Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if School Camp was a game?

Preparation for school camp usually involves a bit of cut and pasting of timetables, groups and gear lists, some goal setting and perhaps some team building games.

This year I wanted to try and do things differently. Activated by my involvement in the recent Games for Learning conference, I asked myself the question "What if Camp was a game?"

My thinking behind this was that designing games is an effective way for students to learn content knowledge through process. Engaging with the content in this manner would generate discussion and new thinking.

So what did I want my students to learn? Our camp setting was changing from a "Hi-di-Hi" affair to more of a "Survivor" context. Students would be experiencing a range of physical and mental challenges that would require a wide range of dispositions. If we were prepared mentally for this, then surely we could reach our potential on this camp.

Table top role playing games (RPG's) are experiencing a bit of a resurgence at the moment and several of my students actively participate in games in this format. Most of us will remember "Dungeons and Dragons" a popular RPG from the 1980's that has since appeared in the popular Stranger Things series. These games require you to play in character and make decisions in the game based on that characters strengths, weaknesses and possessions. 

Students in my class were going to need to design an RPG in which the different characters of the game needed to have certain attributes that would help them deal with the challenges that they may face at camp. They were also going to need to come up with some possible scenarios that they might have to face.

First students would need to know how a table top RPG works and for that we played the game "Hero Kids". I got several students to be the game master for their groups and let them lead this part of the process. Learning through play is essential.

The ideation phase of the game design used Design Thinking so that character attributes and scenarios were closely aligned with what they would actually be experiencing on camp. And in regards to that, we did not give them much information about the camp itself aside from a verbal description of the setting and a list of possible activities. They even had to come up with their own gear list for the character.

The verbal description of the setting was purposeful as we wanted them to create a picture in their mind and then on a large piece of cardboard of the camp itself. This created wonder and reassurance for some but without giving too much away.

Play testing allowed other students to try out the games and have new experiences. Students became experts and teachers. The learning environment was a hum of collaboration.

So, how did this all transfer to camp itself? What we noticed as teachers is that students were able to problem solve, they offered support to others, they were resilient and showed growth mindset when faced with adversity.  Their conversations on camp mimiced those that they had had in the game.

There was only one point of confusion from a student in my class who asked "so are we going to have to roll a dice everytime we need to make a decision?" This made me smile.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Te Wheke

Te Wheke - The Octopus

A representation of wellbeing (hauora) developed by Dr Rangimarie Turaki Rose Pere. Each part important to the whole.

Te whānau – the family
Waiora – total wellbeing for the individual and family (reflected in the eyes)
Wairuatanga – spirituality
Hinengaro – the mind
Taha tinana – physical wellbeing
Whanaungatanga - extended family
Mauri – life force in people and objects
Mana ake – unique identity of individuals and family
Hā a koro ma, a kui ma – breath of life from forbearers
Whatumanawa – the open and healthy expression of emotion

This year I have noticed that I have had to be more responsive to the hauora of my students before they have been able to learn. The make-up of my class is radically different to that of last year and also larger therefore it has taken me longer to get to know each child.

My reflective questions about his are:

With a move towards collaborative learning spaces, how do we ensure that all students have a meaningful relationship with at least one teacher?

What services do we need access to in our schools to assist with the mental wellbeing of a akonga?

Are we addressing the hauora of all of our students in our programmes or just the ones who need extra support?

My blue sky thinking about this would be for hauora to guide all decision making about learning, teaching, strategic planning, regulations etc. That those conversations started with "how will the student feel about this?",  "will this empower the student", "what does this student need to feel good about themselves?". I'd also love for us to have better access to psychologists, counsellors, health professionals and other specialists available for our students who do have extra needs in this area.  As teachers we are expected to take on so many roles, a lot of which require someone with a different skill set than ourselves. 

Back to Te Wheke. Do we as educators have enough of an understanding of what wellbeing is? Can we address it our learning spaces? Can it be acknowledged politically as an essential part of teaching and learning?