Peter Hastie: Constraints Led Game Design in Physical Education


Except for this next 10 minutes, I’m sure you’d all rather
be out somewhere playing and essentially the goal
of our whole existence, if we had a utopia, if
we were in a position where all of our basic
needs were presented to us, we wouldn’t have to work
and what would we do? There’s only one other
option, and that’s to play. And it’s a fundamental human condition that everybody loves to play and sadly we don’t get enough opportunity to do it and unfortunately even worse
sometimes in the school context we don’t do it very well. So a number of you have a ball here and I guarantee you that
if you were somewhere else you’d probably be playing with it especially because these
special kinesiology balls, which you can have that one, light up and allow you to play with them as we go. So essentially in doing
activities and playing within the school physical
education context, which is the primary site
where we learn to play games, sadly a number of children don’t have the most positive experience due to a number of constraints. In other words, they don’t have the skill to play the activity that the
teacher has presented to them or the games are presented
in exclusionary ways. So for example, hand up if you’ve got
one of the flashy balls. You can design a game and play
with it when you go outside. Hand up if you’ve just got
the boring old tennis ball. You couldn’t play the games
that these people designed if they were allowed to
play with it as they wish. And so you’re in a position
where you’re constrained by a different element,
usually by the environment. And so sadly we get in situations where it’s not the
result of the game itself that leads young people
to become disaffected. It’s the way that it’s presented, the way that it’s structured and sometimes the social environment that the teacher allows to foster where the dominant children
get to make all the decisions. Now, if we flip the paradigm and say, “You with the tennis ball
can make all the decisions “about what’s happening in the games,” then that might exclude some of you others because your ball has a different density, you can do different things with it. And so essentially what
happens in most cases, and it happens in most classrooms across all the academic areas, it certainly happens across most classes in university settings,
is that the teacher or the lead instructor or the
people with the highest status get to make all the decisions
about who does what. And so if you were to design a game, for example with your flashy ball there, and you said, “This is
what we’re going to do,” and everybody in the audience here is going to play that game a number of folks would be disaffected, maybe not particularly motivated because they don’t enjoy the
game that you’ve designed. So in order to help young
people get in a position where they learn about what play is and they learn to play
games that are enjoyable we instigate a particular curriculum model called student designed games. And this is a process where
we ask the young people to create and practice
and refine their own games and we say refinement because the first time you design a game something won’t work, someone
will make a suggestion about how to play it better. And so in the slide that
you see on the screen there, that was a group of young
people here, 5th grade students, we asked them to design their
own batting and fielding game. That was a game where you had a ball and you sent it out and
you hit it or kicked it and then you ran round bases. Something like softball or baseball. They could design the
game however they wanted. However, we put another constraint on them and we said, “You also
have to build the equipment “that you’re gonna use to play with it.” And so that bat there is
a big swimming pool noodle on a stick, they’ve got
a hoop, balls were made from anything from wrapped
up rubber bands in duct tape, and perhaps the most famous game of all was called Biscuit Ball because their ball was a frozen biscuit, which
they wrapped in duct tape and at the end of every game
they had to stick it back in the freezer. And the exciting thing about that game was that due to the irregularity
of the shape of the ball it kept zooming off in
all sorts of places. There was another unfortunate
game made with a ball made of a couple of T shirts wrapped up in a plastic bag and duct tape, which eventually be called Sewer Ball because you can know where
the ball ended up one day while they were playing it. Now the teacher doesn’t in this process just let the children go off willy nilly. They provide constraints
about what’s acceptable in terms of particularly safety. What are the guidelines that you can do in terms of the game. So if the children invent a
rule or put in a game place where some people may be put at risk, teacher has the capacity
to make that change. And to create this positive
learning experience where all the young people
have a voice, alright? So we have our friend
here with the orange ball that dominates the discussion, “No, we’re going to do this,
we’re going to do that,” and the teacher’s role is to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard. So what sort of games do
students come up with? First of all, and most incredibly, they design games that are playable. And we call them games that work. And essentially a game that works means that the offensive side
and the defensive side are reasonably balanced. So young children and middle
aged children and adults aren’t going to design
games where the score is like 50 to nothing
after a couple of minutes because the game, it doesn’t work. Because the offense never
gets a chance to score or defensively you can’t stop anybody. And we initiate that by
playing tag games frequently at the beginning where
we’ll have one chaser, one person’s the tagger, and
everybody else in this room is being tagged and we can play
anywhere in the university. No one’s ever gonna get tagged. Then we’ll have five
taggers and three people who are fleeing on the stage. And of course no one’s ever
going to be able to escape. And so they learn to
make these modifications. So they do design games that work. They find these balances
between attack and defense or scoring and non scoring
or batting and fielding to make them nice and even. School age children and
university students as well, when they design these
games, have a great intent to try to make the games inclusive. So they never include games
where anybody’s eliminated which teachers often do. They try to make them very
inclusive that everybody gets, put in deliberate rules about how many people
have to touch the ball before they can score, et cetera. However, dependent on their skill level and dependent also on their gender, we’ve done some research on this, boys and girls do go
about designing the games in slightly different ways. Girls are much more recipe book oriented. And so what they do is
they’ll take the template, what’s it going to be about,
what’s gonna be a ball, how do you score, and they’ll
go through it systematically. Boys, on the other hand,
are more brick-large. They just throw things
together, move that base here, bring it in, or whatever. Higher skilled children
tend to be more like that, lower skilled children
tend to be more deliberate. And they also design games based on the element of
competition and level of skill. So higher skilled
children will design games that are more complex
and more competitive. Lower skilled youngsters design games that are often more cooperative. But in all cases they design
games that are playable. And so the theory behind this
is the idea of constraints. And constraints are things that limit us to allow us to do things. We have individual constraints,
that’s our skill level, that’s our motivation, that’s our growth. So a big tall fellow is probably going to be pretty constrained in being a gymnast and
a little small person is going to be reasonably constrained if they wanted to be a high
jumper or a volleyball player. Then you’ve got the environmental factors, that’s the situations in which they play. And then of course you’ve got
the constraints of the task. The interesting thing about games is that the easiest way to do it, to achieve the goal of
the game, is forbidden. So if you think about playing golf. What we’re trying to do in golf is to get the ball in the hole. What’s the easiest way to do it? Pick it up, walk, put it in. Well we put in these rules
that we have to do things. The same with running a
200 meters in the Olympics. The quickest way is to just run across the
middle of the track, right? But we make people go around. And so my theory is that
young people are really good at thinking about their
own individual task and environmental
constraints and design games with those in mind; although, that’s never at
the level of consciousness because they’re inventing games that work. And if the game works that
means they can play it. They never include skills they can’t do. That’s one thing that you won’t ever see in student designed games. So to test this theory, which is coming up in the next series of these
student designed games processes is to have a group of older students, maybe 9th or 10th grade students, and give them the task instead of designing a game for yourself, which is what we’ve done to date, you’re now going to go to another school and you’re going to design
games for 4th graders. And we’ll look specifically
at the sorts of questions that they ask me and of the young people. So if they ask things like,
“What equipment can we use? “What do they like to do? “How many of them are there? “How long of these games
have we got to play? “Can we see them in their
physical education class “and see what they can do?” These would give us an
indication that subconsciously they’re looking at this
constraints and you would think that they would be the sorts of questions that would be asked by these young people but at the moment that’s contentious. And so that’s the theoretical challenge. And so in summarizing,
when each of you leave here with your ball, ’cause it’s yours to keep, you will do with it in a playful manner. It’s not going to be
for you a work object. It’s gonna be a playful object and play is the central objective and it’s the fundamental
notion of why we exist, is to play not to work, thank you. (applause)

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