Physical education and technology together at Year 9

Heretaunga College students.

The 2016 Game Design Competition  prompted cross-curriculum delivery for a class of Year 9 students. Here's a look at their learning.

When students from Heretaunga College investigated potential road safety hazards on local streets, they took to their bikes. Before pedalling out the school gate, they strapped on GoPro cameras to a helmet, a handlebar and the back of a seat. They didn’t want to miss a thing.

PE teacher and Assistant Principal Hayden Shaw joined them on his bike. The pedal-powered investigation was ground work for his class to enter the NZ Transport Agency’s Game Design Competition.

Students have worked on their games during both PE and technology timetable slots. It’s a pilot project organised by Hayden to explore cross-curriculum delivery.

“I’m interested in design thinking and how that can be brought into school more across different learning areas,” he says.

As a result, learning spans physical activity, community participation and technological practice, with a context of road safety to activate student thinking.

“It engages the social side of their thinking and that’s quite important,” says Hayden. “Allowing them to think about what is actually happening in the world they’re part of, and how they can potentially make a change or influence their world is a positive thing.”

This social outlook addresses key competencies, including participating and contributing. Hayden’s students keep portfolios about how their project teams put key competencies into play – giving them a way to reflect on their learning.

“They might take some footage of themselves in action and add that into a Google doc,” says Hayden. “It’s a work in progress but it’s another way of seeing the learning that is coming out of this project.”

He’ll evaluate the cross-curricular unit based on feedback from students about how they’ve enjoyed it, the quality of the games they make, and his own observations of the class in action.

Planning across two subjects

The key thing to running a game design programme across two subjects was setting aside time for Hayden and the technology teacher to meet and plan. As a result, in technology class, students worked through the stages of technological practice, from a brief towards prototyping games.

“We brainstormed and did our first designs then compared them to the specifications for what we have to do for the game,” says student Ruby.

PE class provided time for students to develop their contextual knowledge of road safety. Hayden made use of the college’s 12 mountain bikes. He ran cycle skills training in-school, before the most able cyclists joined him on the road ride.

And there was a cross-over of skills, with Hayden slipping design thinking into his PE class. He tasked students with designing physical activities with the bikes. Once it was time to create games, the teachers arranged a fortnight when students worked intensively on their outcomes across all PE and tech periods.

Collaborative learning

The competition requires students to work on their entries as a group, providing students with more experience aligned to the key competencies.

Hayden says students are at different stages of managing their learning and how they collaborate.

“Some groups are highly functioning. There are also groups that are battling away. They are taking a little longer because they’re struggling with having a little more autonomy over their time. That’s a positive thing because it’s something for us to keep working at.”

Three students talked about their learning

Ruby: “We brainstormed what we already knew would help us to make our game, what we needed to learn, and our ideas for what we want our road safety game to be like.”

Charlotte: “You take games for granted, but when you design one yourself it’s a lot harder than you think it will be. You have to make decisions. You need to know the rules and you need to make sure it is fun and appealing.”

Rebekah: “We’re learning about the process of designing things.”

Charlotte: “And we’re learning to make decisions and take other people’s thoughts into account.”

A version of this article first appeared in Interface magazine:

Game design helps the learning cycle