links to good things for classrooms
The value of stillness is often overlooked in exercise, education and life in general. Iyengar yoga addicts know it well and it’s good to find an immersive game that encourages it in the Zazen feature of the Wii Fit. This is the last balance game to be unlocked and is a fantastic treat after so much movement. Sitting on the board and trying to achieve stillness works surprisingly well. If I could improve it I would like it to be longer than the three minutes it offers, but even in that, you can experience a sense of stillness and calm. The flickering candle, the moth and the creaking footsteps add to the sense of timelessness.
It offers an important counterpoint to the high energy activity of the other games, but it could be an excellent means of encouraging stillness and meditation in the classroom. Bizarrely, making stillness a slightly competitive game, although counter-intuitive, feels quite attractive. This is pitched well to encourage all to participate, to be a bit of fun, but ultimately to give a genuine taste of the value of stillness.
I often agree that technology is leading to massive positive change in the way we learn and teach. The interview with Julian Baggini reminded me that it isn’t necessarily so. However much the technology allows us to personalise our learning, and disseminate our teaching, fundamental things about learning remain the same and have done since Socrates. We don’t really learn anything until we are motivated to learn. Our motivation can still be destroyed and depressed by bad teaching – of which there have been many examples in elearning, just as there have in traditional learning. I have seen Gradgrind at work with a white board and a set of tablet PCs at least as often as I have seen him with a stick of chalk. And this, as Baggini’s interview reminds us, is because we still bring ourselves along with our technology, so the instinct to rubberneck unashamedly at an accident and then talk about it to our friends can be transformed into taking a picture of an accident on a mobile phone and sending it on to our friends. Our basic instincts remain. Online, just as offline, we see both altruism and mendacity, excellence and mediocrity. The quality of the educator, their ability to scaffold learning and to inspire and motivate is still the key to good elearning. The difference for learners is the possibility of much greater choice of providers, to find the right one for them instead of being tied to a sole provider. The need to be a great teacher is still essential.
The physical learning aspects of Guitar Hero, Eye Toy and Wii Fit type games also point the way to more physical ways of learning abstract ideas. Could we see games develop that help children to calculate using very large spaces and movements, rather than sitting in one spot and tapping a keyboard or wielding a pen? Given big enough screens and classroom, learners could be put into situations that require whole body movements to generate data, so they interact physically with the academic curriculum. A mathematical series, or the periodic table could become part of the world that must be physically navigated for a successful outcome. It’s been happening for a while for fun on the streets of Akihabara and on entertainment venue screens, as players compete on Dance Mats and virtual instruments. Does it have something we can exploit in the classroom?
Tonight we tried out how it works out balance. The issue for someone who has right or left-sided hemiplegia caused by a brain injury to one side of the brain, is that it can leave a leg or arm underdeveloped, so that muscles and bone may not grow evenly with the limbs on the other side of the body. What is needed is a way of encouraging balance. And balance really requires that both feet be planted evenly on either side of the board. After a series of attempts to cheat at this – eg by trying to balance with tip toes on one side and flat foot on the other (as some hemiplegics will do left unattanded) it seemed that the Wii could pick up the lack of evenness in the body and feed that back through the on screen display. Which suggests it could be useful for hemiplegics
The wonderful literacy expert Sue Palmer drew my attention to the way the alphabet can be taught using movement, with kids using their whole bodies to learn the shapes of letters – a bit like a massive use of the Magic pencil technique used by Clare Elstow in the BBC Words and Pictures series before she took over Cbeebies. Sue saw this technique used in scandinavian primary schools. The Wii and Eye Toy technology seems to me to be made for this.
I was cynical but the Wii fit is a great bit of kit. Like its relatively unsung predecessor, the PS2 Eye Toy, its potential for educational use is the most exciting thing about it. I first saw Eye Toy Play in 2003 on a six-hour stop-over in the otherwise barren airport lounge at Doha. No idea what it was. No instructions, but three bored boys taught my 8-year-old to use it and he taught me. At first simple games like Kung Fu and Wishi Washi seemed a harmless way of passing the time, but observing and playing them myself it seemed to me it was capable of development into a formidable tool for the rehabilitation of stroke victims and for other physiotherapeutic uses. The way the games motivate effort chimes with the kind of approach a Bobath therapist uses.
Briefly, a child with cerebral palsy may have limited movement from an early age. In order to improve, the child must be encouraged and enticed to use the parts of the body affected by the early brain injury. Otherwise, the longer a part of the body goes unstimulated, the more it loses its potential – use it or lose it applies in a major way to very young children with this condition. A child, whose right arm is affected will favour their left arm overmuch, and may ignore the right completely, leaving it to atrophy and greatly magnifying the consequences of the brain injury for the adult they become. Conversely, actively using affected limbs will reap big rewards. Cerebral palsy is a physical disability, not a mental disability and it can be alleviated and overcome by physical activity. Making very small children appreciate that is difficult if not impossible. But it’s in the early months and years that huge gains are possible.
Looked at in this light Wishi Washi and Kung Fu could be the perfect tool for making a child work both sides of the body evenly and spontaneously, as that’s the most efficient way to get the high score. So whether the child appreciates its benefits or not, it’s potentially an excellent way of getting a small child to literally play along with a physiotherapist. Or even possibly without one.
More to come on this subject