How Rube Goldberg Design Spilled into Video Game Design

Don't Move: Game

Many times, my students surprise me. Take for example, this student, who decided to take the concept of informational design/expository writing with our work around Rube Goldberg Contraptions and make a video game project version in Gamestar Mechanic. He spent a long time in design mode, making sure that once a player hits “play,” all they have to do is watch the game unfold on its own.

As someone who has designed games in Gamestar Mechanic, I can tell you: this is very intricate and required lots of planning and troubleshooting, but it is pretty cool to play/watch as things unfold automatically.

Play Don’t Move

Peace (this leads to that),
Kevin

Mentor Interactive Fiction Text: The Place of Lost Bones

Interactive Fiction Cave Map

As I wrote the other day, my students are in the midst of creating Interactive Fiction stories. Many are done while some are finishing up. It’s almost always the case that as they are doing a new project, I am doing the assignment with them. Here, I built out a story for them to play, and for me to use as a way to talk about Interactive Story construction in Google Slides.

The map above is part of a map-making activity in which students take a break from building the stories and take a fresh look at the setting by making a map of the terrain. This was my map for my story down below.

Plus, it was fun to write. The best way to play/read these is to go full-screen mode.

Peace (choose the way),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On the Stage and Into the Woods

Into the Woods at HRHS

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One of the joys of being an elementary teacher is when, years later, you see your former students. You catch glimpses of the child that had once been in your classroom.

Yesterday, we took our current class of sixth graders to see a preview of a staged production of Into the Woods at the regional high school. I made it a game from my seat of recognizing those on the stage. The years gone past for many of them — in some cases, nearly six whole years — made this a rather tricky endeavor.

Still, I could hear echoes in voices and I could see past days in faces. I was also wonderfully mesmerized by the talent on display for this production — which is a complicated retelling of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with weaving story and music lines.

The best part was after the preview, when the cast sat on the stage, answering questions from the audience of elementary students. They were so poised, funny, enthusiastic and … themselves, just as I remembered them (at least, those who had once been my students). They made me proud.

Peace (from the seats),
Kevin

Write Out: Connecting to the Community’s Conservation Efforts

Town of Southampton Conservation Lands

The other day, I met with two officials from the Open Space Review Committee of the town where I teach (different from the town where I live). We were talking about a grant they have received to gather landowners in town for a few meetings to talk about open space preservation and conservation, and I was curious about how I might dovetail their work with a community writing project with my sixth graders. (I had noticed an article in the local newspaper about the project and reached out)

Ever since the Write Out project last summer, I’ve been thinking of how I might get my students more involved in the wildlife and woods of their small but growing town. (Write Out is an online collaborative learning experience with a focus on historic and natural spaces, stemming from a long partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I was one of the co-facilitators, learning along with others. This year, Write Out is planned for the Fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing)

The after-school meeting was great — they were enthused by the idea of the school in town connecting to their efforts to reach more landowners, and we agreed that my students might be able to do a research project on some of the endangered/threatened species in different areas of the town, perhaps by creating some public informational pamphlets before a community-wide walk scheduled for May.

Town of Southampton

For now, I am perusing the resources — maps, and informational packets, and more — and reaching to the local Audubon Society for help in thinking about the natural landscape of the town. The town sits on top of the one largest natural water sources underground in the region — the Barnes Aquifer — so I want to be able to incorporate that, too. The town officials have offered to line up folks to visit the classroom, to share information and answer questions.

We even talked about resurrecting an old field trip (long run by a retired teacher) to a nearby small mountain — the highest peak in the town — as  a way to connect the research work with another view of the place where they live.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin

 

Another Form of Literacy: Sports Play Diagramming

Quidditch Diagram Play collageAs we shift into Expository/Informational Writing during our school’s season of Quidditch, I use the opportunity to expand the notions of literacy by incorporating the diagramming of a sport play into the classroom. Students must invent a play to be done on the floor of our game of Quidditch (which we play in the gym), and then both diagram out the movement of players and write an expository piece of writing, explaining how the play unfolds.

This kind of literacy — connecting writing to the athletic field — opens up the doors for some of my students who play sports but who are reluctant to write. They immediately see the connection of clear, sequential writing, and imagine themselves as a coach in a timeout, giving out instructions on the basketball court, or the football or soccer field, with a small whiteboard in hand.

Sports plays are a language all of their own, defined by the sport. Here, for example, in our game, you may not know that CH is chaser, K is keeper, SL is sideline, and SK is seeker. The colored floor lines have meaning, too, to our game. The arrows and dotted lines indicate movement. It’s visual information with a writing companion (with a bit of trickery, since the writing is mostly what I am most after here).

This kind of activity comes from a workshop presentation I was in many years ago now, through the National Writing Project, where a fellow writing project member shared her work in using football play diagrams to teach reading to her struggling high school students. Something clicked when I saw that. It has stayed with me, this idea of meeting the literacy needs of our students on the fields where they play.

In a resource she created for NWP on Redefining Text, Bee Foster writes:

When we expand our view of text, we celebrate and support a greater number of our students on a regular basis. We acknowledge the ways in which our students are already reading and writing. We give them credit for their strengths and begin an important dialogue around the transfer of skills from one mode to another. We more effectively provide differentiation both in what students read, and in what students write. Most importantly, we more regularly allow our struggling students to take on the role of expert.

Hey – I even found her video:

Peace (run it, catch it, win it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Art as Social Activity

Making Quidditch T-shirts

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

This requires more context than I can give right now but we play a version of Quidditch at our school (created by students 20 years ago). I’ve written about our game of Quidditch during many Slice of Life March moments over the years.

Along with the game itself, we incorporate all sorts of art and writing and much more. Yesterday, my students were making team t-shirts (team name: Arctic Bandits) and I watched with appreciation as they shared paints and ideas, offered help to each other when needed and made art as a social activity.

Things were messy, but art often is.

Peace (painted, chalked, drawn, shared),
Kevin

PS — this is a video we made years ago to show how we play our game of Quidditch

Interactive Fiction: Mapping All Possibilities

Greece Interactive Story Map

We’re in the middle of a small digital writing unit on Interactive Fiction, which is a “choose your own ending” sort of storytelling, using Google Slides and Hyperlinks as a way to publish a story.

Wolves Interactive Story Map

As much as I enjoy the final products — a story with choices for the reader, told in second person narrative — I truly love viewing the mapping by students of the possibilities. These maps lay bare the thinking, the possibilities of story. You can see an overview of the narrative arcs, the thinking behind the stories.

Dungeon Interactive Story Map

We get to this point of story mapping by first reading Interactive Stories and mapping out the journey into the story as a reader, noting where branches are and what paths we took. Then, they flip their role, making maps before writing the actual story for others to read.

Chamber Interactive Story Map

The theme of the project is a discovery of ancient ruins, and the reader is the traveler in the story, finding adventure and mystery as they move along through the story of choices.

Most of my students really enjoy this writing, as it is very different from traditional pieces we do, but a few do struggle with the unconventionality of it. That’s OK, too, for what I am trying to show them is that writing is not one form, but many forms and always adaptable.

That is a choice the writer has (although, not always in school, unfortunately)

Peace (take the path),
Kevin

Fifteen Years of Adding Words to the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

Invented Words of 2019Since 2005, I have had sixth graders in my classroom inventing and creating new words as part of our Word Origin unit. That’s 15 years of making words. Which is pretty cool. And even cooler, I think, is that each year, every student contributes a new word the online Crazy Collaborative Dictionary, which now boasts about 1,000 invented words.

In recent years, I’ve added a podcast element, so every student contributor’s voice is now embedded as part of the dictionary, a time capsule of sound. Even cooler. I’ve written before, too, about the element of “collaboration across time” here, with siblings working with siblings, but years later — sometimes, many many years later. Of all, this is the most interesting.

The dictionary has had a few homes over the years, from wikis that are no longer around, to a Google Doc one year, and now it is part of our class weblog site, The Electronic Pencil.

Visit the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

The above word cloud image is most of this year’s new word collection (a few stragglers didn’t make it to the image). Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s addition of about 75 new words (every student invents three new words but only “donates” one of their words to this project).

Visit just this year’s words

 

Peace (in any name available),
Kevin

Writing for a Reason: Advice to a Gaming Platform

Advice for Gamestar 2019

I work quite a bit of writing into our video game design unit, and one of the final pieces of writing is a letter all students write to the folks at Gamestar Mechanic, explaining what they have enjoyed about the platform and some advice for features they would like to see incorporated. We did some class brainstorming of ideas first, as a way to guide their thinking.

Here are some of the responses:

In my ELA class we are using your website on a project to create games. We are working with the Hero’s Journey theme. My game is called Journey To Treasure. My game has 5 levels. The first level is the character finding a map of a ship wreck and buried treasure. The second level is the character on the journey to find the treasure. The third level is when the character found the treasure in an underwater cave and they have to fight enemies to get the treasure and go home. The fourth level is the journey home and the fifth level is when they are home and can take a relaxing vacation. What I like about Gamestar is that there are multiple quests and you can play other peoples games. There is also a wide variety of games within the quests. Some advice for making Gamestar Mechanics a better game is adding a multiplayer mode so that you can invite your friends to join so you can play together. You should also add more music so that the sound effects and music in the game helps you get into character in the game. Another thing I think you should add is an update so that enemies can drop rewards like more health or a key.  

— LG

 

During class we have been working with your platform me and my fellow peers (our whole grade) have been assigned to create a game and do your quests. My partner Gabby and I had so much fun and were always looking forward to class. My game is about a wolf Sky and her journey to help a queen. Sky needs to fight all the king’s evil minions (the evil wolves and polar bears) and then the dragons.

What I really like about Gamestar is that you have to earn lots of things you might need as an example earning the publishing rights. I absolutely love the variety and the creative freedom.

In like every game platform there is some flaws. Lots of people and I agree that it should have auto-save during the process of making a game and all the time. I know some groups lost their games because of this. Another thing that should be ABSOLUTELY changed is the limit of words\text throughout the game I wasn’t able to type all of the messages I needed to making my game I was very upset to learn about this and so was my partner, my friends, and lots of other who had this issue.

Otherwise I love the platform it is so fun and lots of people including me think the platform is great for kids and adults alike.

— RF

 

In my class, we have been doing a project with Gamestar Mechanic. We have been making games and seeing how literature is incorporated into it.We were using the platform “The Hero’s Journey.” My game is called the Iron Fortress. It is about Ronin, a warrior, who has to find a magical sword and defeat the evil wizard Shakhar. Ronin travels through the Iron Fortress in his Quest to defeat Shakhar.

I enjoyed many things about your gaming platform. One of the things I enjoyed was the simplicity. Nothing is too hard to understand and the controls are simple. I also enjoyed the Quests. I like the idea of playing to earn blocks, backgrounds, or sprites.

One thing I think would improve Gamestar Mechanic is the ability to customize sprites and blocks. Even though you can customize backgrounds, I think it will take the game to a whole new level if you could customize sprites and blocks. You could make challenges that give you material to build your own sprites and blocks. You could put a section in the workshop that is purely for customizing.

— TY

 

I am a student in Massachusetts learning about game design in ELA. We have been playing quest to learn about the Hero’s Journey concept of all video games. We have also been making a game of our own using the Hero’s Journey concept. There are many things I like about Gamestar Mechanic, here are a few. I like how you can play Quest to learn how to create a game of your own. (play to learn) It is also very easy to use, I can switch between workshop and quest very easily. Even though there are many things I like about Gamestar, there are a few things you could work on. I think first person would be a great concept of this game. I think there should be more sprites and avatars to choose from. Finally, I think there should be more music, and I should be able to customize it. Thank You for reading.

— CC

I’ll be shipping these off to the Gamestar Mechanic office, in hopes some developer receives them and reads some of the insights.

Peace (in writing),
Kevin