From the Principal's Office: Game Design as a Catalyst For Learning

From the Principal's Office: Game Design as a Catalyst For Learning

Over the course of this school year, I have been fortunate enough to share ideas on technology integration with Judy Wilson, my children’s principal at P.S. 3 in Staten Island, NY. Many of these conversations focused on my own son’s use of technology as a catalyst for creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking developed by playing Minecraft and using iMovie to storyboard and create his own movies. These conversations eventually led Judy to include Nicholas in a pilot program at the school where students would be creating virtual reality games after the regular school day. As someone who loves educational technology and knowing how much my son does as well, my wife and I figured this was an unbelievable opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.

My son and PS 3 student Nicholas playing a virtual reality game created by his peers.

After participating in the program for over three weeks, Judy invited us to see firsthand what the students had been doing. This was where I finally learned about VR Quest™ developed by Warren Black. Warren developed this program for middle and high school students, but Judy convinced him that elementary school students could do it. With the help of teachers who stepped out of the box to work with the kids – Justine Kostenbader (Technology) and Mr. James Laieta (Language Arts) – the after school program was born. The resulting pilot consisted of mostly fifth and fourth grade students as well as just two students in the second grade. I cannot begin to explain how excited I was when I found out that my son Nicholas was one of the two second grade students authentically engaged in the design of games to solve complex programs.

VR Quest™ is a fun and educational project-based learning (PBL) model that integrates fully immersive Virtual Reality technology. It enriches students’ lives by offering computer and real-life skill instruction delivered through comprehensive projects in the subject areas of science, history and social studies. Each VR Quest™ project has a specific content area as its "lead" theme. As the project unfolds, a myriad of other subject areas and disciplines are woven into the mix to create a rich and challenging cross-curricular experience. Check out what some schools in Hawaii are doing with VR Quest™.

VR Quest™ students work as a team to create a Virtual Reality multimedia environment. They develop a vested interest in their project by becoming an integral part of a production crew and participating in a challenge or theme, which relates to their own lives. Creating their virtual worlds helps students develop skills in game design, art, storytelling, 3-D animation, computer literacy, research, reading, problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. Upon completion of the project, students enter their virtual worlds via a head-mounted display and interact with their creations.

The two lead themes that students could choose from were ancient Egypt and Mars. Can you guess which theme most of them chose? The entire activity is connected to the Common Core and consists of seven specific steps:

  1. Define objective
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Research on Macs
  4. Storyboard by hand
  5. Build the interface
  6. Pilot test of game created
  7. Take completed project home to play

Below is a video highlighting the work done by these students.

It was so exciting to see what my son and his classmates had created. It was apparent from their presentations that the project focused on essential skills sets (communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, global awareness) and was thoroughly engaging. Just watching these young children line up to play each other’s games and explain what they had created at 7:00 PM was a testament to the effectiveness of this program. I commend both Judy Wilson and Warren Black for providing my son with this enrichment opportunity. Now I have to work on bringing this amazing program to the students of New Milford High School.

To learn more about VR Quest contact Warren Black at 631-365-2506 or

cross-posted on A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.