The Process

Throughout the course of the semester our group was given the challenge to develop an educational game, attempting to incorporate some aspect of technology that could be open source. Although our final product was a board game called “Alien Frontier,” this is not what the game started out as. Initially we were all in different groups, playing with different Culturally Situated Design Tools. This gave us a look at how to encompass aspects of different cultures into games that teach different educational topics. For example, one of the games involved creating musical beats using fractions. After exploring these games, we had our first meeting with the 5th grade students at the Arc Community Charter School. During this meeting we were to talk to them and try to find out as much as possible about their lives, likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. To stimulate the conversation we brought a project for them to work on with us. Our project was a personalized collage made of magazine clippings, stickers, and drawings that highlighted the student’s favorite things. Overall, the trip was successful and we learned a lot about the students and their interests. A more detailed analysis of this visit can be found HERE.

Our next task was to develop a response device to get a reaction from the children. It did not have to be educational; it just had to elicit some sort of reaction, good or bad. We played with ideas like digital paint by numbers, Mario, Simon Says or Bop It, digital Tug of War, a variation on Pac Man, Battleship, ISpy or Hide and Seek, exploration games, music games, emotional face pets, music/dance memory game, virtual treasure hunt, DJ game, or a SIMS type game. We finally settled on some variation of digital hide and seek. Initially we has complex ideas involving designing your own character, the students hiding the characters, hints to find the characters, mini games, items and levels for the characters, multiple maps, and body movement to control the game.  We also discussed the idea of boss battles, a “choose your own adventure” story line, and the use of Dance Dance Revolution pads to move around a digital map. However, these ideas were all extremely involved and complicated when our task was simply to illicit a reaction. Our final response device was a digital hide and seek game. There were multiple maps that the students could choose from. Once they selected a map they could point and click on different spots throughout the map to try to locate the character. If they got in incorrect they were prompted to try again and if they got it correct an animation of the character would appear.  A more detailed analysis of this visit can be found HERE.

The next step was to develop a prototype of our final concept to test with the children. The prototype that we brought to the school was a board game called “Alien Frontier.” The game included the board, which was a map of the northeast U.S. with a honeycomb pattern overlay with each hexagon as a potential space to move on, game pieces to indicate teams on the board, question cards that were to be answered, egg/monster cards that were the reward for a correct answer to a question card, and a Traveler’s Journal that was used as a resource to aid in answering the questions. Each of 4 groups of students, ranging from 4-5 kids, was each divided up into 2 or 3 teams. Each team was given a game piece, different colored glass stones, which were placed on the starting spot. Each team would then roll the dice and the number rolled indicated the number of spaces they were allowed to move. The players could move to any of the spots directly touching the hexagonal spot they were on, but they were not allowed to move backwards to a spot they had been earlier in that turn. Scattered throughout the board were spots marked with “x”, one “x” in each state. On top of the “x” was a number, 1, 2, 3 or 4, indicating the number of eggs that could be collected in the state. The teams had to take turns to move throughout the board, based on their dice rolls, making their way to any of the “x”, and land exactly on the “x”.  Once this was done they were allowed to pick the top card from the deck of question cards. Each card corresponded to a state on the map, so once a question was used, the number on that state’s “x” would be decreased by 1. If the team landed on an “x” that had a 0 on it, they would not be able to answer a question. Once the team obtained a question card, they had to answer it. If they did not know the answer off-hand, they could use the Travel’s Journal to look up the answer. If they got the answer correct, they obtained an egg/monster card from the deck. If they got it incorrect, they did not earn anything. The question cards were then placed in a discard pile and the next team would take their turn. At the end of the game, the team with the most egg/monster cards wins. With this device the children were to learn about strategizing, by planning out the best way to move about the board. They also learned about researching, use of indices, and map skills by using the Traveler’s Journal to look up answers. Finally, they learned about U.S. history, geography, government and economics by researching and answering the questions throughout the game. A more detailed analysis of this visit can be found HERE.

Taking everything we learned from our trips, we developed our final game. The final version was extremely similar to the prototype, but we enhanced some features. This version of the game included a game board, which is a map of the entire United States, with a honeycomb pattern overlay. This pattern of hexagons represents spaces that the players can move on; however, they can only move to another hexagon that is touching the one they are currently on and cannot move backwards on the same turn. Various colored, plastic game pieces indicated teams on the board were included, along with question cards that were to be answered, alien cards that are the reward for a correct answer to a question card, and an Alien Frontier Survival Guide that was used as a resource to aid in answering the questions. The game was started with a digital introduction that provides background on the game (aliens have crash landed on Earth and are now hiding throughout the U.S.) and showed the students how to play the game. Once the students know how to play, they were given a laptop/smartphone on which they can load digital dice to use throughout the game and load the virtual reality monsters. Each team of players roll the dice and the number rolled indicated the number of spaces they were allowed to move. The players can move to any of the spots directly touching the hexagonal spot they are on, but they are not allowed to move backwards to a spot they had been earlier in that turn. Scattered throughout the board are states marked with an “x”. The teams took turns to move throughout the board, based on their dice rolls, making their way to any of the “x”, and land exactly on the “x”.  Once this was done they were allowed to pick the top card from the deck of question cards and attempt to answer the question. If they did not know the answer, they were permitted to use the Traveler’s Journal as a research resource. The answers to all the questions can be found in the Alien Frontier Survival Guide, if the students can successfully utilize research skills, reading comprehension skills, understand cause and effect, and read maps and other presented information. If they got the answer correct, they obtained an alien card from the deck. The alien card had a barcode on it that can be scanned into the computer. Once this is done, an animation of an alien would appear on the screen. If they got it incorrect, they did not earn anything. The question cards are then placed in a discard pile and the next team took their turn. At the end of the game, the team with the most egg/monster cards won. In addition to learning research skills, this device taught the children about strategizing by planning out the best way to move about the board.  They learned about U.S. history, geography, government and economics, wars, and other information that is relevant to their curriculum.

To ensure that the information used throughout the game and the questions asked were relevant to what the students were learning, we spoke with the 5th grade history teacher and the history curriculum coordinator at the Arc Community Charter School. They were extremely helpful and provided us with the topics that are covered throughout the year, copies of some of the class handouts and some of the quizzes that the students take in class. This gave us a good starting point to determine what historical material we should cover in our game.

In terms of how the final game was executed and the level of student engagement, we had some positives and some negatives. The game board, pieces, Alien Frontier Survival Guide, and question and alien cards all looked really professional. We developed templates for the question and alien cards to make the game easy to replicate. The introduction and tutorial video proved to be beneficial. It was an engaging way to provide the background to the game and teach the students how to play. The digital dice were also popular, however the smart phones that they were run on became a distraction. The students seemed to enjoy the game and were able to successfully use the Survival Guide to research the answers to the questions they did not know. As the game progressed they seemed to get more comfortable using the Guide and were able to locate the information more quickly. The students were good at working together to help each other answer the questions, even if they were on different teams. However, some of them struggled with sharing the Guide and the dice.

We ran into problems when it came to the barcode/animation aspect. The technological aspect worked perfectly and we were able to seamlessly integrate the barcode on the card with the digital animation, when the card was scanned. However, we ran out of web space to host all the animation clips, so we only had of the digital alien cards functioning on game day. We had back-up, physical alien cards that the students enjoyed, but they thought the barcode card with the digital alien animation was extremely cool and wanted more of them. Overall, some of the groups of students were more distracted than others. It seemed as though they were playing these games with the mind-set that it was a break from their school work and a time to do “whatever.” If the game had been played in a classroom lecture environment, it would have been better because they would have related to content of the game with their lesson. Despite the drawbacks, the game was an overall success and the group was able to gather valuable feedback.

In the future, it would be interesting to make the game board with LED lights throughout the board, that randomly change every game, in place of the “x’s.” Another option would be to make the game entirely digital and expand what could be done. The map, journal, and aliens would all be digital and integrated. Once the students answered the questions the earned, their responses could be checked and they would be told on the computer whether or not they were correct. Furthermore, if the students got stuck researching, they could request a hint that would also be provided digitally. This would eliminate the need for a human over-seer, which is what the team acted as during the game. The aliens that are collected could be used to battle, or items could be gathered in addition to aliens, to help take care of the aliens that have been collected. Additionally, mini-games could be added to maintain engagement throughout the game, or for those who are out of turn. It can be seen that there is a lot of potential to further expand this game if given the time and resources.