Gaming into Education: Can Even Angry Birds Promote Learning?

(This post originally appeared on GeekSLP)

Opportunities for teaching and learning are everywhere. Language is also everywhere. Given this scenario, it drives me crazy when I hear someone say: “this is a horrible tool”; “I don’t know how this could be used for teaching”,or  ”this is just a game”.

I have always been an advocate to the fact that a good teacher and a good speech therapists will not need specific tools to teach students. Well, specific tools that do the work for you are great because they guide us on the teaching experience; however, we must not forget that a tool is JUST a tool and it was not designed to replace you as a therapist or a teacher.(Please note I am not at all discrediting the advantages of apps for learning ; as I have created 21 of them myself).

The explosion of apps for children with special needs, has pushed us to want tools that do more and betters things all the time. I am afraid we may be forgetting to use our creativity to transform any “useless” app into a great tool for learning. It all starts with the need to motivate the students to want to learn; what better way to do that than using something that already draws their attention? I have decided to start this series on “from useless to learning apps” with one of the biggest game apps of all times: Angry Birds!

If you are not already hooked into Angry Birds, or are afraid of loosing your prestige because you downloaded it, you may find a good excuse for downloading it or owning it on this post. The idea behind Angry Birds is that the birds need to hit the pigs to move on to the next level. You may have noticed that in order to win the greatest number of stars you may need some strategic thinking prior to sending your birds out there.

I see that Angry Birds can be used in so many different ways to teach students new vocabulary, the use of coherent language, basic question/answering skills and even story telling skills. You will just need to adjust the level of scaffolding needed to get into the skills you are trying to get into.

As a parent, instead of prohibiting your child from playing the game, consider having activities your child needs to complete prior to or after moving on to the next level.

Here are some ideas I was able to come up with on how even Angry Birds can be used to promote learning.

1. If your student/child is already familiar with Angry Birds, get him to explain the whole game to you. If you are working on writing skills, this can even be a written assignment.

Imagine all that can be worked on just from having a student describe the whole concept behind Angry Birds! You can even have some “food for thought” kind of questions such as:

Why do you think the creators picked birds as main characters?“,

Do all birds work the same way?“,

” What is the goal of the game?”

“Why do you like Angry Birds?”

There are several questions that can be used to get students to use language just by talking about the game itself.

2. You and the child can play one or several levels together; however the child has to describe their strategy to getting to the pig prior to playing the level. If you are with a group of students; how about having each student think out their strategies separately and get them to discuss which strategy is best and then put into action?

You could even have a list of vocabulary words you would like the student to use when describing their strategies such as:

a. Verbs such as : deploy the egg (the white birds have to deploy the egg at the appropriate time); pull back, drop, explode, fly, fall, hit,

b.  Different adverbs when describing the order of the birds and their actions;

c. Lots of different prepositions to guide where exactly the birds must land, and also how the objects and barriers are being arranged;

d. Adjective: used when describing the areas & targets in which the birds must land.

Maybe students can take turns to guide each other  using key words to complete the levels.

3. Select a level and ask the student to play it once, then ask them to describe their strategies verbally or create a written material that describes their strategies.

When teaching students to describe activities using coherent language (a skills that can be very limited in children with language disorders) we want them to follow an order…” you first did this.. then that”. You can use each level on Angry Birds to teach that skill. The game has an order in which things happen. You can guide students to describe it step by step which you guide them. You can both sit together to reproduce the steps he describe on the same level and even think out better ways to achieve the same goal.

There are tons of other ways in which Angry Birds can be used to promote language learning. These were just a few examples of how creativity can have more weight than the specific tool you have in front of you. In the end it is all about how you decide to use it. I will be back on this with more ” from useless to teaching app”. In the end it is all about how YOU choose to use the tool that makes the difference! Think about that. ;-)

 

Barbara Fernandes is a trilingual Speech- Language pathologist, a geek  and an app developer. She is the founder and CEO of Smarty Ears Apps , a company that creates apps for speech therapy. Barbara is also the face behind GeekSLP TV, a blog and video podcast focusing on the use of technology in speech therapy. Barbara has also been a practicing speech therapist both in Brazil and in the United States. Barbara has created over 21 applications for the mobile devices for speech therapists.