Coding, Playing, & Learning

Posted on 19 August 2014

NuVu Studio Summer 2014

Step into NuVu Studio in Central Square (Cambridge, MA) and you will find a buzzing room of excitement and energy. NuVu is a progressive alternative education environment that offers advanced course offerings to high school aged students. Each course last two weeks and range in subjects from computer games, robotics, graphic design, and fashion (to name a few). Students enroll in these classes throughout the year. Consistently this learning center is inspiring minds and challenging our notions of school and learning. For the summer of 2014 the theme was "Fantasy" and I taught as an instructor (called academic coach) for the video game studio. Along with fellow coaches Kedaar Kumar (a veteran video game sound designer) and Joshua Choi (a recent MArch graduate from MIT school of Architecture), we took students along the journey of developing their own playable prototype video game. For the course we used the Unity 3D game creation software.

In total there were five projects developed by teams that ranged from groups of 2-3. Students had no previous background knowledge in game design, and only a handful had ever touched 3D modeling software. To scaffold the learning experience we decided to present them with a video game "kit of parts" that held components you would find in any 3D or 2D platformer video game. Students then used this as their launching point to analyze and understand computer code, the hierarchical logic of game components and assets, and finally they would deconstruct the kit into unique projects of their own.

Looking back at the studio I see several experiences that can stand alone as learning principles for any K-12 learning environment. Video Games naturally invite the spirit of play into the learning experience. Play is a very essential to any creative endeavor, and opens the learner to flexible thinking. Secondly, this studio is built on the pedagogy of "learning by doing." We did not hand out text books, or give formal lessons on C++ or Java Script (the main computer language used to code the games), rather we allowed them to learn the fundamentals of these languages through hands on manipulation, trial and error, and of course on-line resources. Students learned quickly how to use online communities to find answers to questions, while embracing "debugging" and facing code errors as part of the creative design process.

Video Game designing might be the perfect harmony of STEM and the Arts. While the creations of video games require analytical & algorithmic thinking, math, and technology know how, the decisions on the game's story, aesthetics, music, feel, and overall experience are without doubt artistic decisions. If STEM is to become STEAM it should do so through the portal of "play."


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