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

School-wide Engineering Challenge: Building Towers

As part our week-long Spirit Week this week (hosted by our new Student Council, which I am advising and helping), we are hosting a school-wide challenge for a designated “Engineering Design Day” today.

My sixth grade science colleague, Lisa Rice, suggested this Marshmallow Tower Challenge as a way for our entire school to come together as designers. I love that! We hope all teachers take part, but there is no requirement. Lisa is collecting school-wide data, though, in hopes of sharing out a huge experiment across the building, and getting kids and teachers excited about engineering design.

Look who does the best in this TED presentation? The kindergarteners!

And notice the talk about “high stakes” (adding money reward to the challenge) and how the high stakes negatively impacted the creative design of the towers … I guess we could easily draw some parallels to the current educational climate of high-stakes testing, right?

Peace (in collaboration),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Inauguration or Not?

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Eight years ago, we showed the first inauguration of Barack Obama to our sixth graders, live, and we got an angry call the day of the event from a father, who demanded we pull his child from the viewing. There were less-than-subtle racist overtones to the request.

I am trying to spark a conversation with my colleagues and administration over the question: do we show the inauguration ceremonies of Donald Trump next month to our sixth graders?

I even asked teachers on Twitter. Granted, the pool of contributors was small, but indicative. Or maybe it is more indicative of my “echo chamber” of friends in social media. But, I lean towards the “yes” — it’s an event related to a presidency race that we followed and wrote about all fall, and I teach in a town that voted nearly 50/50 Trump/Clinton in November.

I can put aside my own personal feelings (mostly) and view it as a learning experience (somewhat) and let my young students see how the transfer of power happens. I would be cringing the entire time, to be frank. But I could pull it off. I am a professional.

Then my wife, who is an administrator at a high school, noted that her school is also in similar discussions, but their fear over showing the event live to all students is that something disruptive or violent will happen during the live event, and there will be no way to filter the experience.

I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t want to think of that. I don’t want to think of that. But I guess I have to. Sad, right? For now, I am leaving the decision in the hands of the administration, and seeing what their take on the matter will be.

One option is to let students “opt in” to watch the ceremonies and provide an alternative to those who don’t want to see it (but then we will be dividing up our student population by politics, I fear). Another is to show an edited version on the following Monday (the ceremony is on a Friday), which might be the more restrained approach.

What are you going to do? Why?

Peace (is always needed),
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

An Hour (or so) of Code

Hour of Code 2016

We didn’t spent an hour with coding this week, but I did introduce my sixth graders to the Hour of Code site yesterday, and gave them time to dig into some of the activities. As in other years, I explained why we talk about programming and code in an ELA class this way:

  • Not all of us will be computer programmers but nearly all of us will use technology. It’s good to have a basic understanding of what goes on “behind the screen” and to understand that people program the software that runs our games, apps and more
  • Programming is a logic puzzle, requiring patience and sequential thinking. The Hour of Code activities are engaging and move from easy to challenging in a solid way
  • We’re into our Video Game Design unit, and I have been sharing information and video about paths towards game design opportunities down the road, and computer programming, obviously, is a huge and growing field
  • You can read what I wrote for Middleweb two years ago about Why We’re Learning About Coding in Writing Class. I think my argument remains valid.

Some of my students were completely hooked by the Hour of Code, and I will be using the site as an “extension learning” opportunity as some finish other projects. Along with a new activity connected to Moana, the activities with Minecraft, Angry Birds and Flappy Bird are all favorites.

Hour of Code 2016

In one of my classes, I had a student how already used Scratch, and a small group gathered around him as he taught others how to build an animation in Scratch, all on his own. I thought that moment was pretty cool and just let it unfold without my interference.

Hour of Code 2016

Peace (coded to run in all of us),
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

 

 

Survey: State of Technology and Media 2016

state of tech teaser collage

These are results of my annual survey of my sixth graders on their views and use of technology and social media. We used these slides as discussion points for a unit we call Digital Life, which we just wrapped up with a talk about advertising and the web, and how to use tools to filter out ads and tracking.

Peace (beyond the screen),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Gift of Words

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Never Give Up

“This is for you,” she said, finishing up the last bit of art on the page. I had been wondering what she was doing. As the rest of the class had moved on to another activity, she had been hard at work. “Because this is what you always tell us.”

And with that, this sixth grader handed me this beautiful hand-drawn sign, which I immediately put up in the classroom. Sometimes, it’s nice to hear that the message is getting through. Always, it’s humbling to receive a gift of your words coming right back, amplified through the art of a student.

Peace (persevere),
Kevin

At Middleweb: What They Wrote About

I wrote about this project, including the overarching plan and the collaboration between myself and my social studies colleage, in more detail over at Middleweb.

My sixth graders finished our version of their Letters to the Next President right on Election Day. The next day, we knew who had won. Yes, we will add President Trump to the salutation and ship the letters out nearer to Inauguration Day. I hope the transition team isn’t in such disarray that the letters get lost.

:0

As I was going through and assessing the final version of the letters, I kept track of the topics they chose to research and write about. This was a combination research/civics/writing assignment, mirroring some of the amazing work done by older students at the Letters to the Next President site (nearly 12,000 letters from middle and high school students).

It is no surprise that the environment was a popular choice. Young writers often are worried about what is happening with Climate Change (yes, Mr. President, it is real and not a hoax) and the plight of animals in the changing world. I suppose “pollution” could have fallen under the “environment” umbrella, too, but there was enough distinction to warrant its own category for my purposes.

Again, you can read more about what we were up to at Middleweb.

Peace (in what they write),
Kevin

Frozen Readers (The Mannequin Challenge)

Mannequin Challenge Collage

I led a deep and somber lesson this week with my sixth graders in our Digital Life unit about “Online Bullying.” I know the lesson is important but I always try to balance the negative aspects of online behavior with the many possible positives, and try to make sure my message is “Most of your experiences in online places will be a positive experience, but if it isn’t and you feel alone and threatened, know you have people like me who care deeply about you and can help you.”

We talk about the aspects of viral media, about how the potential for embarrassment and targeting can reach unknown levels, through YouTube or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever. The “public space” is greatly expanded with social media tools.

The very next day, in order to provide some ballast for that lesson, I talked about the not-so-negative aspects of various viral social media projects, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. I asked if any had heard of the Mannequin Challenge. All hands in all four classes went up into the air. Well, I said, we’re going to do it. That led to cheers. Kids really do like being part of viral media, replicating what they see when they are online that seems cool and on the edge of something.

Since we are in the midst of reading independent books, I told them that our theme would be Frozen Readers. As I filmed with my camera, they should put themselves into a frozen reading stance. I later stitched the videos from all four classes together and shared it back with them (which I may share out publicly later, as I need to navigate the privacy issues — the short video here is just a taste of the larger video).

It was great fun, with lots of excitement, and a positive lesson on being part of something larger than our classrooms. Plus, our focus was on reading and books and literacy. Win-win.

Peace (stop right there),
Kevin