Learning the Power of Cats

Last night I attended the #LEGup (London Educational Games Meet Up group) birthday party at Campus, London. The theme of the evening was cats, and together we explored the links between cats, games and education!

Starting us off was Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE who explored her love of everything cat! She took us through the links between cats and gaming and expanded on some of the thoughts from this article about why game developers love cats! The article explores the link between cats and code:

Like game code, cats are never yours, never quite in your control. Cats are computer programs with fur. They are systems to be observed.

Following this, Rob Davis from Playniac led us through a game of #CatOnYourHead – a game about making games that involved a lot of audience participation and was great fun. This video explains the idea:

The game introduced us to some of the basic concepts of game design such as characters, maps, win conditions, etc. before challenging us to consider how we could change it and bring new rules in to adapt the game. My instant thoughts were that this would be an excellent way to introduce children to conceptual aspects of developing and designing games before creating a digital version. Children could be challenged to create their own versions of #CatOnYourHead; to plan all the conditions of the game before programming begins.

‘Computing’ is the buzz word in schools at the moment as educators prepare for the introduction of the new curriculum for Computing in September 2014. There is a danger that schools will rush to ‘teach’ coding and programming in the context of computer games without considering the foundations upon which games are built. We must consider the design of computer games as much as the build if we are to create successful games and this sort of physical (and fun!) introduction to the principles of game design could really help spark such high-quality discussion.

The evening was closed by Ben Whately, CEO of Memrise, who explored how cats can be used to help people learn and explained some of the thinking behind the new Cat Academy application that uses cats to help people learn languages. Throughout his presentation were various cat gifs that linked to specific points and towards the end of the session Ben asked the audience if there were any gifs we could remember. Interestingly, people were able to explain the points that were made at each stage.

For me, one of the crucial points of the presentation was when Ben explored the Samuel Johnson quote:

Memory is the art of attention.

The question of how to engage people in what they are learning was asked and the idea of rewards and points was considered. However, whilst this can be useful in gaming, learning is much different and we were presented with a meta-analysis showing how often, rewards can undermine motivation.

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Cameron et al, 2001, “Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivations: the myth continues.”

This is certainly interesting from my perspective as a class teacher as reward systems used in schools, perhaps, can be seen to focus on the areas that have little impact on motivation. However, to end the session Ben explored the power of ‘chat’ in engaging learners and providing them with social, collaborative motivation factors. Once again, we were pointed to the impact of cats on the learning process…

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In this post, Steve Wheeler reminds us of the power of dialogue and social interaction in the learning process and of important theories of learning that encouraged educators to reconsider their approaches to learning in years gone by. Now more than ever learners are empowered to engage and collaborate with the availability of social media and it is this that Memrise utilises to drive language learning.

Ultimately, the most resounding aspect of the evening for me was the innovative thinking on display. We heard from individuals who had reconsidered parts of the learning process and thought laterally about how to change and improve certain systems to have positive outcomes for users. I’m left wondering: how can I get cats into my classroom next term?

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