Sometimes a tool comes a long that is so innovative, so exciting, so unique that you can’t help but be jaw droppingly in awe of it. Thanks to @Ideas_Factory for pointing out Pixel Press, as for me it is one such tool and it doesn’t even exist yet! Well it kind of does…
Take a look here for all the details but basically the premise is: draw your own computer games. It’s beautifully simple in the way the end user (i.e. children in the classroom) would actually use the tool as it is 99% not in front of any type of computer. Basically you draw your game, use an android or apple device to take a picture and the tool does the rest. From there you can add sound effects and other stuff.
You may be wondering why thus far I have referred to Pixel Press as a tool rather than App – basically I didn’t want to put anyone who doesn’t own an entire class set of IPad’s off (who are these mythical beings anyway?!) Because 99% of the possible learning is done without a computer you really only need to be able to get your hands on one device for your class, or at a push, one for your school (or your own smart phone depending on your school ESafety policy of course). This makes the App (see what I did there) affordable yet able to be utilised across your class.
Who could use it? I’d go so far as a saying a particularly dexterous 5 year old would be capable of drawing their own games. The abstract concept of organising their drawings would be equally complex but you could just give them to opportunity to draw and refine their level on normal paper first which would support their understanding. On the Pixel Press roadmap there is a simpler drawing toolkit for younger children, which would definitely open it up to most 5 year olds and be a fantastic introduction to the industry of computer games. Why take such a prominent view of ‘games’ in the classroom rather than other programming genres? Well, because the children are already familiar with it and the industry covers the same types of skills required (and more) as most other are of computing.
In terms of where it fits in, it’s all about the new Computing Curriculum and how to interpret some of the statements. Clearly there is a huge focus on programming, and that is well taken care of using packages such as Beebots, Scratch, Kodu, Lego control units, Actionscript, Basic, Python etc. But there must be balance to this. Children need to understand a target audience, a brief, working in collaboration on a project, the concept of playability, user testing, feedback and evaluation. All these skills would be perfect for the use of Pixel Press. True you could focus on these in other packages such as Scratch but then the quality of the programming would suffer as it would take a long time to develop the programming concepts in addition to the more user focused skills outlined above (clear links with DT and Literacy here in my opinion).
So, I plan to use Pixel Press as the focus on complete units as part of our school’s new Computing Curriculum. It balances and gives meaning to the programming, purpose to the coding and fun to the algorithms!
Pixel Press is currently undertaking a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money required to make all this a reality by Christmas 2013. They even have specific teacher packs as they clearly see the benefit and place Pixel Press could have in education, as do I.