Igniting Learning Through Play

ace860e4.KarenKaren Kaun, one of our Project Ignite Teacher Advisory Council members, shares her her thoughts on learning and play! 

You are the child of a world-renowned female scientist who, unbeknownst to her, has been working for a corrupt corporation whose waste products are contributing to the decimation of the planet. In order to escape the corporation’s control, your mother puts you into a cryogenic deep freeze in a secret factory. Following an event of apocalyptic proportion, you awaken in the factory years later. Your only chance for escape is to build a device that will generate enough energy to repower the factory to open the doors to your release.   Your mother has left behind a “CAD pad” that provides instructions for building a flashlight and other mechanisms using computer-assisted design software that will set you on your way. Building each mechanism becomes progressively more difficult as the CAD instructions are gradually diminished. To complete building the final energy generator and set yourself free, you must use all the CAD skills you acquired without support of any kind.Image 1

This is the opening scenario of a story for a game https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YDukEEcD5w built by a group of teenagers, four girls and one boy, in four weeks as a proof of concept for the Global Learning XPRIZE http://learning.xprize.org/ competition. The teens were hired by Makeosity, Inc., a company that I launched in February 2014 to provide teacher professional development in STEAM to k-12 schools and to serve as an incubator for products and businesses by and for youth.  In their high school, they had learned CAD and programming skills and also the beginnings of 3D animation. They were familiar with Autodesk software and had used Maya, but had not been exposed to Fusion 360 until I approached them with the project.

Much has been written about introducing video games to schools in order to leverage the elements of game play, including rules, role-playing and rewards to motive and engage students.  Schools, especially those in urban settings, face great hurdles around student motivation and resilience.  Dropout rates are unsettling.  Moving beyond the notion of playing video games in schools, what would it look like if students designed their own learning experiences? How would this move them from passive consumer to architects of their own education? What would these experiences look like?  Would they include game-like elements to solve problems, a kind of gamification of learning?  Would they include play? How would this change education?  What would students learn along the way and how would it benefit them today?

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When you visit the JAVAK blog, you’ll notice play, lots and lots of play, even in the professional environment of the Autodesk office where team JAVAK met twice a week. There was also a great deal of silliness and laughter; yet through all of it, the team managed to stick through a tight schedule of deliverables that they defined themselves at the beginning of the process. How team JAVAK was able to produce such a professional product is possibly a combination of these factors. They were able to define their own deliverables – what they believed they could achieve in the allotted time. The motivation to stick to the deliverable schedule was their own. No one from Makeosity or Autodesk pressured the teens or questioned their methods (including chugging Sour Path slushies before settling down to work). Though the teens felt their own brand of pressure to deliver, their motto was Hakuna Mata, “no worries,” which carried them through software crashes, bugs, and steep learning curves of new software that Jenny writes about in her blog post.

I started off on this project as a complete beginner in all of Autodesk’s programs. Maya? That’s a name. Unity? I’m all for a united effort! Fusion 360? Guess we’re fusing 360 different things together. However, just after the first day of work, I was well on the way to becoming a super model-er using Maya and the design team was whipping out some realistic models of ladders, teleporters, and robots.

As an educator, you might be thinking to yourself, I don’t know Autodesk Maya, Fusion 360 or the anything about programming video games. Where does someone begin? I’ll tell you a secret. I am only a Fusion 360 beginner and only know a bit about video games. I can program a little, but not a lot. The secret to my success is that I was able to identify students who were already working with the software, or familiar with similar software, and were mostly self-taught because tech is what interests them. Furthermore, when they began the game development, they defined their own schedule of deliverables. Then they taught themselves through trial and error how to do more with the software.   These young people are not unusual. I meet them every day. They are the hobbyists who pour themselves into their passions afterschool for hours. So are you interested in a place to begin yourself and learn what 3D modeling tools can do? Try Tinkercad. Project Ignitehttps://projectignite.autodesk.com/ has excellent tutorials that you can take yourself through and try out with your students.

The teens learned through their failures, maintained their composure through humor and camaraderie, and their expertise accelerated. In addition, their ability to overcome their challenges as a team created immense pride of ownership, summed up in a final blog entry.

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Being able to see a full game that worked and accomplished its purpose with an added feature of audio (woot woot) is a rush of pride and true realization that everything we see before our eyes is done by the five of us. Every model, CAD, motion, and animation was all made by us. This opportunity was one of the most unique experiences in my life and one where the team had the honor of meeting various individuals who are an inspiration and outlet to the larger technological world, offering a peek into the future of technology and business.

Image 6JAVAK’s game has been nominated for display at Autodesk’s University’s Exhibit Hall as an exemplar of the theme “The Future is Yours to Make.” They plan to continue working on the game and we will roll it out in some schools for play testing this fall.