The Grid at Mowmacre Hill Primary School

I was asked if I would run some workshops as part of Mowmacre Hill Primary School’s Creative Learning Day – a day aimed at trialling a range of creative learning activities and developing the pupils’ role in the planning, reflection and evaluation stages of Creative Partnerships projects.

Working in mixed-age ‘research groups’, each consisting of 30 pupils, the children were exploring the following 5 areas of creativity:

  • Envisaging what might be
  • Questioning and challenging
  • Making connections and seeing relationships
  • Exploring ideas and keeping options open
  • Reflecting critically on ideas, actions and outcomes

So, I needed to provide an activity that would work with children aged 5-11 years old and would provide a framework for the areas of creativity. After some discussion with the Creative Agent (representative from Creative Partnerships) we decided to use a version of Emergent Game.

Given that at least 50% of the adults who play Emergent Game pay to keep hold of their avatars, I thought it would be prudent to change the format to one that didn’t involve soft toys!

A selection of mysterious liquids

A selection of mysterious liquids

Inspired by the workshop we did at hanare project in Japan last year, where we ran out of toys and one of the players used a glass of water instead, I decided to theme it around some mysterious liquids…

I was also keen to build on the immersive experience work I did earlier this year at Linden Primary School, and experiment with how key strategies from that might be scaled down into something much smaller. In this case, a workshop lasting about an hour.

Starting off in a room next door to where I had laid out the grids, I first introduced myself as a secret agent. I wasn’t allowed to tell them much about my job, other than that we were on the lookout for fresh talent to join my department in the years to come.

I gave them a description of the sort of people we were looking for:

  • People who can notice the smallest details.
  • People who can think the biggest ideas.
  • People who can tell the best stories.
  • People who can imagine the wildest dreams.

I then informed them we would be doing a series of missions as a sort of a job interview, and I would be watching to see who had the skills we were interested in.

We also wanted people who were good at team work, so I gave them 1 minute to get into pairs (preferably with someone from a different year). After that, I told them our missions would be based around investigating some mysterious liquids. The scientists in my department had no idea what these liquids were, so we needed the pupils to figure out what the stories might be so the scientists knew where to start with their research.

The mysterious liquids were all in a rucksack and the teams of special-agents-in-training did a lucky dip to get the one they would be investigating. Whilst the bag made its way towards the back of the group and after the initial exclamations of “its just water” had been heard, I reiterated the four skills, asking after each one if they thought “its just water” would be the sort of thing we were looking for. Generally, they thought not!

The Grid

The Grid

With all the mysterious liquids distributed, we moved next door into the mission laboratory and gathered around the edge of the grid. Here I explained the first mission:

What is the name of your liquid?
Where is it from?
What is the best thing it has ever done?

From this standing start, the children only had about 3 minutes to come up with the seeds of a back story for their mysterious liquids.

They did me proud with intergalactic waters of several different sorts; healing octopus blood; water from a river-and-washing-up-liquid accident; jelly from London that would make you powerful and water from Antarctica that looked innocent enough, but only the two agents working with it had the special eyesight to see what it really was…

It poisons you because a part of the moon has fallen into it...

It poisons you because a part of the moon has fallen into it...

Where some of the older kids were sniggering and wanting to say their mysterious liquids were urine, I called their bluff and demanded more details.

Frog wee/wii

Frog wee/wii collected by a farmer over the course of one day

Next – to some embarrassment from aforementioned sniggering kids – was the reporting-back session, where each team told the rest of the group what they thought their mysterious liquid was. This gave me a chance to make sure everyone was entering into the spirit of things and identify the very few who were unable to see anything more than a bottle of water. It also meant that everyone could see what sort of standard was being set and what they had to match up to.

Next I unleashed the remaining missions: one asking them to write a postcard from their mysterious liquid to one of the other mysterious liquids; one asking them to design a creature that might live in the liquid, giving me information about what it looks like, how it moves and how it breathes; one asking about what it might have been used to wash clean; and one explaining where the liquid might (and might not) like to hang out in school.

The creature-designing mission was by far the most popular mission, but again the pupils did amazingly well, with most of them completing all four missions in something like 15 minutes.

We concluded with a second reporting back session lasting about 10 minutes in which each team was asked to share their best mission.

Here is a slideshow of some of the mission cards that were produced during the three workshops:

It was great for me to be able to run the game (although I never actually called it that in front of the pupils) 3 times back-to-back, because it meant I was able to try different formats and tweak things that weren’t quite working as well as I wanted.

In addition to this, the pupils were also involved in evaluating and reflecting on each workshop immediately after it finished. I wasn’t part of these sessions, but you get the gist of them from the evaluation sheets each child completed:

Did you...

Did you...

At the end of the day there was a final session where the pupils were again asked for their thoughts on the different activities they had taken part in, this time feeding back verbally in response to questions such as: did you think the activity was better suited to any particular year groups; what did you enjoy about the activity; and what aspect of learning did they think it was relevant to.

I followed my last group into their final session and so was able to get a feel for how positively it had been received. I missed whether they thought it was suited towards a particular age group, which was a shame because I want to know how the youngest children got on with it.

There was potentially a large focus on writing during the game, and I wanted to check whether the working in pairs (and often with a teacher supporting them), coupled with the verbal reporting-back sessions, meant that they were still able to express their ideas in a way that wasn’t too daunting (more important to me than actually generating written documentation).

A really interesting thing that came out during this evaluation was how much the pupils were linking it to their maths and science lessons. It’s possible it could also have been influenced by us working in the science room, but they were mostly making an incredibly strong connection to the containers of liquid and their work on capacity etc!

Another piece of feedback I received, this time from a member of staff at lunch time, was the value of the reporting-back sessions in going towards developing some much-needed speaking and listening skills. This was really useful, because up until then I had been a little bit concerned about the pacing and whether this bit slowed things down too much.

Anyway, many lessons learned, and I’m confident that the Emergent Game framework can be successfully and interestingly adapted to use in different education contexts. Next challenges might be to explore how it might be harnessed to a specific set of learning objectives. It would also be good to get the pupils roaming around the school a bit and interacting with their surroundings. I’d also like to see what happens if we re-introduce the emergent aspect and ask the pupils to start generating their own missions…