Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Playcrafting: From "Once upon a time" to "Game Over"

Once upon a time, my new students arrived with a false sense of the purpose of technology. Their prior experience had taught them that technology was for research or drill and practice games. I wanted to change that. My goal, each year, is have them explore the world of possibilities that technology has to offer them, "professionally" and personally. As we begin the year, my students come to realize that all of these tools that they are applying to our various writing projects support the learning that they are doing.

One day, two of my students approached me with an idea. The entire class was working on creating tech-supported writing projects on the theme of friendship. This is a theme that the students had chosen for our collaborative digital journal we publish with students from across the country. As these two students were working, they told me that they had come up with a brilliant plan. They told me that they felt that their writing about the obstacles to true friendship would come alive for their audience if they could create a video game where the audience would have to overcome different obstacles (one per level) to find a true friend.

Well, I have to say that I had to agree that this was a brilliant plan.  My students weren't just wanting to create a game, they wanted it to support their writing because they were thinking about their audience. Since I didn't know any free video game creators that fifth graders could figure out and design, I headed to my trusty Twitter PLN and @jackiegerstein suggested we give Playcrafter a shot. Playcrafter has all the basic features available for video game creation; some are free and some are not.

My two authors immediately fell in love with Playcrafter and even arranged alternate nights to work at home on creating the next level. Then they would confer the next day on what they liked and give any suggestions they thought would better enhance what they had already written.  As I listened to their conversations, I realized what a deep understanding they had about the importance of collaborating, problem solving and thinking of their audience. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their peers immediately wanted in on the action to "test drive" the different levels. Once the writing and  game were  published, they received a lot of feedback. The feedback was beyond the usual comments of "it was fun," or "that level was hard." The comments reflected the ideas that had been put into the writing and had been manifested in their game. These authors had been successful reaching their audience and all of them had fun.

Several of my students have found other authentic ways to use Playcrafter to support the learning for themselves and their peers from coast to coast. Do these students now understand the importance of technology tools in supporting their learning? Absolutely!

You can find their friendship game here: True Friend

Game Over

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