Thursday, June 4, 2009

Session Four. The Big One.

Interdependence.  Our Little Big Planet sessions came to an end, which means that learning about biomes and ecosystems is next.

The approach for the unit is to teach the students principles of interdependence through LBP and bridge that knowledge over to biomes and ecosystems.

The students have been assigned a project to pick a biome and become an expert on it.  As they gather information about their biomes, they begin to use their understanding of interdependence to see how the ecosystems within their biomes function.

Their task was to find out the details of their biomes, including weather, location, plants, animals, food webs, energy pyramids, symbiotic relationships, and niches.

Once they have created their presentations describing their biomes and ecosystems, they now need to think about how they can put the connection between their ecosystem and LBP together.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Session Three. Guided Thinking.

We opened the class with the question, “what do you think this whole game thing has to do with the food chain and ecosystems?”

Students sat quietly, appearing to be thinking deeply about the different connections between the game and ecosystems.  Students then threw out different answers, attempting to hit pay dirt.  Some of the answers were pretty insightful.  However, I have to admit my favorite answer came rather straightforwardly: “I don’t know, you haven’t taught us that yet.”

After the class brainstorming session, Jenkins prompted the class to think about what the words international, interact, and interracial have in common. The students singularly responded with “inter.” With more prodding, the students came to the conclusion that they all have to do with something happening “between” other things.  Now, the lights seemed to 
go on in a few more heads.  There is something to do with "between" in both the video game and in ecosystems.

As a review of the last lesson, we had the class replay the Little Big Planet level.  This time, though, they were asked to make observations about what was happening during the game.  Some of the comments included “I see player one doing his job,” “I can’t see because of this dude,” “That smoke is in my way,”and  “I’m not getting on that thing because if they press that, it could kill me.”  In a more comical exchange, one of the students gave directions to another player to “move the fish.”  When that student failed at the task, the first student exclaimed “I told you to pick up the fish, not electrify yourself!”

When asked later what they think was a major theme of these comments, students began to see that a lot of it has to do with how what one person was doing was affected by what other people were doing.  One step closer to interdependence.

Once the gameplay was finished, the discussion began with, “do you remember what you were supposed to be thinking about while we were playing?” Interdependence.  Since our goal is to get the kids thinking as much as possible about interdependence, we asked another question, "When do people depend on each other?"

-“When have we ever depended on other people?”
-“Jail”—no explanation provided.
-“When I’m sick” “My mom has to cook food for me.”
How is this similar to a sports team?
-“Like on the track team, we have to pass the thing off to each other.”

We ended the class with an activity: "We have a long roll of green paper, and you are going to draw pictures of a time in real life when people depend on each other. We’ll roll the paper out along the floor and sit on the floor to draw with some markers."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day Two. Gameplay First Run.

Today, we brought in the Playstation for the first run. As the students came in, they saw the system set up. We let them take a few minutes to imagine the potential fun that could take place during the lesson.

After Ms. Jenkins finished introducing the setup of the game to the students, we invited a few students to try it out. They had the opportunity to modify their characters, then the level began.

After it loaded, the students saw a pretty basic level that Ms. Jenkins had designed. On the screen, the characters materialized out of a pipe, wearing jet packs and tethered together. The first group of students flew around a bit, until the hazards claimed them one by one. Through this experience, the students were introduced to what gameplay in LBP looks like.

The second set of students got a little further. They realized that there are tasks to attain in the level. These students also found that if they want to win the level, they have to manipulate buttons by standing on them to cause a change in movement of one of the level’s elements. Two of the four characters died off right away. The remaining two characters worked together to move a big electrified object out of the way, so they could stand on a button that was being blocked by this electrical hazard. Unfortunately, both players went to do one character’s job. The other buttons needed to be pressed for the team to win. There weren’t enough characters to finish the task because they died before they could find any more out about the level.

The third team of students who played completed the level, having learned from their predecessors. After much struggle, they worked together each to complete one of the required tasks. Through these tasks, they pressed buttons which moved hazards, released rewards, and enabled them to make space to stand on various buttons. Success in the game required team work, each player had to do something different that enabled another student to complete their own task.

Once the third team finished their level, Ms. Jenkins led a discussion about the meaning of the events in the level. The students were asked what role teamwork played in the level. A foreshadowing of the next lesson on interdependence.
Ms. Jenkins then revealed what she did to make the level. She opened a version of the level that had green strings running between the different mechanisms and interfaces on the level. The first button, for player one, had to be manipulated before the next player could do her job without being electrocuted. Player two’s job, jumping on the next button, stopped spikes from pounding on character three while he tried to do his job. Player three’s job caused fishes to be dispensed from the wall near where player four’s electrified button was placed. The fish could be carried by player four and plopped onto the last button. As Jenkins showed the class, the level revolved around a set of hazards, tasks, rewards, cause and effect, and connections that could only be attained through teamwork. The players depended on each other in order to reach their goal.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day One. Introducing the Project.

Today, we introduced the project to the students. When they heard that there never before has been a class who has used Little Big Planet for learning, I saw proud smiles visit some of their faces. They were excited to hear that they were the class who would not only pilot the learning experience for the school, but for the world as well.

The reason we’re doing a project using a Playstation 3 game, they learned, is that the next unit for science class, Unit 9--Food Chains and Ecosystems, is all about connections and interdependence, just like the game. The game, we hope, will reveal principles of interdependence and connectedness, the central idea of food chains and ecosystems!

Games are not opposed to content. Fun and learning are not mutually exclusive. These sound like slogans for the latest (and cheesiest) educational games. Our goal is to provide the students with a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging experience that provides a lesson at every step. Today, we made clear to the students that we’re not throwing science out the window. Even so, this message was sandwiched between a description of LBP and a viewing of some Super Mario Brothers gameplay. The bottom line is LBP is connected to science, science is all about real life, and LBP connects to real life through practical concepts.

The aim for the first lesson was for students to see that behavior and actions by characters in a system are affected by outside factors, which is the basis both for interaction and even interdependence. To illustrate this, Ms. Jenkins presented a few scenes of the Mario Brothers gameplay mentioned above. She asked the students to focus on specific things each time she showed a level. The first level, the students were supposed to figure out all the reasons why Mario jumps. The second level, they observed all the rewards that Mario could receive. The final level, students were on the look-out for hazards that Mario faced.

Each of these sets of observations allowed students to see an example of a character reacting to outside influences. In my opinion, this was a great illustration of interaction with outside forces. The students are well on their way to learning about the principles of interdependence.

All in all, my assessment after this first day is that the dotted triangle formed by LBP, Science, and practical life is a fitting project for the Dot-to-Dot expo.