Located in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Dallas Primary School and Kindergarten provides education from kindergarten to Year 6. The school is a valued member of the Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Schools Program, which connects educators from around Australia and helps them share ideas and successful new teaching techniques. Dallas Primary School decided to explore how Web 2.0 teaching and learning tools might help improve literacy skills. In one recent project, teachers devised an alternative learning program using Microsoft Research’s Kodu –a video game production tool – to engage Year 3 students facing particular reading and writing challenges. Students became more engaged and their creative literacy skills improved. In addition, critical thinking capabilities were tested in a way that made students want to share their skills with other students.Situation
Located in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Dallas Primary School and Kindergarten teaches kindergarten to Year 6 children. There are 360 primary students enrolled at the school, with another 150 children in the early childhood program. The school has a strong community focus and serves the needs of a diverse local population – close to 85 per cent of students come from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Dallas Primary School is one of more than 20 educational institutions in Australia taking part in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Schools Program. Established in 2007 as a pilot program, the initiative connects educators from around the country, enabling them to share ideas, new techniques and best practices.
“The goal of the Innovative Schools Program is to assist in the creation of new learning models that inspire students to engage more deeply and direct their own education, as well as to prepare them for a rapidly changing, connected world,” says Sean Tierney, Innovative Schools Program Manager, Microsoft Australia.
Since literacy skills present a particular challenge, the school is eager to develop innovative approaches that can help with reading and writing English.
“We were finding some of our Year 3 kids were a bit disengaged, and we were also seeing some low literacy outcomes in our testing,” says Samantha Kenely, Leading Teacher and Year 3 Teacher, Dallas Primary School.
“Some students did not have the best grasp of English, while others had problems with letter recognition. When it was time for writing lessons, some students would roll their eyes or get visibly upset at the prospect of having to sit down and write.”
“Obviously these children – who were reluctant to write for a range of reasons – needed special assistance to be able to work effectively,” Kenely says. “So we asked ourselves: ‘What can we do to target both problems?’”Solution
Dallas Primary School’s strategy was to use children’s innate enthusiasm for video games to entice students who were reluctant readers and writers to learn the basics of storytelling. The vehicle for doing this was brought to Kenely’s attention when the Innovative Schools Program showcased some experimental applications and tools.
“We saw a demonstration of Kodu, which is a visual programming language from Microsoft Research,” says Kenely. “It enables youngsters to create their own video games which they play with and share.”
Available as a complimentary download for PCs, Microsoft Research Kodu is an easy-to-use game-making platform designed to help youngsters create their own video games. The icon-based application makes it simple for children to build and test their own games using a simple object- and event-driven visual programming language in which various Kodu characters and objects can be programmed to respond to game events.
Grade 3 teachers, Samantha Kenely and Joanne Smith at Dallas Primary School selected a focus group of Year 3 students who needed special help with constructing narratives. Students were told to create games with Kodu that had a beginning, a middle and an end, giving them an introduction to the basics of narrative structure.
The children were then encouraged to transfer these ideas into a piece of writing that demonstrated their understanding.
“I would sit down with the children and ask them what their games were about, and they would be very enthusiastic to tell me about them,” Kenely says. “Then I’d say, ‘That was fantastic, why don’t we try writing it down?’.”Benefits
Teachers at Dallas Primary found that Kodu helped to build critical thinking skills and creativity in students, as well as improve confidence in their ability to experiment. But that’s not the way children saw it – for them, it was all about the fun.
As a result, Kenely says, children who were once reluctant writers now have the basic skills they need to construct a story and, in many cases, are even excited by the idea of writing.Effective teaching technique
Kodu has improved literacy skills in Year 3 students, and teachers credit part of that success to improved engagement.
“Students from this focus group are now more willing to have a go at writing and enjoy sharing their work with others,” Kenely says. “And students not only enjoy writing time more, there are no more classroom management issues associated with lack of engagement.”Improved critical thinking
Staff observed that Kodu helped increase students’ capacity to visualise their thinking and sequence-specific concepts, as they developed the location for their story and planned the events.
“Using Kodu the students were able to learn about a difficult concept like how to structure a narrative. This would have been very challenging for them to grasp without the opportunity to convey their ideas in a way that didn’t require written words,” says Joanne Smith, Year 3 teacher.
“In addition, learning how to tweak and debug until their game works develops the critical thinking skills that form the basis of human intelligence.”Reaching kinaesthetic learners
Teachers at Dallas Primary School also discovered that Kodu worked particularly well in addressing the needs of kinaesthetic or active learners – those children who learn by doing, rather than reading.
“Some of those boys couldn’t sit still and concentrate for five minutes, so trying to get them to sit down with a pen in their hand to write could be quite difficult,” Kenely says. “But sit them in front of a video game and they’ll solve problems, develop stories and use their creativity in all kinds of new ways.
“In essence, we created a teaching vehicle that targeted what they actually like to do in their spare time.” Word of mouth
Kodu proved so popular with the focus group that its popularity spread virally throughout the school. This made it easy for teachers to use it in other classrooms and to help teach other subjects.
“Some of our non-target children are now using Kodu because they saw what the boys were doing and got a bit jealous and wanted to use it too.
“We didn’t teach it: children from other classrooms who had become experts came in and demonstrated how the program worked.” New approaches
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Kodu to Dallas Primary School was its capacity to stimulate new teaching ideas, and provide teachers with a solid example of how a particular technology can positively impact traditional lesson plans.
“Microsoft Research Kodu has made a big difference to the way I teach and I will definitely use it again,” Kenely says. “Even if I move to another school, I’ll be taking Kodu with me as a teaching aid.”Partners in Learning
Partners in Learning is a global initiative that is dedicated to enabling access to technology, supporting leadership and building community in Australian schools. Since its inception in 2003,* Partners in Learning has furthered the interests of more than 192 million students and over 8.5 million teachers and policymakers in 114 countries, with a total worldwide investment of US$500 million. In Australia, we have already reached over 142,000 students, teachers and leaders and will invest A$15 million in cash and resources by 2013.Innovative Schools Program
The Innovative Schools Program is a collaborative partnership between Microsoft Australia, Australian state governments and Australian schools
that explores how innovative schools can empower innovative learning. The program helps schools transform their learning in meaningful ways, by focusing on pedagogy, leadership, vision and culture. By supplementing the transformation with cutting-edge technologies, the program helps prepare the next generation to become innovative thinkers, effective problem solvers and more proficient contributors to a global society.
* All statistics correct as of February 2011.For More Information
For more information about Microsoft education products and services, please visit our website at: www.microsoft.com.au/education
For more information about Dallas Primary School and Kindergarten, call 03 9309 1181 or visit the website at: www.dallasps.vic.edu.au/
For more information about Partners in Learning, please go to:
For more information about Partners in Learning in Australia, please email:
To take a look at Kodu, please visit:
http://fuse.microsoft.com/project/kodu.aspx or check out Planet Kodu at http://www.planetkodu.com/This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.