Monthly Archives: March 2011

Gamify your classroom with Chore Wars

Gamification

One definition of gamification is the use of features usually found in games in areas of life which are usually game free. Only time will tell if this buzzword becomes the next big thing as some people are predicting, but meanwhile, sites such as Chore Wars can help you make a game of some of the most uninteresting but necessary tasks of life.

Chore Wars

Although Chore Wars has been designed to turn housework into an adventure game, the site is flexible enough to let you customise adventures, which means it can be converted for use in the classroom.

Let’s look at this through an example.

I have a class of teenagers studying for the Cambridge First Certificate in English exam and in order to prepare yourself for this exam, you have to do a lot of practice tests. The problem is that doing these tests frequently becomes routine and repetitive, which is where Chore Wars can help.

Getting Started

I started by setting up an account on the site and creating a number of adventures. You can then create a number of adventures from scratch, which is what I did. I

I made each part of the exam an adventure that when claimed, earns the player XP (experience points) , gold coins and the possibility of finding treasure. The learners (players) can see the scores of the others too, which adds an element of competition to doing practice tests. I also made the rewards on the more difficult parts of the exam higher to motivate the learners into doing them.

Introducing Chore Wars to Students

The idea is to encourage the students to do more exam practice tests by making it fun. After I’d set up the adventures, I introduced the learners to the concept in the classroom and then we went to the computer room.

There, they created their characters, choosing what they looked like and giving themselves a name.

Joining the Party

They then joined my party of adventurers. The best way to do this is to give them the link to join on a simple webpage. I used http://pen.io for this, which lets you create a webpage instantly, without any need to log in. You can see the page I set up here: http://chorewars.pen.io/.

Adventuring

Once they’d joined the party, I asked them to start doing some practice tests on a site called Flo-Jo, and as they finished, they claimed the adventure on Chore Wars.

Student Reaction

Another reason why I chose to use Chore Wars was because I have a number of students who play online adventure games, and so the concept of XP, collecting gold coins, etc was familiar to them and they needed no introduction to the idea of turning the FCE exam into an adventure. It went down well with them and they happily ploughed through a number of practice tests and started to claim the adventures.

There are other students in the class, however, who do not play these games, and it was more difficult for them to see the point of the game. They seemed a little bit bemused by the concept, but I hope and trust this will change in time, as they become more familiar with it.

Managing the Adventure

I am the Dungeon Master (the game controller) of the FCE Ninjas Chore Wars adventure, which means I have control over what adventures to set, etc. I can change the number of XP, gold coins and possibility of treasure of each adventure. I’d do this to encourage the students to do part of the exam they are reluctant to do.

It’s early days, but I have already seen a potential problem that I have to deal with that could spoil the game if I am not careful: cheating

Cheating

Chore Wars is based on a trust system. Players claim an adventure and this relies on their honesty. However, I could see that some of the students were very interested in knowing how the game worked, and have just spotted that one in particular wanted to see how it was possible to increase his level and XP.

Look at the screenshot below and you’ll see that this student (abaairenjy in the game) logged in and continued playing after class. I know that by looking at the times he claimed the adventures. We were in the computer room for 20 minutes, from 6.00-6.20pm and he did two practice tests while we were there. But, he also logged into Chore Wars at home, at 10pm and played the game, increasing his XP and level from level 1 to level 3. I know that it’s impossible he did 9 practice tests in this time (10 minutes!) and so will have to call him on it next class.

The good news about this activity is that he’s interested enough to do it at home to see how it works, but this will destroy the game if his cheating is allowed to continue. This is what I have decided to do now:

  • I will draw the class’s attention to the cheating next time we meet. I’ll do this and ask them to decide how to deal with it. We’ll do this through negotiation and it’ll make for an interesting class discussion on honesty and what everyone thinks about cheating and of obeying the rules of games.
  • I have left a comment for Alejandro, so he knows I am onto him (see screenshot below)
  • I am going to suggest that all the class does what Alejandro has claimed, in the same order. That way, they too can claim them too, and they will get similar XP, treasure, and advance in levels. If they don’t like the choice of exercises, they have Alejandro to blame!

I hope this strategy will work. There are other things you can do, as Dungeon Master, to allow you to manage your adventures, which are particularly interesting if you want to manage the adventures in the classroom.

Classroom Management

You have various options with characters, giving players permissions to create their own adventures, etc. I have changed the role of the players’ characters to NPC (non playing character) which means that I can claim adventures on their behalf (see screenshot below). This means that the learners won’t have to log in to be able to claim XP, etc. When we do a practice test in the classroom, I can quickly run through the character list and claim points for everyone there and then. I am also planning to claim adventures only for those students who actually pass a particular practice test.

Final Thoughts

How successful Chore Wars is with my class remains to be seen, but I think the potential is there to increase the interest my students have in FCE practice tests, turning the completion of them into a game, and hopefully motivating them to do more homework (not just the tests I assign them). Whatever happens now, it’s already proving to be an interesting adventure for the teacher!

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I 'Adam & Eve' it!

Level: Primary

Language: Narrative devices

Skills Focus: Reading or Listening

Location: Computer room or Connected classroom

Game: Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve

This is a simple point and click game with a simple story and basic repetitive language elements.

Preparation

Either:

Download a copy of Adam & Eve

or use and

Online electronic version of the Adam & Eve story

Be Warned – there are 5 pages.

A lot of simple point and click games have a nice little narrative story running through them. In this case our hero, Adam,  leaves the safety of his cave and heads out on a journey to go and see his girlfriend, Eve. On the way he meets various creatures, faces numerous obstacles and has to solve a few tricky puzzles and all in a day’s work.  I decided to play the game and instead of writing a walkthrough I wrote the story of Adam’s journey to Eve.

I don’t consider myself a great story writer but I thought if I could identify a few rules for writing based on my own experience of what kids generally enjoy reading I could write something that would be enjoyable, understandable, challenging and doable.  What I came up with was this list.  Feel free to suggest any other points in ‘comments’.  I can’t say i’ve identified all the one’s I’ve used nor ones which I’m sure would have made the story better if I’d included them.  Anyway,

  • Graded language – that learners understand (colours, prepositions, animals, clothes etc where possible).
  • Recycled language – see above (but also prepositions, directions etc)
  • Language elements that are higher than the readers language level – to challenge them.
  • Repetitive language elements (Particularly at the beginning and end of each stage) – to provide a little structure.
  • Some examples of direct speech – for opportunities to put on those theatrical voices.

Once I’d written the story of ‘Adam & Eve’ sI thought about using it in a number of ways:

Writing – That is, a group of learners who I judged would understand the majority of the written text.  Learners read the story and identified nouns.  They then made their own dictionary for the words they identified.  They then took the story and their dictionaries to the computer room where they played the game.  Because there was quite a bit of intensive reading and writing here I divided the complete text into different sections – enough for groups of two learners to work on (writer and researcher) – and also did it with a more mature level of low level language learners learners (mid teens).

Listening – Play the game at the front of the class and read the story and get learners to raise their hand when they identify the part of the story that tells them what to do in the game (how to play it). That learner can then come up and do that action. Repeat part of the story if they get it wrong and continue the story if they get it right. Continue until interest wanes (yours or your learners).

Reading – In the computer room learners play the game using three internet explorer windows.  They have the ‘Adam & Eve’ story open on the first one, an online dictionary/ translator on the second and the game itself is played on the third.  You could think about using an online image search engine (say Google images) but be careful when doing this and make sure you use ‘advance search’ options and set it to ‘strict filter’.  I could regale you with stories of teachers who didn’t and have yet to live it down but I won’t.  Hopefully you won’t be adding to those anecdotes.

Learning Quest

Learners Listen to Audio plays, solve clues collaboratively while exploring a virtual world

Level: Intermediate or Advanced

Location: Connected classroom/ Home

Skills Practice: Speaking/ Listening

Game: Robin Hood Learning Quest

It’s not often you get a fun game which is aimed at more than one Language learning level but this one does.  You first join Second Life (a free virtual world) which both you and your learners will have to do.  When you have finished making your avatar you log in to Second Life and then click on the SLurl above the picture.  Your avatar will then be teleported to the start of the Robin Hood quest.  It may be a little tricky moving around the first time you arrive there so a little orientation video doesn’t go amiss.

Preparation

There are a few system requirements and you will need to check that you can play audio if you are using the audio plays and have working headphones and speakers for each learner if they are using voice.  Of course, if they are in the same room they won’t need to use voice but if your learners are connecting from different geographical locations then voice can be very useful.  Try and establish some ground rules for taking turns to talk though, otherwise it can get confusing.

Arriving

There are a few things you should do when you arrive there for the first time:

  1. Make friends with the other people there by right clicking on them and choosing ‘add friend’.
  2. Chat using the public text box that runs along the bottom of the page.
  3. Talk with them by using speakers and a microphone and clicking on the speak button that is just on the right of the public chat box.
  4. Make someone responsible for keeping everyone together (the one most comfortable in this new environment), another responsible for remembering the clues and another for making decisions.

You are now ready to start the Quest.

Intermediate

For intermediate language learners there is a crossword they can download and complete while playing.  Here’s how they play:

  1. They can find the Robin Hood crossword by clicking on the sign on the tree with the arrow in it (see the picture above – it’s the tree behind the fire).
  2. They discuss what they should do to complete the crossword.
  3. Then they find and read colour coded clues which tell them where to look next and what to look for.  They can surf the net to find the answers if they want.
  4. As they journey through the quest they fill in the crossword.
  5. Finally at the end there is a puzzle to solve which will gain them access to the dungeon where Maid marian is being kept prisoner.  They open the treasure chest and get a prize.

Advanced

For advanced language learners there are a series of audio plays they listen to.  In each play there is a clue to where they should go next and what to look for.  The Robin Hood crossword is optional but it’s a good way to keep them on task and encourages discussion.  Here’s how they play:

  1. They listen to the audio play and discuss where they think the next clue is hidden and how to get there.
  2. They also discuss what they need to look for (and complete the crossword when possible).
  3. They then follow steps 3-5 in the Intermediate section above.

The audio play tape scripts can be useful.  Here’s a quick video introduction to the Robin Hood Quest:

By the way the final clue to open the dungeon door at the castle is:

1228/ Move aside for me please

If you are playing by using just the audio clues then you will need to tell your learners the password at the end because the last puzzle of the quest is a quiz to make sure they have completed the crossword.

Remember at the end of the day that the sole purpose of the quest is to provide a challenging and engaging task in which a lot of English is spoken.  I’ve spoken to a teacher who did the quest and said that the amount of English produced was great – unfortunately they only got through 3 of the 9 quest locations because they ran out of time.  Oh well!  Extra but fun homework I suppose.

Spotlight on Digital Play Innovators #5 Michael Gibson

Michael Gibson is a filmmaker and serious games expert.  He is a member of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association which is an online network of professionals dedicated to the design, implementation, and evaluation of games and simulations to improve learning results.

Along with co-founders Allan Stitt and Frank Handy, he runs the online game company Zap dramatic.  The games at Zap Dramatics site consist of interactive simulated adventure games that focus on the art and science of negotiation.  They tend to be text heavy and aim to educate as well as entertain.   The Canadian New Media Award for Excellence in Learning (Professionalism and Ethics simulation) was awarded to Zap dramatic in 2005.  In the same year it received the Vortex prize at the McLuhan International Festival of the Future for the adventure game ‘Move or Die‘.  Four years later the company became an official honoree at the 2009 Webby Awards for the game ‘Sir Basel Pike Public School’ which deals with the issue of bullying.  You can see the promotional video for this game here:

Recently Zap dramatic has released the engaging real life drama game ‘Inside the Haiti Disaster’, which places the gamer at the scene of the Haitian earthquake.  At the beginning of this simulation you choose a character and play as either an aid worker, a journalist or local victim of the disaster.  The game is particularly hard hitting in it’s use of film, photos and audio recordings of the actual event and people concerned.  You can read an interview with one of the team members that worked on this game here.

I think the games we’ve mentioned here are best for high level language learners and they are particularly attractive not only because of their high language content but also because they aim to educate the gamer in real life skills as well as raising awareness in some important issues.  They are definitely worth a look into even if it’s to have fun and educate yourself.