Last period today I finally met my Year 9 Geography class properly. We are starting with the topic of Water Management and on the weekend I found this wonderfully appropriate game called Catchment Detox. So today I introduced the course by just asking them to play the game for the whole 64 minute lesson, briefly raising the idea of showing them how to play, but they assured me they could work it out for themselves and in the most part, they did. The game involves taking 100 turns and at each turn deciding upon how to raise money through industry (eg various forms of agriculture and/or tourism), how to manage water supplies (eg investing in water research and/or building dams) and other ecological decisions (eg whether to make national parks). I dangled a prize of a packet of lollies for the highest score by the time of our next lesson on Wednesday.
Some students went slowly and carefully while others went at great speed and played nearly three times in the time period. They were allowed to play in pairs or individually with most choosing individually but openly discussing tactics with each other. As some became more adept at the game they helped others. Some were competitive, trying to find out each other’s achievements. Interesting, even though I had said score/rank was what would win the prize, most of the focus was on how much money they were earning. I heard conversations about cows versus pigs, orchards versus rice and excitement about investing in viticulture. Questions of each other were asked about salinity, where one should build a dam and the merits of logging. A handful of students listened to music with ear buds and one played music quietly on his laptop, muting it whenever I came near, as if I couldn’t hear it unless I was standing right next to him. Other than looking for music, I didn’t see any screens not on the game until the last few minutes of the lesson.
Many students were scoring in the 500,000s (I achieved 599,602 in my only game yesterday) but then 5 minutes before the end, a student who already shows signs of being disengaged, low achieving and disruptive in a ‘regular’ class environment was excited to achieve 642,000+ and was very pleased to have a fuss made about it. When I say ‘signs’ I guess I mainly mean his attitude or perhaps just my teacher’s sixth sense.
I learned about lots of the students’ behaviour (who swears, who becomes loud when excited, who is competitive and so on) and they had a lot of fun. They left class feeling good about themselves, with most of them thanking me for the class. The next lesson will be about what sort of issues Australia faces in regards to water management and I bet they’ll have heaps to contribute now. I look forward to seeing them with their thinking caps on, applying the game to real life, and hopefully engaging in authentic learning. I’m glad I was game enough to throw them into chaos from Day One.