Steam Powered Dreams

Teachers as Designers

This ARGLE Learning Trail foregrounds the educational benefits of integrating opportunities for children to develop digital literacies across the curriculum. It provides all the resources you need to organise a ‘day of play’ in your school and explore STEAM education with your classes.


Integrating Digital Literacies Across the Curriculum

This ARGLE Learning Trail is based on a two-year research project led by Dr Angela Colvert (University of Roehampton), entitled Playful Pedagogies, funded by the British Academy (2019-2021). During this project five teachers across three schools co-created an Alternate Reality Game  in order to integrate digital literacies across the curriculum. Together we shaped a re-usable game resources, in collaboration KIT Theatre,  and created a range of planning tools. All of these resources are accessible here and are free to use in classrooms. They are also adaptable so that you can tailor them to meet the needs of your classes.

The Challenge: ‘JOIN THE DOTS!’

The Day of Play begins, unexpectedly, during an everyday lesson. A strange video begins to play on the interactive whiteboard. It seems to have been sent by a secret agency called ‘Dreams of Time and Space’. In the film clip the agency explains that:

“We work with the most imaginative human problem solvers to create digital dream machines that catch dreams. We then improve dreams we find by hacking, tinkering, remixing and fixing them before zapping the dreams back into the minds of dreamers who need our help. We are currently setting up maker-spaces in schools throughout the world, so that new classes of creative young people can help us complete our important missions”

The film ends with an invitation to become part of the agency and help them to complete their latest mission. Will your class choose to ‘Join the DOTS’? What skills will they develop? Can they help dreamers in need?


The agency also has a website ( which explains their aims in more detail. It contains lots of resources for making and creating dreams. However, little do the class know that they are about to get another message directly from the DOTS Dream Director...and their own unique mission is about to begin!



To engage in a STEAM Powered ‘Day of Play’ you will need:

  • Simple digital technology for the children to use (such as cameras, netbooks, tablets or audio-recorders)
  • A range of scrap materials or art supplies.
  • A working wall or online forum (such as the one on or your school learning platform) for children to share ideas
  • ARGLE Downloads and film clips from this site (Free to use in classrooms)

DOTS Website

These resources will be used creatively during the project to make a ‘Dream Machine’ and ‘Digital Dreams’. We have created a range of additional resources, in collaboration with KIT Theatre, which are listed in this learning trail. These include short films and downloads to support your classes to get inspired, excited and creative! A full list of resources can be accessed at (to access the free teacher downloads you will need the password which we will email to you on request). Please get in touch if you’d like more information.


There are four interrelated sections which you can dip into in any order. Inside each section you will find examples of practice from classrooms and also free downloadable resources to support you to adapt and trial the approaches in your own settings.

ARGLE 4-part diagram

If you do use the resources, please do provide us with some feedback to help us improve them, or just share your creative stories and experiences with us!

Curriculum Design

This section will support you to:  design learning opportunities which enable children to develop and demonstrate their digital literacies across the curriculum, and beyond.

Let’s get started!

We have created two teacher planning guides to support you to tailor this project to meet the needs of your classes.  The DOTS Pathways and Possibilities Planning Tool outlines a range of options for you to select from which take account of the time and resources available as well as the curricular requirements and children’s needs and interests. If you are very confident with using technology or are a complete novice, this project is for you. Just select your starting point and take it from there. The DOTS Day of Play Sequence outlines flow of the play and can be mapped to the timings of your school schedule. It can also be used to support you to create a weekly or termly plan.

Cross-Curricular Learning

The DOTS agency has four departments: Explorers, Detectives, Reporters and Inventors. (Logos?)

If you would like to weave this project into your geography curriculum, then inviting your class to join the DOTS Explorers might provide an exciting context for learning. DOTS Explorers help dreamers to investigate and discover new places. They plan and navigate safe and exciting pathways across space and time and they are experts at interpreting and creating interactive maps and guides.

If you would like to integrate this project into your history curriculum, then giving your class the opportunity to join the DOTS Detectives might provide an opportunity to develop their skills and understanding. DOTS Detectives are experts at helping dreamers discover the secrets of the past. DOTS Detectives collate and interpret evidence from a range of sources such as text, images and objects to uncover hidden and lost stories. They have excellent skills of inference and deduction.

If you would like to make links with the design and technology, art or computing curriculum, then prompt your class to join the DOTS Inventors. DOTS Inventors help dreamers to imagine new creations which can solve real-life problems. They tinker with technology, remix materials and hack and fix machines and dreams. Experts in experimentation, they can improvise and work creatively within constraints.

If you would like the project to support your children’s learning in literacy or maths, then let them join the DOTS Reporters reveal important information to dreamers that need help. They are talented and effective communicators who know how and when to persuade, inform and report.

Choosing a Dreamer

At the centre of every DOTS Mission is a dreamer who needs help. This dreamer could be a significant person from history or a fictional character from a book. We have created lots of resources which centre on the life of Ada Lovelace. There are also plenty of resources online about her life which are listed in the ‘DOTS download – All about Ada’. Here is a short summary of her life and achievements.
Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is an interesting figure to place at the centre of a ‘DOTS Mission’. However, you may wish to choose another historical figure for your class to learn about. If so, check out the DOTS Download – Dreamers from the Past for some inspiration.

Next Steps…

Decide which dreamer will be the focus of the project (Ada Lovelace? Another historical figure? A fictional character?)
Research the life of the dreamer yourself
Consider the curriculum area you would like to focus on during the project
Use the DOTS Possibilities and Pathways Planning Tool to note down ideas
Gather the resources you will need
Consider the timeframe of the project (will it be presented as a day of play, a week-long project or a mission for the term?)

Multi-Media Production

This section will help you to integrate ‘making with technology’ into lessons, so that children (and teachers) can creatively communicate their knowledge, understanding and interests in innovative and playful ways.

Let’s get making!

The DOTS mission will involve some preparation from the teacher, printing out the downloadable ID Cards and collating the resources needed. However, most of the making takes place alongside the children and is actually the key aim of the game. During the project the children will demonstrate and develop digital literacies as well as curriculum knowledge. You may also discover new and exciting things about children’s lived experiences outside of school as you shape digital dreams together.

Making DOTS ID Cards

All DOTS Agents need an ID Card to prove that they are a member, and these will need to be downloaded and printed in advance using the DOTS ID Cards template. If you have a small budget, then we recommend that you also buy some safety lanyards and ID Card holders for your class to add to the authenticity of the experience. The children should also be given time to decorate and personalise them. You can keep these ID Cards in school and use them any time you choose to run a DOTS project, or send them home with the children as a memento of the experience.

Making a Dream Machine

Within the fictional frame of the DOTS Mission, DOTS agents need to use special devices called ‘Dream Machines’ or ‘Digital Dream Catchers’ to catch dreams. (Think the BFG in the digital age). These strange contraptions, once placed by a window, have the capacity to catch dreams from across time and space. Here is a DOTS film which features the very latest model of ‘Dream Catcher’ from DOTS HQ. It outlines all the key features needed and why they are important.

For a small fee you can have a digital dream machine designed for you by KIT Theatre or hire the ‘SnoozeSnaffler’ which is featured in the film. However, it is also very easy to create your own with the children by following the DOTS Guide to Making a Dream Machine. We have also created official DOTS Dream Machine Planning Sheets so the children can record their ideas. All the children need to do is include six features: light, container, scales, pen, net and funnel (with USB)

Check out these designs which were planned by a group of 9-year-old DOTS Agents:

Next Steps…

See if your local area has a scrap project as this can be a cheap way of gathering unusual materials

Imagine different types of machines. Could the children design a ‘special machine’ that might catch the dreams of mice, or dreams from festivals, or dreams from long ago…?

You might ask groups to focus on different parts or the machine before piecing them together.

Making a Digital Dream

Within the fictional frame of the DOTS Mission, a ‘digital dream’ is a multi-media message. It is often fragmented and needs to be pieced together. It may consist of short film clips, music, books, letters, clothes or indeed any object that is significant to the dreamer. Like most dreams, the meaning is not always clear. The best way of interpreting the dream is often to consider the dream makes the dreamer feel. ‘Heavy dreams’ often have an uneasy or anxious or sad feeling, which might be conveyed through the tone of the music, or words in a letter, or the physical movements of the dreamer in the film footage. If the DOTS agents catch a heavy dream in their dream machine, they study it to work out why the dreamer might be anxious or upset. They then make a ‘light dreams’ which contains a positive message for the dreamer, to make them feel better and help them solve any challenges that may be worrying them.

Interpreting Heavy Dreams

Teachers need to present children with a ‘heavy dream’ to introduce the children to the dreamer and the problem they might be facing. This dream is ‘found’ inside the dream machine during the game. Here are some extracts from Ada Lovelace’s Heavy Dream (The full version is available on request, free of charge).

Film Clip from Ada’s Heavy Dream (Short Version)

Other items found in the dream machine, if you catch Ada’s Heavy Dream, might include the dress she wears in the film footage, broken boats and planes which have gone wrong and letters expressing frustration with the inventions that will not go right.

Artefacts from Ada’s Dream

Children need to use their powers of inference and deduction and empathy to identify the reasons for Ada’s troubled dream. Ada is close to giving up on her dream of creating her book of ‘Flyology’. This must not be allowed to happen! The children must create a dream to encourage her to keep going…

Fixing Dreams

DOTS Agents must improve and transform heavy dreams by remixing the contents or creating new versions of the dream.

DOTS Guide to Making a Dream


The artefacts that children ‘discover’ in the dream machine will help them discover more about the dreamer but they will also become resources in their own animations, photos or films as they ‘remix the dream. Here are some artefacts which were created by trainee teachers. They relate to Nelly Bly’s dreams of travelling the world as a reporter:

Short films

You can use simple software such as iMovie to create short films which could convey information about the dreamer to children. For example, trainee teachers made a short film of Nelly Bly packing her bag for the journey using an iPad. They used iMovie to add a filter which made it appear like old film footage, crackling in black and white. During the project children added to the film, dressing as Nelly Bly and documented parts of her journey.


You could also experiment with stop frame animation using free software such as IcanAnimate and our DOTS Guide to Animation (available online at Here are examples of animations created by 5-year-old and 11-year-old children, which were created to inspire the dreamer Ada Lovelace to travel the world.

Stories, Letters, Diaries and News Reports

During the project there are opportunities to draw on a range of genre conventions when creating new ‘digital dreams’. For example, children might choose to create a pop-up book which narrated an adventure and film it in action, or audio record a biography about the dreamers life. Alternatively, children might film a news report about the dreamers’ achievements. Using simple green screen software can help children ‘appear’ in an authentic newsroom as they create their reports. Children could also create film footage of events and record voiceover narration to accompany the images.

Next Steps…

Get collecting! What are the items that might appear in the person’s dream? Why are the items important to the dreamer?
For example, if the dreamer is Nelly Bly then she might be dreaming about packing for her adventures around the world. She was a reporter, so what tools might she need?

Try writing a letter in role as the dreamer to try to convey to the children why the dreamer needs help. Are they worried about something? What will the paper look and feel like? (For example, if the dreamer is often in the garden will the paper have mud on it or smell of lavender)? What is their handwriting like (are they writing in a hurry or taking their time)? What pens will they use? (For example, do they write in fountain pen or pencil)? If supporting children to write a letter to make the dreamer feel better prompt them to consider the same things. You could look at examples of the dreamers handwriting if they are available. Here is an image of one of Ada Lovelace’s letters which is currently held in the Oxford Library.

Allow the children to choose the form the dream will take, such as animation or film or song! (They may well surprise you…)

Going with the Flow

This section will take you through the ‘flow’ of play and demonstrates how a fictional context can provides an
authentic purpose for learning.

Let’s Play! This section presents a range of film clips and downloadable resources which can be used to frame a ‘Day of Play’ with your classes. These were developed in collaboration with KIT Theatre and provide a fictional context to support children’s learning. Links to these resources can also be found in the planning guides (in the planning section of this ARGLE Learning trail).

How long will this take to play?

These resources can be used to shape a ‘Day of Play’. However, they can also support learning over an extended period of time, over a week or even a term. It depends on how you choose to space the communications from the DOTS HQ.
There are three stages to gameplay which are explained here:

We have created a series of film clips to provide inspiration and feedback for your class as they complete the different parts of the mission. They are presented here in sequential order. However, you do not necessarily need all the film clips to play the game successfully. Those labelled as CORE FILM CLIPS are essential. The others are labelled OPTIONAL FILM CLIPS. Select and use as many of the clips as you choose.

Step 1: Join the DOTS (Establishing the Fictional Context and Purpose)

The game begins when the children receive a Recruitment Message from DOTS which ‘disrupts’ the lesson. The teacher seems as surprised as they are. For example, this video could be embedded into your whiteboard presentation.

Top Tips
Remember to ‘act surprised’ when the video starts to play (frustrated even!) and ‘play along’ with the children.

Gather responses and questions from the children. Do they want to join? Why? What questions do they have?
Don’t wait too long before playing CORE FILM CLIP 2 (the first message from DOTS HQ which invites your class to join).


In this video D3 invites the class to join the agency. The DOTS Dream director does not specify There are a range of ways that children can join the agency (which are set out in the planning guide for teachers).

Top Tips
Consider what type of ‘application process’ will suit your children (application form or design challenge?).
Whatever you decide to do, you will need to hide the instructions under the children’s chairs!
When the application forms, or tasks, have been completed they will be sent off to DOTS HQ. (You do not need to send them anywhere but can ‘pretend’ to post them.

CORE FILM CLIP 3: D3 Awarding Agent ID Badges

In this film clip, the DOTS Dream Director congratulates the class and welcomes them to the team. He also asks the children to look around their classroom to find a package containing all their ID Badges.

Top Tips
You will need to have Downloaded and print the DOTS ID Badges
If you have a small budget buy some safety lanyards for the children as this makes their membership feel very authentic!
Remember to hide the package of badges somewhere in your classroom
Give the children time to personalise their ID badges
Celebrate joining the DOTS Team!

Step 2: Catching a Dream: Interpreting a Multi-Media Message

FILM CLIP 4: D3 How to study a Dream



Top Tips
If you wish to play the ‘Ada Lovelace Version’ please email to request a pack.

DOTS Guide to Making a Dream

Researching the Dreamer

In the Ada’s Dream there are clues as to her identity. For examples there are letters which are signed ‘Ada Byron’. Give the children an opportunity to research the dreamer to discover more about their life. There are lots of high quality and accessible picture books about significant people throughout history (Further details can be found in the downloadable ‘ARGLE Book List’). Her are just a few of the books about Ada Lovelace.

Shaping and Sharing Interpretations

It is important that children are given the opportunity to collate and compare the information that they find. They should also be encouraged to ask questions. A simple ‘working wall’ where children can post their thoughts and ideas can be very quick to set up using sticky note paper on a whiteboard. Or you can use a digital platform, such as the DOTS blog page or your school network to support children to collaborate.

Step 3 Fixing a Dream: Making a Multi-Media Message

This is the third and final stage of the game, during which children will make a digital dream. They need to improve the ‘heavy dream’ they have found and to do so they must create a message for the dreamer to inspire, inform, encourage or reassure them.


You catch the DOTS Dream Director in the middle of a Dream Storm Emergency but he has just enough time to tell you that you need to check the dream machine again to see if your dream has worked (and has improved the dreamers heavy dream).


D3 Final Message
This is the final message from the DOTS Dream Director to give them the outcome of the mission (and yes, you guessed it…it was a success!) He also tells the children that he has sent them a certificate to award them Level 2: Nap Nappers.

Top Tips
The downloadable DOTS Certificate can be printed for every child to take home (or one can be awarded to the class)
Take time to reflect on your success!

What are the educational benefits of this approach?

The DOTS mission provides opportunities for children to develop and demonstrate their digital literacies across the curriculum. It also provides an authentic context and purpose for engaging with STEAM subjects. During the research project, entitled Playful Pedagogies, funded by the British Academy, we worked with teachers to develop a tool to support them to reflect on the children’s learning (and their own). Observations need to be made during the process (rather than by focusing on the end product) in order to understand the skills, cultural connections and critical questions that arise as children and teachers collaborate.

Assessing Learning and Making Meanings

This section will support you to reflect on and assess the learning with tools and frameworks which have emerged from award winning research.

The DOTS Teacher Assessment and Reflection Tool can be downloaded and there is also a version for children entitled DOTS Skills Connections and Questions.

Next Steps

Ask the children to reflect on what it takes to be a good DOTS Agent.

Build in time for reflection throughout play (e.g. by using a working wall or online forum)

Compare the questions you asked with the questions the children asked. What do you notice?

What surprised you during the project? Why?

FINALLY: Please send some feedback to let us know what worked well and how we could improve the resources!

Share your thoughts…

Further Reading

To find out more about the research project which underpins these resources, check out these publications from the UK Literacy Association.


Journal Article

Colvert, A. (2022) Dreams of time and space: exploring digital literacies through playful transmedia storying in school. Literacy, 56: 59– 72. (open access)


Book Chapter

Colvert, A. (2021) 'Join the DOTS: Case Study' in Dowdall, C. and Burnett, C. (Eds) Digital Literacies in Education: Teaching, Learning and Assessment in 21st Century Classrooms, Leicester, UKLA



I am skilled at finding creative solutions to social and institutional challenges. I also am adept at communicating complex ideas visually. I have developed new models of literacy and play which have informed the work of educators in the UK and internationally. Through innovative research methodologies and co-design practices I adopt approaches to research which value and integrate the diverse voices, views, needs and concerns of young people and educators. Please do get in touch if you would like me to help you tackle a new challenge or explore new ideas.

Get in touch!
  • (Colvert, 2021) Kaleidoscope of Playful Possibilities (For the Digital Future Commission)
  • (Colvert, 2018) Model of Immersive Play (For Punchdrunk Enrichment)
  • (Colvert, 2015) Hybrid Model of Literacies (Adapted by the European Cost Action Group DigilitEY)