When it comes to our students, no matter the age, they have each experienced various events in their lives up to this point. Even Pre-K students have experienced joy, pain, excitement, and fear. Past experiences can be a great starting point for the creative process. For instance, my 7th grade Design classes are currently developing and programming video games. It would be real easy for me to simply tell them what kind of a game to create, give them the grading parameters (rubric), and be done with it. But I’ve found that the student is more likely to grasp the programming process and retain the necessary skills needed for basic video game design if they are allowed to create a game that reflects what they know. In other words, I want their past experiences to be a part of the game they design.

I have one student who loves to cook with her mom. She is designing a game that calls for the player to collect the necessary items to cook a pizza (dough, cheese, pasta sauce, pepperoni, and pizza pan), all while trying to avoid pesky monsters that want to eat the pizza maker.

I have another student who is obsessed with video games. It is safe to say he spend a fair amount of time in front of a TV which is hooked up to a Play Station. He is in the process of creating a video game that has several levels, and each level is based on one of his favorite video games (and he has a lot of favorite video games). So while playing his game, the player will actually be experiencing several awesome video games in one…clever…and creative.

These two students, and their video game design strategies, represent a process that allows past experiences to drive the creative process. This in turn will allow for greater understanding of the lesson, and make the learning experience more fun in the process. And this isn’t a strategy that is limited to Design class. This strategy can be utilized in any class.

Think about it. Little Tommy is struggling in his math class. The teacher needs to find a way to connect Tommy with the current percentage unit. She knows that Tommy loves baseball. So she incorporates baseball lingo and scenarios into lesson. Now, instead of seeing, “What percent of 162 is 77”, Tommy sees, “The Yankees won 77 of their 162 games, what was percent of total games did they win?”

Let’s say Tammy is having a hard time engaging in English because the writing prompts are “too boring.” The teacher knows that Tammy loves horses and she rides every weekend. The teacher can modify the writing prompt so that Tammy is able to write about something she is passionate about…horses. This keeps her interest, and hopefully she is able to acquire the essential knowledge from the task.

Does this mean that educators will have to spend a little more time and effort thinking outside the box? Heck yes! But the reward is lifelong learning instead of acquired facts that are quickly forgotten. And let’s face it…if you got into education because you thought it was a cakewalk…you chose the wrong profession.

Mitchell Collin Fairchild

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