Zealand INTERFACE magazine |Michael Fenton| February 2009
do 3D games, robotics, science and maths have in common? Students love
them all when they're having `fun', writes Michael Fenton.
my experience, the f-word can make a real difference to the way
students view science and technology.
course the f-word in this case is 'fun'.
it should always have a place in the classroom, both primary and
secondary, even when teachers have many pressures to stick to the
business of teaching.
believe NCEA is having a negative impact on the number of senior
science fair entries in my Taranaki region. It seems one of the basic
tenets of science, to question and test ideas, has been ignored and
replaced with rote learning for exams.
Is there a way to
keep everyone happy?
complaint of using ICT is that students sit in front of a screen,
neither cognitively or physically active. But the capabilities of
devices such as cellphones, laptops and my RIGEL sensor system mean
can reverse the trend of the past 10 years.
can use them to connect with real space, getting students active in the
real world both physically and cognitively.
Teaching is as much an
art as a science.
All students benefit most when both free-flowing creativity and
disciplined thought are employed to complete tasks. But how can
teachers meet these needs and assess learning outcomes and
competencies? My approach is to use Game Maker (GM). Apart from the
obvious focus on game play
and design, it's much
more than that.
For example, if a Year 9 student shows a gift for 3D animation but
doesn't know what to do with it, GM can provide a focus and outlet for
that talent. Why not get the student to create teaching and learning
resources for the school?
Game design also provides
for authentic learning:
student will have to learn at least something of the subject they are
making the resource about
product made by the student could provide evidence for assessment
is catered for, such as creating graphics, sound clips, a design plan,
can work collaboratively on a project and merge work. Multi-player and
online chat technology is built in to GM.
It's amazing how quickly
confident users of the software. I have taught those as young as seven
to use it (there's a high level scripting language for advanced users,
too). And no two solutions to a design brief are the same. GM can be
used to create interactive whiteboard tools, robotic sensor systems,
language and music tools, multimedia databases, and 3D simulators.
Science simulators don't
have to be
boring either. A game based on the 'Dr Who' TV show involves being
inside a 3D TARDIS. Players can visit the Doctor's laboratory to learn
about astronomy, go to the library, or, for a break, evade Daleks and
Cybermen. It's all good fun and something that inspires students to
look at the science in a new way.
I'm not advocating Game
Maker, or any
particular technology, as the one ideal 'solution' to teaching 21st
is about change - changing
teaching philosophies, changing students' attitudes, and dealing with
changing technology. And no matter what technology is used, students
and teachers need time to be creative and produce something worthwhile.
Taking time to go off the
can be rewarding, inspiring ... and fun.
WHAT IS RIGEL? The Real-world
Interactive Games and Electronics Link
(RIGEL) is a multi-purpose sensor system invented by Michael Fenton.
The pocket-sized unit consists of both hardware and software, and can
be used to log data across a range of subjects.
The project was a
finalist in the
INTERFACE Awards 2008.
year 13 student uses the RIGEL system configured as a flight
learning using mobile sensor technology with reflections on the state
of science education in New Zealand
of this work highlighted and anticipated many of the issues covered in
ahead: science education for the twenty-first century"
recently released from the office of the Prime Minister's
Science Advisory Committee.