Thursday, December 31, 2015

Game Design for Any Subject, Google Apps and More - Top Posts of 2015

2015 was an exciting year for helping teachers beyond my local district! In this post I will list some of the top tips, activities and resources from this blog over the past 12 months.

First, just a thought about my other blog. I love sharing resources and tips here at CG&T, but my heart has been in at my Teaching Like an Artist blog. I had a great year with some conferences, inspirational posts and even a book (digital and print). Be sure to check out my top posts there and consider following that work in 2016!

Now on to the great resources that got the most attention this year…
I ran a few PD sessions in the summer and these popular tips and tipsheets were a result:
Here's an important post that introduces teachers to 10 simple, free tools for showing off any project (even non-tech projects) beyond the classroom. They range from simple to more involved.

I developed these two methods for making a narrated slideshow presentation using just a Chromebook.
And these are my favorite quick tips from the year:

New Game Design Resources
Any teacher knows students today love games and many of them want to make games. I posted two popular series about creating games design this year. These are both non-digital game activities.

This first one is a “make a game in an hour” activity that I’ve done with designers. I started with a big picture look at what I and others have learned from making games.

Game Design in the Classroom - What I learned, what others learned, the "game jam" style activity and thoughts on developing and publishing

Later in the year I created this series, which one designer called a “baby step” into game design. All the resources are created in Google Docs for easy modification and sharing with students. It’s a flexible introduction to making games that integrates with many subjects. The flow of the project is...
Also new in 2015, I created this Game Design Page as a convenient place to find all my best classroom game design resources.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Game Design Exploration Part 4 - Reflection

This is the fourth part of a series for a classroom game design project that can be used in many classes and subjects. The whole project is based on a very simple game I created. Students will modify that game so it's about the topic they are studying in class.

Here's the flow of the overall project. Each of these stages has its own post, which you can access by clicking the link.
  • Learn and play Roll-n-Flip - Students need to learn to play the basic game of Roll-n-Flip first. It should take one class period or less to learn the game and to play it a couple times. 
  • Redesign Roll-n-Flip - Next, students will modify the game by adding a theme (based on your lesson) and possibly other rules. This can take more or less than one class period, depending on how much you want them to develop their version of the game.
  • Play and improve their game - In this step students test the game their group made and then at least one game created by another group. You could also give them time to improve their game based on feedback. This process can be a class period or more, depending how much you want to focus on game design.
  • Reflection - For the last part of the activity, students will reflect on what they learned about your course content and about game design. This reflection "seals the deal" for the learning, making this possibly the most important of step of the project.
_________________

This final stage of the project can be the most important, as it requires students to reflect upon what they learned about the lesson topic for your course as well as game design. In it each student Students will complete the document at the link below. 

Do not give students the document until they worked through Parts 1 - 3 of the activity (each easily accessible at the links above). That means they should have created a game based on Roll-n-Flip, tested it and played at least one game created by another group before they try to answer the questions. 

If you modified the activity in Parts 1 - 3 of the project, you might have to change the questions in the document to fit what your students experienced.

Through reflection, students should gain deeper insights from the activity. Their responses also provide you with a look at what they've learned about the lesson topic. That can be used to guide followup instruction or class discussion.

The reflection questions in the document come in three parts:
  • The activity itself
  • The game design process
  • The lesson topic and how they connected elements of it to their game theme

Monday, December 28, 2015

Game Design Exploration - Part 3 - Testing the Games

This is the third part of a series for a classroom game design project that can be used in many classes and subjects. The whole project is based on a very simple game I created. Students will modify that game so it's about the topic they are studying in class.

Here's the flow of the overall project. Each of these stages has its own post, which you can access by clicking the link.
  • Learn and play Roll-n-Flip - Students need to learn to play the basic game of Roll-n-Flip first. It should take one class period or less to learn the game and to play it a couple times. 
  • Redesign Roll-n-Flip - Next, students will modify the game by adding a theme (based on your lesson) and possibly other rules. This can take more or less than one class period, depending on how much you want them to develop their version of the game.
  • Play and improve their game - In this step students test the game their group made and then at least one game created by another group. You could also give them time to improve their game based on feedback. This process can be a class period or more, depending how much you want to focus on game design.
  • Reflection - For the last part of the activity, students will reflect on what they learned about your course content and about game design. This reflection "seals the deal" for the learning, making this possibly the most important of step of the project.
_________________

The importance of playtesting and revision - the iterative process in game design

This testing and revision stage of the game design process is essential. It can be fun and rewarding or sometimes very frustrating! It's often the heart of the creation process and it will probably take more time than all other parts combined.

Being so important, students need to see it. With limited class time, though, it is likely you will use it in this activity only provide some exposure to the concepts and a chance to have fun with the designs. Tell students it is important when making any type of game, but remind them to really test and improve their game they'd need to work on it a lot outside of class.

Keeping that in mind, tweak the following outline and resources to fit your needs.

Is everyone ready to proceed?

If a class is working through this design activity, at this point each group of students should have redesigned the simple Roll-n-Flip game. At the very least they should have done the following. (All of this is explained in the second post in this series.)
  • Chosen a theme for their game based on the topic studied in class
  • Created a title for their game
  • Written a short introduction about the game
  • Redesigned the 11 cards and changed them on the template found in Part 2 of this series
Optionally, the groups might have designed additional rules and components for their game.

Make the games.

When all the parts above are complete, groups should print and cut out any cards or components they need to play their games. It's best to print the cards on cardstock or at least the thickest paper possible.

Each group also needs at least one die. They need tokens for a pawn and chips too, but a template in Part 2 provided components they could cut from paper if those tokens were not available. 

If the groups added rules for additional cards or components, all of those pieces need to be printed and cut out or gathered as well.

Depending on how much time you want the class to devote to this playtesting experience, groups could make two or more copies of their game so multiple groups could play them at once.


Groups test their own games

Game designers often play their own games first, just to see if the creations even work at all. At this stage, each group should play their game at least once.

After playing, students should discuss these questions:
  • Did the game work as we intended?
  • Did we find anything (good or bad) that we didn't expect?
  • How much do we think other groups will enjoy our game?
  • What changes could we make to improve the game?
Depending on how much time you have for this design exploration, students could rework their cards. Simple changes might be handwritten right on the cards. Significant changes might require students to actually alter the cards in the original Google Drawings they made in Part 2 of this activity.Of course, that would require them to print and cut out more components.

If time doesn't allow a students to make all the changes they want to, remind them that they can improve the game as much as they want on their own.


Groups test a game designed by another group

For this part of the activity, each group will play at least one other group's game. Ideally this will be "blind playtesting", meaning the groups will play the games without additional assistance from the game designers.

The game components should already be created by now. Game introductions and possibly new rules need to be printed (or shared through Google Drive) so groups have everything they need to learn and play the games.

Along with these materials, give each group a copy of this Game Playtesting Sheet. It provides questions for before and after playing the game. 

Additional considerations

  • Give the groups time in class to read and discuss the Game Playtesting Sheets that test groups filled out for their game.
  • Groups could test games from more than one group if possible.
  • Students could take their games home and have other people play them to get more opinions.
  • Have a class discussion (possibly virtually) at the end of this stage so you and the students can look for patterns on what worked best in the games.
  • It would be ideal to get test groups from a class that did not go through the design process themselves. In other words, they would likely be unfamiliar even with Roll-n-Flip, so the whole experience would be new to them. This requires the designers to put a lot more work into their rules.
In the next post (and final stage of the activity) students will reflect on their game designs and the design process.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Classroom Game Design Exploration - Part 2

Recent Update:  There's now a link at the end of the post to some sample student games and tips I learned from playing with them.

This is the second part of a series for a classroom game design project that can be used in many classes and subjects. The whole project is based on a very simple game I created. Students will modify that game so it's about the topic they are studying in class.

Here's the flow of the overall project. Each of these stages has its own post, which you can access by clicking the link.
  • Learn and play Roll-n-Flip - Students need to learn to play the basic game of Roll-n-Flip first. It should take one class period or less to learn the game and to play it a couple times. 
  • Redesign Roll-n-Flip - Next, students will modify the game by adding a theme (based on your lesson) and possibly other rules. This can take more or less than one class period, depending on how much you want them to develop their version of the game.
  • Play and improve their game - In this step students test the game their group made and then at least one game created by another group. You could also give them time to improve their game based on feedback. This process can be a class period or more, depending how much you want to focus on game design.
  • Reflection - For the last part of the activity, students will reflect on what they learned about your course content and about game design. This reflection "seals the deal" for the learning, making this possibly the most important of step of the project.
__________

Photo by Mark Strozler
Considering Theme in Game Design

For students to understand this part of the game design exploration, they need to think about the concept of theme. If working with an entire class, you could lead a discussion using these ideas here. Students could provide other examples from game they are familiar with. 

The basic game of Roll-n-Flip (which you should have played in part 1 of this series) has no theme. It's not about anything other than getting chips.

Many other very popular games do not have a theme. Think of Checkers or many card games like Bridge or Hearts. Players are just playing with the components within the game's rules, hoping to win. We sometimes call these abstract games.

Photo by Jon Ross
But in other games like Monopoly or Risk have a theme. It's like a story, in a way. More or less, players are pretending to be doing something other than playing with cards and plastic. The themes are selling property and fighting battles to take over the world. In games with strong themes, the card text and the artwork all serve to remind players of that theme.

It's also important to notice that the rules also should support the theme. The rules of Monopoly are not exactly like buying and selling property in real life, but there are obvious similarities. For example, when you put some new buildings on a property it increases in value. In Risk, a bigger army has a better chance of taking over a smaller army. We expect the rules to support the theme.

For this stage of the game design project, students will design the cards of Roll-n-Flip so it has a theme.

Examples of Themes for the Roll-n-Flip Game

I have already created two other games based on the Roll-n-Flip game. Those games have themes and they are: 
The themes of those games are apparent from their titles, their boxes and the text on all of the cards. As you might guess, the first one is about Christmas. The second is based on a popular tourist spot in my home state of Michigan.

To make sure players remember the theme on every roll of the die, we don't refer to the chips as "chips". In the Christmas game, they are called "cheer" and we call them "fun" in our Mackinac game. 

Likewise, the cards don't have generic names like the ones I used in Roll-n-Flip. Instead, the Christmas game has "Stressed Out" in place of the Mix-Up card. The graphic on that one shows a person who obviously is overwhelmed with the holidays.

In the Mackinac game, I made that card "Tourist Rush", since a busy day on the island can be a hectic experience.

Really good things also are found in the cards' names. One card is "The True Meaning of Christmas", for example, and it can bring in a lot of chips (cheer) for a player. And in my other game, the best card is Fudge. That's because everyone who visits Mackinac Island knows about the popular fudge shops.


__________________________

Adding a Theme to Roll-n-Flip

After discussing themes in games and looking at the examples above, it's time for students to add a theme to Roll-n-Flip. The theme will be based on the lesson topic they've studied in class. 

The special Game Design Planning Sheet linked below will guide them through the process. Here are some things to keep in mind before assigning the planning sheet:
  • The students will choose a theme that's related to your topic. The lesson might be about a book they just read, like The Outsiders, or maybe it will be about a historical event like the U.S. Civil War. While they could use those entire topics as the theme, they also could choose a specific part of those topics. For example, they might focus on a climatic scene of the book or a particularly interesting battle of the war.
  • The planning sheet will require them to name each card as something from their theme and to rename the chips
  • The document has a link to the components for Roll-n-Flip in a Google Drawing. If students click it, they will get a copy of that Drawing. They can type their changes onto the cards and print a copy of the game.
  • There are optional ideas listed on the second page of the planning sheet for a more advanced re-design of the Roll-n-Flip game. Use them as appropriate for the age of your students and the needs of this project.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Simple Game for the Classroom and Explorations in Game Design

This is the first part of a series for a classroom game design project that can be used in many classes and subjects. The whole project is based on a very simple game I created. Students will modify that game so it's about the topic they are studying in class.

Here's the flow of the overall project. Each of these stages has its own post, which you can access by clicking the link.
  • Learn and play Roll-n-Flip - Students need to learn to play the basic game of Roll-n-Flip first. It should take one class period or less to learn the game and to play it a couple times. 
  • Redesign Roll-n-Flip - Next, students will modify the game by adding a theme (based on your lesson) and possibly other rules. This can take more or less than one class period, depending on how much you want them to develop their version of the game.
  • Play and improve their game - In this step students test the game their group made and then at least one game created by another group. You could also give them time to improve their game based on feedback. This process can be a class period or more, depending how much you want to focus on game design.
  • Reflection - For the last part of the activity, students will reflect on what they learned about your course content and about game design. This reflection "seals the deal" for the learning, making this possibly the most important of step of the project.
____________

How to Play Roll-n-Flip

This is a simple game of chance and pressing your luck. Played with these simple rules, it could entertain students in ages 8 - 12. Remember that the goal of the project is to entertain your students, but to redesign this game. Older students would play it so they can fully understand the basic game first. They'll see it can easily be modified to be more enjoyable by older players.

This video (just under three minutes) is probably the best way to see how the game works. 


After watching the video, read the full rules.

In order to play, you will need these components for each set (which works for 2 - 5 players):
  • This Google Drawing contains the cards for the game. Ideally you'd print this on card stock, but paper will work if necessary. Cut those 11 cards out.
  • 10 chips per player - These can be poker chips, bingo chips, plastic coins or any small tokens.
  • 1 Six-sided die
  • 1 Pawn - This can be any small piece as long as players won't confuse it with their chips.
If you can't find chips and a pawn, this Google Drawing has some squares you can cut out for these purposes. (Ignore the additional cards on that template for now.)

Coming soon: Tips for redesigning the game for use in many subjects

Monday, December 7, 2015

Simple Video Presentations with Google Slides and SnagIt

Update 12/2016: Since TechSmith stopped supporting SnagIt, I now use Screencatify to do the same thing. A more recent post about this is here.

One of my most popular posts has been this process of making a digital slideshow using Google Slides and WeVideo. It's my preferred method, since it works on any computer or Chromebook and it's a good introduction to video editing. The only downside is the tech can take more than its share of the time from the lesson.

Here's another method that can be done much more quickly. It is an informal recording, with no opportunity to edit. So what it saves it time, it may lack in polish. It's a great next step from traditional slideshow presentations, though.

First, this is an example I made to show what the finished product might look like. Notice that the recording will capture the act of starting and stopping the presentation.


And this next video is a tutorial of the process. It really just involves just three steps:
  • Create the slideshow with Google Slides (or any other tool you prefer on a laptop or Chromebook).
  • Practice what you'll say and when you'll advance each slide.
  • Record it with the SnagIt Chrome extension.


I worked out this process with another teacher at my school about a year ago for math tutorials. Then last summer I found this great overview of the process from Jonathan Brubaker on the FreeTech4Teachers blog. See his guest post for other details and options. He also includes some good examples from students.