STEM students learning own video game creation
BY KRISTEN M. WHITE THE PUEBLO WEST VIEW
Published: October 15, 2014
Do you remember playing Frogger on the Atari game system or Pac-Man at the arcade? Well, some of today’s middle school students at Skyview Middle School are recreating those games, and then building their own in a video game creation segment of their STEM class.
Teacher Todd Seip added the video game and software coding project to his STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses this year.
The project was developed by the University of Colorado through a National Science Foundation grant, and Skyview is one of about 200 schools worldwide participating in CU’s research on the subject.
While all of that sounds (and is) very scholarly and scientific, if you talk to the students in the STEM classes at Skyview, they’ll just tell you about the fun they’re having. “It’s complicated now and then, but the best thing is I get to play on the computer for an hour,” said Austin LaPorte.
Nate Wilder said the most challenging part for him was fixing what didn’t work correctly so he could win his own game. He said the programming was really interesting and fun.
The research by CU is about computational thinking patterns – in other words, that there is more than one way to get to a solution. Researchers wanted to see how young the idea of computational thinking patterns could be taught, so building a video game seemed like a good way to reach middle schoolers. “They built a simple version of Frogger first. They had to learn how to build it and make it move,” Seip said. “The next game is called Journey, which is basically a Pac-Man type where chasers chase down the player in the game.” For the final project, students got to create their own video game using all the knowledge they’d amassed.
No two video games – whether it be Frogger or Pac-Man style – were alike. Students got to create the look of the game, what the characters looked like and more, putting their own personal twist on everything. “We get to put our own creativity and personality into it,” said Ja’Warren Smith.
“But it’s hard sometimes because my ability to create actual art … it doesn’t look the same as it does in my head!”
All of the grade levels of STEM courses did the video games, so if current students return to STEM next year, they will move onto creating three-dimensional projects. “This is giving them confidence in using technology and in trusting themselves,” Seip said. “And they have to try and try again – there are a lot of frustration levels to overcome to move on sometimes.”
Researchers from the CU project were at Skyview in September observing the progress. Additionally, all finished games are loaded to an online arcade that is hosted by CU Boulder. Students can go there and play each others games, which Seip said has been a lot of fun and rewarding for the students. “I’ve had a lot of fun with this, but it is hard,” said Madison Burns. “With the steps (of coding), you have to be precise. Otherwise you have to go back. I like how we get to play our games and draw our own things too.”
Thomas Shudell said he likes going home to tell his parents about what he did at school, or explaining to friends that he’s building and playing video games in school. Plus, it’s given him a new appreciation for the state-of-the-art video games that are out there now on the Wii, Xbox and other platforms.
Seip said sometime in February he plans to host an open arcade night, where students, parents, staff and school board members can come to the school and play the games created by Skyview students.
Games can be viewed at scalablegamedesign.cs.colorado.edu. Click the “schools” tab and choose Skyview to see the student’s projects.