good Practice in Involving Employers Interesting report from Ofsted (just the summary is available too). Not about education technology/ICT as such, but clearly relevant (see, for example, In The Picture: The Press Association). See also, the excellent resources produced by e-Skills UK. These are aimed at employers wishing to get involved in schools, and were specifically designed with the IT Diploma in mind, but I think they can be used proactively by schools to start a conversation with employers, and not only for the Diploma.

The 5 Steps To Follow When Starting a Blog! An article which is proof, I think, that just because an article has a high rating (in this case 900 tweets, 50 comments, when I last looked) doesn’t mean you should just accept it as unquestionable wisdom. I should have thought the first step when starting a blog is to consider what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and whether it’s worth bothering. But in this article, the issue of content is added as the second paragraph of the second point (Choose what type of blog you want to create) – the first point being Choose a blog platform. I think you choose a blog platform based on what sort of experience you want the reader to have, and your ability and willingness to mess around “under the hood”. What do you think?

Enjoy a trip down memory lane by visiting the Old Computers Museum. It’s even got a page on the RM 380z, which had a massive 4kb of memory, and the 480z, with 32k of RAM. I inherited a network made up of these machines, and although they were robust and reliable, they couldn’t match up to the capabilities of other computers available by then. It was ever thus.

Learning and skills inspection guidance Interesting document from Ofsted covering a range of areas, including the Foundation Stage and retention of inspection evidence.

Draft guidance for inspectors of ICT. This document sets out what is regarded as Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory and Inadequate in these areas:

Word version; PDF version.

E-safety quizzes: Paul Fletcher of Charanga writes:

We have 4 free Who Wants To Be A Millionaire style online Flash quizzes written by Allison Allen of NAACE:

I’ve had a quick look at one or two and they seem fine. I’m not a great lover of this type of game myself, but I think they can be work quite well at getting kids engaged in the first place, and then using the answer options as a starting point for classroom discussion. Registration is free, forever.

IPL2 is an astonishing collection of web pages on a whole range of subjects. There is the odd dead link, but it’s definitely worth exploring, and is intended to be child-friendly. You can even ask the online librarian for help. Me? I’m going to explore the 4,000+ cybercafes around the world which have been listed and mapped. See you later!

Relativity of Technology… Unique Opportunity for India: Interesting article about the importance of technology in a country’s development. I love this: “Technological invasion is inevitable; one can only choose the time of adoption; to be a leader or a laggard. If you have a choice, it is better to be former than latter. What if a nation has choice and fails to exercise it?”

It’s not about the game!

By Dawn Hallybone

At first, this may seem a strange title for an article about using computer games in the classroom – but bear with me!

I use computer games in the classroom with the children in school – why? I believe that they both engage and enhance the curriculum in a really positive way. I was introduced to Games Based Learning two years ago, as a result of my Borough co-ordinator hearing Derek Robertson talk about the work that he and others were doing in Scotland. Derek is passionate about using games in the classroom and the work that is on-going through the Consolarium is an inspiration to me and many others.

We use the Nintendo DS and Wii with a variety of consumer off the shelf (COTs) games, in a variety of settings. In school we have 30 DS consoles and 2 Wiis used across 12 classes. With the DS we use the Dr Kawashimas Brain Training programme – across the whole school. Each year group is timetabled to use them once a week. They are used for example as a mental maths starter – with my middle maths group we use them three times a week – looking at a variety of games each day. Time lapse is one I use every week – but have the children in pairs – discussing strategies on how they have worked out the question. This has been particularly useful for them to develop their problem solving skills, as well as working on time which is a problem area. As one Year 6 child commented ‘It’s like putting maths in a 12V food blender!’

We also make use of Pictochat- this is a form of instant messaging on the DS console and a great tool for use across all areas of the curriculum, I like to use it in Literacy, by asking children to describe a scene or event. Starting with one word, and asking the children to move from ‘room’ to ‘room’ to see all the suggestions and then use this as a starting point for building up and extending the vocabulary in the class. This principle can also be applied to every subject in the curriculum, a great tool that is part of the console.

Looking at other ways of using the consoles – we carried out a Professor Layton project with our Year 6s last year and this time instead of the children having one console each – we gave one console to groups of 6 children. Professor Layton is a non-linear puzzle game, which we used across the curriculum for 3 weeks; it gave the opportunity for maths, Literacy, Geography and art work. It also involved great collaboration, team work and speaking and listening. We used the game as a contextual hub – to ‘hang’ learning onto. In terms of game –play, we only played for about 20 minutes ‘normal’ play time; the rest of the time was spent on cross curricular activities based on the game.

As Derek Robertson has said ‘It’s just another tool’ – and a valuable one in my teachers toolbox. It does not replace ‘traditional’ methods of teaching and learning but is used alongside to enhance the learning experience. The same is true when using the Wii in the class as well. Last year, the Redbridge Games Network was set up and involves 6 schools (so far) who are exploring the use of ‘games’ in the classroom, this involves COTs games, games that the children can create using 2DIY and games online. Part of the network is also looking at using the Wii in classrooms to improve writing. We are slowly building up a library of games that we feel meet this need and since September 2009 have been using these in all the schools involved and writing and sharing our experiences on our network blog.

The best advert for using the games in the classroom is the children themselves and what they feel about using the games in the classroom:

By using electronic games we learn more because it’s a bit like secret learning! While your brain tells you that you’re having fun you are actually learning!

These ways of learning are exciting, fun and enjoyable, you get your results immediately and you are allowed a bit of freedom; because despite what anybody can do children are and always will be competitive, and get bored of the usual sitting in a class room. Our generation are able to learn and connect in ways that our grandparents could never imagine!

Some people say that having Nintendo Ds Consoles in school is distracting and off-putting. If you think about it there are a lot of games you can play. For example, Oakdale use brain training to help their mental arithmetic skills and telling the time. Their Year 6s also use Another Code R in literacy. They are continually jotting bots of important information down and writing predictions, characters and short stories. Via doing this, they are using their imagination, working as a team and improving their writing and thinking skills. They're learning without even realizing it!

It is clear from these quotes that for the children that it’s not about the game, it’s learning in a fun way that is both relevant and a ‘real’ experience for them. Perhaps my favourite quote from the children is this:

Technology and Education make a perfect match for a better future.

I couldn’t say it better myself!


I asked Dawn some questions arising from her article. Here they are, along with her answers.

  1. As far as COTS are concerned, are there any guides to parents and teachers on whether a game is suitable? I mean, what's to stop someone accidently buying a version of Driller Killer?! Really teacher must use their professional judgement, the same way that they would not read Twilight or Vampire diaries to children in a primary setting. Also a key part of using the games is that the teachers know it and have some knowledge - otherwise how can they plan how to use it effectively to enhance as well as engage. However for those coming 'fresh' to gaming there is the PEGI there is also ELSPA
  2. Is Pictochat an enclosed environment. I mean, if someone was to sit in a car outside the school, with a Nintendo, could they evesdrop? I can't imagine anyone doing that, but I just think if something could be added to the effect that it's a safe environment that would be good. Also, do children know who is 'talking' to them in the 'room'? All our consoles are numbered and children are given a number that they have all year - this number shows up in each room that they are in - as for the sitting in the car scenario - never happened to us and honestly - if someone was near with a ds then possibly but range is limited - research online shows to be 100ft but in build up area less than 50 ft so theoretically possible.
  3. What do you have to do in Professor Layton, and is there a URL? There is a walkthrough for Professor Layton online: really useful if you get stuck on a puzzle – don’t let children know about this but handy for staff . The url for curious village is .
  4. Is there a URL for games online? There are lots of games online we use a lot for maths but lots of games sites that we use. the children also love moshi monsters .
  5. Is there a URL or further info about the Redbridge Games Network? I didn't know it existed. and my own blog .
  6. The quotes seem very articulate for 11 year olds; are they especially bright? Have any of the children with special educational needs (SEN) or poor literacy benefited as far as u know? The quotes are all from children in current year 6 either for Handheld learning last year and also the NEN competition at BETT, the children are all top middles. The benefit that I have found with SEN/EAL [English as an Additional Language] and those with poor literacy is that the games act as a visual stimuli for the children which helps give them ideas and something to relate too with their writing.
  7. Is there any chance of a screenshot or picture(s) of the equipment u used? I don't need this for a while (please don't spend any time of your hard-earned break on it) but if you can provide them at some point it would be incredibly helpful. Have attached some photos of equipment in use.

I’ve selected a couple:


I’ve chosen these because they illustrate very well the point Dawn was making: that it’s not just about the game itself, but the learning and activities that go on around it.

About the author

Dawn is the Senior Teacher/ICT Co-ordinator at Oakdale Junior School in the London Borough of Redbridge, a past recipient of the Handheld Learning awards.

Red Mist – the prison-based video game promoting non-violence and emotion control

by Jude Ower

judeRed Mist is a prison-based emotion control game, being developed by Digital 2.0 using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques to help young people’s understanding of negative emotions and their potential consequences.

Red Mist is designed to drive young people’s understanding of the devastating and very real consequences that negative actions and behaviour may have in real life. Red Mist’s educational perspective is in line with the objectives of the Youth Justice Board by transforming the way young people control their emotions.

In order to succeed in the game the user will, at various points, need to manage negative emotions and stay calm under pressure, despite aggression or ill-treatment being directed towards them. Red Mist is designed to help young people identify negative emotions and understand the impact that reacting to them can have on their lives and others. The game will be heavily focussed on behaviour, showing the positive and negative effects of different types of behaviour, and will lead to an understanding of how a positive change can lead to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

Through the use of advanced innovative technology approaches, this application allows certain outcomes of the game-play to be influenced by the player’s mental state. Other proven software and hardware technologies will also help to augment the user’s immersive experience. By using a mixture of emotion control technologies, the game experience will be so true to life it will feel like the users are living it. Red Mist will be the first of its kind, a powerful and emotionally gripping experience set to resonate in the minds of the public the harsh realities of being a young person who has committed an offence and find themselves being put into custody.

The technology identified to use with the game is Neurosky. This sensor technology will allow the player to control aspects of the game through emotional states. DigiMask is also under investigation, this will allow the user to upload an image of themselves which then turns into a character in the game. Certain actions such as fighting and taking drugs will affect the players in-game appearance allowing the player to see how they will look after a certain amount of time (e.g. if the player takes drugs in the game, the affects it has on the way they look will be highlighted in the game).

The game also allows for personalised learning. By using sophisticated back-end assessment technology, the in-game actions of the player will be monitored. This allows for a facilitator to understand at which points a player may get stuck. This will enable a facilitator to understand deeper issues and help the player through these with personalised training and coaching post-game play.

Organisations such as Youth Offending Units, Schools, Youth Centres and Hospitals are currently at a loss dealing with aggressive young people across the UK. There has been a 27% rise in youth offenders in the justice system since 2002. Next year alone, the government will invest over £500 Million in the works of the Youth Justice Board, alongside new EU funds to try to bring these figures down. It costs on average £40,000 to accommodate and support a youth offender in the UK and the government is desperate to invest in new and innovative ways to bring this number down. Just re-habilitating 25 of these young people would save the taxpayer on average £1 million.

The principal aim of the youth justice system, as set out in section 37 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, is to prevent offending by children and young people aged 10 to 17. This includes:

The new focus of many organisations working with these young people is ‘early intervention’ which works with a younger cohort (10-15) in an attempt to steer them from crime. As yet the agencies working with these young people are still to agree on best practice in this area, and looking to new programmes, providers and ideas.

Video games that feature prisons are not uncommon in the entertainment sector. However, most games based on prisons either have to do with escaping or deal with supernatural events.

About the author

Jude is founder and CEO of games consultancy Digital 2.0. She has grown the business through a passion to reinvent learning through Digital play. She is one of the original thought leaders on games for education and training. An Associate Researcher of SMARTlab and Futurelab, a member of the Serious Games Institute, and the International Association of Games Developers. Previously Jude completed a BA and went on to complete a Masters in International Marketing (focusing on innovation and serious games). Jude is a trained Games Master that enables her to carry out the British Council’s Future City Games projects. She is currently undertaking a PhD at SMARTlab, University of East London on the topic of meaningful Games Design. Her portfolio includes having worked with Shell, IBM, PwC, Norwich Union, Essex University, Coventry University, Invest NI, Futurelab, and the Serious Games Institute to name but a few. Please contact Jude Ower for more info: or +44 (0)207 193 3718.

Creating a game – a positive impact on learning?

By David Luke.

I have had an interest in programming and creating games since I purchased a BBC Model A in the 80’s (the good old days!). However, it was only recently that I have actively promoted the introduction of games making into the ICT curriculum.

Two factors prompted my decision. Firstly, the introduction of the renewed ICT framework in spring 2008, which introduced learning objectives around ‘sequencing instructions’ and opened up options other than control. Secondly, the availability of easy to use games making software, which had the capacity to build games with a very professional feel.

My early research into games making software led me to conclude that there were two very good options, Mission Maker (Immersive Education) and Games Maker 7 (YOYOGames). As a result of further investigation I decided to go with Games Maker 7, the key reasons being ease of use, price per install, and pupils could also download it for free to use at home.

In the summer term of 2008 we launched a training package which included skills training and a full day developing a scheme of work, involving representatives from half of our secondary and middle schools. The scheme of work was then introduced to all our secondary and middle schools, at the following Subject Leader Development network, with an understanding that they could then use it as a basis for development in their own departments, with additional support from the school improvement consultants, if required.

A number of schools requested the additional consultant support, including one of the middle schools I normally supported. From the initial meeting with the ICT Subject leader it was clear that there was an opportunity for an action research project around a number of aspects of teaching and learning, including the impact of delivering the Games Maker project as a course through the VLE. The questions we agreed to try and answer were:

  1. Games playing is predominantly a boys’ activity1,2 (see references at the end of this article); therefore, will learning activities around making a game have a negative impact on girls’ learning?
  2. Will a problem-solving approach to games making engage the pupils and accelerate learning?
  3. How will a blended learning approach, including face to face and VLE delivery of the course, impact on learning?

Target Audience:

Year 7 (11-12 years) and/or Year 8 (12-13 years) pupils in mixed ability groups in a co-educational environment.

Planning Stage:

  1. The initial stage was to agree the minimum criteria that the pupils’ games would be expected to meet. They were:
    1. A main character that moved in the four main directions.
    2. No character could pass through the maze walls.
    3. A main character that would face the direction it was moving.
    4. Objects that had to be collected to complete a level.
    5. Doors that only opened when all the objects had been collected.
    6. Aliens/Monsters that would kill the main character on contact.
    7. Some Aliens/Monsters that could move vertically and others horizontally.
    8. At least three different levels of increasing difficulty.
  2. Agreeing the minimum specification for the games led to identification of the key skills pupils would need to learn in order to have the opportunity to meet the above criteria. From this information the resources were developed.
  3. The tasks were then created as learning modules on the VLE, each learning module consisted of a number of pages and attached assignments to complete and upload, which could then be marked online by the teacher.

The five tasks were as follows:

Task 1 - What makes a Good Game? In which pupils played three games to identify good points and areas for development, apply existing criteria and develop their own additional criteria.

Task 2 - How is a game made? Consisting of seven problem solving activities to develop the basic skills.

These resources were created as learning module pages on the VLE, each page consisting of a downloadable partially working game, some basic instructions and, when required, downloadable sprites and sounds.

The pupils were asked to download and play the game, discover what was working and the code that made it work. They were then asked to either add extra instructions, correct existing instructions or both.

Task 3 - Planning the Game! One lesson in which the pupils plan the game using a downloadable template.

Task 4 - Improving the game! A dip in selection of activities which pupils can use to improve the game e.g. scoring systems.

Task 5 - Destroy the Beef Burgers! As task 4, but specific to creating a shooting element to their game.

The initial development of the resources were carried out in conjunction with an ICT subject specialist in a secondary school, but the VLE course was specifically created to trial with year 8 pupils in a middle school.

Trial audience:

Year 8 middle school pupils grouped for ICT into three sets based on their mathematical ability. In total there were 90 pupils with a gender breakdown of 52 boys and 38 girls. Each set had a total of 1.5 hours per week with the course lasting 10 weeks.

Course delivery:

Sets 1 and 3 had input from both the consultant and the subject leader, whereas set 2 only had input from the subject leader. The consultant supported the first two lessons, followed by the fourth and seventh lessons. Lesson seven was used by the consultant to introduce the purpose of the online poll, which was to be the main source of feedback.

Lesson one introduced the idea of a VLE course and explained Task 1, which the pupils then completed independently with support where required. Pupils were asked to upload the two assignments which were then marked online with feedback.

Lessons two and three concentrated on the problem solving activities in task 2, the majority of pupils working independently through the activities. A number of pupils completed these activities within the time and therefore planned the game in advance of lesson five.

Lessons four/five concentrated on the planning their game, with the plan being uploaded for marking.

Lessons five onwards pupils developed their own games using the activities from task 4 to enhance their games.

Whole class inputs from the subject leader and/or consultant were used to set the scene for each lesson and expected outcomes for the different groups of pupils. Small group inputs focussed on specific issues with which the pupils required additional support.

A small number of boys had already downloaded Game Maker at home and had partially developed games prior to this course starting. They were provided with the opportunity to dip into both tasks 2 and 4 to support further development of their games and more or less worked independently from the other pupils.

Key findings:

Based on 78 of the 90 pupils answering the poll.


Significantly 86% of the pupils enjoyed the course, therefore, only 10 pupils did not like the course.


91% of the pupils felt that the resources were at least useful or very useful, indicating that the way the course was structured supported their learning.


83% of pupils felt that their understanding of the games maker software was good to excellent as a result of the course. Indicating that the strategy for delivering the course around problem solving had been effective. This can also be seen in the quality of the games produced.


83% of the pupils also felt that the game had matched up to their original expectations.

Finally, we used the poll to assess if their games had met some of the key criteria we set out in the planning stage.


Interestingly, 83% of pupils said they had a character that moved in all four directions, but in reality they all did. It would be interesting to investigate why 13 pupils did not say yes to this question: could it be that they felt it was not their own work because of the amount of support they had received?

In Conclusion:

We set out to try and answer the following three questions.

  1. Games playing is predominantly a boys’ activity, therefore, will learning activities around making a game have a negative impact on girls’ learning?
  2. Will a problem solving approach to games making engage the pupils and accelerate learning?
  3. How will a blended learning approach, including face to face and VLE delivery of the course, impact on learning?

I would not try to suggest that we have succeeded in providing the answers as the data is limited to one environment, but we have at least have detected some trends worth investigating more fully.

  1. There was no evidence of any negative impact on the girls’ learning; in fact they produced some of the most sophisticated games. Even if the negative answers to the questions, concerning enjoying the course and understanding of games maker, were all provided by girls this would only account for less than a third of the girls in the year group. For future research a question on gender would help to provide a more comprehensive analysis.
  2. It is difficult to provide a comprehensive answer to this question, but the fact that 86% enjoyed the course and 91% felt that the resources were at least useful or very useful. would indicate engagement. It would have been useful to compare usage of the resources with the level of understanding of Games Maker achieved and the quality of the final game i.e. did the pupils who used the resources produce the most sophisticated games?
  3. There is no data from our poll that addresses this question directly, however from my direct observations of pupils using this course and those of similar ability in other schools taught through demonstrations and then provided with individual or group support, progress was significantly faster. The pupils were able to proceed to development stage more quickly and, therefore, had more time to design and create more sophisticated games.


Chris Brady, for his work in developing a number of the problem solving activities and delivering the course.

Jon Ingram, for his support in delivering the course and providing the evidence to judge impact.


  1. Study Examines Video Game Play Among Adolescents Hope M. Cummings; Elizabeth A. Vandewater Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. July2007;161:684-689.
  2. Parental Perceptions of Computer-Based Gaming Technology: An Evaluation of Children's Leisure Pursuits in the Computer Age Journal article by Belinda Clayton; Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 28, 2003

Games-based learning: a personal view

by Amanda Wilson


Six months ago I would have said that games in the class were not a way for children to learn mainly because I never thought of them as educational tools. I never really connected education with entertainment. Being of the Super Nintendo generation I’ve always made the association that games are simply for playing and enjoying; whether it was Mario World or Street Fighter and not for learning with. Even today Mario’s still my favourite. My own girls play games but until they had their DS consoles they were never that interested in them, only occasionally going back to it when they wanted to. Now that they have them they are taking an interest in games. However, I don’t simply want them playing any old game and started to look into other games that may be more worthwhile -- dare I say educational for them. Brain Training seemed the most obvious game to start off with as it had lots of problem solving activities to complete. This is a game we all enjoy now, well them more than me. However, one day I will get that brain age down(to nearer my own age)!

While researching for my honours project on teaching children about programming, I have been coming across other work being done in schools with technology. One such project is the Consolarium – Scottish Centre for Games and Learning in Dundee, who have used Brain training in some schools to help with children’s mental maths ability. I’m the first to admit when I first read about this I was wary: a class full of children playing a game on a console. How could that surely help them at all? However, as I read more about what the group was doing I started to see that there may be some potential for games-based learning in the class. The children weren’t left with the console for a long time; an initial concern I thought at first but in fact they only used them for about 15 to 20 minutes each day alongside their other work and not as a replacement.

Futurelab is another organisation who is looking into the use of using computer games in the classroom with some encouraging results already being shown. They are looking at making learning and teaching more engaging for the 21st century by using innovative practices. Some, such as their Teaching with Games project, include using commercial games in the classroom to help educate.

I can see why using games could be a good idea; most children play them in one shape or form. Whether it’s on the PC or on their DS. Also they seem to take notice more when you mention games. On a recent placement I undertook as part of a module I was in with a class of 13 year olds and working with them to make games in Scratch. When they heard games being mentioned they became more interested in the lesson.

I guess that sometimes change has to be implemented in order to keep the children interested and educated. Then games-based learning may be a way to go. Though I think that with the amount of technology available these days it has to be used wisely and within the curriculum. They should not be given the technology to use simply because it is available, rather they should be given the chance to use it in a way that is going to be beneficial to them and their education.

About the author

Amanda says: I am a married mum of 3 who is a “mature” student. Graduated a short while ago with a 2.1 in Computing, and now going on to do my PhD. As part of the degree I undertook a project of teaching children to program using Scratch. (Look out for an article from Amanda about using Scratch.) I’m a member of Computing At School.

Battling the barriers of games-based learning

By John McLear

johnmclear - originalIn early 2007 I was working in Wilsden Primary School with a group of 9 year old pupils and found it frustrating that it took 3 or 4 clicks once in the web browser to get to a simple multiplication game. I tried to Google search for "7 times table game" but I was presented with a mass of adverts or games that weren’t engaging for the pupils. Why are there so many barriers to game based learning? Why is it so scattered? Surely there is a better way? I wanted to make a “Google search engine of educational games”. Many providers can provide a solution that includes 50 or 100 games, but that isn’t comprehensive enough and often requires signing up or logging in. I didn’t want any barriers or hurdles to prevent playing a simple game that compliments the lessons objectives. My mission had begun…

The vision and mission plan

· Make it as few clicks as possible to begin learning

The hard slog

It took me several months of procrastination before we got to writing the initial engine that scans the internet looking for educational games, we then began the very lengthy task of categorizing, describing and playing over 1000 games; not as much fun as we first expected. One year later and with help from educators such as Chris Barford (ICT Technician at Frizinghall and now Engineer at Primary Technology -- he was at Frizinghall when working on the project then came to join our team), James Ashton, Sharon Dominik (ICT facilitator at Wilsden Primary School) and the Primary School Safe Search website we were able to begin asking pupils for their feedback on the site. (Note that both Sharon and Chris did all of the hard work outside of school.) What became obvious very quickly is that teachers and pupils disagree about what is a good gaming website. Currently there are over 1,200 games on Primary Games Arena which makes it by far the largest categorized, indexed and searchable catalogue of educational games in the world, and with the many thousand hits a day we really wanted to ensure we delivered suitable content.

Making it for pupils, not teachers

Pupils tend to want games that look fun and will not consider the educational aspect; teachers tend to want a very structured approach that compliments the vision of the subject they are delivering. Trying to deliver content we think suits both the learner and the teacher has been a difficult challenge. We worked around this by implementing an extended rating system that asks the player if they are a pupil or teacher. Any content that is poorly rated by a teacher or a pupil is placed into a review process.

Console fever

It is not a secret that many learners have gaming consoles and we were quick to capitalize on this by making all Primary Games Arena games available on the Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3 and Microsoft XBox 360. To promote this we put an interactive scrolling object on the Primary Games Arena home page designed to ensure the visitor’s attention was drawn towards it.

Using the analytics

One of the best things about running web services that cater for thousands of people is that you can begin looking for trends on what is popular. I now know that Maths-Action games are by far the most popular games. (Maths-Action games are math games that are also the game type of "action" ie like how the game Halo is a first person shooter action, math-action games are action based games that require skills in maths to progress/win/proceed/score/be rewarded. An example of a math action game: Also, analytics are a great indicator of how popular the site is from a pupil’s perspective. While most teachers on snow days get the day off or sit at home and do marking, we enjoy a large number of new visitors on Primary Games Arena. Most of these children are choosing to learn by gaming. Analytics are a great way to measure success.

Covering the costs

The usual method for covering costs on a website such as Primary Games Arena is by plastering ads all over the site. This method is fine if your target audience is of adult age and and not as easily distracted as pupils. Due to this, adverts were quickly ruled out so we could focus on the pedagogy of the site. Primary Games Arena is kindly sponsored by Primary Technology.

What’s next?

We have begun working with a number of providers to develop a scoring/reward system that follows and records a pupil’s progress. The idea is that if a pupil gets a great score on one game, the points accumulate, and when they play the next game there is a further reward. This ensures pupils are learning on different games, by different providers. You may wish to call this a "learning experience points" system where pupils can level up as they progress through school in both the virtual and real world.

We have begun planning a nationwide competition that will encourage school pupils to develop games for other pupils to play. There have been a number of examples of primary school pupils’ game creations being of a high enough quality to reach Primary Games Arena. Matt Lovegrove is leading the way in this area and we are supporting him and others in developing open, free online games that engage learners.

If you would like to be involved in any of the Primary Games Arena projects then please get in touch with on twitter @johnmclear, email or phone: 084568 01274

Be part of our epic win Smile

About the author

More information on John McLear can be found at

More information on Primary Games Arena can be found at

More information on Primary Technology can be found at


Thanks to all of the contributors. This newsletter is (c) 2010 Terry Freedman, but individual contributors retain ownership of their copyright. Please send items of potential interest to me. Please enquire before sending me a complete article.

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