POST BY:  Ruth Burns – Head of Geography, BSN Senior School


Gamification in Geography

Whether we like it or not our students are playing games; be it on their iPads, phones, consoles, laptops and even on custom built PCs. Gaming is ubiquitous and as educators, we can choose to ignore or engage with it – blue pills and red pills.

Speaking with colleagues, it struck me that gaming is entwined with our own school memories. Gaming has left an indelible mark – that first console (Gameboy 1991), the cheats passed across the school playground (Sonic: up, down, L, R, A-Start), or the glory of being the first in the class to complete an almost elusive stage (Championship Manager: European Cup Winner – Zamorano & Salas were great buys).

Gamification[1] in education has as many detractors as it has supporters. Admittedly, I have struggled to find a way to regularly and successfully integrate gamification into my lessons. However, it was my participation in a student led MinecraftEdu session at the 2016 BSN Staff Conference that formed the building blocks for a gamification project in Geography.

What impressed me about the conference session was how engaged the students were in trying to transfer a snippet of their vast knowledge across to a hapless bunch of teachers who (myself included) were more adept at digging holes than building anything of note. It was that student skill set and enthusiasm I tapped into, and the Geography Minecraft lunchtime group came to fruition.

The group meets twice weekly and is led by two Year 12 students (given the monikers “de baas” and “de baas1”) who wield supreme but benevolent power over our Minecraft realm. Making up the array of architects, builders and interior designers are specially selected individuals from across all of the SSV year groups.

The geographical purpose? To build a city that accurate reflects the Burgess Model of urban growth.

The Burgess Model – Minecraft Style

The real purpose? To provide a safe and engaging environment for students to work cooperatively, competitively, creatively and gain immediate feedback from their peers. The task means everyone is working on a problem with a shared purpose and in an environment that encourages creativity but allows for failure. The benefit of the game means that failure can be easily rectified with the breaking or mining of blocks. Nobody is afraid to fail. Furthermore, the challenge, the sense of ownership, and collaborative decision making are what make for fun yet productive sessions.

Disagreements have to be sorted through negotiation and problems solved through teamwork. Most inspiring of all is that, in an environment where age is not reflective of ability, it is not uncommon to see a Year 7 student assisting and supporting a Year 12 student.

In a much publicised article in The Times, Department for Education advisor, Tom Bennett, voiced his skepticism of Minecraft saying, “I am not a fan of Minecraft in lessons. This smacks to me of another gimmick which will get in the way of children actually learning.” I understand Bennett’s concerns; I’ve seen enough poor attempts and endless hours spent by students shoehorning Minecraft into KS3 Geography homework projects to know that it comes with questionable educational benefits. However, the BSN Geography Minecraft group has shown that, in the right context and with a tailored framework, it is possible to use gamification in education successfully and for the benefit of student centered learning.

It is not so much game over but game on.

[1]  Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.

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