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We are currently living in the age of technology, and every day, new developments, computational discoveries and technological advances flood our headlines and drive our world into unknown territories. Like Edison and Ford’s, the era we live in is defined by what we can do with our newest medium: programming and coding — it’s the greatest advancement the human race can lay claim to. It’s why there’s been such a huge push towards introducing coding earlier and earlier in education. Just like adding woodworking and auto shop to the curriculum, programming skills are quickly becoming the most important addition to our student’s arsenals.
From Scratch to robotics, for the last few years, learners across the globe have been diving into the endless possibilities of programming. But on the surface, teaching programming can be a bit of a hard sell. On the one hand, you have the students who are already interested in coding, the ones who are excited about the endless virtual universe at their fingertips. But what about the other students, the ones who aren’t interested in programming? How do you bring our most important technological development to our youngest minds, those who will push our advancements further than we ever believed possible? By introducing it through a medium they already know and love: video games.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — the last thing your students need is more time spent playing video games, and isn’t game development a niche market? How is this going to benefit my students better than the alternatives?
Well, it’s pretty simple. Not only does game development teach programming and CAD (computer-aided design) concepts, but it does it by presenting itself through a medium students are actually interested in. For our students who were born with tablets and controllers in their hands, there’s something incredibly fulfilling about designing, building and playing your own video game — it’s a full gaming experience. But while on the surface this experience seems to be only focused on video games, it’s actually centered around lifelong STEM skills and incredibly valuable ones at that. From coding and design to analysis and cultural connotation, game development sits in the sweet spot between fun and lifelong skill acquisition.
Which is exactly how we designed our newest enrichment camp, Blocksmith. Tapping into virtual- and augmented reality, Blocksmith offers students unique opportunities to learn, explore and connect people across the world.
With the Blocksmith system, students learn how to create games and experiences for virtual/augmented reality. A fun and exciting journey for students and teachers alike, Blocksmith allows learning environments to create, share and experience the wide world of virtual reality.
Using the Blocksmith Builder software to model objects and scenarios, students bring their creations to life through an extensive logic system. These games can be played immediately, or be uploaded to the cloud and download to VR/AR viewing equipment or their personal devices. Through the optimized workflow, it takes mere seconds for learners to try out their creations on their favorite viewing device
A learning solution is only as good as the pillars it’s built upon, the qualities that align with current technological and societal learning initiatives, and video game design is no different. For video game development to provide a robust learning experience, one which learning institutions can accept and monitor, the curriculum needs to adhere to certain degrees of merit and quality — it needs to prove its worth through measurable, widely accepted parameters.
So what sets the star-studded game development learning solutions away from the mediocre ones? It all starts with the fundamentals of the program. According to Ajit Jaokar of Edutopia, every coding program should achieve these four fundamentals:
Mathematician and technologist Conrad Wolfram has an insightful TED talk about teaching mathematics to kids in which he says that math, as taught in schools, looks very different from math as used in practice. In the real world, math is not necessarily done by mathematicians, but rather by other scientists like geologists, etc. The same ideas apply to the teaching of programming. Programming also does not exist in isolation but rather should be seen in the context of other scientific domains. Today, with kids who are aware of scientific developments through the Web, Wikipedia and many other sources, it is easier to co-relate programming to other scientific domains as we teach it.
Every decade, computing paradigms change radically. Cloud computing and big data are emphasized today with the "Internet of Things" becoming more common in the near future. These ideas are not too hard to grasp, and one could argue that they are actually very interesting to kids (especially big data principles). Also, there is a fundamental shift in computing itself. The value will shift to a unique combination of open source hardware, open source software, proprietary software, algorithms and IPR. Making kids aware of these real-life changes in computing cycles helps them to think of becoming computing entrepreneurs.
It is important to outline the raison d'être for learning programming and to discuss the many counter-arguments that provide a reason why young people should learn programming. For instance, computing will be an integral part of everything from manufacturing (3D printing) and medicine (genomics) to the arts. Almost all interesting jobs will involve computing skills, and many will often be in technology start-ups involving some form of computing at their core. In other words, kids will be the digital cathedral-builders of the future.
In "Learning to Connect the Dots: Developing Children's Systems Literacy", Linda Booth Sweeney emphasizes the value of systems thinking, which is broadly the ability to see the connections between the parts that interact to form a whole. This ability makes a big difference to all learning but is not applied much in the learning of programming languages. For instance, Arrays and Linked lists perform conceptually the same task, but when they are taught, the connections between them are not discussed.
When we were creating Blocksmith Camp, we set our sites on creating a program based on what we know students love. Just like all of our other STEM learning solutions, we started from a core idea, and built out learning opportunities whenever they presented themselves.
Which is how we landed on Blocksmith, a 3D Builder for virtual reality that allows students to experiment with game development through a friendly interface, a process which exposes them to a surprisingly deep set of coding concepts. But in order to do just that, we knew the program’s curriculum needed to not only be new and revitalized but also aligned to education’s most important standards. From well-known standards like the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), we worked to develop 12, fundamentally sound, one-hour lessons focusing on bringing coding and programming to students through the mediums they are actually interested in.
In Blocksmith, students collect and exchange data by designing games and 3D environments through a combination of different hardware and software. Utilizing the Blocksmith Builder software, learners follow guided curriculum, learning and developing their computer-aided design skills. They build platformer games, animate scenes to be uploaded to virtual reality devices and play test each other’s creations. Through this guided learning approach, students learn and build up a base of coding knowledge, including subjects like:
As learners work through the Blocksmith curriculum, they also learn how to 1.) seek out and incorporate user feedback through in-class play testing, 2.) work existing media into their projects, and 3.) test and revise their creations.
By learning with the Blocksmith software, students are gaining a first-hand account of just what’s possible with programming and coding, opening them to the ever-growing career options available to them. As video games and augmented reality continue to solidify themselves as our fastest growing technologies, these early educational experiences are going to set learners leagues ahead of their competition should they choose to pursue a career in coding, programming or video game development.
Video game development opens coding and programming up to students in a way never possible before. By living in the sweet-spot of student interests and lifelong skill sets, the potential of game development in the classroom has only started to be seen. But don’t just take our word for it!
If you want to learn more about giving your students the tools they need to succeed in the virtual future, check out the Blocksmith Educational Camp or view the Blocksmith webinar where PCS Edventures and the CEO of Blocksmith, Markus Nigrin, dive into exactly how an early adoption of virtual reality can prepare your students for tomorrow’s virtual future.
Jaokar, A. (2013, January 25). Five Principles to Radically Transform How We Teach Computer Programming. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/radically-transforming-teaching-programming-1-ajit-jaokar
Sweeney, L. B. (2012, December 24). Learning to Connect the Dots: Developing Children's Systems Literacy. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from http://www.dailygood.org/view.php?sid=365
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