Expert view

Dawn Hallybone

Dawn Hallybone has been teaching for 17 years and has been using computer games in the classroom for the last four years. She was shortlisted for the 2012 TES ICT Visionary award.

Games as a learning tool 

Dawn Hallybone of Oakdale Junior School in Essex reveals how she uses games to engage her students and help them develop new skills.

The most powerful learning tool ever created” is how Lord Puttnam described the video game. Certainly, the use of technology within the classroom has been gaining momentum over the last couple of years.


Games and interactive software can help pupils acquire complicated skills and rigorous knowledge in an engaging and enjoyable way."

Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP, UK Secretary of State for Education


There are a number of organisations looking to harness the power of games to both engage young people and enhance the curriculum. For example, Derek Robertson and the team at Consolarium, the Scottish Centre for Games and Learning, have been leading the way and their work is spreading throughout the country with games networks, such as the Redbridge Games Network (of which I am a member).

Consoles such as the DS, Kinect and Wii have been firm favourites in family homes over the last few years. Just as families enjoy playing together on them, these devices can also be used in the classroom to help young people learn, explore and have fun.

Games like Brain Training on the DS have an obvious educational context as players look to improve their mental maths skills. Within lessons, these skills can be built upon by using the game to begin asking questions and exploring the subject. Big Brain Academy on the Wii is another game that fits this genre, enabling children to investigate both mathematical and analytical skills.

It is, however, not just the obvious ‘educational’ games that work well in the classroom.

  • Mario Kart (DS) can be used to look at work on decimals, as well as investigating forces within science
  • With Nintendogs (DS), children get the opportunity to ‘look after’ a virtual dog and gain an understanding of the cost of owning an animal
  • Endless Ocean and Wild Earth African Safari (Wii) enable children to ‘leave’ the classroom and explore the world virtually and can be used as a stimulus for creative writing, factual writing and science work on habitats
  • Younger children can connect with and learn about animals from their familiar nursery environment by playing Kinectimals (Kinect) or EyePet (PS3)

Outside of games consoles, there has also been an explosion in educational apps for smartphones and tablets. These apps enable children to explore and discover with their parents and to build crucial numeracy, literacy and creative skills.

Children don’t have to just be consumers of games – they can create them too. By using programs like Kodu and Scratch, both of which are free, students can be encouraged to explore creatively and make their own computer games that they can play and share with a global audience. This element of coding and creating is growing with support from the UK Government.

I see first-hand how games engage and enthuse children within the classroom. I’ve had a great response from my pupils to games like Mario Kart, Word Coach and Brain Training, for example.

As with all technology, however, games are not the only tool or the only answer – they should be used alongside other tools for learning, be used in moderation and be used as a way of exploring alongside children, not in isolation.

For me, using a game in the classroom is a way of reaching out and enabling all children to succeed and develop. It is alright to say “I don’t know”. It is alright to fail and to try again. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."