Last Friday I was part of an ACT prep meeting. We discussed how to help students understand the time pressures they will be facing during the ACT testing. At my high school students do have due dates but we tend not to put too much time pressure on students when they test. The ACT does not follow this principle. To get a feel for the time crunch our curriculum coordinator gave us all a section of the test related to our specialty; I was given a Social Studies reading and 5 multiple choice questions from the ACT prep website. We were then asked to answer the 5 readings in the pro-rated time a student would have-5 minutes. I was incredibly frustrated when time was called as I was answering question 4. Imagine a student walking into the ACT unprepared for that time restraint!

We were all asked to help students deal with answering questions in this highly pressurized environment. My mind went immediately to game design. Specifically, the feeling that I had as the ACT timer clicked down was the same one that I felt as a young Super Mario Bros. player trying to get through Bowzer’s labyrinth castle! So I began to think about ways to incorporate that feeling of stress in a productive and safe way. I designed some short timed game situations where students would be forced to analyze some type of document and use that information to either solve a puzzle or earn a reward.

I’ve been participating in a number of Twitter Ed Chats and in one of the Teach Like a Pirate Chats (I think #xplap or #tlap) several teachers were talking about using movie trailers to create a sense of drama. Since I use iMovie all the time for my class narrative (see The One Where a Student Saved My Class Story or Hero’s Quest: “The Underground Collector” Narrative) I thought I would try my hand at a fun video introduction. At the moment, my narrative involves “The Collector” being captured by an extremist group called “The Patriot’s Cause” led by Cincinnatus. In this intro video Cincinnatus appears to hack into my network as I am “introducing” an update to my course website. Check out the video here: Breakout Game Introduction Video Link. The majority of the students thought this not-so-clever ruse was fun; a few thought it was cheesy but they were still engaged.

The video introduced a quick BreakoutEDU game 2 boxes each with 1 lock and a 10 minute time limit. Inside the final box was a 5 question bonus activity which had to be completed within the 10 minutes. To break the locks the students had to analyze two tables of data about the Great Depression and New Deal as well as understand a couple of clues on the whiteboard. The time limit accomplished the goal of adding stress to the analysis activity but the playfulness allowed students to feel the anxiety in a safe way. The first class was not able to break the locks. They were disappointed but the failure did not impact their grade negatively and since they will get another opportunity in a similar situation they hopefully learn from that initial attempt and develop a better strategy.

As I go forward, I intend to keep adding this mini-games to the class in order to provide a way for students to experience the stress of limited time events for the ACT but in a “Free 2 Fail” way. This gameful play should help them to develop strategies for coping with time limits while trying to think critically. I know that Super Mario Bros taught me how to manage my time in Bowzer’s Castle better.