Are you game?
At a third of the cost of an iPad, the Nintendo DSi provides surprising value for money as a creative and collaborative classroom resource, says Jodie Lopez…
When I started using the Nintendo DSi in the classroom, it was – unsurprisingly – a massive hit with pupils. Even if they don’t have one themselves, most children have had access to the handheld console at some time. This means the gadget is familiar enough not to require too much training, but not so new and exciting that it causes a distraction.
People often refer to what I do as ‘games-based learning’, but this is not entirely accurate. What I actually do is ‘console-based learning’, using tools available on the console – such as instant chat, drawing tools and internet browsers – rather than games. These are all free so the console is the only outlay.
One of my favourite tools is PictoChat – essentially a chat room that allows you to link 16 DSi consoles together (based on one DSi between two pupils and one for the teacher in a class of 30) and share messages that can be read by everyone. The teacher can pose a question like “How would you describe the castle in the photo?” or “Draw a shape with at least one right angle” and see instant responses from the whole class. This can work really well in literacy lessons, where the best words or phrases can be selected for a shared piece of writing or to inspire individual stories.
Used as part of a starter or plenary, PictoChat can enhance whole-class discussion and ensure everyone gets a say, even the shyest member of the class. It can also be a useful assessment for learning tool, allowing the teacher to get instant feedback on pupils’ understanding and change tack if necessary.
Another favourite of mine is FlipNote Studio – a drawing tool that allows users to make animations that can be saved as GIF files (commonly used for web graphics) and hosted on a website or within a virtual learning environment.
Brilliant for digital storytelling, FlipNote allows children to produce content that demonstrates knowledge in any subject as well as creating artistic and expressive short movies – making it another excellent assessment for learning tool.
The DSi’s internet browser makes it a very economical form of mobile technology, as schools can buy three DSis for the price of one iPad. Having a couple in each classroom that children can grab to look something up quickly, 35 mid-lesson, is far more cost effective than iPads or other tablets – especially taking some of the other tools available into account. For example, games such as Dr Kawaskima’s Brain Trainingcan link all 16 consoles together, allowing children to ‘battle’ each other with 30 quickfire numeracy questions – great for practising mental maths skills.
So why are more schools not using the DSi in the classroom? Well, mostly due to a lack of knowledge of how they can be used and the value for money they represent. It may also be because video consoles are perceived to be something children use alone and are therefore antisocial. Gamesbased learning is often seen as a ‘soft’ approach – a way of rewarding children for good behaviour, rather than a tool for learning.
In reality, the DSi is best used in pairs, rather than individually, and can be a great way to get children working together, crowdsourcing ideas in whole-class groups.
Parents tell me that children who use their DSi at school often begin to use it at home for more educational purposes – using Pictochat with siblings and friends and making their own GIF animations in FlipStudio. They want to know more about how they can support their child in this: proof that if we can embrace this kind of technology – rather than be afraid of it – there can be farreaching benefits.