Making Up the Rules

Using the Nintendo DS

This year, I have been using PBL (passion or project-based learning) in my classroom. Although language arts and math have certainly been involved, I have mainly been using the outcomes of my science, social studies and health curriculum as the focal point of my backwards by design planning.  Instead of focusing on outcomes one at a time, I have grouped them into areas roughly approximating themes.  Some of these themes have outcomes from only one curriculum and some have outcomes from two or even three subject areas.  The overall themes we have completed so far this year have only involved science and health. This means that we have not yet learned any of the social studies outcomes.

Can It Work?

To be honest, I have dreaded the social studies outcomes. Science and health lend themselves easily to PBL in my mind. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work.

Our next unit or theme is based around relationships, rules and responsibilities. (I didn’t come up with that title myself.) It covers some social studies and some health outcomes. As with all PBL, I want this to be based on what the students are interested in. There really is nothing about the words “relationships”, “rules” and “responsibilities” that has the ability to inspire passion in most six year olds.

Playing Nintendogs

One thing my students ARE passionate about is gaming. They love to play games on the computers in our classroom and an incredible number of them have a Nintendo DS of their own.  I have been looking for a more ways to integrate gaming and into our days—could this be the time?  Gaming certainly involves rules and relationship work is vital to make the six DS machines we have in our classroom work in a class of eighteen children.

I have used the DS in my classroom a variety of ways for several years. I know how to set things up so that our day flows smoothly and successfully with them. Using what I had learned to help was not my purpose this time, though.

Let’s Try It

Without any preamble, I brought out the DS that I have in my classroom and said that we would spend the next period using them to play the game Nintendogs. They all cheered. “Go for it,” I said, and moved aside. They eagerly reached for the games.

What happened next was a study in human nature.

The children who got a DS in their hands eagerly moved to a table and began to use them. A couple of children sat down beside them to watch. Five children all hovered over the shoulder of one child.  Unbeknownst to me, one child had one in his backpack, which he promptly took out and began to use. Several children all clustered around me expectantly.  (Clearly, I was supposed to solve their problem–they didn’t have one to use.)  Their eyes kept darting to the counter where the DS had been, expecting more would appear. Despite the fact that we have used these machines many times this year and they all know exactly how many there are, one child even moved some of the items on the counter to see if more might be hiding behind something.  One student asked if they could use something else—an iPad or a computer. (This is often what happens in our classroom.) I cheerfully told the children that we were using only the DS for this, and moved to another part of the classroom.  I could hear a lot of grumbling and there were some very disappointed faces.

I wanted to be sure to stop what was happening before there were any tears, so after a few minutes I brought them back to our carpet and asked them about what had happened.  We talked about how they had felt and how they could solve the difficulties.

Sharing the Nintendo DS

One of the students suggested that people could share with a partner. They moved around to find a partner and discovered that some students still would not have a DS. Another student suggested having three in a group. They tried it out and decided this was a “fair” way. Some arguing ensued as they all jockeyed to be first to play, and I asked them if they needed some rules. They eagerly agreed. (Being six is all about being fair.) Together they made five rules. (One was that it’s Mrs. Cassidy’s job to decide who is first and to keep track of the time to make it fair.) The rules were all their idea–I only asked questions and wrote them down.

Success At Last

Finally they felt they had it right and went to try their new rules. The classroom was not instantly peaceful, but when we met again at the end of the day, almost everyone was content. They had all had a turn to play Nintendogs and had had fun doing it.

And I think they’re beginning to understand the importance of rules. Maybe using PBL with social studies can work after all.

11 thoughts on “Making Up the Rules

  1. I love this! I am on a contract in a Gr. 1 classroom for the next 6 weeks and although the classroom doesn’t have any DS machines, I bet the kids would have them, if I asked them to bring them. I love how they solve their ‘sharing’ problems! Nicely done, kids!

    ps: Love the new site! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this Kathy – I found it really interesting to read how they solved the problem of not having enough DS’s per student, and how you led their conversation on creating rules to ensure fairness for all. I thought this was a fantastic way to teach about rules in the community through PBL, and would not have thought of incorporating the DS in that way. Was the game specifically chosen, or could you use any type of DS game? I’m looking forward to getting my feet wet in myself in my next teaching placement in a grade one classroom, and am eager to think about new ways to look at teaching.


    1. The game we use is Nintendogs. When I first started using it several years ago, it was because there had been some work done in the UK using this particular game to improve children’s problem solving skills. I think that any game that involved problem-solving skills would be appropriate.
      Good luck with your next placement!

  3. Kathy this is fantastic, really fantastic. Look how much your children learned with out you telling them the rules. Such huge problem solving skills. Thanks for continuing to inspire me. Karen

  4. Hi Kathy,

    I am doing UBD planning as well for my multi-graded K/1/2 classroom and much like you am trying to get things organized by theme by pulling bits and pieces of curriculum from different subject areas. Would you be willing to share some of your themes and UBD units? I love the idea of using PBL in my classroom but with having three grades together it is often overwhelming to even think about where I might start! I would love to see what you’ve got!

    1. Nadine, I would be happy to share, but what I do changes every year depending on the needs of my students, so I have no collection of resources. Also, PBL changes things because what you do needs to be based on the students’ questions. I don’t have the unit titles that I used handy, but the themes were heavily influenced by Nelson’s resources you can see here: I think they also have these resources for other grade levels.
      I would suggest picking several broad themes that fit with the three curriculums and then seeing where your students’ questions take you. Good luck!

      1. That’s wonderful, thank you! Our school division uses the Pearson science guides, but there hasn’t been any published yet for any of my grades. I don’t teach my students health, but I think so far I have been able to combine Science and Social Studies in a number of ways by pulling bits and pieces from each grade’s curriculum. Thanks for your advice!

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