Guest Post from WPT Education: How I Became a Game Designer

John Dollar

As an education specialist at WPT, and a former teacher at Sauk Prairie High School, I’m always excited to discover new ways that we can collaborate with teachers to make education come alive for students of all ages.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to the amazing Nikki Lutzke, who teaches fourth grade in southern Wisconsin’s Parkview School District. She and some of her fellow teachers recently joined some of the brightest local minds in history and game design to create something special – something that we know teachers and students all across Wisconsin will love.

Read on for Nikki’s thoughts on her new side gig in video game design – and enjoy!

How I Became a Game Designer

By Nikki Lutzke
Twitter: @lutzkekids

If you had told fourth-grade me that one day I would be collaborating on an educational video game for students in Wisconsin, I would never have believed you. But my tech skills have come a long way since that time. I use 1-to-1 computers with my students every day to inspire their learning and meet the demands of the 21st century.

And in the last year, I’ve added a new skill to my resumé: video game designer.

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Angela Bies (right), a fourth grade teacher from Burlington, helps Nikki Lutzke (left) generate questions about a historical object.

I’m part of the Capitol Fellowship: a partnership project between Wisconsin Public Television and stakeholders from across the state, including 15 elementary educators, historians, archivists, artists, writers, designers, computer programmers, and big dreamers from the DPI, Wisconsin Historical Society, and UW-Madison’s Field Day Lab. On Feb. 2, we met for the second time to work on creating a brand-new, freely available web game for third through fifth graders.

We had two goals with this project. On one level, we wanted to celebrate the 100th birthday of our State Capitol. More importantly, we wanted to solve the daunting question of how to help Wisconsin students not just learn history, but do history.

So we met and collaborated with real historians, learning how these individuals record history and make it accessible to all.

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s Bobbie Malone, co-author of both Thinking Like a Historian and Wisconsin: Our State, Our Storyspoke eloquently about her lifetime of experience asking questions and weighing evidence as a working historian.

Our friends at Field Day Lab also taught us about game design and how far it has come over the years. According to Phil Dougherty, the game we’re developing falls into the adventure category, with our characters inhabiting scenes that play out through a series of clues and dead ends.

Now that we’d built a solid foundation with both game knowledge and historical thinking, we were challenged to help create actual scenarios for each level of our game. We had a blast digging through the Wisconsin Historical Society’s archives, piecing together artifact treasure hunts that our students will soon try out for themselves.

A sheet of paper is filled with ideas for the game
So many ideas!

In the coming months, our students will beta-test game prototypes and provide valuable feedback to Field Day writers, artists and developers. So many of these kids already say they want to be involved in game design when they join the workforce; now, they can say that they’ve already taken part in that process!

The team at Field Day has a strong history of involving teachers and students as co-designers, and they understand how to make games from which students can actually learn.

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Teachers Andrea Bell-Myers of Kenosha, Matthew Daniels of Sheboygan, and Jen Guckenberger of Waukesha work together to design a game level.

Wisconsin Public Television Education and its partners are giving teachers and students the opportunity to do history. They’ve brought us face-to-face with historians, archivists, authors, docents, designers, artists, local and state leaders and dreamers. They’ve brought learning to us concretely … and forever changed how this teacher views learning about and teaching history!

For more information about the Capitol game and other Wisconsin Public Television Education resources for your classroom, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

To find out about future Field Day Fellowship opportunities for educators to be involved in game design, check out Field Day Lab on Twitter and Facebook.

And to read more of Nikki’s thoughts on education, head to her blog: UncommontotheCore.blogspot.com

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