Learning about the game: designing science games for a generation of gamers

I’m excited to announce that a new essay I wrote, Learning about the game: designing science games for a generation of gamers, is up in Online First for the Journal Cultural Studies of Science Education. I wrote the essay as a response to the article,  Challenges and Opportunities: Using a science-based video game in secondary school settings. I’ve included the abstract at the bottom of this post, but I thought I would also include an excerpt that get’s at some of how my thinking about educational games has developed and changed through my work on several game projects.

Image from Glittarazzi.com

Here is a little teaser:

“This is what happens when we bring ‘‘video games’’ into the classroom: youth insist on playing them like video games. Those same video games they have at home, where players bulldoze right through our carefully crafted instructions, try to find cheats and work arounds, and wrack up points for bragging rights. As the authors articulated in their conclusion, since ‘‘most of the students were versed in some kind of game play and were
familiar with the mechanics of computers and computer games, they did not always
experience the game in the way it was intended, or necessarily follow the path the game
prescribed. What are educational game designers to do?”

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Why I love teaching but can’t go back

A few weeks ago I completed a week-long summer school class for rising 8th and 9th graders in video game design. I hadn’t taught that age group for nearly ten years but it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. I love working with that age group, but the ability to teach a course like game design this summer re-affirms the fact that I wouldn’t want to be a classroom teacher right now. Overly-rigorous standards mean I’d never be able to teach a course like this as part of the regular school year, which is too bad.  Talking about game design allowed the kids to really shine in ways that reflected true STEAM thinking. They conducted in-depth discussions with one and another about mechanics and genre. They provided insightful critique regarding the projects of their classmates. They de-bugged and trouble-shot problems for hours. They figured out how to innovate their ways around design problems. They also spent a lot of time playing games and having a blast while analyzing them. My teaching certification means that I’d be expected to make sure kids can correctly identify F=ma as Newton’s second law and getting into a conversation with parents every year regarding cosmology, the age of the Earth, and whether or not I’m telling their kids that they “came from monkeys”.

If we really wanted to provide developmentally appropriate content that engaged kids and allowed them to learn to be innovators and problem solvers, we’d open options like game design to all middle schoolers as full-year or semester-long courses. I’m not saying game design courses are a panacea, they aren’t. But they are pretty interesting and pretty relevant to a lot of kids and they provide the added bonus of providing opportunities to learn inter-disciplinary, real world skills.  Isn’t that what everyone claims they want for kids?

But that isn’t what policy makers and business leaders actually want. It’s so much easier to pay for more tests and fire more teachers and call that “reform”. Happy back to school.

Presentations for my game design class

I’ve been teaching a week-long course for middle school students from around Northern VA for part of the middle school tech institute that runs every summer at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. I’ve primarily been translating Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop book, which is one of the very best out there in terms of having ready-to-go content that is fun, fascinating, and understandable for a variety of ages and backgrounds. This is the first introductory presentation I created for the workshop, and I’ll continue to share the others throughout the course of this week.

Classroom constraints & the pass-back effect: Games designed to transcend generational divides

I am excited to be giving a talk today with Nina Walia as part of Games for Learning: Research and Design Innovation at NYU. It’s a quick talk, but I wanted to make sure those interested could take a look at our slides and dig into some of the links to games from our presentation.

Play the Games I Mentioned Right Now:

Operation Resilient Planet, Mentioned on Slide 4: It is a big, 6 hr game. We also allow teachers to pick small 20-25 min experiences from the game to use in classrooms.
Transform-It and Energy City: Mentioned on slide 5: Free browser based flash games that provide a range of different challenges. Both have something you can do in 20 minutes in a class but provide hours of play later at home.
Coaster Creator and Eco Defenders. Mentioned on Slide 6: Both of these games provide spaces for direct classroom objectives, but also provide deeper experiences for players to try to best their own scores.
Here is an example of how videos model practices for classroom teachers. Mentioned in Slide 10:

You can log into the Jason Mission Center to browse some of these supporting classroom materials. Mentioned in Slide 11.