Video games are usually only played at home and never at school, but some rules have exceptions. Just ask, special education educator Erick McGinley, a UW–Milwaukee graduate student who was awarded the Nintendo Wii Grant Opportunity through Milwaukee Public Schools. His students will now get to experience what it’s like to play videogames in the classroom.
McGinley is earning his master’s degree in exceptional education while earning his teacher certification through the UWM-MPS Internship Program, a unique partnership between the UWM School of Education and Milwaukee Public Schools.
McGinley is interning at 53rd Street Community School, teaching one fourth- grader, two fifth-graders, six sixth-graders, and one eighth-grader. In addition to cognitive disabilities ranging from moderate to severe, some of his students have autism and other health impairments, he says.
McGinley heard about the Nintendo Wii grant at an MPS cohort meeting. Cohort meetings are held monthly for groups of teachers, and focus on a specific aspect of disabilities that affect MPS students. Each meeting has a different topic. For example, one meeting could focus on autism and another on emotional behavior. One of the incentives teachers were offered to attend the meetings was the opportunity to apply for the Whee! Buddy Grant Opportunity.
In the application process, MPS asked applicants for goals, measurements and information on how the Nintendo Wii would be used in the classroom.
According to McGinley: “The Wii provides specific skill work in the following areas, which are also targeted IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals: Follow steps in a process; Make personal connections to images, text, and movement; Identify cause-and-effect relationships and recognize changes in one’s environment; Recognize patterns; Build and strengthen communication skills, specifically related to cooperation and positive peer interactions; Build and strengthen concepts of personal space and body awareness.”
The IEP is a legal document stating the needs of the special education student and the services that will be provided throughout the year and is renewed annually. The benefit of this grant for the students, McGinley said, is primarily communication. He is hoping that the combination of motor movement and learning will be beneficial.
“Anytime you incorporate movement into what you’re trying to teach, it just strengthens the lesson so much more – you strengthen the connection and deepen the knowledge. The combination of motor movement and a lesson impacts where the information is stored in the brain and how the student is able to access it,” McGinley explained. Students will use the Nintendo Wii system for 30 minutes, three times per week. This will allow assitive technology to be incorporated more fully into the students’ core curriculum.
The Nintendo Wii also includes a sports package, with activities and games such as bowling, baseball, tennis and golf.
In addition to playing the Nintendo Wii, McGinley said he and the students will write a classroom book about how the system is used.
“We’ll take some pictures. Then the students will decide what they want to write with some adult assistance. Then they’ll type it up and we’ll print it out and make a book to read,” McGinley said.
After eight weeks, McGinley will report back to MPS to describe how the grant was used and whether his students showed any improvements on the measures he set up. He’ll also submit the classroom book. “We’ll actually add all the goals we’re working on into the book. Then the students will know specifically when we play the Wii what we are working on. We’ll know that because we wrote it down ourselves and are charting it.”