Teachers playing games

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 1:31 a.m.

Teachers and administrators from multiple school districts learned how they can help engage their students through games and mobile technology.

Allegheny Intermediate Unit hosted Institute of Play MobileQuest CoLab workshops at its headquarters in the Waterfront in Homestead this week.

Based on the institute's summer camp experiences, MobileQuest CoLab offered educators the chance to master basic game design and then practice creative activities in small group settings.

The professional development program was free to school districts. Teachers at the AIU workshops were from Woodland Hills, Hampton Township, Cornell, Allegheny Valley, Riverview, Ringgold, Elizabeth Forward and Duquesne City school districts, as well as Propel Schools, Environmental Charter School and the Diocese of Greensburg.

“We spent a large portion of the week actually playing physical games and designing physical games,” MobileQuest CoLab director Nancy Nowacek said. “When the educators bring technology into the game-design process they have an understanding of how to design games.”

The Institute is a nonprofit design studio founded in 2007 by a group of game designers in New York City. It pioneers new models of learning and engagement, and created a New York public school called Quest to Learn with a game-based curriculum.

Some of the games used at the workshops include Ninja, Simone Says, Minecraft and platforms such as Gamestar Mechanic and digital tools like Playforce and Gamekit.

“I think it's great to learn different ways to incorporate fun activities like games and technology tools, apps on the iPad, things they can do on the computers to incorporate into the lessons and to align it with the curriculum that we teach,” said Elizabeth Forward Middle School computer teacher Chris Foster.

Elizabeth Forward students in all grade levels will be issued a computer when they return to school from summer break thanks to a leasing agreement between Apple and the district.

“I think some things that I will be doing would be incorporating more fun activities for the kids to be interested, to get them interactive, moving around,” Foster said.

“It's going to be an interesting concept we take back to the teachers,” said Stanley Whiteman, assistant to the superintendent of Duquesne schools. “I think it's a way to help students become engaged in a lesson and refocus on what's important to learn in a physical way in the classroom.”

Teachers will put into practice what they learned this week via workshops with sixth- and seventh-graders at Carnegie Mellon University.

“I think the students are going to enjoy it because they will take ownership of what they individually create,” Whiteman said. “I think that's the whole concept of learning. The kids are going to enjoy it and we want to make them part of the learning process and incorporate their thoughts and their ideas in how we educate ourselves in the 21st century.”

A majority of educators who participated in the workshops are middle school teachers. Duquesne City School District is currently a kindergarten through sixth-grade system. Its middle school and high school students attend East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area schools.

Whiteman said he plans to share the ideas with the principals of those two districts.

“I'm not sure exactly how much of this they're going to incorporate into their own program,” Whiteman said. “Maybe they already do things like this in those school districts that I'm not aware of, but I think it would be beneficial for them.”

MobileQuest CoLab was created and facilitated by the Institute of Play in New York City in partnership with the AIU, the Sprout Fund and the support of the Grable and Benedum foundations.

“The AIU has been such a great partner because they have so many school districts under their umbrella,” Nowacek said. “That's been really exciting to work with all of these teachers from so many different districts at the same time.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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