Computer games are often dismissed as nothing more than a way to fill in some down time but for one group of teachers joining gaming project ‘Super Street Arcade’ offered a way to deliver an authentic learning experience.
Kids love playing games but for one group of teachers, going the extra mile and helping students build games is proving to be a real turning point.
For many NCEA-level Digital Tech classes, it’s a struggle finding authentic learning experiences for classes that are mostly project based. Finding real projects to work on is essential to bring out the best in students in terms of motivation and outcomes.
So, when an innocuous email landed in the inbox of Toni Maddaford at Papanui High School in Christchurch asking if she might be keen to have students make a game for the ‘Super Street Arcade’, she pointed to educations games expert Steve Rodkiss at Burnside High School and it snowballed from there.
A sense of community
The Super Street Arcade is one of the many projects created by Gap Filler, a charitable trust established seven years ago with, as they say, the aim to “create spaces in the city that cultivate and express a sense of community”.
These projects have taken many forms, like a cycle powered cinema, concrete table tennis tables and the famous “Dance-O-Mat” – a converted washing machine turned into a music player.
Arguably one of their most ambitious projects is the Super Street Arcade – a 6m x 4m screen on the side of the Vodafone building that displays the games being played by the public on the giant joystick that is plonked down on the other side of the street. The original game for the project was made by Cerebral Fix, one of Christchurch’s most successful game development studios. Their game, ‘Attack of the Cones’, was a huge hit and in the six months it was active was played more than 100,000 times.
Create and contribute
Gap Fillers’ Sally Airey saw an opportunity to enhance their work in engaging students, and teachers, by contacting some local schools to see if they would be keen to make the next Super Street game. Gap Filler’s work has earned it recognition and funding from the Ministry of Education to provide programmes like this as part of their “Create and Contribute” initiative.
Despite how daunting the experience seemed back in March, Toni and Steve, along with Ruth Davey (Lincoln High School) had keen students and were willing to give it a try.
For both teachers and students there were many challenges in the game development journey, not least of which was learning new techniques in their chosen programming language, realising the difference between playing online and on the actual console which has some ‘lag’ issues, as well as managing their own project alongside the demands of their other subjects in a senior school year. Yet, they all managed to produce a passable game, though many felt that they were not yet done.
The project provided the opportunity to tailor NCEA achievement for the participants with a wealth of assessments falling out of the project. Brief development, project management, concept design and prototype were the obvious ones but also programming and media outcome to name a few.
The learning cannot all be measured by NCEA standards however. It’s much wider and deeper than that. It was wonderful watching the students grow and learn independently during the project. They start out thinking they know exactly how to code a game and end up realising that there is much more to the process. Research into retro games, and the needs of a varied and unpredictable audience and game techniques were all part of the development too.
As Toni says, from the teachers’ perspective it is wonderful having such authentic learning opportunities for students.
“I am so glad that we can use NCEA standards to reward the students for their effort, but the real rewards are far greater. Students get a chance to action and embed the key competencies of the curriculum in their lives as they self-manage their time and activities. They also develop strong character traits that will equip them well for life outside of school, particularly when things do not go as planned, and when they deal with adults in the IT world.
“It’s great that we can use NCEA standards to reward the students for their effort, but the real rewards are far greater. Students get a chance to embed key competencies as they self-manage their time and activities.
“Their level of learning is far more than any single teacher could ever provide them in a year. Being able to work with industry and have that support, as well as collaborating between the schools, is invaluable.”
By Toni Maddaford (Papanui High School), Ruth Davey (Lincoln High School) and Steve Rodkiss (Burnside High School).
Teams and Games
Seven teams of students developed games and they’re justifiably proud of their results.
1. Fire Fighter Sam Jessep
2. Road Patrol Mitchell Veale and Zachary Freund
3. Grapple Gambado Jeremiah Tria, Liam Taylor, William Wu, Sem Jafet Salgo, Catherine Illingworth
4. Pavlova Pursuit Olivia Burnett, Ali Abbari, Ben Hollows, Fraser Deavoll, Sam Wallace, and Jack Breurkes
5. The Last Kiwi Joe Harvey and Tom Enright
6. Restart runner Mitchell Freeman and Nikolas Loeffen
7. Bug Invasion Aaron Briggs and Thomas Were
Special thanks to Ben Hollows from Burnside High School, who built the app that the teams used to test the games. This made it a whole lot easier to manage the games and get feedback to make those last minute changes.
Wanted: Games developers for next year
Fancy giving it a go for yourself? Gap Filler wants to hear from teachers who may be interested in developing games for next year’s programme. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit gapfiller.org.nz/what-we-do/education/
Have a look … and a play
If you are in Christchurch before the end of the year you can check out these and other games at the Super Street Arcade, on the Vodafone Building at the Tuam Street and High Street intersection.
Filling the gap: how one community organisation hopes to help heal Christchurch’s wounds
Gap Filler is a “creative urban regeneration initiative that facilitates a wide range of temporary projects, events, installations and amenities” around Christchurch and was formed in response to the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake. The devastating second earthquake in February 2011 spurred on the team to expand on the mission and today the Gap Filler Charitable Trust employs around a dozen staff.
Co-founders Coralie Winn and Ryan Renolds have put together a team who want to make use of the many empty spaces around Christchurch to help rebuild the community spirit.
Temporary, creative and people-centred
Gap Filler will see vacant sites and put them to use for “temporary, creative, people-centred purposes.”
As the Gap Filler website says, “We work with local community groups, artists, architects, landowners, librarians, designers, students, engineers, dancers – anyone with an idea and initiative! We lower the barriers, by handling the legal contracts and liability insurance, to help ideas become a reality.”
Funding for Gap Filler comes from the Christchurch City Council, Creative New Zealand, Canterbury Community Trust, Todd Foundation, Tindall Foundation, Te Whanau Trust, Community Arts Funding Scheme, and Christchurch Creative Communities, plus countless individuals.
Gap Filler also runs the Diverscity Community Showcase Project, which highlights the diverse cultures that make up Christchurch and Open City, “a hacked parking meter that instead of parking tickets share sweet, free things to do in our city”.
“These programmes enable students to connect with people and place, as well as providing authentic opportunities to contribute to our city or their school or local community.”
Gap Filler has two hands-on interactive Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) programmes for students: Connect & Participate, which helps the students get involved in the community work that Gap Filler undertakes and leads in to Create & Contribute, where the students take the lead in creating their own project to help rebuild the city and its culture.
To find out more, visit gapfiller.org.nz