There’s a caveat to this post: my sixth graders have only just started the design stage of a science-based video game project. But I have already introduced them to the possibility of submitting their final video games (still a few weeks away from completion) to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.
Among other things, I am trying to help my students see an audience much larger than our classroom and to view their project as something with more potential than just a grade from me for the work they do. I want them to be creating a piece of digital work for the world.
Sure, it might be that the potential rewards and recognition is what interests them in this kind of video game design challenge. That’s OK. Extrinsic rewards can provide a path to intrinsic rewards, and I am already noticing a deep consideration of story, game design, quality and science as they begin moving from brainstorming and storyboarding into the design phase of their game projects on Gamestar Mechanic (which is a partner with the video challenge, meaning students can submit games into the STEM Video Game Challenge right through Gamestar, which makes things a bit easier on our end).
This graph shows the results of a question as part of the brainstorming process: Would you be interested in submitting your science-based game to the STEM Video Game Challenge? I am pleased at how many are considering that option (with the understanding that anyone can change their mind later on).
I have the good fortune of being asked to hang out online this Saturday afternoon for a bit with my friend and colleague, Gail Poulin, as we talk about the Hour of Code, which kicks off next week. Gail teaches Kindergarten at my school, and we are bringing out students together tomorrow to do some coding activities as collaborative.
On Saturday, as part of the Classroom 2.0 Live series, Gail and I will be in a Blackboard Collaborate session (at noon, on the East Coast), as we talk about coding and literacy, and technology integration in the classroom. And, who knows what else we might wander into … You can join us, too, in the online discussion space.
As we begin our video game design unit, we spent time talking about and working with games. The other day, we wrote and then discussed the elements of game design, with the question of what makes a good game good and a bad game bad? Here are word clouds with the main ideas shared by students over four classes. (Note: we did not focus on video games specifically, but any game — board, card, recess, sports, etc.)
As they begin designing their own science-based video games in the coming days, we will be referring back to these word clouds as a guide for them to remember what makes a game good and what potentially makes a game boring.
Interestingly, this is the first year that advertising and in-app purchases became part of our conversations. Most were annoyed about the “free” entry to a game, only to be confronted by pop-up ads or in-app purchases needed to move to another level or gain some new tools. That led to a discussion about “business models” and a reminder that non-tech games don’t have those intrusions.
(This is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments. You write, too.)
They were standing in line, waiting to put the laptops back on the computer cart. We’d been gaming in the classroom, working with Gamestar Mechanic to begin the process of understanding video game design by playing and analyzing games. This week, they will start the initial stages of storyboarding and building their own science-based video games.
“Girls don’t like video games,” he said to no one in particular, and there was a moment of silence as all the girls turned around to stare at him. He seemed taken aback. “I mean, they don’t right? Girls don’t like video games?”
He spoke that last line as if he walked into a pit of vipers because there was a sudden burst of loud response from the girls. I think I saw a few of his friends shake their heads, knowing what was coming.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Of course, I like video games. I’m probably better than you.”
“We may not like the same games, but we like games.”
He seemed a bit shaken by the response. That’s good.
“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbled, and that gave me a teaching moment to talk to the class about the stereotypes we have of gender and technology. It’s true not every girl likes video games. Not every boy likes video games, either. But some girls are great at both playing and designing video games. And we had just had a long discussion on game design elements, where plenty of girls shared deep thoughts about design and and the games they played. (Had he even been listening?)
I think he got it. I do. And if not, the girls are going to set him straight. Count on that.
I spent part of the day yesterday with my guitar, writing a song. The picture above shows the map of my ideas. I do a whole lot of scratching out, revising, moving words, adding chords when I write songs. I try to wrangle sense out of the ideas, and then hope that the words will be partners to the chords. Sometimes, it works. Often, not.
Anyway, this song came together over the course of the day, so I did a small demo recording with the Garageband app. If you are interested, you can give it a listen. This is another song that is not really all that in line with my rock band’s sound, so it may just sit on the burner for some time. It may be part of a longer project I have been working on for years that mixes songs and poetry to tell a story. It might just get forgotten. Who knows.
What if a Story were simultaneously hemmed in and also open to roam the landscape? What if the Story were merely small echoes of some larger narrative? What if the Story were not one Story, but many Stories?
What if …?
During Digital Writing Month (which took place throughout November), the narrative of how we tell stories often got upended a bit as we explored how technology is changing the shapes of stories themselves, as us, as writers of those stories. How fitting, then, that Simon took the concept of the #25wordstory (a Twitter activity to write a story in 25 words or so) and slotted it into a spreadsheet grid, and then opened up the grids for others to add to.
I dug in yesterday morning with gusto, and quickly began writing all over the place, shifting from grid to grid, extending stories out from single anchor words so that the narrative arcs move in all sorts of directions. Truthfully, these became more like story fragments, little puffs of ideas floating in and among the rest of the stories. We pushed out beyond the margins. Added images and charts. Made links to places outside of the story.
So, what does this all mean for writing in the digital age? I can’t say with any certainty what it all means, to be honest, but there is something there in this kind of transmedia-like storytelling — an associative leap that writers make when both writing on the same page as someone else on the other side of your world and when you carve out stories in unknown territories. A spreadsheet as story? A spreadsheet as a map of the territory? Yes, once you get past the idea of what a tool is designed for you (spreadsheets-numbers) and open up your imagination to what a story needs to thrive.
The spreadsheet has become the Story itself, made up of smaller stories, made up of words and ideas, made up of Us. You come, too. Write in the grid, but push against the confines of those grids. Simon kickstarted the Story. Now, take the Story to where it needs to go. Take the Story with you. Leave the Story with Us.
I’m sorry I forgot your name. I apologize if my eyes darted quickly from your face to your name tag, and then back up to your eyes as you began to speak. Did I look confused? Lost? Or out of place when we were talking? I probably was. My brain was working to remember your name, to place you in my constellation. I blame Google for making me stupid. No. I blame genetics and memory cells. Darn you, Mom and Dad.
The fact is that as much as I love coming to educational conferences and hanging out with everyone in person after all the time that we spend in online spaces exploring writing and making cool stuff, I am finding it a wee bit trickier over the years to remember all of you when we finally get to a face-to-face situation. That’s not completely true. I never found it easy and I always thank the Conference Gods who provide us with name tags.
It’s not you; it’s me.
You seem to have no trouble remembering me. I appreciate that. Perhaps my restless online presence translates into a strong physical presence? <Cue laugh track>. Of course, you would not likely recognize me from my “dogtrax” avatar. Unless you squint your eyes, use your imagination and maybe do a few shots of whiskey first. And by the way, if we are at the same bar when you do that whiskey shot to spark your imagination, call me over. I am buying. We can imagine together.
Maybe it’s my walk and not my avatar that you recognize. My wife says I have a distinctive walk, and one of my former colleagues who I ran into at NCTE (no, I did not recognize her when she called out my name and she even taught two doors down the hall from me … 11 years ago … But still, I should have her face in my memory banks, right? Right. Sigh) said she recognized me from afar from the way I was walking down the hallway. I find that hard to believe. Do I have a funny walk? I personally think it is the rest of the world that is slightly off-kilter. I walk with perfectly normal strides.
But, if you recognized me by my walk or from my avatar or from some various hangout or whatever (maybe even from that whiskey bar), and I failed to do the same of you and your walk, I am so sorry. Perhaps your walk is on the so-called normal scale. There were a lot of people there, after all. (although now that I think of it, if we did hang out in that whiskey bar, both of our walks might be a bit funny by the end of our conversation.)
Still, when I hear someone saying “Kevin” or “Dogtrax” from across the room, I think: This .. is … so … cool. Someone I know is here. I get excited about the connection. I do. After all, what we do online should spill to what we do offline, if the possibility exists. When it happens, it’s an amazing connection, like some two-pronged electrical plug. Inevitably, though, I draw a blank when your hand reaches out to me and I feel dumb (again …. Google) and scramble my brain for your name. I mean, you took the trouble to remember me. I should remember you. I quickly calculate, what space were you in with me? What projects did we collaborate on? Are you sure we know each other? I don’t want you to ever think that what we did together is inconsequential nor without meaning, which is why a small panic builds inside of me. I valued our work. I just can’t retrieve your name from my data banks right at this second.
I have decided a strategy is in order. So I have begun stringing various name together, sort of like lights on the holiday tree. Or a run-on sentence. Names name names. I just need to make sure none of the lights go out on that string of ours, and I will be good to go. There’s a whole year to go until our next big conference. A whole year to learn how to remember.
Or a whole year to forget … Damn it. See you at the bar. I’ll be the funny-walking writer who looks a little confused. Come on over and let’s talk about things for a bit. Make sure you introduce yourself first.
I had this urge to create this comic as a sort of reflection point, drawing in connections that have me pushing my own ideas about what it means to be a writer in this digital age. Think of it as a token of gratitude for all those who are helping me along on this journey. I created the comic (making up representative characters for my friends: Simon, Terry, Anna, and Maha) in Bitstrips for Schools, and then moved it into a flipbook creator.
This will be out of context for most of you. Sorry. Simon and I have been “conversating” on the topic of digital writing, and making writing as we have been going along. This morning/last night, Simon posted a poem inspired by a documentary of writer William Gibson shared by Terry that I referenced in a collaborative conversation document that Simon and I are engaged in.
Do you need a map?
I listened and read Simon’s post and then decided that I wanted to wrangle it into new shape. I wanted to create a flow chart/decision tree that captured the essence of Simon’s ideas and also revisited the idea of: Do we really need a map? Are these uncharted territories? How is writing a shifting landscape?