For the past month, the members of the CUDO Plays Committee have been working closely with the Stratton Academy of the Arts elementary school in Champaign on a project we call CUDO Plays Academy. Through this project we have been helping 3rd and 4th graders design their own games, and hopefully imparting lasting lessons about design to the students. I recently sat down with Kaity Bequette to ask her a few questions about how the CUDO Plays Academy has gone now that it’s in its final week of sessions.
First, can you introduce yourself and what you do for CUDO Plays.
My name is Kaity Bequette, and I am the co-chair of CUDO Plays. The other co-chair is Katie Khau, and she doesn’t live here in town, so right now I’m kind of the “boots on the ground” running the operation, and she runs things behind the scenes and comes in on the weekend to help us out. I run the committee meetings, and I’m the point person for our activities with CUDO Plays Academy.
Could you talk about how CUDO Plays Academy, came about?
Kaity: CUDO Plays works closely with our parent organization CUDO (the Champaign Urbana Design Organization). Emily Denis was previously a member of the CUDO board, and now works at the Stratton Academy of the Arts as the Magnet Coordinator and Instructional Coach. In that role she designs and implements their arts magnet program which seeks to integrate the arts into the core curriculum. Emily reached out to us to see if we could run a miniature CUDO Plays event for the children at Stratton. She thought it was a really great opportunity to teach design thinking to the students and we did as well! So now we are teaching board game design to 3rd and 4th graders at Stratton.
Please talk a bit about the CUDO Plays Academy curriculum and how it is related to the full CUDO Plays competition.
Kaity: The CUDO Plays Academy curriculum is a four week program that was developed by [CUDO Plays veteran and committee member] Jess Chu. She and Katie Khau have worked together in this age group before with a project called Girls Make Games, so they are experienced with writing lesson plans. They took our six month competition that we organize for the community and trimmed it down to the essentials; things we were fairly certain that 3rd and 4th graders could understand and achieve within the limited time that we have. And we are limited in time. We’re only there for 40 minutes a day, three days a week in the early morning. It’s kind of a huge difference — bit of a culture shock too — between delivering a very detailed program to 18-70 year old hobbyists who have the resources and interest in this operation, and administering it to 150 seven to ten year olds. So, it’s been a bit of a challenge, but now we know how we can alter the program to provide it to even more students, so we’re excited about that.
What were your biggest fears prior to the actual class sessions starting as this project was coming together?
Kaity: I don’t have very much experience with this age group. Katie Khau and Jess Chu had worked with Girls Make Games before, but that was for videogames, and they were working with 12 girls of the same age who had opted-in to that program. So they had signed up for it, they had a personal interest for it. For 4th and 3rd grade at Stratton, these are students that hadn’t necessarily opted-in to our curriculum, so there was a bit of a different response. Not all of them were super enthusiastic about creating board games. Some of them we’ve had to really walk through the process, but they have ended up making pretty cool things. Also, I was worried about the sheer amount of students. We’re talking over 150 kids across seven classrooms.
Getting back into the headspace of working with this age group was a little difficult because I’ve been working with college students at the University for so long. It has worked out okay because we have a solid curriculum. I have a process for going around and talking about each day’s lesson with every teacher before the day begins. That also helps me to station volunteers where they are needed most.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you through these past 4 weeks of classes?
Kaity: That students are making functional games that work! That’s a surprise at any age level honestly. It’s a huge outcome of our Board Game Boot Camp event as well. People come in thinking they have no idea how to make a game. We just give them mechanics, themes, and some pieces to work with and they make one. They always surprise themselves! In this case, some of the children are really surprising me with what they’re coming up with. The originality of their ideas, and the different ways they’re applying mechanics is great. So it’s really fun to watch that process. I’m also pleased that more of the teachers are becoming enthusiastic about it. So I’m pumped, it’s cool!
What would you do differently next time running CUDO Plays Academy?
Kaity: I would definitely try to recruit more volunteers. Ideally enough to have one in each classroom even though that’s not exactly possible logistically at this point. Our volunteers right now are all CUDO Plays Committee members giving their time before their work day starts. I’d like to reach out to the University education community to see if other people would be interested in doing this with us, but it’s kind of a very specific, esoteric cross section of people. Like, are you into early education? Are you into early education and also really into board games? Early education, board games, and design thinking? It’s a very odd cross section of interests that CUDO Plays has really developed, and I think we’ve found most of those people, and it’s tough to get 7 of them 3 days a week, for that time. I’d love to have more.
We are definitely going to alter the lesson plan as well — make things more specific. We’re learning a whole lot, and we’ll definitely be able to apply it in the future.
Can you expand on possible curriculum changes a bit more?
Kaity: Yes! So right now our curriculum is very basic, and it’s great, it’s a perfect outline, but now that we are in the thick of it, I know how we can make certain changes that will make it more applicable to the teachers. Like, we need to address the school, and ask about how they teach the concept of theme. If we can coordinate with that effort, it will stick a lot more with students, because board game “theme” means something a bit different from language arts “theme” as it turns out, as they teach it in the classes, so I’m excited to coordinate better with that. We also got some feedback from the teachers and are trying to integrate our worksheets better by converting them into graphical organizers instead of just blocks of text.
Everyone on the CUDO Plays Committee has been out of primary school for a very long time so we’re kind of not familiar with the teaching practices today. We’re working hard to learn how to integrate better with the material the students are already learning.
Building off of that question, are there concrete plans to run this program again in the future?
Kaity: Not concrete plans. We have had interest expressed from some of the teachers which is very exciting. We know that if we do it again it’s going to be bigger and better, but nothing concrete just yet.
Final question, if you were forced to pick a favorite game made by the Stratton students at this point, what would it be?
Kaity: Oh man, it’s tough to say because a lot of our attention right now, for the volunteers, is focused on 3rd grade, so we see a lot of their games just because they need a bit of additional encouragement and management. I don’t get to see as many of the 4th grade games as I would like, but there is a very promising one which is pretty much complete. It’s basically a path game that’s integrated with a very simple version of Truth or Dare, and it looks amazing. They have little card holders. It’s great!
Another one that I’ve been very impressed by has used components in an interesting way. It’s actually a Christmas game. They have a grid, they’re trying to progress from one side of the grid to the other to deliver a message to Santa. They’ve altered the pawns to look like elves, and to have the message integrate with the pawn itself. The pawn is able to carry it. That was some excellent fabrication, and just a great idea that I was super impressed by.
Let’s see, we have a few students doing asymmetrical games which is amazing. One team of students is developing a haunted house game, and they don’t realize they’re writing an RPG, but they’re writing an RPG so that’s fun to watch.
Anything else you would like to mention?
Kaity: Stratton has been a really great experience for us, and can’t wait to do it again. Also, I have so much renewed respect for teachers now. That’s all I got.