Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 21st Century Classroom....a work in progress

As a Technology Facilitator, I constantly encourage and help teachers make changes in their teaching practice. However, as a teacher who is developing and growing in my own practice, I am also learning to create a classroom using 21st Century tools. Am I an expert at it? Not at all, only a beginner. Am I concerned that being a beginner as a 21st Century teacher somehow compromises me as a 21st Century Tech Facilitator? Not even close; not only can I practice what I preach (growth and development), but I can model that its okay to try new things, to sometimes fail, and to share success.

So I want to talk about my course this semester: Introduction to Game Development. Its been an interesting journey, and I am quite happy with the results of my first semester. I get to repeat this course again next semester (two sections), so I can make improvements on things I have tried. I tested out some 21st Century methodologies, used online resources and got entirely away from the 'teach and test' model of school.

Initially, I started out with a book as a primary resource ("Challenges for Game Designers" by Ian Schreiber and Brenda Brathwaite). I find that I need some sort of security blanket....a text or a resource book that I know I can rely on come what may. As the kids did not have copies, I summarized the essence of the first two chapters into a Powerpoint: the topics dealt with the components of games (bits, game state, mechanics, etc) as well as the process of game design. Then I had the kids spend a month or so making different board games of different types (race, puzzle, gathering, rpg, fps, etc). By now, I realized that it was going to be hard to assess these games, so I created a simple grading sheet and had each kid evaluate every other student for different elements, such as Theme, Fun, clarity of the rules, etc. So far, so good.

About a month into the course, I realized that it would be helpful for the students to keep a blog about their games. So I created a centralized wiki site where they each got a page they could edit and use as a blog. They took to this easily, and I uploaded some pictures I happened to take of their games for them to incorporate.

First lesson for next year: I will let them find their own blog hosting site, and bring them all together via an RSS feed. Also, tell them to take pictures of their own games to keep on their blogs.

Once the board game component was done, we moved on to Scratch. Scratch is an excellent drag-and-drop programming language developed by MIT, mostly for Middle School but as we discovered it is versatile enough for motivated HS students to make some great creations. I made a Scratch Gallery where they could host their own games, and the kids started writing code.

This was an excellent idea! Right away, they started playing each other's games, and even kids from around the world started playing and commenting on their games. Some of the games are quite excellent, and the students were very proud of their creations. Each student also made their own Scratch page, and archived their work there.

Near the end of the semester, there was a failed attempt to branch into Flash programming.I started by having the kids create a database on our class webpage of their favorite Flash tutorial site, however, it turned out that most of the kids did not have Flash at home, or had different versions, and there were overwhelming tech problems with being able to email code or send programs between school and home, so I abandoned Flash and ended the year with a big Scratch project, where the students had to animate a music soundtrack they found in youTube or iTunes. Their projects were outstanding, especially this one.

For the final exam, I realized that they had left their blogs abandoned, so I created a rubric and gave them a couple of periods to update them. The result is that each student has a very thorough and insightful blog documenting their growth and their products from the class, and I believe they are all very proud of what they have done.

The best part: not one test or quiz all semester; all tasks were authentic; they published their work online and got feedback from kids all over the world, all their work was peer-reviewed, and I was not their primary source of instruction...they helped each other and used web-based resources.

My last task of the year was to gather feedback. I created a ning, and made each discussion thread a component of the class and asked them to contribute to the threaded discussions. I look forward to their feedback, but in the meantime, I think of the wealth of web-based tools that made this course possible: nings, wikis, blogs, Scratch gallery, our school course management site, youTube, web-based Flash tutorials, and about 20 pages of one textbook.

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