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Encouraging fun and games in the classroom

Can computer games be used to a teacher’s advantage in the classroom? Games guru David McCurdy believes so, and even runs workshops to show how.

How do you inspire teachers to use games in their teaching?

The general idea is to give them ideas of how mathematics can be used to build games and not how to use games to learn mathematics … this is how most programmers get hooked on mathematics when they are at high school. The workshop shows teachers how to use games as a tool to help students understand that the mathematics they are teaching can be used for real applications. Games are fun; so hopefully, we can take advantage of this to make students more enthusiastic. The workshop should also give teachers more credibility when discussing games. They’ll be able to give help and advice to students about games and gaming activities.

Why do you think it’s easier to engage students in learning by using games?

Engaging students is never easy. A teacher needs many tools to engage them; games are one tool to try to engage otherwise disengaged students. One common complaint from students is “why are we learning this?” or “my family member said they never use mathematics, so why should we do it?” Being able to answer these questions is critical.

Students often enjoy learning mathematics when they know it will be useful later in their careers. This seminar shows how the mathematics they use can be used to build games. For example, Pythagoras can be used to determine if a bullet has collided with a space invader.

Games are a fascination for many young people, using real-life examples like this of how the mathematics can be used, can assist teachers to ‘sell’ the learning experience to their students.

What’s your games background?

As a researcher and software engineer, specifically in robotics but some Web development as well. As one of the original designers of the Graduate Diploma of Game Development for Media Design School, I conducted a great deal of research to determine the content of the qualification.

What do you think is the most challenging obstacle to overcome when using games to teach?

One problem associated with games is the students ‘playing’ rather than being engaged in the learning process. We must select the games that encourage learning and playing at the same time. Some games use hand-eye co-ordination and can be highly immersive.

Teachers have to engage learners in critical thinking about the games and how they’re built, and not just how they’re played.

So, what maths concepts can games show?

Pool (8-Ball) can be used to show how simple trigonometry can be used for collision and collision responses. Space Invaders can illustrate how Cartesian mathematics can be used to build the game. The blocks in Tetris use a logarithmic function to increase their speed.

Can games help with other subjects?

Games can be simple but explaining the simple concept in written and verbal form can be tough. Developing skills in explaining games in an easy-to-understand way promotes good communication and can be used to facilitate learning English. Also, writing good instructions and describing a game that a student wants to create encourages good use of English and effective communication, especially when another learner is charged with building the game.

What do you think is the future for gaming in the classroom?

Games have promoted learning and survival for all mammals. Most teach their young with simple games: fighting, hunting, courtship, etc. Effective use of any tool in the classroom to promote learning in a positive manner should be encouraged.

Julie Gray was talking to David mccurdy of the media design school, who organises ‘mathematics in gaming’, a workshop on how to include computer games in ncea level 2 and 3 maths.

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Categories: Article, Issue 27

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