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Using ‘game’ and activity templates in education

This is idea 1, in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning‘.

One of the changes to the Inspections framework within FE within the UK, is that inspectors are now looking to see if students are enjoying themselves whilst they are learning. This is actually proving a really big challenge for some educators.

One way that technology can be used to bring an element of ‘fun’ back into the learning process is by using game type activities as part of the process. I am not talking about high-tec immersive type games, but much simpler, types of activity, were the tutor enters the basic information about their subject and the computer converts this into an activity. We are lucky that there are many different game and activity templates out there, so we can use a wide variety in our teaching and learning (learners will quickly get bored of doing lots of crosswords, or lots of multi-choice questions).

Some people think that games shouldn’t be used in education as they question the learning value of them, but one thing that a good ‘game type activity’ can do, is encourage repetition, which for learning basic facts, is recognised as an essential part of the learning process, yet one that is hard to achieve in FE and HE.

I used to use QUIA (see below for details) a lot in my teaching, and because I taught sport science students (who are naturally competitive) they would often repeat activities many times to try and get a better score (especially if I did the activity first to set a target) – this for me was a great way to cover key information, e.g. names of bones, muscle actions, definitions of physical terms etc.

Here I will describe 3 examples of web based tools that can be used for this purpose


Quia

http://www.quia.com/ is an excellent resource, although it does have a cost attached to it of $50 per year if you want to create your own activities.

  • You can create activities, where you enter the information, and it turns that into a game type activity for you. Activities include battleships, matching pairs, wordsearches, ordered lists etc.
  • There are quizzes, which even has built in tracking so that you can track which students have done what.
  • There are survey options which are easy to use and easy to analyse afterwards, and many other options.

I personally think that the $50 per year is worth paying due to the amount of time that it can save and the quality of the final products, but even if you don’t pay, there are many activities that are on their site which have been shared by tutors which you can do for free, if you go to http://www.quia.com/shared/ you will see the list of subjects covered, then looking into any of them will reveal thousands of created resources, that you can use with learners, by just copying and sharing the URL.


StudyStack

http://www.studystack.com/ works on pairs of information (e.g. capital city and country, author and book, psychologist and theory etc). You can either use an activity that has created by someone else, or create your own for free. Once created the pairs of information are turned into various game types, including anagrams, crosswords etc, but also simple kinesthetic type games such as hungry bug, which is like the game snakes that used to appear on early mobile phones. Young people in particular will sometimes play these retro type games for hours at times, so if we can use this for education then brilliant. The output isn’t a polished as QUIA, and the site does have advertising on it, but for ease of use and to provide variety, and being free is an excellent site. An example of a hungry bug activity created by someone else is http://www.studystack.com/hungrybug-49086 – if you then click on the icons below the activity you can play different games with the same sets of words.


Jigsaw Planet

http://www.jigsawplanet.com/ is a web based jigsaw creating site. You can either do one of their preloaded jigsaws, or more likely we can create our own. All we need to do is upload an image, select the number of pieces, and the piece shape and it will convert this into a jigsaw for us. So for example if we wanted the students to learn a table of important but uninteresting information, we could convert the table into an image (by just doing a print screen, or using a tool like Snippy to capture a region of the screen containing the table), upload this to Jigsaw Planet and away you go. An Example of this, using a simple table of information based on countries can be found at http://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=29a2685d793d


There are many other tools out there, but these are 3 web based ones (and therefore easy to manage) that I particularly like.

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Using Excel to create a matching pairs activity

I am a big fan of Excel, and have discovered over the years how to use it as a very effective teaching and learning tool. In the coming weeks (and months depending on how busy I get) I plan to create a few tutorials to show how different types of activity can be created.

My first attempt is going to look at creating a simple matching pairs activity, and to do this we will learn about

  • IF statements
  • Data validation
  • Inserting a hyperlink to move from 1 sheet to another
  • Sorting a list
  • Combining contents of cells to create a sentence
  • Unlocking cells
  • Protecting sheets
  • Hiding gridlines, sheet tabs, formula bar and row + column headers

This tutorial will consist of 4 screencasts.

The first shows the end product, and the reasons behind some of the choices

or http://screenr.com/IDp

In the second screen cast we will look at how we create the sheet that the student will enter the answers into

 or http://screenr.com/dZp

The way that this resource works, is the student enters some answers, then clicks on a ‘check answers’ button which shows how many they have right. This looks really clever, and some people think I have used code to create it, but all I have done is create a second sheet in the workbook, that is laid out identically (so looks the same) which checks the answers. When the student clicks on the button to ‘check answers’ or the equivalent one to return to test, all they are doing is flicking between 2 separate sheets.

The third screencast looks at how to duplicate the entry sheet (to create the check sheet) and change it to check how many the student has got correct.

or http://screenr.com/RZp

In the 4th tutorial, we will look at the final stages of tidying up the resource and making it work neatly. We will during this process hide the rows of the table containing the answers. The key to a resource like this, is once you have created something like this once, you can then just change the data in this table and you have a new resource.

or http://screenr.com/nZp

There are a few more improvements that you could make – for example, on the check sheet, at the top of the page we could add a formula to the title, to copy it through from the ‘test’ sheet – this way if you change the title on the first sheet, it will automatically change the the heading on the second page. Also if the students don’t answer all the questions, when they check their answers they will get a ‘0’ displayed. This could easily be removed by adding another IF statement.

I hope that this has been useful, and look out for future tutorials on this topic.