Making an Educational Game

Behind the scenes of an edtech company.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jenny Paradise

CREDIT Brainzy Education.comIn the past, the makings of a successful school lesson consisted of an inspired idea, a whiteboard, a worksheet, and eager students.

With advances in technology, more parents, teachers, and homeschoolers have sought out new and innovative ways to teach that can complement the tried-and-true success of printables and other non-digital resources. As more educators look for ways to bridge the gap between school and technology, edtech companies have gone beyond the simple digital adaptation of resources to stimulate young learners in ways that were never possible before.

The Making of an Experience

In 2012, the idea of an interactive game that was engaging, educational, and resonated with our core age group of pre-K and elementary school kids was born. Countless process

To glean this valuable insight, we observed educators teaching at school and invited teachers to give demonstrations of how they taught different skills to students.

updates, versions, trials and errors later, Brainzy was introduced to the world in October 2014. I’d like to highlight the aspects of our game development process that were crucial to building the product we envisioned.

Consult with a Variety of Teachers

Consulting teachers was a critical tactic to our game development. Education.com consulted with a wide range of teachers and curriculum specialists to find out how each would focus their teaching to help foster meaningful engagement among students in ways that could be measured by quantifiable data over time. From tactile techniques to emerging technologies, exploring a variety of approaches to skills helped make Brainzy products useful and applicable to many different kinds of learners.

To glean this valuable insight, we observed educators teaching at school and invited teachers to give demonstrations of how they taught different skills to students. Every teacher brought in products that they use in the classroom, giving game developers demonstrations to ignite inspiration on how translate hands-on strategies into a digital experience. These games ranged from flashcards and ten rods to digital apps that branched outside of the “drill and kill” approach. Experimentation was key here, because we didn’t need just one way to teach addition. We needed five.

Identify Core Skills and Multiple Strategies

Another key step is to understand your audience’s needs. We looked into engagement data around our other content types, specifically worksheets, to pinpoint the skills and strategies that parents and teachers found most useful.

This data, combined with advice from our early education experts, provided a rich resource of knowledge. One math teacher’s dedication to hands-on, manipulative-based learning inspired game development that mimicked this concrete style. A literary specialist strongly emphasized the importance of phonics in early grades as an essential pre-reading skill, despite its occurrence just once in the CCSS. This exhaustive research left us with a variety of approaches to essential skills.

Kid Test Your Product

Point scoring, friendly competition, kid-friendly themes, characters, artwork and music all help immerse children in new and familiar skills without becoming frustrated or bored. However, kid testing of these features is key. Development teams can hypothesize about what will resonate with children, but confirming your hypotheses is critical. On more than one occasion, our preconceived expectations were challenged and punted back to the drawing board after a humbling visit to a local elementary school.

If you’re in the market to develop an educational game, don’t be too proud to abandon beliefs about how games should be used. Instead, focus on how players interact with your product and adapt it to fit their needs. By starting with the needs of your customer, you’ll create a dynamic, engaging game experience that resonates with every kind of learner.

Jenny Paradise is the Editorial Director at Education.com, a leading online destination for educators of students Pre-K through fifth grade.

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