Andrew Doyle's grade 4 class from Ralph McCall couldn't look away from their phones in Nose Creek Park yesterday (June 15).
It wasn't a bad thing. The students were using an app called Agents of Discovery to learn about local history.
Agents of Discovery is a platform similar to the Pokemon Go game that was popular last summer. Using the app on a phone, the kids walked around Nose Creek Park searching for geo-triggered challenges. As they walked, the challenges would pop up, and the students would answer questions about either Airdrie or Alberta, depending on which mission they had selected. By completing challenges, students accumulate points.
"All of the challenges that are in the Airdrie mission are completely researched and written by the kids themselves," explained Doyle. "Anyone who goes through will have a chance to learn about important people, important places that have been named after people, or important events."
Not only did the students research and write the questions, Tina Petrick with Discovery Agents explained that special software allowed the class to actually design the mission completely, including placing challenges around the park.
Learning local history is part of the grade 4 curriculum, but Doyle believes it has an importance beyond that.
"The importance is that we live in this community. It's important that they understand where it's grown from and where it's going to, which is part of our focus in Grade 4, learning about Alberta but also Airdrie."
From Doyle's perspective, using the app to teach his students about local history has a couple of benefits.
"One, it's gamifying the learning, so any time you can create competition or challenges that people have to answer, it engages kids right away. Then add in the fact that they can be active with it, that it's an outdoor activity. Those two pair up nicely with keeping kids engaged."
Emily Marasco from the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering is studying the class's use of the app as part of a research project on technical learning in the gamified experience. She concurred with Doyle, explaining that the students' learning is actually two-fold. First, they are learning through gamification, meaning the concepts from the curriculum have been turned into a game. They are also learning by creating the games, which Marasco explained is called learner generated game based learning. That gives them the chance to understand technical concepts before using the software to create the missions.
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