Media Tool Project #3: Simple Game X Scratch
While supply teaching in southeast London last year, I subbed a lot of Grade 4 and 5 classes where time is allocated towards "computer literacy" or "computer studies" and had to lead basic lessons on how to create simple games using the Scratch program. Luckily, all I had to do was put up a powerpoint with instructions on how to do so and the students instinctively and readily followed them. Feeling quite useless, the kids were more familiar with the program than I was and since I was essentially there to supervise them and make sure they were on task, I did not have time to experiment with the program myself. For this reason, I decided to further experiment in game making using the program, Scratch, for my final media tool project and experience the thrill associated with serious play that I observed amongst the students.
When I opened the program for the first time, I noticed how different the language was. I did not know what sprites were and what the controls on the left side of the screen outlining commands meant. Since there were no clear cut instructions on what to do, I tried playing some of the widgets, but it got me no where. Thus, I ended up consulting some Youtube videos on how to make basic games using Scratch and discovered a wonderful powerpoint by Barb Ericson from Georgia Tech University on how to do so. Each slide outlined the step-by-step process on how to animate your sprite(s), which essentially is the character in your game. It made me think of the various elements involved in creating a game: the mission/task/journey/quest, the character(s) involved, the setting/scenes, the movements involved, the sound effects and even the text.
After figuring out what these "codes" meant and interacting with them, I am glad to say that I truly felt the positive effects of ludic epistemology where I would learn how to successfully program a move, task or action using trial-and-error and never really worried about how the final product looked like. It felt so great, after a few minutes of trying to figure out how to get the sprite to do something, to actually be successful in that endeavour, and I was interested in the next action I was going to program. This was only possible through the aid of Youtube/blog tutorial videos on Scratch though. I wonder if children could have actually created a game without external guidance like I required. I was more concerned with being able to create a simple game that actually works, despite being obsessed with visual aesthetics. I know my game is quite limited in that I just have one main sprite who can only move left and right to catch a falling object and that even the speeds are quite slow. There's not much depth to my game at all, but that's okay since I'm a complete beginner. Since I am quite new to coding and tried to experiment with sound, I didn't get too mad about being unsuccessful with adding sound effects to my sprites or being a horrible artist and consequently unable to prettily draw original sprites and scenes myself. If I had more time, I could definitely play around with the widgets and see how I can up-level my game. That can be the premise of the subsequent lesson as well: how do you up-level your game?
In addition to this, I also realized the value of constructivist learning and Papert's concept of constructionism and how game-making or coding a game using programs like Scratch provide transformative learning opportunities where students engage in serious play with technology and game-building to communicate a task or mission. If educators can find ways to make this game-building relevant and connected to curriculum concepts they learn in class, students would become more engaged and active participants in their learning, especially since they get to make something to exhibit their understandings and share it to a wider audience. I also feel like the online Scratch community is large and super helpful. What's great about Scratch is how easy it is to share and to join the online community. The fact that Scratch is quite accessible and free to download/use definitely shows it can be catered to a vast audience. There are so many games that have been shared by other students, educators, computer programmers and other individuals where serious play and deep learning can occur. It is truly reminiscent of the ideas mentioned in the critical making readings, which emphasizes active learning and shared acts of making where the Scratch online community exemplifies a community of making and active engagement.
Although I won't be using Scratch for my final project, I will definitely consider how I can use it as a possible model or tool that educators can use to address social justice issues with respect to finding Ontario Curriculum connections, especially since this constructive learning process can ultimately lead to deep learning opportunities. With regards to the gender gap in games, I feel that Scratch is not particularly associated with any gender group. Both the boys and girls in the classes I've supplied seemed equally engaged with game-making and playing games on Scratch. There is a pretty even number of games uploaded on Scratch that seem to be created by both gender groups. As a result, it can be a great media tool to engage both gender groups in game development.
My final product: "Catch the Cheese"
The aim of the basic game is to catch the cheese before it hits the floor in order to feed Jerry. You can do this by using the left and right arrow keys to move Jerry. Will you be able to catch all the slices of cheese and make sure Jerry doesn't go hungry?
Here is the link to play my game: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/149866165/