The other night I remembered this great ZX Spectrum game of the mid-80s. Me and my friends loved it. In fact you could go as far to say as we were obsessed with it. Imagine my delight when, following a quick google search, I found that you could still play it online – right here. Go on, have a go – you won’t regret it!
There are 20 levels to complete on Manic Miner. My expectations were low – I hadn’t played the mighty game for almost 30 years! With this in mind, I was amazed (and quietly impressed with myself) when after just 3 attempts, I reached level 4 – the ‘Abandoned Uranium Workings’ level. The bizarre thing was how much I remembered – when to jump in the ‘Central Cavern’, to avoid the killer bushes or in the case of ‘The Menagarie’, those menacing dodos. It all came back to me in a flash.
This made me think about the learning process – what had made it stick after almost 30 years in the doldrums of my mind? The following factors seemed to be important:
- I spent hours playing it – hours and hours of focused and very dedicated practice.
- The fact that you had to keep starting back at the first level every game, meant that you repeated it over and over again, and so eventually mastered each level. This was good preparation for the harder levels – you were building on solid foundations.
- Each time I made a mistake and got killed, I analysed why and tried to make sure that it didn’t happen next time. It often did, but I stuck at it!
- My mates gave me feedback – very specific feedback, that was broken down into very simple steps e.g. ‘You got killed there because you jumped just a bit too early’ . I made sure I acted on this feedback next time.
- It was hard – so as I mastered the levels, it felt good. As a result, I wanted to get better and so stuck with it. I didn’t give up – there was no other way!
- I watched my mates playing it and learnt from them. We often gave each other a running commentary about what we were doing, as we were playing each game.
- We discussed our performance at length – usually at school the next day and in fine detail. What level had we got to? How? When exactly do you allow yourself to start dropping down the collapsing floors in ‘The Cold Room’ in order to avoid the killer penguins?
- It was low stakes. It didn’t really matter if you died – you just learnt from it and started a new game.
- We didn’t overdo the praise! You had to do something really impressive to get even a suggestion of praise!
- There was a level of competition. I looked up to my mates who were better at it than me and wanted to be as good as them. They also opened up the challenge ‘What! You have completed that level yet?‘ When you did complete it, it made all the effort seem worthwhile.
This must have been a good model for learning – because it stuck! Looking through the list, there’s probably much that can be transferred to the way in which we teach.
That’s the challenge…and of course to help Miner Willy navigate the 20 levels!