I went into a local school in North London this week to take a few lessons as part of the 2008 National Year of Reading. A letter was sent around asking for volunteers to come in and inspire the kids, especially the boys and make writing and reading more fun and aspirational. My daughter goes to the school so seemed like a nice thing to give something back. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet John Scieszka, an all-round good guy, author and passionate campaigner to get young boys to enjoy reading. His Guys Read campaign is an inspiration and is Trucktown books are part of the national curriculum in the US. We also did the Trucktown website, which was nice.
My direction was simply that I make games and fun stuff and have to write very simple, top-line descriptions to send to clients to explain what they are going to get. The descriptions are usually a few lines or a few paragraphs at most. The main message being that you don’t have to write a book for writing to be important. I taught two 45 minute lessons for ages 8 and 10 and all seemed to really enjoy it. Of course it helped that I worked with brands they’ve all heard of like Pirates of the Caribbean, High School Musical, Mr Men and Xbox.
There were some interesting take-aways…
1) Nearly every kid went nuts when you mentioned Miniclip. Interestingly, all of the 8-year-olds knew of Miniclip but maybe ‘only’ 80% of the 10-year-olds knew of it. Of course, they may have been a victim of the ‘cool gene’ and refused to go with the mass, but it was still a noticeable difference in recognition and enthusiasm.
2) One of the 10-year-old boys asked a very astute question. Namely, “If Miniclip is free, how do they make money?”… from a 10-year-old? Both myself and the teacher were impressed by that one.
3) Probably the second most popular question was “Can you adopt me?”. It’s great to take stock occasionally and realise you have a damn cool job and I enjoy it. I hope some of the enthusiasm has rubbed off and some of them remember that session when they are grown up. I know I have a few from my school days.
4) Lots of the kids wanted to know how the games were actually put together. More the animation than the coding. I’ll probably end up doing an animation session with them at some point soon.
5) I always had a bit of a mission to go into schools and make maths fun. I wasn’t much good at it when I was 13 but mainly because my practical brain had no use for sine, matrices or Pythagorus. It was great to see the enthusiam to learn and many of the questions were maths / coding based. Again, looks like another session soon.
6) There is no substitute for actually talking to kids if you work in an industry that services them. Even picking up the manerisms or the personalities in a class full of 10-year-olds can be invaluable.
7) I finally had a cup of tea in a proper staff room. Always wanted to do that.