Creating a game-based project is one way to avoid projects that look great but offer little in the way of meaningful content. My Grade 6 students are in the thick of a game-based research project on the Neolithic revolution, and things are going great!
Andrew Miller’s excellent article ‘Game-Based Learning Units for the Everyday Teacher’ inspired me to create a project to help my Grade 6 students explore the different places human’s first made the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. We are investigating the essential question ‘How does WHERE we live affect HOW we live?’, and by looking at different Neolithic sites, we can examine why people learned to grow different foods using different technologies, and why they developed very similar techniques independently across the globe.
As an exciting culmination to this project the students will use Google Earth create a tour of these different Neolithic sites. My students love this tool! In the past, however, I have struggled with projects that are amazing and fun because of the tools but are often weak on content. For most kids it’s more fun to shoot and edit video, write a play or tinker with tools like Google Earth than to do research and explore difficult questions. Miller’s game-based learning gave me a way to deal with this dilemma. This project isn’t about using the tool, it’s about creating an authentic experience to demonstrate an understanding of our essential question.
The project is designed as a challenge where the students must move through successive levels to complete their tour. In the early levels of the game they are locating Neolithic sites and researching their unique characteristics. Since students can only move onto the next level once they complete a previous one successfully; they must persist until they complete the level correctly (Angry Birds anyone?). Content-rich levels are first, and the fun of learning and building their Google Earth tours comes later. The problem of students getting distracted by the tools and not getting the content is solved.
The Polls Are Still Open
We are still in the early stages of the this project, but already I’m impressed with what my students are demonstrating. They are excited about the game and are enthusiastically conducting their research in the early levels because they are motivated to reach the later levels of the game where they’ll get to learn to create a tour using Google Earth. There is both independence and collaboration. Those who prefer to go it alone are quiet and focused next to those who, in small teams, are divying up tasks and sharing information. All are persevering, asking good questions, and uncovering deep and important aspects of our history.
A large spreadsheet in the classroom keeps track of each student’s progress and, as expected, the field is beginning to spread out. This is just fine because the differentiation allows students to work at their own pace, and frees me to work more closely with students who need my assistance. Throughout the game I can depend on the students who are in the more advanced levels to assist those in the earlier levels of the game. I love watching my students teach each other. A bonus ‘Super Star’ level requires the students to reflect on what they learned and explore our essential question.
For more information check out the Google doc: Google Earth Tour Project. Comments, suggestions and edits are always welcome.