Curriculum Plans: Gaming Reflection 4

I’ve been trying to formulate a good plan for the middle school kids coming into our Game Design Camp. I’d like it to a combination of hands-on collaborative work along with diving into the computer, with some discussions and reflective practice thrown in for good measure.
Here, I talk through some of the ideas about the lessons for the week of camp:

Gaming Reflection 4: Curriculum Ideas from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin
PS — You can also view the other parts of my video reflections.

Resources: Gaming Reflection 3

I continue to share out some thinking about gaming for the classroom (or in my case, for a summer camp program). You can view part one and part two, if you want. Here, I chat about some of the resources I will be using to think about gaming possibilities and to bring into the camp for the kids to experience. My hope is to bring them away from the games from time to time to remind them of the bigger picture and larger possibilities of gaming as a media experience.

Gaming Reflection 3: Resources from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the games),
Kevin

Getting Ready for Gaming: video reflection 1

As I gear up for leading a gaming summer camp, I am reflecting on the activities I hope to bring into the camp for middle school kids. I am lucky to have my friend, Tina, along for the ride again this summer. Here, I started to tinker with Gamestar Mechanic, which we will be using as our main website for game playing and development:

Gaming Camp, Pre-Camp Reflection 1 from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

On TTT: How to bring Gaming into the Classroom

I wanted to alert you to an interesting Teachers Teaching Teachers program that is slated for tonight on the topic of gaming. It sounds like hosts Paul and Susan have a lot of interesting folks coming onto the air to talk about the rationale and potential of bringing elements of gaming into the learning environment.

In an email alerting folks to the show, Paul outlines some questions that one teacher (a friend, Janelle, from Texas) has about gaming:

  1. How did you all begin including gaming curriculum in your classrooms?
  2. What are some of your biggest successes? Challenges?
  3. How much game playing goes on in your classroom? Do students only play in social action games? What does that conversation look like? What norms are set prior to this?
  4. I’m thinking about using the games students play on a regular basis as media for students to deconstruct and analyze in terms of influencing identity. Should I be playing all these games to get a better idea? Or will observing the students play suffice? What does a teacher do if he or she is not good at playing those video games?
  5. Designing games really requires deep content knowledge. How much experience with game design did you have prior to letting the students explore that avenue?
  6. Could you tell us about Scratch? What are the benefits of this program as compared to Game Star Mechanic?
  7. What kind of evaluation do you use around gaming?
  8. Is it all informal discourse based assessment, or do you do something more formal?
  9. Has your game playing been limited to computer games or have you also used standalone consuls?
  10. How much time did you have to dedicate to help students understand how to utilize the game design tool before they began designing? Do you feel that this time has been detrimental to fulfilling your ability to satisfy state standards?

Another guest will be Samantha Adams, from the New Media Consortium, which published the Horizon Report. As Paul notes, this year’s report had a section on gaming. He quotes from the report:

Game-based learning has gained considerable traction since 2003, when James Gee began to describe the impact of game play on cognitive development. Since then, research and interest in the potential of gaming on learning has exploded, as has the diversity of games themselves, with the emergence of serious games as a genre, the proliferation of gaming platforms, and the evolution of games on mobile devices. Developers and researchers are working in every area of game-based learning, including games that are goal-oriented; social game environments; non-digital games that are easy to construct and play; games developed expressly for education; and commercial games that lend themselves to refining team and group skills. Role-playing, collaborative problem solving, and other forms of simulated experiences are recognized for having broad applicability across a wide range of disciplines.

Teachers Teaching Teachers has been focusing on gaming on and off this past year (see the archive of programs around gaming) and given the roster tonight, it is worth listening in, or waiting to hear the podcast (which is what I will need to do). The show takes place live tonight, Wednesday, May 25 at http://EdTechTalk.com/live at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific / World Times.

The Case for Video Games


Let me start out by saying that, as  father, I worry that my own kids are playing video games too much. As soon as I say that, I sound like an old fogey who wants to give them the boot out the door and say, “find some friends, don’t get into trouble and come back for lunch.” As a technology teacher, though, I see the value in some games (not all) and so I often have this conflict between parent and teacher in me.

So I was intrigued by the article in Edutopia by Dr. Judith Willis, a neurologist, about gaming. In “A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game,” Willis look s at the phenomenon from the perspective of the brain. She talks about the dopamine flow that comes from challenges and success, the adaptive skills that come from solving problems in games, and the incremental feedback (the progress bar) that drives players forward through intrinsic reinforcement.

Willis then shifts her piece to the classroom, making connections with the merits of video gaming with establishing a system of learning. She notes that frequent check-ins, individualized goals and success, and reflective practice are all elements of gaming that could come into play (pun alert) in education.

Classroom instruction that provides opportunities for incremental progress feedback at students’ achievable challenge levels pays off with increased focus, resilience, and willingness to revise and persevere toward achievement of goals. The development of students’ awareness of their potentials to achieve success, through effort and response to feedback, extends far beyond the classroom walls. Your application of the video game model to instruction encourages the habits of mind through which your students can achieve their highest academic, social, and emotional potentials. — Willis

Does this mean we should rush to set up video games on all the computers in our classroom? No. But it does point again to re-thinking a natural response that “games are bad” and “that’s too much screentime.” Even so, I will be sending my kids outside today for a few hours. The sun is finally out, and they need the fresh air. Some things never change.

Peace (in the gaming),
Kevin

Gaming on my Mind at the CCCC

I am continuing to think about the idea of gaming and how it might (or might not) fit in my curriculum. This summer, as part of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project SummerWrite, I will be leading a summer camp programming for middle school students around gaming and game design, and this morning, at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Atlanta, I sat in on a session entitled “Leveling Up: Gee, Gaming an the Composition Classroom.”

Three smart Phd student presenters from Purdue University — Alex Layne, Jessica Kaiser, and Jessica Clements — talked about the idea of gaming from various angles. I imagine I was one of the only elementary teachers in the crowd, but I found it intriguing how these three are situating gaming from various stances.

Layden (“Gaming the System in a System of Games”) established the social nature of gaming and made the metaphor of the academic classroom as a game system in and of itself. She also railed against the concept of “gamification,” in which traditional learning activities are put into a new box with the idea of a “game” on it. Layden rightly noted that the idea of gamification comes from the marketing arm of the business world.

Gamification “…tricks students with cosmetic changes to make something more appealing. Students will see right through this,” she explained. Instead, educators should work to use the gaming lens to restructure the classroom experience for learners. Although she did not offer specifics on how this would be done (which would have been nice), she noted that, in some ways, “…a teacher and a dungeon master may not be all that different roles.”

Kaiser (“There’s Nothing Casual About This Gaming”) jumped into the divide that exists in the gaming world around hard-core games (those that fully immerse you in their worlds and which require hours of playing time to reach the end of the quest) and casual games (which take a few minutes to play but are often now very social in nature.) Kaiser noted that while casual games get scoffed at by some hard-core gaming fans, the majority of players of these games are women. Her talk turned on how some populations — women, minorities, etc. — can feel left out of the gaming worlds that are not designed for their interests.

Clements (“A Tale of Two Gamers”) offered up a more personal perspective, turning an inquiry lens on her own gaming experiences with her husband. She conducted a indepth research project into both of their histories around gaming and their views on gaming (which stemmed from them playing Mario Bros. on the Wii). Her idea was to look at how we view writing as a social practice and see if her own inquiry matched up.

What she concluded was quite opposite. While she is a strong academic writer, her own gaming preferences are for more solitary, competitive-driven experiences. Her husband, on the other hand, was not a strong academic writer (she says) but grew up as a very social gamer, and continues to be so today.

Clements adds that expectations of writers value the solitary person over the social group in most classrooms, but she wonders if gaming ideas might allow some struggling students to have another way into literacy practice.

It was all very interesting, and a lot to digest, and (as you might expect) very academic. It would have been nice to have seen or heard about more classroom experiences where gaming is at the center of learning, and what that has meant for the students. I guess that is another road of inquiry that I need to take.

Meanwhile, as I was getting ready to write this, I saw this video link about gaming and learning. Game scholar Constance Steinkuehler reflects on how gaming can matter, particularly teenage boys and literacy. She saw an afterschool program as a “third bridge” between school and games for the boys in her program.

Constance Steinkuehler from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

Peace (in the games),
Kevin

Got Gaming? I’m in! But What about the Girls?

A looming deadline about whether or not to offer up a summer enrichment camp around Game Design and Development came and went, and yes, I decided to put my cards on the table and offer up the class this coming July. I really appreciated folks who helped me think this through a bit (I’ll need more help later on, friend, so don’t go anywhere) and for those who offered up kind messages of support for jumping into something new for me. (You can see my thinking from the other day around my ideas for a camp built around gaming).

Here is my camp description:

Introductory Game Development and Design

This session will look at gaming from the perspectives of both the player and the developer, as students will have ample time to both play and create their own games in cooperative working teams. We’ll also be considering the history of video game development and we may have a guest or two from the video game industry to talk and work with participants. Starting with board games and then moving into video games, students will design, develop and then publish their own original ideas. We will be using free software for development of simple video games that can be extended into more complex games for more advanced gamers.

Now that I know I am doing it, I am excited about the possibilities here.

The thing that makes this camp work for me is that these are middle school kids (grades five through eight) and that age group is so interesting because they are open to possibilities, not afraid to be “explorers” and yet they can be silly, too. (trust me). It’s also a select group. The kids in this program will want to be gaming, or else they would not have signed up.

I do wonder about this: will I get only boys? I hope not. The last few Webcomic Camps that I have done, there has been a solid mix of girls, and that has made a huge difference in the dynamics and creativity of the classes. From a teaching perspective, I want to reach the girls as much as the boys with the game course. I know that girls are often left on the sidelines of conversations around games and technology, even though some of my most talented and insightful and tech-savvy students are girls, not boys. This kind of camp might pry open the door a bit.

Now that I think of it, I wonder if there were any language tweaks I could have done on the course description that would better appeal to girls? Too late now, though.

If you didn’t hear this engaging radio story from National Public Radio, it is worth checking out. The reporter — a high school girl — talks about girls not getting the respect they deserve for being gamers. The piece is called “Why Do Girl Gamers Get So Little Respect?” by Jessica Cernadas.

I wonder if I can find any local female game designers to come in and talk about their work with the kids? Hmmmm. Time to network a bit …

Peace (in the pieces on the board),
Kevin

To Game or not to Game, that is my question

For the past few summers, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has made a concerted push to offer youth writing programs in the summer. I have been involved with a partnership with a local vocational high school that offers summer enrichment programs for middle school students. I’ve been part of teams that have offered programs in stop-motion movie making, webcomics, digital storytelling and more.

Here’s what I am mulling over, and I need to do it fairly soon (like, in the next few days, when advertising for the summer already gets underway): Do I offer a course around Game Development and Design? Before I say “yes,” I am trying to figure out, “Can you pull this off, mister?”

The text to a speech about gaming that I found online is something I keep coming back to as a sort of guide in my thinking around using gaming for education. The Ten Commandments of Game Development Education by Ernest Adams is wonderfully frank and helpful, and even though it is aimed for the university level, I see a lot of advice here that I should follow, including allowing for failure, keep “play” at the center of the work, show the history of the field of work, and encourage collaborative teamwork.

I have a feeling such a class would be of interest to a lot of kids (don’t you?) and so I am brainstorming here a bit about what I would do with them over the course of the 12 hours spread out over four days. My aim would be to make the program fun and interesting (it is summer, after all) while still engaging them as learners around concepts of design, play, creation and technology. And I want them to “create,” not just play.

Here’s an outline of my thinking:

  • Some of the first day would be centered around non-tech gaming and development of a game as a collaborative process. I would use what we did at the National Writing Project session around gaming, where we worked in small groups with some unknown materials to develop a game, with rules, that we could teach others.
  • We’d look at some familiar board games, and then use this book that I found that comes up with different ways to play familiar games (such as, a new way to play Monopoly, etc.) This would lead into a discussion around design: how does a game invite a player and what elements work for play? I might toss some card games into the mix, too.
  • I’d love to do something about the history of Video Games (there must be a good resource somewhere) and bring them to one of those sites that allow you to play the old 8-bit games like Pacman, Pong, Astroids, etc.,. so they can experience where video games came from and how far they have come in a few decades.
  • We’d then move into looking at and playing some online games, as we mull over, once again, design elements. What animation, choices for the player, artwork, etc., makes a game effective? I bet we could compile a pretty good list of recommended games from the kids.
  • I’d show them Scratch, with an emphasis first on animation and programming, and then, shift gears into using Scratch to develop a simple game. (I know this can be done with the MIT freeware, but I haven’t yet done it.)
  • At this point, I would work on the concept of “story” — of the underpinnings of a good game, and how character and plot can guide the game developer along (and also, note that this is a point of argument in the gaming world — that not all games need “story” to be successful and sometimes “story” ruins a good game, right?).
  • Here’s where I might have them use Gamemaker8 (which I have been experimenting with) to develop a Maze Game, and for those advanced students, turn them loose for something larger. I imagine this will be the point where the differentiated instruction will come into play, and where students with background knowledge can become leaders with me of the session. (And to be honest, I am looking for platform that is a bit easier to use. Any ideas?)
  • I want to look more for other game development software that we could use. I know there are some for developing games for mobile devices and for the Xbox. And I seem to recall a gaming platform that students can use to learn about making games. I’d have to dig around my notes for that one (does it cost money?)
  • I might as well have a time when kids can bring in their Xbox or Wii and let them play, right? I’d have to structure what we are looking at while they play.
  • I’d develop a website for their games to be published and shared. They would not be creating in a vacuum. And they would be testers and sources of feedback for each other, too. This could be interesting — how do we adapt the Peer Writing Response for Peer Gaming Response?
  • I’d even dig up a video documentary or two about game design. There was a good one about Donkey Kong, if I remember correctly. (note to self: appropriate for kids?)
  • I know at least one person who had a career on working in the video game industry that I bet I could bring in to talk about his work. There must be others out there, too. I always try to bring in guests who have experience who can talk to the kids and answer questions that fall outside my own field of expertise.

So, what do you think? Is it viable? Do you have resources that could help me along the way?

Peace (in the brainstorming),
Kevin

Making a Video Game, part five

(This is part of a continuing series to dive into gamemaking and see what I can learn, and reflect on the possibilities for the classroom. You can read the other posts in this series here.)

I know I came off as a sort of complainer yesterday about my efforts to construct a simple maze game with Gamemaker software (which is free and not worth complaining about, really). To give you a glimpse under the hood of Gamemaker, I thought I would show you two screenshots of the programming that goes on just to make a character move through a maze via keyboard arrow commands.

In the first screenshot, you can see the overview of the editing, where “sprites” have been designated as “objects” in a “room,” where objects are characters and building blocks (such as the walls of the maze) and the room is the game board itself (you can add multiple rooms, too).
Inside look at Gamemaker
In the second screenshot, I went a layer deeper into a single movement of my player, showing how you would designate the player to move “left” with the left keyboard arrow.
Insider look at Gamemaker 2

What I notice is that I need to adapt to a whole new lexicon of language here, from sprites to objects to rooms, not to mention an array of programming options that are available to use, such as collisions, key presses, key releases, alarm, step, set variables, etc. It’s like wandering into a world of strange words where the meaning I think a command might have is not always what the command does in the game. I really have to come at it with a different mindset.

My next task: to figure out how to get other pieces (ie, objects) moving randomly in the game which my player will have to avoid, or risk losing points. That sounds simple enough, but here is some of what I will have to do to accomplish this:

  • Create a sprite
  • Turn the sprite into an object
  • Designate a movement action (random movements or specified movements)
  • Make sure the object stays inside the game (ie, bounces off walls)
  • Make sure the object can collide with players
  • Designate a negative point for each collision
  • Make sure that negative point tally is reflected in the player’s overall score (they will need to reach a certain score to win the game)

That is pretty complex and there are lots of steps that need to be done in those actions. I sure hope I can find a good tutorial to help me out. Youtube, here I come!

Peace (in the gaming),
Kevin