Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Student-Designed BreakoutEDU game, Day 2

First, thank you all for the positive feedback you've given me on the BreakoutEDU Facebook page and during the latest #BreakoutEDU Twitter chat. It's been a busy week already and it's only Wednesday. I'm very excited to continue sharing about having students design a BreakoutEDU game. This post details what my students did on Day 2 of the design process and what my role was throughout.

Class Tasks & Group Tasks

To start Day 2 of the design process, I came up with 2 tasks that we would do as a class and 2 that the students would do in their groups. As a class, our tasks were to develop a title for our game and to make a draft of the backstory for the game. In their groups, students needed to fill out their puzzle planning sheet and be ready to inform me what resources they would need to be typed, printed, cut up, etc.

Developing the game's title and backstory was a lot of fun. I showed students the stories for Time Warp, Dr. Johnson's Lab, and a few other games on the main BreakoutEDU site to inspire them. I then asked them to think about things their peers would be motivated to find based on Romeo & Juliet. Because I don't know if any of my students will come across this blog before the games are done, I'm choosing to withhold what each class came up with. I'll post those details after each team has played the other team's game.

What I will tell you, though, is that going through the title and backstory process taught me A LOT about my two classes.

Turning the Tables

The two classes that are designing games could not be more different. One class is full of athletic, competitive, rowdy teens and the other class has a lot of creative, artsy, introverted teens. One class has given me so much to work on in regards to classroom management while the other class has been easy to engage all year. But designing a BreakoutEDU game has shown me that the athletic, competitive, and rowdy teens have desperately needed to do a process like this for the entire year. As my wife pointed out when I told her about design day 2, the class that I thought needed to be spoon-fed just needed to be let loose. I'm shocked at how my rowdy, athletic, and competitive class fully engaged with the process right from the start while my creative, artsy, introverted class is struggling with the freedom that comes with a project-based learning experience. The tables have been turned and I'm experiencing the shock of role-reversal.

Developing the Clues

Design day 2 included having students designing their puzzles using a Puzzle Planning Sheet. I asked each group to briefly describe their puzzle, give the name of the lock, record the combination of the lock, write an explanation of how to solve their puzzle, and provide a list of any materials they needed for their puzzle. This has been met with mixed success. Some of the groups have developed some really strong clues based on Romeo & Juliet while others are really struggling to get creative.  One of the challenges that I did not expect was the mindset around locks with combinations, which can be exemplified with one simple question I heard over and over:

"What's the combination?"

Hearing this question more than half a dozen times made me realize that my students had yet to encounter a lock that could be reset. They kept asking me for the combination and I would look at them, completely puzzled by their question. I would respond, "you tell me!" and they would often roll their eyes and repeat their question. I finally told one group, "when I say 'you tell me', I mean that you get to choose the combination," their eyes got really wide and I could almost see little lightbulbs popping up above their heads before they responded, "oh, you mean you can reset this lock!? That's awesome!"

Getting over this hurdle helped some of the groups continue to develop their clues. I really had to coach them along though, and help keep them focused on the story they developed to make sure their puzzles fit within the overall theme. I also gave many examples of pre-existing puzzles that matched whichever lock they were working with. Luckily, my students do a pretty good job being inspired by what is already out there without being too tempted to make a verbatim copy.

The last challenge in designing the puzzles was dealing with the idea that we have an audience. Ensuring my students have an authentic audience is an area of professional development that I really want to explore in the years to come. Design day 2 taught me a lot about the benefits of having that audience as well as a few challenges.

Benefits to having an authentic audience:

  • Students are motivated to make the best possible version of their work
  • Students begin thinking about what other people would think of them based on their work.
  • The idea that you'll let someone down if you don't finish your work.
Challenges to having an authentic audience:
  • Remembering that our game needs to be flexible enough to allow anyone to be able to play it.
  • Having students making new iterations of their puzzles takes a lot of time.
In the end, the students and I did a lot of learning in design day two. I'm looking forward to day 3, where I'll hopefully end up with final drafts of their puzzles so I can start filling out the game design template and get the game ready to submit. I'm also excited for each group to play the games next week. 

Takeaways from Day 2

My main takeaways from Day 2 are mostly just questions:
  • How do we prepare students for project-based learning activities if they've never done one before?
  • How can we break the cycle of spoon-feeding by introducing more freedom of choice in the classroom?
  • What can I do in my classroom to expand students' imagination of what is possible through technology when doing a creative project?
Other than those questions, I've learned that doing a project-based learning unit will teach you a lot about your students. I regret not trying something like this sooner with the class that has taken so well to it and I regret not trying it sooner with the class that is struggling through it. The class that's excelling needs this more often so that they can stay engaged in class while the class that's struggling needs it because it's developing their "soft" skills and teaching them a lot about how to let themselves be creative with other people.

I hope this post and my last one (Design Day 1) have been of some assistance. Again, my goal is just to document the process I'm going through so that others may feel a little more comfortable trying to have students design a game. Please let me know in the comments if this has been helpful or if there are other things you'd like to see in these posts. 

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