Monday, September 20, 2010

Gaming in the classroom: Rock Band

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the use of video games in the classroom. Because the kids love the opportunity to actually use class time to play games, engagement on their behalf is easily attainable. I see this as potentially one of the greatest arguments for gaming in the classroom.

However, it's important to remember that while engagement is necessary, it is not sufficient in developing a classroom around real learning. The best classrooms are not just about engaging the kids. With that, I see two challenges to gaming in the classroom. Firstly, the challenge sometimes is to make sure that the games are mindful and supportive of our learning (there are a lot of mindless games out there). Secondly, the kids sometimes need a lot of guidance in their reflections of the game to be aware just how much learning is in fact going on.

So here's what I tried:

Our two grade 6 classes joined together to play Rock Band 2 on the X Box for 45 minutes. Collectively, we figured out the fairest way to decide who should have a turn. Everyone agreed that if someone had not had a turn, they should get precedence to someone who had already played. Even though no one dared disagree with this, the kids had to regulate and remind a few students that they had already played. I observed this but never interfered with their autonomy. (Keep in mind I was observing in case someone did try to play more than their share - and had they tried without another student calling them on it, I would have asked them to reflect upon their actions. I would have also asked students why they did not speak up)

Because singing is sometimes the most intimidating role to play on Rock Band, I suggested that if people were gutsy enough to sing, then they are gutsy enough to pick the song. 

The first song the kids played was Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. The second song was Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Clash. We then stopped for lunch. I told the kids to think over the lunch hour about why playing Rock Band during class time is a good use of our time. While the kids ate, I whipped up a quick blog post for our class Ning. Here is what I wrote:
When you think of traditional school, not many people would think that Rock Band could help students learn; however, there are a lot of ways Rock Band could be used to support learning in the classroom. Here are a couple of my reasons:
1. Playing and learning together is very important. None of us are as smart as all of us, and this is why it is so important to learn how to play together. When we played Rock Band today, many students were shy and nervous about playing in front of their peers. When you play Rock Band, you get a chance to see how failing in front of your peers does not have to be scary. The classroom should be a safe place where collaboration is normal. I saw many of you go out of your way to comfort and support those who were hesitant.

2. The lyrics from the songs are inspirational. They make you think of things that have happened in your life. For example, the song Should I Stay or Should I Go has a lot to do with my life. At the end of last school year, I was asked if I would accept a transfer to a new school. For the first time in my teaching career, I needed to choose to stay or go. This was not an easy decision for me because Westpark had become like a second home for me.
Eye of the Tiger was a very interesting song because it connects to the video that Mr. Cunningham shared with us. I googled the lyrics and found them here. I found the lyric "Just a man and his will to survive" as very powerful. In this world, challenges, problems and hardship are the norm. Anyone who plays the game of life without failure or mistakes isn't really playing the game. Perseverance maybe one of the most important characteristics anyone can have. 
I can think of a few more but I think I'll place them in another blog post.
I shared this post with them because I wanted to model for them how you could write about this for more than one sentence (Brevity has not been a problem with my students' writing). I also wanted to model how to give a link to another website (my kids are not that tech savvy), and I wanted to connect the game to other media that we've already used in class. (see the video below)

As a class, we discussed why some students would be hesitant to play. Many could see fear of failure and embarrassment as very real concerns. In fact, a couple students were so nervous, they couldn't even be in the room when we started playing. With some artful guidance from my colleague Richard, we convinced them to give watching a try. 

We also discussed the importance of perseverance in the face of failure. Eye of the Tiger as their first song worked out nicely because it led into a follow up conversation about this video that had been uploaded to our Ning:

Later on in the day, we were playing some games that focused on teaching my students how to type (they mostly hunt and peck). That's when Jake suggested that keeping your fingers on the home row required similar dexterity to when you play guitar on Rock Band. I thought that was very cool.

Had a stranger walked by and poked their head into my classroom, they would have seen what looked like chaos - kids were talking, music was blaring and drums were banging. But if that stranger cared to scratch the surface by asking the kids some questions, listening to our class discussions or reading their blog posts, I think they would have discovered real learning (purposeful chaos) was taking place in a context and for a purpose.

Oh, and we also played Mirror's Edge in the afternoon. I'll blog about that tomorrow.

For more on video gaming in the classroom, check out Chris Fritz's post on gaming and Will Richardson's post about the New York Times Magazine that featured gaming in the classroom.


  1. Hi Joe-

    This makes me think about something we learned in class the other day about incorporating ICT. I don't know if you've seen it, but on iTunesU, there's a series of videos from a school in Scotland (Learning and Teaching Scotland, it's under) who have used Guitar Hero, Myst, and Dr. Kawashima's brain training game as a way to do a whole series of lessons... I haven't looked at them yet, but apparently the students made characters for their Guitar Heroes, they ended up budgeting for a building a guitar, which they then marketed and auctioned off, and at the end, one girl was so sad that the unit was coming to an end that she was in tears because she had to say goodbye to her character. Anyway, I thought you might be interested- you just find it in iTunes, if you haven't already. :) I'm just downloading them now- haven't had a chance to watch them myself!

  2. Great stuff, Joe! I'd actually never thought of using games like Rock Band as a sort of literature study, which it sounds like you did. I suppose there's no better way to experience music than to start jammin'!


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