Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pegged - A fun game based learning activity for a variety of subjects

This lesson is based on a simple Flash game that asks students to match people with items that describe them.  The game is fun using friends' names, but it can be played using names from any content area that involves characters or people.  For example, a literature or history class could provide several fictional or real life characters to use in the lesson.Students 10 years old and up should enjoy the activity.

Summary of the Game

First, take a look at my Flash game Pegged.  It is located here.

It's a very simple game of matching the players to different descriptions, things they'd say or things they might like. For example, imagine playing with three of your friends and you have to match yourself and them to these items:
  • "Whatever!"
  • Football
  • Sing
  • Likely to trip
(To provide for more options, each round includes one more description than player along with one name tag labeled "No One". You can always put the "No One" tag with the description that doesn't fit any of your friends.)

The game last for three quick rounds. Players earn points by making the same matches that their friends do. But scoring points isn't as much fun as trying to peg your friends and then arguing about who was right and wrong.

Using the game as a learning activity

In this activity, students (in groups of four) will play a regular game of Pegged to understand how it works. Then they will play additional rounds using characters or people studied in the class. A short reflective writing assignment wraps up the lesson.

In way of background, I love John Paul Gee's book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy and this lesson is directly inspired by it. Among other things, the author points out in the book that real learning happens when the learners take on other roles and when they consider relationships between areas of knowledge (what Gee calls semiotic domains)*.

The book was a fascinating read that changed the way I see education. As with this game, I always look for ways to get students to put themselves in other roles or to compare what we are studying to their everyday lives.

The Lesson

Every student needs a computer. If they each have a laptop or netbook, that will be easiest. If they are at computers in a lab environment, that will work too, but they'll have to change seats as they play the game.

Part 1: Playing Pegged as themselves
  • Explain how the game works first or show a sample round on a computer.
  • Form Groups of four students (with some groups of 3 as necessary).
  • One student should start a game using the names of the students. Passing the computer around (or sitting at one computer) they each take their turns through the three rounds of the game. As indicated by the game, students cannot look at the screen when it's not their turn.
  • When each round of the game ends, the results will be displayed. Students should look over who matched each player with which description. Lively discussion will likely follow depending on the random items that came up in the game.

Note: Depending on the class and the time of year it is, some students may not know each other well enough to make informed decisions in the game. It will be best if they can form groups with students they know as well as possible. If this will be difficult, remind them that this part of the assignment is just so they can learn to play Pegged.

Part 2: Playing Pegged as someone else
Now, explain to students that they need to play the game again (with the same groups) but they will represent someone from your content area. It is suggested that you present a limited list of people or characters for them to choose from, but you might want to leave it very open ended so they can choose for themselves. For example, in a U.S. History class they might put some familiar names from the founding of the nation such as Washington, Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson.

Each student should pick one person/character whom he or she will represent in his or her group.

Now it's time to play the game again, but there's one important difference this time around. Each player in the group will start a game by listing all the people/characters for their group. 

They should start with their character first, then each of the others in the order that they'll take turns (though a strict order for those players isn't absolutely necessary). So a group of four will actually be starting four separate games, but they only need to play one round in each game (using each computer when their turn comes up).

Note that students can enter just the last name or even initials of the people or characters.

One other point: While playing, each student needs to consider all the characters, not just the one he or she is "playing". For example, if Joe is Washington, he will still have to match all other characters to different descriptions. He only represents Washington in the sense that that when a computer says it's Washington's turn, Joe takes the turn. It's not so much that they are taking on the role (as in acting or thinking like the characters), but that they are using concepts from their real lives to compare with what they know about those characters.

"Wait, what does _____ have to do with Jefferson or Washington?!?"
Yes, sometimes there will be a few descriptions that come up that are almost impossible to match with any of the characters. That's the fun of it. Is Jefferson or Washington more likely to go with Football? Or maybe Franklin with Watches TV?? The goal is not so much to get a "right" answer, but to think about those people and characters as much as possible and make some connection. As long as another student matches the same character to the same description, it's worth at least one point. If after some consideration the student can only make a random match for some, that will provide enough thought to be useful in the writing part of the assignment.

Part 3: The writing
When all students have played one round, they should get back the computer that they started their game on (or sit at that computer) then begin the writing portion of the assignment.

Display these steps for the writing assignment or print this pdf version.

1) Grab a screen capture of the Results page for your game in which you took the first turn.

On a Windows system you can do this by simply pressing the Print Screen key (usually located in the upper right of the keyboard). On a Mac, press Command-Control-Shift-3. That puts a copy of the screen in the clipboard.

2) Paste the screen capture into the document file you're writing your assignment in. Use ctrl-v on a Windows system or command-v on a Mac to paste the image of your screen. You can change the size or crop it to make it easier to see the results of the game.

(If you forget to take a screen capture before you click the Next button your group will have to play the game again. Please capture and paste that screen as soon as possible after the game ends so you don't lose the information!)
3) Now write a few paragraphs about the round you played. In those paragraphs, address the questions below. Your writing should flow like a written summary, not a list of answers. You can address these in any order you like as long as all answers are apparent in your writing.
  • List the people or characters that your group chose and the five descriptions you had to match.
  • Indicate how you paired the people/characters with the descriptions and briefly explain why you chose those matches.
  • Were some people/characters harder to find a matching description than others were? Why do you think that was the case?
  • Were some descriptions harder to match with any character than others? Why do you think that was the case?
  • Look at the rankings that the other students in your group chose. Pick a student's matches that are different from yours and explain how it differed. 
  • Imagine you had to convince that student that your matches were correct or more accurate. What would you say to change his or her mind? What do you think that student would say to make you think his or her matches were best? 
  • If any matches made by a student in your group stand out as particularly surprising, describe them and why you find them surprising.
  • As you were playing or after reflecting on the game, what are two things about one or more characters that you learned or hadn't thought of before? 
  • In what ways, if any, do you think it helped to match the characters to terms from today's world? Explain.

*Here are the two principles from Gee's book, in his own words. I am simplifying the second one in this lesson, but I believe it captures the important part of the concept.

Meta-level thinking about Semiotic Domain PrincipleLearning involves active and critical thinking about the relationships of the semiotic domain being learned to other semiotic domains.

Identity PrincipleLearning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate, and reflect on, their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity.

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