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Mon, May. 22nd, 2006, 09:44 pm
Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

So, I’m phoning in from Florida, where I’m teaching a week-long game design course to high-schoolers.  I taught six hours today, and I’m completely exhausted.  I forget, sometimes, just how different it is to work with kids of high-school age from working with college kids and grad students.  They were shocked when I said that they didn’t need permission to go to the bathroom, for one thing, which makes me wonder about the level of autonomy they have in their schools (not much!).  The classroom management stuff is also really tiring and really hard.  Getting fourteen rambunctious teens pointed in the same direction, even if that direction is playing “cool” and “fun” games, is way tougher than expected.  It doesn’t help that I have three or four ADHD kids (they formed a little group and made ADHD jokes!) and one moderately autistic kid in the class, which makes things even more tiring.

That said, doing game design with kids is incredibly rewarding.  Today we looked at board and card games, with the group favorite being Jenga.  We talked about challenge, the creation of suspense, and how to figure out the function of rules.  The design exercise I had planned didn’t go as well as I would have liked, I think because they need more structure than I’m used to providing, but I’m looking at this as a learning experience (since I’m planning to write up this class as a week-long thing that other game designers can use to teach kids about games).  Basically, they stayed focused on making games for about forty-five minutes before I lost their attention and they went back to playing, so I think I need to break up the game design stuff into smaller tasks and have them all work on the same thing at the same time.

Tomorrow we’re looking at role-playing and creative games; I’m going to have one group running Once Upon a Time, Pictionary and Charades (for storytelling, drawing and acting) while I run a FUDGE game with the other group, then switch.  About half the group knew what role-playing was and really wanted to do it, though only three or four have played, so I think it will be fun.  I have to rework my creative-game design exercise for the afternoon, though, which is what I have to go work on now.  We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll post about it tomorrow.

For those curious about the rest of the week, Wednesday is casual games, Thursday is single-player arcade/computer games, and Friday is for MMORPGs.  It’s kind of an overview/game buffet, but one that I think will be worthwhile for them as designers.  I was worried that they weren’t getting enough out of it, but some of the kids were interviewed by a local paper today and I was dubbed “the coolest, most awesome teacher ever,” so I figure I must be doing something right.  :)

In other news, Pensacola is an odd mix of hideous urban sprawl and gorgeous natural beauty.  I’m staying in a chain hotel on a four-lane not-quite-highway, between a Denny’s and a highway on-ramp, and that’s been kind of par for the course for what I’ve seen driving around.  (I hear the downtown is nicer; I’m going to go see it on Wednesday, I think.)  On the other hand, I drove down to the beach after class today, and spent a fabulous three hours lying in the sun on perfect white sand, listening to the sound of the surf and feeling the sweat just barely break out on my skin.  Then I ate fresh-caught fish at a little restaurant overlooking the ocean, drinking iced tea and desultorily reading as I watched the sun set over the water.  Paradise.

Anyhow, further news tomorrow.  Wish me luck keeping up with these kids … at the end of the week I may really need a vacation!