On Thursday, April 25, Jennifer Gilman, an upper school mathematics teacher at the East Grand School in Danforth, brought six students to the UMaine Immersive Mathematics in Rendered Environments (IMRE) Lab for a game design workshop. The IMRE Lab investigates the potential for emerging technologies to transform STEM education. The East Grand students that participated in the workshop were members of the East Grand Dream Team, a group of students who are computer science enthusiasts and who maintain the East Grand Virtual Makerspace — a virtual reality lab where students can explore immersive environments using the HTC Vive.
The IMRE Lab has been working with Jennifer Gilman and her students at the East Grand School since October, 2017. Jennifer connected with IMRE through a summer workshop at the RiSE center in 2016. She became interested in the educational potential of virtual reality and worked with IMRE graduate student Camden Bock to design a space at East Grand where students in rural Maine could explore what is possible with immersive virtual reality. IMRE has hosted several trainings for students from East Grand at UMaine since then; in addition, IMRE has visited the East Grand School in Danforth for professional development with East Grand teachers about incorporating virtual environments into their teaching. Jennifer says, “the opportunity for a rural public school to collaborate with a university is really special.” And on the university side, the IMRE lab has benefitted from having a teacher like Jennifer as a partner in their ongoing design and development work.
Members of the Dream Team worked with the development team at the IMRE Lab to design and develop a side-scroller video game that the team collectively coded using the Unity engine.
The workshop began with the students discussing and deciding what kind of game they wanted to develop. They settled on a 2D side-scroller style game that would feature a single character progressing through a hierarchy of levels. The students then split into two teams: A character team and a level team. The character team designed the player, its capabilities, and how it would interact with the game world. The level team planned the obstacles the player would need to negotiate and the consequences for success or failure.
Each team collaboratively planned the game-elements they wanted to feature, and then they worked with an IMRE developer to implement their plans in the Unity game engine.
The purpose of the workshop was to provide an experience-based introduction to Unity, so that members of the East Grand Dream Team could begin to learn how to create their own content. By the end of the workshop, they had developed a playable prototype of what they had designed, even if the game-play elements were not exactly as they had planned — for instance, they learned from one of their initial tests that when the character fell into a pit it fell forever! The students plan to use what they learned from the workshop to design and develop projects of their own in the future.