Day in a Classroom: Making
Sarah Avery, Community Advocate, Educator
Back in January, with the semester drawing to a close, students were hard at work studying for finals, writing term papers, and finishing presentation projects. Never had I seen students more excited to be doing these things than in Chris Lucas’s classroom at West Allegheny High School. Mr. Lucas, a Zulama teacher, teaches Evolution of Games and Mobile Game Design to students from 9th to 12th grade. When I first entered the the classroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a substitute, I’m used to students being standoff-ish around new people. I wasn’t expecting students to welcome me into their space and be so excited that I experience the games they were building.
In my visit, students were playtesting traditional games (like Chess and Nine Man Morris) they had modified. Suddenly, pieces could move any number of spaces and a roll of the dice could determine just how lucky you really are. Everywhere I looked, students were collaborating, building, analyzing, and having fun.
An interesting game modification I found was in the game of Chess. The students decided that if a piece takes another piece, rather than just removing it from the board, you flip it over and that square becomes a blank space that no one can land on, so while you play, the board becomes more and more limited, raising the level of difficulty and strategy involved. Another modification that caused much excitement took place in Nine Man Morris. The students added a bit of chance to the game by offering the option to roll the dice in addition to traditional moves. However, whatever number you rolled, you must abide by the moves listed in the directions. For example, if you rolled a three, your opponent may take one of your pieces, but if you rolled a five, you revived one of your taken pieces. So, the students had to weigh the risks in addition to thinking strategically about their moves. This led to many loud outbursts of laughter as the hand of fate moved against the players.
In the later class of Mobile Game Design, the students were much less animated because they were focused on finishing their term individual game design projects. However, I did get to speak with them about their games. Many of them were working on debugging their programs. One student had trouble losing lives once his character died. Eventually, after discussing the issues with Mr. Lucas, the student decided to delete the character and rewrite the code. Though frustrated by his writing error, he admitted that he learned to be more observant and aware when programming. He noted that through his Zulama classes he has learned the skills perseverance, iteration, and resilience in order to solve issues. He has since then begun working with GameMaker, a more challenging game programming system.
Throughout my two hour visit I saw many things, but what everything boils down to is the essence of the Maker Movement. Techopedia.com defines the Maker Movement as “a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material and/or product from a computer-related device.” While this is very long winded and technical, I prefer to define the Maker Movement as the spirit of collaboration on a project to create something that will solve a problem. Simply put, a maker is someone who makes.
From homes to community centers to schools to corporate America, the Maker Movement has grown in popularity. At Zulama, we support the Maker Movement through our curriculum’s emphasis on project-based learning. Our teachers are riding that wave of technological creativity and ingenuity in the classroom with our students. Exploration and discovery are the best methods of education. Through game design and project based learning, we can utilize students’ natural curiosity to enhance their educational experiences by having them teach themselves, like the student who had to rewrite his code in order to fix his problem. In the past, teachers held the keys to knowledge, but through the Maker Movement and project based learning, everyone holds the keys and collaborates to learn. Students are actively and creatively engaged in learning through dynamic and authentic experiences in order to investigate, collaborate, and innovate. Learning and creating memories is an active process and teachers who embrace the Maker Movement take full advantage of that by creating interactive projects and games designed to spark interest, enhance understanding, and create a sense of ownership for students’ education.