Spark: Great things come in SMALLabs

In continuation of PopTech’s engagement with youth and innovation, high school students and Spark Connectors Anthony Norris and Keziah Green joined game designer and Spark Innovator Katie Salen for an afternoon of hands on, mixed-reality learning at SMALLab (Situated Multimedia Art Learning Lab) in New York City this past Thursday.

SMALLab-New York is housed within Quest to Learn, a school designed with the digital world in mind, encouraging strategic thinking not only through playing games but also through designing them.

This particular afternoon, a group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders played a SMALLab game to navigate a sinking raft through dangerous rocks, hiding from sharks and obtaining coins and health packs to remain afloat. The game was projected onto the floor and controllers, held by the players, were tracked by 12 cameras.

Salen reminded the students, who were brimming with energy, “As a game player, you want to remain calm. There is no good decision in this game. Everything is a trade off. So if you happen to miss a coin or a health pack, all you have to do is say OK, let’s focus on what’s going to happen next.”

After a brief demo, students were split into groups to imagine their own games, taking into consideration the circumstances in which they would find themselves on a raft and designing levels to be played with and critiqued by peers.

Spark Connector Norris, observing the students interacting with the game, gained perspective on the creative process. “It was a sneak peak into the making of an animated game. It was really cool to see how the technology works, from the types of cameras to the computers.”

The other attending Connector, Green, weighed in as well. “What surprised me the most was how smart these kids are. I wouldn’t have been able to listen as much as they did when I was a kid.”

Using play as a foundation on which to invent and explore seemed to resonate with the participating students, too. A sixth grader noted with awe, “I’ve learned in ways I’ve never learned before.”

Find out more on PopTech’s blog about PopTech’s Spark Connectors as well as previous Spark events with Tierney Thys, Hayat Sindi and at Will Allen’s Growing Power.

Photos: Emily Qualey
More photos at SMALLab can be seen here.

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