Coding is becoming an increasingly important skill in order to succeed in a digital-focused world, meaning that it’s steadily been entering the curriculum in schools around the world. However, this has left teachers with the challenge of making coding engaging and fun enough to keep students interested and invested in learning to code.
One solution that’s proven to have strong results for many teachers is to use game development as a way to make coding lessons fun while teaching a variety of important coding skills. By using game development as a springboard to delve into broader coding subjects, teachers can make coding lessons more engaging and get students genuinely invested in learning to code.
Why You Should Teach Game Development To Coding Students
Game development is a great starting point for teaching students how to code as it’s a fun, engaging subject which many of them will already be interested in and invested in due to the popularity of video games among young people. According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, 97% of teenage boys and 83% of teenage girls play video games.
Because of this, framing coding lessons around video games can be a great way to get your lessons off to a strong start by immediately grabbing your students’ attention and interest. What’s more, game development is a great way of teaching many essential coding skills even beyond the programming needed to create a game.
Teaching game development and game design processes can help students to understand how to code a product with a certain goal or audience in mind, why it’s important to test and debug code, how to collaborate with others on code projects, and various other soft skills essential in coding.
Game development can also help to encourage students to use computational and design thinking. When students develop new games, they will write scripts telling game elements how to behave, automate enemies and NPCs, and perform other coding tasks. In doing so, they’ll engage in computational thinking – breaking down a larger project into several smaller tasks and problems to solve.
Design thinking, meanwhile, is encouraged by approaching the game design process with a solution-based approach to problem-solving in their game projects. Design thinking is an important principle in coding and computer science, so being able to engage students’ capacities for design thinking through game development is extremely useful.
Tips For Teaching Game Development To Make Coding Fun
While teaching game development is definitely a great way to make your coding lessons more engaging, it’s not always easy to get it right – especially if you don’t have much game dev experience yourself. To help you on your way, follow these hints and tips.
Start By Examining Different Games
A useful point to start with game development is to look at existing games and how they work. Examining different games in close detail can be a great way to start conversations with your class about how they think they were made, what decisions the developers had to make, what audience they were made for, and what coding challenges they think were involved.
Play some games with your class and get them to point out and analyze different aspects that they think are notable or that would be important to consider when designing and coding the game. As well as using videogames, you can also use board games – chess, for example, can be a good way of looking at the rules that govern how different objects and characters in a game behave; in turn, you can explain how this mirrors the rules that govern games’ coding.
Particular aspects of these games that you should get your class to think about include genres, audiences, game mechanics, win/loss scenarios, and control methods. Analyzing games in detail can make for an ideal first homework assignment, too. Ask students to play their favorite videogame then write a report on particular aspects and how they think the developers approached them during the design process.
Remix Existing Games
Once your students are familiar with some of the fundamental principles behind game design, it can be helpful to go under the hood of familiar games to show the mechanisms of the underlying code. This will enable students to form an understanding of how game coding works by looking at how simple games work before beginning work on their own.
After you’ve shown them what the code looks like for these games, task your students with making their own version that remixes certain elements. For example, you could ask your students to design their own version of a simple game like Snake or Pong with additional elements such as obstacles or with a new visual theme.
This may seem like a difficult task for coding beginners with no previous experience. However, block-based coding tools such as Scratch can allow them to gain experience of coding a game without overwhelming them with the requirements of complex programming languages.
By tasking students with remixing a game, they can begin to understand the principles of game design in practice while still having a template to work from, helping to ease them into the process. This can also give them practical experience of testing and debugging their games to ensure they work as they’re supposed to.
Make Use Of Online Resources
Creating lesson plans, activities, and assessments for any subject can be a challenge, and game development is no exception. Luckily, there are all sorts of websites and online learning platforms that can give you some inspiration for lesson ideas and additional tools to make teaching game development easier.
For example, there’s Zenva Schools, an online learning platform that provides coding courses specifically designed for high school students. Zenva Schools offers a wide range of courses built around fun, project-based coding lessons and activities created by industry experts.
Its parent site, Zenva Academy, places a heavy emphasis on game development, which shows here, too – although there are plenty of other coding subjects to explore, which also makes it ideal when you want to use game development as a springboard for exploring other topics. Every course comes with on-demand videos and source code, making them highly accessible.
In addition, Zenva Schools provides a number of other handy features. Live coding in-browser, downloadable written guides, and in-course quizzes provide additional ways for your students to learn. Meanwhile, classroom and student management tools alongside robust student progression tracking can help you to teach more effectively, too.
Zenva Schools is a great resource for any coding or game development teacher, providing them with the tools and content they need to lead brilliant lessons. Obviously, though, it’s not the only site you can try – there are all sorts of other websites offering helpful resources for you to use in the classroom.
For instance, there’s Code.Org, a library of hour-long coding activities covering a range of subjects (although these are mostly geared towards younger students rather than high-school coders). As such, if you’re ever struggling to plan your next lesson, it can be a great idea to look online for inspiration and support.
Choose A Beginner-Friendly Game Engine & Stick To It
Choosing a platform for your students to code on is an important choice to make, as it will define the way they approach game development with the tools it provides them. As such, you should do your research thoroughly to choose a suitable engine.
In particular, you should try to pick a beginner-friendly engine so that all your students can make full use of it, even if some of them have less coding experience than others. One solid choice is Unity – it’s a very beginner-friendly engine, but also includes a wide range of tools that allow students to take on professional-grade projects when they’re more experienced.
Once you’ve chosen your platform and started teaching with it, don’t be tempted to switch to another option if you change your mind. It’s better to stick with one platform until your students have mastered it before teaching them how to use another one.
Sticking with one game engine consistently will allow students to learn the basics of game development and improve their coding skills without confusing or overwhelming them with multiple platforms and approaches. As such, make sure you pick an engine that you’ll be willing to use for the entirety of your course.
Connect Game Design With Coding Principles
Game development in and of itself is a highly rewarding subject for students to learn, enabling them to bring their ideas to life and appreciate the medium of video games with a new understanding of how they work. However, if you’re using game development as a tool for teaching coding, make sure you keep this end goal in sight.
Try to tailor the projects and activities you set your class to specific coding skills that you want them to develop, and ensure that you explicitly link game development concepts to broader coding principles. If you’re using game development as a coding teaching tool, you need to make sure that everything links back to coding in some way.
By making sure you keep the links between coding and game design in mind and make them clear to your students, you can help them to recognize and understand the transferable skills they’re developing. Doing so will ensure that they can successfully deploy the skills they develop through game design in broader coding subjects.
Make Sure To Playtest
Playtesting is a vital component of game development, enabling developers to highlight bugs and design flaws, as well as testing whether the game is actually a satisfying experience for players. As such, you should make sure you set aside ample time for your class to playtest the games they work on.
As well as testing their own games, you should get your students to play their classmates’ games as well. Doing so will help them to highlight issues their peers may have missed while also exploring different perspectives and approaches to game design.
Dedicated playtest and debugging sessions will stress the importance of testing, revising, and debugging to your students. This applies to all coding, not just game development, so it’s an important lesson to convey to your class if you want to use game development as a springboard for other coding subjects.
Remember That It’s Never Too Early To Learn
While actual coding and text-based programming languages may prove too difficult for younger students, it’s not impossible to use game design as a tool for teaching students of any age about coding and computer science principles. It’s never too early to start teaching students about fundamental coding principles – and games are a great medium for doing so.
Using rule-based physical activities, card games, or board games is a great way to get younger students thinking about how rules govern the games that they play. In turn, this can help to explain the principles behind basic coding principles such as sequencing. With a bit of creativity, games can therefore be a great way of giving young students some basic foundations in coding that will help them to excel when they’re old enough to start actual coding.
Game development is an excellent way of getting students engaged and invested in coding lessons, since video games are a medium that most young people are highly familiar with and interested in. By using game development as an introductory point for coding lessons, you can get students hooked with fun activities while also teaching them the core principles that will help them to develop into proficient coders.
By following the above tips, you should be able to craft engaging and entertaining lessons that successfully get your students into game development and wider coding subjects. In doing so, not only will they be able to build up a wide range of valuable transferrable skills, they’ll also get the chance to unleash their creativity in new and exciting ways.
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