Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Games-based learning

I've been thinking about games-based learning since reading and blogging about the Horizon Report K-12 last week which indicated that this technology will be becoming increasingly important in education in the next 2-3 years. Today I've been investigating this further with our Grade 4s using a game to introduce them to the idea of trade.

Our Grade 4 students recently started their How We Organize Ourselves unit of inquiry about trade. Their central idea is that people trade to gain what they need and desire. They will be investigating the idea of making and selling goods for payment and the fact that people need to make choices about how they spend their money as they cannot afford to buy everything they want. Some of these ideas are very complicated (I seem to remember studying the same things when I did A' level economics!) so I was trying to find a way of introducing them to the concepts at a level that they could all grasp.

First of all we introduced some new vocabulary using Wordle. Students were then able to use Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary and thesaurus to investigate the meaning of the words. Today we started with the Coffee Shop game. The idea behind this is that each student starts off with $30 and has to buy cups, coffee, milk and sugar to set up a coffee shop. Each day over the next 14 days the students need to decide on a recipe for the coffee and fix a price to sell it at. If customers like the recipe and the price they will buy the coffee and the students will make money. If they don't like the coffee they will spit it out or tip it away, which will destroy the reputation of the coffee shop and other people will be less likely to buy the coffee there. People will buy more coffee when it is cold - so the students discovered they could put the prices up on those days to make extra profit.

Each day for 14 "days" the students had to adjust the recipe, work out what supplies they needed to buy and set a new price. There was a lot of maths involved, for example if they purchased 25 cups and decided they needed a recipe of 2 1/2 spoons of coffee, 0.8 cup of milk and 2 spoons of sugar for each cup, then they had to work out how much coffee, milk and sugar to buy. If they bought too much and the coffee was not good or the price was too high people wouldn't buy the coffee so they ended up with stock left over at the end of the day (some of which went bad and was unavailable the next day). If they didn't buy enough of each ingredient, they ran out of stock and lost out in sales.

The students were very involved in the game and at the end of the session we got back together to find out who had run the most successful business and made the most money. We asked these students what the secret of their success was. "Nice creamy coffee," said one student. "Charging a fair price," said another.

This game was such a success and so much learning was going on that I've decided to let the students play a similar one called the Lemonade Game. Then I'm going to introduce them to the idea of world trade by playing the IMF Trading Around the World game where students can take on the role of a trader in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North or South America. They will buy commodities from the other continents and at the same time will sell their goods to make the money needed to buy other produce. They will need to barter and negotiate to get a good price for the goods they are buying and selling and how successful they are at bartering will be determined by the global economic conditions. When the conditions are bad, they won't be offered a good price for the things they are selling. On the other hand they will probably be able to buy things at a low price from other countries. As I think this game is quite a bit more involved than the earlier games I'm going to have the students do this one in pairs so that they can discuss what to do with a partner. I'm hoping that the discussions the students will have before making their decisions will help their understanding of how world commodity markets really work.

Towards the end of the unit the students will start to make their own products that they will be able to trade or sell as a class. We thought of some good ideas, for example we could have the students use glass paints to paint pretty light bulbs to sell. One of the students had the idea of making jewelry out of recycled materials. We're hoping they can apply the skills they have learnt during the games to help them be successful in this mini-enterprise.

Photo Credit: Blue Glow by Jim Sneddon

1 comment:

  1. Games are incredible, they let students have experiences that they could otherwise not have and help them understand difficult concepts. It sounds like your students were enjoying this learning. Keep it up Maggie!