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Readings on non-digital/physical games

When compared to the rich readings on the construction and playing of digital games, it is notable how spare the literature on physical game playing is. This is especially outside of the realm of sports and P.E.

This post is to give you some starting points to investigate theory that links to the warm-up, circle, communication, reflection and drama games that we have been using in our sesssions.

Background on games and theory

Play as a gateway to collaborative activities

Games and language learning

We can turn to the well researched area of language learning to find research which supports the use of physical games to reduce learner anxiety and provide other benefits for learning.

Context of Drama games for Wider Purposes

I reached out to Sarah Evans who is doing Theatre in Education here and she shared these links and resources with me.

More reading and games

A more detailed study on Playful Learning Environments

This paper is slightly frustrating as it is hard to understand exactly the learner experience. However it is so closely linked to the aims of our work with games that I wanted to include it.

The study by Kangas et al,  has a similar ethos to my own approach for making games- “The playful learning environment (PLE) is a novel, pedagogically validated learning environment…The PLE offers an opportunity to create one’s own game content as well as ready-tailored games that aim to increase collaborative physical activity in the context of educational tasks.”

This physical / embodied  element of games to support wider goals is really interesting.


Reflections on our Project so Far

The goal for so far hase been to to start to think about the kinds of games we can play and mess about with to allow our visitors to play game, related them to sustainability concepts and explore concepts of game making.

We have some great ideas emerging:

  • a starter game that looks at how rules and instructions are key parts of games (both digital and non-digital)
  • ideas for a game that explores well being
  • an emerging digital game exploring –  life under the sea – using MakeCode Arcade that people are adopting and adding to week by week
  • An ending game that encourages reflection on taking part in the activities

In previous blog posts I asked you about a game you used to play and to think how you could modify it. In earlier sessions I really liked the way we started with discussions about games we played when we were younger and some of the similarities and differences in those games. We have also talked a bit about non-computer games and computer games.

What has also struck me is that there is a power of games to start conversations. For adults there is a nostalgia there. For young people it can be a good way to get them to use vocabulary and structures around explaining.

We then went on to break down some of the parts of a game using the following  system elements of a Game

  • Space: Where can you move? Where can’t you go? What are the boundaries or hazards?
  • Goal: What are you trying to do? How do you win?
  • Parts: What are all the active objects or character roles in the game?
  • Mechanics: What you doing in the game? What main actions? (verbs)
  • Rules: What can or can’t you do in the game? How do you progress? What sets you back?

I didn’t come up with this framework myself. Many versions of it are around but this came from the work of the school Quest 2 Learn.


As a summary, there are two main areas that I think are really promising:

Promoting Talk with Games and about Games: We can use the positive association of games, either playing them, or talking about them to get people communicating well

Understanding Games as Systems: By starting to analyse games using the kind of framework above we start to unlock the mystery of them and see them as interrelated systems. If you change one part then it effects others. This could open up other things.

What now? Some Follow Up activities

Here are a few things to keep us on track and to help you build towards your project work (and assessment). Please do some quick written reflections on the following.

  • Choose a game,  what rules could you change to  to make it different –see this post for the task
  • then can you write down the different parts of your game, using the following categories , space, elements, rules, goal & mechanics. There is help above in element of a game section.
  • How can your opening game/s promote talk about games, or help understand games as systems

Please then email me your writing when you have created it.

Reminder of  Reading

This one is the most important for us, read the case studies on student supporters and their roles adopted helping a creative project

Mitchel Resnick (2007). All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten. ACM Creativity & Cognition conference.

Daniel Pink (2010). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (video).

Roque on Family Creative Learning.

More Academic Context on Game Making

Now we have completed our projects and had tutorials to help us to link our experiences to underlying theory, here are some of the themes which evolved out of our work and discussions. Please read around two or more of these and be sure to make observations on how these theories relate to your own experiences. Then see the blogging task at the foot of this post.

The context of our project

Our project could be said to have three main themes of contextual features;

  • Games as an under-used way to explore systems concepts
  • Teaching in accessible and stress reducing ways through making games
  • Project based approaches to learning

There is a wide variety of background reading on these elements. As such, I’ve tried to point you to reading which is quite focused but links to wider concepts as a starting point.

Facilitation Styles

The ability to help with out technical knowledge is key in this process, especially if we are not subject experts. Drawing out the value of open questioning and other techniques to help without knowing the answer is a rich seam to explore.

Intergenerational roles around technology. Roque draws on the work on Barron when describing the roles that parents use when supporting technology play and making.

Collaboration, Communication and C21 Skills

There is a lot of reading on the value of project work and making games together to build 21st Century Skills. Here’s a review.

Task: Integrating Reading

Produce an informal piece of writing like a blog post which responds to something from the texts shared above. Refer to the previous blog post for guidance on the way you should approach your reading – and remember; we’re not interested in what the paper says, we’re interested in the way you put it to work (how does it help you think about the things you’re doing in your project)

Photo Gallery of Make Code Rebel Home Ed Game Show Case 2019

These are the photos of a Play Testing Game Showcase for Home Educators who completed a game making course at Manchester Met University in 2019 Nov-Dec.

They build the games using MakeCode Arcade online platform using a playful process around creating their own goals. The resources to support that process are here.

They also build the electronics, and some of them the panel or the whole console that was used to showcase the games in. This involved crimping specialist wires to go between arcade buttons and the makey makey used to control the computer.

Safe Guarding and Ethics of Project Work

It is a legal requirement that anybody working with children, young people or vulnerable adults is appropriately briefed on safeguarding. As such it is important that all EdLab students engage with this post carefully.

By its very nature your work in EdLab will put you in contact with external partners and individuals outside the university – and often, these will be children and young people. Whilst you should never be put in a position by which you are responsible for a group of children, it is important that you appropriate briefed and considerate of the responsibilities this brings to you for child protection, and more broadly for ethical and professional conduct.


The term ‘safeguarding’ is used to describe the processes and measures which are put in place in order to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults. This protection includes, of course, extreme instances of abuse and maltreatment – and the current legal framework was put in place in response to highly publicised failures of public bodies to respond to warning signs that children were in danger. Safeguarding does mean something a bit broader, though. The UK Government defines the term as;

‘The process of protecting children from abuse or neglect, preventing impairment of their health and development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care that enables children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully.’

(DERA, 2014)

This extends the reach of safeguarding beyond child protection to incorporate the additional aims of preventing adverse impacts on health and development, and the promotion of circumstances is which children can thrive through to adult life.

Responsibility to assure safeguarding lies with both organisations (in our case, with the university through EdLab) and individuals (your project coordinator and, importantly, you). There are some basic implications of safeguarding policy for you. These are very simple, and should not be complicated;

  • For supervised and time limited project work EdLab students don’t have to complete a full DBS check. However please read the following points carefully.
  • At no point should an EdLab student be left in sole responsibility – the lead for the space you are working in should be the project coordinator, a class teacher or equivalent or the parents of children (who should remain with them at all times
  • If you are concerned, tell your project coordinator. One of the golden rules of safeguarding is that communication is important, and you should flag up any concern (even if you think it might be silly) about young people you are working with immediately with your project coordinator (let them decide whether further action should be taken). It is important to remember that there is no right to confedentiality in law … if a young person starts to disclose something to you, tell them that you will have to tell somebody, and then do tell somebody else, even if they don’t disclose anything.

Risk Assessment

Whilst the guidance above ensures that you are compliant with fundamental safeguarding commitments, there are additional responsibilities which you should be aware of. Most notably, you are responsible for ensuring that any participants are kept safe within the activities that you run for them. Risk assessment can sometimes get caught up in slightly silly rhetoric, but the fundamentals are pretty simple. The usual process goes something like this…

  • Identify all of the hazards associated with your work. This is anything which might feasibly pose perils to physical or psychological health.
  • Consider which of these hazards constitute risks. Hazards only become risks if they are likely to occur, and if they would be unsafe if they did. This is the process by which you ensure your risk assessment is both effective and sensible, by identifying the things that are most likely to need planning for
  • Finally, you should establish precautions which will be taken in order to prevent risks turning into genuine dangers. What will you do in order to minimise the danger posed by hazards?

Usually, risk assessments are recorded in forms that look something like this – and shared with everyone involved in running the activity.

Professional Conduct

Work on educational outreach projects also has broader implications in terms of your personal conduct. It hopefully goes without saying, but we expect you to behave in professional ways – it is very easy to accidentally damage external relationships if not, and this makes arranging future projects very difficult. Everybody involved, including the outside guests who attend your project work, understands that you may well be inexperienced and novice at ‘doing education’ – and nobody expects that things will be perfect. Equally, though, there is basic level of professional conduct which is expected of our students in how you conduct yourselves within your teams, and in your interactions with those outside the university. Critical to this is effective communication and reliability; other people are often relying on the work that you do, whether its your project team or guests who are attending your activities – and it is therefore critical that you meet your commitments and deadlines. It is also important that you keep communicating with your project team throughout the process … even if things are going entirely to plan.

Quality Assuring your Work

The final dimension of this blog post relates to the importance of taking every reasonable precaution to ensure that your activities and events run smoothly and effectively. As noted above, we don’t expect everything to always run as you expect (indeed, education rarely works like this!) – however there is an extent to which, with some careful though, you can plan for the unexpected. In lots of ways, this process mirrors that of safeguarding, in that it follows these steps (but focused on things that might disrupt the smooth-running of your work, rather than responding to danger)…

  • Work out everything that could go wrong when your run your activity.
  • Audit each hazard in terms of how likely it is to go wrong, and how damaging it would be if it did.

You can then prioritise responses according to this framework:


… In which you would have very definite fall-back plans to respond to anything red (high likelihood and high impact), and be aware of the possibility of anything yellow. The stuff in green, can be fairly safely deprioritised to give more space to focus on the more risky stuff.

A Creative Spark on Making Games


Welcome from Jana Kennedy and Mick Chesterman your tutors on Fun will Save the Day.

Welcome to Part One of the online content of this EdLab module on Games and Learning. This post is really just to provide some quick background information on the subject. These videos and papers start us off exploring the concepts in this course around value of playing and making games. This includes incorporating personal interests, linking learning with real problems and using games as a way of exploring collaboration between family members.


A large part of our work in the coming weeks will be given over to project teams to start to come up with some creative ideas and directions for our project. We are keen that your creative energy is central to what we end up doing – and as such, we would like you to come to the day armed with your own thinking and an initial piece of work. The purpose of this blog post is to set out some tasks which help you to do this by thinking equally about practical ideas and underlying principles.

About Fun Will Save the Day

The reason I’m working in this area is because I’m really interested in how people collaborate when making things together and games seems like an area that many people have a connection to. Many other researchers have made a connection betweeen making and playing games and 21st Century Skills of creativity, communication, problem solving and systems thinking (we’ll go into this more later).

You will have different choices about what you create and the roles you take on when you are supporting the activities. You may choose to do activities that relate to video game making or have some kind of digital element as this is an area that is in high demand for educators. You may also choose to use more physical materials to help the design of playful, creative activities that have elements of games in them. Or you may focus more on drama based games. This is something we will explore in our first session as part of the conference.

Here’s an introductory Spark Video from last year – so ignore the specific bit about familes.

One thing that I’ll be introducing in this project is an exploration of how non-digital activities can support confidence around creative computing and other digital activities. I’ve been really inspired by a meeting with someone who work on a project called Family Creative Learning. As a key bit of reading please have a look at these two texts:

Task One: Set up a Journal

Please set up a journal for your notes on one note – or online Word docs or – we’ll be asking you to use this for your project reflections.  And you don’t have to use your real name or upload any picture of yourself.

Task Two: A Paper Project

I want you to think about simple games that you played when you were young. Let’s start of with non-digital games and ideally ones with not too much equipment. Think about playground games, family games simple sports.

Now, from this big list pick one or two that you think would be suitable to change the rules of (see a random example below). How could you change the game? Make a list of different changes you could make and how this might effect the playing of it. Put this all in your journal.

Continue reading “A Creative Spark on Making Games”

Some Academic Context

In this post, we would like to share three academic papers which help them to ground your work in some theoretical contexts.

  • Mitchel Resnick (draft): Lifelong Kindergarten: Play (Chapter 5)
  • Learning and Game chapter by James Paul Gee – download here.
  • Introduction to Communities of Practice – download here

Here is a recap of the tasks and blog posts should should have done by now.

Writing Task (reminder) – Please write a joural post with:

  • Choose a game,  what rules could you change to  to make it different –see this post for the task
  • then can you write down the different parts of your game, using the following categories , space, elements, rules, goal & mechanics. There is help above in element of a game section.
  • what kind of game would you create to support and get families ready for a coding game making activity?
  • How can your opening game/s promote talk about games, or help understand games as systems

Writing Task : Sustaining Creativity

Let’s celebrate this diversity. What do you really love? What about something from your childhood that really speaks to you?

Create a blog post about a about# an object from your childhood. It could be something that changed the way you think about things. Or it could be something you wanted to spend time working with or just being with.  For inspiration, here are some childhood-object stories that others have written: Cello, Knots, Stars, Blocks, Steps, Coloring Set, Kites, Pencils.

 Most of these stories are from Sherry Turkle’s books Evocative Objects (2007) and Falling for Science (2008). Also, see Sherry Turkle’s Introduction about evocative childhood objects.

How Does Reading Fit In

In other posts, we discuss the pedagogy that underpins EdLab – the ways in which it encourages you to generate theoretical understandings of education on the basis of your enacted experiences running projects. There is no pre-defined knowledge, and you are not expected to demonstrate any specific understandings of content or ideas – what matters is the way in which you develop a rigorous and critical sense of what it is you are producing through your projects.

This is, however, not to say that we do not expect you to undertake outside reading in support of the unit. In part, this will take the form of sleuthing other educational initiatives from which you can take inspiration. It should, however, also involve more conventional academic reading which should be used to inspire deeper analysis of the work that you do, and provide languages to talk about that work in more sophisticated ways. Here are some quick and dirty tips for engaging with reading in ways which will support the EdLab process;

  • Its not what it says, its what it makes you think. Try to avoid an impulse to be able to describe what the author is saying verbatim. Instead, find bits of the writing that make you think things (particularly if they affect how you are thinking about your project).
  • One sentence is enough. Often, students find themselves trying to respond to the whole paper. In some cases, this is appropriate – but equally it might be that one particular thing that the author says (it might even be just one statement) is enough to provoke a useful response.
  • Don’t punish yourself. If you are finding reading hard going, don’t blame yourself! Often, it’s because it is dense (and badly written). Don’t read and reread the same paragraph over and over again if you don’t understand it – read on, and find the bit that does talk to you.
  • Stop and write – particularly if you find yourself struck by a thought. Don’t lose that thinking by finishing the paper; go and write a blog post which starts with a quote from the article, and proceeds with a brain-dump of your thoughts. Then finish the paper.


Project Summary – Fun will Save the Day

Working with global issues through using the playing and making of games as a medium.  

Lead Tutor: Mick Chesterman
Project Partner: Jana Kennedy

All over the globe Young People are mobilising to change the world. They have diverse aims but a unifying thread is the need to face up to the limits of our current systems to counter threats of climate change, biodiversity and environmental pollutants. In this project we will create a playful learning experience  for young people using games that allows them to see how systems thinking can change the world. We’ll play games. We’ll analyse games. We’ll even make our own games.

We will explore two key themes which underpin this use of games and play. The first is Fun. Fun and playfulness in education is only starting to be explored beyond the early years. Quite simply, we need to fix that. Let’s get to grips with what fun is and how to use it as educators.

The second theme is to explore ideas of systems thinking with young people using games. For example, how can we make strategic changes to a system and how can we find out if those changes will have unintended effects? These questions are imbued with systems thinking concepts.  Systems thinking is widespread in both the fields of studies of natural ecosystems and economics but it is rarely explored in schools. Because games *are* systems, and because they are familiar to us, they are a perfect thing to pull apart to start to develop the language and skills needed to understand how systems work.