By Emilie Perna
Normally, on the day before winter break, I wrangle teenagers to stay in their classes, trying my best to maintain some semblance of order and hoping that the clock will magically start ticking just a little faster. Not this year. This year, the students in Changemaker were hard at work building and perfecting their games until the very last bell. They were painting, taping, wiring, playing, and reconfiguring as they went. The rooms had a happy buzz to them-- that sound all teachers strive for when kids are working productively and having fun. To be honest, that is the sound we’ve been hearing a lot lately as our students work on their combined English and Physics toy project.
Two weeks ago weeks ago, we shifted classes around for a mini unit. Mr. Emery and I combined our physics and English class for the first few days, as we both explored the ways circuits work and analyzed marketing strategies and appeals. In Physics class, I was learning right along with the students. Mr. Emery would put out materials and together we would try to light the bulb or make a buzzer sound. I don’t think the students were ready for my excited squeals everytime we found a new conductor or added an extra battery to make the light shine just a bit brighter. When it was my turn to teach, Mr. Emery sat with the kids trying to find the hidden messages in famous logos and helped them piece together magazine demographics based on the advertisements they were given. In both classes, students were excited to show off their knowledge to a teacher who wasn’t familiar with the content.
And then the real fun began. Using their knowledge of circuits and electricity, they started building prototypes and working to put together real games that others will play. It is a messy process; there are strips of wire and pieces of cardboard everywhere. The sound of the world’s most annoying buzzer can be heard throughout most periods and they are finding very interesting ways to use Christmas lights. They are taking risks in their game designs. From Fortnight dance moves to mini basketball games, from a new-and-improved shoots and ladders to a hot potato game, they are taking ideas from their everyday lives and making them into something others can also enjoy.
In English class, we have been reminiscing about their favorite toys growing up and are working to turn these memories into a short memoir piece. They are also watching and and reading ads with a critical eye. They are analyzing the manipulative strategies that toy companies use to sell their products and working to understand the different argumentative appeals (ethos, pathos and logos) used in advertising and all persuasive writing. They have read articles on the gender divide in toy marketing and are currently working to understand their own role as a consumer. In the next week, they will take these lessons and apply them to their own marketing campaign for their toy.
We have been impressed with the skills they are showing outside of their game design as well. We are starting to see students branch out to new friends and work with people whose talents complement their own. We are also pleased with how they are complimenting and helping each other. When someone gets a circuit to work, they aren’t afraid to show others how to do it. Today, a student dropped off a newly constructed basketball game and others crowded around it during lunch, complimenting it and taking turns playing. They are proud of their work and proud of their classmates’ efforts as well.
In a few weeks the students will hold an “arcade” for 8th graders. They will show off their toy to real customers in hopes of having the best toy. They know the stakes are high-- they want to be the ones with the line of 14-year-olds dying to play their perfectly-constructed, perfectly-pitched game. And who knows, maybe we’ll have Hasbro knocking on our door, trying to sign the next big game designer.