GAME ON: How Classroom Play Infuses a Love of Learning

November 30th, 2017

“Education is not the filling of pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
– William Butler Yeats

Mopati Morake, Head of Writing and Rhetoric, is one of three ALA educators who co-founded an interdisciplinary program that explores the issue of identity – and allows for an innovative, integrated approach to teaching that puts the joy back into learning.
He explains how and why it works.

It’s not unusual to find a Writing and Rhetoric or African History classroom devoid of students. Don’t be alarmed if you do: class has not been dismissed; it’s merely moved to the sportsfield, where educators Mopati Morake and Nkemboo Kiala can be found supervising students engaged in a rigorous game of Afroball.

The game was designed by a class last year, the first to partake in an innovative pilot project, says Morake.

“Our approach at ALA is centered on our BUILD philosophy and an innovative, interdisciplinary program we are piloting called Omang,” explains Morake.

Setswana for who are you? Omang is a term-long, interpolatory study of identity, he adds. “One of the requirements of this introductory course is that students think about a need related to identity, and design an educational game that helps the user better understand their identity. That’s the BUILD challenge for the term.”

Games – designing and playing – are infused into the curriculum, with anything from modified snakes and ladders to a quiz about apartheid helping students recap what they have learned. “We have played charade-types games, UNO-type games… this is so they can experience different kinds of games, think about the experience a game can create and use this to inform their game,” notes Morake. “By experiencing different kinds of games, you’re more aware of the kind of experience and thinking a game can create so you become a better game designer.”

“We believe in creating experiences as a core part of learning.”

While most research into game-playing in classrooms have focused on digital devices and games, they’ve nevertheless proven the effectiveness this has on learning outcomes. Morake believes that an element of fun is vital to stimulating student’s love of learning. “I think learning should be an adventure and the classroom, the place where it happens, should feel safe, supportive and stimulating – and frankly, fun. Games are one of the ways you can infuse fun. Because we spend so much time together – three hours – it’s even more important; if the teacher is not having fun, the students won’t have fun.”

The collaboration and teamwork gaming inspires, he says, positively impacts on the learning experience. “Maya Angelou is quoted as saying: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ That’s part of the approach that has informed Omang. We believe in creating experiences as a core part of learning. When you have meaningful experiences, whether playing a game, acting out – those become more tangible more meaningful, as opposed to a traditional model where you just sit down and listen – learning is deeper, more meaningful, more active. And if you feel a certain way, that you won’t soon forget, you’ll remember the conversation; you’ll remember the connections you make.”

The beauty of Omang, notes Morake, is that it not only encourages students to think creatively, it also has educators constantly evaluating and questioning their methods.

“The problems that we face in Africa are going to be solved by thoughtful, compassionate and committed people working together to solve complex problems. If we can figure out how to do that in our classroom, we are better able to do that on our continent.”

“It is incredibly rewarding to create a space where these incredible young people at ALA can better understand who they are. Through thinking, and questioning, we teachers light a fire under their feet. Teaching is the process of facilitating someone’s understanding of who they are and what they’re about,” ventures Morake.

“What inspires me as a teacher is, I think, that the problems that we face in Africa are going to be solved by thoughtful, compassionate and committed people working together to solve complex problems. If we can figure out how to do that in our classroom, we are better able to do that on our continent.”

Talking teamwork

The introductory class takes three core subjects: Entrepreneurial Leadership, African Study and Writing and Rhetoric. Omang is team-taught. Each class has two teachers: one who brings a humanities background, and one who brings an entrepreneurial leadership lens – in this way, we facilitate engagement with identity in theory and practice. The benefits of team teaching is manifold: we educators get to know each other’s curricula; we get to learn from other teachers; it supports a coaching culture – you have to work together, support each other, give feedback. By putting people in pairs and forcing conversation, everyone becomes a better teacher.

Read Mopati Morake’s biography here, and click on the links to find out more on Omang and ALA’s innovative two-year course.


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This is an article from ALA’s Staff & Faculty Journals – the blog that shares our team’s teaching philosophies, professional insights, personal reflections and more. Visit the Journals here.


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