Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

Nintendo DS: An Assessment Tool?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about our first BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) day.  When I saw the students’ enthusiasm, and what we were able to do with their Nintendo DS at school, I knew that we would have to do it again. And this week we did!

Between half and two-thirds of my students own a Nintendo DS of some kind, which they all brought to school.  Interestingly, a student who had brought his Nintendo 3DS last time left it at home in favour of his younger brother’s regular DS so that he would be able to access the Pictochat feature, which he knew we would be using.

There was nothing earth shatteringly new this time.There was more wonderful oral language as the students talked about their games–something that they were truly interested in sharing with their friends. There was more engagement and more sharing of devices.

Using the DS for Assessment

The best usage of the DS for the day, though, was when we used the devices to help us with spelling. We were working on the long a sound, and ai in particular. In the past, I would say a word such as ”rain” and ask the students to “sound it out” and write it on an individually-sized whiteboard, or on our whiteboard-topped tables. Then I would run around checking their words. With the six DS units that I already have in my classroom and the ones that the students themselves brought, every student was able to use a device instead.

They all logged into the same chat room in Pictochat and wrote each word as I said it, but didn’t click on the send button until we counted “1, 2, 3, send”. Although I meandered through the students as they sat on the carpet, checking for students that needed support, watching one of the DS as the chats flew by was a much better way to assess the students’ understanding. Within ten seconds I knew exactly who needed help and with what.

The students helped assess each other as well. “Hey, some people are putting nines instead of p’s”, said one student. I modeled a correct p and that didn’t happen again. “He forgot the i”, commented another. We talked briefly again about how to make the long a sound, and no one forgot to include the i the next time.  Because of all the correct answers flying by, students could instantly self-assess as well. Most did not need to have their peers point out their errors–they could see the mistakes for themselves.  This held true when we later wrote number sentences to go with number stories.

This is the kind of assessment I want to have a lot of in my classrooms–timely, focused and done by peers and the students themselves. I guess I just have to figure out how to have a class set of Nintendo DS!

BYOD For Six-Year-Olds

I have long been fascinated with the idea of “bring your own device” (BYOD). Most schools cannot afford to provide laptops, iPads or any other device for every student. Allowing students to bring whatever they have–whether laptop, cellphone or whatever–to school to add to the “connectedness” in the classroom is something I’ve supported.  I’ve just never done it in my grade one classroom.

My students do not have laptops. They don’t have cell phones or iPads. But they do have Nintendo DS (well, most of them do).  I have toyed with the idea of having a BYOD day. Last year I even contacted the parents to say “would this be possible”?  No one responded, so I took this to mean they said “no”.

Bringing Our Games to School

In hindsight, I’m not sure that it did mean “no”. This year, as we began our relationships, rules and responsibilities unit using gaming, I decided to give it another try.  I really wanted the students to be able to share the games they loved so well with their classmates. This time, I first talked to the students. Would they like to bring their DS to school? Yes! (Using their games is something they are passionate about.) What were some rules we should make to ensure that their DS were safe? The students came up with the rules, the chief of which was that they would keep their DS in their backpack while on the bus, while on the playground and while in the classroom until the appropriate time.

I emailed the parents to ask them to send the Nintendo DS with the student’s favourite game to school for “sharing” time.  If the students did not have a DS, I asked them to send any other game that the students enjoyed playing. Those who could not bring a game to show us could simply tell us about a game they liked to play.

About half of the students brought a DS to school on the appointed day. A couple of students forgot and one parent did not want the DS to come to school. Two students brought a different game to show us.

We used the document camera to show the games as the students explained how to play. I was thrilled with the oral language that came from this sharing. Students who are normally very reticent to talk were eloquent in describing their game, whether a DS game or otherwise.

Using PictoChat

One of the interesting features of the DS and the DSi is called PictoChat. PictoChat allows you to chat with other Nintendo DS machines through its own wireless connection. I have a few DS at school, so the students all shared machines, and began sending messages to each other. We have used this feature many times in the past with the DS we have at school, but never before had we had so many devices sending messages at once. There were squeals of delight!

At first, they sent pictures or word messages. Then we practiced spelling some sight words we had been working. We’ve been working on telling and writing math number stories, so later I told some math stories and asked them to write the number story to go with it. The students liked that they could “see everybody’s answer to see if we’re right”. Fun, fun, fun.

Passion and purpose worked hand-in-hand. An unqualified success. And, yes, we’ll do it again.

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.

Who Let the Dogs Out?

It was me who let them out, and the dogs are Ninten-dogs.  A year ago I blogged about starting to use Nintendo DS in my classroom.  In a nutshell, I was able to purchase six DS and six copies of the game Nintendogs.  The goal was to use them to improve my students’ problem solving ability.

To check their problem solving skills, I used a pre and post test of some problems that I would normally have used in my classroom.  These problems are similar to problems that our school division uses at the end of the year to check the problem solving ability of students in all grade levels.

Did their problem solving improve?  Yes, in fact the problem solving ability of each student improved. Was it because I used the Nintendo DS?  I don’t know.  I continued to do all of the other things I would normally have done in my classroom to help with problem solving, so hopefully those things also had an impact.

What I do know is that using the DS involved more than just math problem-solving skills.  Sharing a DS with three or four other students is not easy when you are six.  It involves taking turns, cooperation and compromise, all of which are important life skills, and a different kind of problem-solving.  All good reasons to begin using the DS again this year.

Dabbling with DS and Deaf Dogs

What are we doing playing Nintendo DS in our classroom?

It all started when Ewan Macintosh came to Moose Jaw last summer.  One of the things he shared was the tremendous improvement in problem solving skills of young children who were regularly using gaming in their classroom, specifically using the game Nintendogs.  I was intrigued, and fortunately my principal, who holds the purse strings, was too.

I checked out a couple of links from Ewan and did some hands-on research of my own since up until that point (I confess!) I had no idea what a Nintendo DS actually looked like.  I should have just asked my students.  When I checked with them, I discovered that despite the fact that many of the families at my school are not what I would call “well-to-do”, all but two of them owned a DS.  Since improving students’ problem-solving skills is a motherhood issue, it seemed like an obvious thing to do.

Nintendogs is a video simulation of owning a pet.  Players can use the stylus to pet their dog, call their dog with a built-in microphone and buy things for their pet. I did consider using a different game, since the dogs in this game appear to be hard of hearing and not overly bright, but it was hard to argue with the curriculum match and track record of this game.

Our class now owns six DS machines and each dog has been adopted by a group of four students.  We’re being helped out with the reading portion of the games by six students from our reading buddy classroom who eagerly leave their classroom to come to ours.   After an initial 45-minute session to get started, we are now trying 10 – 15 minutes each day.

The game is, of course, providing incredible engagement and motivation for the students, and we will be incorporating lots of dog themed activities into other subject areas.  I want to know whether it really does improve the children’s problem solving skills though, so after doing a fair amount of checking and finding nothing that suited my needs, I prepared a set of five problems (leaning heavily on a Problem Solver binder I have) that each require different kinds of thinking.  I gave these problems to the students before we began and will give them to the children again later to see if there has been a change.

Will using these engaging little boxes help to improve the problem solving skills of my six year olds?  Stay tuned.

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