I am a Secondary English Teacher, but first and foremost I am a Teacher. In my past ‘life’ I was a Software Engineer so I am a Bachelor of both the Sciences and the Arts. In a way I am an embodiment of the tenets of Curriculum for Excellence – I should be, because I hated my schooling: it didn’t fit me, nor I it;
Around this time last year I was near to completing the excellent Postgraduate Diploma in E-learning at Edinburgh University; Digital Game-based Learning was one of the six modules of study that focused on the learning and teaching benefits to be gained from existing and bespoke software applications.
I stumbled upon Silent Hunter III, a World War II software simulation game for the PC, and purchased it for about 2 GBP from Ebay. I did some thinking (and playing), noting that fans were creating montages of scenes from the famous Das Boot film, overlaying in-game footage with an accompanying narrative in the form of subtitles and posting these (as they do for many other games – especially ‘COD’, from my experience of all-boys Standard Grade classes) on Youtube. (#1 & #2)
Confirmed for me was what I had suspected in the re-definition of what is a ‘text’ formalized in the Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy and English – Principles and Practice (LTScotland, p. 4). Here lay the opportunity to do cross-curricular with – at the very least – History, Geography and ICT.
So, for the past few months – most of which has been a very enjoyable, with the odd difficulty here and there – I have been trialing my development with an excellent S2 class and a very helpful Computing Teacher who facilitated in providing a room with enough PCs; the Technician deserves similar praise in installing what became 15 copies of S.H. (10 of which were at personal expense and all from Ebay/Amazon Marketplace) and the two ‘Single Missions’ I created using the program’s ‘Mission Editor’: dropping merchant ships in the Atlantic when recreating Patrol 4 (12th April – 22nd May 1941) against HX-121 and HG-61; placing a plethora of vessels, Swordfish aircraft, mines and a wolf pack of U-boats at the Straits of Gibraltar for Patrol 7 (27th October – 06th December 1941) against OS-10.
Pupils have immersed themselves (pun intended) in the life of a Kriegsmarine crewmember on board the U-96 during two of its Atlantic Patrols. They have consulted non-fiction texts, personal accounts, diagrams, German Navy Grid System maps, clippings from Das Boot and re-creating (with the help of u-boat.net and Google Maps) two actual patrols undertaken by U-96 between April and December 1941. Pupils responded through functional and imaginative responses, and choice was a key consideration, using non-fiction texts with diagrams as well as pure narrative to convey technical information; I plan to offer the same ‘carousel’ approach next year. Pupils have read about the hydroplanes, but when they get a chance to command the ship itself and use the ‘external camera view’ they really see the causal connection – the planes in operation and the ship surface/submerge.
Assessment? I think that a metaphorical form of assessment suits Literacy Outcomes very well, adopting one that fits the context of the aspect of study. For instance, a ‘Ranks and Awards’ metaphor was used to good effect, whereupon pupils progress from Submarine School and begin their careers across the ranks of Seaman (Matrose), Able Seaman (Matrose-Gefreiter) and Leading Seaman (Matrose-Obergefreiter); ‘Award Badges’ were also awarded when the pupil displayed competency or understanding in a particular activity or technical element.
Outcome? Technical difficulties hampered the collation of in-game footage – a consideration for next year, should technical difficulties persist, would be to have a bank of event clips to cover all aspects of their narrative structure - but pupils superimposed their narrative against still images within Powerpoint.
Pupils have been working in collaborative groups (2-4) and thinking in the four dimensional space of their character’s ‘world’, both boys and girls alike experienced the frustration at plotting a convoy … undertaking watch… encountering a clear-blue horizon and a silent hydrophone; I have seen the most unlikely candidates express distress and excitement at an oncoming destroyer as it fills their periscope view.
With crews not exceeding 44 men for a Type VIIC submarine, the class teacher can have pupils draw names of actual navy men that served aboard the U-96, giving them an additional dimension to their imaginative and functional writing activities. I am scheduled, with the History Department committed and perhaps offering in parallel a similar activity based on the Destroyer Command simulation game; other departments have expressed real interest but I think will need more convincing. The plan is to fully implement what will be a 12-week unit during the January-April 2012 term for the next cohort of S2.
Today, complete with a couple of bottles of port for the aforementioned colleagues as tokens of my appreciation, I say “Auf Wiedersehen” to the excellent cohort from S2 (who, of course, signed and sent ‘Thank You’ cards) as we change timetable, and they enter Standard Grade and I contemplate the Microsoft Project plan, the directory of digital resources, the Revell Model Kit, the keyboard layout, the Leverarch folder of texts, the Kriegsmarine Map on the wall…
For my next project – English and Science – Orbiter!