Sunday, April 17, 2011

Falling Sand

Way back in 2006 Noah discovered Owen Piette's "Falling Sand Game." These silly little desktop diversions were quite the rage at the time. You sprinkle virtual coloured sand in a little window on your desktop and it falls, slowly or quickly, depending on which colour you choose. Lovely zen-like patterns form in the heaps at the bottom of the window.

WXSand, Piette's version, was the first open source game that Noah started tinkering with. The script containing the definitions of the various types of sand was infinitely modifiable. We went on a lovely computer-free vacation to Texada Island that fall and the whole time we were there, tide pooling and kayaking and playing family games Noah's little 9-year-old brain was turning as he amassed ideas for new elements he intended to code for WXSand.

Fast forward to this year. Noah has been attending Community Gaming Night, a biweekly open session at one of the community halls where several computers and a gaming console or two are set up and kids, teens and adults are welcome to drop in and play and learn and socialize. I practically had to drag Noah to the first session last fall (he's still incredibly resistant to new things) but he quickly became Gaming Night's biggest fan and a major motive force. The organizer has increasingly put him in charge of portions of the evening. He's now choosing most of the games for the children's portion (the first three hours, devoted to games suitable for all ages) and providing input for the teen/adult session that follows. He's been granted admin privileges on the computers and does much of the installing and configuring.

And because he's providing software for the younger set, recently he has been pulling out some of the really old games he enjoyed when he was 8 through 12. They're mostly available for free now, which is great for a community program running on a shoestring budget. They run on old machines. And some of them are remarkably unique and clever, considering the limited computing power they require.

For old times' sake he pulled out WX Sand a couple of weeks ago. And he decided it would be fun to do some scripting for it again. He discovered that he's many times more efficient and effective at coding than he was back then and is much more adept at devising logical workarounds for conceptual problems (like, trying to use a game devised as a pretty diversion made up of falling pixels into a simulation of a steam engine, or an electrical circuit).

He had such fun creating funky new elements to perform weird functions in the game that I suggested he take the script in to show our liaison teacher at our monthly meeting where we report on what the kids have been busy learning. According to the DL course structure that we set up for Noah this year, he's enrolled in high school courses in the InfoTech subject area. I figured it would be useful evidence of learning, and Noah agreed. He loaded up is thumb drive with the game and his home-made script, and headed into the school.

You need to understand that our DL teacher is a science and math guy. So this was right up his alley. Using code and mathematical parameters to simulate physical and chemical reactions between various substances? Couldn't have been more his kind of thing! Noah loaded the program and the script and started explaining, demonstrating, tweaking code on the fly, commenting on his approach and logical problem-solving strategies, highlighting, using metaphors and simplifications to describe for his DL teacher how and why he had used certain approaches. They huddled together, talking and trying things out. The teacher was clearly very impressed.

Finally, after about twenty minutes, it was lunch time and they sat back to kind of wrap things up.

"Do you want a copy of the coding I did?" Noah asked, unsure as we all are about how much hard evidence of learning this new DL program is required to amass.

"Actually," the DL teacher confessed, smirking conspiratorially ... "I'd kind of like a copy of the whole game."

And so Noah loaded WXSand and his vastly appended script file of physics elements on the school laptop. I am pretty sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with Evidence of Learning. I think it has to do with one pretty nifty DL teacher whose gaming and scientific interests were genuinely piqued by what Noah had showed him.

1 comment:

  1. Like, like, like!!! That's fabulous!

    ReplyDelete

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