SkyTime: an Educational Game for OLPC
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Sky Time is an educational game for the One Laptop Per Child XO Laptop to teach young students how to tell time. Games like Sky Time have a positive impact on children’s education, especially in places lacking well-funded education systems. Sky Time gives students the power to teach themselves an important life skill. More immersive than rote memorization, children will have fun as they learn.
Sky Time started as a student project in a Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software class at Rochester Institute of Technology. (HFOSS) Most students chose to work on open source projects that had already been created; we wanted to make something new, an educational game. We were a small group, only three people, so we knew the game could not be too complex in scope. The game emerged from a simple mechanic, moving the hands of the clock. We believed this mechanic would be easy and accessible to students in kindergarten through second grade. The students would experiment with the hands of the clock and see how they have changed the time. This game would be a place for free form exploration and a great opportunity for learning. During the HFOSS class, we presented Sky Time at a local Python developers meet up where we got feedback on how to improve the code structure. A few weeks later, Walter Bender, one of the founders of the OLPC, visited RIT. Team Sky Time was lucky enough to get the opportunity to present the game to him. By even luckier coincidence, he knew of a school in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a deployment of the XO Laptops that had been asking him for a game to teach their first graders to tell time. We got in touch with the coordinator from that school and have since been working with her to improve the game. Sky Time is currently being used to teach their first-grade students how to tell time. After the course, we organized an exhibition booth for Sky Time at the Imagine RIT festival. Approximately fifty kids, ages 2 to 16 play-tested the alpha version, and It was a big hit! It was wonderful to see how immersed the children were in the gameplay! Several parents complained that there was no way to lose the game, and that they were having trouble pulling their kids away from it. (A complaint that a game designer is happy to hear!) The game was especially enjoyable for kindergarten and first graders. As a proof of concept, we found that the game was well designed for the primary age group we intended to reach. Sky Time was hacked on at National Day of Civic Hacking to move from proof-of-concept, to a running beta. We improved its speed and stopped it from crashing when played on the XO Laptop. Over those 24 hours game mechanics were added, game screens were updated, and instructions were added to the game. After the event, we were able to officially release the game, and upload it to activities.sugarlabs.org, the equivalent of the AppStore for OLPC. (It can be found here: http://activities.sugarlabs.org/en-US/sugar/addon/4670 ) After NDoCH, our team set up a booth for National Lemonade Day (http://lemonadeday.org/), in the city of Rochester Henry Hudson Public School #28. We watched as children played the game as it was intended to be played, on the XO laptop. Then, much to our surprise and excitement, SkyTime was recognized at the White House in the Champions of Change event which, "features groups of Americans – individuals, businesses, and organizations – who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/champions. We have since play tested SkyTime at a STEM camp, presented it at the RIT undergraduate research symposium and Open Access Week, and been featured in the RIT Student Spotlight project. Sky Time is an ongoing project. We have plans for improvements and expansions to the game play. We are excited to see what the future holds for our game. Please check out our website at www.playSkyTime.com.