Monthly Archives: July 2012

2012
07/08

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Computing
Teaching

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Using Inform7 with English

I love the idea of children programming in school. I’ve used Scratch, Kodu, done some simple HTML development and am mooching around with also using GameMaker, Greenfoot and Alice. But of particular personal interest is Inform7, an interactive fiction development platform that attempts to handle plain English to create games.

The breakthrough for me came when I discovered that the head of English at my school was a bit of a computer games, in particular interactive fiction, geek. We bashed a few scenarios around and eventually came up with a plan for a one-day session which we ran successfully a couple of times. We showed children a story-heavy i-f game (in our case, it was Anchorhead) and then let them explore for a while. After a break we helped them plan out a small world of their own, modelled how to define locations and doors, and then let them loose to see what they could work together to produce. The results were great fun.

So we decided to “think bigger” and opted to plan out a proper scheme of work, to try and build a full (still trying to think small) game in groups. Year 8 were the lucky volunteers, as they had a small gap at the end of the year and also, we thought their recent work on Shakespeare gave us an obvious “in” in terms of a story hook without curtailing their choices overly.

The idea was that they would plan and write the creative descriptions in English, then work on turning that into a game in ICT. There were various technology-based hiccups (like when we opted to try and get them to map their world out in Prezi, but then English found they had spent entire lessons with ICT support in there having to reset passwords, etc) but overall English have found the experience a positive one (woo-hoo for cross-curricular working) so we are set to try again, next year, building on what we have learned.

So… what have we learned? Well, for starters, I’ve learned a lot more about game development in Inform7! I’ve still a long way to go (so that’s part of my summer learning, right there) but it’s been brilliant having something geeky to get my teeth into. Also, I’ve learned that children’s imaginations are way less constrained than mine – some of the ideas they have come up (that I have had to read up on) have been fantastic! I’ve been thrilled with some of the work that otherwise troublesome pupils have done – obviously, this unit really inspired them.

But I’ve also had to face that some children still found this very hard. So next year I think what we’ll do is get some of them to think of it purely in terms of freeze-framed tableaux… ie, how did the story end? if you could wander around at the end of (for us) Macbeth, then what would you see? What items would be lying around? What bodies? What would you be seeing, smelling, hearing, and so on. Perhaps, for some, the key is to link it to their creative writing and being able to use the computers to explore that world, rather than having to think of it in terms of game development, again.

What do you think?