Summer Games Institute
The 2014 Summer Games Institute was a four-week event that involved members of the G-FMS team working with a number of students from the Health, Education, and Research Occupations (H.E.R.O.) High School; many of which, were preparing for their regents exams. The goal was not only to teach students how games could be educational, but also how to create games of their own, whether to use as a study aide or just for fun. Two cohorts of students worked with the institute for two weeks each to understand the makings of a game and to develop first iterations of their own games. In the end, the students were successfully able to create games that helped teach or reiterate topics that were relevant to their upcoming regents.
The first step was for us to engage with the students and capture their interest. What better way to do that than to talk about games. While, initially, the students seemed to not play games at all, it was really amusing to find that most of the group were really into either sports games or Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series.
Exploring Game Systems
Game play provided a platform for exploring the elements of play as well as mechanics and asset development. This allowed students to quickly identify the task at hand (i.e.: the game) and devise solutions (i.e.: how to win) by either working collaboratively or independently to achieve their goals.
The Broken Game Project
Students were initiated to game design by being introduced to a “broken” game, Enviro, giving students the opportunity to identify major issues in the gameplay and the overall “spirit of the game.” From there, they were challenged to solve the issues they had found by coming up with solutions of their own. One student described this experience as a “metacognitive thinking exercise” because their solution involved more than answering, “What would make this game fun?” Students began to think about thinking, more specifically, they began to think about what other students would think or how they would react to certain elements added or taken away from the game.
Mystery Box Challenge
Once students were able to add elements to a game that not only made it work, but made it more enjoyable, the project directors challenged the students to design a game of their own… with a twist. The mystery box challenge provided students with random assets that had to be incorporated into an original game focusing on specific topics from their regents exam preparations. All assets had to be used, no exceptions! This limitation, while at first greeted with exasperation form the students, actually produced very strong work.
Building Original Learning Games
After meeting the challenges again and again students were prepared to create games of their own from the ground up. With the previous lessons in mind, students focused on developing engaging play, defining assets and their use, and tackling a relevant regents topic. The projects focused on a wide range of topics from reproductive health, to the cardiovascular system. The students met the challenge quite impressively, and had a blast. They were now Game Designers.
Want to take a look at the students’ work?
This summer was a whole new experience for me.
Going into this project, I had my doubts. I don’t consider myself a teacher in any way and even thinking about working with kids, high school kids, made me apprehensive. I thought a lot about it and with the affirmation of my peers, I accepted the challenge.
For the first week, I found difficulty seeing all these new faces and trying to memorize their names but as time went by, I started to get the hang of it. Talking to the kids and finding a common ground where we can talk, relate and earn each others’ respect was my goal and in the end, I feel I did a pretty good job. In the end of the first 2 weeks, I felt so proud when the groups presented the games they had created.
By the third week, I felt I was ready to go through the same process again. The only difference was that we were dealing with a whole new set of kids, new names, new faces and different personalities. In my opinion, this group was a bit more challenging because of the expectation I set based on the first two weeks.
Overall, it was an interesting way to pass my summer and it was a positive way as well. I feel really good about what we did here in the Summer Institute and feel that we made a difference somehow someway in the lives of the H.E.R.O High School students.
How did the experience of the summer institute differ from your expectations?
It is hard to say what my expectations of the summer really were. I knew what we were doing, but I was not clear on how it would differ from teaching the college students during the regular semester. I think that the greatest difference would be remembering the effort it takes to draw high school students out of their shells. Also, I was reminded of how important the social dynamics can be to learning.
What did you learn about yourself during this experience?
I learned that people never change. I am still the group member that wants to lead. It was important that I strategized ways of helping students to achieve their goals without doing the work for them. Sometimes this can be a struggle in a group of students who are not motivated to do work. I am still the group member who will complete the project alone! Again, some things never change.
How would you describe your experience with being a *high school* teacher?
What a hard job! I don’t think I could do it. I have a new respect for high school teachers as they have a great many obstacles that college professors don’t face. Whew. Exhausting!
Has teaching games about math and science changed your own opinions on the topic?
I don’t know that it has changed my opinion as much as solidified the foundation of my beliefs. There is huge potential in game design for teaching math and science. The students really took ownership of math and science topics for their game. Students were excited to research and think about how they could relate to their games. We are on to something and just need to keep exploring how to best implement in the classroom!
How will you remember this experience?
Exhausting. Rewarding. Exciting. Crafty. Crazy. Worthwhile. Transformative.