In the first stages of our science-based game design project, I have students do two steps of brainstorming. First, they have to write out some initial ideas for a story-frame (the narrative story around which the video game is built); the science and scientific vocabulary that they will bake into their game; and challenges or troubles they see on the horizon as they seek to bring their vision for a video game into reality.
Then, we shift into storyboarding. I emphasize a lot about the importance of this step, of putting onto paper a plan of design that will guide the development of the game. Even if they venture away from the paper design later, it will be an anchor point for them, a place to refer back to time and again.
Here are two storyboards from this year that I wanted to save as exemplars for next year:
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.
I’ve been working on a mentor game to share with my students as they begin work on their own science-based video game design project. We’re using the theme of “buoyancy” this year. I am still working to improve the second level, which is a bit difficult to play and is a stretch to represent the science concept.
Yesterday, I wrote this flash fiction story on Twitter with the #25wordstory hashtag. You know … write a story in 25 words (give or take a word here and there, that’s my interpretation). My aim was to infer another story, behind the ornament being put away, and also, to shorten each sentence to make the story more and more compact by the end.
She tucked that ornament away for another year. Put the memory in a box, out of view. Sat down, silent. #25wordstory
I let that story sit and then realized, if I added the word “cried” at the end, as a last single-word sentence, it would change the emotion of the story. While before it wasn’t clear why she was putting the ornament away, now with that one word, you have a better idea (albeit, still not completely clear. Is she crying over remembering? Over loss? Sadness? Maybe happiness?)
And what, I wondered, would happen to that story — still so very short — if I changed that last word to something else. Another emotion. What if I made it “laughed” or “smiled”? Would the whole tenor of the story shift? I think so. I used “laugh.” But now I wonder, after reading it with some distance, if “smile” would not have been better.
@dogtrax She tucked that ornament away for another year. Put the memory in a box, out of view. Sat down, silent. Laughed. #25wordstory
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.
(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 Busbooks 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 …
The folks how made the PicPlayPost app that I use quite a bit and like for its multimedia possibilities (it allows you to make a collage with images and video and then sequence them) must have realized that folks were using that app to make Acapella versions of themselves singing with themselves.
So, they took the PicPlayPost idea and made this new app called … Acapella. It feels like PicPlayPlay but it allows you to sing and play music with yourself, in a sort of Brady Bunch style of video screens. A metronome keeps you in time. You can use up to nine screens/frames. It’s strange. It’s weird. It’s all pretty nifty, and the free version allows for 30 seconds of music or so. (More than that and you need to upgrade to premium).
I was scrolling through the Acapella app homepage, where they feature singers and projects and most of the featured people are incredibly talented teenagers, harmonizing with themselves and working on songs within the app. How cool is that? Thanks to Laura for sharing this one with some of us on Twitter a few weeks ago.
I envision doing a “poems for multiple voices” with this app, but haven’t yet gotten that far. I wish you could start a file, and then send it along to someone else, who could add to it, and then send it to a third person …. but it doesn’t seem like you can do that right now within the scope of the app.
Every day during November’s Digital Writing Month, I shared out what I thought was an interesting or pertinent quote from Frank Serafini’s book, Reading the Visual. I realized by the end of the month that I had this folder with 30 quote/images and so I decided to push them into Animoto as way to gather them and share them out all together in a single video file.
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.
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.
We would love to keep the conversations going with Digital Writing Month, even though the so-called “month” is over. So, we are inviting friends (and you are a friend, so you can join in, too, even if you did not take part in DigiWriMo) to read this new book by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd: Participatory Culture in a Networked Eraas a way to stay connected and explore a fascinating topic with some talented researchers/writers.
We’ll be starting some discussions over our existing DigiWriMo Google Plus space, but I suspect things will spill over into other platforms as we move along. In fact, I would hope so. I am only part of the way into the first chapter, and already, the three have made it clear that we should never talk about platforms being “participatory” — it is the culture of the community that can be considered participatory.
So we hope that members of the group will become leaders of the book talk as we move ahead. As such, we will likely platform jump through the book ….
Please, join us. We’d love to have you in the mix.