Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Inside Outside Circles Discussion Activity

Do you sometimes set up discussion activities, only to watch as students either gawk at each other uncomfortably, allow 1 or 2 individuals to dominate or end up talking about something completely off-topic? This activity is a great way to generate lots of focused talk. Because the discussions are short and have a specific prompt to guide them, there is no option to not speak, and not enough time to exhaust the points that could be made. Here's how it goes:

  • Divide the class into 2 equal groups.
  • One group forms an outer circle, and the other an inner circle.
  • Students are given a question to discuss a timer is set (the number of minutes depends on the focus of the discussion but usually around 1-3 minutes is enough).
  • When the time has expired, one of the circles moves clockwise or anticlockwise while the other remains stationary. (This alternates between the circles each time.)
  • The activity continues until a preset time has been reached, or all people in inner and outer circles have spoken to each other.

Watch more on this, and see it in action below.

This activity is so adaptable, it can be used in any subject where a discussion is beneficial to the learning. When I'm not using stations, this is my second go-to with task cards, but it can be done even simpler than this by writing or displaying a question on the board at each rotation. 
Give it a go, and see how it enlivens your students. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Cooperative Play - Race the Game!

My teen students had such fun playing my Zombie Apocalypse game; I have mostly used it for review - with the students producing question banks - but sometimes they just play it for the sake of seeing if they can overcome the game. Seeing them work together so enthusiastically convinced me I just had to expand the cooperative model to another game. One aspect I wanted to work on was the fact that Zombie Apocalypse takes at least 30 minutes to play, and sometimes longer depending on the many variables at play in the game (and so is best suited to one sitting). This time I wanted a game that could fill any time from 5-10 minutes upwards.

I'm happy to say I achieved my aim with Race the Game. In fact, I went one step further and created 4 different versions of the title so we can mix it up a bit as the semester continues.

The game is simplicity itself, but with that essential element of tension to keep players engaged. It is essentially another review game where - in 3 of the 4 versions - teams get to move forward one space on their track for every correct answer. For every incorrect response, the game gets to proceed along its much shorter track. The goal is to reach the finish line before the game does.
All that's needed are 2 counters (which could be coins, erasers or even bits of paper) and a set of review questions. I prefer to have students produce these as part of their revision, but sometimes I use it to review our word wall terms. If you are looking for stems or examples for your own game, here are some resources to get you started:

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Cooperative Gaming - Playing Together v Playing Against

A while back, I came across the concept of cooperative gaming through the popular boardgame Pandemic. I thought the idea of having players cooperative rather than compete was brilliant, and getting students to work together toward a common goal much more conducive to positive relationships than traditional boardgames where players are pitched against each other.

Playing is how we learn to behave in life. Practising skills like listening, suggesting, discussing and so on allow us to develop positive relationship skills that have a direct connection to collaboration and teamwork.

Furthermore, when we play cooperatively, we don't just reach a goal but we do so together and this brings its own joy.

So much in school seems to be about competition as students compare scores and grades, go up against each other in sports and strive to be the 'most' in whatever arena they find themselves in. There is an over-preoccupation with 'getting ahead' of others in today's world (IMHO), and cooperative games are a great antidote to this.

A wider aspect of cooperative gaming is the link to sustainability. We have seriously worrying problems to solve at the local, national and global levels and is likely that cooperation - if anything - is the solution: we can achieve much more together than alone.

An interesting fact is that Elinor Ostrom - 2009 Nobel Prize winner - showed through her work that in many cultures across the globe, people work together to preserve the resources necessary for living. This happens without any policies, laws or authorities - it's just makes sense to protect the ecosystem of which you are a part.

While we may be lead to believe that competition is natural, many biologists disagree.  For example, Peter Kropotkin says: “competition . . . is limited in animals to exceptional periods . . . Better conditions are created by the elimination of competition by means of mutual aid and mutual support.” You may also be surprised to learn that the phrase “survival of the fittest” was not coined by Charles Darwin but by Industrialist Herbert Spencer!

All in all, the benefits of cooperative gaming are so numerous that I was sold on promoting them with my students. To this end, I created a game to go with our 'brain' (metacognitive study) unit and used the theme of zombies to
stoke their interest. The first encounter with the concept of the game confused many of my students, but after working out the gameplay, they were off! They now ask regularly if they can play it and we've worked it in as a way to review content toward the end of our units.

UPDATE: Another game I created with my mythology-mad teen son is based on Greek Mythology. I've had my secondary students play it, and they love it. One of them commented that they wished they could buy it and play at home, so I decided to list it for sale. Here's a preview. You can also click on the image below for a bigger image.

If you think you might like to try out cooperative gaming, I really encourage you to do so. While creating your own game definitely takes time and effort, you will undoubtedly find it a most rewarding process enhanced by the delight of your students as they play and realise that truly, 'Together everyone achieves more!'