Today, we worked to deepen the story line and make it our own. Students at this age are very worried about being original. A huge insult is to be called a poser! So, they didn’t want to copy the Flash Forward story line exactly. We also wanted to make our connection to reality – and I wanted to make the connection to math!! Here’s what they came up with…
A kid passes out for no reason and has a vision of a disaster in the future. Adults don’t really believe the child (can’t imagine that kind of adult!!) so the disasters actually happen. As soon as one adult (a government agent) begins to believe the children, he/she thwarts the next disaster leaving society convinced that it would have never really happened. So, adults go back to not believing. The game will end with a final vision of some epic disaster in the future. We decided to use four real disasters: 1) Haiti earthquake, 2) Iceland volcano, 3) Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and 4) Times Square bomb attempt (as the one that is thwarted).
We then discussed connecting the game to math. Last year, I had asked the students to limit the math to ratios and proportions. The state wants middle grade students to develop their proportional thinking so it made sense to dig deeply into that strand. This year, students asked that they be able use any sixth grade math concept. As we brainstormed the math that we might connect to these disasters, it seemed like a good decision to allow the students to use any of their math knowledge. Concepts such as circumference, area, and converting measures were all discussed. These are some of the most difficult concepts for students historically, so the idea that they want to use them in their game is very exciting to me!
We are not exactly sure how the players will interact with the game. Some are thinking of codes that players must solve and then use to move along in the game. However, that much has not been set in stone yet.
Tomorrow is character development!
Today was story line day. Students brainstormed all day and filled up three storyboards with ideas for the alternate reality game. There were some very good ideas! At the end of the day, I asked third block to go ahead and vote. I had already talked to each block about continuing to move forward by allowing each block to make decisions as they came up. That way, we would have a chance to finish the game by the end of the year!
The winner is…. A story inspired by the TV show Flash Forward.
The students seemed antsy today. Brainstorming really is hard work. By the end of the day leading brainstorming all day, I’m exhausted! I’m not sure they are comfortable without a vision of what the game will be. It is too ambiguous right now. I’m hopeful that tomorrow feels more focused now that we have our story line.
Well, we begin again! It is that joyful time of year when the state test is finished. In class, we talked about the standardized test as a way for the state to see what we know. But now, we get to show the state what we know our way! And, our way is way more fun!
We started again on an alternate reality game. Earlier in the year, when we were playing the 1 Destination game that the students created last year, several current sixth graders said that they would like to add on to the game this year. However, when we began discussing the game today, all the current sixth graders were adamant that they wanted their own game.
So, we spent the day playing two different games to get a feel for the genre. The first game we played was the 1 Destination game. We also played the 39 Clues alternate reality game that is available online. That led to a brainstorming session about our dreams for our own alternate reality game. The students have high expectations! I hope my feeble expertise can live up to those expectations!
One of the big take-aways for me is the students stance on the written word vs. videos or other means of communication. I remember last year, students wanted to use video and we made extensive use of it. In fact, even the problems themselves were embedded in the videos. Some of our players last year commented that they wished the problems - at least the problem they had to solve – was in writing so they wouldn’t have to go back through the video again. This year, students commented on the amount of text in the 39 Clues game. They said that they did not want that much text. Somewhere there is a balance between written text and videos. Maybe we’ll find it this year!
The students’ alternate reality game (you can play here) has been receiving rave reviews! I posted them in the hallway so all the students could read them. (It is the last few days of school and we are not having block rotations so I wanted to make sure that all the students in each homeroom could see the fruits of their labor.) Some were short, some were long. Most were from students and staff in our district. We did have one exciting hat tip from down under. Gary Hayes, an Australian professional in the field of game design and new media in general, gave us a tweet (find him on twitter @garyphayes ). He wrote, “Great to see Texas 6th graders documenting the design process for ARGs – http://twurl.nl/8smh1y ‘maybe even encourage and guide others’”. From his 3,000+ followers, we had a flurry of hits from around the world.
We also had a wonderful student review from a sixth grader on another campus in the district. He said,”I am speechless! It was amazing. It should be a video game worldwide for all game systems! It orchestrates math beautifully with a virtual scenario. If only it was a bit longer. All in all, it was simply amazing!” Now that is some high praise!! Another student said, “I also wish I could have done this project this year!” Mmmm…. how I love it when students WANT to do the work!!
I also asked my own students… the ones who created the game… to play it and offer feedback from a players perspective. Two main themes came through on their feedback. First, there were so many students who really liked that the scenarios were played out with videos rather than written in text. I found those comments interesting. There were many times during the design process when I thought to myself that I should probably encourage the students to just write their scenario in text. But, I resisted knowing that this was their game and they needed to be making as many design decisions as possible. In the end, these videos were a crucial part of the “draw” of the game for the kids. Many have written about new media. I believe there is much more research to be done in this area. Certainly, I observed that students are much more comfortable composing with new media than with text. It is like video is their natural language and text is a second language, with all the difficulties that surround second language acquisition. Many, many literacy implications to consider here! The second main theme from their feedback was that they really liked using their own drawings scanned in for the backgrounds in the video, the map and the website in general. I particularly like scanning in student work and making it interactive. I think it captures their essence but also melds their physical and virtual selves in a unique way. I did something similar with third and fourth graders when we helped them create digital portfolios and I found out then how powerful this technique really is.
Without a doubt, my favorite review… the one that spoke to my teacher heart… came from a rather unlikely place. He is the husband of the principal of my school. He is a business man through and through and so he is completely removed from the world of education and certainly is not involved in the world of game design. He said, “These kids are brilliant!” Yes… he said brilliant! Not, good job with a pat on the head for the little kids. Not, how nice that these kids got to do something different and unique at school with a patronizing smile. Nope… he said they were brilliant! I see their brilliance every day. There are some days that their brilliance is buried underneath the worries and stresses of their families, their friends and the world around them. There are some days that their brilliance is dulled by events outside of their control. But, everyday I work to dust off that brilliance so that the world can see what I see. And on this day, with this work, someone else saw it! Someone else recognized it! Someone else said it out loud! “These kids are brilliant!” Amen, brother! Amen!
I know this is late, but I wanted to post one of my student’s Game Development Documentary. (I was delayed as I was getting permission to post and she was editing.) This was written on May 15, 2009 by a student without prompting or request. I felt compelled to share it and after you read it, I think you will understand why. Here it is:
Sixth Grade Game Development Documentary 1
Written About: Rountree Sixth Grade Students
Written By: Brianna
Our Rountree students have been developing an alternate reality game the last six weeks of school We are just beginning development, but will finish with great excitement and a positive attitude! This documentary will help all players that play our game and give them clues while playing the game. Our game does not have a name, but will with the process. Our game is about four main characters, two teens and two adults. Their names are Brooke Summers, Kyle, Damonte Ramirez, and another woman with no name yet. Let me explain our characters, Brooke is from New York, New York and is a very snooty person. She is fifteen and a half and also rich. She somehow knows stuff about the island. She gets mysterious text messages from her cell phone that barely works. Kyle on the other hand is a pilot who flew the plane to the island. He is also prone to accidents, so something will most likely happen to him the game. Damonte is a “G” from Compton, California and he is sixteen. He is known as a bad kid and always is stirring up trouble. The other adult woman is divorced and lost her close loved one. She is sort of quiet and out of the picture thou [sic], for now at least. The island is very weird. Every bad thing that happens on Manhattan Island happens on our island. For instance if there is a water plant in Manhattan then there’s a fresh water source on the island in that same exact spot on our island. We are now working on the plot of the game. We think it will go something like this: Every person is on the island for a reason and some how it will change your life. The island is out of balance and needs someone or something to put it back in balance. Our characters have to travel back in time and go to different desinations on the island to put in secret codes. To get a code, you have to answer a ratio and proportion question. You have to go to all the destinations, come back in time, and be able to somehow get off the island. This game is in our hands and with enough imagination we can make a game of all games. Our game is the first alternate reality game to be on the internet thru [sic] K-twelfth grade. Our imagination is bigger than undergraduates. (Not saying our game is better.) I can’t wait to journal you in again on what sixth grade is doing and how our game is coming. With the amazing help of the best math teacher in the world Julie McLeod, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE FOR FUTURE GENERATION MATH!
Well, our game is basically finished! We only have one more interview video to post after I get the written approval from the students’ mother! To play, navigate to: http://juliemcleod.org/1destination
As with any project that I tackle for the first time, the game surpassed my expectations in some ways and in other ways, I feel we still have so much work to do. Yet, we are wrapping up the school year and have run out of time. When we did our final reflective interview for the year, many of the students noted this work as particularly engaging yet challenging. Jackpot!
The students voted on a title for our game: 1 Destination. With every decision, there are usually a few kids who grumble. I try to remind them that they all chose to accept the decisions of others and move on and that they would not be getting their way on everything. So far, that has seemed to work.
Students are also beginning work on their videos which introduce the problems to the players. They are using the xtranormal site where I recorded the newscast of the plane crash for their example beginning. We are just using the free portion so we have some limitations. One limitation is that the videos can only have 2 characters. So, any scene that the students wrote with more than 2 characters has to be broken into pieces or changed. That hasn’t seemed to bother the kids though. One issue I’m trying to resolve is the background on the video. Xtranormal only has backgrounds that show some type of civilization. Makes sense for most videos, but ours needs to be a deserted island! So, we are using the green screen and I’m going to spend some time this weekend to see if I can figure out how to replace the green screen with a background of our choice. I would LOVE to use a student drawing as the background. We’ll see!
One group is working on how the website will look online and how the players will interact. The example I had created last weekend really got them thinking. They went in a totally different direction though. I was thinking that we would basically walk the players through our storyline sequentially. The group wanted it set up much more like a website with random access to the game and other interesting information. They drew pictures with their thoughts about each web page — just like professional web designers do! Here are their pictures:
This would be the title page or the splash page. The students were in the process of voting on the title so on each page, the group just wrote “Title”. The big box says “Play if you dare!”. When you click on it, you go to the game.
The game page is a map of the island. There will be hotspots that have the four problems that the players need to help solve. They will also have a “Clue Mountain” where the players can get hints.
Directly underneath the title, there are four links that players can visit: Manhattan, News, Game and Interviews. This is the Manhattan page. It will tell about all the strange coincidences between Manhattan Island and our crazy island.
This is the News page which will have links to the news stories on Manhattan island.
This is where they would like to have the video clips of the character interviews we did in class. I’ll have to get permission from the students parents though. We’ll see how that goes.
Overall, I think they are doing an excellent job!
The students have been asking me what this will look like online. I haven’t been really sure yet but it has been evolving with the story line! I like the distributed nature of The Door that Dr. Warren created, but with the way most districts block social networking type sites, this game might have to be a little more contained in traditional web pages.
This weekend, I spent some creating a sandbox (a play area where we can experiment with some of the ways we might like to see the game unfold online). You can experience the sandbox yourself by clicking here. For this post, I’ll discuss the tools and thinking I used with a few screen shots.
For the first page, I called the game Coincidence? because of the connection with the Hudson River plane crash and Manhattan’s problems. The kids have not decided on a name yet so that certainly may change! I put together a little video clip that is supposed to represent a newscast of the Hudson River crash and the related disappearance of our plane. For this video, I used the xtranormal site to create the newscaster part of the video. Xtranormal is a neat (and free) site that takes text and turns it into video. I also found the simulation of that Hudson River crash with the actual pilot/control tower audio on youtube. I downloaded both videos and then spliced them together using Adobe Elements.I then uploaded the video to vimeo because youtube is blocked in most districts.
After players watch the video, they are invited to click the link to learn more about the coincidence. The link takes them to the next page of the game here.
On this page, Brooke’s phone begins to act strangely. She picks up Kyle’s (the pilot) plea for help. At the end of the video, there is a URL for the next step in the game which might be the first problem – housing!
For this page, I used digital photos of my son’s The Sims 2 Castaway game and Photostory. I uploaded the video to vimeo again. I also found a digital photo of a cell phone on istockphoto. I spliced the phone so that I could embed the video into the screen of the cell phone. I also took an island shot and put it on as the background of the photo.
Of course, if the students like these ideas, I’ll have them actually write the script, record the audio, etc. I’m sure it will be much better when they do it! Even if the students want to change the whole thing, I thought it might be helpful to others to show our progression and to discuss the tools and techniques. Any comments?
I didn’t have the chance to blog last night about our progress, but we made some good developments. One thing we decided is that our plane crash on our crazy island will correlate with the plane crash in the Hudson River from back in January. We had some discussion about connecting it to the 9/11 attacks but that brings with it so many negative emotions and the Hudson River crash is really associated with positive feelings.
I also think we have found a good connection with Manhattan Island and the problems that occur there. One student found a really good graphic (below) that has helped us identify the major issues that Manhattan faces.
(You can see the graphic in context here.)
So, students in second block decided on four issues from Manhattan to make a connection to our crazy island and to ratios and proportions. The four Manhattan issues are:
1. Homeless/housing issues – When our characters crash on the island they are certainly homeless! The students are thinking about how they can make a connection to ratios and proportions. Thoughts are with ideas such as the ratio of materials needed to construct housing or the ratio of shelters per person, etc. I was really proud of the way that two of the students were working together yesterday. They each brainstormed ideas. Then they compared and contrasted their ideas using a Venn Diagram and made some decisions about what to keep and what to throw out. Here is a photo of them with some of their work (no faces for privacy reasons):
2. Health Issues/Swine Flu – This is probably the one that has been developed the most so far. One of our characters, likely Kyle the pilot, will become ill. The group is researching homeopathic remedies for the flu, which includes vinegar and garlic. They are thinking there will be a ratio of ingredients and then that the players will have to calculate the proportion of ingredients that Kyle will need for a certain number of days.
3. Rats/Rodents – The students are researching ways to naturally rid themselves of rats. They are looking into traps and natural predators.
4. Transportation – This one is still a puzzle to me but I know they will come up with something! I think they are looking at how to get around the island, but I’m not sure how it will all take shape.
Today we made some exciting breakthroughs on our alternate reality game! I was becoming worried about where “reality” would actually work its way back into our story. Today I got my answer!
In second block, we started talking about the plot and all the students started playing ideas off each other. They came up with one of characters, Brooke, having a real map. It started as a map of a mall since she loves to shop, but moved to a map of New York since that is where she is from. This real map would mirror the island map and could be used to guide the characters into “balancing” the island so they can get off. We searched for maps of New York in second block and then also searched for real problems in New York that could mirror some of the problems that we had come up with for the island during our plot development work.
In third block we were continuing the work of second block. We decided that since Manhattan is an island that it might be good to have Manhattan Island mirror our “Lost” island. There is a nice symmetry to that, isn’t there?!? They also did some searching for problems on Manhattan Island that could mirror our problems on the island. We put our connection ideas on a new panel of our storyboard (pictured above). I’m thinking we could link to those real news stories and real maps in order to keep the reality part of the alternate reality game. Exciting developments!