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Student-designed games

I started working with student-designed games (SDG) last year and was excited by the depth of learning it engendered in my pupils. I have subsequently left secondary education and now work in a university but my interest in SDG has remained. We have started to use snippets of these ideas with our student teachers and I have been exploring the finding from my research on these SDG units but most interestingly I have persuaded and encouraged a school near the university to try it for themselves. This blog has emerged as a result of the interviews I conducted on Tuesday and the response on twitter to my tweet about it by @Darcy1968 who said that this "sounded like a good conversation to share."

Physical education, it seems, is like marmite i.e. you either love it or you hate it. As I have said before the talk about it on twitter is not often positive. The school I am working with had a group of 13-14 year old students who were taking phys ed because they had to and were predominately in the 'hate it' camp (either that or the "I want to be 'busy and happy and then I might be good' category"). In other words they were disaffected. The teachers reported that the pupils in the year above were a similar group and that their attitude to phys ed had crumbled into dissent or an unwillingness even to bring kit. In an effort to avoid the disillusionment of another group of students the phys ed department, after seeing a session on games-making that I had done, wanted to be involved.

This unit has been running for seven weeks now (or twenty-one 45 minute lessons) and the games are now ready to be played. The basic structure of the unit was for the students to design a game, from scratch, that could be played by small groups of their peers. They started the designs of their games on paper and then tried them out on the school's netball/tennis courts. Through cycles of testing, trialling (where other teams played their games and gave feedback) and re-design the students now have a 'new' game. These games will be played, each in turn, in a sport education season next academic year.

I was privileged enough to interview the teachers on Tuesday and I was intrigued by their responses to two questions: 1) How did you perceive the students' responses to the unit? 2) What differences did you find between participation in this unit and their previous games participation?

Both teachers felt that the unit had worked well but that it had been a challenge. This challenge had emerged from a number of significant factors. Firstly their role had changed. They didn't teach in the way they normally did and their voice was no longer dominant. They were taking more of a back seat in terms of classroom management, which in turn allowed them to work more closely with their students. However, this also meant that the relationship between teacher and student changed. It was this change that baffled them at first as they tried to reconsider the language and approach that they should now use in their teaching. Secondly, they felt that they weren't giving enough to these lessons. It was almost as if they felt that they had to work even harder because they were being studies by me (and a colleague) and were also studying their own teaching. They were disappointed that their other teaching responsibilities sometimes got in the way of the work they were doing with these students. This mirrors my PhD findings. Teachers want to succeed and when given the opportunity they want to throw themselves into the enhancement of teaching and, more importantly, student learning. Thirdly, they were delighted by the change in response by some of the most disaffected kids (i.e. those who thrive in the classroom but shy away from the physical nature of phys ed). They were being challenge to think and this appealed to them. Conversely, those in the "I want to just play" group didn't want to think and found that game-design got in the way of playing. Ironically, there was a reversal in the students who were enjoying physical education. However, from the anti-ablest perspective I have argued from earlier, this might not be considered a bad thing (?). Fourthly, the teacher felt that the students' enjoyment and elarning was sustainable and they were looking forward to next year when the games would be played rather than dreading the lessons that the older pupils were experiencing.

New ideas seem to drive enthusiasm. What's more new ideas and practices challenge teachers and students to consider things, in this case physical education, in a different light. The social construction of the subject is changed and with it so is the type and quality of the learning experience.

If you are interested in trying SDG them leave me a message or contact me on twitter at @DrAshCasey and I'll do what I can to help.

Comments From The Previous Blog...

On 16 July 2010 05:49 jonesytheteacher said...
I have experienced the same issues when implementing a SEPEP (Sport Education in Physical Education Program) unit for Year 9&10 students. The staff and students both felt out the depth because it didn't look like a traditional PE unit. The students weren't prepared to accept new roles like administrator, coach or journalist - they just wanted to be players "like always". We have more success with a Games Sense (TGfU) based series of units with our Year 7&8 students, partly because I believe the staff were able continue to be "traditional" teachers, out the front and leading.

I guess my role as Faculty leader is to "unPE" both staff and students who are used to the traditional form of skills based, "ablest" PE that both have been brought up to expect.

On 17 July 2010 02:57 Dr Ash Casey said...
Innovation is a difficult thing to carry out. Trying to get established practitioners to change the practices that they have seen work for years is a real challenge. The conception that teaching means standing at the front and directing learning is a hard social construct to change. It takes time to learn in a new way and time to teach the pupils to learn to be taught in a new way. Some people are too busy to stick with what might work better in the future...especially when the demands of school often ensure that teaching is not the biggest priority for the teacher.

On 17 July 2010 03:53 jonesytheteacher said...
Very true. Breaking down the construct needs to start in pre service for PE teachers, something that I'm not confident is happening. Traditional lesson planning is required by supervisors that haven't seen a classroom, let alone ponder what a 21st Century PE teacher is confronting. Effectively schools "detrain" many newly qualified teachers and then show them what is really going on. Some institutions do a good job; it's also partly down to the individual personality of the graduant as to how they tackle their first years as a teacher. One advantage they have is the flexibility of thinking that youth brings. Lets hope the new ideas that abound in the practises of young teachers support "change", not "more of the same"

On 17 July 2010 04:19 Dr Ash Casey said...
Very true: The 'wash out' effect is huge in the early years of teaching and it takes a strong early career teacher to buck this trend. I have just set up a research study with our students to see what their knowledge and beliefs about PE are when they start our course, what they are when they finish and what they are when they have been working for two years to try and understand the influence of their school, university and then the work place. I am also working with local schools to help them access new ideas in a sustained and sustainable way. We, as a university, are certainly looking at how we support "change" and stop a culture of "more of the same."

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