Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Student Video Games Collage

I’ll admit: it’s one of the oddest ways to “read” a piece of student work. I’m digging into the video game of a sixth grader made on Gamestar Mechanic, trying to make my way out of the maze and rescue a character in my role as a hero on an epic quest. I am confronted by dragons, spitting out fire as I dodge and weave, and die. And then, I start the story all over again.

This is how I spent large parts of my vacation week: assessing student stories by playing the video games they have built with stories as frames. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what it means to tell a story in the format of a video game.

Some of the projects are excellent. Games like Bartimaeus’ Quest by Hailey and The Wall’s Secret by Devin and The Quest of El by Megan show student game designers and writers who get it, who understand the idea of story informing the game experience. Other students, not so much, although all of the other writing and reflective work we have done has given me insights into their learning, and allowed me to focus my teaching. I have notes for our conferencing when we return to school next week.

One of my favorite projects, not so much for its final version but for its origin, is a game called Captain Zero and Turtle Man. Two boys have been working on a comic book of the same title, and wanted to use their comic book story as the basis for the game they wanted to develop. Of course, I said, yes! I love when ideas from one genre spill into another.

As I play student games as player and as teacher, I am also assessing these student video game projects through three distinct lenses (all of which the students know and have used as the basis for design):

  • Narrative Story Frame (in this case, the use of the Hero’s Journey loose template);
  • Writing Mechanics within the game’s text areas;
  • Game design

Given that this is the first time nearly every one of my sixth grade students has designed and published a video game, I am not overly strict with these elements (and our grading system is standards-based, meaning the range runs from “meeting expectations” all the way to “beginning to show understanding”). I am looking for growth, and for experimental writing of stories, and of games that engage and challenge and entertain the reader/player.

As a teacher, this work is a very different experience than facing a pile of essays or stories or analytical pieces to read. I am playing the stories of my students (often, over and over, for if I want to see how the story ends or continues, my only way forward is to beat the level and keep moving forward). I leave comments both in public, at the game itself within Gamestar Mechanic, and privately, on an assessment sheet that every student will get back from me.

I am intentionally balancing my remarks in those spaces, knowing that one audience is beyond the student and our classroom (but probably more important an audience than my role as teacher), and the other, is a space for more one to one with my young writer/game designer. I am critical in both, if I need to be, but more celebratory in public.

Peace (game on),
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

Giving Thanks: Keepers of the Flame

This video from my friends at Fablevision (Peter and Paul Reynolds) made its way to my mailbox this week, as they offered to thanks to teachers in their network. It’s a quiet poem, with the power of gratitude, and it is infused with the Reynolds’ gentle touch of art and hope and wonder.

If you are an educator celebrating Thanksgiving today, thank you for all that you do (particularly if you are a teacher of my own kids). If not (either not a teacher or you live outside the US), thank you, too. I am grateful for those folks in my various circles.

Peace (and hope in the flame),
Kevin

Live! From the High School Editing Room

 

My middle son, a high school senior, and his friend are having tons of fun (and working long hours) producing a weekly segment for their high school television/media class’s online television show, called The Transcript. This second segment — Moth vs Bear — of the school year became a “bonus” last week because it didn’t fit the serious theme of the rest of the show. I got a kick out of it.

Today is Friday, which means this week’s episode

Peace (give me moths, not bears),
Kevin

AppSmashing for PhotoMashing

Eclipse 2

Our family biked to the local park to watch the partial eclipse, and my wife and I took some photos (not of the sun). None of the photos had all of us together, so later, I used a few apps (the main one was Fused, which allows you to overlay photos) to try to merge them, and then I admit I had a little too much fun with the effects.

I received two reactions from some friends. One notes that it looked like I was starting and advertising a cult worshipping the sky. Another humorously asked, as a reaction to the trippy effects of the image, if marijuana is now legal in my state? (It is, but I don’t partake).

Hey .. we just wanted to see the moon overtake the sun for a bit as a family (difficult enough, when you have three teenagers). Hope you stayed safe wherever you were (if you were watching).

Peace (go ahead and look),
Kevin

PS — this was an earlier version, before I could get my wife’s image into the mix

Eclipse

The Kauffman Sketchbook: The Fire to Learn

(I’ve been digging through my draft blog posts in my draft post bin. How’d I get so many unused posts and book reviews in there? I’ll be sharing out some in the coming days, if only to clear my draft bin a bit. I’m using Alan Levine’s picture of Lego Bins at MIT to visually represent my blog bin. Don’t worry. I’ll try to make sure they are still somewhat relevant. — Kevin)


Bins flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I stumbled across a video from this group that does interviews, and puts the audio to sketches. Very cool, and interesting from a viewing perspective (never mind the creating perspective — just think of the storyboarding that must go on here).

In this video, a fifth grade teacher talks about teaching reading, and the love of reading. I found myself getting lost in her words (in a good way) and I followed the sketchbook artists. What were they trying to complement in her voice with their pictures? That’s what hooked me here.

Peace (in the sketch),
Kevin

 

Away on a Short Blog Vacation

I am away for a few days, so I won’t be doing any blogging.  I’ll probably be poking around the Interwebz here, and there, but only sporadically. Thanks for visiting.

Peace (and rest and rejuvenation),
Kevin