Monday, December 7, 2015

Teaching Game Design

This is my first year teaching a game design course and I wasn't sure what to expect.  I have never taught a course that didn't have a state exam attached to the end of it.  This class is a breath of fresh air and we can go in the curriculum where the wind takes us.  This is also wonderful because this course is not a prerequisite to any other classes.

But this class is not all fun and game (pun intended).  The students are required to write rule documents for some of the games they design.  Have you ever tried to write a rules document?  It's not an easy task as many games are not linear, but rule documents are.

Hidden Agendas:

Every few weeks I require the students to play new games and write a review for each one.  I do this for four reasons.  One, the students are required to actually read the rules document in order to play the games.  Two, the students are learning new mechanics by playing different games.  Three, when the students are writing their reviews they need to think about their thinking.  Four, they're actually bonding with each other during game play.

F is for Friends who do things together:

The first few weeks of class were a little awkward.  The students didn't know each other, there was a broad spectrum of grade levels, and two of the students dropped the class because they didn't know anyone else.  I wish they would have stuck it out, because after a few weeks of game play something I never expected started to happen: All the students started to become friends, like good friends.  I noticed how close they were by their smack talk (the friendly smack talk).

Better than conversations:

The other day, many of my students were missing from one of my Algebra classes for various reasons (keystone testing, blood drive, absences, and a field trip) so I declared it a game day.  Have you ever played the game Spot It!?  Here is a link to that game.  Here is a link to a video about the game.  In short you need to find a match then say it before anyone else does.  I have this one student who rarely speaks and has a processing issue, he wanted to play.  I was a little concerned that he might become frustrated with the game, but decided to see what happened.  The first few rounds he just seemed to watch, maybe getting 1 or 2 matches (pity matches given by the other players).  But then he got the hang of it.  He even beat me a few rounds.  This is my 3rd year teaching this student and I heard him talk more during this game, than I have all the time I have known him.  That's crazy, right?

Games and game design are a gateway to so many wonderful things.  I'm watching friendships bloom, students talk, bonds forming, reading skills increase, and writing skills develop.

My favorite game design assignments so far:

For one assignment I randomly placed the students into groups of 3 and gave them a bag with random game pieces in it.  They had one week to make a game.

For another assignment I gave these instructions, "Create a tabletop game that you would want to play."  This was probably the most productive assignment and you could tell by the effort that the students put forth in designing their games.

1 comment:

  1. About having no test, I'm reminded of the opening to John Green's crash course world history series. Take a look here if you don't know what I mean: On the test.

    I would love to see anything and everything that you are willing to post about this class. What reference materials and curriculum are you using? I'm guessing that there is a lot of customization based on the kids' interests and events that come up in the class.

    I was recently planning to play our math games class through a bunch of games in the tic-tac-toe family, partly as an illustration of different ways to vary and extend a base game (even one that is simple and seems so dead-end). My co-teacher advised me that this would be too complex (we're only teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders) so will probably introduce different variants over time as warm-ups or sweeteners. Once they are really familiar with the games, we can gradually ask them increasingly sophisticated questions about structure.

    For reference, my version highlights are:
    0) standard version (to make sure we've all got common reference)
    1) misere version
    2) traffic lights (or smiley faces, as we play it with pencil & paper) (which I got from NRICH)
    3) 3 board misere (nicely discussed by Numberphile)
    4) boards within boards (described here Ultimate T-T-T )