For the second half of the 2012-2103 school year, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching an Introduction to Game Design course at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Prior to this class, my teaching experience was limited to summer professional development classes and teaching my father and step mother how to use their iPhones…how come there’s no keyboard, Vinny? Furthermore, my gaming background was limited to Blades of Steel, and Tecmo bowl on the original Nintendo, in the late 80’s. I reached the pinnacle of my gaming career spending much of my freshman year in college playing NHL 97—taking breaks to attend class, of course. I dare anybody to challenge me to a game!
When I was approached with the opportunity to teach this course—admittedly, I accepted with a measure of anxiety and hesitance. How would I…despite my extraordinary teaching experience, capture and engage a classroom of rowdy tenth and eleventh graders? Would I become Ben Stein, the economics teachers in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Luckily, following a few kicking and screaming incidents with colleagues, the class was moved to a January start. This provided me with a few months learn how to teach—ample time, wouldn’t you say? Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to game—again, plenty of time, right? Feverishly, I began researching the game design industry…enrolling in MOOCs, reading (listening to) books, posting on gaming forums, and tweeting to every gaming hashtag imaginable. After meticulously planning out seventeen weeks of content, I wondered what would happen if things didn’t go EXACTLY according to my four month plan? Would I lose the students if they found out that I don’t spend eight hours a day gaming? Anxiety ran high…
Reflecting on my high school and college experience—I decided that to be successful, I would have to do what many of my teachers failed to. Engage the students—allow them to be a part of the learning process. Rather than dictating exactly how things would go, I provided the structure for the course—letting the students dictate our progressions. We used Gamestar Mechanic to understand the fundamentals of game design, proceeded to Game Maker to build more advanced games, and now we will end the year using Minecraft. The experience became a classroom democracy where we learned together. I believe this approach has empowered the students. As a result, not only have the students created amazing games, they’ve helped build a course that we can offer to other students in the future. A framework now exists where we have the opportunity to integrate more gaming and programming opportunities in the SCH curriculum.
I read a terrific piece last week by Terry Heick of TeachThought – The Difference between Instructivism, Constructivism, and Connectivism (thanks @cheinesch for sharing). This prompted me to reflect on how my pedagogical approach has evolved over the course of this year. I’ve learned that as a teacher I don’t have to control everything. I’ve learned that when given the opportunity, students will take the lead and impress. I’ve learned that students are willing to share knowledge to help one another learn. I’ve also learned that I want to connect my students in the future, allow them to collaborate with students beyond the four walls of SCH, and share their creations with the world. I’ve transformed my approach to teaching—from my experiences with Instructivisim, to a culture of Constructivism, and hope to continue to evolve into an environment of Connectivisim.
I hear you about not having to control everything — check out 8 Music Design Haiku site for the music reference book (complete with games in some sections) that my 8th graders wrote/compiled. After 30 yrs, it took a while for me to step back and allow them to answer the “How might we…” questions on their own, and they did a fabulous job!
I’ll definitely check it out. It’s difficult to let go, especially if you’re accustomed to being “in contro,” but I never would have had the experience I did if I didn’t allow the students to step up.