ALL PLAY AND NO WORK
2/5/2013 By: By Laura Minnigerode
According to conservative estimates, kids will play more than 10,000 hours of games by the
time they graduate from high school. This has inspired a growing movement in schools to use
games, also known as “participatory media,” as motivational teaching tools.
GAMES WITH PURPOSE
In a student-centered game design program at East Austin College Prep in Texas, middle
school learners begin their game-making process by choosing a social issue about which they
are passionate. This will become the subject of a semester-long research project and culminate
in an educational Web game to be shared with the world. All middle school students at the
school take a game design class called “Globaloria,” which combines a social media platform and
curriculum used by schools in several states. This
is made possible through funding from AMD
Foundation’s Changing the Game program.
Students express their passion and ideas
through their game content and game play.
Aaron, a 7th-grade student, chose to make
a game about teen drug abuse, entitled
“Addiction.” He describes his process: “I
researched one of the most popular drugs that
teens use and looked at what different drugs
do to the body. Then I made obstacles in the
game for characters to get away from drugs.”
Instead of focusing on facts, Aaron’s game is a
Mario Brothers-like experience where players
move through different levels, making life
choices along the way.
Students find ways to express their ideas in code and they also develop vital 21st-century
skills. Learning to code—whether the tool is Scratch, Flash, Game Maker, or any other tool—is an
essential part of the game-making equation. Teachers do not need to be computer programmers
to guide kids in learning how to code. When teachers learn alongside their students, this creates
a very supportive model. Teresa Valdez teaches 7th- and 8th-grade game designers. She says: “It
helps to not be an expert because you can share your steps to figuring out [the process] in real
time. In programming, there is not always one way to solve the problem, so I try to give kids a
mental check list they can go through that will lead them to a solution.”
TECH SUPPORT FOR PARTICIPATORY MEDIA
Using a wiki collaboration space, game-designing students develop collaboration skills beyond
typical group work. By using a wiki, Eighth-grade teacher Nyssa Arcos’ students in Texas learn to
collaborate not only across classes and geography, but also by serving as mentors to a younger
group of game designers in northern California. Her students guide their mentees by posting
comments on their project pages and occasionally sending messages to check in.
Laura Minnigerode is an educator and education policy researcher based in Austin, TX.