It was Christmas morning in 1992 and my brother and I were busily unwrapping our presents. We got to the last one and to our surprise we opened it to see a Nintendo. Initially we had no idea what this device did, but it wasn’t long before we were the most popular kids on the block with our friends. Flash forward to 2008 and my first year teaching, I noticed that students still shared the same excitement over video games as I did during my younger days. With this in mind I decided I would be foolish, to not at least, consider the possibilities of integrating video games into my classroom.
The first thing I considered where the types of video game systems that were available. This led me to try
Dance Dance Revolution for Playstation 2 – I initially tried this with a small group of year 7 students from my Physical Education class at lunchtime. The idea of game is simple, Players stand on a dance platform or mat and hit colour arrows laid out in a cross with their feet to musical and visual cues. Players are judged by how well they time their dance to the patterns presented to them. Overall the game is extremely difficult to master and helped develop complex movement patterns within the group of students in a relatively short time. Not only were students working hard physically to complete the dances but they were also required to work mentally to decipher the visual information at a rapid pace. The positives of improvements within this game also seemed to extend beyond the game itself, with students showing improvements within our practical classes. The Dance Dance revolution game has now found its way onto the Nintendo Wii and can be purchased at most retail game stores.
During 2009 I was lucky enough to receive funding from the Knowledge Bank – Next Generation program to trial the use of video games within a Physical Education classroom. With the funding I purchased two Nintendo Wii consoles and the game Wii fit. Basically it is an exercise game consisting of activities using a balance board peripheral. The balance board allows players to have their entire bodies movements interpreted and used as the basis for control within the game. This means that players physically move their entire bodies to control the onscreen characters in a variety of activities such as yoga, skiing, running and muscle strengthening. At Boort Secondary College our junior classes have approximately two periods of theory and two periods of prac a week. The aim of the program that I developed and introduced was to make the theoretical time much more practical by employing the game ‘Wii fit’ to teach a variety of theoretical concepts. The program was revolved around VELS level 5 from the Health and Physical Education Domain which a focus on teaching students to “explore views about fitness and suggest what fitness might mean to various groups in society” It also focused on them “developing their understanding of the physical, mental, social and emotional benefits of participation in physical activity”. With this learning focus in mind I set out to develop the ‘How Fit Are Wii’ program.
How Fit Are Wii – Using A wetpaint Wiki website at http://howfitarewii.wetpaint.com , students began to record their physical activity within an online exercise journal. The journal would include exercise completed both within our practical classes and within the Nintendo Wii game. Each week students would complete a new worksheet or activity while they were playing the game. This worksheet would then focus their learning for the remainder of the week. As a result of this students would engage in great discussion and analysis of the each of the Wii fit games.
With exercise intensity being a major focus with the National Physical Activity Guidelines, I set out to teach this concept within the games. Students began to compare their actual physical activity with the simulated versions to determine whether or not the Wii fit is an accurate simulation of the sport. This would then help us to determine whether or not playing the video game would be enough to fulfil the National Physical Activity Guidelines of 1 hour of moderate physical activity a day. As you can imagine, this debate type format where students were actively involved in collecting information and data from their own activity, became a rich learning experience. One of the most accurate ways to determine this was through utilising heart rate monitors. Within one of the activities students were required to play the tennis Wii sports mini game, while wearing a Heart Rate monitor. They then recorded their results and compared them with an actual game of tennis during our practical session for the week. Students were then able to determine that the video game simulation was nowhere near enough to meet the guidelines. The students then began to compare and contrast the rest of the mini games that we could replicate in real life, with excellent discussion resulting around how intensity affects heart rate. As a culmination of the program students then filmed their own videos demonstrating the knowledge they had all gained throughout the program. Within this video the students had to develop their own version of a game simulation that met the requirements of the National Physical Activity Guidelines. Feel free to download the worksheets and view the lessons from the How Fit Are Wii website at http://howfitarewii.wetpaint.com
Mario & Sonic at the Olympics – The next game I utilised within a theoretical class was the game Mario and Sonic at the Olympics on the Nintendo Wii. The game allows players to assume the role of Olympians and compete within a variety of Olympic sports. Players use the Wii remote to mimic the actions performed in real life sports such as swimming and table tennis. Within the game there is quite an emphasis on replicating the real life sports accurately, getting some major features of the sports correct, such as the angle of release and speed. With this in mind I set out to explore some of these concepts within my VCE Physical Education Class.
The first activity we did during a theoretical lesson was to teach the types of skill classifications. Students had to move through the games and classify the sports into the types of skills that were evident. By using the Nintendo Wii game as a stimulus students got to explore and discuss sports that they would rarely be exposed to, such as trampolining. It also allowed us to move through and classify 24 examples in about 30 minutes. Later on in the semester we used it again within the same class to teach some basic biomechanics concepts. In the first lesson students learnt about how angle and speed of release affect the overall distance of a thrown object. In order to do this, students played the simulation versions of discus and shot put and recorded the distance they were able to throw after modifying the angle and speed of release. Although it was only a 15 minute activity, it firmly cemented the idea of concept within their understanding and this was then applied to a practical real life experiment in the second lesson.
So as some of you are left scratching your head wondering of the validity of using video games within a Physical Education class I urge you to at least consider the possibility from a purely experimental viewpoint. As I have told my students all along, simulation sports are by no means a replacement for actual physical activity, but they sure do provide valuable insight and discussion into the multitude of reasons they are not. With good activities and teaching surrounding the game play, my students came away with an excellent understanding of the major concepts, by replacing completely static theory lessons with a more active and explorative approach.