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Bringing game mechanics into the curriculum

Issue: Volume 97, Number 20

Posted: 12 November 2018
Reference #: 1H9o1p

Teachers at St Thomas of Canterbury College are increasing the appeal of learning by using game mechanics to enhance their teaching methods.

St Thomas of Canterbury College students are more engaged with their learning thanks to game mechanics.

St Thomas of Canterbury College students are more engaged with their learning thanks to game mechanics.

When looking at ways to restructure their junior curriculum, St Thomas of Canterbury College staff became interested in why a 12 or 13-year-old boy might be prepared to play a game and fail 30–40 times, just to achieve once.

Assistant Principal of Curriculum Innovation and Leadership Brad Milne says the answer for their cohort is game mechanics. Game mechanics are the methods used to encourage interaction with a game, such as competition or narrative.

“Narrative is a big one, so with major games they have a storyline. The boys engage with the storyline and it provides a context for them,” says Brad.

“In our junior school they did a unit around forensics and the narrative and the context was a teacher in the school had been killed and it was a whodunnit. The kids had hair samples and footprint samples from a range of teachers and using the skills they learnt through science and maths, they had to construct that knowledge first in order to then play the game; they had to work out the mystery.”

Comfortable challenges avoid disconnection

Teachers also use rubrics to provide each student with the opportunity to work at a level appropriate for their own learning, so each student feels comfortably challenged.

“Especially with our priority students, a lot of the feedback that was coming back was [the previous curriculum] was just too hard and so that’s where they disconnect,” says Brad.

Another key game mechanic is agency. When gaming, students have the ability to make decisions, the first of which is the game they choose to play.

“We have a course called humanities and all our Year 9s are on it at the same time. The same learning objectives and success criteria are being delivered, but teachers are teaching through different contexts and students will choose the context that they want to go and learn within. They’re not being forced to learn something that they don’t necessarily want to and by having that choice they’re willing participants, which hopefully leads to greater engagement with their learning.”


Giving students choices in context, materials and clients increases interest and motivates them to learn.

Giving students choices in context, materials and clients increases interest and motivates them to learn.


TLIF-supported access to experts

The game mechanics project is part of the Teacher-led Innovation Fund (TLIF)(external link) and will continue in 2019. The TLIF has helped the school to approach the project in an inquiry-based model and to access experts who have helped collect and analyse data.

As part of this process, 10 teachers work with three students each to gather data on what is happening in the classroom. The school also collects regular feedback from staff and parents and collates the information to see major trends.

“It would just be a complete downfall of the project if we were to presume things were going well. You can’t have a disparity between what you perceive is happening and what is actually happening,” says Brad.

The next stage will involve working with another group of teachers as the Year 9 students move beyond the junior school.

Assistant Principal and Head of Middle School Hamish Barclay says the school is seeing shifts within teacher practice and student thinking about learning.

“Years 7 and 8 identified that they’re probably more open to different types of learning and they tend to have less of a negative outlook in terms of what you’re doing in the class if it’s something different. At Year 9 we’ve noticed some trends around our Pacific students and how we present the learning to them,” he says.

“Also around our top academic students as well; again how we create a gainful experience for them where they see reward in it, because of course a lot of the top academic students come from a system which suits them.

”We’re not discounting that, but we’re looking at how we can engage everyone, how we can  develop units where they’re succeeding, but everyone else is gaining success as well.”

While this year teachers have focused on the initial inquiry project and understanding what types of learning works for different students, next year will be about reflection.

“Knowing what we know, as leaders, what sort of things can we put in place for teachers to support them in terms of running inquiry and then for students, what does the structure look like; how do we gather data more efficiently around engagement?” says Hamish.

“It’s ‘let’s find out what works and what doesn’t work’ so then we can make informed decisions. Lots of play testing and being able to modify, and not saying ‘this is the way we’re going to deliver content, no matter what’, it’s ‘let’s see what works best’.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:49 am, 12 November 2018

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