Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gaming – playing and creating using 2DIY

Our kids are learning content increasingly through online computer games. It’s a fun way to learn with an added bonus of some of the better designed ones requiring problem solving and critical thinking skills. So its great when game making can be introduced as a skill – a problem solving and thinking task as a natural extension to playing games in the younger grades.
Firstly I like to start with a bit of a brainstorm – what makes a good game. Is it the content, the characters, the design, the challenge? We have a bit of a discussion which can get quite animated with many students very knowledgeable about the games they play.
Its time to then direct our attention to educational games, the point of them and how best to construct a situation where the game player can have fun and learn at the same time.
Queue 2DIY, part of the 2simple suite of software. It’s possible that they have played a 2DIY game in an earlier grade. Its something I sometimes prepare as a pre-test or a learning task – they are familiar with some of the formats too – the snake or maze game, multiple choice quizzes, cloze exercises, labelling diagrams etc.
Some ‘Sandbox’ time is then scheduled in a computer session where students investigate the videos and play the example games. The point is for them to identify the best games for learning. The session wraps up with a discussion focussed on their top suggestions for an educational game.
The understanding of the mechanics of some of the games now out of the way, the students turn their attention to writing a game proposal. Some criteria needs to be considered, the purpose of the game, the player age range, the type of game, the content of the game. At the bottom of the proposal page it is important for students to gather information that might be useful when they are making their game. I require students to find at least 10 pieces of information so they can kick-start the content and inform the background to their game.
I give feedback to each student on their proposal and then its time to start designing the games. The range and depth of creativity is obvious. Our topic this time is finite resources of the world with a particular focus on rainforests.
Some of the games created by students include:
* A snake game where the snake collects endangered trees.
* A catching game where points are scored for catching renewable resources and points deducted for catching finite resources
* A matching card game identifying endangered trees of the rainforest
* Lots of different labelling games including maps that identify the rainforest of the world
Time is also spent making sure the instructions for the game are clear and concise and timings, sounds and images are all appropriate to the design of the game.
Once the games are made its time to test them. Each student game maker then becomes the game reviewer, testing one game designed by a classmate. A rubric looks at the design, the content, the creativity and the appropriate age level.
Our students always cast a critical eye on their classmates work and come up with some great comments for each other. All the games are then put on our school portal and all our school community can have a go.
This task is filled with 21st century learning skills: creativity, communication and critical thinking as well as problem solving are successfully combined with real learning for a real (game playing) audience – they really understand their topics and can explain the purpose. The students are understandably proud of their creations and cant wait to play each other’s games.
This task was created for Year 4 students as part of their work in the PYP unit of inquiry 'Sharing the Planet'. Other game creation methods are investigated in other years including Scratch and we are soon introducing a similar free tool Stencyl.

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