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“It is very difficult to be innovative when you are working alone; it is much better to bounce ideas off other people. This is how ideas grow and is vital for moving education forward.”

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“It is very difficult to be innovative when you are working alone; it is much better to bounce ideas off other people. This is how ideas grow and is vital for moving education forward.”

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Originally posted on the Daily Edventures Blog.

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Nicki Maddams knows first-hand the power of games in learning, and her Kodu in the Klassroom demonstrates why. When Maddams discovered Kodu Game Lab, she immediately saw the potential to engage her students. She then developed lesson plans and resources which are now being used throughout the UK and around the world.

Maddams soon discovered that Kodu was not only helpful in teaching computing and ICT, but it also provided a terrific tool to raise the level of literacy for struggling and disengaged
students. Kodu was used by the students to create story-telling games and, according to
Maddams, “Their english teacher was amazed at the improvement in their behavior and work ethic.” After an in-school pilot, she invited local primary schools to take part in the literacy project. Nine and 10-year old students visited Maddams’s school once a week for nine weeks to learn how to design and create their own games, while writing the storylines and planning content for the games. They even blogged about their work.

Maddams shared her project at Microsoft’s European Innovative Teacher Awards in Lisbon, and will attend the November Global Forum in Prague to share the work with an even broader audience. Today, she shares with us her passion for teaching and her thoughts on the vast potential for game-based learning.

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Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

Within the subject I teach, ICT is often taught by non-specialists and therefore sometimes they may struggle with getting to grips with the subject. I frequently share my resources online through my website so other teachers can use these within their lessons and simply adapt to suit their needs. More recently in sharing the Kodu resources I have developed, I have received lots of positive feedback from teachers across the globe who are using my resources. This is particularly great to hear as it means more children are being opened-up to the world of programming from a young age!

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

More schools are using software that they may not previously have looked at. Not just in secondary schools but in primary as well, which is great to hear. Providing tutorials for teachers as well as the resources to teach the software has made it much easier for teachers to use new tools and technology in their classrooms.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I try to make things as easy as possible for others; that’s why I share my resources freely through my blog. Hopefully this will take away the challenge for others who just want to focus on their classroom teaching and are not able, or do not have the time, to reinvent the wheel by creating lots of resources from scratch.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Being an ICT teacher, the use of technology is an integral part of my day-to-day teaching. Most recently, the technology that has been particularly innovative is the use of Xbox controllers in my classroom when using Kodu Game Lab with the children. The most important thing is that technology should always be used as a tool and not simply used for the sake of ticking a box. I have an interactive white-board in my room but rarely use it
as such because for me it’s often not relevant to what I am trying to teach.
Our Math department, on the other hand, uses them frequently to good advantage.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Class size would be the main obstacle. Often students are required to share a PC as there simply are not enough in my classroom for the size of some of the classes I teach. In the UK, a number of schools that have been deemed as unfit for their purpose have been re-built in recent years. My school was on the list to be re-built but unfortunately our rebuild (along with a number of others) was cancelled due to lack of funding. As a result, many teachers in the UK are faced with teaching in rooms that are not fit for practice and not suited to children’s needs. For example, my classroom has leaked on occasions, quite dramatically, and gets so hot in the summer as there is no air-conditioning. It’s often quite difficult to engage the children when they’re wilting from the heat!

What is your country doing right to support education?

In terms of my subject, recently our Minister for Education has given us more freedom within the ICT curriculum and enabled us to teach more computing, such as programming, etc. This is great for my subject.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

There are frequent consultations at the government level regarding education, and the problems, as I see them, are that there are too many changes. Recently a lot of the guidance changed as to what should be included in GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) so the exam boards had to bring out lots of new courses to meet these requirements. The impact these decisions have on teachers is that we are then required to re-write our school curricula to match these requirements. In another couple of years, these requirements are likely to be changed again, leaving us to re-write resources again. In the news recently, the government suggested bringing back O-Levels and CSEs (UK standard tests) which were abandoned years ago because they were not suitable. I think it would be best to have fewer changes in education from a government level.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Computers play a huge role when looking at innovation as they offer so much flexibility with different types of software and hardware that are frequently becoming available. Games-based learning is becoming increasingly popular amongst teachers as it is a way of “tricking” the children into learning or a hook to gain the child’s interest in order to base a project around a particular game. I think this is a great idea as we all know children learn best when they are interested in a particular topic.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Networking is a great way to gain ideas and resources; Twitter (@GeekyNicki) is one of the easiest and most popular methods used by teachers as it is so flexible and easy to communicate with lots of people at once. It is a great place for gaining ideas for use in the classroom and also for sharing ideas and resources. It is very difficult to be innovative when you are working alone; it is much better to bounce ideas off other people. This is how ideas grow and is vital for moving education forward.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Game-based learning, as I mentioned earlier, is probably the most recent trend and it seems to have been quite successful, particularly in primary schools where children would tend to base all of their work around a particular topic. I have seen some great examples where children have used games such as Nintendogs, where they would play the game, looking after their pet, but also do creative writing, artwork and even learn about anatomy all based around the game. It is also possible for games-based learning to be taken to the other extreme where a teacher could pick games that are very loosely based around the subject they are teaching and leave the children to “play” for an extended period of time without necessarily checking on progress. Done correctly, games-based learning is an asset to education but it shouldn’t be used in the extreme.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A piano (or maybe just any musical instrument)! This may sound a little strange but I have been learning to play the piano for the last year or so and learning has given me so many skills that are valuable and help me “learn to learn.” For example, to play an instrument you have to develop a lot of patience and perseverance as you are not going to be the world’s best pianist as soon as you begin. Understanding the values of perseverance would be a great asset to any child. Playing an instrument is also a great way to unwind at the end of the day and is very satisfying when you have learned a new piece. In teaching, the children who achieve best are the ones who are willing to persevere with a problem and show patience when things go wrong. There is nothing worse as a teacher than when you see a child give up at the first hurdle because a task is “too hard”! I believe that acquiring the core skills that come with learning an instrument will help any child become a better learner, and in turn they will be ready to take on any challenge, big or small.
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About Nicki Maddams

Birthplace: Margate, Kent, England
Current residence: Maidstone, Kent, England
Education: BSc (hons)Computing
Website I check every day: Probably Facebook and Twitter most days. I also check the
Microsoft Teachers Blog regularly.
Person who inspires me most: There is not one person who particularly stands out for
me but if I were to choose it would probably be Bill Gates. Not only from a technical point-of-view but I am inspired by how much good he has done with his money in terms of his philanthropy.
Favorite childhood memory: I don’t have one specific favorite memory but I have lots
of fond memories of days out with my parents and grandparents, visiting tourist attractions around Kent, such as castles, zoos, museums, etc. One such highlight would be visiting Leeds Castle and having a picnic at which my grandfather toppled backwards in his chair leaving his legs in the air!
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): My partner and I are thinking about
travelling through Europe in the near future, possibly at the end of this summer holiday or possibly next year. We are hoping to stop off in Germany and possibly Austria then head down to Northern Italy before driving back through France. Of cause I will also be travelling to Prague in November for Microsoft’s Global Forum where I will be exhibiting my Virtual Classroom Tour, Kodu in the Klassroom.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? I can’t pinpoint a particular moment as I laugh so frequently! It was probably yesterday evening. My partner Kevin makes me laugh on a regular basis as he is always doing something silly!
Favorite book: I can’t really say I have one favorite as there are so many great books out there. I really enjoyed the Harry Potter series and recently the Hunger Games trilogy. Any of Dan Brown’s books are also very gripping.
Favorite music: It would depend on my mood really. I like a broad range of music from classical to modern. I love almost anything from the eighties. The only music I don’t really like is grunge!
Your favorite quote or motto:A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

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