Ask Spotkin to do a Digital EdTech Presentation at Your School

October 15th, 2015 by Deborah Fike

I know it’s cliché to say, “Isn’t technology wonderful?”  Still, I’m going to say it because I live in a world where I can be in Eugene, Oregon and do a Skype presentation with a few dozen middle school students in Andover, Kansas.

Me talking with middle school students last week.  Image courtesy Heather Hawkins

Me talking with middle school students last week. Image courtesy Heather Hawkins

These students are studying Rube Goldberg machines, which is why they have been using Contraption Maker in class. They will go on to make their own physical contraptions from their school’s makerspace, but first, they had some questions for me about machines, video game development, and engineering in general.  A few questions they asked me:

1. How long did it take to make Contraption Maker? I talked about how we spent several months prototyping the game, and when we had something to show, we put up our first alpha on Steam.  This led to a discussion about the back-and-forth nature of modern development in an Internet age, where games stay in “alpha” and “beta” longer while early adopters help developers polish software.

2. Why doesn’t the snowman blow up?  This led to a discussion of how certain parts are made to interact with each other.  Scenery parts, for example, are more for visual effect rather than used to make machines.  But even with the machine parts, it’s tricky because when you add one part, you have to consider we have 100+ others parts that it may react to.  We talked about systems and how even adding one minor part can create a lot of work when you consider the physics behind Contraption Maker.

3. What was your inspiration for Contraption Maker? A lot of this goes back to the days of The Incredible Machine, and I can only tell those stories secondhand since I was one of the kids who played the game rather than build it.  However, I know that the creators of the game wanted it to be fun, and they didn’t know if tinkering with Rube Goldberg machines would be fun until they built the first prototype.  But when they did get a version of it up and running, they knew The Incredible Machine would be a commercial success, but it was still a minor surprise with how much educators loved the game.  Given that no one’s made anything quite like it since, and teachers are still using old CD-ROM versions of The Incredible Machine, we knew bringing back this classic game with upgraded features would be worth our time.

It was my pleasure to be invited to do a digital presentation about engineering and design with Andover Middle School.  I would love to do the same for other schools and educational programs.  Hopefully, this will be a useful way for your students to learn something new.  It’s certainly a great experience for us to hear about how students use the game as part of their curriculum.  If you’d like to set this up for your school or program, send me an email: Deborah@spotkin.com.

-Deborah Fike

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