Shane Hill | November 26, 2020
They’re In The Zone
The children of today have so many exciting opportunities. I know kids who hoon on motorbikes and dune buggies through sand dunes, ride skateboards on snowy mountain terrain and race go karts through the streets of busy mega-cities. And that’s just while they wait for their dinner to be cooked! But can a digital image on a screen ever fully substitute the experience of actually doing something in the physical world?
When I was a kid growing up in a little country town, we would sometimes block up a water drainage ditch at the side of a paddock then stomp up and down in the ditch and pretend we were making a river of chocolate just like Mr. Wonka’s chocolate river in his chocolate factory. It was muddy and splashy and tactile and kinaesthetic and creative, all in the one experience, and thus so memorable I can recall that day and write about it now.
In the classroom we can encounter similar situations whereby the task at hand is to analyse information but without the stimulation of exciting animations, amazing characters and adventurous storylines. This situation is favourable to the introduction of simple games because the physical and anticipatory stimulation of the game amplifies student engagement and, really, that’s what Learn From Play is all about; inventing new and active ways to teach those bits of the curriculum in which a pragmatic approach appears to be the most sensible option.
For example, the Geography (Stage 2) of the NSW curriculum contains a unit of study titled Places Are Similar And Different. I think the title here says it all. Look at this, look at that, determine their similarities and differences, that’s the task. So here is a very physically active way to conduct one of these ‘compare and contrast’ enquiries.
This game has students working independently yet as a group they interact with the information at the same rate. I mention this because it’s one of the secret super-powers of games. We all know that with any activity the fast kids get it done quickly and the slow kids don’t get through it all, yet the job of the teacher is to have all students learn everything. Games can help regulate the rate of learning for the group. Also, the game playing time is easily expanded or reduced as required by the teacher.
Ahead of playing the game prepare A5-sized squares of paper (zone squares) on which is printed a ‘climate zone’ and a list of six associated characteristics. For example, one climate zone is the Antarctica and some of the more obvious associated characteristics of the zone are persistent very cold temperatures, large expanses of ice on the land and water, extremely low humidity and low levels of flora. The climate zone of the tropical equator must surely represent the very opposite of the Antarctica with characteristics including hot temperatures, very high humidity, high levels of rainfall, dense concentrations of fauna and flora and high frequency of storms including cyclones. A simpler version of these characteristics could be given as, for the example of Antarctica, very cold, icy, icebergs, low rainfall and few plants, while the tropics could be hot, humid, rainy, forests, many animals and cyclones.
Prepare several copies of each zone with a total of six zones. Then put one of each of the zone squares into a set and compile several sets of zone squares.
Ask the students to form teams of six (the number of students in each team should equal the number of zones you have prepared) and then let students choose a name for their team. Make a list of the team names on a board for all to see.
All of the teams should collectively sit in the largest circle possible within the room or in a large circle if outside. The bigger the circle the more active the students will be and the more bonus exercise they receive.
In the centre of the circle put two tennis balls or bean bags or any other objects suitable for the students to run for and try to grab first, winning a point for their team. Having two or three items gives more teams the chance to win points. Give each of the teams a set of zone squares and each student takes one zone square. If a group has less than six students, one student can receive two zone squares.
To play the game, have in front of you a copy of each zone square and a pen. Call out a characteristic from any zone square, crossing it off the list as you do. The students with that particular characteristic on their zone square must call out their zone then run for the centre of the circle and grab a tennis ball, winning one point for their team. Record the points on the scoresheet, reset the tennis balls and call out the next characteristic.
With a total of six zones and six characteristics per zone, you have a total of thirty six rounds to play if you were to call out every one of them. However, the same characteristic will appear in different zones, such as high humidity being in both the tropical zone and a more temperate zone such as areas of Europe during the winter months. This means multiple students will be running for the centre of the circle with each round of the game, maximising student engagement and physical movement. It also means students will be running more frequently than they first realise!
The game can be paused at any time to discuss what the students are learning and ask them what they may have noticed, such as weather conditions unexpectedly occurring in two very different climatic zones.
A fun way to ‘review’ the learning following the game is to write the name of each zone on a piece of paper and position them in different locations around the room, such as being stuck onto a door, wall or cupboard. After retrieving all of the zone squares and with all the students starting in the centre of the room, call out a characteristic from any zone and the students must move to the location of a zone with that particular characteristic. The correct answers immediately become apparent as the majority of students will move to the same couple of locations.