Ilena Parker

TeacherQuest Brings Game-Like Learning to Colorado

What does it take to make learning irresistible?

In Aurora, thirty educators are working to crack this question wide open through the TeacherQuest Colorado Fall Course. In this professional development program, provided in collaboration with Aurora Public Schools, educators are creating games to use in their classrooms and designing powerful new ways to engage students. Game designers are also in attendance, collaborating with educators on the game design process and supporting the use of games in the classroom.

Educators meet every three weeks in person to learn about the fundamentals of game design for learning. Across a series of seven workshops, participants brainstorm, prototype, and test ideas together to bring back to their schools. In between sessions, educators are sharing, testing, and refining their ideas with students and colleagues on the TeacherQuest online community site.

The course will culminate in a Game Jam on Saturday, February 20, where participating teachers will have the opportunity to share the games and learning experiences they have designed and receive feedback from students, parents, educators, school and district leaders, and community members. Sign up for our mailing list to receive an invitation to the Game Jam! 

Youth Design Team Brings Ideas to Life with 3D Design and Printing Intensive

Fifteen students from William Smith High School (including, but not limited to, members of the Studio Youth Design Team) recently participated in a week-long 3D Design and Printing intensive, supported by the Institute of Play and Denver Public Library’s IdeaLAB.

Throughout the week, students used technology tools like TinkerCad, Sketchup, MakerBot, and LulzBot Taz to design and prototype a small object, using parameters dictated by the printers. In the Spring, the group will have the opportunity to use their 3D Design and Printing skills to create a legacy gift for the Studio School.

We began with pre-intensive prep sessions – watching video tutorials of the tech and discussing of what students wanted to try making. For our first two sessions, the group used Chromebooks at William Smith to experiment with TinkerCad. We pulled up online libraries, 3D Warehouse and Thingiverse to search for ideas, and in some cases imported starter models that we then modified.

On day two, we made the journey to the main branch of the Denver Public Library and spent the day in the IdeaLAB with our expert guide Nate, who shared tips and tricks for using TinkerCad, and issued a challenge: those who showed the greatest initiative and creativity in modifying designs online would have their models printed first. Students worked independently to create ideas that would be interesting as a 3D-printed object. Ideas included a cell phone acoustics enhancer, an Eiffel tower with superimposed script, and a human heart.

On the third day, Nate went deeper into SketchUp (which the group unanimously stated was “too hard to use” during our prep sessions). He showed them the best ways to start making original designs without having to rely upon the database of pre-made ideas, including navigational steps and keystrokes to help students easily manipulate objects. With these new skills, the group spent the rest of the day building in SketchUp. The printers continued to run in the background.

The next day, we stopped by the library to pick up our prints and thank Nate. We also spent the morning planning a showcase of our work for Friday. We talked about how the 3D design and printing process might come into play in the Spring when we would dedicate our time to building a legacy gift for The Studio School. The group was interested in the possibility of combining their design skills with fabrication technologies to make something that would live in a Middle School. Our discussion included a big range of ideas, from waterslides and fishtanks, to a music studio or arcade.

On Friday, we hosted a science fair-style meeting where students from other classes could walk from table to table checking out the group’s work, and learning about what is currently possible with free design software and free access to printers at local libraries. They heard about the challenges and promises of this technology and watched the tools in action on videos that we selected to share. The presentation sparked a great deal of interest from students and teachers alike.

This Spring, as the Studio’s Youth Design Team identifies a legacy gift to build, we hope to spark the same curiosity and imagination from middle schoolers that we saw from the William Smith community during the showcase.

Check out the slideshow above to see our students in action! 

Fall Break Day Camp Takes Aurora Students on a Mission to Mars

3… 2…. 1... Blast off!

During fall break, a group of sixteen Aurora students from ages 8 - 11 joined Institute of Play and the ROCK Community Center on a Mission to Mars.

Throughout the week, campers took on the roles of scientists, engineers and physicists and worked together to rescue Commander Taylor, an astronaut who was stranded on Mars.

Several members of the The Studio School design team facilitated the camp, with the help of members of our Youth Design Team, who served as mentors for the younger students.

On day one, campers received their first dispatch from Commander Taylor.

Campers used math, science, and problem-solving skills to learn about the size of our solar system, estimate the distance between planets, and grapple with the implications for communication with Commander Taylor. Then they collaborated to break codes and send messages to the astronaut.

On the second day, campers began to solve problems for the abandoned astronaut. They explored the health benefits of different foods, and calculated the number of calories the astronaut would need until he could be rescued. Then campers in Mission Control groups sent video messages to the Commander with detailed information about what he should eat, what he shouldn’t eat, and how he could plant food to help him survive until rescue.

On the final day, campers teamed up to find a path through the unforgiving Martian terrain. Using trial and error, they made their way across a maze, and used the information they had learned to map out a detailed route for the stranded astronaut. Finally, campers built and launched rockets, testing and improving them through multiple iterations, until they were able to save Commander Taylor, who joined the campers and their parents in person for a final celebration.

Fall 2015 Games & Learning Course for Educators and Designers

Starting in October, a series of workshops will bring together teachers and designers to create a collaborative new approach to designing learning experiences for young people in Colorado.

Led by Institute of Play, the series of 7 workshops will take place every 2-4 weeks from October through February. Teams of educators and designers will learn the fundamentals of game-based learning and then work together to create and test games and game-like learning experiences. 

The program is open to all middle school teachers in the Denver area. Designers of any discipline are invited to apply – from game designers, to interaction designers and experience designers. Previous experience using or designing games is welcome, but not required! Stipends are available for participants. 

Check out the flyers for more information about the workshops and details on how to apply. 

Giving Young People a Voice in School Design

The Youth Design Team are a group of students from William Smith High School who are volunteering their time and expertise to help design better learning opportunities for younger students.

By interviewing other students and reflecting on their own middle and high school experiences, they’re bringing student perspectives into the school design process, and shaping the vision and values of the Studio School -- especially in areas that are important to them, like cultivating a supportive and safe school climate, and building strong student-teacher relationships.  

And we’ve been keeping them busy! Led by mentor Adam York, members of the Youth Design Team have:

  • visited nonprofits and cultural institutions in Denver to talk with younger students about what they need from a learning environment,
  • helped facilitate a game design workshop with teachers and students,
  • and brainstormed ways to cultivate student leadership in the early stages of The Studio School.

Many of the Youth Design Team members will also be participating in a 3D Prototyping Intensive with Denver Public Library's ideaLAB. In this week-long course, they will imagine ideas for a legacy gift to The Studio School that will be constructed in the Spring of 2015.

They’ll also have the opportunity to facilitate a "Boss Level" workshop this Fall, leading other students in their community in an experience to enhance learning through games.

Teachers and students team up to design games about school values

Last week, Institute of Play partnered with the Hive Denver learning network to run Quest CoLab, a 2.5-day game design workshop for six teams from across the Denver metro area – each team made up of two teachers and two middle school students.

The teacher-student teams learned all about games and game design by playing and modifying games together. Then they designed and prototyped a game around a core value of their school. On the last day, they had a chance to share their work publicly with friends, family, and colleagues at a Game Jam – and got valuable feedback to further improve their game so they can roll it out with their school community in the fall.

Check out the slideshow above for photos from the workshop. For a list of schools that participated and descriptions of games they designed, read the article over on Institute of Play's blog.

Read about our project in Chalkbeat

Chalkbeat Colorado stopped by our recent Game Jam in Denver to find out more about The Studio School and why teachers and students are getting excited about game-like learning.

Game-based learning gives students a challenge outside of textbooks (Chalkbeat: July 1, 2015)