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Funtasksticks: Aligning the Games with Course Outcomes of Physics and Biology for Pre-Science Students

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FunTaskSticks: Aligning the games with course outcomes of Physics and Biology for Pre-science students

Irma Ahmad1, Suhaiza Hasan2, Nur Azimah Osman3

1UiTM Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia)
2UiTM Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia)
3UiTM Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia),,


The demand for increasing the number of students to pass the pre-diploma programmes has boost up the need for active and motivating learning tools. To rouse the number of passing grades, various programs and series of lectures were conducted for pre-science students at UiTM Negeri Sembilan. However, none of the activities is in form of games. FunTaskSticks is a game that has been modified from the original Pick-Up Sticks and repurposed into instructional lesson as part of learning exercises to support students learning activities in informal educational settings. Therefore, in this study it attempts to investigate how FunTaskSticks could engage the learning process of Physics and Biology and assist them to improve their fundamental grammar of English language by using the terms and terminologies that they have learned in classes and from the game. There were 24 pre-diploma students who participated in this study. The finding revealed that FunTaskSticks is not only educating the students cognitively, but also affectively. Students learn to acknowledge, criticized and praise each other which has increased their motivation level and also their self-esteem. The usage of English language and their conceptual understanding towards Physics and Biology has increased throughout the games. They can easily memorize and spell the terms and terminologies of Physics and Biology.

Keywords: board games, learning tools, science education, physics, biology, motivational games


Over the years, the issues and challenges in teaching pre-science students at Universiti Teknologi MARA, specifically at Negeri Sembilan campus, have been raised repeatedly. The two main issues are the students’ background knowledge and low proficiency level of English language. All programmes at Universiti Teknologi MARA including UiTM Negeri Sembilan are conducted in English language. Therefore in just one semester; in about three months time; students have to use the opportunity that are given to them to perform at their level best to learn the courses that are conducted in English language and score GPA at least 2.50 if they want to further their study at diploma level.

With the demand of passing the pre-diploma students, it has increased the need for active and motivating learning tools. For the students to remember all the new terms or grasp new concepts, it has to be learnt in context, practiced and then revised to prevent them from forgetting what they have learned. Research has shown that most students are visual sensing, inductive and active. However, in traditional classroom, the teaching and learning process often features an auditory, abstract, deductive, passive and sequential of “chalk and talk” procedure, which contrast the students’ learning characteristics. Many have forgotten that in reality “one size doesn’t fit all. In reality, all students are different and diverse students cannot be equally fit into a monolithic ways of teaching and learning.

Thus, this study has been conducted in attempt to find the effectiveness of FunTaskSticks as a tool to engage students in learning Physics and Biology. This paper will start with a theoretical background, in which theories concerning the game design model, and philosophy of science and education are briefly discussed. Then, the methodologies used before, during and after conducting the games are discussed. Finally, the finding, and conclusion of this study are presented.


Educational games should be used as learning tools to support an active learning process as it focus on learning, not on teaching via games. According to Kiili (2005), the aim of educational games is to facilitate the players’ experiences. Staple and Taylor (2003; as cited in Kiili, 2005) stated that educators need to realize this situation so that the focus of educational learning especially in delivering information to learners could be achieved. Hence, this section begins with the short description of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains specifically the cognitive domains that iare related to the two courses. The game design models that have been utilized in designing FunTaskSticks Biology and FunTaskSticks Physics and dimensions in student engagement that are embedded in designing the game model are also discussed.

2.1 Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains
The three domains of educational activities are cognitive, affective and psychomotor. There are six major categories of cognitive domains that involve recall of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts. The categories portray the degrees of difficulties from the simplest to the most complex. However, this study highlighted only the knowledge and comprehension level of cognitive domain as they are aligned with the course outcomes of both courses. In fact, both levels suit the purpose of this game and students limited background knowledge.

2.2 The Game Design Model

The game design model for this study is adapted from a research model of CODA game by Erik A. Evensen. The goal of this game is to introduce and familiarize players with the process of diabetes management and to create an engaging experience for the children to play. This study adapted Evensen’s game design because FunTaskSticks and CODA game shared a few similarities. The similarities are both games are categorized as board games, with specific educational goal and targeted to a specific players or participants. Other than that, this model is also in relation with Hanington’s Explore/Generate/Evaluate model for design research. As cited in Evensen (2009), Hanington’s model is meant to “structure projects in design education, with relevant connections to design practice.”


Figure 1: A diagram of the research model of the CODA game by Evensen (2009)

2.2.1 Data Gathering
The first step is data gathering. Evensen suggested four elements in searching for background research namely interviews, literature review, generative research and analysis and design. However, in this study, it considered only the first two components that are interviews and observation, and literature review.

2.2.2 Creative
From the data gathering process, the first prototype that used paper and gator board was developed. The design of the game is simple and used four colours: red, yellow, green and blue. The design is simple as it could encourage participants to give input to improvise it.

2.2.3 Testing and Evaluation
Evensen tested the prototype through interactive process of play testing and revision until they gathered enough data to determine the best approach for designing a working prototype. However, in this study the play testing only conducted once through pilot study. All the input gathered in the pilot study were used in improvising the game design and concept.

2.2.4 Prototype
At this session, the prototype was finalized. Materials used were more durable with interesting features. However, the game design maintains its simplicity. Most of the changes were made in terms of changing the level of difficulty, reducing the complex sentences to simple sentences and type of sticks that being used in the game.

2.3 The Game Play Model
The game play model for this study is adapted from Wainess and Koenig from Cress Report 798 by The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. According to Wainess and Koenig (2010), game can be defined as the rules, goals, affordance and effects within a game space.

Figure 2: Game Play Model by Wainess and Koenig (2010)

In this study, there were two main goals and three rules of the game. The goals are to increase understanding on simple terms of Physics and Biology and to improve their understanding on fundamental grammar of English language. The rules of the games were not changed or modified during the game play. Thus affordance does not change in this study. The game space occurs in the distribution range of the sticks. Finally, the effect or reactions of a player to the game space is measured through questionnaire and informal conversations that were conducted after they had completed playing the game.

2.4 Dimension in student engagement
Jung (2012) stressed out that to educate students, one need not only to be cleared with what science and physics is but also what should be taught and how such chosen part should be taught. Lack of consensus concerning the method of science and physics has made it difficult to be learned and to be taught. In fact, according to Jung (2012), most of the students have difficulty to accept or understand certain theories because of they wants to know what is true not “physics is a fanciful way of putting technically successful rules.”

D.Jones (2009) arranged the learning criteria in four dimensions: foundation academic, stretch learning, learner engagement and personal skill development. There are three criteria in which learner engagement occur. They are (1) all learners are motivated and committed to learning, (2) have a sense of belonging and accomplishment, and (3) have relationships with adults, peers and presents that support learning. According to D. Jones (2009), in order for the students to apply higher order thinking skills, they need to be engaged first. He further stated that when educators make sense and meaning of what they are going to teach, students will learn them effectively. Finally, the personal skill development as highlighted by D.Jones (2009) is one of the dimension that need to be emphasized in determine the success of the academic institution in preparing their students for current assessment and future roles and responsibilities. The indicators are including the service learning participation and teamwork in (1) personal, social service and leadership skills and (2) demonstrations of positive behavior and attitudes.

D.Jones also suggested intensity, breadth and consistency as the three dimensions of engagement that can be used to measure progress in increasing students’ engagement. Intensity is referred to the level of engagement of each student. Breadth is referred to how broadly the class as a whole is engaged and consistency is how long students are engaged at peak levels throughout the class period.

Research methodology is continually developing and researchers can make decisions on which methods best fit their research questions. In this study, to have only an approach for collecting data is not appropriate. There were two simple studies linked together: a simple case study and an action research. A case study is used to come out with the game design model and mainly to establish the problems and act as a background research. Action research study is used to implement the game play model.

3.1 Description of FunTaskSticks
FunTaskSticks is a game that has been modified from the original Pick-Up Sticks. Each set of FunTaskSticks consists of 30 coloured sticks, 4 set of question cards, a dice, and list of answers. The sticks are coloured in 4 different colours and matched with the colours of the question cards. The colours are red (Multiple Choice Questions), green (grammar), blue (True and False) and yellow (spelling). There will be an extra white stick which is used to assist in picking up the other sticks.

Questions asked in the game are aligned with the course outcomes of Biology and Physics. Altogether there are 40 questions that are asked repeatedly in different forms. The questions were asked in form of True and False, Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ), grammar and spelling. For True and False and MCQ, most of the questions were adapted from quizzes, tests and final exam questions. Moreover, the questions were modified to suit the objectives of the game so that the game does not replicate the final exam questions.

3.2 Participants
A total of 24 pre- science students from pre-science programmes were voluntary to participate in this study. They came from two classes. Eight of the participants involved in pilot study. While the remaining participants involved in FunTaskSticks Physics and FunTaskSticks Biology.

3.3 Procedure and data collections
As mentioned earlier, a simple case study was established by the researchers as a way to identify the problems that occurred in the classroom. Data were collected mainly through observation, informal unstructured conversations, questionnaire and interviews. With the consent of two lecturers who taught Physics and Biology for the pre-science programmes, short observations during their lectures were conducted. The lecturers were contacted beforehand and the criteria to be observed were explained. Language used in teaching and learning, students’ responses towards lecturers’ questions, teaching materials and students engagement towards the learning process were observed. It was a simple observation and yet enough for the researchers to get a snapshots on general instructional practice and students engagement in the classroom. The criteria used for classroom observation is the same with criteria used in the questionnaire for lecturer self review on students’ engagement in the classroom.

An informal conversation with students was conducted after the class end. The questions asked were mainly on what they have learned, how they feel about it and any issues or problems occurred when obtaining the knowledge. The same process applied for both courses. Simultaneously, researchers offered the students to be the participants for this study. The pilot study was conducted mainly to test the reliability of the games design especially on the questions asked in that game. Other than that, the questionnaires and the questions for interviews were also being tested. The participants’ conversations, facial expressions and attitudes were observed and noted. The finding of pilot study has led to several changes in this study. The changes are the objectives of the study, length of questions asked, number of distracters for multiple choice questions, level of difficulty for each questions and also the material of the sticks. Other than that, the direction of the study, outline and agreement on the process designed and criteria for selecting participants were also reviewed.

The action research started after the improvisation of FunTaskSticks had completed. After the changes were made, all the participants were called for a meeting. Altogether, 16 students participated in this research. All the participants were told about their rights to withdraw from this study if they want to and permissions were obtained in using their responses and feedback for this study. This meeting was made to build up trust so that they will be more open up and at ease when researchers observing them playing the game. Approximately, time spent to play this game is 30-40 minutes.

The finding of this study is divided into 2 parts: from the case study and action research. As mentioned earlier, the case study is meant for background research while the action research is meant for implementing and evaluating the games according to the course outcomes of Physics and Biology.

4.1 Background Study
To fit the purpose of background study, two set of questionnaires, observation and informal conversation check list were used in collecting data. The questionnaires used are lecturer’s view on students’ engagement in the classroom, students’ perception on learning Physics and Biology in foreign language and foreign language anxiety.

4.1.1 Lecturer self review vs. researchers’ view on Students Engagement in the Classroom
This survey was adapted and translated from Student Engagement Walkthrough Checklist by D. Jones (2009). It was conducted for the lecturers to assess their own teaching process in the classroom and how they view their students towards their teaching. The findings of this self-review were concurrent with the lecturers’ responses in the informal conversations. However, after observing the classroom, the researchers’ view was not in agreement with the lecturers’ view. From the survey, the average score for both courses, as viewed by lecturers is 3.00 and it is at moderate level. However, based on observations conducted by the researchers, the average score for both courses is 2.67 and it is at low level.

4.1.2 Language Anxiety and Students’ view on Physics & Biology Classes
The questions asked were adapted and translated from the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) by Horwitz (1986). The findings revealed that the 78.6% of pre-science students experience high level of English language anxiety. The component was on fear of negative evaluation, followed by communicative apprehension and test anxiety at 82%, 81% and 73% respectively.

The second component of the questionnaire revealed that all the participants love Physics and Biology and like to attend the classes. Majority of the participants were afraid to fail in both courses. 70% of them think that English language has made Physics and Biology difficult to be learned and 80% of them express their confidence to excel in both courses if the courses are conducted in their first language (L1), Bahasa Melayu. All the participants agreed that there should be “fun learning” in their classrooms. 83% of the participants expressed their bored when the lecturers use the same techniques in teaching and almost every participant agreed that lecturers should consider various types of teaching techniques as those techniques can increase their interest and understanding towards Physics and Biology.
4.1.3 Informal conversation with lecturers
From the conversations, both of the lecturers’ main aim in teaching pre-science students is to help the students to achieve optimal learning. Both of them considered their students as underachiever. Thus, their main problem is to get their students to achieve the conceptual understanding so that they could apply the knowledge in their assessment tasks.

Both of the lecturers agreed that language barrier is the main problem followed by students’ background of knowledge. When the lecturers were asked about having games or any interactive activities to engage the learning, they both said that time constraint is the main issue. The Biology lecturer have tried a few games and brought some interactive activities in the classroom. However, these activities will be conducted after the entire syllabus is covered. In contrast, the Physics lecturer used interactive power point slides with some teaching aids to grab students’ attention in the classroom.

4.1.4 Informal conversations with the students of the class
From the conversation, students found that both courses Physics and Biology are interesting to be learned. However, they believe that if the courses are taught using the L1; they could have understood the courses and enjoy learning it more than learning it by using English language. Most of them learn to pass because passing the science subjects is a requirement for them if they wish to further their study at diploma level. Only a few students were not happy on how their lecturers conducted their class. Finally, when they were asked about what challenged them the most in learning Physics or Biology, all of them agreed that there are many new things that need to be grabbed in short time and to learn the courses in English language has making it even more challenged.

4.2 The game play
Observation was conducted throughout the game. Players’ attitude, facial expression and other behavior were observed. Informal conversation was conducted after the game end and followed by answering a questionnaire on their view towards the game.

4.2.1 Observation
The observation started right after the researchers explained on how to play the game. From the observations, all the researchers agreed that the games suit the participants’ level and fun. All participants were enjoying themselves throughout the games. All three researchers shared similar findings. Firstly, participants were no longer embarrassed when they make mistakes. Throughout the games, most of them avoided grammar tasks and there were a lot of discussions occurred among players. Finally, they were even spontaneously correcting their friends’ mistakes.

4.2.1 Participants’ view towards FunTaskSticks Physics and FunTaskSticks Biology
After the game has over, all participants were required to complete a questionnaire. The finding revealed that more than 80% of the participants agreed that their level of content knowledge on Biology and Physics has getting better after they played the game. Majority of them stated that their conceptual understanding towards Physics and Biology has increased and they are getting more interested in learning the courses after playing FunTaskSticks. Not only that, they can easily memorize the terms and terminologies of Physics and Biology and be able to spell correctly most of the terms and terminologies in both courses. They totally agreed that they had used a lot of English language when they played this game. However, only 60% of the participants who played FunTaskSticks Physics felt confident to read and answer the questions in English language.

4.2.2 Informal unstructured conversation with participants
The participants were asked on what they like and dislike about this game. From the conversations, all participants agreed that the game suits their level, fun and easy to be played. They will highly recommend this game to their friends. They also think that this game should be part of after-class activities. They think that this game has assisted their learning and increased their understanding on Physics and Biology. Most of them would like to play the game again. They agreed that they had utilized their skills of reading, listening and speaking in English although most of the time they used L1 to explain and to interrupt when their friends need help in understanding the questions. They also like this game because it has helped them to improve their conceptual understanding on Physics and Biology.

On the other hand, participants find it difficult to play this game because they cannot hear properly due to noise from other groups who played the same games in the same classroom. They thought spelling task was the easiest one. However, they blamed their friends who mispronounced the terms which led them to misspell the terms. They like true and false questions because they found that most of the questions have clues and key words. Other than that, they do not like the grammar task as they do not sure on how English language works. They admitted that their English language proficiency level was very low. Although they agreed that they have used a lot of English language, they still found it difficult because some of their friends have reading difficulty. However, this problem has taught them to focus and to listen properly. Finally, all of them felt good and confident when they were able to correct their friends and to help their friends to understand the questions.

From the findings there are a few issues that can be highlighted for further discussion. The discussion is divided into two parts. The first part discussed about findings from background study and the second part discussed the findings on before, while and after the game testing.

5.1 Background Study
From the background study, researcher’s view on students’ engagement in the classroom is different from the lecturers. The level of students’ engagement in classroom as viewed by the researcher is at low level, and the lecturers’ view was at medium level. From the observation, there was less verbal participation in both classrooms. Most of the students did not express their thoughtful ideas and even not answering the questions asked by their lecturers. From the observation too, students did not exhibit confidence in initiating and completing a task given by their lecturers. Students’ participation in the classroom is considered as passive and no voluntary in reflecting on the problems or questions given by their lecturers. As referring this scenario to the three dimension of engagement by D.Jones (2009), this scenario is considered as moderate engagement intensity with low breadth and low consistency. This is because, from the observation, students were engaged at the beginning of a class and lose attention and interest as the class went on. It was low breadth as only some students are engaged.

From the background study, majority of the pre-science students experienced high level of English language anxiety. This finding is as accordance to their lecturers’ view on English language as a barrier in learning Physics and Biology. Other than that, majority of the students feel bored when lecturers used the same teaching techniques and demand for interactive learning and “fun learning” in the classroom. From the interview with the lecturers, they admitted that interactive learning is difficult to be done due to time constraint.

Both of the lecturers agreed that language barrier is the main problem followed by students’ background of knowledge. Language barrier occurs because of the nature of both courses. Biology requires a lot of reading and memorizing. Although the nature of Physics is more towards calculation as compared with Biology, it still requires the students to read especially in understanding the conceptual of Physics. The lecturers further stated that students need to understand and master certain concepts and theories before they could apply them in solving a problem. Lack of background knowledge in both courses has driven to another learning difficulty for the pre-science students. Using L2 in teaching has making it worst. This is because most them fail to grasp the basic concept in L2. According to the lecturers, they still have to explain the concept or meaning of the terms in L1 although they have tried to simplify and paraphrased their explanation a few times beforehand.

5.2 Game Testing
As mentioned earlier, there were four findings from the observation of the game testing. Firstly, participants were no longer embarrassed when they make mistakes. In the beginning, most of the participants expressed their frustration and sigh when they mistakenly answered the questions or misspelled the terms. Others were laughing and make fun of their mistakes. This frustration can be clearly seen from the participants’ facial expressions. Some of them felt hesitate to answer the next questions. However, when everybody makes mistakes, the game has becoming more fun. They did not mind if others laughing at them. In fact, they felt okay to make mistakes as everybody makes mistakes.

Secondly, most of the participants chose to pick up the yellow sticks and rather than the blue sticks although the blue stick is much easier to be picked up. The yellow sticks represent spelling task, and blue sticks represent grammar task. However, quite a number of participants failed to spell the term and terminologies of Physics and Biology. They often interchange the, “ou” with “uo”, “ie” with “ei”, “tian” with “sion” and many more. Most of the time, they blamed their friends for mispronounced the words which led them to misspelled the word.

|Physics |Biology |
|Incorrect |Correct |Incorrect |Correct |
|Bouyant |Buoyant Force |Condensession |Condensation |
|Boyant | |Condensetion | |
|maesurement | Measurement |vacoules |vacuoles |
|Colision |Collision |nuclues |nucleus |
|Collition | | | |
|Fliud | Fluid |Eukrayotic |Eukaryotic |
| | |Eukariotic | |
|accleration |Acceleration |Bacteriopage |Bacteriophage |
|Dencity |Density |Collencaimas |Collenchymas |
|Boyling |Boiling Point |Phygocytosis |Phagocytises |
|Bowling | | | |
|electromagnetisem |Electromagnetism | | |
|transves |Transverse waves | | |

Table 1: Example of words misspelled by the participants

For the grammar task, most of the students showed their weaknesses in Subject-Verb Agreement especially in differentiating between countable and uncountable nouns, adjectives and adverbs, collective nouns and abstracts nouns. For example:-

|Physics |Biology |
| | |
|Base quantity are the basis of physical measurement. (is – |Lymphocytes produces the immune response against foreign |
|uncountable) |substances. (produce- plural noun) |
| | |
|Boiling point is the temperature where the phase changes from |Fruit juices fermentation if they are kept for too long. |
|liquid into gas. (to –preposition) |(ferment –verb vs.uncountable noun) |
| | |
|A force can changes the motion of a body. (change- SVA) |Sugar are converted into alcohol by a process of |
| |fermentation. (is- uncountable noun) |
|Pressure is the force acting perpendicular to a unit Area. | |
|(perpendicularly – adverbs) |Usually human blood contain more leukocytes than |
| |erythrocytes. (contains- uncountable noun) |
|5. Friction force is the force which opposes the relative | |
|sliding motion of two surfaces in contact with one other. |Fungi is general parasites. |
|(another) |(generally – adverbs vs.adjectives) |
| | |

Table 9: Example of Grammar mistakes
Thirdly, participants were spontaneously correcting their friends when they read the questions. Most of the time, they corrected on pronunciation and also helped in giving the meaning of certain words. Surprisingly, quite a number of the participants did not know how to pronounce and define simple words like because, pause and etc.

Finally, there was a lot of discussion throughout the games. The discussion occurred when participants were not satisfied with the answers given. Researchers did not interfere in the discussion unless the discussions had lead to argumentation and out of topics. From the discussions, it can be concluded that the participants’ knowledge and understanding has increased and they have paid attention throughout the games. For example, most of them tend to recall the similar questions that were asked beforehand in different tasks and even from their lectures. Thus, they have paid more attention to the questions asked as they know the similar questions will be asked again in the other tasks.

5.3 After the Game Testing
After the game has over, all participants were required to complete a questionnaire. From the findings, there were slightly differences between participants’ of Biology and Physic.

| | |AGREE (%) |
|6 |My conceptual understanding on this course has increased |87.5 |62.5 |
|10 |I am more confident to read and answer the questions in English language |87.5 |62.5 |

Table 9: Differences in Participants’ views towards FunTaskSticks

When the students were asked about the differences, majority of them said that it was hard for them to agree with the statement as they still have difficulty in solving questions especially that involves calculations. Furthermore, they still have problems to read the questions in English as they need more time to understand the questions before they could answer the questions. In other words; English language is still the main barrier to the students as it requires them to read and understand the questions before they could decide on what and how to calculate to solve the problem.

The demand of lifelong learning increases the need for active and motivating learning tools. FunTaskSticks Biology and FunTaskSticks Physics were developed with objectives that they could help students to increase their understanding on simple terms of Physics and Biology and to increase their understanding on fundamental grammar of English language by using the terms they have learned in classes and from the game. Based on the findings, FunTaskSticks Biology and FunTaskSticks Physics did help the students to engage their learning. The findings from observations, questionnaires, and informal conversations has clearly shown that this game is not only fun but it is also educating the students in its own ways.

This game is not only educating the students cognitively, but it also educates them affectively. Students learn to acknowledge, criticized and praise each other which has increased their motivation level and also their self-esteem. They also learn to respect each other although there were lots of laughing and teasing occurred throughout the games.

Finally, it is hope that this study could be done in a larger scale and involve more students and more subjects like Chemistry and Mathematics. As mentioned earlier, FunTaskSticks is not just a game that play to win, but it is a game that could engage learning in both cognitively and affectively.


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