Student Game Developers’ Journals: Active Thinking

Game Developer Journal collage1

As part of our science-based video game design project now underway, my students have to keep a Game Designer Journal for reflective writing on their process of designing, building and publishing their video game projects. The collage above gathers some of the posts from the first day, as they were asked to reflect on what they like and don’t like (or find challenging) about using Gamestar Mechanic.

As always, I am right there with them, modeling what I am hoping they might do with their writing. We are using Google Docs, so that this reflective game journal becomes another piece of their writing portfolio this year.

Here are my first entries for my game project:

Mr H Game Developer Journal

Peace (reflect),
Kevin

Collaboration Conundrum: The Science-based Game Design Project

updown disaster buoyancy game collage

I admit: I have had a bit of a struggle this year meshing my video game project with our science curriculum. My science colleague is fully moving into the Next Generation Science Standards and that re-alignment on her end (which I support, of course) has made it difficult for me to coordinate an overall topic and science connection for our video game design unit now underway.

In the past, she has often been either at Layers of the Earth, Plate Tectonics or Cells at this time of the school year. Those topics provided more logical metaphorical connections to game design. She’s at Buoyancy now. Hmmm. A bit trickier.

So, after much consulting with her and agreeing that what I am doing with ELA class should still connect and support what she is doing in Science class, I decided to move ahead and see what will happen when we use the concept of “buoyancy” as a theme for a video game design project. I don’t expect this to be easy, necessarily. I do expect to be surprised by what students come up with. I’m working hard to find ways to frame the concept within the confines of the tools available inside Gamestar Mechanic.

I think it will come down to gravity. You can tinker with gravity when making games — setting it high or low — and I am going to help students use gravity as the metaphor for buoyancy, and see where that goes.

I am working on a mentor video game right now to share with my students, to talk through my own design choices. I’ll share that game out tomorrow, and invite you to play it.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Little Bit Of Frizzle

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Come write.)

You should have seen the excitement on my sixth graders’ faces when I pulled out my large stack of Magic School Bus books yesterday during a lesson around integrating science themes into narrative stories. They will be doing a version of same task soon, as they launch into a science-based video game design project that will take us right up to holiday break, and what better model and mentor text than the Magic School Bus?

I had a series of guiding questions they had to answer in writing as they read their books — on earthquakes, the solar systems, electricity and many more topics — and there was silence as they read, punctuated every now and then by a chuckle, or a “I remember this one.” There’s such power in picture books.

Our follow-up discussions about science themes and conflict/resolution were rich and productive, too. Ms. Frizzle did not let me down.

And for those students who finished early, I had a second stack of Max Axiom graphic novels, which also have a scientific theme as scientist Max Axiom explains more complicated science than Ms. Frizzle. I like the Max Axiom graphic novels, but they are more straightforward non-fiction text (with some magical elements involved … Max can shrink, go through time, etc … he is sort of his own magic school bus …).

And now, we get ready to make our own science-based games …

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Writing Out Instructions: Game Hacking

Game hack instructions

My students are hacking the card game, UNO, as a way for me to talk about game design and game mechanics and creative thinking, as well as to weave in expository writing, speaking and listening skills, and scientific engineering principles (shhh .. don’t tell them that part … they just think they are playing games).

Yesterday, on our second 20 minute design challenge, they had to revisit the rules of their hacked games they worked on earlier this week and as a group, they were tasked with collectively writing out an instruction “manual” in clear, concise language so that, next week, another group of students can play their games.

Game hack instructions

Lots of discussions and revising and clarifying and making visible what was inferred took place, as they tried to play the game through a visitor’s eyes. I’m not sure all of the instructions are as clear as they could be, but we will have “home station hosts” at each game area to help others understand how to play the games.

Game hack instructions

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

The 20 Minute Game Design Challenge

20 min game design challenge

Here’s what my sixth graders had to work with:

  • Card deck of UNO
  • Chess/Checker board
  • A Pair of Dice
  • 12 Fake Coins
  • 20 Minutes

Their task: Redesign the game of UNO into something new (or, hack the game of UNO, as I pitched it) by collectively agreeing in small groups to new rules of the new game and then writing out a draft set of expository instructions. Oh, and prototype the game, if time.

Design

Test

Tinker

Redesign

The timer is ticking! Have fun!

They did, and as I watched each small group of students work collaboratively together yesterday, I noticed:

  • Speaking and listening skills on full display
  • Shared/common language on game design mechanics (Variables, Prototype, Play-testing, etc.)
  • Negotiation of ideas through rules of discussion
  • Agreement and dissent, ending in resolution
  • Expository writing practice

Later, they will formalize the rules of their hacked UNO game and use an instruction manual from Monopoly as a “mentor text” to put it into a common format. Then they will “teach” their game to other students in other groups.

This activity is all part of the introduction to our unit on Game Design, which we have just started in our ELA class, and which will move into designing a science-based video game project. We have a long way to go, but this is always a good start ….

Peace (off the board),
Kevin

 

Interactive Historical Fiction: Play/Read Student Projects

I’ve been writing about our Interactive Fiction Project for Digital Writing Month, and most of my students are now done or nearly finished. Here are a few of their stories that you can “play/read” to get a sense of what we have been up in the past 10 days or so. We were working on these stories in conjunction to lessons around Early Civilizations in the Social Studies class.

Storm by Elizabeth

Ancient People by Wil

Early Humans by Sara

Neanderthal by Ryan

The Wait by Ella

Peace (in your path),
Kevin

#Digiwrimo Interactive Fiction 3: Let My Students Explain

How to .... Interactive fiction

Yesterday, I shared out some screenshots on how you might use Google Slides for Interactive Fiction in the classroom, as I am currently doing with my sixth graders. Along with some of the “non-traditional writing” we are engaged with, I am also having them write more straight-forward pieces, too.

Last week, I asked them to compose an expository paragraph that walks someone through the process of creating Interactive Fiction with Google Slides. We did this offline because I still want them writing on paper, and given all of our discussions in Digital Writing Month about the continued emotional power of handwritten pieces in a digital age, I though I would share their pieces directly here.

How to .... Interactive fiction

This reflective practice — of pulling back from a project and taking stock of how you are doing it — is very valuable on many levels, including for me as the teacher to know if they truly understand the processes of digital writing.

How to .... Interactive fiction

I love the ending to this one: “When you are finished, send it to me!”

Peace (on the paper),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo Interactive Fiction 1: Making a Playable Story

Story Map The Bike

I’ve been doing my best to bring elements of Digital Writing Month into my sixth grade classroom. We worked on Sound Stories and with images earlier in the month, and now, during this theme of “transmedia,” I have my students working on Interactive Fiction pieces. Interactive fiction is a designed story/game in which the reader is given choices to follow, and every choice branches off into another aspect of the story.

I’ve done these before with Twine, but the freeware didn’t always play nicely with our computers, although the new beta Twine 2.0 as online experience might be worth another look, and hosting the final products has become problematic now that Google Drive has changed the way public folders are set up. Here is a map for a Twine 2 story I did the other day for Digiwrimo:

Twine map

So, with my push this year around digital portfolios within Google Apps for Education, I am teaching my students how to use hyperlinks within a Google Slides project to create Interactive Fiction.

Using Google Slides for this style of writing is not perfect, but it works, and along with creating a non-traditional writing experience, it gives me a chance to teach them more about design and hyperlinks within presentation formats for the purpose of storytelling.

My students are writing historical interactive fiction, as I am connecting our project with work on early civilizations being done in our Social Studies class. Students are writing in second person narrative point of view, of an early human, surviving (or not) in the Ancient World, using sensory details and descriptive writing.

Yes, my students love this Interactive Fiction writing project, although most have never read the Make Your Own Ending stories (I have a class set that we read and talk about) and they are so deeply enmeshed in the writing experience right now. And yes, it is a very complicated writing endeavor. You have to plan for multiple story-lines in a single story experience, and let the reader “play the story,” as I have been saying each day.

Here are a few of their “story maps” — which I require to be done before they even touch a computer.

Interactive fiction maps

I’ll be sharing a bit over the next few days …. including a screenshot tutorial on how you might do similar stories in Google Slides. If you want a taste of what I am talking about, this is an Interactive Fiction piece that I wrote last year as a mentor text for my students (designed more as a mystery story, not historical fiction, which is what we are doing this year).

Come, play my story.

Peace (in the interactive),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo Sound Stories: What They (Students) Made

Sound Stories under constructionThis is my wrap-up post for series I have been doing about teaching my sixth graders how to create Sound Stories — writing and recording stories in Garageband with sound effects. Today, I want to share out some of the students’ work. (Note: I wrote more about this project at Middleweb.) This is connected to the exploration of audio in Digital Writing Month. Sound Stories under construction

Take a listen to just a few of the stories:

 

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo Sound Stories: The Ones We Made (Together)

Yesterday, I shared out a “mentor text” of a sound story that I created as I was introducing my sixth graders into the idea of composing and recording a story constructed with voice and sound effects. Today, I want to share the next step in the lesson plan: short class collaborative stories.

Here, I asked each of my sixth grade classes to work as a whole to help me write a short story that used a few animal sound effects. We used Voice Typing in Google Docs to build the story together, sentence by sentence, and then we recorded in Garageband, with students helping by using the Interactive Board to build out the sound file as I narrated it. (Ideally, I should have asked a student to come up and narrate, instead of me, but I was trying to keep the lesson moving along.)

The intent was to make visible the construction of a sound story, by doing it together. I was reminded of work done by a NWP friend, Glen Briere, who constructed entire radio programs with his class as collaborative writing experiences. I’m filing this smaller sound story project away in my mind for later consideration of how to use Glen’s idea for whole class writing experiences.

Each “story” is only a few sentences long, and the shared sound effects means there is a common thread. Notice how the stories all came to a point where all the animal sounds play together. My students enjoy cacophony. (And for me, it allowed me to show them how to layer multiple sound tracks to play at once.)

Most of my students are nearing up completion with their projects, and I will be sharing out their voices later this week.

Peace (in the sounds),
Kevin