East Grand 6th graders study video game programming | SkyHiNews.com

East Grand 6th graders study video game programming

East Grand sixth-grader Paddy Aither (seated in black) shows off his Frogger game design at last week's Frogger Party to his mother Becca Aither (standing) and his little sister Bridget Aither (seated in green).
Lance Maggart / Sky-Hi News

Change is the only constant, so it has been said.

That phrase, attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher who died two-and-a-half millennia ago, has never been truer than today. The modern pace of technological advancement is dizzying and computing power seems to expand at an almost exponential rate.

These advancements have many positive impacts, but the rapidity of change means our nation’s educators must prepare students for an unknowable future that will likely be focused around new technologies. That is why junior high students in Granby are preparing for the future of technology by creating their own video games.

For the last several years, schools across America have been putting a focus on STEM subjects. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and it is believed that most new jobs created in the coming decades will touch upon one of those subjects. To help prepare the students of the East Grand Middle School for the future technology teacher Missy Quinn annually takes her sixth-grade computer students through a program called Scalable Game Design.

Under the Scalable Game Design Project, students at the Middle School create their own versions of the classic arcade game Frogger. To create the games the students delve into the world of basic computer programing and input the computer language code needed to form and operate the game. They spend portions of the first half of the year working on their game designs and eventually reveal their hard work at a Frogger Party event Quinn hosts to give the students a chance to show off their designs.

“They all create their own Frogger game as part of this unit,” Quinn said.

Quinn said all sixth graders at East Grand participate in the Game Design program with a few minor exceptions. Those students will continue to work on the overall game design project, and moving forward they will begin working in groups to create their own games using computational thinking patters that they were taught in the Frogger unit.

Part of the group unit includes the development of what is called a Makey Makey, Quinn said. A Makey Makey is a small circuit board that turns physical objects into push button controllers that help players operate games and a videogame controller. Last year’s sixth-graders utilized objects such as mounds of playdough and bananas to for their Makey Makey.

For her part, Quinn hopes the Game Design Project will get her students thinking for themselves and that by creating something they hope to play someday they will think critically about what is needed to make their games functional.

“My goal is to teach the students critical thinking skills that challenge them to think and create games for themselves,” she said. “By getting students excited and interested in programming, through these lessons and the use of other technology, I’m hoping to spark an interest in the field that will encourage them to take courses in high school/college and consider a career in technology.”

The Frogger Party Night was held in the Technology Room at East Grand Middle School on March 14 and was well attended. Quinn said 41 students registered for the after school event and 47 parents filled out the questionnaire Quinn prepared for the adults. Quinn estimated total attendance for the event at around 150 people between students, parents and various family members.

The East Grand Frogger Game Design program is part of the Scalable Game Design Project at the University of Colorado Boulder, currently in its seventh year in existence. The Game Design Project is a research study CU is conducting. The mission of the project is to help reinvent computer science and STEM education in public schools computer science curriculum that motivates and excites students; hence the creation of videogames.

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