Imagining the games-based classroom 5

If we can teach kids to make fun learning games (fun can indeed be measured, and learning can indeed be fun), then we’ll be helping them create experiential learning opportunities for others that have characteristics of narrative (plot, characterization) and informational texts (GUI, games manuals), as well as scripted expository texts that rely heavily on interdisciplinary connections (the arts-infused creation of graphic assets, the logic of programming, and the relationships of math, physics, and engineering to representing motion and interaction).

There are several ways to help uncover students’ talents at making games.

  1. First, we can let students play widely. Just as you get better at writing by reading, you get better at designing by playing.
  2. Second, we can provide students with an authentic outlet for their writing. Game design and programming require students to show depth in thinking not only about what they want to make, but also about how it will work. It takes iteration, feedback, and reflection to finish alpha, beta, and gold builds of games. It takes the writing process to make a game, and it takes the writing process further than a teacher-described genre or multiple choice question about what comes after prewriting.
  3. Third, we can remake our classrooms to feel more like information age workplaces. These workplaces clearly value their workers in ways that classrooms value neither students nor teachers. I’m imagining a place with a lot of natural light, mobile furniture, individual work stations, and a collaborative space filled with inspiration and materials for “reading” and prototyping. There would be several types of tools available for several types of tasks, including maintaining developers’ diaries. It would be okay to eat and drink there. It would be okay to communicate with the outside world there. It would be okay to bring friends and family there to play-test. A GBL space/lab/library space/school-within-a-school/charter would be a workshop that favored collaboration, communication, and spontaneous celebration of failure and success, rather than a classroom that favored competition, monologue, and looming consequence.

Here’s my take on a classroom for games-based learning (GBL). It would include

  • Light, color, art: everywhere.
  • Modular, mobile furniture.
  • Mutable zoning by project.
  • A commons area.
  • A common multi-monitor screen for streaming and presenting student work, class backchannels, and relevant class texts.
  • A dedicated play area.
  • Individual work stations.
  • A library of excellent texts, including books, films, and games.
  • A library of toys.
  • Mobile, kid-level planning surfaces.
  • Multiple copies of class development platforms, games with authoring tools, and software development kits.
  • Mobile communications tools available to every student or hardwired communications tools at every student work station.
  • Permissions policies allowing the teacher to manage student communications and publications with relevant experts and entities
  • Access to an outdoor campus for play, planning, and mobile computing.
  • Differentiated seating.
  • Refrigerators and pantries.
  • 2D & 3D materials for prototyping and making games and asset models. (Has no one done the custom vinyl figure novel character visualization yet?)
  • Architecture and wiring that created discrete sound zones.
  • Rotating roles so every kid produces at least 2 design documents, 2 levels authored in other games, and 2 alpha builds of project in something like Scratch.

Teachers across the world would pitch content needs. Students would pitch back concepts and make alpha builds for feedback from their teacher clients, student play-testers, and outside experts. Kids could change projects in a fluid manner to produce the best products possible. Kids from a poorly reviewed alpha could contribute to the beta build of a project favorited by more peers, clients, and experts, improving its quality and/or shortening its development time.

There would be embedded art, engineering, math, workplace readiness and roles, reading, and writing standards in an open-ended curriculum of iterative development in service to others’ learning needs and students’ communities.

Imagine an Urgent Evoke-like game for a kid’s town through a Gowalla-like AR interface.

Who wants to play? What are the bugs?

5 thoughts on “Imagining the games-based classroom

  1. Pingback: You Want Ideas? We Have Ideas! « Cooperative Catalyst

  2. Reply Akash Nov 23, 2010 10:17 am

    I think games are definitely the way to make learning fun. I myself am addicted to video games and there is definitely nothing I remember more than how to beat a certain game or how to be the best at a certain game. If there was a game that made me learn without knowing it, I would be impressed. The games that are out now get stuck into my head pretty easily. After playing it for a couple hours, I can pretty much tell another person a lot about the game topic without even thinking about it. I think games would be great for learning.

    • Reply Chad Nov 23, 2010 3:41 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Akash – I love games, as well. I’m very interested in games that are fun enough to make us want to master them while they present help us learn transferrable content and skills. I think we can do this lots of ways – we can design mods and levels using content from our lives and educations; we can enjoy games like “Do I Have A Right?” from icivcs.

      What sandbox games do you think would make for good learning tools in school?


  3. Reply April Niemela Dec 11, 2010 2:44 pm

    it was great meeting you at the tweet-up, nwp2010, chad :)

    i love these ideas and wish we could revolutionize education with them. i guess the thought that always gets stuck in my head is the whole: if it’s required, it’s no longer play. If we insist they game, it’s no longer fun.

    i’m not advocating for worksheets, the old way, etc…i’m just searching for a deep transformation vs window-dressing. i think your vision certainly challenges that old paradigm. do you think it would work for the students who don’t like “gaming”?

    • Reply Chad Dec 19, 2010 11:01 pm

      Great point, April -

      I try to keep things organic: I listen to what the kids want to do and then suggest some tools, including games, that they could use to record and express themselves and their learning. Sometimes students want to use Minecraft; sometimes they want to play-test something for; sometimes they want to stick with their audio/books. I’m trying to become a practitioner of Toolbelt Theory, which I learned from the inimitable Ira Socol. I think it’s useful to introduce new tools to students in a somewhat structured way so that the kids can see what’s available to them and start to figure out what helps them learn the best. I try to let go of the tools I introduce as quickly as students grab on to them.

      “How can the next chunk of learning be more game- or play-like?” is a question I frequently ask myself. I have a saying about class: it’s not the land of do as you please, but it is the land of learn as you please. I try to make sure that students can make enough meaningful choices about how to learn that they forgive me for the draconian preamble. I’m most interested in whatever works for the students – in whatever helps with flow. Much of our gaming comes out of one class, while more student collaboration around traditional and arts-infused work prevails in another.

      In my ideal portfolio school and/or system, there would be game-based classrooms available to all students who choose them, as well as lab, studio, and primarily textual classrooms for students who learn best therein.

      I’d love to talk more about transforming education – please stop by whenever a post strikes you and check out CoƶpCatalyst, also, where it’s all, “How do we achieve a deep transformation of school?”, all the time.

      Best regards,

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