Senior Program Associate
There we were－ educators from libraries, after-school programs, school classrooms, and community-based nonprofits-- in the Chattanooga Public Library’s makerspace, pouring over books on the city’s history. These weren’t books you could get on Amazon. They were locally published by local authors, written from the research materials found in family attics and photo albums. We were on a ghost hunt, and the past seemed to be colliding with the present day each page we turned.
Let’s back up. Global Kids was invited to Chattanooga through the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund to train local educators in a Global Kids designed curriculum where students investigate local history and create a socially conscious, geo-locative game related to their historical content. (Think Pokemon GO, but the Pokemon are historical figures and you are a social justice time traveler.)
Haunts was created to be student interest driven, but this professional development (PD) training demonstrated the importance of giving educators time to explore a program as a participant before bringing it to students. Through a personalized and collaborative learning process educators are able to uncover the link between the social ails of the past and present and to make the Chattanooga Haunts program relevant and exciting to its youth.
We began the PD as we begin the Haunts curriculum, with a community walk and open dialogue to elicit what the participants already know about the area’s history. The conversation that began deepened over the course of three days as we moved through the curriculum, from game coding to research and back again.
What do you see? Who is here? What are they doing? How do you feel in this space?
Prying the educators for possible “ghost stories” to explore in their game, I inquired about the naming of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Did King have a role in the civil rights movement here? The answer I got was not so simple.
“Remember the I Have A Dream Speech? There’s a reason he says, ‘Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee...’ Do you know why?”
According to this educator (and verified by our consequent research in the Times Free Press), Lookout Mountain was segregated during the time of King’s speech; home to black Chattanoogans and known for the adversity faced by its residents. Another educator remarked that now Lookout Mountain was known as a wealthy and white area of town. We began to ask if our students would be interested in this history, how this change happened, and could it be connected to recent reports that Chattanooga is ranked top ten for income inequality in American cities, and is home to the second fastest gentrifying neighborhood in the country.
DLL Program Assistant
Last fall, when I began teaching DLL classes at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) and PS/IS 109 in East Flatbush, my goal was twofold: teach students to code using Scratch – a free, online, browser-based coding platform – and then guide them in using these skills to create games incorporating a social issue with global relevance. At the outset, I had a set of ideas and a framework in mind regarding how I would accomplish this, but as the semester I found that my plans required constant adaptation. Education is a two-way street: in the last year I have learned as much about STEM pedagogy as I have taught my students.
Given the after-school, rather than in-school, nature of the programs, I couldn't rely on extrinsic motivation – such as grades – to compel students towards a finished product. Working with the DLL team and facilitators at each site, we quickly learned that the Golden Rule of teaching Scratch was to keep things as engaging as possible, regularly pulling back from the relatively-dry computer work to teach computational thinking with a more hands-on perspective. The more engaging and relevant to our young people, we figured, the more intrinsic motivation we could leverage to connect them with coding.
As an introduction to game design theory, students examined tic-tac-toe using the "five elements of game design": goal, rules, space, mechanics (essentially "verbs" relating to the game), and components ("nouns" involved in the game). They played a round and changed various elements, such as adding a fourth column to the game space or allowing players to take more than one turn at a time. Finally, they played again, noting what worked and what didn't and how it affected the player experience. Thus, the introduction to the "play-test-change" cycle of game design.
Of course, Scratch games are a bit more nuanced than tic-tac-toe. Since they take place on a x/y-axis coordinate plane, we next explored movement from a video game character's point of view. We found a corner of hallway in each school and arranged a maze on the floor with masking tape. One blindfolded student acted as the player and their classmates become the game's "controller," shouting directions for up/down y-axis movement and left/right x-axis movement in increments of single steps.
Third and fourth graders at PS 96 in East Harlem are our youngest students participating in Global Kids programming this school year. All year, I’ve had a chance to lead GK’s DLL elementary school program, MakerSquad, and have had a great time with these amazing kids.
To start off the year, I led workshops focused on online safety, but as our students began to be concerned about the proliferation of “fake news” stories leading up to the presidential election, the DLL team found it critical to dedicate time to helping students identify legitimate news sources through news outlet exploration and discussion.
As the year progressed, I introduced projects to my students that would develop their computational thinking skills, focusing on game design. My students worked with a great new game design online platform called Ready Maker that can create projects such as short animations and games without the use of block coding. This program was especially helpful with our younger students because they didn’t associate it with coding (which can be intimidating), so it was easier to introduce this as a stepping stone to more complex coding down the road.
David Bennahum, the creator of Ready came and conducted a workshop for the DLL staff earlier this year and stated that average age of Ready Maker users is 18. The program introduces users to cause and effect codes as well as problem solving strategies.
Using Ready project templates, students at PS 96 followed their trainer’s instruction to complete projects independently. Students conducted a workshop on pair programming and then completed another Ready game with a partner, at their own pace. Below are samples of my students’ work. Enjoy!
DLL Program Assistant
As fun as Scratch can be, at the end of the school year, right before summer break, middle schoolers can get Scratched Out. But the semester isn’t over! Thus, DLL recently got creative with teaching the more nitty-gritty (read: "boring") aspects of coding. Fortunately, Scratch’s colorful blocks lend themselves to creative, physical teaching methods.
In one workshop, facilitators used cardboard cutouts of Scratch blocks and students assembled them like a puzzle to get their desired script:
When the novelty of assembling cardboard puzzles wore off, we moved to something a little squishier: Play-Doh!
With teaching methods like these, Global Kids ensures that, no matter how dry coding may be, our middles schoolers are always engaged!
This week, students in our Girl Hack programs at John Adams High School and William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens finalized the topics for their end-of-year projects, their Games for Change. Girl Hack is a program for female-identifying high school youth who are interested in using technology and gaming to shed light on issues that girls and women face. Each of our students will be creating a game in Scratch, an online block-based coding tool. Their games, in addition to being fun, will raise awareness about a global women’s issue to be a “game for change.”
During our sessions this week, the girls sat down to map out an initial brainstorm for their final games. This activity was an exciting moment for our students and for the GK staff who have been supporting them through the game design process this school year. We've been building up to this stage of the design process since September when we introduced game design theory and first began exploring a range of global women’s issues. Some of the topics that have been covered in our program include global standards of beauty, representations of women in advertising and media, access to education, child marriage, reproductive health, sexism in the workplace, and the stigma around menstruation.
Students completed a worksheet to guide them in their brainstorm, which prompted them to think about the elements of a game (goal, space, rules, components, mechanics) and what their game’s story will be.
Through their games for change, Girl Hack-ers are employing computational thinking, coding skills, and critical thinking skills, to come up with ways to “hack” the lifecycle of a girl/woman. We spent the first half of the school year exploring issues that females face at different stages in life, from early childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and as elderly. Now our students are coming up with engaging topics for their games that will not only bring attention to important, and often overlooked, issues but will also convey creative solutions and “life hacks” to some of these issues.
What I have found to be one of the most powerful parts of Girl Hack is the fact that our students are using male-dominated tools like coding, technology, and gaming to bring awareness to girls’ and women’s issues, and I know that our Girl Hack-ers are eager to prove that game design is not only "for boys.”
If you'd like to see the amazing work of our students, join us at Emoti-con on June 17th! Emoti-Con is NYC’s biggest showcase for young designers, technologists, and makers who use digital innovation as a tool for positive change in the world. Girl Hack students will be displaying their final projects. RSVP here!
DLL Program Assistant
This Wednesday, DLL at P.S. 109 added a very hands-on component to its game design curriculum with the introduction of Makey Makey controllers to students' work with Scratch. Makeys resemble an old-school Nintendo controller - two buttons and a four-way directional pad - with one significant difference: each of the six inputs require an electrical circuit to function. In other words, students must link their hands and a wire connected to the controller to form a circle of electricity and make each button work.
After some initial "fun" convincing the students that touching the wires would in fact result in a mild electric shock, trainers Matthew, Cheyenne, and Antoineta got serious and broke the students into groups, with students holding wires connected to the left, right, up, and down buttons, and one student acting as a "controller," grounding themselves on the Makey and choosing when to touch other team members to complete a circuit and move in that direction.
We challenged groups to race against each other through the levels of the maze and find the most effective ways of communicating within the group about who needed to complete a circuit to move in a particular direction at a particular time.
Impeding progress through the mazes were three menacing bats who, when touched, caused the group to go back to the start. Making it past these bats gave students a sense of relief:
... But also a bit of anxiety:
All in all, students enjoyed the break from programming and, while having fun with the Makeys, also got a taste of level design and teamwork. We look forward to seeing what kinds of games they create on their own!
DLL Program Assistant
Today DLL was at the Movable Game Jam, an event series with "multiple educators, organizations, and individuals coming together to put on an event to introduce youth to game design." The goal is to use social and political themes to create interactive games that can be modified by students, introducing them to important issues while simultaneously building their game design skills. The theme of this particular event was "local stories and immigrant voices," to which DLL contributed "Journey of a Syrian Refugee," a Scratch game made by Matthew and supplemented with narrative backstory by Sarah and Iram.
Before each group of children began the game, they read about the life of Ahmed, a fictional Syrian refugee child newly arrived in New York, and his struggles to acclimate. The narrative corresponded to six in-game levels, each detailing a different struggle facing Ahmed: "Arriving in New York," "Finding Housing," "Navigating the City," "Doing Well in School," "Dealing with Bullying and Discrimination," and "Dealing with Physical and Mental Health." The gameplay consisted of "Flappy Bird"-style obstacle avoidance, with different thematic obstacles, or "stressors," for each level. Instead of "Health," the player has a "Coping Ability" meter, which lowers as he collides with stressors in each level.
Setting up Ahmed’s narrative before playing the game allowed the children to contextualize the game in terms of the narrative. They demonstrated that they were able to retain this context while "remixing" - or changing - the game. One child, when prompted to add a “power-up," chose to make his own instead of using the pre-made power-up that was already inserted into the game. The power-up took the form of a child sprite floating along the screen. When touched by the player sprite, it gave the player a limited “invulnerability,” which the remixing child articulated in the context of the game’s story as “making a friend who makes it easier to cope with stressors.” The fact that he was able to link a power-up to the story’s narrative shows that his remixing efforts were more than just technical. Similarly, another child found that the player was able to effectively cheat by repeatedly mashing the "jump" button to hide in the top corner of the screen, a spot where no obstacle could hit him. He rectified this by adding a single block to the game's code scripts - the "If on Edge, Bounce" block - and explained the change to gameplay in the context of the story, saying that "the player can't hide from his stressors, but has to confront them head-on instead."
By the end of the day, the kids developed their understanding of an important contemporary sociopolitical issue and how to contextualize game design within a story. And isn't that what DLL is all about? ;)
DLL Program Assistant
Happy holidays! Digital Learning and Leadership is midway through another school year, and we’re going strong with our Playing 4 Keeps program in middle schools around New York!
As video game technology improves, students are constantly realizing the ability of games to tell stories with social impact. However, even with the most sophisticated digital software, sometimes embracing more “analog” technology is just as compelling! Before students can flex their game design muscles, they need a solid understanding of the principles!
Pictured are sixth graders at P.S. 109 in East Flatbush, where trainers Matthew and Cheyenne have been introducing the components of games. In a recent lesson, students were blindfolded and tasked with making it through a maze guided by verbal directions from their classmates. To incorporate a social issue, the maze represented struggling with poverty, and other students stood inside representing barriers to getting out of poverty such as “lack of education.”
As a result of this activity, students got a hands-on perspective of game concepts like “player,” “controller,” “obstacles,” and “themes.” In the new year, students will put these ideas into practice and begin working on projects with Scratch, the online, block-based programming language, incorporating their knowledge of social issues they’ve been building through Global Kids. Given their aptitude for tackling important issues from a game design perspective, we all expect big things in 2017!
By Sara Vogel
This summer, youth channeled the stories of yet another set of New York City "ghosts" through our signature NYC Haunts program -- this time, at New Directions Secondary School in the Bronx.
A multi-age, diverse group of elementary, middle, and high schoolers, along with adult educators collaborated to create a location-based game about local South Bronx history and issues using MIT's TaleBlazer software. Everyone rose to the challenge to complete the project in just one week.
After playing some example games and learning the elements of a game, game designers got right to work, listening intently to the stories of Global Kids staff member and former HS basketball player, Devin, who attended school on their campus a few years ago. They also conducted research about the history of the area through internet searches, community walks, and interviews with local residents. The students found out that the Bronx was plagued by arson in the 1970s, and it destroyed many homes. They learned about the efforts of young people to rebuild the community in the wake of the destruction.
In the end, the winning game concept involved many of the researched elements: The player is Devin, a high school basketball star who is zapped back in time to the 1970s. Only a pair of magical Jordans can help him return to the year 2009 in order to play in the basketball championship. To find the shoes, he must help neighborhood people locate the items they need to rebuild the community after an arson.
Once the group settled on a core idea, youth split up into four teams to divide up the work. The art team created images for the characters and items. The storytelling team wrote and reviewed the text of each character. The investigator team determined the clues and riddles to give to the player within the game. The coding team figured out the logic of the game and programmed it.
Everyone's hard work paid off. Give the game it a playtest the next time you are around 170th St and the Grand Concourse. It can be found if you download the TaleBlazer app and insert the code: gbosehd
Happy time travelling!
OLP at Global Kids is getting ready to kick off this year’s Summer NYC Haunts program at two participating middle school camps. We are excited for GK's young people to explore NYC's history through the creation of location-based games that take players on treks through two vibrant neighborhoods, Washington Heights and the South Bronx. The participating youth might choose to explore Native American history in the northern part of NYC, tales from the immigrants that have arrived in their neighborhoods from countries around the world, or any number of other local stories.
We are excited to see what the students will come up with. Recent play-tests during their after school programs showed us they are ready to dive in! Here are some photos:
Get ready for a haunted summer! 😎
GK Digital Learning and Leadership Blog
Check back in to find out what projects our DLL team is working on with Global Kids students!
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