G-FMS Curriculum Development Journal – July 1, 2013

July 1, 2013
After over six months of preliminary meetings with faculty members involved in the Game-Framed Math & Science (G-FMS) project, with assorted research projects examining existing play-based education methodologies under our belts, and having held a litany of development meetings regarding everything from pedagogical approaches and forms of assessment to the development and implementation of our new game lab, we are finally moving forward. The facilities director has a team of carpenters ripping out walls and laying power and data lines into the new lab, as just down the hall we gather together our colleagues and a group of student designers collectively known as “The Hive Cooperative.” The mission is curriculum development, and we gather to begin seriously deconstructing the focus classes in order to identify key student learning outcomes (SLOs), primary student issues in comprehending these points, and a means of beginning to identify and/or develop appropriate forms of play in order to “gamify” the lesson plans.

From the beginning our concept has involved creating a three-staged pedagogy for introducing students to essential concepts in math and science. As we imagine it, the first stage will involve assigning students the task of playing and mastering simple analog games which have covert or obvious relationships to key course material, the second stage will entail traditional classroom lectures focusing student attention on principles by relating them to the first stage’s game play. These first two stages will be repeated throughout a course module or “level” until a wrap-up third stage takes place. This will involve students developing concepts for original games that teach others the principles they have learned in the level. This “boss challenge” will often take the place of more traditional quizzes or exams, but be vetted through playtesting, focused design statements, and faculty critique.

We began the day by meeting with the Hive Cooperative in order to engage them in a series of thought exercises involving educating through game play. The students assembled were Chris Aiken, Kidany Cabrera, Amara Dioubate, Elijah Richmond, and Waleska Martinez. Two other members of the collective, Rocio Rayo and Dylan Shad, were unable to attend the initial meeting but are scheduled to be involved later in the summer. The Cooperative was formed in the summer of 2012 while assisting Professor Shad in editing and playtesting a textbook for introductory Game Design. The textbook, entitled Einstein & the Honeybee, established the group as strong collaborators who have continued to work together on several game-centric projects over the past year.

The morning of July 1st was spent with myself, Professor Rees Shad, having the Hive review several of the learning outcomes from introductory math classes at Hostos. Armed with these concepts, they examined several puzzle games from the July issue of Games magazine which involved coins, and that appeared to be constructed on mathematical principles. After analyzing five or six of the games, the group established that these puzzles did not, in fact, have strong relationship to the material, but while working with one puzzle involving the reorganization of a line of dimes I was reminded of the physical attributes of the integer number line.

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The coin puzzles from Games Magazine we looked at to get the conversation flowing

The coin puzzles from Games Magazine we looked at to get the conversation flowing

I then taught the group a game I learned from one of my friends from the Phillipines called 357 – it involves piles of small objects (one pile of 3, the next of 5, the last of 7) with two players alternating in turns where they take one or more objects from on eof the piles. Moves must happen in quick succession, and any object touched must be picked up. The player left to remove the last object loses the game. The team broke off into groups and became very animated while playing the game. The game’s simplicity and use of found objects was appealing to us all. We recognized the awareness of odd/even break down was a take away from the game, but this did not correspond with any SLOs that we had been discussing. I focused on the simplicity of design and play, and suggested that we take a break.

“Let’s break for lunch, but as you are out knoshing, I want you brainstorm a game based on the number line – perhaps with one player having stones on the negative side and another having stones on the positive side. Keep it simple, and keep it minimal. How would the two interact? How could you engage them in conflict and competition?”

The Hive returned from lunch with a clearly developed first iteration and set about playtesting and analyzing the concept over the next few hours so that when the faculty assembled we were able to sit down and discuss the design with them. Professor Jacqueline Disanto from Hostos’ Department of Early Education was the first to arrive and start in with feedback. Over the course of the afternoon iterations had fluctuated between a design involving only color representation of positive (blue) and negative (red) space on the line, and additional positive and negative numerals attached to their associated spaces on the board. Jacqueline suggested that they include the numerals to more obviously connect the lesson with the game. In addition the team had developed a game, which involved 21 positions (10 in either direction from the zero point), and a victory condition involving one player’s pieces occupying the other player’s area. Movement was divined by adding together the roll of two opposing six-sided die (blue for positive and red for negative). The outcome involved moves of five positions or less, and resulted in a very long play test without resolution. Player’s piece’s simply gravitated to the farthest reaches of the board.

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First Iteration of the Number Line Game

First Iteration of the Number Line Game

Upon discussion with professors Disanto and Shad, the board design was shortened to eleven positions and the game changed to involve a more checkers-like victory condition with players “taking” each other’s pieces when they were landed on for a ‘last man standing’ summation.

When Professor William ‘Bill’ Baker from the math department sat down with the group he was quite impressed with the game, but worried that it did not fully explore the number line since there was only a positive and negative integer combination used in determining movement.

“Students need to understand negative and negative relationships as well as positive and positive. Can you have more dice?”

The team brainstormed this point for a while before coming up with the concept of a spinner, which Chris Aiken notably pointed out can select two opposing sides at the same time. So a spinner could select a variety of combinations. Professor Baker also suggested that players could more aptly strategize if wild card variations could be introduced.

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First Gathering of Game Design Curriculum Team

First Gathering of Game Design Curriculum Team

By the end of the afternoon we had a working prototype of a number line game that Professor Baker saw as incredibly promising. Apparently mastery of the number line, while integral to subsequent principles in mathematics, is a major point of weakness for students. “They can handle it in the classroom as a group, but when flying solo in a quiz or exam, they completely drop the ball.”

Alternative rule sets were discussed to help propel the students into higher levels of proficiency (such as Cartesian graphing with an x and y line added to the number line), and these thoughts were noted down in order to be addressed at the end of the month when final iterations of the game could be built, and their design and construction documented for future G-FMS students, teaching aids and professors.

The day wrapped up with an assignment for the now obviously excited faculty members. We will begin the July 8th meeting with a discussion of proposed level sections for each class, and target SLOs on which to work. The Hive will divide into teams to help brainstorm methods of addressing these points through play with professors Baker (mathematics), Francisco Fernandez and Nelson Nuñez-Rodriguez (natural sciences). Professor Disanto’s role here is to introduce her expertise into the conversations and critique designs to help them be more successful.

During the afternoon points were raised about fractions and scientific notation needing to be addressed in future projects. The Hive determined that in the week prior to our next meeting they would brainstorm game design concepts dealing with fractions. Hopefully the morning of the 8th will find the group developing yet another interesting game concept.

All of the day’s proceedings were documented via audio and video as well as with still images by our college computer specialist (CCS) Brian Gonzalez and various members of the Hive.
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