I’ve been making one connection after another thanks to the initial week of meetings at the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST). It’s a networked country of professionals and apparently there is interest from many for using games for learning. On Tuesday I was invited to the Civil Service College to look at how they are using (serious) games to instruct adults in skills they will need for their jobs. Serious games can be effectively used in some circumstances to teach skills and concepts normally delivered by reading through a binder, or work manual.
They were interested in how I use games in my classroom and they shared a marvelous game simulation that taught the system of governance used in Singapore to international visitors. It was a three-dimensional mythical island that required teams of civil servants to develop the infrastructure necessary to meet the scenario objectives in each round. They “play” for a half day and then reflect upon the experience and what they each will take away to their country. I signed up to be on their email list and will attending their upcoming “playpen” sessions revolving around the effective use of games for instruction.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to observe my first history lesson. It involved the use of a game developed by the history team here at Zhenghua. Lesson plans are very detailed and students are expected to produce work of the highest quality. The teacher I am currently working with does not see his history classes each day. The class I observed only meets for 45 minutes on Wednesday and 90 minutes on Thursday. Inserting games and game mechanics into lessons is relatively new and due to the time constraints, it cannot extend beyond 15-20 minutes of a period.
In this lesson, students (16 year-olds) were tasked with using background information they had previously acquired about North Korea to answer questions or perform actions that would lead them closer to the 38th parallel and escape. Four sided dice was used to move the playing pieces. If a student landed on a C they would be asked a content related question. If it was an H, they had to complete a higher-order thinking question that required reading and responding to some source-based material such as a political cartoon or published newspaper opinion about the Cold War. Once they reach a checkpoint there was another task that had to be completed such as decoding and translating a passage in Korean.
The final challenge at the end of the game was to identify the statements or actions represented in the source-based material and matching it to the point of view each represented - U.S., Soviet, Chinese. The source material was printed on A3 paper which I have never used in this way before. The size was perfect for group work and was a very effective way to share nine different original sources. It was also a great size for a game board.
To begin the lesson, the teacher shared the recent video of the North Korean soldier defecting across no man’s land between the two Koreas. He then presented some data and told the students their objective was to escape to the south as quickly as possible. The students themselves settled into three groups quickly and began the game, seeing who would be the first to clear the 38th parallel. One group was a bit louder than the others, but all three played the game according to the directions given. They asked and answered questions, moving their game pieces forward or backward. Only one group managed to finish and get to the final challenge before the end of the period, but everyone clearly enjoyed the opportunity to play and learn.
Thursday afternoon is the designated time for co-curricular activities. These used to be labeled extra-curricular activities, but the recent shift to educating the “whole child” has placed more emphasis on learning life skills and students get to select the course they wish to enroll in. Every school site gets to determine the class content, based on staffing interest and expertise, as well as when the activities are offered. Most schools select Thursday afternoons and Fridays. Student can take more than one course, but often find it difficult to fit into their busy schedules. To prepare for their O-Level exams, many parents enroll their children into private after school and weekend tutorial sessions.
I stayed late on Thursday to observe several co-curricular activities and found the students fully engaged and excited to be expressing themselves creatively. Danny, the head teacher I am working closely with escorted me around. You can get a sense of what is offered by visiting the school’s website, but I’ll describe a few below.
These activities could be compared to traditional electives in U.S. schools, but they are only held one day a week for 2-3 hours after lunch. Students who are interested in competitive sports would use this time for training and matches/games. Kids can also join one of five “uniformed groups” at Zhenghua which, at first sight, appear to be similar to ROTC. There is an air cadet group, a popular scout group, a red cross group, and a police group.
Upon reaching 18 years of age boys are required to complete military service for two years. It is optional for girls. Their choices are army, navy, air force, police, or civil defense. After completing this service, they are considered a reservist and report for occasional training for an additional 10 years. Participation in uniformed groups does not earn them ranking considerations, but does foster discipline and promote physical fitness and organizational awareness.
Other groups on campus include a popular handbells option as well as drum and dance groups. Recreational and competitive sports are also very popular as is an outdoor fitness group which benefits from of an indoor and outdoor climbing wall on campus in addition to a ropes course. Several groups participate in events off campus and attend festivals and performances representing Zhenghua.