Early in 2011, four Stage 1 teachers from Hornsby North Public School attended professional development courses at the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre (MacICT) in the use of the ‘Kahootz’ software and Game Design. Although the course was largely aimed at Stage 2 and 3, we were pretty sure our younger students in Year 1 and 2 could learn the basic skills needed to create a simple game. The game design element complimented the Stage 1 writing program in particular the work on narratives.

We spent a term teaching some of the basic skills such as ‘swatching’ worlds and objects, adding sounds, linking scenes and the very popular exploding of objects! We even photographed and filmed students and taught ourselves about gifs to add these into our work. The children were thrilled to see themselves on a TV screen in their world! The students were highly motivated and could not get enough of Kahootz. Some students were even exploring other skills for themselves and this was wonderful to see them being so confident and creative.

Kahootz became the talk of the school and it was wonderful to see students in other classes exploring the software in the computer room and library in their free time. Because of this interest, we led staff development sessions to familiarise teachers with the software. A particularly keen Year 2 student even came to talk to the staff at the session outlining what he had learnt! In 2012 we will be continuing the training to include sessions on Good Game Design.
Towards the second part of 2011 we turned our attention to the game design element of the project. We looked at some familiar computer games and began to introduce terms such as ‘player feedback’ and the ‘difficulty curve’. The students were able to talk about games they had played and related to these new terms very quickly!

At this point the teachers were wondering if they had taken on too much and the weeks were passing by and it was a busy term. However, we persevered and put together a booklet using the Good Game Design booklet with sections that we though our students could relate to. The students were very excited and were ready to become game designers.

They worked in pairs and, as a teacher, this was probably one of my favourite parts of the project as the conversations that the students had during this planning stage was amazing. The discussion about their goals for the game, suitable characters, how their levels would get harder and what their world would look like were just wonderful to hear. Students were taking risks and trying out their ideas. Many parts of their designs were shown pictorially so that Year 1 students who were at the early stages of writing were able to participate fully.

All students were engaged, excited and rising to the challenge. It was an opportunity for all students to shine and some shone particularly brightly. One particular student in my class simply ran with the project and demonstrated skills and applied them to his game at a level I had not yet seen from this student. His sense of pride in his achievement was fantastic to see and he went on to help other members of the class to reach their goals.

Over the next few weeks we spent time in the classroom creating storyboards and discussing our games. We would take turns to scan their designs during the planning stage and show them on the Smart board. We talked about the games they were designing and features that we thought would work well.

Armed with our USBs we went back to the computer room and began creating our games. The students demonstrated so many skills during this final stage. There were problems to solve and work around and it was time to get really creative making the game look right.

Teachers developed a simplified grid as a critical checklist so that students could try out each others games. This feedback enabled students to check their games worked well and make final adjustments. The hard work had paid off and the students were bubbling with excitement as our ‘Showcase Day ‘ arrived. The showcase was a huge success. Our library and computer rooms were filled with proud parents, siblings and grandparents who had come along to see the students games. It was a fabulous atmosphere and a great way to the end year.

Guest post by Julie Hall

In 2011, Hornsby North Public School Assistant Principal Julie Hall participated in MacICT’s Game2Design project along with Stage 1 teachers, Michelle Beencke, Karyn Hewitt, Anita Corney and Karen Fitzsimons.