Saturday, 14 May 2011


Originally, as per my last post, I was supposed to bring the Wii project to another Gr. 2 class--instead I got an email from my school board indicating that my project needed to be finalized so it could be presented during Education Week.

Here it is in poster board format at the SCDSB Education Center...

So I had to postpone the Gr. 2 class (they were quite disappointed! But I will still be bringing it to their classroom next week, 'for fun'). Instead, I had to sit down and enter all my data. I was in 6 classrooms, with 20 students each approx. and each student filled out at least 4 surveys and each survey had 2 questions can see I had a lot of data points to enter in MS Excel.

But I did it. And the results are very interesting...but before I get to the results, I would like to take a moment to clarify what my Action Research project was all about... (if you are really keen to see the key data results, skip down to the highlighted section!)

THE RESEARCH QUESTION: What is the effect of using Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart Wii game in connection with literacy work stations and small group math activities on the engagement levels and work outcomes of Gr. 2-5 students who are working below expected levels (Level 2 and below) in particular boys?

This question was inspired by many things:
  • the fact that provincially, board-wide and at our school, boys tend to lag behind girls academically, sometimes in math but most significantly in literacy (this statement is supported by last years EQAO data, as well as report card and CASI data)
  • as a spec ed teacher, I work a lot with boys who are not meeting expected levels. They tend to dislike school and/or tune out.
  • however, many of these boys often enjoy video games!
  • over the summer I read the Ministry of Education booklet "Me Read? No Way! A Practical Guide to Improving Boys Literacy Skills", which suggested using 'popular culture' and a 'wide range of narratives' such as music videos and tv shows to engage them (I explored this idea also with the creation of
  • over the summer, I discovered Game Based Learning. The first blog I came across was I was amazed. From Mark, I discovered The Consolarium at Learning & Teaching Scotland & their ground breaking work with the use of gaming consoles in the classroom. (These links, and others, can be found at my game based learning resource site).
Put them all together and you get one big AH-HA moment for me. I then approached my principal in September with this 'wild' idea to bring video games into the classroom. That lead to this research project, with which I hoped to establish the legitimacy, feasibility and benefit of using video games in the classroom--and also prove its adaptability as a teaching tool.

As a (part time) SERT, I provide support to 7 classes in Gr. 2-5. Ergo, I approached each class, wondering if they'd be willing to have me bring this project to their classroom. Each teacher graciously said yes! Thus, every week, for 6 weeks (I will be getting to class 7 next week), I went into each class and did the following:
  1. Had all students, at the end of a 'typical' literacy and math activity, fill out a survey that ranked from 1 (low) to 4 (high) their level of engagement in the task and also how well they accomplished that task (work outcomes). 
  2. Teachers also filled out similar surveys with regards to their Level 2 & under students (those not meeting expected levels, male and/or female). How did they think those student did at that 'usual' task, ranked 1 to 4, in terms of engagement and then work outcomes?
  3. On another day (or days), I came into the class and ran Mario Kart themed literacy centers and a Mario Kart themed math task (which was based on whatever math the class was focused on that week...for most of the classes over the 6 weeks, this was a numeracy focus of some kind). 
  4. After these tasks, all students filled out the exact same survey, ranking their engagement levels and work outcomes with regards to the Mario Kart version of the task.
  5. Teachers did the same, observing and ranking their Level 2 & under students .
The game play took place during the literacy centers, when we would call students up one by one to play the game on a TV tucked away in the corner (I had a sign: THE GAME ZONE). We ran the literacy centers until the game play was finished (students played one at a time in order to get a timed result). Sometimes this took one long literacy block (a full morning) and in other classes we spread it out with shorter time blocks over a few days. Once all the game data had been compiled, we ran the math task. In every math class, we started the task by sorting and charting the timed race results, determining and crowning the 'winners' of each race--for which I would give them a certificate. (For more details on facilitating the racing, see my first post on this blog). Then we would move onto the particular math focus for that class.

For more details on the literacy centers and math tasks for each class, please see my previous posts. Every class was slightly different in the Mario Kart version of their centers and/or their math.


As I've mentioned in previous posts, both the regular classroom teacher and I made observations during the Mario Kart activities that indicated improved student engagement and work production. Such as:

  • When literacy centers are revealed, students express excitement, especially if they realize their group is going to a center they are very interested in (like Yoshi script reading). 
  • The Yoshi script reading activity gets carried onto the school yard, with Gr. 2 students continuing to dramatize during their playtime.
  • Two male students in Gr. 4 exclaim ‘awesome’ and give fist pumps when they realize the Mario Kart version of the literacy centers will continue in the next period.
  • Male students in various grades who usually demonstrate disinterest in writing are eager to write at the Luigi writing center, so much so that some of them complain when ‘time is up’ because they want to keep working on it
  • Male students in various grades who are going to participate in the project approach me spontaneously in the hall to express their eagerness for the project.
  • After they’ve participated, male students spontaneously stop me in the hall to thank me…and they do this more than once!
  • In the Grade 2 class Mario math task, the classroom teacher & SERT notice 100% attention to task. No need to redirect.
I've written these observations in the previous blog posts. There may be some that I missed but the point is to show how this project excited students and engaged them in their learning tasks. 
I'd also like to include a letter one of the participating teachers wrote explaining her opinion of the project:
Dear Julie,
The games based learning opportunity was extremely powerful in this class. Looking at student engagement and accountability during regular class activities, and then comparing to the MK days, there was a distinct improvement in excitement and willingness to participate. This is huge! 
Captivating students interest to expose them to a new concept by embedding curriculum into a form they like and are comfortable with is very important. Getting students 'hooked' is part of teaching today's students. This class, in particular, is highly energetic with the need for hands-on tasks. This opportunity allowed for students to learn and practice their literacy and math skills while moving and engaging in an activity with massive 'kid appeal'.  
Thank you so much for orchestrating and spear-heading this project. In my opinion it not only helped teach the specific concepts practiced during these lessons, but gave the students yet another reason to 'buy in' to school--they can learn and have a little fun doing it! Congratulations and thank you!

As I noted earlier, the student survey was given to ALL students participating and they ranked their engagement and their work outcomes from 1 (low) to 4 (high) in math and literacy for both a 'typical' version of those tasks and a Mario Kart themed version. Teachers did the same, but only for their Level 2 & under students.
I thus entered in my Excel data sheet a number 1 to 4 which indicated their  ranking for literacy and math for before (typical) and after (Mario Kart version), the idea being that I could compare the two and see if they thought their engagement or outcomes increased with the Mario Kart version. 

Here are the results (the teacher survey results for individual students are especially grand--as are the average comparisons--see below).


All Students, Literacy & Math
Individually, for the literacy centers, for all the students surveyed (a total of 118):
  • 46% reported an increase in engagement with the MK version
  • 39% indicated an increase in work outcomes.
Here it is in chart format. It shows whether or not there was an increase in engagement with the MK versions, or if their engagement stayed the same, or decreased, or was n/a (meaning there was no comparison to be made, because they did not attend both sessions). 

Individually, for the math task, for all the students surveyed:
  • 31% reported an increase in engagement with the MK version
  • 33% indicated an increase in work outcomes.
Again, here it is in chart format: 

Level 2 & Under Students, Boys/Girls, Literacy
Looking at the Level 2 & under boys specifically, the student surveys indicate that, for the literacy centers:
  • 34% indicated an increase in engagement with the MK version
  • 51% indicated an increase in work outcomes. 
Here it is in chart format:

With the Level 2 and under girls and the literacy centers:
  • 48% indicated an increase in engagement with the MK version
  • 24% indicated an increase in work outcomes. 
Here it is in chart format:

Level 2 & Under Students, Boys/Girls, Math
For the math, the student surveys indicate that, for the level 2 and under boys:
  • 38% indicated an increase in engagement with the MK version
  • 21% indicated an increase in work outcomes. 
Here it is in chart format:

With the level 2 and under girls, meanwhile:
  • 31% indicated an increase in engagement with the MK version
  • 31% indicated an increase in work outcomes.
Here it is in chart format:
So, to summarzie, both boys and girls, level 2 and under or not, yeilded increases in engagement and work outcomes using Mario Kart in math and literacy centers, according to student and teacher surveys. Certainly, there were very minimal decreases noted, indicating that the use of the Wii game in a curricular context has great potential as a learning-teaching tool.  INDIVIDUAL RESULTS-TEACHER SURVEYS
As mentioned, the teachers observed their level 2 & under students during 'typical' literacy & math times, and again during the Mario Kart versions, ranking on their surveys their engagement levels and work outcomes.

Level 2 & Under Boys/Girls--Literacy Centers
Teachers reported that, for the literacy centres:
  • 60% of their level 2 & under boys increased in engagement with the MK version
  • 40% increased in work outcomes.
This compares to:
  •  53% of their level 2 & under girls increasing in engagement with the MK version, and 
  • 41% of their level 2 & under girls increasing in work outcomes as reported by their teachers.

Teachers reported, for the math task:
  • 71% of their level 2 & under boys increased in engagement with the MK version
  • 62% increased in work outcomes.
This compares to:
  • 57% of level 2 & under girls increasing in both engagement and work outcomes with the MK version, as reported by their teachers.

Personally, I think these percentages from the teacher observations are phenomenal! It shows the perceived gains individual students working below expected levels made with the inclusion of game based learning. The boys showed the greatest gaines (71% increased in math engagement!) but the girls did as well. It seems, according to the teachers, there were gains for both boys and girls who are working below expected levels.

*It is interesting to note the discrepancy between the teachers perceptions of the Level 2 boys & girls and the students perceptions of themselves. The teachers noted more increases in engagement and work outcomes than the students did of themselves (which may say something about student self perceptions? There's another research project in this, I'm sure!)
**Also interesting is that the engagement levels and work outcomes do not always match. Do engaged students naturally = strong work outcomes? One would presume so, but I also think with the struggling students, output varies according to type (verbal output is often greater than written output, for example). Many of these activities were writing based. However, the relationship between engagement, outcomes and type of outcomes looks like another area for further study! 

Teacher Comments
Teachers had a space on their surveys for comments and these were some of the observations they made about their level 2 & under students (male/female) during Mario Kart literacy centers: 
  • loved getting to spend the morning talking about mario
  • great at the reading centre
  • very enthusiastic
  • really enjoyed reading script at group
  • excited to share ideas
  • enjoyed tasks especially script writing and acting out
  • did well in drama based activities
  • good effort, generally on topic
  • worked diligently, and my personal favourite: 
  • often very resistant to literacy tasks, he participated well today.
In math, here are some of the teacher comments about their level 2 & under students (male/female) during Mario Kart math:
  • loved it!
  • interested
  • very enthusiastic to complete 'show me' game
  • didn't want to stop working
  • enjoyed this tremendously, was proud to present with partner
  • he loved this! He was engaged and had fun creating problems
  • loved the Mario kart concept
  • very interested and engaged
  • very excited to play

After looking at the individual results, I then looked at the averages for each class.


While not every student indicated increases in both areas individually, the averages per class indicate increases in many areas, and when the averages for all participants are calculated, there are increases in all areas save one (the Level 2 & Under Girls, while reporting an increase in Engagement, did not report an increase in Work Outcomes, rather, it stayed the same). 
Here is a quick chart summary of the key points:
Teacher Surveys, averages
All level 2 & under students
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in Both Engagement & Work Outcomes
All level 2 & under BOYS
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
All level 2 & under GIRLS
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes

Student Surveys (gr. 2-5)

Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes

Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
All level 2 & under BOYS
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
All level 2 & under GIRLS
Increases in both Engagement & Work Outcomes
Increases in Engagement while Work Outcomes stayed the same
Well. I think that sums it up quite nicely! 

Looking at the average survey response of the participants, all the students (save for the Level 2 & under girls) indicated an increase both in engagement levels and work outcomes with the Mario Kart version. 

And according to the average  rating of the teachers, all Level 2 & Under students, whether boy OR  girl, showed an increase in both engagement and work outcomes with the Mario Kart version.

 Initially, we thought this would impact boys primarily but really, when you look at the averages, there was not that much difference for the boys as for the girls. There was wide spread benefit.


Here are some of these specific data points (of averages) in a graph, particularly as it relates to Level 2 & Under boys (an essential part of my research question):




I have so many people to thank for this project! My principal, D. Brownlee, and Vice Principal, P. Smith, who supported this project 100%. The teachers who participated and their students. My husband, Patrick Johnson, for encouragement and tech support! The school board and the MISA grant for providing funds to support this project. And all the great game based learning teachers out there, in particular my Twitter PLN, who offered--and continue to offer--inspiration and support. Many, many thanks!

More game based learning! In fact, I am now in the process of co-ordinating with my local high-school (and, hopefully, with our entire Area of schools) a larger Mario Kart project inspired, again, by Scotland's Consolarium. As they did, I'd like to organize a Mario Kart Leaderboard, the idea being that individual schools and classes could use Mario Kart in their classrooms/curriculum as they see fit (we would provide ideas to get them started, of course!) and then post their race times on the Leaderboard. Later in the year, we would take the highest contenders and have a Wii tournament/celebration! 

The idea is in its infancy, but if anyone out there is interested please contact me. We'd like to run this locally but with the power of Skype, Wii tournaments can be held between anyone anywhere (A teacher in Tornoto Diana Maliszewski (@MZMollyTL) and I are hoping to hold one via internet/skype this coming June between a group of boys--I'll let you know how it goes). So please contact me at if you're interested!

Also, if you're wanting to try this out, check out my resource page. It also helps to find another teacher at your school to brainstorm with. I held a Wii Play Day for staff and with just a group of us we came up with many many ideas.

Next year I am slated for the regular classroom to teach literacy for Gr. 7/8. I already have grand plans for weaving gaming into literacy, including Mario Kart but also in other ways...I'm also hoping to incoroparte more pop culture in general (music, videos)--see my to get an idea. If this is your interest also, please get in touch!

As I said to my administrators "I'm just getting started with this!" And having lots of fun learning on the way. Wa-hoooo!

Monday, 25 April 2011

WEEK 6: "But We're Not Done Yet!"

This past week I brought my Mario Kart research project back into the classroom...this time to a Gr. 4/5 split. My focus continued to be literacy centers and a math activity (in particular, division)--though I must confess, after chatting with teacher Brian McLaren, I was eager to branch out and try new Mario Kart activities.

Alas, the timing and parameters of my project do not allow for larger projects, and when I spoke with the teacher of this class, she was pretty excited with what I had done already and was eager for me to use that material again.  I had to remind myself, these students hadn't seen these activities them they were going to seem new & fresh & least, that's what I hoped!

And so it was!

Literacy Centers
As I've mentioned before, one of my favourite parts with the literacy centers is seeing the student reactions to the centers (for details on the literacy centers themselves, see previous post--in this class the numbers of centers was reduced, we excluded the Peach, Donkey Kong and Mario centers).

 There's usually a 'fun' reaction to their initial unveiling, some excitement around who gets to go to which centre, etc.

While all of the centers were fairly well received, the reading scripts, the interview writing and the descriptive writing were probably the most popular.

 There were two boys in particular in this class who responded with obvious enthusiasm to the writing center (neither are considered 'avid writers') who, upon hearing it would soon be time to change centers, cried "But we're not done yet!" They wanted to keep writing.

These guys also, upon hearing that literacy centers would be continued next period, said: "Awesome!"

This is not something they usually say about literacy.

The math focus this week in this class happened to be division. Since I'd already done other operations (addition, multiplication) I took what I'd done previously and adapted here.

Of course, we ranked the race times for each of the four racing groups, as I have done previously. Students really engage in this activity, it has never failed to get their interest.

Once that was done, we did a few division questions with the Mario & Luigi manipulatives to 'warm up'. I would give a division question, like 15 divided equally into 3 groups, how many in each group? and they would have to show it using the manipulates.

After that, the class broke into partners, and each partner received a Mario themed word problem. They then had to use chart paper, divide it in two,  and on one side a) solve the problem as a long division equation and on the other, b) draw a picture of the solution.

They then presented these to class when they were finished. (And there was a lot of interest in hearing the different Mario Kart word problems, each one starred a different MK characters, such as Boo, Bowser, Luigi, etc).

Next Week: next week is my last class, a Gr. 2 class, and then I start analyzing the data!

Sunday, 17 April 2011


 For reasons of scheduling, I didn't run my usual Mario Kart research project this week...though next week I will be back at it, in a Gr. 4/5 classroom with MK literacy centers and MK division!

Even though I didn't run the project, I've a few interesting points related to Mario Kart and game based learning that I thought I might post:

1. "Does yours have Mario?"
There's a teacher at my school who told me this cute story last week. In our photocopy room, there's a recycle bin, and sometimes this teacher pulls paper from there, and then photocopies what she needs on the back of it, as a way to re-use paper. One day, it turned out that she pulled out from the recycle bin some of my Mario Kart math/colouring sheets to use. In class, a student turned it over-- and exclaimed in pleased surprise. "My page has Mario on the back!" This then led the class to turn over their pages--some did have Mario characters, some didn't. It was all very exciting. 

Some eventually coloured them in, too.

I think this is a funny story because it shows the buzz just even a plain ol' MK themed picture creates. Using games in the classroom does not have to be elaborate...

2. Or you can be VERY elaborate!
This week I had the opportunity to Skype with Brian McLaren in Scotland. He worked on the Mairo Kart Leaderboard last school year for the Consolarium, and supported schools there in initiating their own Mairo Kart projects. He kindly consented to share how the Leaderboard worked and some of the projects that happened...these were very inspiring!

I especially liked hearing about the cross curricular projects and the 'real life connections', such as:

  • link MK to Forumla One racing, study effective ads, car designs, race courses, cities in which the races take place
  • then create racing groups, each student owning a particular role: students can design (drawing or 3D), advertise, write about their own racing car, have a budget and plan how to get from one race city to another without risking financial ruin (looking up airfare on the internet, for instance)
  • hold the race! create race courses to scale, then chalk out in the playground-one school even had students create their own karts, which they then used in a real race!
3. Research Participant
I also got to participate in a Phd research project about gaming in education, skyping with Leo Cao from the University of North Carolina. This was a great way for me to articulate the how's and why's of my current project, and also to explain some of my ideas of future projects (as I said to my principal recently: 'you realize I am just getting started with this!'). Participating in this study just doubled my passion for this emerging and engaging subject.

4. Behaviour Wii
A fellow SERT and I were talking one day a few months ago about how to support several junior boys who had issues with work completion and anger/disrespectful behaviour. We wanted to run a social skills group, but since it was going to be held at recess--and would thus be voluntary--we knew it had to have a 'hook'. We didn't think the boys would willing give up playing soccer outside for a mere round of 'role play and strategizing about emotions and respectful behaviour'.

So we incorporated the Wii. We developed a role play game that happens withint the context of the Wii game play. So when the boys play Mario Kart, they also have role play cards (for example, one plays 'angry', the other plays 'uncaring'). The other students are observers, with distinct questions to answer (also on cards), such as: how did their behaviour impact the game results? how did watching their behaviour make you feel? (often, these students are unaware of how their behaviour impacts others), etc. After the game is over, we all come together to discuss what happened, and to examine strategies for handling those emotions in the moment. Then we try them out.

There is also Wii reward time given in their regular class to support positive behaviour. And at the end of the year, we're going to have a Wii tournament via Skype with another group of boys at a school in Toronto (with thanks to the fabulous Diana @MzMollyTL). We in fact started off the group with a co-operate activity/discussion between the boys of both schools via Skype--which really fostered a great sense of connection.

We only just started implementing this, but its clear to us that without the Wii game play, the boys would not volunteer to give up their time! The program would not happen with out it.