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Mr McGivern: Classroom Gaming Encourages Wellbeing, Learning and Social Skills

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Today, we talk to pioneering primary school teacher, Chris McGivern who has used video games in the classroom for many years to deliver a range of benefits to his pupils.

How did you first get into gaming?

I was 8 years old when my parents gave me a Commodore 64 for Christmas. For the first time, I was able to manipulate an imaginary world. It was magical; and from that moment on I became fascinated by technology and gaming.

Fast forward about 30 years. Now, I’m married, a father of three children and am currently in my 17th year of being a primary school teacher.

How has gaming helped your teaching?

My passion for gaming and technology has only continued to grow, alongside my interest in educating children with a range of different games. Over my years teaching, I have been able to use games in my classroom for a number of different reasons:

  • to support a learning objective in a lesson.
  • to encourage positive social interaction.
  • to enthuse youngsters about the possibility of games and technology.
  • to provide new members of the class an easy way to integrate.
Which games have you used in the classroom?

Children these days are surrounded by technology, so I choose not to fight it but embrace it. In a room full of children and a big screen, Wii Fit U really gets their attention. Children of all ages absolutely love working together as a class to mirror routines, taking it in turns to use the board and gamepad. Then, combine this passion with the fun from Wii Sports Club and the children are cheering for each other and laughing together in the same room. Movement, team work, communication, there are lots of positive outcomes here.

At break times the class can have gaming rewards for their hard work on other subjects. NintendoLand with Mario Chase or Luigi’s Ghost Mansion are popular choices. The children share ideas, suggest strategies and genuinely show teamwork - something that we all strive to see in our children as educators and parents.

We also use Elite Beat Agents on the 3DS (Editor's note: it also works on DS) as it offers a innovative rhythm action approach to story telling and gameplay. This can inspire children to write their own stories or create songs that can accompany other work.

Runbow is another good example. With up to 9 players it's an opportunity to get lots of student learning together. Runbow changes with each swipe of the background, so children have to learn quickly about how the colours effect the jumps and platforms. This is super for learning competitive and collaborative coordination. Overcooked is another great example as it requires student to work together and communicate clearly under a lot of time pressure. This develops their teamwork too as well as resolving conflict over the best way to cooks the food. What advice do you have for other teachers?

The biggest tip I could give you is to embrace it. Teaching is all about making connections with students. We have to understand and utilise what motivates our students; and let’s not deny it, gaming is popular.

When I want to use video games in teaching I think of the following elements: what interests my children and what objectives must I teach? I then start to research video games that can be useful in there areas.

When I’m working with older children, one video game I use daily to really excite and enthuse reading is Phoenix Wright. On an iOS device I can airplay the game to the big screen. The children adore it. Reading along with the adventure, being able to make decisions and developing empathy for the key characters.

However you use them, games can offer a lot of unique benefits in the classroom. Perhaps best of all, if you get the children thinking intelligently about what they are playing, when they are at home the learning continues with their gaming there, too.

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Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.