A conversation between Lower School Technology Coordinator Ms. Julia Tebbets and Senior School Technology Coordinator Mrs. Cristy McCloskey sparked a collaboration which benefited students in two of the Academy’s divisions.
Ms. Tebbets explained that one of the essential skills Grade 1 students learn is how to use a mouse to interact with and control a computer. Nowadays, thanks to iPad tablets, eReaders, and the like, most students are very comfortable using electronic devices with touch screens, but have had limited interaction with a computer mouse. One of the programs Ms. Tebbets was using to teach her students these crucial skills is outdated and often malfunctioned as it was created on an outdated platform no longer supported by modern web browsers. Students would become frustrated with the program and mice.
Mrs. McCloskey saw this problem as an opportunity for her Senior School “Design and Development Programming” class. In early December, she challenged her class of nine to develop a mouse skills game for students in Grade 1. Her students ultimately decided to create a car game using click and drag to guide a car down the street while avoiding oncoming traffic and obstacles such as trees and the sidewalk.
Junior Brian Weir explained, “The example we were given for this project was a fish game in which the player had to avoid obstacles such as coral, sharks, and fish hooks. Our class immediately decided on making a game based around driving, and now that I think of it, that is likely because we are all in the process of obtaining our driver’s licenses, so it was probably at the forefront of our minds. We decided it would be best to play the game from an aerial view and control a car that has to weave through traffic avoiding collisions.”
Students worked as a whole to come up with the theme, how the game would function, and what screens they needed for the game. However, they also had work teams to develop different parts of the project. For example, one team was responsible for creating the different screens (help and choose car color), another team was responsible for the traffic, and yet a third was responsible for the scrolling feature of the game. They used software that allowed them to share their files and push and pull their changes for everyone’s use. Mrs. McCloskey said, “It very much simulated a real world working environment. We would begin each class as a whole, getting updates from each team, and determining what work needed completed during a particular class period. Then the students would break up into their teams to get the work done.” The entire project from start to finish took approximately two months.
The class faced several obstacles they had to overcome. At times they had challenges with the file sharing software. Mrs. McCloskey elaborated, “We had one student who was very knowledgeable of the software when we began the project, which helped overcome this challenge, but it really involved students stepping up to learn the software to make sure the project was completed and all files were shared appropriately.
“One initial challenge was that our class was all guys. We knew that we liked the idea of a car game but we felt it was a topic that was traditionally marketed towards boys and we had to accommodate for the girls we’d be presenting to as well. All of the guys in my class have been playing some sort of video game since a very young age and realized that video games are typically targeted towards the male population.” Brian continued, “We also thought that exposure to video games from a young age contributed to us wanting to go into the world of computer programming. In order to cater to the girls in the class we added the option to change the color of [the gamer’s] car to white, red, orange, blue and green; but we also added pinks and purples to the available options.”
Before the game could officially hit the “Lower School market,” it had to be tested. Students gathered test users and created a Google form in order to gather feedback from those users. Some of the questions asked were: What did you like about the game? If you found any problems with the game, what were they? Do you think the game was too easy, too hard, or just right for Grade 1 students? Should we add anything to the game to make it better? They also asked for an overall rating for the game. Once they had adequate feedback from Senior School students and faculty, Ms. Tebbets tried it as well, since she knew what would work best for the younger student. She gave the Senior School students some very good feedback which prompted additional changes before releasing it to her class.
On Wednesday, February 15, the Senior School programming class went to one of the Grade 1 classes to introduce the game to students, and the Lower School students instantly took to the game. Julia commented the main takeaway her students gained was the value of persistence. “My students were amazed and encouraged when they heard the Senior School students explain their process of trial and error. They are just now beginning to explore programming, and made a connection between their experience and the Senior School students’ work that ended so successfully.”
Brian’s favorite part of this project was witnessing how much the first graders seemed to enjoy the finished product. “When we were finished presenting the game and answering questions, my class started to leave to get to our next class. On our way out, one of the first graders asked me a question regarding the different sizes of the cars. Once I had answered, he excitedly said, ‘Thank you!’ and hugged me. That was amazing,” Brian said.
Grade 1 student Austin Fritz said, “I really liked the car game because the race cars and they went really fast!” He also enjoyed working with the Senior School students. “They were really nice and I’m glad they made the game.”
The project is a successful example of project-based learning, one of the themes of the February faculty in-service (professional development) days, where students are challenged to solve a real-world problem, develop project-management and collaboration skills, and produce a product that benefits an audience outside their classroom. This is a great example of the learning advantage Sewickley Academy students gain from sharing one campus from Pre-K through Grade 12.