Games, Learning, Literacy: Week One

James Paul Gee Quote

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan (who once led me into Minecraft with Networked Narratives). This is our first week of responses, and we read the first two chapters.

A few things stand out for me:

  • Gee’s work has had a lot of influence on thinking about literacy and video games, so I have seen some of his video presentations and read smaller pieces, but never the book itself. It’s a bit dated now (2003, and updated 2007) but it seems so far that Gee’s ideas and insights still stand up.
  • Gee’s defining of terms such as affinity spaces (a favorite of mine in relation to CLMOOC), Semiotic Domains (a new one for me), and literacies and learning already has me thinking of my teaching and my own learning.
  • I appreciated that he approached the topic from the standpoint of a father wondering what his son was doing when playing video games, and then as he immersed himself (perhaps more so than most of us would do), he began to uncover the variety of skills and literacies needed to play these games but also the invisible literacies in the design itself (which is where I am most interested).
  • I am curious/confused about this Semiotic Domain concept, and how people immersed in a system of some sort share commonalities of learning and more.  What is this concept? Well, “Semiotic domains as described by Gee (2003) refers to a variety of forms that take on meaning such as images and symbols, sounds, gestures and objects.” It also refers to “… distinct collective consciousness shared by people with similar interests, attributes or skill sets …” — from http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Semiotic_Domains You can tell there’s a lot to unpack there.
  • The elements of multimedia composition coming together into the video game medium/format is undeniable, and finding ways to showcase those elements seems important, particularly as I work with my students in a few weeks on our own video game design project.

James Paul Gee Quote2

I’ve been reading the book on the Kindle and then using my highlights and notes for sharing of some quotes. This kind of curation works most effectively for me in my busy life for finding and keeping some anchor points. This third quote nearly goes in the direction of immigrant/native, which would have turned me off (even remembering the 2003 publication date), but Gee straddles the line and makes it more about adults needing to pay more attention to what kids are doing.

James Paul Gee Quote3

Come join the conversation. Keegan has an open invitation. Let’s learn together.

Peace (game on),
Kevin

 

Games That Draw You In to Doodle

I’ve been remembering two (but I suspect there are more) video games that integrate the player’s doodling skills as CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) explores the elements of doodling and sketching this Make Cycle.

The first game is one that I have often done with full classes with interactive boards. Draw a Stickman is easy to use, and has some fun elements that will get the whole classroom engaged, and I often use the activity as an introductory lesson around plot design, foreshadowing and character.

All you do is follow directions on the screen, drawing what you are prompted to draw, and the website uses your doodle to move the story along to the next chapter. The Epic app, which the website promotes, is designed along similar lines for mobile devices.

Go on. Give Draw a Stickman a try. It’s fun.

The second game that came to mind as we were doodling this week is Drawn to Life, a Nintendo game that we have on Wii here at home and my older kids once played it on mobile devices, too. I have only watched the game a bit and remember reading about it, as when it came out, the whole concept of player agency was a big deal.

I suspect the unexpected nature of players as artists is difficult to design for, as the parameters of what a player might draw or want to use can shift at any moment. But I like that concept of the player’s art skills and imagination being baked into the design of a video game format, and wish there was more of that.

Any other major drawing/doodle games that I am missing?

Peace (and games),
Kevin

Entering the Realm of Minecraft: A #NetNarr Adventure

I can’t say I am utterly unknowledgeable about Minecraft, but my basic understanding comes from the excited chatter over the years of my sixth grade students, particularly during our video game design unit, and my youngest son. It’s often confusing chatter to an outsider like me, with a vocabulary and a flow all of its own.

Whenever I have tried to jump into Minecraft, I have quickly gotten lost and felt aimless. I could always see the potential in collaborative World-building — and there are amazing examples of how educators are using Minecraft to connect with learning — but now I realized that what I needed were: goals with a interesting hook, a knowledgeable guide to keep me alive and a crew to hang out with.

My Networked Narratives colleague, Keegan (ie Crazyirishman7, there in the corner of the video), provided all three, by setting up a Minecraft Realm server space and inviting NetNarr folks into an exploration of a new world. I joined in, along with Terry G. (“the Annihilator”), and we spent about 90 minutes watching the sun rise and set at an alarming rate, as we began to build a home before the zombies came, with a bed to regenerate ourselves; a garden for food that Terry farmed with gusto; and a mineshaft where Keegan and I began to seek out ore and then diamonds.

Keegan, an educational technologist at the university level, clearly knew what he was doing. Terry and I clearly did not, as I scrambled to learn how to swim and walk and run and turn, and I kept a little command cheat sheet that he had sent us right at my fingertips. I’ve never been more grateful for fake torchlights and lanterns than I was yesterday.

But that’s how expert-novice relationships work, and that’s how the Connected Learning theory comes into action with immersive experiences like this. We dove in, made mistakes, died a few times, re-spawned, and had a steady hand following Keegan, who was generous and patient with us. I know a whole heck of a lot about Minecraft now than I did 24 hours ago, even with lots of reading about it. I even ended up with a Diamond Pickaxe, after using the crafting device that Keegan set up. Apparently, that’s a good thing to have.

Keegan also set up a livestream of our adventures in his Twitch Channel (a new experience for me) to share our experiences with the larger NetNarr community (more Connected Learning in action) and we used an app called Discord to be able to “talk live” amongst ourselves as we explored Minecraft. Keegan has since migrated the Twitch video to YouTube (where you can see me as Meatballlol5, which is my son’s avatar all suited up like Deadpool, since I borrowed his account to play with my NetNarr friends, much to his amusement. He even dropped a Minecraft Hacking book at my side while playing, as if that would help me. Thanks, kid.)

Keegan also cut up the video into themed pieces at his blog, and that is probably the best way to get a sense of what we were talking about and doing.

Since the Networked Narratives course is centered on a concept of Digital Alchemy, Keegan’s plan for the Minecraft World space is to move into “magic potions” and crafting of “elements,” as a way to explore the notions of Alchemy in a Worldbuilding Space. I find that intriguing, and watched as he wrote out our “goals” on the walls of the house we are building. He gave me a sign to play with, too.

Our next step is to find a common time to go back to our world, and maybe invite a few more folks to come along with us (I’d say, connect with Keegan on Twitter and let him know). I’m intrigued by the possibilities of us building a world of magic, and then thinking about how storytelling might evolve from the mix and flow of immersive open-ended gaming experiences like this.

Peace (until the sun goes down),
Kevin

Student Interactive Showcase: Playing Hero’s Journey Video Games

Game Design 2016

My sixth grade students are just now finishing up their Hero’s Journey video game projects in Gamestar Mechanic — they worked hard on design and story narrative and peer review and publishing — and many of the games have the elements that show solid learning.

A few rise up as exemplar video games, in my opinion, so I want to showcase a few. I used ThingLink to create a jumping off point (the links to lead to embedded games at our classroom weblog site) for you to play, if you care to try your hand at student-developed video game projects.

Peace (play it and win it),
Kevin

Making Video Game Advertisements

As my sixth grade students were working on the final stages of their Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project, I turned to my paraprofessional in the classroom, Sandy, to teach a lesson around advertisement. She had an entire career as an artist and magazine designer before moving into education, and her expertise about design and art is always worth tapping into. I am eternally grateful for her, on many more levels than this. She’s a real partner in the classroom, every single day.

Sandy taught them about the visual — of the icon being large and representative of the game concept — of lettering and color, of catch-phrases, and so much more. We looked and broke down some traditional video game advertisements, too, talking about technique and loaded words and phrases.

The results of the advertisements were pretty cool, and the ads are now being hung in my classroom. But I grabbed a few and made a video with them, too, as a way to celebrate my sixth graders as artists and designers.

Peace (in the art),
Kevin

Student Video Game Reviews (with design focus)

Many of my students are finishing up their video game reviews, an activity in persuasive writing in which they used a design focus to explore the pros and cons of a chosen video game.

They don’t mind this writing at all. In fact, my students who struggle the most with writing but who enjoy gaming find intense focus on this assignment, as they are tapping into their own knowledge and expertise and interest. We do this reviewing with a focus on design: playability, graphics, music, controls, etc.

Here are a few:

Along with looking at the writing, and noting to them that this kind of persuasive writing will soon shift into argumentative writing, I am always curious about which games are most popular in a given year. Last year and the year before, Minecraft had everyone beat.

Video Game Review Roblox

Not this year, so much. This year, I am finding a lot of kids reviewing, and playing, ROBLOX, which I had not heard much about until my own son came home from his Minecraft Club saying everyone had moved over to ROBLOX for the afternoon. Apparently, in ROBLOX (which I have yet to explore), you play games that others in the community build, and you build games that other people play (sort of like our work with Gamestar Mechanic, which is designed more to teach basic game design principles and is a closed system).

Peace (design it better),
Kevin

Planning to Write: Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review Planners

One of our writing components in our Video Game Design unit, now underway and nearing competition, is a persuasive piece of writing, in which my students analyze through a design lens and then review a video game. This kind of writing will also set the stage for our shift into Argumentative Writing down the road.

Video Game Review Planners

I love how invested so many of my students, particularly my struggling writers, feel with this particular assignment because they are writing an opinionated piece about something they know very well. They are sharing their gaming knowledge. Of course, like all of our writing assignments, it begins with planning out their ideas, and these graphic organizers show some of the thinking behind the writing of the reviews.

Video Game Review Planners

We also read and watched a few mentor texts (printed reviews and a video review), talked about how to express a strong opinion with a critical lens, and how to identify the design components — graphics, sound, playability, controls, etc. — that are the “language” of video game reviewers. I am hoping to get a podcasting station set up this week, and allow them to podcast their reviews, too. We’ll see if time runs out on us …

Video Game Review Planners

Peace (in the plan),
Kevin

Before The Video Games …. There Are Storyboards

Game Design 2016

We’re in the early days of our Video Game Design Project, in which my sixth graders are learning how to use a narrative “story frame” to design and publish a video game via Gamestar Mechanic. As a writing teacher, my aim is to show how story can become the backbone of a video game, and how the reader “plays” the story that the game designer has written. It’s all about expanding the notions of Digital Writing, and how games are emerging as the place for inventive storytelling.

Game Design 2016

This week, students have been brainstorming their “story frames” and that work is done before they can start designing their games. I want them to have a “map” of where they are going before they starting designing with blocks and avatars and rewards and more. I am always pleasantly surprise by the detail of their brainstorming and their imagination.

Game Design 2016

Our theme this year is “the Hero’s Journey/Quest” — a topic we have been building off since September (in the past, these games were all science-themed, but this year’s shift to Next Gen Standards for our science teacher created a bit of a problem for us, so we’ll try again next year).

Writing and Game Design Compared

We connect game design to writing process and we do a lot of writing in this unit, from Game Developer Reflections to writing persuasive Game Reviews (as podcasts) to using their “game worlds” as setting for short stories, and more. I aim to use their engagement in game design to spark their interest in writing across genres.

Writing in Game Design Classroom

As a mentor text, I dissect my own game for them. My game – called The Odyssey of Tara — is a riff off The Odyssey, where our hero — Tara — has to make her way home, fighting monsters and battling obstacles along the way.

Odyssey of Tara video game

I’m looking forward to playing my students’ stories.

Peace (jump dodge run),
Kevin

 

 

Middleweb Review: The World Peace Game

The most innovative idea that I came across this summer? How about John Hunter’s World Peace Game concept? The game is incredible and complicated and pushes all sorts of learning in all sorts of directions.

Hunter’s story of how he developed this intensive game that upped the ante for his fourth graders (and other assorted age groups as he brings the game elsewhere … including the Pentagon, where military leaders played it, too) as he asks players to help solve problems facing the world. His story is certainly worth a look, if only for discovering another way to re-examine our classroom spaces as something beyond testing and mandates.

Read my review at Middleweb of World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements by John Hunter.

Peace (not just a game),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Tetris (The Games People Play)

The other day, I found myself with a few dull minutes to spare while waiting for my son. What did I do to kill the time? Tetris on my Android phone. It’s amazing that this simple game still holds appeal in this modern age,  but it does. A new graphic novel Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown not only explains the appeal of the puzzle challenge on the brain and psyche, but also explores the fascinating history of the game itself – from origin to launch to pop culture icon.

The appeal of Tetris has to with the psychology of games, and Tetris hits it on all cylinders. There’s the frontal cortex, trying to flip and slide the shapes while they drop. There’s the rush of finishing a line. There’s the quickening pace of action. The player hits a “flow.” It’s all part of the psychology of game design.

Then there’s the rich history of the game itself. Developed by Russian computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov as a side project during the Cold War, in the early days of PCs and video game programming, his Tetris concept of interlocking blocks first took root in the old USSR. Then the game was smuggled out of Russia on floppy discs, and then the game became the object of a global bidding war between companies in Japan, Europe and the United States, even as the political structure of the USSR made negotiations nearly impossible.

You may remember Tetris as the anchor game on many early gaming systems — including Game Boy — but how it got there is an amazing tale of politics and copyright and deceit, and lots and lots of money. Box Brown weaves the tale wonderfully in this graphic novel, which could find a home in a high school classroom where gamers and historians collide.

Peace (block by block),
Kevin

PS — I received an early copy from First Second Publishing to review. The book is out in October.