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At This Camp, Playing Is More Than Just A Game

Last week, teachers from Allegheny Countygathered in Homestead to learn how to integrate games and play into their classrooms. This week those same teachers tested out what they learned on real kids.

Max O’Malley was one of 35 middle school kids at a camp at Carnegie Mellon University. One of their tasks was to create a new game using ping pong balls and plastic cups. Max and his group created a game based on the concept of air hockey.

The camp allows teachers to take recent training on play-based learning and apply it to real life.

“We’re encouraging curiosity and trying to have them work together in terms of creating the best, most efficient, and most fun games,” said Joe Cangilla, a math/business and computer teacher at Hampton High School.

Cangilla said the training has allowed him to explore game-like learning and how to incorporate that into his lessons.

“I think it’s a great change up,” he said. “I think it motivates the kids and it has them doing different things. I mean, we have a tough time with certain kids, keeping their attention span, so continuously changing it up and having them do something, using technology, it all incorporates creativity and continuously helping their brains work in that manner.”

Last week, the teachers played Simon Says, Marco Polo and Ninja, among others. At this week’s camp, the students learned the same games — but can also put their own spin on things.

In addition to such games, groups of about 10 students are tasked with creating their own planet, along with four brand new games that can be played on the planet. One group of kids was busy working on developing their planet.

Annish and Ceu said they haven’t yet made up the games yet, but know they will be a mix of analog and digital and a key component will be balance.

“We want to use technology, we don’t know what apps yet, but there’s one earthquake app for balancing,” said Annish. Ceu continued, “Yeah, one of the purposes is to use technology in a way that other people wouldn’t expect. So we won’t be actually be making a digital game, but we’ll be using the iPad’s timer or the earthquake app.”

At a games expo at the camp, groups of students were busy either working on their planet or playing the games their peers had developed. Soon-to-be 8th grader Kaine Blakey Crumpton said he’d like to see this type of activity during the school year.

“It teaches us new things like how to interact with other people trying to create things, and it really gives us a chance to meet new people and see what they can do and you can also figure out in yourself what you can do too,” he said.  

But it’s not all fun and games, though it may seem like it for the kids. The developers, New York-based Institute of Play, said this concept of games in the classroom allows kids to learn without even realizing it. This is the first time the group has trained outside of New York or Chicago.

Several of the teachers said it would change the way they approach games and learning. One said he hasn’t used games in the past but will try to incorporate them in the coming school year.

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as like something they do gathering information," said Christopher Foster, a teacher in the Elizabeth Forward School District. "I have always done maybe a review game, but not a strategy of them going out and finding the information on their own through a game, so that’s going to be something that I use, definitely.”

Foster said he is excited about finding new ways to get students involved and active. Other teachers said they have also learned how to better incorporate technology such as iPads into games and classroom learning.

But, even for districts or classrooms that aren’t equipped with the latest technology — the kids were all highly engaged and having fun with the various games made with just string, cups and ping pong balls.