By Maureen McTaggart

Julia MilletteJulia MilletteMost of the time the Year 7 pupils working in the classroom at the Stephen Lawrence Centre would stare intently at the screen while their fingers moved quickly across the keyboard. But, every now and then, they’d catch a sideways glance at a neighbour’s screen.

Then, with military precision at their teacher’s signal, they swapped places and continued with whatever it was the previous occupants were working on. This was no hot-desking exercise, but the second half of a one-day MissionMaker software workshop designed, says Julia Millette, the centre’s education manager, “to invigorate the curriculum”.

Developed by Immersive Education, MissionMaker is an impressive piece of software. It may be based on games, but the game you are creating is 3D – so you are on a mission, a real challenge.

Students start with a scenario which they build on, adding rooms, doors, animated characters. In fact it's a whole world with props, rules and triggers the player has to discover before the mission can be completed.

MissionMaker engages with learners 'on a graphical level'

Caine Crawford, who leads the workshops at the South London educational centre, opened last year in memory of Stephen Lawrence, the murdered black teenager, says he particularly likes MissionMaker because it engages with students on a graphical level. “But most important, the game-maker has to think through carefully how somebody else is going to work through the mission. And to do that successfully they have to create a story while thinking how people are going to play the game by asking ‘How are they going to access the things I’ve put in place?’”

Students usually come to the workshops prepared, having started the project in writing classes in English back at school. Working with storyboards and creating their own stories means there is a structure and quality to the narrative of each game.

“The naMartin ColleyMartin Colleyrrative of the game is really important and links in with the stories they are writing in English,” says their teacher, Martin Colley. “The other thing that is really important about this is that we’ve got quite a number of children here for whom English is a second language and they can achieve at the same level and higher than the pupils who speak English as a first language because written language itself isn’t a central part of the [MissionMaker] process. And so it gives them a chance to shine, which they don’t always get in the other subjects.”

In total, the 17 Deptford Green pupils will have one full day and four half-days to complete their MissionMaker game. After which their other mission will be to present what they’ve done and learned to other tutor groups back at school. And maybe, hopes Martin Colley, “other tutors will take up the opportunity to come and do the same thing as well”.

Caine Crawford describes the software as seductive, explaining: “Initially you get that menu of rooms and it is tempting to say, 'I’ll have one of those and one of those,' and quite soon you’ve got a labyrinth and you can’t find your way round. But that’s a learning process.”

Simple building blocks for very complex stories

MissionMakerMissionMaker in action at the Stephen Lawrence CentreThe MissionMaker workshops were initially part of a project to encourage peer mentoring for Greenwich local authority pupils. In the beginning, learners from two secondary schools spent half a day each learning how to use the programme. Then for the rest of the week they taught the primary students.

But it has now grown to provide pupils with a wide variety of experiences of using IT in creative and unusual ways. Starting with quite simple things like, 'Click and this will happen' or 'Do that and that will happen.' But when you nest the tasks together you can have a chest that opens, and when you click it there’s a key. Take the key to the door and let somebody out, who then goes into a room. They are very simple building blocks from which you can build very complex stories.

You would struggle to find a group of learners more devoted to the task in hand than the Deptford Green students. But apparently their dedication to doing any single activity for a whole day was previously unheard of. “The other thing that’s interesting,” observes Martin Colley, “is there are a number of pupils here who don’t like computers and who told me they weren’t going to want to do it. I am going to keep quiet about the fact that they are doing it.”

MissionMaker’s potential to captivate students was also the reason Alex Jones, who manages Sheffield West City Learning Centre decided to introduce it to the young offenders the centre works with. The 10 students recruited were on the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance programme for young people facing incarceration. This was their last chance.

Students finished the course with OCR accreditation

Most of the Sheffield students haven’t been in education for a while and, while obliged to attend for one day a week for 10 weeks, were under no obligation to engage once they got here, explains Alex Jones.

“When we first proposed the project we thought we wouldn’t have any students left at the end of the 10 weeks given the difficulty they have in committing to anything. Six of them finished the course, which is, as I understand it, a highly successful result. And as it was one of the game units in the OCR iMedia course they got some accreditation.” Their success attracted National Flagship status for eGovernment inclusion.

For the Sheffield team the game design environment of MissionMaker also provided an excellent opportunity for students to look at actions and consequences. And he is in total agreement with Martin Colley’s observation that there is a definite academic challenge to creating the games based around logic and sequence, making sure the game makes sense and that there is story to draw in the game player.

“Not only was the academic content of the work challenging, but the issues explored related directly to the kind behaviour the young people exhibited. For example, on separate occasions two students wanted to introduce guns into their games. After a conversation with the session leader one removed the gun from his game, and the other before being confronted. The games they created were complicated and It was very exciting to see some of these young people turned on by something that was academically challenging.”

More information

Bett 2010BETT 2010
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can see MissionMaker and other innovative technology, including MediaMaker2 and Vye laptops, on the Immersive stand at BETT. Stand, F80.


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