Video Game Design: Story-Framing and Storyboarding

Game Design: Storyboards

We’re in the midst of our Hero’s Journey video game design unit, in which my sixth graders are developing and then publishing a video game based on the concept of the Hero’s Journey. We use Gamestar Mechanic, which teaches students how to build games by playing games, and provides tools for publishing.

Game Design: Storyframes

The first phase is all about story-framing (what is the story that will be the backbone of the game) and storyboarding (what will your game look like) and this work provides some rich moments of questions and conversations and thinking through the game before it is under construction.

I love the variety of games under consideration. I have traditional “make your way home” and “rescue mission” stories, as well as ones that are inspired by novels they are reading, and even this year, one in which the character is inside a “book” as the setting of the game. I’m looking forward to watching that one get developed.

The story-framing is a way for young game designers to articulate the spine of the narrative, and they often require reminders during the building of games to refer back to the story-frame.

I tell them this as a sort of daily mantra:

The player is the reader, playing your story as a game

Meanwhile, the storyboarding gives rise to questions of design, of where things might be and how things might look, and often prompts questions about what they can and cannot do in Gamestar Mechanic as designers. I do a lot of huddling around work-arounds and alternative ideas once they are deep into design. But this early work gives me a glimpse of what they are thinking, and provides them with a map from which to begin work.

Peace (designed, played, won),
Kevin

PS — if you want to learn more about how we move game design into the ELA classroom (and some years, with connection to science), check out the resource site we created the first year. We tried to include materials that you are free to use: Video Game Design

 

Slice of Life: Novels to Plays and Back Again

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It was hard to miss the sounds of laughter, engagement and collaboration in the classroom yesterday. It was one of those small moments where you, the teacher, silently give yourself a high-five because a new lesson idea seemed to work out almost exactly as you thought it would. Not every new idea for the classroom unfolds as you think it might.

Celebrate success, right?

Here’s what we were doing. We are in the middle of a extended Independent Reading unit, where students have choice in reading and I give them a block of time to read during nearly every school day. I’ve been pretty strict with myself on this allocation of reading time, knowing that choice and reading is key to literacy development.

Every now and then we do different reflective reading activities — they have an online reading journal that they access once a week or so to write about characters, and setting, and more. But I remembered a lesson from a long-lost unit on writing theater plays, and so I dug out some old resources and found what I was looking for and adapted it.

Scene from Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Scene from Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Students worked to choose an important “scene” from the novel they are reading and then become a scriptwriter, reworking the scene into a formatted play skit. I have them freedom to leave out what didn’t work, add in what is needed, but stay true to characters and scene. They really loved this writing assignment, and many had never written in a script format before, so it was lots of mini lessons on formatting.

Scene from The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Scene from The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Then, when everyone had scenes done (note: the writing took longer than I expected, and lasted parts of a few class periods over a few days), I put them into small groups, where each reader/scriptwriter shared their books and their scenes, by taking on parts in a read-aloud activity. The negotiations (which parts shall we read?), the collaboration (“Should I have an accent?”) and the literacy moments (novels coming to life through scripts) were all interesting to watch unfold.

Scene from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Scene from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Students in each group read one script after another, and then each group chose one script to perform/read/share to the rest of the class (more negotiations). In this way, every student was exposed to at least three to four new stories from novels, which maybe … just maybe … might spark their interest as a reader.

Scene from Chomp by Carl Hiassen

Scene from Chomp by Carl Hiassen

All day, in every class, this activity went relatively smooth and I realized (again) how much my students just love to read plays, and to do it in groups, and that the opportunity to write a skit for others was truly a motivational writing experience.

Yahoo!

Peace (telling stories about listening to stories),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Brewing an Audio Stew with Words, Loops, and Sounds

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We’re in a digital writing unit that centers on expanding the notions of what it means to compose, with a focus on writing with sound. The way it works is that my students will be creating small Sound Stories (about a paragraph or so) in which they will record their voices, weaving in sound effects from a library of audio I provide them and layering looped music underneath it all. It’s composition, in the fuller sense of the word.

Sort of like an audio stew.

This is one I did a few years ago that I share with them as an example. They all get a kick out the ending:

The other day, I showed them how to use Garageband, and for nearly all of my students, this was their first taste of this powerful music-making, sound-mixing software application on the computer. A few have used the Garageband mobile app (which remains one of the more powerful music-making apps available for Apple devices – sorry, Android. Nothing you have comes even close.)

Snow days and ice delays have put a dent in my plans for making the Sound Stories, so we will start again on the Sound Story activity when we get back from Thanksgiving break.

But here’s what I notice with Garageband — there is a real excitement about making songs and creating music when you have access to interesting sound loops, and the most creative students are sometimes the ones you expect least. I don’t mean that as a disparaging comment … I mean, in the writing classroom, you don’t often see the music engineer ready to bloom, or not unless you give them the seeds and soil to bloom in. Software like Garageband, or sites like Soundtrap, can do that.

Now, my students are coming into class, earbuds in hands, asking if today is a Garageband Day in writing class. Today, in fact, will be one of those days, once we get some other writing done (we’re also working on converting a scene from their independent reading books into a play/movie script … that’s another write-up for another day).

Time to make some music.

Peace (sounds fine),
Kevin

Making Puppets: Complete Creative Chaos

Puppet craftsWe make stick puppets for our school’s annual craft fair. I know I probably should be doing beautiful ornaments, or maybe holiday trinkets, or perhaps some kind of interesting project with a Maker Space mentality, like LED bracelets with binary code names or whatever.

But I still prefer the madness of hands-on puppet making with sticks, paper, glue and assorted stuff. I live with the chaos of feathers floating in my room for a week afterwards, and I tamp down the worries of hot glue guns in the hands and fingers of 11-year-olds, and I scramble to see if I have enough pink paper (who knew pigs were popular this year?) and more material that they suddenly need.

It’s complete creative chaos during our puppet making sessions. I just go with the flow, knowing they might not get another real chance to make puppets in their lives. The laughter and movement and helping each other (“I need a white pom pom. Anyone have a white pom pom?” “I have a white pom pom. Here you go!”) is worth the mess we make of the room.

Peace (on a stick),
Kevin

Helping Students Navigate Online Bullying

 

We’re nearing the end of our Digital Life unit and yesterday’s topic was about the negative aspects of digital spaces — of how online spaces and apps can become a place of mean behavior and bullying, and how one can navigate through if it happens.

The presentation here is part of our discussions, with an emphasis on ways to handle bullying if it happens in digital spaces and making sure students hear the overarching message that we teachers care about all of our students, in and out of school, and that we are “trusted adults” they can turn to for help. Also, I emphasized the overall concept that different is good, cliques can sometimes be bad, and we all have an obligation to look out for each other.

Don’t adults bully other adults, too? — a student asking a question during our work on bullying.

It occurred to me later that I never really dove into Twitter Trolls and Facebook bots and other tools that adults misuse online spaces to attack others for reasons of political views, religious ideology, gender and other reasons. I may need to rethink and revamp this again for next year.

This song doesn’t run in the Prezi anymore but it is a powerful message that my students all appreciated.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Kindness Matters: Posters of Peace

Peace Posters 2018 Kindness Matters

Walking through the hallways of our school is an experience in artistic expression. The flat walls have become pop-up galleries of sixth grade artists, whose work on the theme of “Kindness Matters” for this year’s Peace Poster challenge is a beautiful reminder of what is in all of our hearts. Using only image and design, and no words, the young artists have to express kindness in the world through visuals. Viewing the art is a chance to breathe, to remember that beyond headlines of the madness and the violence of the world, so many of us only want peace. The art of children, the hearts of these students, show us a way forward.

This is a project of our wonderful art teacher, Leslie Marra, and is part of a Lion’s Club initiative. I work with students to create artistic statements, reflection points from the artists.

Peace (everywhere),
Kevin

The Cultural Currency of Fortnite’s Dance Move Emotes

I’ve written a bit in the past about noticing my sixth grade students breaking into dance moves from the video game phenomenon, Fortnite. It will happen when we have a few moments of down time — usually, at the end of the day, waiting for the buses to arrive. Suddenly, the back of the room will come alive with a bunch of boys (usually it’s boys) doing the Floss or something else. This never happened in the time ‘Before Fortnite.’

These dances are known as “emotes” (that link will give you full details about each move, and its visual messaging to other players, and it is fascinating to explore). If you didn’t know about emotes, they are used in the game to express a player’s emotion, usually in victory over someone else. Also, players can pay money for more emotes beyond the handful of free ones. So, you know, no surprise, but there’s a profit margin here.

Anyway, last night, my wife and I were at a Bar Mitvah celebration for the sons of some close friends, and the DJ had all the kids on the dance floor for extended periods of time, and the large crowd of kids (again, mostly boys but some girls) were doing a variety of intricate dance moves learned in Fortnite.

It seemed like every kid knew every dance move.

They were even teaching the DJ some new ones, which shows how quickly things change. Later, as we adults all took the floor to dance, too, the DJ added a few Fortnite references to the shout-outs for us, although he was careful to mix them in slowly and not choose the more bizarre ones (we did not all Floss at the same time, although that would have been rather amusing).

It’s a testament to the current power of the video game to influence pop culture and an intriguing way to use dance as cultural currency outside of the game itself. Perhaps I only see a narrow view of the world (my classroom and other related spaces with my teenage son), but I’ve never seen more boys interested in dance moves than now, with the Fortnite influence in full effect.

There are other more concerning considerations, too, such as the message it sends of dancing in victory over another defeated player, as an indication of professional sports impacting game design; the influence of any video game on emerging youth culture (nothing new); and the public complaints of artists about Fortnite not crediting and paying for their original dance moves used in the game itself. (Is there a Creative Commons for dance moves?)

Emotes are another under-the-radar element of youth culture worth noticing, at least. Something new is coming. It always is.

Peace (moving it forward),
Kevin

Even More Maps of the Internet (student view)

More Internet Maps

I continue to be intrigued by how my sixth grade students “Map the Internet” by artistically representing themselves to technology. This is a riff off Kevin Kelly’s The Internet Mapping Project. Two more classes did this activity this week.

These are some I shared last week:

Internet Mapping Project 2018

Peace (in nodes),
Kevin

Picture Book Review: The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story)

I am at in the middle in our Digital Life unit with my sixth graders, and the one component that I am adding to and beefing up in the last few years is a “critical digital media” component, with a focus on the veracity of news. I’ve been searching for a good book that might introduce the topic in an interesting way, and came across the perfect picture book and tale: The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story) by Darcy Pattison and Peter Willis.

This true story of fake news takes place not too too far from where I teach (Nantucket is a few hours east and then a ferry ride) but I know plenty of kids know where Nantucket is and some have even visited or vacationed there (my wife and I had our honeymoon there).

The book centers on 1937, when an elaborate spoof of the public — the newspapers, some department stores and a few locals were all in kahoots on it — unfolded in the newspapers, first locally and then nationally. It had to do with the sighting of a monster in the fishing waters of Nantucket, and the curiosity and fears that came from it. The newspapers printed “authentic” accounts of sea monster sightings and spun the story from different angles.

Finally, the collaborators let the public in on their joke — an elaborate stunt by a local balloon maker getting ready for Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade. The monster was inflatable.

The picture book story is helpful for framing a discussion about Fake News because it points to gullibility of readers, responsibilities of the media outlets, and the way businesses use these elements to market products or information. I’ll also reference the use of radio in the War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938 (a year after the Nantucket incident).

Cut to modern day and the political use of news items and news outlets as rhetorical arms. Our work in the classroom is to make visible as much of the fake news phenomenon as possible and give them strategies for considering source and material for what we call “news” these days.

All in all, I recommend The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story)While its reading audience might be younger than my sixth graders, I am always bringing different picture books to the classroom, and this one is a gem.

Peace (real, not fake),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Young Users in an Ad-Driven, Privacy-Invading Digital World

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I was nearing the end of a class-long lesson on issues of privacy with digital apps and websites — which included instructions on how to ensure greater privacy controls for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and more — when a sixth grader raised her hand.

“Now I’m scared.”

She said it with a laugh but I knew she was worried, if not scared.

It’s a reaction I try to avoid, framing much of our discussion in our Digital Life unit around the positive elements of what social media can do — around connections, around sharing, around empathy and understanding, around learning. But I know all of our talk of data mining by companies like Google, web browser cookies, and targeted advertising with technology will rattle a few of my students, particularly if they have never considered the issues before.

“You don’t need to be scared,” I assured her, and the others. “You need to be wary. You need to understand that you have some control over what you share. Who you share with. Why you share. Be wary but be empowered.”

They laughed again when I noted there is a sure-fire way to avoid all of the privacy issues of the Digital Age: completely unplug and don’t use technology. The looks of disbelief on their faces told me the reality (which I already knew).

Privacy Slideshow Apps and Internet(View the presentation)

I suspect some of these insights on privacy and agency will sink in now, and some will sink in over time. I hope some rushed home to check their privacy settings (that’s what I encouraged). I hope others installed ad blocking extensions (another action I suggested). I hope some had conversations with parents and family about the issues. I hope some of them, some day, will be the ones pushing back against the large companies.

We teach with hope that change can come.

Peace (discovering it),
Kevin