Angry Birds Playground is an innovative effort on the part of Rovio — publisher of hit games such as Bad Piggies, Amazing Alex and the aforementioned Angry Birds — to bring the power of game-based learning into the classroom. Rovio recognized the educational potential of using popular games and highly-recognizable and engaging characters for teaching academic and non-academic subjects in the school setting. As a result, they developed Angry Birds Playground, an educational program that teaches math, science, music, language, arts and crafts, physical education, and social interaction. It was developed in conjunction with The University of Helsinki and based on Finland’s world’s highest-rated educational system curriculum for kindergarten.
We had the opportunity to speak with Rovio’s vice president of learning and book publishing, Sanna Lukander, to learn more about using the Angry Birds franchise for teaching a variety of skills. Lukander reported that the team at Rovio asked a simple question: “What if learning were fun?” They then identified seven characteristics that could make learning fun and valuable:
l.) Love and passion make learning intrinsically motivated.
2.) Using different strategies that help kids choose what to learn based upon learning style.
3.) Giving kids a sense of feeling safe in the learning environment.
4.) Promoting life-long-learning as a healthy addiction and trying to figure out how play and games can be used in this context
5.) Encouraging children to appreciate who they are, and letting them feel free to experiment to expand their learning potential.
6.) Creating an environment that is inspiring for learning
7.) Letting kids feel free to make mistakes — in fact, having it be fun to fail by letting kids know it’s OK to make mistakes that lead to learning.
The Angry Birds Playground program goes far beyond playing the games. It is a concept that engages and inspires children. The curriculum includes physical activities, learning to play a five-stringed musical instrument, reading books with Angry Bird characters, and teaching specific content in science and math.
While Angry Birds Playground uses the games themselves, much of it is done on a more collaborative basis using interactive whiteboards in the classroom for teaching skills. Lukander describes how Angry Birds can be used jointly in a social environment through the interactive whiteboards, but also more individually through the use of a laptop and, in a more focused fashion, on a mobile device.
One of the most interesting parts of our conversation with Sanna Lukander was about how the Angry Birds Playground concept could be used with children with special needs. Lukander — who has a background in educational publishing and a deep personal interest in special education — sees great potential with using the same type of concept for teaching children who have ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, and other special needs. This is evident in Angry Birds Playground’s strategies to assist in developing 21st century skills of problem solving, collaboration, creativity, executive functions, and digital literacy.
What is most exciting about Angry Birds Playground is how a major publisher such as Rovio is taking game-based learning to a new level. It is using children’s intense interest in video games first to engage them in the learning process, but perhaps more importantly to connect game-based learning to real-world academic and problem-solving skills. Rovio is not limiting itself simply to digital media but is applying what we at LearningWorks call a “healthy play diet” into the mix, so that children engage in physical, artistic, and social activities as part of their learning. This approach can help children go beyond their interest in digital media and engage them in other forms of learning, redefining what it means to be a healthy student in the 21st century.