How to Get Started Designing Mobile Games For Your Classroom

Filed in: Mobile, Schools

Filed by Sarah Jackson


4.20.12 | Guest author Jim Mathews is a teacher at Middleton Alternative Senior High School in Middleton, Wisc., and a UW graduate student. Mathews is one of the designers of Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS), a new augmented reality platform for the iPhone. The following is excerpted from a chapter he co-authored with Mark Wagler, “Up River: Place, Ethnography, and Design in the St. Louis River Estuary.” The article will be published in the forthcoming book “Mobile Media Learning: Amazing Uses of Mobile Devices for Teaching and Learning” later this year from ETC Press.

If you’re interested in using mobile games in the classroom, but feeling intimidated about how to get started, Mathews says you need not be. He recommends starting small and not being afraid to jump right in and experiment. He’s shared his rules of the road here:

Start small. Create something simple before embarking on a more complex effort to design a game or interactive story with lots of moving parts. Experimenting with many simple (and smaller) ideas helps build your fluency with the tools, clues you into what does and doesn’t work, and often sparks ideas for more complex designs.

Start designing. Don’t wait for the “perfect project” to start designing. Some teachers start by designing something for their personal use (e.g., as part of a birthday party or family outing) in order to learn the tools and experiment with different design ideas.

Start local. Build something that revolves around your school, schoolyard, or immediate neighborhood. This allows you to experiment with the technologies and teaching strategies without having to organize more complex field experiences.

Pilot. Implement a small design project with a subset of students. In some contexts, this might mean running an after-school workshop or organizing a field trip for a group of highly interested students. These experiences can be used to test learning activities and build your and your students’ capacity for doing mobile design work. Also consider organizing a design competition or inviting your students to design a mobile-based story or game to meet another class requirement.

Collaborate with students. Engage students as co-designers when you develop pilot projects, by actively seeking their advice for how to improve the project and embedded activities. These same students can serve as experts or classroom assistants when the project is implemented more broadly.

Experiment with design. Build students’ interest and expertise with the tools through game jams, where they build games that are not related to any specific content. This allows students to explore the tools and design processes, without the added constraint of specific content or concepts. Later, students can use their understanding of the tools to design media that aligns with specific curriculum areas. 

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