Video game design a ‘dream’ for students

Second-grader Jesus Rodriguez (center) is surrounded by Jaden Fernandez (left), Dominic Lopez and Roberto Cruz. (Photo by Todd Guild/Register-Pajaronian)

Ann Soldo Elementary students utilize maker space

WATSONVILLE — In a brightly colored classroom at Ann Soldo Elementary School Monday, a group of fourth-grade students were playing video games.

Such an activity among today’s tech-savvy young people might not normally cause a raised eyebrow for most people. And it might be outright prohibited by teachers. But it’s worth noting that these games — including the wiring and circuitry — were designed, programmed and created entirely by the students. 

That’s thanks to the school’s Dream Lab, where students engage in collaborative, hands-on activities designed with real-world applications in mind.

For her group, Gissella Lovato wrote the code for a game in which a person on a beach moves back and forth, up and down to catch falling oranges. Missing just one ends the game.

While she credited the teachers for the help they provided, she said she was proud of what her team accomplished.

“I was surprised that we could do it,” she said.

Mario Villarreal, who helped design the team’s controller using cardboard, popsicle sticks and wires, said his only experience until the class had been with the remote control from his own video game system.

“This is different,” he said. “Like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

The Dream Lab was funded by a series of grants and a one-time shifting of $300,000 in Proposition 98 funds to create a series of “21st century learning spaces” at schools throughout the district. E.A. Hall Middle School unveiled its own “Falcon Fab Lab” in October.

Dream-Lab-2-2-22

Temo Ybarra (from left), Andreina Castillo and Kimberly Cruz show their self-designed game to second-grader Jesse Lopez. (Photo by Todd Guild/Register-Pajaronian)

That grant also helped fund the position for teacher Marina Maldonado, who shares her time between Ann Soldo and Radcliff elementary schools.

According to Maldonado, the activities in the Dream Space focus on the “four C’s” — communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

This was evident on Monday, when the students were tasked with demonstrating their finished products to a group of second-grade students who visited the classroom, essentially “selling” their game to their peers.

“We’re always trying to build these skills in kids,” she said. “They are happy, they are proud of what they have done.”

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