Some time ago I had a hunch, a gut feeling that Doctor Kawashima's Brain Training for the Nintendo DS was a tool that had a locus of some kind in classrooms. I remember having the same feeling many years ago when I first saw the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis and that game proved to be incredible as a learning tool. Anyway, For those of you who have played Doctor Kawashima then you will know that much of the research that informs the games design is based on the fact that increased cognitive challenge means increased blood flow to the brain. This is, as Doctor Kawashima argues, just what a healthy brain needs to keep it active and alive!
I couldn't help feeling that this message was similar to the rationale that is given for the Brain Gym programme that many schools in Scotland have embraced. a programme that has, yet to prove itself in my opinion, that it really does make the difference in terms of effectively preparing children to learn or even in helping to enhance cognitive performance.
I was sure that the fantastically challenging and engaging world of Doctor Kawashima could have a positive influence and effect on learners mental maths abilities and subsequently their self-esteem/self-concept so I decided to carry out a small scale research programme, under the auspices of my employers Learning Teaching Scotland, to see if it did. You may get the feeling that I am rather biased before I start so in order to show that my approach was as objective as possible here's a brief look at my methodology which ran over a 10 week treatment period:
- 3 Dundee schools, similar socio-economic catchment areas
- One class with Nintendo DS & Doctor Kawashima each to be used for 15 mins a day then a brain age check every Friday
- One class to use Brain Gym activities for 15-20mins a day where and when appropriate
- One class as a control group that did neither of the above
- These were P6 classes (some P5s involved though due to composite)
- Pre-tests: 100 sums of addition and subtraction within 100 and multiplication and division up to the 11x table PLUS Burnett self-concept questionnaire
- Post-tests: as above
- Research integrity involved the teachers using Google docs to detail the weekly use of Brain Gym activities and the notation of Nintendo users decreasing (or increasing) Brain Age
My project finished this week and I now have the DSs returned from a class of children who have shown remarkable results in relation to the improvements of the other two classes. At this stage the results seem to show that:
- every child in the Nintendo class has improved either the speed at which they complete the 100 sums, their accuracy or both. These improvements have seen children knock 7-8 minutes off their time and some children, who are Level B Maths and learning support, move from 23/100 to 68/100. All within three weeks.
- The amount of children who can now do the 100 sums (and achieve excellent results) in under 10 minutes is far greater in the Nintendo school (seven children) than in the other two schools. In fact, no child in the other two schools did the sums in less than 10 minutes in the post-test
- The class ethos has been transformed. The children were so used to coming in, taking out their DSs and getting on with their Brain Training every morning. The children have remarked on how much calmer the class is, how there is less fighting, arguing and moaning and how much they enjoy seeing each other get good scores (although they want to improve their's too.)
- The class teacher and the SMT feel that the biggest success has been in self-esteem development and the class bonding as a group via this game and that they didn't want to give the DSs back to me.
There does not appear to be a similar result set from the Brain Gym class or the control group class.
I'm off to analyse the data in a much more systematic way over the course of the next few weeks but I have been so excited by my first look at the results that I had to share some of my early observations with people who are interested.
I feel that the arguments and theories about games and learning continue to need real substantiation and a models of practice that are accessible to teachers and local authorities. This project and approach did not cost that much but it appears to have had so many positive effects on the children and the class as a whole.
Hopefully a more systematic analysis of the results will make a positive contribution to the games and learning debate. I'll keep you informed once more is known.