London Edugames Meetup

Last night I had an interesting evening at the November London Edugames Meetup. There were three neatly contrasting talks, from a game maker, a teacher and a resource provider, and as I took plenty of notes I was asked to make them available. So forgive the omissions and elisions, I was mostly following up the things that were new to me, which makes this mostly about what the teachers were saying rather than the game devs. Quotes aren’t necessarily accurate quotes, but more just to make grammatical sense.


First up was Phil from Preloaded, talking about what games are good at in terms of education. He has blogged his thoughts himself extremely lucidly here, so I won’t reproduce that except where my notes followed him into more detail – I started typing furiously when he was talking about simulation:

“It’s good for projects that have science in them – content that can be modelled and expressed in code can easily be simulated. There’s a but though – it’s way too easy to make simulations that aren’t fun. Generally we have to reduce complexity in order to find the nugget of truth, then make sure that nugget is expressed in a way that is genuinely fun.

A teacher interjected to talk about how she uses Launchball to assess how well her 11 year olds have understood physics – “they always want to start on hard mode and then creep back a bit later to ask if they can put it on easy”.

Phil talked about the friction between learning outcomes and fun: “Making educational games is a lot more effort than just making games that are fun. You’re constantly having to consider the question ‘is it fun or is it true’, and find a way to balance the two.”


Next up was Dawn Hallybone, who is described as a superteacher – she’s very involved in games-based learning and has spent the last four years exploring it in her classroom and school, which was fascinating for the game makers in the room. She teaches Year 5 (9-10 year olds), and illustrated her slides with quotes from her kids, starting with some words they came up with to describe how they feel about games:

  • challenging
  • social
  • exciting
  • skills
  • having fun
  • funny
  • in control

Control was picked out as the key – they are able to guide their own experience, which can be unusual in a school setting.

Dawn quoted Mary Lou Cooke “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” Dawn’s call to action is “I see gaming as that – I’d like to see curriculum there too”

Playful learning is about challenge, motivation, goals and risk taking

It’s really important to teach the kids to fail.


Using the gaming hardware they have at home means they are using familiar tools in a different environment. The school has a box of 30 DSs that get taken around the school to different classrooms. This was originally inspired by a project called Consolarium which worked at putting games in schools in Scotland – Dawn wanted to do the same within her own local area.

Started using Brain Training about 4 years ago.

Kids feel in control – they can work through the games at their own speed, and if they get it wrong they can work out how to do it right on their own – don’t have to go to Miss and get told whether you got it right or wrong

“Its like putting maths in a 12v food blender”

Using Professor Layton “The best thing for teachers is that there are walkthroughs online”

“We used it in literacy for a week, then asked them to design their own Professer Layton Game – what characters will you put in, what maths puzzles would you put in. They drew a game map and got really into it, they really surprised us.

The learning outcomes were around speaking and listening, literacy and maths

Mario and Sonic at the the Olympic Games – used in a module about the Olympics

Out of it we got:

  • history – origins of olympic games
  • games themselves
  • geography – used google earth and sliders to watch Beijing Olympics being built
  • art – designing logos for their own Olympics
  • maths – forces
  • PE – held own olympics in playground
  • literacy
  • science
  • ITC
  • PHSE

The way we work in the classroom means that not everyone needs to have their hands on a controller all the time – we have 2 kids actually playing a game, one group acting as spotters,  helping the kids who are actually playing by eg googling animals they don’t recognise, one group diary writing about how they felt and what they learned.

They use Mario Kart to teach forces and friction – kids put in teams of four – use it in conjunction with a programme called Race to Learn in which you become a Formula One team. The kids interview drivers, they do job applications, make a launch event, an advertising campaign, make carts physically to race in class, have a league and use it to work out averages, end of term you race a gokart around the playground

The school is part of the Redbridge Game Network – a contextual hub for gaming

– it’s a network that pools resources and share the games, each school has a Wii plus DS’s

Now we also have an XBox and PS3, have Kinectimals in the Nursery

It’s spreading, now there’s an East Midlands Network, a Sussex Network

Just Dance is great if it’s wet and you can’t get out to do games and there’s another group in the hall. Dawn does Just Dance alongside her class, recording her high scores like everyone else. 2 kids have the controllers, everyone else in the classroom is doing the moves along with them. There’s a league, they use it to practice averages etc.

They also use a lot of online games, and these are great because the kids can continue at home if they’re interested, although this can mean they race ahead of the lesson plans.

  • Moshi Monsters – have been using since 2007
  • tutpup – multiplication race – whole class can log in together
  • Manga High – for year 5 and year 6 – although the question comes up of why are the girls always wearing really short skirts
  • Questionaught (?)- BBC problemsolving games
  • BBC Bitesize – use it as a plenary (You can embed it in the school blog and they can play it direct from there)
  • We also use 303 squadron and Sneeze from C4
  • Launchball from the Science Museum
  • Great Fire of London – from the Museum of London
  • Primary Games Arena

The kids are very critical consumers – if it looks like they are learning they won’t play it as often. It’s all about secret learning – getting in through the back door.

Phones and tablets are less useful – primary children generally don’t have their own devices and there are issues about inclusiveness if you’re expecting kids to have access to particular devices.

But Dawn’s iPad gets taken into school every day and the iPad 2 can now connect to the interactive whiteboard and show the whole class something – suddenly it has become really useful.

  • Epic citadel – going to do writing projects around the world
  • Puppet pals – they can create little animations to show what they’ve learnt, rather than always writing or being tested.
  • Morris Lessmore – wonderful story
  • ‘games to support learning’ – You can create your own game with your own drawings and questions inside it

A big part of this has been getting the kids to teach each other, both within a class and also between classes – they have set up a register of ‘learning champions’ – kids who can go into a class that is trying something new and run them through it for ten minutes. It’s great for the kids’ confidence, and useful for the teachers too – they don’t have to be the fount of all knowledge.

“We want our kids to be educated and inspired and take risks, not just pass tests.”

Questions immediately turned to getting buy in – Dawn started by inviting all the governors in to play. “There were a lot of skeptics at first but by the end of the evening they were hooked”.

After spending £2000 on 30 DSs and 30 brain training games being clear about the learning outcomes really important, but reluctant people can really see that it works after a while.


Finally Paul and Sarah from BBC Knowledge and Learning gave a talk about the changes they are making to the site, and opened up a discussion with the floor about what teachers would find useful.

“Right now, we’re sprawling, disconnected, and BBC Bitesize is the core of it

Knowledge and Learning is a crazy bundle of stuff, contains everything from ethics to interior design

Right now loads of duplication – for example 5 spanish portals, 3 parenting sites

Siloed content reflects the internal structure of the organisation – no links between different sites. They used the example of elderflowers – content about them is on at least 7 different sites, and there’s no way to make links between connected bits of content right now except by hand.

Content is made, fanfared and then left alone for years – not continuing to update links

Interestingly, they feel like the problem with flash games are that they are difficult to link to and from in a nuanced way

Also the BBC has a commitment to accessibility which is difficult to serve with flash.

However, some games like Dance Mat Typing are still huge and much loved by audience – how can we take that audience with us into the new world?


The grand vision is to inspire a life full of learning. They want us to learn more about ourselves and the world, take control of our own learning, be more involved in society.


But this involves huge organisational change, to commissioning, workflow:

  • get peeps talking to each other within the organisation
  • responding to changes to the curriculum, what’s in the news
  • Not duplicating so much
  • making it more open, multiplatform and accessible


So, they’ve been working on it for about a year

They showed a case study of a teacher trying to find content on the homepage

There’s a Volcano erupting which she’d like to make a lesson about

A link on the home page or new page takes her to a Volcano page

Intro, bitesize links, onward links, she can save content to her binder

Within the binder she can make a lesson plan, set due dates, share it with either her class, a network of teachers, or the world

Basically a neat bundle of content that can be used on the whiteboard, but also share it with the students afterwards

But where’s the fun?


They are very interested in bringing in Gamification

“We’re aware of the possibility of doing this badly”

“What should and shouldn’t we be doing? The vision is to make people feel better about themselves and learn more. The elephant in the room is BBC Jam – everyone feels a bit painful about it.” Not trying to take on commercial rivals, but looking to get people using the great content they make around TV and Radio and taking it into classrooms.

“We want this to be Pan-BBC – not just Knowledge and Learning, but the whole website – iPlayer, music sites, etc

Learning Journeys as game types:

  • formal – satisfy learning objectives as quickly and efficiently as possible
  • deep diving – taking your time
  • roaming – learning as an open world game – getting lost in wikipedia, audiences lured by tineresting links and content
  • one off – collecting mission – I need a particular thing
  • help/how to  – gaining confidence especially around food and lifestyle – walkthroughs

“Question – what have we missed – who else should we talk to – what traps should we avoid?

It would be really useful to be able to identify yourself as a teacher, and what keystage you’re looking for and get tailored results

Bitesize is still the jewel in the crown and will continue to be.

Search really needs to be better – everything being tagged would be really great

Navigating through – all the paths being available to you because the editors didn’t have to do it manually

Suggestion: Use gamification to get people to tag your content rather than trying to put a game layer on the site – earn points for treasure hunting for particular content.

Avoiding duplication – there’s been a massive audit about what there actually is – now they are doing the thinking about what takes precedence and why.

So that’s what I took from the evening, and I know I missed a lot – if anyone else has things to add, please do in the comments. It was a really interesting evening and felt really worthwhile for getting new perspectives on what how to make games that genuinely help people to learn.