Greetings, everyone. I’m working part-time at a local elementary school while I finish my master’s degree and teacher license. Part of my work involves helping my boss - the school math coach - run a weekly Math Olympiad group for 4th and 5th graders. I’ve always had an interest in using games in education, and I grew up playing Infocom games. I’m now starting to explore INFORM and Quest as I start to think about actual lessons and curricula I might be able to do in the future.
I suggested doing something small like this to my boss, and he’s offered me the chance to take three weeks of Math Olympiad sessions (one hour per week) to explore the topic.
My plan was to spend the three sessions like this:
Introduce the concept and let the kids play around in a small-scale game via Parchment.
Introduce a little friendly competition by starting all the kids off in the same spot in the same game and seeing if they can solve a more difficult, self-contained puzzle. For instance (I might not use this specific game due to difficulty level, but just as an example) I might have them all load a savegame that puts them in the Vogon spaceship in Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy and challenge the class to see who can actually get the Babel fish.
Demo the Twine or Quest browser-based IF construction system and let them experiment with building a few rooms.
This is a lot of ground to cover in just 3 one-hour sessions, but my boss still wants to try it as kind of an “end-of-year” treat for the kids, just to expose them to something new and to work in some general problem-solving strategies.
What I’m looking for here specifically are suggestions for sessions 1 and 2:
For Session 1, I need a simple game, accessible for elementary kids, that would be fun to explore and not too frustrating. I was thinking Lost Pig might be just right, but would welcome other suggestions. These kids are above average for the school in math and literacy, but it’s still an urban school with a lot of challenged kids, so I don’t want to frustrate them with something too cerebral.
For session 2, I need a nice standalone puzzle that could be given to the kids with minimal setup, would require a few actions to solve without going to a lot of other parts of the map, and would provide an obvious goal that the kids will recognize when they solve the puzzle. Again, the Babel fish puzzle is a good example of all of these things, I’m just looking for some alternatives that might be similar in structure, but a little easier, or just different.
Any suggestions would be welcome!
Many thanks in advance.
Session 1: You might look into Bronze by Emily Short or The Dreamhold by Andrew Plotkin.
Draconis’s suggestions are exactly the games I used to introduce my sister to IF, in preparation for a collaborative project that may happen one day Real Soon Now. They are both excellent games with excellent built-in hint systems. Your idea of Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) is pretty good too but expect to do a lot more hand-holding.
For an individual self-contained puzzle, I would have a hard time imagining anything better than the cistern in Dreamhold, especially since it has two solutions if you make sure they have the extra piece of gauze first (it’s in the north alcove, near the orrery). For a B, get the red mask; for an A, get the red mask in expert mode (you’ll need to have two separate premade saves); for bonus credit, get the buckler also.
In my experience teaching elementary, middle, and high school aged kids, Inklewriter is the most fun / least frustrating system for elementary school kids to write with. (I usually do Ren’Py with middle school and Inform 7 with high school and college.) The end product is very understandable to them, and the writing interface is pleasingly glossy, which is apparently really important to kids. The web version of Twine is pretty great, but a couple notches less glossy and more prone to crashing than Inklewriter, neither of which is good for that age.
Accordingly, I’d tend to have them play a more choice-based game, at least for the first session. Take a look at The Matter of the Monster: eblong.com/zarf/zweb/matter/ It’s short enough that they can play a bunch of times so they can start to see the structure of the thing, and the subject matter is familiar enough to be welcoming. It was wasn’t made in Inklewriter, but it’s the sort of thing that could have been.
Thank you to all for your suggestions! The first session went very well, and the kids loved it. I always find it a little funny when they’re familiar with a franchise like Zork as a “thing”, but have no idea what it actually is. In these days where pop culture gets regurgitated so many times on t-shirts and TV shows, that’s pretty common. So it was nice to show them what it actually IS.
The best part was that the kids went back to their teachers and asked when they could do text adventures in their other classes.
We wound up going with Lost Pig, and will continue to work with that over the next week, perhaps breaking the problems down into smaller goals and having small groups work on individual problems. But InkleWriter is not something I want to let go of - if this continues, and if other teachers get interested, I will definitely keep that in mind for more writing-oriented projects.
Again, thank you all for your input!