MobileQuest CoLab: Teaching and Learning to Play through Game Design

Lily Zhang, Senior, North Allegheny Senior High School

Campers playtest each others' games outside on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.

Campers playtest each other’s games outside on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.

Outdoor fun and indoor gaming may sound mutually exclusive, but this summer the Institute of Play brought the two together with the MobileQuest CoLab, a two-week long camp held at Carnegie Mellon University. From July 8th to 19th, middle school students and educators alike explored the dynamics of gaming design through physical and digital play. And there wasn’t a single video game controller present!

So what exactly did they do?  For starters, the campers worked in small teams to create their own minute-long physical games using cones, hula-hoops, and other simple objects. The focus was on the game design process, from brainstorming the original idea to writing the rules of the game to modifying the design. Each game also utilized one iPad app, thus introducing technology into the game in an engaging but supplementary manner. As explained by Nancy Nowacek, Director of Mobile Programs at the Institute of Play, the camp was about teaching kids to “look at technology as a tool but not necessarily the focus in learning.”

As the kids’ final projects began to take shape by Thursday afternoon, it became clear that this lesson was well-learned. Both inside and outside classrooms, campers were busy testing out and analyzing each other’s games, but instead of crowding around computers or iPads, campers were racing and balancing and jumping during this “playtesting” period.

“I like how we can make games not just electronically,” stated Asher Simpson, 11. Like Simpson, many of the campers came to the camp ready to spend hours on video games but instead have discovered far greater lessons. For Joe Cangilla, a teacher at Hampton High School, perhaps most important are the lessons of “encouraging curiosity, teamwork, and collaboration among the students.” In essence, the kids are discovering what Ms. Nowacek calls the “different ways to play—and learn—in the world.” And that is exactly the mission of the Institute of Play.

Through its game-based programs, the Institute of Play strives to help people thrive in the 21st century by using games to teach lessons about a system. Based on the idea that a state of play is a deep state of engagement, the organization wishes to create a unique learning space—both for students and teachers. In fact, the first week of camp was dedicated to the teachers themselves as Institute of Play mentors “educated the educators” on the Institute’s game-based learning techniques. As educator Heather Mallack put it, “It’s about remaking learning for everyone involved.”

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