Reflection on use of Safari Photo Africa as stimulus for P7 writing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been using Safari Photo Africa with a P7 class to inspire their writing. As I see them once a week we have been creating podcast material since August but the interest was definitely beginning to wane. I decided that first-hand experience of an African safari would inspire them to create a script for their final task: a short section for a whole class radio show.

I gave them the option of imaginative response, factual writing or poetry. I also allowed learners to write notes while watching others play the game. In later weeks I let some of the class move on to the machines to type up their scripts or begin to record their podcast as I noted some of the class were disengaging with the task, rather than being inspired by it. Here’s a section of my notes which were jotted into my iPod straight after the class left in week 2.

Audio cable connected to smartboard, sound much better. Took class through giraffe level. Less appropriate as took long time to find creatures so class disengaged. More wanted to do silly things and show off which at one point required game to be restarted. Teacher in class to see resource being used impressed by potential. Tighter planning required to keep class engaged. Some good extended responses to questions: whats a hyrax? (An antelope); where do vultures nest? (In rock crevices) – new learning for many pupils (and me!). End of lesson feedback: class agreed elephants level was better as more happened. Would have been good to have class in groups to play game while others worked on recordings.

After reflecting on the second week I decided to spend a lot more time with the game before the final session with the P7 class. By this point two-thirds of the class had played the game and more than half had made significant progress with their writing. I wanted to take on board their feedback about enjoying the game more when things happened (I’ll admit, finding your way down off a mountainside is a good challenge (the giraffe level, week 2), but in an hour-long lesson where pupils were taking turns it just didn’t suit) and to provide the class with an action-packed finale! I played through the game for another six assignments and found two excellent scenarios to place the class in: a helicopter safari where the character didn’t have to move, just take photographs (quickly – which made it very challenging and a great team level), and a night-time lion hunt where the photographer could be as easily eaten by a lurking crocodile as pounced on by a lion.

The helicopter assignment was very successful as there was a lot of action, audio instructions and animals to take photographs of. I also changed the structure of the lesson so those who had already written their stories or poems could make progress with typing up their scripts then begin to record the last part of their podcast. This worked really well as it allowed me to help those who were struggling with storage space for their recordings while entrusting two game experts to guide those who hadn’t played the game before.

I had also made sure to work through a few extra levels and save games at exciting points. This allowed me to change the game quickly to a night safari during the second half of the period. The night safari follows a lion hunt and is a much more challenging assignment. The remaining pupils had to restart the level quite often as they got too close to the pride or one of the crocodiles lurking in the dark depths of the river.

Over the three weeks there were many successes – I noted a high degree of co-operation between peers and a levelling of the playing field with regard to general knowledge as well as game-playing technique. One pupil who regularly struggled with podcasting skills became one of the game experts and patiently explained the controls to his classmates to allow them to make the most of their time as the photographer. Another pupil shared her surprisingly detailed knowledge of the animals appearing on the screen. Surprising that is until she told me that she had been to Kenya on holiday with her family and had gone on a real safari. She regularly commented on the accuracy of the game in its portrayal of the environment and the actions of the animals roaming them. Two weeks on from using the game, the podcasts are nearing completion and sounding fantastic! The variety of writing has surprised: poems, stories, news reports, even a few raps!

There were a few technical hitches too. I had originally planned to have two pupils play the game at one time (inspired by Dawn Hallybone’s posts on using a similar game on Nintendo Wii) by setting up an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse controller for the pupil controlling the camera. The other pupil was to use the laptop to move the photographer around the environment. As I explained in my last post on Safari Photo Africa, I managed to set this up successfully at home but due to interference in the classroom the virtual wireless network regularly dropped out so the iPod could not be used. If I used the game again in future I would make sure I had a wireless mouse / Gyromouse rather then the convoluted virtual networking setup.

Safari Photo Africa, although released in 2006, kept a demanding P7 class enthralled in the main and certainly inspired their writing (which I’ll share in a future post along with some podcast snippets if I can). An added bonus to using the game was that as well as allowing situated cognition and development of themed writing each photo the pupils took within the game was saved to the laptop hard disk, meaning that good shots can be printed for wall displays, added to pupil work in future or added to blog posts (like this one!). In fact I intend to use them to create African-themed Christmas cards and calendars in the final session with the class before the holidays.

#edchat Summary: How does giving students more control of their education affect the quality of the education?

I’ve hovered around #edchat fringes for a couple of years now. Adding the occasional link but never really sure when to take part as people post using that hashtag all the time. I was chatting with @drdouggreen and he was kind enough to give me some more details about when the scheduled chats take place (5pm / midnight GMT on Tues in UK).

So on Tuesday I took part in my first #edchat. I hadn’t realised that they had two different topics for the weekly #edchats and had been expecting discussion on the flipped classroom, but I was more than happy with the alternative: how does giving students more control of their education affect the quality of their education?

I really enjoyed the hour and noticed a few familiar faces from the UK join in as well. I think it worked well for me as I’m on October break and this makes a 5-6pm chat feasible. Usually I’d just be getting in the door and I don’t think the family would appreciate me disappearing with the laptop instead of finding out about their day. I don’t think I’d like that either, so perhaps a midnight #edchat is the way forward – for me at least!

I’m a big believer in promoting learner choice in my classroom. I teach to the planned outcomes (sometimes in a round-about way!) but in a way that suits the class. That one class. It means a lot of work for me at times, but I get a huge kick out of the enthusiasm it generates amongst my learners. What works for one class or child may not work for another and I would not be doing my job properly if I ignored this fact. Yes, you have to retain your role as troubleshooter (I typed behaviour manager first but that sounds far too controlling!) and facilitator but sometimes – and as much as possible – you have to let your class take charge of the learning. I didn’t do this based on any educational research or current policy, I remembered the best and worst lessons of my own school years and remembered that when we were given the freedom to play within the boundaries of the topic we enjoyed it and saw relevance. With that in mind I want to share with you a TED talk by Alison Gopnik. She explains a little about what babies are thinking.

You may think this is a strange choice of supporting video. Please watch it, I hope all becomes clear.

http://www.ted.com/talks/alison_gopnik_what_do_babies_think.html

Here are some of the main themes from the discussion:
  • Personal learning
  • Project-based learning
  • How to learn
  • Motivation
  • Passion
  • Learning through making mistakes
  • Open and honest discussion with learners
Here is a selection of some of the comments:
  • “Hopefully we do not give students “much” control over content…but give them some control over how they demonstrate mastery.” – berryed1
  • “It will improve quality from the child’s point of view. What else matters?” – drdouggreen
  • “If kids rely on the teacher for the answers, then we have failed them as teachers. ” – stumpteacher
  • “Ownership ups the ante of the student’s interest, involvement and motivation.” – drmcgettigan
  • ” ‘Children should be given a voice not only about the means of learning but also the ends, the why as well as the what.’ Alfie Kohn” – cybraryman1
  • “I would love the concept of Personal Learning Networks to be introduced to, and used by students early on.” – tomwhitby
  • “We have to stop thinking we are the only experts/teachers/leaders in our classroom” – pernilleripp
  • “Listen outside clssrm door: Who’s voice do you hear? If solely tcher’s voice: Tcher-Directed. If studs’ voices: Student-Centered.” – prlowe91
  • “Teaching kids how to learn is more important than what content to learn. If they commit to the content, the how to becomes easier.” – tomwhitby
  • “good for teachers to say “i don’t know”, brings in whole class and dilutes the idea that the teacher is the source of all answers.” – familysimpson
  • “Stdnts need 2 feel “allowed” 2 make a mistake or get something wrong & comfortable enough 2 try again. That’s when learning happens.” – KristinHenry1
  • ” the goal matters & it’s got to be their goal” – inquirebook
  • “Yes, I hope to make poor choices! Makes me human & helps me learn! I’ve learned more from poor choices!” – davidwees
 
To follow the complete discussion see here
As ever, there were some great links shared:

New to Edchat?

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 1,000 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts!

More Edchat

Challenge:

If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Ian Simpson is a Scottish secondary teacher, specialising in Computing. His particular passions include: mobile learning, web 2.0 & games based learning.