Elisabeth Willis is my kind of art teacher. She's encouraging her students to create their own video game characters in real life. Her 7th grade class assignment was so popular this spring that she's already been asked to put together a panel for the National Art Educators Association—and she's not even a full-time teacher yet.
When placed side by side, each of the dioramas are designed to create one giant side-scroller-like level, similar to Little Big Planet.
Why call these characters "video games" when they're just fantastical paper-mache creatures?
"Video games are something very familiar to them," explains Willis. "But what I learned from doing this was that they are totally unaware of what goes into making a video game. They had no idea that it took artists and writers. I think it really opened their eyes to new and interesting career options as well as not taking a really good game for granted."
The project was such a hit with the 7th graders that even her 8th grade students were begging for a chance to make their own characters.
In a reversal of what you might expect, the kids most familiar with video games were encouraged to come up with their own designs, while those less familiar with games could reimagine a character they already knew. "I told them to pick a character they like and adjust it to make it different and maybe be able to achieve something the original character wouldn't be able to," says Willis.
Willis wouldn't call herself a hardcore gamer, she says, but she's definitely a gamer. "I was an art history major before going into teaching and I love picking out the historically accurate parts of Assassin's Creed. It's totally nerdy of me, but I love it."
A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Matt Toder and I visited a second-grade class that is being taught-mostly during school hours-how to play Minecraft. More »