Getting Creative with Writing

This post is based around work done by Ms Tam Yuill Proctor. She has already blogged about this unit here. She has also created a Sway about it, which you can view here.

One of our aims, as an eLearning team, is to foster and supplement the intrinsic enthusiasm of many of our staff. We find this blog is a great way to publicise and celebrate the success that we see every day in our school.

studnetsOne such staff member is Ms Tam Yuill Proctor. A previous post on this blog described her success with using Google Earth to explore film setting with her Year 10 English class. This activity was part of a wider unit exploring the importance of setting within English. In response to the great work her class produced in this activity, Ms Proctor approached me to talk through some ideas to continue this innovation-based learning with this class.

Example video showing a world created by a student to inspire their creative writing 

With a continued focus on setting, the class was given a fairly stereotypical short story brief. Write a short story of approximately 600 words with the theme of Conflict. Each student must produce at least four drafts, make those drafts available to their peers for feedback and feedforward, and act on appropriate advice given. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here!

RCstill

A scene created using the source engine of the game Counter-Strike

However, acting on inspiration gained from a keynote address given by Australian author Michael Pryor at the NZATE English Conference, Ms Yuill Proctor had students design the setting for their story before they wrote it. The period before the recent school holidays, the students were set the task of creating a virtually designed setting for their story. They were able to use any digital platform they wanted, and could spend as much time as they wanted, over the holidays, on the setting. The results were remarkable.

While a smaller number of students contacted Ms Proctor asking if they could work in ‘the real world instead’ the vast majority of the students stuck to the original brief. There was a wide variety of work produced, with settings constructed in Sketchup, Paint, Minecraft and the source engine of the game Counter-Strike.

Sketchup

Student’s setting made using Sketchup

Bringing the learning together

The final aspect of this task involved students recording a short video, or audio recording that would allow them to clearly the author’s purpose, specifically regarding the setting they had designed. The challenge we now faced was what is the best way to tie all this great work together in a way that was accessible for a larger audience. Our original idea was to use the augmented reality App Aurasma, which has been used with some success in the Preparatory School. Unfortunately it quickly became obvious that the use of this App, with this particular group, was going to be problematic as although the class all had their own laptops, not all had a compatible smartphone.

The obvious solution was to host students’ videos on You Tube and create the links with QR codes instead. This proved to be a great decision as all students were able to create and link their codes effectively and quickly. The other pleasing aspect of this success was that it further consolidated my belief that, in a classroom setting, it is usually much more effective to use an easy to use tool, that a more complicated substitute that may, in fact, have any tangible value added.

The 3D printer creating the Minecraft setting created by a student

The 3D printer creating the Minecraft setting created by a student

With many students choosing to create their setting in Minecraft, Ms Yuill Proctor and I were really conscious that it might be difficult for the audience of the story to get a full appreciation of the complexity of a Minecraft setting design from a 1D picture. Resultantly we decided to print these designs on the school’s 3D printer. The knowledge of Joshua Harrison, a member of the IT team, was instrumental at this stage, and I acknowledge his important contribution.

Printed Example of a 3D setting

Printed Example of a 3D setting

Reflections on a job well done

I was particularly pleased with the fact that this, very successful, unit is a great example of a teacher challenging herself, and her students, with an activity that is clearly modification on the SAMR scale.

Ms Yuill Proctor was also very pleased with the results of the unit; especially the fact that it “fully integrated all aspects of the English Curriculum.” The creating meaning and the making meaning Curriculum Strands were both clearly addressed and the structured nature of the unit allowed student agency to come to the fore.

Example of Student Work

The following story is based around a setting created in the source engine of the game Counter-Strike. Use the QR code to see a video of the setting, or click here!

London’s Burning by RC

QR

July 7, 2005, 5AM, the start was the same as any other for four employees at the Barclays Bank. The manager unlocked the glass doors to the bank, 5AM on the dot. He flicked the lights on, the three tellers followed him through. As the tellers approached the tills and the manager checked the vault was still locked he felt something cold and metallic pressing against the back of his neck foolishly discarding footsteps he heard on the second floor moments earlier.

A nimble, plated van sped through the urban areas of London, sirens blaring. As it did five men plus a driver sat inside it planning their risky and precarious mission. “We CANNOT allow hostage casualties” Major Alexander explained. The van came to a sudden stop and the blueprints of the bank shot off the table faster than Cloaker was out of the van and scaling the side of the bank via a corroded water pipe.

Cloaker clambered through a narrow window on the second floor, crawling along the silky carpet he made his way to a hole in the vent that was under maintenance. Cloaker dropped three metres into the vent landing as delicately as possible. He could overhear a slight murmuring, pressing his ear to the vent wall he overhead a Pakistani man and an English man talking. “The boss is getting ambitious, the subway is no small target” the Pakistani man said in his worried voice. “Ha ha, with the C4 we’re carrying we won’t even need to be in the subway to blow the place to bits.” Cloaker knew this was critical information, closing off the London Subway would save hundreds of lives. He continued crawling through the vent until he came to a corner, carelessly he turned the corner but as he did he heard a very noisy beeping sound.

Outside the bank the SAS team heard the explosion, “MOVE” the major barked. Half of the bank’s walls brick walls had been blown off, the team dashed out of the van, Private Wright snatched a flashbang of his belt and hurled it into the bank, it went off and the Terrorists stumbled backwards, like the Major ordered every one of the four soldiers fired two lethal rounds from their MP5’s. The Terrorists sprayed their AK’s all over the place in hope of hitting someone. The gunfire echoed around the bank making us much noise as a jumbo jet. One, two, three Terrorists fell over still blinded and deafened. “Secure the Bank” the Major ordered.

The four men entered, carefully checking every nook and cranny, the Major discovered Cloaker’s limp body sticking out of the vent which now rested on the ground. Half his mask had been blown off and the exposed skin was mangled, Cloaker’s left cheekbone was visible, it stood out against the black uniform he wore. Before the Major could even reach for Cloaker’s Dog-Tag another deafening bang erupted from the barrel of a Kalashnikov. An unbearable pain shot around the Major’s chest, looking up a man concealed by a balaclava was pointing an AK-47 at him, smoke was drifting out of the barrel, the smoke alarm beeped viciously, even louder than the gunshot. Before the other three soldiers could react the terrorist grabbed the bank manager off the ground and slowly backed away. “DROP HIM” an upset Corporal Lawson barked but even his thunderous voice could not beat the piercing screeches of the smoke alarm. The masked man slowly backed away out the back door into a trash alley. A gunshot was heard four seconds after he left the sight of the SAS soldiers. The team rushed out and saw a puddle of blood seeping out of the manager’s head. “Command, we have two soldiers and one hostage down, one of the terrorists got away” Captain MacCrithen reported over his comm channel.

Three hours later an English man stepped into the London Subway. Sweat was dripping down his tanned skin leaving a tickling sensation. Reaching into his deep jacket pocket he pulled on a piece of string. 

Corporal Lawson sat in his apartment that night, the news popped onto his 1990’s budget tele as he tapped the keys on his remote. All he heard were screams, hopeless screams, every one of them someone’s life that was ruined because he failed, tears slid down the man’s face, but he was no longer a man, he was a prisoner, the cabinet to his right was slightly open, inside he saw his emergency handgun, “it’s all my fault” he cried to himself before reaching for the handgun.

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