Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teach English Skills with MACHINARIUM, Robot Theme Video Game?

"How to engage the disengaged: an English teacher discovers digital literacy really works"

Kenny Pieper
Guardian Professional, Monday 5 December 2011

"Long before the dizzy heights of, sometimes, twelve views per day on my blog, when I started blogging in January, I was about to undertake a project which would completely rejuvenate my classroom and my approach to teaching.

Inanimate Alice grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shook me about a little bit. It did indeed turn out to be storytelling but not as we know it. I like to think I've never looked back. Making this blog post somewhat redundant, you might think. What I learned from the experience was that there is another way. I have never come across a resource which fires up the reluctant learner more than the digital storytelling power of Inanimate Alice . Perhaps until now.

Digital literacy has its critics, however, and I'm not sure I would recommend it for all ability groups. I became an English teacher because I was inspired by books, poems, and plays and wanted to share that love of language with others. I still get a thrill when they "get" Hamlet or Macbeth, The Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies, November or Out, out-; but there are kids who will never get it, whatever "it" may be, will never belong to that world. We need to do something about that.

My class of demotivated learners – the same class who undertook the Sugata Mitra/Carol Dweck lesson earlier in the year – have been working on Machinarium. If you haven't heard of it yet it's a puzzle point-and-click adventure game developed by Amanita Design (thank you Wikipedia) and, as a stimulus for lots of quality writing, it is simply wonderful. There is a free three level demo which my class have been working on but the downloaded paid version has thirty levels. I gave my lot a handful of lap tops and left them to it.

It doesn't fit the mould of the usual "shooty gun" games they are used to and challenges them to work out problems and think of strategies and sequences. I ensured that they got a taste of their own medicine as I replied, "I don't know" to every question, but the initial confusion was quickly overcome as one pair, then another, then everyone began to manoeuvre through the stages. Their sense of achievement as they moved on was something they have struggled to find this year. The classroom was buzzing..."

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