There is a lot of merit in having students write research papers. Through the process, students learn to form and express ideas, evaluate source material, support thesis statements with research, and so on.
But writing papers is not for every student, nor is the practice of traditional essay writing necessarily applicable in many students’ post-education lives.
For that reason, teachers are exploring alternatives to the essay. Today, we’re going to learn how to use one of my favorite software solutions — Bloxels — to create a biographical video game that will provide your students with the benefits of the research paper process, while tapping into a different part of their creative minds.
Before We Begin: What is Bloxels?
Bloxels is a platform where students can create video games and interactive stories. Using either the tactile color blocks and gameboard, or the Bloxels Builder (accessible using the app or web-based platform), students can create characters, objects, backgrounds, and more.
To see Bloxels in action, take a look at the video below.
With Bloxels, students have the ability to create characters, objects, and backgrounds — all of which can be combined into a game where the student can add elements of modern video games including story-blocks, enemies, and extra lives.
Using Bloxels to Create a Biography
To get started, have your students select a person of interest by providing them with a prompt. Example prompts can be:
Open-Ended, for example, “Select a person in history who you find inspirational.”
Or Focused on a time period or event, such as,“Based on our recent studies about the Civil War, write about a person whose actions impacted society during that time period.”
For today’s example, I am going to focus my biography on biologist and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Fleming to discuss the history of his discovery of penicillin, and its development.
Create Your Character
Have your students use the Character Creator, located within Bloxels Builder, to create their person of interest. Within the Bloxels Builder, students have access to a 13×13 grid, where they can input color blocks to create their character. Students can use either the tangible gameboard, or the Bloxels Builder web-platform to achieve this. For my example, I created all my art using the web-based platform.
Within the Character Creator, students can animate their character by adding slides that alter the movements step-by-step and adjust the speed of those movements.
Tools within the builder include:
Color selection (it’s important to note, you can only use 8 colors at a time per animation box)
Copy and paste
Flip image (upside down or right side up)
Arrow up, down, left, or right, to shift all the color blocks
Create Your Setting
Select which setting would best to help tell the story of your character. For my biography about Alexander Fleming, I decided to go with a science lab. To add a research element to your assignment, you can:
Have the students recreate a specific place based on picture evidence
Have students include historically accurate decorative accents (for example, in my lab I have the periodic table pictured in the background. If I wanted to ensure this is historically accurate, I could have researched the evolution of the period table to make sure it appeared the way it would have in 1927.)
Using the Background Creator, students can make more complex and detailed designs than they can using the Character or Art Builders, since you are not confined to a 13×13 pixel grid. However, you are still limited with your color selection (only 8 colors max are allowed in the design).
Creating Objects Using the Art Builder
Similar to your background creation, you will need to add objects that are pertinant to your subject’s life. These objects can be placed within your game to help you tell the story.
For my Alexander Fleming game, objects I created included:
Bacteria (since Fleming was the biologist who’s discovery would later be used to kill bacterial infections)
Virus (commonly mistaken for bacterial infections)
Rx Pill Bottle (the modern way we receive antibiotics)
Nobel Prize (which was awarded to Alexander Fleming for his work)
For your game, students will also create objects that will help the game function. This can include
Landscape elements such as flooring or walls
Arrows to guide the player through the game
Numbers or letters (for example, in my game I used numbers to highlight multiple choice options, as pictured below.)
Creating Your Biographical Game
Now that you have your main character, setting, and objects created, you can begin crafting your story. For that, Bloxels allows you to build your world using the following:
One of the most frequently used blocks your students will input into their game will be the white story block. Each white story block will allow the student to input a maximum of 500 characters, which will promote effective, to-the-point narrative writing with your students.
For my game, I assigned my white story blocks to be signs that would act as stopping points. These stopping points would indicate to the player that it was time to read dialogue.
I also created additional characters that were important in the life of my person of interest, in order to help tell the story and deliver additional dialogue (as seen below).
Once your student has completed their biographical game, they can share their work with their classmates by uploading it to the Class Library. Classmates will be able to then play the game, or “remix” their classmate’s work by creating a copy of the game and adjusting it however they’d like. Students can also share their characters, art objects, and backgrounds to the Class Asset Library, which will allow students to input their classmate’s creations into their own games.
More on Bloxels
To learn more about Bloxels, check out our courses on OTIS for educators, Teq’s online professional development platform. Available Bloxels courses include:
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our schools and learning, Teq is making all of our PD courses on OTIS for educators FREE to help schools and districts implement distance learning and online professional development.