Saturday, 26 March 2011

Mario Kart: Literacy Centers and Math WEEK 3

This week I took the Mario Kart game into yet another Grade 3 classroom!

Literacy Stations:
This class has similar literacy centers to the other Gr. 3 class so I kept them the same (except for Peach's EQAO Surprise. This class had 5 stations instead of 6, so we left that one out).

Again, the centers that generated the most enthusiasm were:
  • Yoshi's Reading Station (reading then writing Mario based scripts), 
  • Donkey Kong's Listening Station on the computer (a task that involves listening to Mario-based music and watching a Mario you tube video, then writing responses via google docs), 
  • Luigi's Writing Station (using a 'describing wheel' organizer to describe a character, kart, or setting, or create a new character, Kart or setting)

And, as usual, the word work centers (Mario spelling and Bowser word wall work) generated the least amount of enthusiasm! I have noticed this in all the classes I've been in. It's not that the students don't do the work at these stations, but more that they seem less enamoured with it and happier when they get to do the other stations. This may be because, even though it had a Mario spin to it, it is still the same tasks repeated. Or perhaps its because word work (grammar and spelling) is inherently boring no matter what the spin on it? (I'm not sure, and I'm going to be pondering this over the next while.)

In this class, there was a LOT of obvious excitement for the writing center, with student creating their own Mario Kart characters, such as Lightening Bolt, Big Teeth, Devil Player, and Grandma Bowser.

I have noticed that the Mario math I've done generates a lot of excitement and engagement and this class was no exception.

After we sorted the racing times and crowned 'the winners' of the four races (see previous post), we started our Mario Kart math task.

This time it related to Multiplication. Students in Gr. 3 in Ontario need to know their multiplication facts to 7x7. Also, for the EQAO assessment in May, they need to be able to show their solutions through pictures, numbers and words.

I broke this lesson up into 3 parts.
1. I stated Mario based word problems that they had to draw a picture to solve, then translate into an equation. They also had to be prepared to explain their solution orally, for I was selecting random names for responses. If if their answers were even, odd or over 20, they had to hold up the corresponding red, green or yellow 'Mario Kart stoplight' card. (This picture shows 3 Karts with 4 wheels each, so how many wheels altogether?)

2. I stated multiplication facts that they had to 'show me' using Mario & Luigi manipulatives. And again, if their answers were even, odd or over 20, they had to hold up the red, green or yellow 'Mario Kart stoplight' card. (This picture shows 4 x4).

3. A Mario Kart colouring page with multiplication facts on it and a 'colouring key' (with odd, even, or over 20 answers requiring a specific colour).

Reluctant Writer Writing! In this class, there was one very reluctant writer who usually requires a fair bit of prompting to get anything down on paper, who, when facing the writing task at the writing center, sat down and started writing WITH NO PROMPTS and EVEN ENTHUSIASM, filling the description wheel almost fully with accurate descriptions. Frankly, I was blown away by this. That pretty much made this whole project worthwhile in my book!

Kids like the game play! When I did my informal interviews afterward, the students made it very clear that their favourite part was the game play. So while I think you can include the game in other ways (see previous post and comment below) using it as a video clip or what have you, I think it really helps connect the students to the game if you let them have a round of play. It takes 2-3mins approx. for a round of racing. I had everyone race individually, so I could get the time at the end for a math tasks but you could easily race 4 players at a time, which would give everyone a chance to experience the game in a fairly quick amount of time. If you don't use the data for math, there's so much more you could do with the gaming experience: have students write reviews, or describe the experience or whatever. At the very least, it familiarizes everyone for any writing task related to the game.

More ideas! The classroom teacher and I were brainstorming other ways you could expand on these literacy activities, which, as I mentioned in my previous post, could be developed into 'meatier' whole class tasks. We talked about using it to build characters (especially given how enthusiastic the students were about creating their own Mario Kart characters). You could even just take the character selection screen and use that to start a description activity, with everyone choosing and describing inner and outer qualities.

Next week I will be in a Gr. 2/3 class, then after that the grade 4's get a turn!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Mario Kart Adventure Continues... WEEK 2

This week I brought Mario Kart into a Gr. 3 classroom, using the game again in literacy centers and a math activity.

Many of the literacy centers were similar to last weeks (see previous post). The Peach center was the only one to change significantly: it went from a math center to a 'Surprise Center', which in this class changes every so often to a new activity. The surprise activity of late had been answering 'EQAO' type questions with the 'answer sandwich' procedure. So I gave this a Mario Kart spin.

For those of you not in Ontario, EQAO is the province wide assessment that takes place in Gr. 3 & 6 at the end of the year. Students in this Gr. 3 class are learning to create paragraph answers in response to questions by: restating the question (bread), then providing 3 proofs (sandwich fixings), then writing a concluding statement (bread)--ergo, an 'answer sandwich'.

For this center, I created 'cards' with different questions on them related to Mario Kart and gaming, such as

  • "You are playing Mario Kart with a friend who has never played it before. Write a paragraph to explain to your friend what the game is about and how you play". 
  • "Compare Mario Kart to another video game you have played. WRite a paragraph to explain their differences and similarities." 
  • "You are to advertise the Mario Kart game in a store. What are the game's best features? Write a paragraph to convince other people to buy the game". 
  • "You want to be able to play Mario Kart in class but you need to convince your teacher it is a good idea. Write a paragraph to convince your teacher to use Mario Kart in class."

In this class there were some students who were not familiar with the game or the Mario Kart phenomenon & I realized that I had to account for their lack of exposure. So I ended up including this in the EQAO cards: "In any of the questions, substitue Mario Kart with the game of your choice (either video game or other game)".

(I also had these students play the game first, and also watch the game as another played so they could become familiar with it.)

By its nature, this centre was a bit challenging for some students, especially those who were reluctant writers. We also had to encourage students to think deeper beyond just saying 'it's fun'. Why is it fun? What makes it fun? What is so important about having fun?

As such, this centre required a bit more intervention on behalf of the regular classroom teacher & myself.

In addition to using the game data to sort game results (see previous post), I again tailored Mario Kart to the class's current math focus, which happened to be double digit addition with regrouping. Students were already using the base 10 blocks and placements (of ones, tens, hundreds, etc) so we just 'tweaked' the usual questions to have a Mario Kart focus.

We started with Mario Kart word problems, which they had to figure out using their base ten placemats. They were also given strips of red/green/yellow construction paper which they had to hold up if their answer was:

Odd: red
Even: green
Greater than 50: yellow

You'll notice those colours mimic that of the Mario Kart race 'starting stoplight'!

Here's an example of a Mario Kart word problem:

I wrote Nintendo 66 letters asking that they include my new character in the Mario Kart game. I had my friend write 77 letters. How many letters did we send altogether?

We went through several of these.

Then I used the Mario Kart colouring pages from last week to create Addition Colouring worksheets. I took each character I had (Peach, Mario, Luigi, Bowser) and put 2 digit addition questions into their various colouring sections. They had to figure out the answer then look at the code to determine what to colour that section. So for Peach, for example:

Odd answers=pink
Even answers=yellow
Greater than 50 answers=blue

We could go deeper! I found myself this week wishing I could have expanded on a number of the literacy centers and incorporated the game more fully. The writing center activities could be a more thorough class lesson, where we look more closely at the characters and karts in the game, describe them more specifically, compare them, and create new ones, etc.  We could do stories set in the different level settings. The reading center is another area. This continued to be a big hit, with students LOVING the dramatization of Mario characters. Many of them started writing their own scripts, though they didn't get enough time to finish them withint the context of the literacy center rotations. But you can see how that could easily turn into a larger drama and writing activity, again turing to the game as a whole class to look more specifically at characterization, setting, etc.

Alas, I am restricted by time restraints and the goals of my specific project. There's just so much more that could be done and I'm feeling my project is like a 'sampler plate'--a wide variety of Mario Kart options are presented, but many could become larger 'meals' in themselves if given time and space. That would allow the game to be utilized more, even just as snippets to show the whole class. (The entire game doesn't need to be played).

Not Meant to be a Magic Bullet! Most students were engaged by the inclusion of the Mario Kart game this week, but not all were. There were 2 students in particular, both on IEP's, who were just not that interested in it. It wasn't something they liked (they have other interests). (There were 2 other students, also on IEP's, however, who were VERY engaged because of the game theme). I think this speaks to the fact that we need to include variety, even within the context of games based learning. It's never one size fits all (I could definitely see 1 of these students responding more to the Kinectimals xbox Kinect game, for instance). My point here is also that the inclusion of gaming/technology does not replace the other supports that students need to be successful. Students who had difficulties with writing still needed direction and prompts at the writing task. This is a comment that comes up often in #edtech comments on Twitter: technology is a tool for the teacher, it does not replace the teaching!

Overall, high enthusiasm! Nonetheless, my overall impression was that students rated the event highly  and when I interviewed them, it was quite unanimous that they enjoyed themselves:

"I liked it" "It was fun" "I liked the literacy centers" "Awesome!" "I want to do it again" "That was really cool". "What I liked most is that we had Mario stuff instead of class stuff. We got a change."

Some of their favourite tasks were the Mario Kart scripts, the task on the computer, and the writing center where they got to create their own character.

Next week I'm in another Gr. 3 class, and will give literacy and math a Mario Kart 'tweak' yet again...

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Mario Kart in The Classroom WEEK 1

This week I finally started my research project and brought Mario Kart into a Gr. 2 classroom! At last! I've been waiting for months to give games based learning a try.

In each class I go into over the next 5 or 6 weeks, I'm:

-adapting the current literacy workstations to have a Mario Kart theme.
-setting it up so each student plays the game once. The game play results are then used as data.
-giving the current math focus, what ever it may be at the time, a particular Mario twist.

So, for instance, in this particular Gr. 2 class, I created Mario Kart versions of their literacy "I Can" workstations:

  • "Yoshi "Partnered Reading Centre (short, easy scripts staring Mario characters written by me for student read aloud), 
  • "Bowser" Word Wall Work Centre (a list of word wall words that related to the games used in various activities), 
  • "Mario" Spelling Centre (a list of 'content' words related to the game, like star, power, kart, fast, slow, etc, are used in various activities), 
  • "Donkey Kong" Listening Centre (Listening to music from the game, comparing it/describing it, and watching a video)
  • "Luigi" Writing Centre (various descriptive writing tasks related to the game, such as describe a character from the game, create and describe a new character or new kart)
  • "Peach" Math Centre (using Mario Kart math manipulatives, such as big/small print outs of Luigi/Mario pictures, to create patterns and to use as non-standard units of measurement

The YOSHI Partnered Reading center was VERY popular. Students love dramatizing the Mario characters. This activity carried over into recess, with students playing "Mario Kart" out on the playground.

I used my as the listening/computer centre, and students loved listening to the music of Mario (an idea I got from Dawn Hallybone) and the video "Real Life Mario Kart" (by freddiew). They then filled out a google doc graphic organizer to answer questions about these.

I also gave each student 'a ticket' with their name on it that allowed for one race. Students were called up, did the race, then the timed results went on the back of their ticket. I wanted the timed results so I could only play it one person at the time, not multi-player (which does not give a time!). We did this during the literacy centres, over 2 days,  during 2  20-30 minute literacy blocks, approximately. Each student took 2 minutes at game play, approximately.

Once the game had been played by everyone, we could do the math. The math was broken into 2 sections. First, using the cards as manipulatives, we ranked all the times in small groups to determine who had the greatest time for each race (there were 4 sets of racers: Peach, Mario, Luigi and Donkey Kong). To each of those winners, I gave a certificate. Then we decided who had the best time across all the races--that was our 'grand champion' and they, too, received a certificate (and also they get to race the teacher at a later date).

Then we moved on to the specific math focus. The Gr. 2's were working on 2D shapes (identifying and sorting polygons). Their Mario Kart task was to fill in the outline of a Mario Character colouring page with pattern blogs of various polygons then answer some questions about the shapes they used: total number, number of different types (triangle, quadrilateral, etc), which were used most/least, etc.

The students loved this task. Their focus was amazing! Not a single redirection, prompt or 'Johnny, get back to work'. They all dug right in and stayed there. There was also lots of 'purposeful talk' about shapes. When they were done, they got to keep the colouring page, which in itself made them very excited.

1. A little bit goes a long way. This does not need to be rocket science! Even the slightest nod in the direction of student interest (such as using Mario Kart colouring pages for the math) = big time engagement.
2. Bowser is very popular! There was lots of requests for a Bowser versions of things.
3. Students loved this! Just taking the usual class activity and giving it a Mario Kart Twist = students saying "This is the best day ever!" and repeatedly saying how much fun they were having. One student stopped me in the halls later to tell me thank-you, and how much fun he had.
4. It was easier to facilitate than I thought, especially the game play. The ticket system made it run very smoothly, no hiccups.
5. Mario Kart is quite adaptable--which is a point I'm trying to prove! In addition to the 2D math idea, I also came up with a corresponding 3D shapes activity. Essentially, play the race course with Bowser's castle for the whole class to see. Then ask student to use 3D shapes to create their own "Bowser's Castle". They could use red construction paper to cut out lava strips. Then they could use a similar tally sheet (to the one described above) and document number and types of 3D shapes used to make their castle. (I would have loved to implement this, but, alas, must move on to the next class).

As this is an 'action research' project, I am also conducting surveys, collecting finished work data, and doing interviews with teachers/students to document the impact and success of using Wii in the classroom (especially as it pertains to students working below expected levels). I haven't yet gone over this data in any detail, but my own initial, first impressions indicate this was very successful in terms of student engagement and also in terms of work completion (ie: that 2D math task was diligently completed by ALL students).

Next week, I take Mario Kart into a Gr. 3 classroom...and will need to adapt Mario Kart somehow to the concept of place value and double digit addition! *thinking cap is firmly in place*

Of course, I will be blogging about that experience in one weeks time!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Finally, I've set up a blog site that will focus on my own games based learning adventures! This is an adjunct to my games based learning resource site :

I discovered the idea of using video games in education last summer and am now finally on my way to exploring that in my teaching. I am a Special Education Resource Teacher at Goodfellow PS in Ontario.

I'm very eager to hear any thoughts or comments other educators might have about these issues. Please always feel free to contact me by leaving a comment on the blog, via Twitter (@JulieeJohnsonn) or via email:

Very much looking forward to elaborating on this blog site about my Wii project and issues/ideas about gaming in education!

Happy Gaming!
Julie Johnson