The Time Travelling Detective Agency (the designers) desperately need to recruit more secret agents (the players) in order to solve their latest case. They must travel back in time to 1601 in order to discover who stole Queen Elizabeth’s very valuable solid silver salt cellar and bring the thief to justice, making sure that they do not convict and punish the wrong person! Solving the crime will require the newly recruited agents to interview suspects via the time portals (blogs), compare different sources of evidence (such as witness statements and CCTV footage) and develop their skills of inference and deduction, as well as their ability to judge the reliability of evidence.
For a sense of how important this mission is view the top secret trailer below:
Several iterations of the Stolen Salt Cellar ARG were designed by trainee teachers, at the University of Roehampton, between the years 2013 and 2015. The games were produced as part of a final year module Connecting Worlds, which aimed to develop the trainee teachers’ understandings of the wider primary curriculum and their abilities to undertake professional development. Over the course of 7 sessions, the trainee teachers worked in groups of 5 to create ARGs which would be played by classes of 7-9 year old children in a local school. The ARGs were designed so that players would need to develop and draw on their literacies as well as their historical knowledge and interpretive skills.
During the module the trainee teachers (the designers) were expected to:
The trainee teachers produced ARG for a day a week over 6 weeks. During these 6 days they were required to work collaboratively in their groups to achieve their aims. Each week there were taught sessions run by different subject tutors. Angela Colvert (Senior Lecturer in English Education) took the lead on the over all design of the ARG and literacy input as well as some of the history sessions, Karin Doull (Principle Lecturer in History) ensured that the students were familar with Queen Elizabeth's court, by giving a lecture and seminar session on the topic. Deesh Grewal (Visiting Lecturer for ICT) and Helen Sharpe (Senior Lecturer in ICT) supported the students to use open source software to create and edit blogs, films and audio files during the project planning stages.
Most of the trainee teachers who designed The Stolen Salt Cellar ARGs had never encountered ARGs before embarking on the course. Therefore, in the first session, Angela Colvert, provided them with first-hand experience of playing The Mighty Fizz Chilla ARG, which she had previously created with a class of children.
After playing this ARG, and reflecting on and discussing the ways in which ARGs can support learning, the students began designing their own.Since the tight time frame for producing the ARG, and that the trainee-teachers had not created such games before, they were provided with a series of planning documents and guidelines, and tutors were always on hand during sessions to offer support and answer questions.
Each group of designers was asked to set up a fictional time travellers’ agency, the members of which would be responsible for enlisting the help of the children and for guiding their learning and actions as they played. Every group gave their agency online presence via a professional website. An example of one such website can be seen by viewing the images below:
The website for each Time Travellers’ Detective Agency included a list of suspects for the current crime (which linked to character blogs). If you look closely at the images on the example site you can see that trainee teachers not only took on the role of secret agents but also played the part of the suspects too!
Because one of the aims of the ARG was to support players to compare and evaluate the reliability of multiple sources of evidence, in order to solve the mystery, the trainee teachers were supported to create a range of texts, examples of which can be seen below:
The trainee teachers wanted the children to embrace the role of detectives but understood that they would need to support the children in this. Therefore the trainee teachers created folders and files that provided players with maps of the palace so that they could plot the movements of the suspects on the evening of the theft and collate their findings.
The gameplay lasted for a day and took place over two mornings. On the first morning the trainee teachers entered the classroom, in role as time travelling secret agents (see below):
Once they had introduced the time travel detective agency and the crime of the stolen salt cellar, the children were keen to join the agency and help solve the mystery. The players worked in mixed ability pairs to access character blogs and were asked to look for possible motives which each character might have for stealing the salt cellar.
In order to confirm or allay their suspicions, players were encouraged to interrogate the characters by posting their questions on character blogs. The characters replied:
After the first morning’s play, the students returned to Roehampton to reflect on and evaluate the success of the session and consider what further support or evidence they might provide the players with. On their second visit to the school, the trainee teachers shared the witness statements and CCTV footage with the players who then began to eliminate suspects based on the evidence. The players used the class whiteboard to collate the inrormation they found, scribbling messages with board markers and sticking up post-it notes. The atmosphere was one of excitement as players gathered around the board and worked in groups to discuss their findings.
The trainee teachers demonstrated their abilities to reflect on the potential of Alternate Reality gaming to support learning and, as part of the assessment of the module, produced some high quality presentations. (Examples of these presnetations will be uploaded to this site soon!)
Students and teachers who had been involved in the project also shared their reflections in email correspondence with the course organiser after the module had finished:
Personally I think what I have taken away from this project is that as teachers we often underestimate what we are capable of achieving. This is not surprising given the time constraints that we are under and the pressure to fulfil certain sets of criteria placed upon us as practitioners. Going into the project the amount of work and the technical capabilities involved seemed intimidating to begin with, especially given the short time frame of the project. In fact, what I have discovered is that if a project like the one we created for the children could be made to this standard in a matter of weeks then the possibilities for a term long, whole year or school wide project is incredible. The potential goes beyond just this though, there are so many curriculum areas that could be brought into a project of this kind and seeing how engaged the children were during the taught sessions I believe teaching in this way could have a huge impact on the children's learning. All too often the children who learn differently, who are more creative and need to learn through experience are forgotten about in the classroom (especially at ks2). It is these kinds of projects that can engage these children, develop their educational potential and give them a fresh perspective on what school can do for them.
Thee part of the project that was most surprising for me and that I loved more than any other part was when we revealed ourselves as designers and the historical context of the game. The children were so excited to have learnt something without even realising they were being taught, they seemed genuinely enthused about this type of embedded learning because they were enjoying themselves and I truly believe that the information will be better retained as a result of this. I try, as much as possible, to be creative in the classroom and we have had a million lectures which talk about the importance of engaging children and rooting learning in authentic practices. But we have never actually had the opportunity to experience it before. I feel better equipped going into my NQT year now that I have a wealth of resources and ideas about how to make a cross-curricular project exciting and relevant to the children I teach. I only wish we had carried out this project before our final placement as I would have loved to have taken these ideas into school with me, and I can guarantee the children would have loved it too. Thank you for the whole project, I have really enjoyed myself and learnt a lot about myself as a teacher. (Amelia Trainee Teacher University of Roehampton 2013)
- Amelia Walsh, Trainee Teacher at University of Roehampton (2013)
The children were engaged, enthusiastic and excited from the start. There were lots of opportunities for the children to learn independently and become autonomous in their research. Also, the links with computing were beneficial for the class. The students were organised and had put a lot of effort into creating an interactive lesson. They were also successful at working with the children to support them with their learning and also behaviour management. The children developed their research skills, particularly using the Ipads and laptops. Additionally, they extended their inferring and deducing skills in order to draw conclusions. They were able to locate information from sources, summarise the key points and report back to the class what their findings were. It also gave them the opportunity to continue their learning at home as they website was accessible throughout the period. The resources that the students had created were extremely impressive and interactive for the children, particularly the website.
We would definitely recommend to others to become involved in similar projects as it seemed to be a great experience for the students, the children and the teachers involved. It was interesting to see the class with other teachers and how engaged they were with such a discovery-lead task. It gave us some ideas for the future.
- Leah Farrah, Teacher at St John Lillie Primary School
It gave us some great ideas for the future particularly when it comes to discovery-lead learning in topic and how this could be stretched to work in other subjects such as English and Maths. As we have a school blog, it was excellent to see the children engaged and interacting with the website and it gave me ideas for things we could do on our blog page. Richard Bilsborough, Teacher at St John Lillie Primary School