Game Design, Game Based Learning, & Teaching with Portals

Getting there (a not-so-brief introduction)

About two years ago now, I started down the path of actually taking games and game design seriously in my classroom. This is a topic, I've been thinking about since 2008, when I read Dennis Southwood’s article, “It's Not Just a Game—It's Skills for Life” from Educators' eZine. From 2008 to to 2011 I built a CIT class around the idea of Applying computer skills in Project Based Learning. It was marginally successful, but I still wasn't getting the results I wanted with at least half of my students, in terms of
In 2011, I attended the first, spending a lot of time in break out sessions with Game Based Learning & Gamification expert, Jeff Mummert. I also took a course from PLS called, "Simulations and Gaming Technologies for the Classroom™ Online". During this time I read What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, by James Paul Gee and Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal. 

Fast forward to now: Games and Gamification are a huge part of my class. All of my students are engaged, thinking deeply, and even demonstrating technology fluency. Most of them, through the use of Gamestar Mechanic, which uses game-based quests and courses to help students learn game design and make their own video games!

At the 2012, Jeff Mummert introduced me to Teach with Portals, an initiative of Steam for Schools. I was able to register my class for a free educational version of Portal 2 and the Puzzle Creator. So far, the work my students have been doing in Portal 2 is amazing! I hope that this is the first of many posts where I share my experiences using this tool.


Why Game design?

Okay, on the hierarchy of difficulty, when it comes to games-based-learning, Game design is at the peak. Typically, this is not where you begin, but as I am a specialist teacher (Computer Information Technology), I have no content area to focus on.

STEM & Fluency

Despite the challenge, focusing on Game design from a systems analysis and design thinking perspective, rather than a programming or 3d art perspective allows my Middle School students to engage the ISTE NETS and 21st Century Skills, as they solve problems that require them to seek out and synthesize knowledge from different domains. They begin to tread into the domain of STEM, even as seventh graders. Designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves "Systems-Thinking" and "User-Centered Design". To develop even a simple game in Gamestar Mechanic or Test Chamber, using Portal 2's Puzzle Maker, a student must act as sociotechnical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with a system and how said systems shape both competitive and collaborative social interaction.

Finally, game design has been a great venue to display technology fluency, or "the ability to determine and use the appropriate technology tool(s) for the task at hand in a manner that allows seamless transfer of created objects and documents to flow easily between the selected tools without outside intervention" (Davis, 2008) and Meta-Level Reflection, The ability to explicate and defend ones ideas, describe issues and interactions at a meta-level, create and test hypotheses, and reflect on the impact of derived solutions on others. 


Join the conversation


If you're using Teach with Portals or Gamestar Mechanic, I would like to once again extend my invitation to our Edmodo Group. There are a lot of teachers on board already but only one or two classes of students actually participating. I would love to have your students.

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