Thursday, December 18, 2014

Monster Palace Arcade

My class has made an arcade.

This was not my idea.

I have been wanting to get in on the maker movement in classrooms for a while now but due to pacing plans, testing, data collection, and a myriad of other reasons I haven't been able to. I do some, in my own way. I sneak in art when I can and we do a lot of movement, but we haven't really made something yet this year. Something big and tangible that took planning and preparation and critical thinking.

Then I saw an Instagram video by @hughtheteacher of his class playing homemade arcade games and a lightning bolt struck my brain. I MUST do this! Luckily, I saw it a day before the start of the last week before Christmas. You know how terrible that last week can be. Kids can smell break. They are unfocused and flighty and fidgety and crazy. But with this project I could get them excited about school and working hard towards a common goal.

I found out that it was not Hugh's original idea either, but an idea that had been floating around education for a while because of the short YouTube documentary, "Caine's Arcade." I showed the video to my students and told them if a nine year old by himself can do it, we can do it.

We set to work designing our games. They, being children and excited, wanted to grab boxes and get to cutting. This would have ended in tragedy. Out came giant pieces of paper. They spent the first section of time brainstorming, planning, measuring. Real world math and problem solving. Group communication. Compromise. Pitching ideas to each other, combining ideas, and finalizing plans.

I want to stress that I gave almost zero guidance. They watched the documentary and got to work. I did a little bit of suggesting and tweaking for clarity or reality, because sometimes ideas are bigger than what we have materials for, but I spent a lot of the work time staying out of the way and doing basic monitoring. This is fourth grade inventiveness powering fourth grade creativity. I supplied the boxes and paint.

Once groups were able to articulate their plans to me I let them loose on the boxes I'd brought from home. Students were invited to bring their own boxes but not many did. Luckily amazon visits my house regularly, as do grandparent gifts for the tiny human, so I was pretty flush.

First they penciled the outline of the cuts then they got to cutting. At this point so much could go wrong but very little did. Because I stressed planning and a "measure twice cut once" ideal games came together without too many issues. It was a joy to watch them encounter unexpected problems and work together to find ways around the problems. As games came together they were tested and that troubleshooting revealed weaknesses which needed to be shored up or strengths which could be better exploited.

Having the time and the inclination towards art, I also let them go buck-nutty with tempura paint. Tempura paint, it turns out, is not what they make the shrimp with*, so it is ok to paint cardboard with. I accidentally painted one pair of slacks blue, but the kids did pretty good. Only a few minor spills, easily cleaned.

We finished earlier today and opened shop. I have been inviting classes in and my kids have been wonderful at explaining their games and the rules. They are so proud to show off their creations and I am even prouder of how creative they were and how dedicated they were to finishing with quality products. They want other classes to come see their games. They are begging me to invite their peers.

I'll be honest, I haven't checked the Common Core standards to see how this lines up. But they wrote, calculated, estimated, clarified, explained, observed, wrote some more, designed, and worked together for multiple work sessions, all without complaint or major disagreements. My kids learned this week. If I had to defend the lesson with CCSS I could**, but I'm not going to here. Here I can defend it by saying I watched them grow this week, and I know that when they come back from break the lessons learned will have stayed with them.

I need to say again how AMAZINGLY proud I am of my kids. Watching them work through this without much help from me was a pleasure. In fact, the hardest part of the project was not giving them too many ideas. We had a giant box that I was dying to make into a pinball machine. But it's not my project. Not my arcade. So I kept my mouth shut. (I might go home and make one myself. I hope some of the kids make their own over the break too. I'll remind them of that tomorrow.)

Below are two videos. The first is a cut of the construction and testing of the games. I need to mention that the song I picked sounded fine when I sampled it, but about two minutes in it gets a really annoying hum. Sorry. The second video is our class monster, Courson, playing the games.

Monster Palace Arcade Under Construction

 Courson Visits the Monster Palace Arcade

*I feel bad about this joke

**I got curious and looked, so here we go (some of these are a little stretch, but not much):

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.

Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 4 here.)

Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit.

Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems. 

Draw points, lines, line segments, rays, angles (right, acute, obtuse), and perpendicular and parallel lines. Identify these in two-dimensional figures.

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