Structured play, incidental learning

In each move, Sembl players take a mental leap to form a bridge between two concepts. This act of likening is how we think, intuitively; we do it instantly and unconsciously as we process new information. Encountering a problem, we find a solution by drawing on relevant experience – however distant in time, place or circumstance.

Sembl is a fun, social way to hone this associative skill. The more your students play, the more creative and resilient they become. And they acquire content knowledge incidentally.

Explore any subject

Each game starts from and returns to a single image. As a game host you can choose which image will be the centrepiece of your game.

Choose an image to focus your game

The suggested seed images (above) represent subjects including Indigenous Australians, imperialism, exploration, slavery, war, Federation, bushrangers, the French revolution, the industrial revolution, China, Egypt, Gallileo, the Renaissance, medical technology, pastoralism, migration, species extinction, geography, geology, and art.

If none of those fit the focus of your study, you can search all the images for a match, upload your own, or let me know and I’ll endeavour to add something for you.

Think creatively

As well as teaching content knowledge, school students need to develop skills they can apply to any subject they are studying. Creative thinking is a critical 21st-century skill. In the Australian Curriculum it’s defined in part by the ability to ‘imagine possibilities and connect ideas’. Sembl is extremely useful in this regard.

Below are some connections made by 11-year-old children in their very first game – with no instruction or scaffolding. And each one opens a conversation about how the world works.

How maps shape the world

Rigid discipline – to mould and to kill

Posture and gesture – universal expression?

Every ‘sembl’ is saved so the teacher can review the moves – about maps, discipline and expression – and work with her students to extend their thinking. Something interesting happens when you think about an object not as itself but in relation to something else. Your perception shifts.

Teachers of English and other languages know the importance of metaphor and other kinds of analogy in communicating ideas. Sembl can be deployed to inspire students to create and evaluate metaphors in their own compositions.

Whatever the subject of study, Sembl games are a great way to:

  • explore the scope of a topic
  • generate ideas
  • become aware of your mental approach, loosen it up, and see things anew

Understand systems

Here’s an important point. Identifying connections is the key to understanding systems – whether the subject of study is a science, a society or a language. For example, a game about war can weave together issues of agriculture and land, goodness and darkness, enemies and fear, propaganda and monuments.

In fact, a single move can sometimes bring a complex system of relationships to light, as in the sembl between the objects below: body-labelling.

Metal breastplate inscribed with the words "Timothy, Chief of Merricumbene"

Breastplate – given to an Aboriginal man by a white settler

branding iron

Branding iron

Both the breastplate and the branding iron label bodies; breastplate as brand. This simple analogy reminds us that white settlers in Australia imposed their authority on Aboriginal people.

Value what children do best

Children love to play, and in Sembl, playful thinking is recognised and valued as a skill that tends to submerge as we grow up – overtaken by forces that favour logic and discrimination over play and likeness. The games empower children to learn on their own terms.

How to host games for your students

Peruse these slideshow walkthroughs to see:

  • how to play – also useful for students before they play
  • how to set up a game – it works best to set up a game and in the process, invite your students to create an account

Of course, if you stumble, I’m more than happy to help.