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January 16, 2009 / Ben Chun

Elementary Collaboration

Here’s another crazy idea, both more plausible and further along in its development than the last. Here’s the setup: I take my Introduction to Programming class (which is mostly juniors and seniors) over to an elementary school. They meet a class of students (who are, let’s say, in 5th grade) and their teacher. They interview the students and the teacher to find out what they are learning in school, what kinds of games they like to play on the computer, and what they think is cool.

Then I ask my students to develop proposals for educational video games that the 5th grade students will enjoy, and that will challenge them and help them learn. The 5th grade students come and (along with their teacher) watch my students give presentations of their proposals. They give us feedback. We make the games. We come back to their school and have them beta-test the games. We watch them play, interview them, and perhaps they follow up with some written thoughts. My students refine the games, and we have a final release celebration at the school with the 5th grade class in attendance, where they all play the games.

I say that this is further along in its development than my other crazy ideas because yesterday I actually visited an elementary school and talked with a 5th grade teacher who is interested in doing this. I walked in thinking this was going to be a simple class-to-class visit attached to a project, but came away realizing that it’s really a collaboration in terms of planning and teaching. It’s going to take a bit of doing to get all the dates figured out, but I think it will be worth it. I don’t have much more figured out yet than what I wrote here, so ideas for elaboration or tighter integration are most welcome!


Leave a Comment
  1. Jackie Ballarini / Jan 18 2009 6:18 am

    I like it. Will your students be working in teams to create the games or will these be solo projects?

    Another crazy thought: have your students teach programming to the 5th graders.

  2. ben / Jan 18 2009 5:36 pm

    not a crazy idea at all. I did the same thing with my programming class last year. The 5th graders “wanted more chainsaws” and better graphics. seems kids are rather spoiled in the graphics dept and the high school programmers learned it’s not as easy when public opinion drives your creation.
    try out various scenarios and be prepared for a “real world” learning experience (ie. hard to grade but fun to do)

  3. Jackie / Jan 18 2009 7:25 pm

    Sounds like a good lesson for your high school programmers to learn. I’m looking forward to reading more about this.

  4. Leigh Ann / Jan 19 2009 9:43 pm

    Yasmin Kafai did some work on this with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders where they had to create something that would teach the younger group about a concept. Her website is here

    and if you look for her papers there are some really interesting things there.

    Great project!!

  5. KC / Jan 22 2009 1:22 pm

    I love the idea (FWIW)

    But do not underestimate the difficulty of game development, or the high expectations of 5th grade console jocks.

    Maybe have your class implement a trivial game before engaging with the 5th graders so they will avoid attempting anything too ambitious. Maybe set some limits, like 2D side-scroller or puzzle games only…

    Do you have a game engine in mind? If not, here are two /. threads of interest: 1, 2

  6. Ben Chun / Jan 27 2009 10:02 am

    Just realized that I’ve never mentioned on this blog (and ought to post about it, really) that I’ve done simple game development using both Flash and Processing a few times now with students. So the plan is not to create console or 3d type games, but rather something more like web games. Thanks for the encouragement! We’re going on a field trip to the elementary school tomorrow.


  1. Rambus/KCI Innovation Award « And Yet It Moves
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