May 22, 2007

Tim Rylands on... something? ;-) Myst for learning language

Img_6033 Tim Rylands is great. His voice is captivating, his anecdotes and questions (why has Mr Walkie (his walking stick) got holes all the way down it?) help set your mind open to new and maybe slightly crazy possibilities.

We're going to take a wee look at how some computer games in imaginary worlds can set the minds of our youngsters free: Riven, Myst III - Exile. What a shame it is that they haven't done a test run through his presentation, since we're running into all sorts of problems exploring these worlds through the eLive projector. Damn... I feel really bad for Tim who's now been asked to 'carry on'. I don't think people get it. If you've planned an hour and ten minutes, and then you get an hour because of the lengthy introductions, and then the projection screws up... well, you can't just carry on. Tim does anyway. Some guy...

Digital flipbooks
Make up one slide in PowerPoint, copy and paste and change a detail, copy and paste, change another detail and so on, until you get a series of pics which appear to animate a character as you flip through the images. Export as JPEGs and you can add them to your iPod to give a takeaway output to your students. It's animation on paper, with the nice touch of an iPod turn wheel to sweep through the images.

Flight of fantasy, mystery photo stories
Using PowerPoint and photographs Tim has had kids hyperlink within pics to kead people on a story, much in the same way as I've been suggesting by using photos with hyperlinked notes in Flickr. There's a lot in here for speaking skills as kids need to self organise and discuss who is going to take photos, add notes, storyboard...

498pxriven_box Using Myst or Riven for creative thinking
In the game you have the opportunity to look up, look down, walk around or stand still and explore landscapes which seem so real. The teacher's role is to make the kids think metaphorically while actually 'being in the game'. "Take your shoes off, put your feet in the sand..." As you walk down the steps at the beach at the lagoon, make sure you go slowly. Go too fast and the two headed monsters run off to hide and you don't get to look at them.

This is great stuff for exploring speaking skills with an amazing, changeable structure. But it's also great for writing and reading, since there are some excellent examples of writing in the games. Learning logs with wonderful sketches of these landscapes and written descriptions help keep those memories and experiences. Verbal jazz, where one pupil makes up language to describe what their pal is revealing as they tour the land. Constant writing, as every experience is noted in the learning log.

All of this is done  with the kind of kit I'm used to working with: one computer, one projector and 30 sparks.

We need to take our time in learning
We do tend to make kids do a heck of a lot in a day, rushing things instead of taking pleasure in taking time to do things better. We need to take time to 'be there', to get into the mood for writing in this way, being one of the characters for empathetic writing. We need to slow kids down. One practical example: kids don't get paragraphs. But of you're describing the movement of the character in the game, when they turn, there is a pause (and a new paragraph, or a comma, or a full stop). In the right hands, with some time and thought, these worlds can be used to teach grammar (yawn) but in the most exciting and immersive of ways (yay!).

This is exactly the kind of thing that we've been suggesting for our own English departments in East Lothian. I wonder if they're up for discovering some magical worlds with their children, worlds with which their kids can identify.


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I'm full of praise for your feature on Tim. His work shows the value of games within education. And of primary importance is the fact that the best learning experiences can come not so much from PLAYING the games, but THROUGH the CREATIVE use of the games. Age of Empires for example is a brilliant game that plays too long to make it useful in a 35-minute History lesson, yet an inventive teacher could harness the capabilities of such a program so a small element of it might be used in class. More people should listen to Tim and what he is doing as some staid educationalists could get a well deserved kick in the pants when they see what he is doing.

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Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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