Playing for Real!
by Ronnie Scullion
At Artech Academy we are often asked: How do you teach subjects like animation and video game design to children in the early grades? Do they really learn to make their own games, their own animations? What is Next Generation Learning Systems?
Children are capable of so much! Sometimes it is hard for adults to understand how children can learn skills and apply concepts that they as adults cannot. I, for instance, struggle to learn musical instruments and sing on key. Yet many children have gained proficiency with instruments at a young age or can sing beautifully and in tune!
At Artech our teaching philosophy is rooted in the belief that by tapping into a child’s creativity – anything that can be imagined can be achieved!
Many of today’s young children are surrounded by digital gadgets and technology from the time they enter this world. In fact, I would contend that a significant number are exposed prenatally to medical technologies, video games and the many “noises and sounds” of our digital environment.
“…a significant number [of children] are exposed prenatally to … video games and the many “noises and sounds” of our digital environment.”
We know that the fetus can hear and is receptive to mother’s emotions. The growing fetus of a pregnant gamer would hear the many beeps and tunes and learn to associate these with the different physical and audio responses of the mom-to-be, e.g. the sigh of defeat or the heightened adrenalin rush of success!
How we communicate with young people is changing. How we “teach” young people must also evolve and change if we are to continue to communicate with them
Artech’s Next Generation Learning Systems™ is an approach and strategy to teaching video game design (and other “creative technologies”) to young children.
It encompasses three driving principles:
- Teaching is about communicating. We communicate with the whole child, acknowledging their many and varied strengths.
- We listen and learn from the child and with the child. We strive to understand their world and language.
- Rather than map out the way, we open doors. We encourage exploration. We encourage taking risks!
In this article I will go over:
- The benefits of teaching game design to students
- New approaches of teaching game design
- The directions we are moving in – Playing for Real!
What are the benefits of teaching video game design to students in the early grade?
In recent years there have been new educational initiatives that incorporate games-based learning in the classroom.
” Video games come with a clear set of motivation tools, such as scores, moving to higher levels and reaping various rewards when a player performs well.” – Marc Prensky, CEO of the firm Games2Train
Our findings suggest that students become even more engaged and more motivated when they become the “authors” of their own games.
More and more educators have recognized this:
- A growing number of junior/senior high schools have added Game Design as an elective subject or more often as part of a Computer Technology course.
- The 2010 national STEM Video Game design Challenge in the United States (inspired by barack Obama’s “Educate to Inovate Campaign” has been a great leap forward in validating:
- Video games as a form of entertainment and edutainment
- Game design careers as something creditable and respectable to aspire to
- The teaching of video game design in the classroom.
BUT the approach generally has been, as stated in item one, to offer Video Game Design as part of a Technology class or to older “high” school students.
Coupling video game design with technology classes reinforces the notion that it has a greater appeal to students who have an interest in subjects like Technology, Science and Mathematics.
The STEM Challenge, by its very name: Adventures in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics reinforces the notion that Video Game Design has a greater appeal to students who have an interest in subjects like Science & Engineering.
We have found that this is not the case! Video Game Design has a broad appeal and a much more diverse population of students can succeed at making their own games.
What if, we taught ALL students to create video games? And then gave them the option to complete school projects with essays, posters, PowerPoint presentations or video games? Video game design can become a means of expression, a way to communicate ideas.
Approaches to teaching video game design
We have found that students as young as five/six can successfully be taught how to create their own games.
Next Generation Learning Systems™
2. We listen and learn from the child and with the child. We strive to understand their world and language.
3. Rather than map out the way, we open doors. We encourage exploration. We encourage taking risks!
Just as 20th century artist, Joseph Beuys acknowledged creativity in everyday life and proclaimed the belief that “everyone [was] an artist”, we base our work on the premise that every child is a “game designer! ”
Video game design relies both on the ability to manipulate and use mathematical and logic based concepts and express oneself creatively through storytelling and/or drawing. Sometimes this is referred to as using both the left and right brain.
Traditional education has drawn a line separating the Mathematics & Sciences from Visual and Language Arts. Next Generation Learning Systems requires that this line be erased.
Next Generation Learning Systems™ draws from different pedagogical models/philosophies and current social movements:
- Art-based models such as those used in Waldorf Schools and the Shambhala School
- Language Immersion Courses
- Social movements like “Games for Change”
Our Next Generation Learning Systems™ is a multi-disciplinary approach to learning. Rather than confine Video Game Design to Technology Classes we see the possibilities for Video Game Design to be incorporated into a wide variety of school subjects.
With Next Generation Learning Systems™ creativity is as valuable an asset as logical and computational thinking. Essential to the success of incorporating Video Game Design in any classroom is encouraging students to create their own characters and backgrounds – to flex their imaginations.
Directions we are moving in – Playing for Real!
Can Video Games address social issues such as climate change, diversity or world peace? They have, they can and some do. These can be serious and often sensitive issues. Should we be playing around with how we approach them, how we discuss them? Are video game environments suitable venues for student discussion?
The answer is yes! We can and must look at new forms of expressions for open dialogue with the new generation of students.
What do we mean by REAL? When we talk about something that is real, this can mean different things:
“REAL” can at the most basic level translate to – The student is creating and designing a “real” or genuine game. This is an important aspect of what we teach.
Real can also refer to the present “REALITY” we live in. More and more schools are tackling sensitive issues in the classroom: diversity; bullying; etc. Games can be an excellent medium to illustrate these and other issues and to demonstrate the dynamics of conflict.
“RELAVANCE” signifies the importance of an issue. Our experience suggests that students become more motivated when they can express their OWN ideas on issues and concerns that are RELEVANT to them.
Video Games offer young people new platforms for role playing, interaction and discussion. The global reach of video and online gaming offer expansive opportunities for youth to connect with other youth across cultural, social and political boundaries.
Video Game Design in the classroom can take these important discussions one step further. Game Design can be a means of creative self-expression. Through the process of design students are determining the game play and taking responsibility for the outcomes. They are “Playing for Real!”