Teaching networks through LAN gaming

We finally reach the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, and both students and teachers are showing signs of fatigue. I wanted a fun activity that would keep students engaged, would require minimal input from me, and would have educational benefit.

So today I set up a 24-port network switch in my classroom, gave students an ethernet cable each, and told them to set up their own LAN (Local Area Network)! The physical side of this was quite straightforward, particularly with the laptop computers and flexible furniture in use at my school. I liked the fact that almost out of necessity (and completely by accident) the computers were arranged in a “star” formation, with the switch at the centre.

I then invited students to play a game of Teeworlds across the local network, where children can shoot each other in an age-appropriate environment. Students had great fun (and yet somehow managed to keep the noise of excitement to an acceptable level), but not before doing a bit of technical problem solving. The technical and educational challenges faced by students in this activity included:

  • Working out how to plug an ethernet cable into their laptop (surprisingly few students had ever done this),
  • Confirming that they have an IP address on the LAN (using “ipconfig”),
  • “Unzipping” the Teeworlds download file into a folder (again something that students don’t seem to have done before),
  • Running an application from anywhere other than the Start Menu (Windows 7).

Once students had managed to solve these problems (which they did themselves, with some great demonstrations of teamwork and peer support) they were all faced with the “no game servers found” message! With a tiny bit of teacher prompting, some students realised that they could “host” a game server on their laptop, which others could then connect to through the LAN (again, using IP addresses).

A brilliant way to end their first year of the GCSE Computing course, and a practical way to consolidate the recent study of computer networks in theory lessons. We all know that we learn so much more when presented with problems that we are motivated to solve!

I will try this again with another GCSE Computing class tomorrow, and might even push them towards the extension task of creating a config file to change some of the game server settings…

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