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Good Practice - Case Study
The Reddings Primary & Nursery School
School No: 846
Using Nintendo DS Handheld Gaming Devices in Year 6
Using games as a teaching and learning aid has long been in practice. As computer technology has become firmly embedded into the classroom, and the popularity of computer games at home has soared, with 90% of 7 – 16 year olds owning or having access to a games console1, many educators are asking what role computer gaming can play in schools. Further to that, there has been a rapid emergence of “Edutainment” computer games over the last few years. These have been most prominent in the form of “Brain Training” games on the Nintendo DS handheld gaming console, and are generally aimed at adults or young people as opposed to children. These games employ puzzles which, it has been suggested, can help to keep certain parts of the brain active if carried out regularly, though Nintendo point out that this has not been scientifically validated. Recent research has found that using these games cannot actually increase the user’s IQ, but repeated use of the games can make the user better at carrying out this type of mental cognition activity.
The Reddings Primary and Nursery School is a Community school located in Hemel Hempstead. It has an age range of 3 – 11 with 141 children on role. There are 20 children in the Year 6 class 2009/2010, with a 75% / 25% female/male split. During the Spring term of 2010 the class has been using Nintendo DS handheld gaming consoles with “Brain Training” software to regularly undertake numeracy and literacy puzzles. We wanted to see whether their performance in this type of activity would improve, and whether using this technology would be a motivating and effective way for them to practice mental numeracy in particular. We were also keen to learn what challenges may be presented by adopting this type of one-to-one gaming technology in the classroom.
Without a control group it would not be possible to gather any reliable data as to whether the use of the device and software had helped the children improve their general numeracy skills more than would be expected across this period of time with regular school attendance. However, it would be possible to gather anecdotal evidence of whether the children were motivated to practice their cognition skills more through this type of technology, and whether they were able to complete the often challenging activities faster and more accurately across a period of time. Additionally, a formal research project was carried out in Scotland using similar software with similarly aged children across a 10 week period, which also included a control group using no such device, and another group using the Brain Gym system. This research project showed that the most significant gains across the 10 weeks were found in the group using the Nintendo DS consoles and Brain Training software (see Further Information section.)
The Nintendo DS Lite handheld gaming console, first released in 2006, is one of the most popular gaming devices available, having sold over 84 million units worldwide as of the end of September 20092. It features 2 LCD screens, one of which is a touchscreen. The user of the device can control games and input to the device using a penlike stylus on this touch-screen. Buttons are also available for input, as well as a built-in microphone which can be used for voice commands in some games. The device also has wireless functionality, and when a game supports it it can communicate with other Nintendo devices for 2 player gaming. Games are played by inserting a game cartridge into the device. Each child in the class had access to one of these devices. They used the same device each time so that their scores could be tracked by the software, although scores were also noted down manually. The DS console features a rechargeable battery, and they were charged in the classroom using standard mains power strips. A fully charged battery will give several hours of game play.
The game used in this project was “More Brain Training by Dr. Kawashima: How Old Is Your Brain?” When playing this game, the user first undertakes a “brain age” check which calculates a brain age in the range of 20 – 80 years. The player can then do frequent mini-games to help“train” their brains, and the brain age check can be carried out whenever the user wishes, though only once a day. Scores for the individual games as well as the brain age checks are tracked by the software.
The mini-games vary in their type, but are all mental puzzles which need to be completed in as short a time as possible. The score of each game and the brain age is calculated from a combination of speed and accuracy (incorrect answers causing a time penalty.)
At the beginning of the project the children were given a mental maths test (based on a past SATs paper) and an Attitude Questionnaire to evaluate how they felt about school, and in particular Maths and Literacy. The questionnaire also asked whether they enjoyed computer games and whether they thought computer games could help them learn.
Each child in Year 6 was given more or less daily access to a Nintendo DS console. Each device was numbered and each child used the same number each day, unless there was a technical problem with their device (see ‘Challenges’.) Having completed the mental maths test and the attitude questionnaire, each child did an initial Brain Age check using the software. It was made clear to the children that this “Brain Age” was not real, and was merely a number to represent how well they had done, just like a score, the lower the number indicating a better score. These brain ages were recorded.
For the following 9 weeks the children undertook around 10-15 minutes of Brain Training puzzle solving most days of the school week, with the Brain Age Check being carried out once a week, and the score from this was recorded each time (note that the intended time period was 10 weeks, but serious disruption was caused to the beginning of term due to adverse weather conditions, so the project was a week late in commencing.)
At various points throughout the term the children took their scores and added them to individual spreadsheets so they could track their individual progress. This was done as part of maths lessons, and a display was created in the classroom to show their graphs.
At the end of the Spring Term the children undertook a final Brain Age Check and then were asked to complete the Attitude Questionnaire again and as part of that, respond to an open question about whether they thought the project had helped them, and why / why not. The children also retook the same mental maths test that they had completed when the project began.
It was clear from the outset that, as would be expected, the children were very motivated and excited to be using this type of technology in the classroom. It is something the majority of the children had used before, and they were instantly comfortable with using it. Whilst the games involve some quite difficult numeracy and literacy puzzles, the children did not see these so much as numeracy and literacy activities, and more as just games. The children looked after the devices extremely well and there were no breakages or losses throughout the project. The enthusiasm for using the consoles was maintained across the whole term.
Collectively, the children showed a 25% improvement in their ‘Brain Training’ scores across the 9 weeks, within the 60 year brain age range possible within the game. This constitutes an average improvement of 15 “brain years.” (See table below.) Of course, as previously mentioned, this “brain age” should only be treated as a marker of improvement. Improvements ranged from 36 years down to one year with every child showing improvement, with the exception of one who has a statement of Special Educational Needs. However, whilst this child did not show a reduction in “brain age” he did enjoy using the device and made a positive comment in response to the open question asked at the end of the project period about whether the children felt using the console/software had helped them learn. The response to this question was, in fact, unanimously positive, with frequent mentions of the fact that the children felt using the Brain Training software had helped them to think quicker and had helped them with their maths (see all responses below.) In the mental maths test given at the beginning and end of the project, the children showed an overall average improvement of 17.5%. Of course, without a control group within the same class it is not possible to tell how much of this improvement can be attributed to the use of the Nintendos.
This project demonstrated how, by using a technology the children are familiar with and associate with fun, children can be motivated to carry out learning activities which they might otherwise not enjoy or want to do. As previously mentioned, the pupils didn’t really see the activities as mental maths or literacy exercises, instead considering them as just games. For example, one child commented on the fact that she enjoyed using the Nintendo DS because it meant she “didn’t have to work as much.” Through regular use of the Brain Training software the children were able to carry out the activities more quickly and accurately, so improving their scores, and a very real and significant improvement in the class’ average score was recorded across the term. We can assume that this regular practice of mental numeracy and literacy skills would have had a positive impact on their learning in these areas. By the end of the project many of the children were able to articulate clearly how they though it had helped them, and this can be heard in a video made about the project which is available above.
The positive impact of the project would probably have been greater if the software had been more suited to children of this age, and had covered a more specific skill set for, in this case, KS2 children. The ability to specify which brain age check activities should be used would also have been helpful. The use of larger pen-sized styli would probably have been more comfortable for the children to use and would have lead to fewer instances of their handwriting being misread and marked as incorrect by the software.
Whilst the children’s motivation was maintained across the project period, it is probable that this would have diminished over time if the same activities had continued to be used in the same way. This would, of course, happen with any type of activity that is repeated over a long period of time. It could also be argued that if this type of technology was widely adopted in schools, it would soon be seen by the children not as a home gaming device, but as a ‘school device’ and therefore would be less appealing to use regularly. However, Hertfordshire’s 2008-2009 Handheld Learning Pilot, which used Personal Digital Assistant handheld computers (PDAs) in three Year 6 classes across a whole school year, showed that whilst the ‘novelty factor’ wore off after the first few weeks, the children remained motivated by the flexibility and personalised learning experience that the device offered to them. PDAs however offer far more facilities than a made-for-gaming device such as the Nintendo DS (see further information.)
There were no particularly significant changes between the results of the Attitude Survey which was taken at the beginning, and again at the end of the project. These were very positive at the beginning with the children showing that they generally enjoyed school and learning. The children’s comments about the project, from this Attitude Survey, can be seen below.
Overall, this Nintendo DS Project at The Reddings Primary and Nursery School can be seen a successful experience and demonstrates that this type of technology can be easily integrated into daily use, with a positive impact on those using it.
In the final Attitude Questionnaire the children were asked this open question:
Did you enjoy this project? Do you think it has helped you learn? Can you tell us why / why not?
This statistic was taken from Ofcom’s report on children and young people’s access to online content:
Nintendo DS / Brain Training study in Scotland:
General information on the Nintendo DS lite (2 sales figures information above taken from this source.):
Official Website for the Brain Training series of software (called “Brain Age” in the USA):
Thank you to Natasha Chiswell, Year 6 teacher, and her 2009/2010 class for initiating this project and their help and enthusiasm throughout. Thank you to Charlotte Harber, Primary National Strategy Teaching and Learning Consultant, for her help and advice. Report written by Chris Carter, eDevelopments Adviser, Hertfordshire Curriculum ICT Team.