sssHHH I’ve got something to tell you – “I’m a gamer” – not a 14 hour COD V, no sleep, queue up to buy the latest console gamer — but a real gamer, that was there at the start.
Build a ZX-80 from a kit ———— check
Get to “Elite” on “Elite” —————check
Upgrade my 286 to 1Mb of Ram —-check
Buy a Maths Coprocessor 387 —–check
Own DOS 4.01 ————————-check
Bunk off from Uni to play Doom —check Mate
(Now if you don’t know what these things mean, either your under 40 years old and/or you actually went outside during the late ’70s and ’80s)
As a teacher I think that it’s vital to meet the learners on their level, and to use the technology, language and social memes that they do. Now I don’t mean in a spooky, your Dad like “Tinie Tempah” kind of way. But I think teachers need to appreciate the current zeitgiest to engage young people in realistic interactions.
Computer Games in Science
Recently I have been reflecting on how I can incorporate computer games into the class room. It’s easier than you might think (certainly for Physics). All First Persons Shooters (FPS) created in the last 5 years have had a realistic “Physics Engine” built into them. Meaning, that they can simulate the world to some degree:
- Throwing, dropping and falling are subject to realistic effects of gravity
- When shooting, bullets follow a parabolla and eventually hit the ground
- Air resistance and friction effects objects moving through the air
- Moving objects have inertia
- Objects can attract each other, simulating magnetic or electrostatic forces
- Glass, water and other transparent object reflect and refract light in a realistic manner
- Water waves passes into harbours are subject to diffraction
- Sound is attenuated differently in different substances and travels further at night (due to refraction and temperature gradients)
The list goes on.
What that means to a physics teacher, is that we have a ready made playground to carry out experiments that would be impractical / impossible or downright illegal in the real world.
Consider the following:
When teaching gravity, work done and forces – we inevitably get to raising objects a certain height and dropping them. Within the lab, we are limited to a few meters, possibly up to 4m if we drop things out of windows. Fire up a game however and you can drop things 100′s of meters, throw rocks (or grenades if you like) and watch the parabola is describes as it falls – or, if the mood suits you — jump of towers 200m high and time how long it takes to splash into the ocean (or something messier)
(Health warning — lots of these games are 15+, so whilst using them in class is fine as long as you don’t go on a killing spree, bear in mind that when little Jonny goes home and says “We played Call of Duty – Black Opps today”, you need to ensure that it was relevant, and profanity free.)
Here’s a little video I made for this blog entry – from FarCry – rather old (circa 2004), but the physics engine is solid.
What I’m doing is measuring the time (real world) that it takes a rock to fall approximately 30m (in the game world). From these figures, it gives an acceleration due to gravity “g” of 12.4m/s2. Not too far away from 9.81m/s2. Why its different could be to source of further discussion in class. I could have timed it wrong, the distance might not be 30m; maybe its meant to be 12.4, maybe the in game clock ticks differently than the real world (the most likely reason)
Using freely available tools (a great list at Wikipedia) it is possible to install and play similar games on school systems. Some (like the Cube 2) engine also come with world builders that allow you to make your own environments.
I’ve successfully used the OpenSource Racing Simulator (TORCS) to model friction, stopping distance and effects of surfaces on cars. You can freely edit the physics of the cars themselves and if you can wade through the instructions, the tracks can also be modded.
At this point, I must post my favourite use of computer simulation technology in the class – Tibbles the Cat: (which uses HalfLife 2 and GMOD - both old and now very cheap to buy ~£5 each)
Every time I teach stopping distances, out comes Tibbles.
Before I draw this post to an end, I must push the use of XtraNormal.com - an online storyboard to video / cartoon creator.
For free, no download required, you can create video clips like this: (not held up as a good example of movie direction)
Coming to a close
As a physics teacher, the use of the current crop of games can ground your teaching in the real world of what your learners use every day. Tools like XtraNormal allow all subjects to create learning experiences in a virtual world; one that your learners will inhabit more than you think.
Finally, I know I’ve missed loads of other tools:
- Second life
- The Sims
- Angry birds
To name but a few
- Do you use games in class to support your learning?
- Would your school let you install games on your laptop / desktop?
- Do you play games?