Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I never had an afterschool class like this.

This week I finally start a project that I've been planning for almost two years... and I'm really nervous.

Back in 2009, my 7 year old daughter was taking an after-school animation course and I thought "How cool is that? I wish there had been an animation class when I was a kid." Which got me thinking if her school might be interested in a class on video game design?

The class wouldn't be just about making video games, but actually about the important things you do when making games like brainstorming, collaborating on ideas, giving constructive criticism, taking your dreams, putting it on paper and working together with others to bring those dreams to life.

Around the time I was musing with these ideas, I read about a program called HASTAC and the National STEM Game Design Competition - President Obama's initiative to get technology into schools via various means including Playstation 2 and a great game called LittleBigPlanet.

As a HUGE fan of LittleBigPlanet, I had been playing the game with my own two kids and was creating our own levels. I started researching how I could get a grant from the $2 million that the MacArthur Foundation was contributing to the HASTAC program.

However, after six months of being shuffled around by the people at HASTAC, the MacArthur Foundation and Sony (where I used to work) I still wasn't any closer to getting a start on the class or obtaining any equipment. When I finaly did talk to someone at HASTAC, they told me the program was actually a competition and not an on-going program. I must have missed reading that the first time around. And when I found out that the kid's school summer programs were being administrated by the local Parks and Rec (who required teachers to be trained educators - something I'm not) I thought the class was sunk.

Discouraged, I stopped pursuing the idea... until I was attending the San Diego Comic Con where two Sony marketeers were demoing the Marvel Comic add-on for LittleBigPlanet. I figured, what the heck, if anyone knew about the program, it would be these guys. The guys at the show didn't know much about the program but one of them gave me a number of someone from Sony Entertainment who did.

Upon returning from the show, I contacted the Sony marketing rep with the hopes of getting Sony to donate PS3, Monitors, Games - anything that would keep me from spending about 4G of my own cash (the estimated cost of the class.)

Sony was intrigued with the idea and very generously donated copies of the game LittleBigPlanet but couldn't help out with the hardware. The other burst of enthusiasm came when I talked to the Principal about the class and she wanted it to happen regardless of how the other after school classes were done - which means I didn't have to do it through Parks and Rec and I didn't have to be an "official" teacher. I had my green light and not long after, the games from Sony arrived! We were back on track!

Re-encouraged, I explored several user-donated programs like Kickstarter to raise the additional capital for the hardware - as I braced myself for some major fundraising, I received an e-mail from the school Principal - the local Time Warner was funding the class! The additional donation allowed us to buy monitors, PS3s and extra controllers and classroom supplies!

So as I write this, things are pretty much in place and I start class this Friday at EARTHs academy with thirteen 4th and 5th graders. I've given talks to hundreds of people with no problem, but this time I'm actually nervous. I hope they like the class. Today my daughter gave me this bit of advice: "Daddy, don't make the class boring."

I'll do my best.


Scott Rogers said...

Awesome blog! Good luck with your class - let us know how it goes.

Paul Kankiewicz said...

Did you just comment on your own blog? Haha. Seriously though, that (And your next post) seems like a fun class! I'm jealous I'm not a kid right now. When I was in elementary school I always wanted a class about video games, but no such luck. The best we had was computer lab once a week, where we would learn to type, use search engines, and use some sort of paint program. Good luck!

Scott Rogers said...

@ Paul,

Must have been my wife signed in as me!