Background to the Mini Game Jam

JAM2LOGOWhat’s that I hear you ask? Well Mini Game Jam is an idea I came up with in 2013. It’s a very simple idea have Primary children spend a day making games using Scratch with their peers from another school. Yes that’s it. No fuss just fun. Children can not only be consumers of games but they can be creators and that to me is important, having children know they CAN do more than play a game.
But how did I get to that point? Ever since my honours project in 2009 I became interested in teaching children about computing using Scratch – a visual easy to use programming language. Once I moved onto my PhD I shifted focus from simply teaching programming concepts to children to introducing them to Games construction using Scratch. During the research period over a couple of years I was lucky enough to work with over 350 children in 3 schools. I spent 8 hours with each class teaching them how to make a simple game and then let them explore Scratch to either extend their game or create a new one. 350 children created 178 games (pair or group working) and not 1 is identical!!! It was great getting to go into primary schools and work with the children who loved every minute of their lessons didn’t feel like research at all!! From this came my idea, in the final stage of my research I was working with 2 classes from 2 schools and thought it would be great if they could put those skills to use and have both schools work together.
At this point also I was getting more involved in what was happening within the games community in Scotland and was hearing more about the Game Jams that go on. This then gave me the idea why not hold a game jam event for children? On a smaller scale naturally. After persuading both schools my idea would work I made arrangements and on the 19th June 2013, 50 P7 children from 2 schools took part in the first ever Mini Game Jam for Primary children at the University of the West of Scotland. It was a memorable day firstly because when the children were told they were being put into groups with children from the other school I had 50 pairs of eyes saying “that’ll be right”. The jam took part in a big university lab and I was lucky enough to have the help of 4 awesome lecturers. However it worked and it worked well. So much so that I was asked by one of the head teachers if I was doing it again the following year I replied “you must be mental”. It was tiring, it was mentally and physically exhausting but you know what got me through was the children. Seeing how well they worked together, how much fun they were having, it just made those wee daft worries go away. Though deep down I knew that this was the beginning of something pretty amazing. One of the schools I should say is my kids own school and for the past 4 years anything computing related I’ve been helping with (but that’s a previous post!!) Sure enough the next school year appeared and my “you must be mental” quote I must have forgotten about as I had started making plans with the head of the school I help at and from that moment on Mini Game Jam was properly born. See the thing is yes I’ve a great idea and it did work but it needed selling to other schools, that I couldn’t do but with the heads help my idea became a bigger reality and year 2 saw 4 schools from the learning community take part (100 children) and again another great day for all involved. Year 3 is underway but word got out across Glasgow and instead for 4 schools in 1 learning community (Smithycroft) there are now 254 children in 21 schools across 4 leaning communities taking part in 5 events. 4 local event plus a final that’s being held at Glasgow Clyde College Cardonald Campus on June 17th 2015.
I am extremely proud that I’ve came up with an idea that not only hits those elusive Experiences and Outcomes for Curriculum for Excellence (the lessons beforehand take account of the Technologies section and in particular TCH-209a that looks at games design). But it’s about far more than hitting a target. Over the past few years I’ve become very aware of the gender divide from either reading about Women in Computing or Games articles. I’ve saw a lot of get Women into XYZ and yes I do agree Women are underrepresented in fields such as Computing and Games. However the more time I’ve spent studying  the more I realise this is not a priority of mine at the moment. Yes we do need to encourage more women in these subjects but for me the main priority is getting children interested. It’s about getting them interested at an age where they don’t understand that there is a whole gender bias. Where we can educate everyone can do anything and not worry about being a boy or a girl. If we get this right at primary school we surely set children up for a future that looks beyond gender. Not once in any of my research lessons teaching about games construction did children mention anything about that’s a boy’s game or that’s a girl’s game!!! In fact I guess the only gender discussion that happened was at first when the suggestion was made that they work in mixed gender groups. Once the initial shock of that had happened there was no other significant gender results to report. All boys and girls just got on with it and made their games as it should be.
As an outsider to the games discussions I’ve seen – I do consider myself an outsider as I don’t truly feel I should belong to the gaming community being that well my degree is in Computing and I am kind of a newbie when it comes to gaming. I don’t teach games and I don’t make games per say. However I have spent over 3 years researching and teaching children in Primary Schools to make games. To me that’s a big thing. Teaching the next generation of game makers – well maybe not teaching? But inspiring them through the research and through events like Mini Game Jam. Gender should not be an issue and I don’t make it one at Primary level. Education is the way forward to break the gender cycle and it should be the norm for all to be involved in gaming by doing the Mini Game Jam and by introducing game construction in primary schools it should change the way of thinking for all involved in games.
I’d love for more games industry folk to get behind my idea and help me promote the Mini Game Jam. This year it has gotten bigger and there are nearly 300 children involved within Glasgow. A small portion of children attending schools across Glasgow but given in year 1 I had only 50 children taking part this is a great leap for year 3. I hope that for next year the rest of Glasgow Primary schools see the benefit of taking part and many more schools will be having local jams – a model that should be able to roll out across the country for more school to get involved.
A few thanks to folk who have helped me – to Simon Kelly for believing in my idea and helping get it off the ground. To IGDA Scotland for helping get  the word out about my event. To CAS Scotland thanks for getting involved this year and helping out it’s going to be a great but busy few weeks. To all the volunteers who help out at the events the day wouldnt be the same without you. Most importantly though thanks to the schools and to all the children who take part you all make it worthwhile and your enthusiasm means that the children in the year below you want to get to go next year!!

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