How do you get 7th graders to talk about the role peer pressure can play in traffic accidents? Or how do you train middle-schoolers in using the public transportation system?
For organizations working with any topic affecting children or young people, there is no greater way to make an impact than to integrate their message in the existing curriculum.
Through the years, Workz have helped a number of clients get their messages into the classrooms of primary and secondary education using games or game-like education materials. Here, you will find five pieces of good advice if you are looking to do just that.
Trust the pupils
Presenting the pupils with any kind of game will almost always pique their interest. Even though more and more games are making their way into the classrooms these days, it is still a welcomed change in the curriculum.
While the pupils may be young children, they are well aware that the classroom is a place of learning. Placing your message in this context, you already have their attention. Now you have a chance to provide them with an engaging alternative to direct instruction, and most pupils will see this as an opportunity. Also, when using game-like formats, you are able to teach them something that is right at the edge of what they can usually handle regarding complexity.
In addition, developing groundbreaking and challenging educational materials is also a great way to attract the interest of the teachers.
Design for context
Teachers are the gatekeepers of their classrooms. If you want them to use your game, you have to design it in a way that appeals to them.
First of all, the topic of the game has to be something the teachers are interested in teaching. This usually means that you have to help them see that the game will cover some ground they would have to cover anyways. Few teachers have spare time in their tight schedules.
If the topic you are promoting is not part of the curriculum already (as was the case with our client Rådet for Større Trafiksikkerhed) you have to combine your message with a subject matter that is.
Second of all, you need to make it possible for the teachers to adapt it to their needs. Materials that can be tweaked to work in more than one class or can serve different levels of education will have a greater chance of being used, preferably more than once. Making the material flexible with add-ons and optional uses is a good idea, but do not make it too complex to set up!
Make it accessible
When teachers decide whether or not to use your game, a significant factor is how easy and intuitive participants will find it. Aim for a low threshold and high ceiling. The game has to be easy to prepare and set up, but allow for high quality education.
The less preparation your game requires, the better. If they need to use 45 minutes on printing, cutting out pieces, and glue game boards together, your game is much less likely to be a success.
A good teacher’s guide can really help make the game accessible, but if instructions are 20 pages long, teachers will either assume the game is too complicated. Make sure that the most important information is easy to find and not cluttered in too much other stuff. Make user-friendly instructions and ready-to-use examples of schedules and timelines.
And always remember to test the material on teachers as well as the pupils!
Trust the teachers
The teachers are not only gate keepers, they are also your greatest asset. In the design of the material you should give them a lead role.
Focus on creating a game that generates teachable moments that can be leveraged by the teachers. Very few games can actually replace the function of the teacher, and trying to do so is a waste of time and resources. What you are providing is a tool that teachers can use in class, so give them freedom to use it in a way that helps them bring their best to the table.
As a rule we suggest you focus on making good teachers even better with your material. Trying to make a game that substitute teachers can thrown in to the mix if they have two hours to spare is not a good idea. Your subject matter and the pupils deserve better.
Think beyond design
If you want your game to be a success, you need to think beyond design of the material. For the material to ever end up in a class room it has to be marketed and distributed. The world is full of great games that just collect dust on shelves somewhere.
You need to consider things like distribution and maintenance. If it is a physical game, how will you get the components out to schools? What happens if game pieces get lost? Does your content need updating as time goes by?
Going digital is the perfect way of reducing the challenges of distribution and maintenance, but that does not mean your game has to be a computer game. At Workz, we have specialised in making games that a communicated digitally but played out in the real world.
Promoting your game is the last big obstacle. Even if you provide free materials, and your subject matter is sympathetic and educational, the teachers need to be introduced to it somehow. How will schools and teachers learn about the existence and qualities of your game? Find out where the teachers get their knowledge of new material. Join the conversation on social media and participate in exhibitions and conferences.
Creating ambassadors is another great way to generate buzz around your game. You need to involve teachers or other key opinion leaders in the development of the game and they might help promote it through their channels.
Even if involving them as co-creators might be too expansive, you will still need someone to test your game. Use that as an opportunity to make friends who can help you spread your message. Inviting some teachers (or kids) to the first brainstorms is a perfect first step on the journey.