I am a member of a group of teachers who, with the support of the head teacher and with all students on board, have started an exciting new initiative to increase participation in the school. The aim is to establish a scaled-down but fully-functioning model of a real society at the school, complete with a political system and a micro-economy. I am confident that this approach will motivate students by engaging them in authentic and practical experiences. The town is led by a mayor or mayoress and it has a fully elected council, with regular meetings taking place in the library to deliberate on a range of issues, including serious matters such as disciplinary policies. There is even a newspaper and a video news channel. A number of enterprises have been established by students as cross-curricular projects: shops, services, etc. Students apply for positions within these enterprises and are responsible for their performance against mutually agreed criteria.
The twist in this story is that while some aspects of “Schoolville” are real, like the meetings in the library and the consultations about school matters, other aspects are simulated as elements of a video-game loosely based on the popular Facebook game “Farmville”, as well as other video games like “Sim-City”. The game is a simple flash-based app. Students can open shops, offer services and as they progress they gain XPs (Experience Points) which they can re-use to perform other actions and to “buy” additional resources. Small amounts of XPs are awarded automatically by the software for completing basic actions, while larger amounts and special prizes are given by us teachers for completing more challenging projects, and for demonstrating specific achievements. For example, an advanced feature of the game is the option to open virtual shops to sell trinkets, virtual pets and whatever students are interested in.
Running the shops requires knowledge of mathematics and management skills, as specific objectives can only be achieved if the student or the group of students running the enterprise carry out tasks or solve problems, which are set by me and the other teachers. An important aspect of Schoolville is the clear mapping of in-game objectives and tasks against curricular requirements. Tasks and problems range from online quizzes to more complex activities, like writing a mini financial report or a business plan. For example, one of the tasks requires students to use an online worksheet that asks them to recognise the equivalence of percentages, fractions and decimals, and to calculate and use percentages to compare proportions. Another task asks them to work out sales forecasts based on fictional data and information provided by me.
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