Q&A with Dawn Hallybone

Dawn HallybonePrimary school teacher Dawn Hallybone recently appeared in one of Nintendo's Real People TV adverts, where she was filmed using the handheld DS console in her job. The adverts sparked some debate in the media and online, including Mumsnet. 

Dawn has been using DS consoles in her classroom for more than three years. She is a firm believer that games consoles can be powerful tools for learning in classrooms and is a big fan of the maths-based games like Brain Training. Dawn is also part of her school borough's games network and uses a selection of Wii games in her school.

How consoles are used | Games | Brain training | Special needs | Funding | Conflict with anti-consoles parents | Different consoles | Nintendo

How consoles are used

Q. Asdx2: My daughter's school has a class set of Nintendo DSs that are used occasionally in numeracy and literacy lessons. The school also has Wii consoles that are used in PE, too. I can't see why it's such a thorny topic to be honest. If they catch a child's interest and encourage learning, then I think it's a positive. Would love to know how DSs are used in your school particularly for Year 3, the stage my daughter is at.

A. Dawn Hallybone: We use the DS with the Brain Training program across the junior age range, including year three. We also make use of the pictochat facility on the DS to explore vocabulary use and make use of the Wii with the Rotten Romans game based on the Horrible Histories series, which they use for about 20 minutes a day while they study this topic.

Q. Whomovedmychocolate: I actually think that the DSi I bought DD for Christmas has helped her a lot with her counting and literacy, particularly the Brain Trainer. So I don't really get all the fuss. But anyway, one of my questions would be how you make the lessons inclusive for a wide range of children when a lot of the games are geared towards competitiveness?

A. Dawn Hallybone: With the competitiveness aspect, while using the Brain Training program the children are competing against themselves not within the class. They keep a record of their own scores and also their timings and I go round. The titles we use on the DS are Word Coach and Flip books are used in the same way. We do use Mario Kart on the Wii and here we encourage the competitiveness, as the children compete in teams. We build maths work around their scores as well as children producing commentaries of the races.

Q. Crazygracieuk: I have noticed that my children's behaviour worsen when they play computer games for too long. How long are the DS sessions at your school and how old are the children? My children would like to ask if you would consider teaching at their school?

A. Dawn Hallybone: The sessions within school are for 20 minutes using the DS and the age of the children covers the junior range, 7-11. Thank you for the offer of teaching but I am very lucky in that I love my job and working with the children within my school, of which games-based learning is a small part.

Q. Oldbeforetime: What games does she use both for the DS and Wii, as I would consider getting them at home? <realises she is Nintendo's dream customer> We have got Wii Party and there are very good games on there - especially the balance boat one, you have to work together to get a mini-challenge complete - my husband and children normally work against each other on consoles so it's great seeing the team work. There is also maths involved due to having to work out how you balance different weights on a pirate ship.

A. Dawn Hallybone: We use a range of titles. On the DS: Brain Training, Word Coach, Flip books, Professor Layton and Nintendogs. On the Wii: Another code: R, Mario Kart, Big Brain Academy, Mario and Sonic at the Olympics and Winter Olympics, Rotten Romans, Just Dance and Wild Earth African Safari. At home with my own children, who are five and nine, we have the above titles and our favourite is Just Dance.

Q. Loler: One of my problems with DS consoles is that when my children use them they don't communicate with each other or work together to solve problems (mine tend to just shout at each other to go away). Like crazygracie I wouldn't want them to play on them for too long and would like to know how long the sessions are. My children's school uses Brain Training each morning in the top class to 'wake up brains'. The children have to bring in their own consoles - my children don't have one and if they did I wouldn't be letting them take such an expensive toy to school. Do the consoles at Dawn's school belong to the school or the pupils? If they are their own, has she experienced any picking on the kids who don't have one?

A. Dawn Hallybone: With Professor Layton we actually use it in groups with one console between five children to encourage the speaking/listening and problem-solving aspect. We also use Brain Training in pairs, again to encourage the children to work together to solve problems and explain their thinking to each other. We have our own set of consoles in the school, which were purchased through an educational supplier.

Q. Niecie: I am presuming that the use of games consoles is in addition to normal lessons and not instead of them? How much time does each child have in a week? I think my son's infant school has a handful of Nintendo DSs. Certainly, the head teacher encourages the use of maths training tools. She has competitions with the children to see who can do the mental maths the quickest. This obviously appeals to a lot of children. What better thing than beating the head teacher on a DS!? She doesn't let them win either so they have to know their stuff. However, this isn't instead of more normal teaching; it is another way of thinking. Rote learning and doing timed tests is incredibly boring and if using the DS helps then what is the problem? As far as I know, they don't use the DS unless they are confident that the children understand the concepts first.  

My eldest is also encouraged to use the Wii at home at the recommendation of his occupational therapist to improve his coordination, as he has SEN. I wouldn't be unhappy if the school got one, too. Quite apart from that, more and more of school time uses a computer. Both the infants and the juniors have just started using Wizkids. Why would you want to stop children using such packages when using computers is becoming so central to our lives? So my question is all about getting the balance right and where that balance is.

A. Dawn Hallybone: I agree it is all about the balance and using tools that the children are familiar with. The consoles are used for 20 minutes and the same is for the Wii, we do not use them all the time, their use is carefully planned with the teachers involved.

Q. Zazizoma: Video experience will always come at the expense of direct experience. If my early primary child were watching TV in school then I would indeed ask him to be excused from that activity. There are sound and well-thought-out reasons why some of us chose not to allow our young children to play video games or watch TV. I would appreciate schools respecting that decision, and for parents and schools to be able to work together. There is a time and place for technology in education, and I believe ALL parents can agree that at some point video technology as an enhancement in learning becomes appropriate. I suspect that time may be closer to 10 years than five years. It would be great if the discussion could be about when, not if. For example, at what point do all the kids do their work on something like iPads? Surely after they learn how to write well with paper and pencil? I'm also wondering if terms such as 'another tool in the arsenal' perhaps suggest an approach to education that needs fundamentally examining.

A. Dawn Hallybone: I agree that there is a time and place for technology and before we brought the consoles and the Wii into the classroom, we involved the parents and the governors in the process. These tools are familiar to our children now and I feel they provide a valuable tool in my arsenal that does not replace the traditional methods that you mention, but instead sit alongside them.

GamesNintendo in the classroom

Q. Hulababy: I cannot see what the fuss is all about. A DS is just another tool that a teacher can use, amongmany others. I use my iPad with children at school. I work in a Year 1 class. The children love it. We use a range of education games and activities, or use it to practise writing and recognising letters and numbers, or for doing phonics games, doing maths sums, etc. We are currently studying Rapunzel and I have an interactive 3D book on my iPad, which really engages the children to get into the story - as I said, it is just another tool for the teacher (or teaching assistant) to use to help engage children. It is great to see children who often struggle in class to get so excited about getting to use my iPad and the special pen to write their letters. What's not to like? Oh, a question - what is your favourite game or activity on the DS for using with KS1 children?

A. Dawn Hallybone: Thanks for the comment - my favourite project with the DS console and key stage one children is a Nintendogs project that our infant school ran with year one. They have also been exploring the EyePet on the PS3.

Brain training

Q. Edam: Don't have a problem with them as long as they are being used constructively for short periods. But I do have a problem with 'Brain Training' which is nothing of the sort. Bit of fun in your own time - fine. Giving it the school stamp of authority - not fine. Gives children the impression the maker's claim that this will somehow develop your brain is true. It isn't. Schools should not be endorsing products. Using DSs in school is OK-ish because these are tools most children will have at home. Endorsing the dodgy claims of a commercial outfit that their product is good for you is not on at all.

A. Dawn Hallybone: We make it very clear with the children that using the Brain Training helps them with their maths, which was what I said in the Nintendo advert. As a school we did not set out to endorse the product, we were asked to tell our story of how we use it. We have been using consoles and online games within the school for three years and so this is why we agreed to be part of the stories series of adverts. With the brain training program it also tells the children the 'age' of the brain - we have data files set up for each year group and the game itself explains to the children that their brain is still growing at their age. We use these for short periods of time (20 minutes) and they are used as individual use as well as in pairs so that the children talk with each other about how they are going to solve a problem e.g. when using time lapse.

Q. Freudianslipinotmylaptop: Perhaps it's not really a question, but I'd like Dawn's opinions on recent studies that have shown that games such as brain training do not improve brainpower - it's just that you get better at the specific games. So while I don't see the harm in playing these games (I actually love these games; my whole family plays them) I am very sceptical at the idea of them actually being educational.

A. Dawn Hallybone: Yes I have also seen this research and I would say as with most things in life we get better at them when we practise more. As I stated in the advert, I do think it helps them with their maths. As for the educational aspect, games that we use on the Wii are chosen specifically because the teacher can link them to the curriculum - for us last summer it enabled myself and the class to 'go on safari' and explore the animals and habitats that are contained there which in turn lead to a rich series of lessons linked to Literacy, Geography and Science.

Special needs

Q. Oldbeforetime: How do you make it inclusive to all? What about children with poor fine motor skills, do they struggle with the games or do they actually improve? What about children with poor eyesight? A significant proportion of children cannot see in 3D, which is something to consider with the new 3D DS coming out. Will the old 2D become obsolete?

A. Dawn Hallybone: We have made use of the Wii Fit board for children who have dyspraxia at school and found it has helped with their balance and fine motor skills, as well as improving the same when using the Wii in particular. I do not see the DS becoming obsolete in the future, at least not within our school, as we have been using it for the last three years and plan to continue to do so. I agree it is something to consider with the 3DS and is something that has been highlighted in the press.

Q. Dawn HallyboneHopelesslydisorganised: As the mother of a child with special needs (ASD/ADHD/dyspraxia), I welcome the use of gaming used responsibly within the classroom. My son who is highly motivated by computer and gaming activities loves and actively engages with gaming. It doesn't take much stretch of the imagination to get him using the quick-fire maths/reading programmes/co-ordination and balance-based activities (Wii). I don't see them as educational per se but if they help engage reluctant readers like my son then I am all for it. There's more than one way to lead a horse to water and more than one way to get him to drink! My son has definitely benefited from the use of gaming technology, just as my aged grandmother is benefiting from the Wii exercise programs within a nursing home. I say let's embrace this technology and ask the manufacturers to produce software to support our children. Dawn, how do you decide what games are appropriate and which are not educationally?

A. Dawn Hallybone:  Thank you for your comments - we decide by playing  really! I am lucky to belong to the Redbridge Games Network and at the beginning of the project six teachers got together and played a range of games and produced learning webs as to how we saw the games being used - we did rule out a few as could not see them linking to the curriculum

Q. Nottirednow: One of my children is mildly dyspraxic and they tend to be visual learners. I'd also like to ask about how appropriate software is chosen. The government could fund the development of suitable software - but if companies see there is likely to be a market they will design for it.

A. Dawn Hallybone:  We make use of consumer, off-the-shelf games most of the time, as the quality of the graphics and game play is of such a high standard. Nintendo as a company stress that they do not make games for education. What we teachers do instead is link games to the curriculum where we think they best fit. One of the children in my class referred to using games as 'secret learning'. Children know when a game is educational and sometimes will not engage with them in the same way. Although we do make use of educational online games such as Tutpup and The Land of Me, for example.


Q. Madwomanintheattic: Who funds your consoles? Who replaces them when they get dropped and broken? Who funds the games? How much does this cost your school? Was there much discussion about the budget? Do you think this outlay represents value for money?

A. Dawn Hallybone: We funded the set of 30 consoles ourselves from an educational supplier three years ago, as well as the games. The consoles have not been dropped or broken - the children are good at looking after them. Before we invested, there was a discussion within the school, as there should be, and we were lucky in that we were able to trial the use of them first using a set that the local borough had invested in. Brain Training games were also bought from an educational supplier.

We now belong to a games network within the borough, which funded our school Wii. Being part of this network enables school to pool their resources: each school pays a small subscription and in return they have a Wii in the classroom as well as access to a library of games both for the Wii and the DS as well as PS3s to use within the classrooms. The benefit of this is that schools are able to use a range of games as well as drawing on the experience of others and sharing this via our network blog. As for value for money, I would say yes, the 30 consoles and Wii are used across 350 children for the initial outlay three years ago and our subscription to the network.

Conflict with parents who are anti-consoles

Q. Treas: Some parents have chosen not to allow their children to have / use game consoles, so feel that they are being undermined by the schools who use them.

A. Dawn Hallybone: Yes, and as a parent myself I limit the time my own children are allowed to use games, as well as watching television. We ensure we have open dialogue with the parents at school and if a parent felt there was an issue at school, I would invite them in to see it in use as well as talking to them about how we were using them. I believe strongly that schools should work in partnership with the parents.

Different consoles

Q. Silverfrog: Do you think using a DS is better than using an iPad? Bearing in mind that the range of apps is wider, with a more educational balance able to be sought on the iPad.

A. Dawn Hallybone: We began using the DS consoles three years ago, a long time before the iPad became a reality. I agree that the apps on the iPad are vast and have a huge capacity in the classroom as a 1:1 device, as well as with group work. For many, however, it is the funding that prevents more use of iPads and iPods within the classroom. I have my own iPad which I take in and use with groups of children at times.


Q. Madwomanintheattic: How are the Nintendo results monitored and tracked?

A. Dawn Hallybone: The results of the Brain Training games are written in their books at the back of their book and I also go round and observe their times. A brain age is recorded once each half term. 

Last updated: 7 months ago