The Range of Writing in our Video Game Design Unit

Writing Activities in Video Game Design unit (update 2017)

My students are not just playing video games all December for our Game Design Unit. We do lots of writing, although most of it is “sneaky” writing on my part — smaller, quick reflection points mixed with larger, more formal writing. A few years ago, for a presentation, I began to chart out the various writing assignments that take place (as much to document our work as to justify any questions from parents and administrators).

Today, they are working on the writing of their persuasive Video Game Review assignment, crafting an argument about a video game through the lens of design features (controls, visuals, sound, etc.) Meanwhile, some students are starting to finish and publish their video game projects, and getting other kids from around the world in Gamestar Mechanic to play and give feedback on their projects.

Peace (write it to live it),
Kevin

Post-Election Reaction: Phew

Photo: This West Park sculpture in Birmingham, Ala., commemorates the four little girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963. Denise McNair, 11; Carolyn Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14.

There are many reasons why I could not fathom the rise and candidacy of Roy Moore in Alabama. But I read deep enough into the election from many sources to be reminded again that different parts of the country, particularly some sectors of the rural South, see the world very different from my perch here in liberal Massachusetts.

Still, this morning, when I read that Doug Jones won over Moore in that Alabama special election for Senate, I felt myself exhale and go … phew! I don’t expect Jones to be the progressive candidate I personally would like — that is not his constituency — but … phew.

Here’s another reason why I really wanted Jones to win (other than a thumb to the eye of Trump and another thorn in the side of the GOP-run Senate): Jones was the U.S. Attorney who helped prosecute the racist white supremacists who had bombed the church in Alabama that killed four little girls (and injured other children) that is the heart of the book we read in my classroom — The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

I always start the book with Curtis’ dedication page, in which he names the four girls who were killed, and we talk about what the dates next to the names mean (how young they were and how they were all killed on the same day). At the end of the novel, we circle back around, and talk about the girls and use primary sources to understand the Civicl Rights and the toll it took on so many people and families.

Now, when we read that book, I can point to Jones as one of the people who would not let that crime go unpunished, even though it took decades to identify and prosecute those responsible, and Jones’ rise to the US Senate is partly built on that experience.

Phew.

Peace (in the morning),
Kevin

Video Game Design Unit: Student Story-Frames

(image via Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog)

I’ve been sharing out about our class work with merging video game design and story-telling, and my reminder to my sixth grade students about the importance of story. In a recent Gamer’s Journal reflection, I asked them to remind me of their game story-frame.

Here are some of the examples, which are a good indication of how my young writer/gamers are thinking of narrative in terms of game design.

The story frame is that a young magician is trying to get revenge on another older magician that has gotten him in trouble and fired his favorite teacher for standing up for him. Your player is his servant and you must make the older magician look bad in return by stealing one of his magical devices, but that won’t be easy. The hardest part of building my game was making sure that it fit the story accurately.

It is called “Lab X: the experiment”. It is about a scientist who is new at Lab X, and is told to see how an experiment ended up. He heads up to the room in which they conduct experiments, to discover that the experiment turned everyone else into monsters. Then he tries to escape with only the help of a few robots to instruct him.

It is about a girl named Amy trying to find her long lost brother. He was taken from her and her family about a year ago. He was taken by evil creatures or the creatures of death. But in the second level you are her brother trying to escape from the creatures.

The story-frame of my game is that Tyson (the character) is trying to save someone he knows Percy from Tartarus. There are 4 levels and Tyson starts at the Empire State Building and has to make it through the Empire State Building, the Underworld, and Tartarus alive. He will face monsters on his way, too.

My story is about a young hero who wakes up in a wonderland after defeating Gregor the Great, (or so he thinks,) A great wizard that needs “sun-gems” for power. Roger G. will guide the hero through the wonderland so they can get the sun-gems to leave and thwart Gregor before it’s too late.

My game is about sprites who are able to fly, and use their abilities on a daily basis. However, the new King has restricted their ability to fly. None of the sprites like this, and the player is chosen to go challenge the king to get back their right to fly.

My video game follows the story of a heroine who finds the courage to go save the princess. The princess has been kidnapped (or I guess you could say princess-napped), by the Evil Oracle, who brings her to a secret chamber within a volcano. He puts her under a mind control, so she listens to everything he says. The heroine first escapes the kingdom, which is under a sort of lockdown. The next step is to venture through the Dark Forest, where she must battle three evil sprites to collect the Keys of the Forest, which allow you to safely leave. Lastly, the heroine must battle the Evil Oracle, who told the princess to jump into the volcano. She defeats him, and must rescue the princess, who will unknowingly attack you, without harming her.

I would like to give you an update on my game I titled “The Treasure Rescue”. My game is about an evil turkey that steals the treasure that is filled with the national history of the Galapagos Island and the queen has asked you to go on a dangerous journey to find and retrieve the treasure.

My video game’s storyline is you get captured by the evil snow Queen and you need to escape before she destroys your whole village with her giant snow monster servant! You have to escape her dungeon and get past her royal guards before it’s too late to save your village!

Peace (in story and game),
Kevin

The Story-Frame Component of the Video Game Design Project

Text Samples: The Queen's Mission

My students no doubt think I am a broken record (if they knew what a record was). Every day, as they are working on their Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project, I am reminding them: What is your story? How will the player “read” the story by playing your game? Is each level a “chapter”? Where are you putting text into your game?

Text Samples: The Queen's Mission

It’s important that the narrative be part of the game, but they often get wrapped up in the design of the game that they are apt to forget about the story. My daily and constant reminders, and questions as they work, are more about narrative than level design at this point in time.

Text Samples: The Queen's Mission

As always, I am working on my own game as they work, too, as a way to share out my thinking process, my workarounds, my progress and a mentor text for them to play to understand the mix of game and story that this project is all about.

You can play my game, in development process, if you want. I am revising my game as I work, re-publishing new versions as I add new levels/chapters, and talking through my process with my students.

Play The Queen’s Mission (NOTE: does not work well on mobile devices).

Peace (written and read),
Kevin

 

 

The Hour of Code Still Engages

Hour of Code 2017

This is our fourth year (I think) of taking part in the Hour of Code, which nicely falls right within our video game design unit. I know that the whole Hour of Code gets some periodic push-back due to the corporate funding sources behind the week-long celebration of computer science, and that it gets flack from those who think the focused emphasis on programming and coding has gone too far.

Agreed. Somewhat. Still …

Hour of Code 2017

There are some pretty interesting projects available for young people to explore at the Hour of Code site, and during our time working on Hour of Code this week (as a break from our video game design project, another form of programming, right?), many of my students — particularly the girls — were very engaged in the learning and the playing.

So, there’s that. Which is a good thing.

I had some students — but not many — who had done Hour of Code either in other grades (but not at our school, alas) or in technology summer camp programs. At least one had come to our Family Code Night held last Spring. Those few with Hour of Code experience went into Scratch to work on some existing projects, sparking interest around them by other students.

All good.

Peace (every hour, beyond the hour),
Kevin

At Middleweb: Making Maps to Support Literacy

I wrote a bit about maps and writing in the classroom over at Middleweb, where I have a regular column about teaching. The piece dovetailed with work being done all November with CLMOOC on mapping in many forms and varieties.

Check out Using Maps & Mapmaking in Your ELA Classroom

I also shared this list of map-making resources:

Peace (map it out),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Unexpected Chaos

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I don’t know all the details. The entire sixth grade class was outside for a short recess and I was in the office when a call came in over the walkie-talkie about a student falling off the slide, and landing on their head. The nurse rushed by me with a wheelchair.

As the class came in from the outside, I heard murmurs about the incident, with some students telling me that another student had pushed the fallen student off the top of the slide, on purpose.

The next class period in my classroom was chaotic, as the student who fell is a member of that class and all of their friends were worried (I am purposefully writing gender-free here, to protect privacy). Some students got called down midway through class to talk about what happened on the slide to the vice principal, further disrupting the learning.

I did my best to acknowledge the incident in very general terms — expressing concern for the student who had been hurt — without opening up the classroom to accusations. I had the sense that any opening about the incident could easily turn my classroom into a courtroom.

Unfortunately, this particular class needs very little distraction to get off-track – nearly every day requires a command performance to keep the lessons going forward — and I spent the entire hour trying to keep them on task with our reading and our game design project. I can’t say I was all that successful.

The ambulance pulling into the school driveway just outside my window didn’t help. It just made us all more worried and concerned, and for the fallen student’s friends, even more angry. I kept the calm as best as I could.

A note later from the vice principal confirmed some of the incident that students had suggested to me in the hallways, about the push seeming to be intentional (but probably not the severity of the injury). Some things are hard to explain, difficult to understand. The impulsiveness of adolescents is a known and yet surprising part of child development.

I just hope my fallen student is doing OK.

Peace (on the playground),
Kevin

 

The Start of the Journey: Video Game Design Project

 

Writing and Game Design Compared

We’re just starting up our video game design project, with a theme of the Hero’s Journey as the storyframe for video games being designed and then published by my sixth graders. The other day, I gave them a few games from last year’s class (as well as my own mentor game) to play and to write about, from a player perspective.

Storyboarding Video Game DesignThink you can play?

Play The Odyssey of Tara

Right now, students are working on the brainstorming of the storyframe, and how they envision the levels of the game to look like via storyboarding.

Storyboarding Video Game Design

Peace (game on),
Kevin

Students Engaging in Reading with #BookSnaps

BookSnaps from Students

I wrote the other day about my plan to try out BookSnaps with my sixth graders. BookSnaps are images of reading books, with “stickers” and short text annotations. While the original idea is to use Snapchat, we used Google Draw, and it worked out just fine.

BookSnaps from Students

My aim was to talk about annotations, with text and images. I also wanted to show them Google Draw, another app within their Google accounts that can be tapped for various projects.

BookSnaps from Students

I walked them the process. We ended up using PhotoBooth to take the pictures (while I was going to use an extension created by Alice Keeler, I realized that our students don’t actually log into the Chrome Browser but instead, log into Google itself.) It turns out our librarian had already shown them how to use PhotoBooth, so that was … a snap.

BookSnaps from Students

Next, I talked about what could be in the texts, which were call-out shapes within Google. I explained that annotations make thinking visible, so they could

  • Ask questions of the text
  • Make predications
  • Find connections with other books
  • Pull out phrases or words that seem interesting

BookSnaps from Students

One friend suggested creating a Google Draw template with call-outs and stickers in the margins of the drawing field, which is a good idea, but I went with a blank Draw slate, and let them build from there. It took longer but I think it gave each BookSnap its own flavor.

BookSnaps from Students

And the ‘stickers’ were merely Google Images, related to the text on the page. I did some mini-lessons around cropping (which some used and some apparently didn’t), and the fading tool, so that they could better manipulate the image within the design of the page.

BookSnaps from Students

Overall, the BookSnap project was a success, and kids were very engaged in the activity. I have now shared all of the folders of BookSnaps with all students across four classrooms, so they can peek in and see what their friends and fellow readers are reading, and maybe get inspired to pick up a new book.

BookSnaps from Students

Peace (and stickers),
Kevin