iTunes U and Bloxels

First Experience with iTunes U 

At the beginning of August I opened a small but special computer science class for my daughter and one of my English students. My goal for this class is to provide the two girls with a variety of technology experiences. I am not following a pre-made curriculum. I am building the curriculum as I go.  

For the past few weeks the girls have worked on game design using Bloxels. o help with game design we used a design course made by Coby Reynolds, a fellow Bloxels Ambassador. It was also a chance for us to use iTunes U for the first time in class. 

Bloxels iTunes U course designed by Coby Reynolds

Bloxels iTunes U course designed by Coby Reynolds

The course is broken into 5 sections, with each section having 2-3 assignments. Students assume the role of a game designer working for a pretend game developer. In the first lesson we dicussed different games and why kids liked to play them. We also, dicussed what makes games fun. Also, in this first section we setup our portfolios in Book Creator. Students would use Book Creator to document their assignments throughout the course.

Designing and Planning 


There were five activities in the design and planning section: 1. What makes a good game? 2. Design Brief 3. Back Story and 4.Sketching. In the first assignment the girls were asked to create a mind-map of the games they liked. Since we covered this topic in our first dicussions I had the girls jump to the third activity and use the mind map to plan their background stories. Digital storytelling is something a great way to engage young writers so I jumped at the chance to get the girls to write a backstory for their games. 

The next activity (Design brief) offered another chance for writing. Since we've covered persuasive letter writing in my English classes the girls were able to breeze through this activity. 

We decided to skip the final activity (Sketching the levels) only because the girls were quite familiar with Bloxels. However, the girls wanted to sketch their characters before creating them in the app.


With our characters created it was time to build our games. We have five boards so the girls had two boards each to work with. The boards are still my favorite part of Bloxels. The hands on experience adds so much to the game. I showed the girls how easy it was to combine levels by sliding boards together. I also reminded them that the story blocks (My favorite) were a critical part of their ability to tell a story within the game. 

After designing the basic layout, the girls tested their games. This is a really exciting part of the game design process. Asia and Katy's faces lit up when they saw their characters come to life in the world that they created! However, my students are perfectionists so they quickly found flaws in their games and returned to the layout to tweak and modify their games.  

Asia and Katy use the Bloxels boards to build their games. 

Asia and Katy use the Bloxels boards to build their games. 

Bloxels 1.4 Update 

We were just about finished our games when Bloxels released a new and exciting update! Besides the cool cartoonish design update the addition of the Brainboard really excited the girls. Being able to give special powers to the enemies was a huge game changer. Now the girls wanted to add Boss fights to the end of their levels. We had to add an additional class just for this activity! 

Valuating the Audience

Now that our games were completed it was time to share and evaluate each other's games. With only two students in the class this was a quick and rewarding process. The course called for the girls to make a graph but like I said with only two students the graph would not be very telling. Instead the girls played each other's games and gave specific feedback about, playability, difficulty, and appearance. 


The final lesson in the course was to create a game trailer. We've created numerous book trailers and movie clips with iMovie so the girls decided to use iMovie to create their game trailers. We watched a few online trailers just to get an idea of what game trailers looked like. The girls were pretty happy with the final results. 


Overall impressions 

The setup of iTunes courses is a little challenging for young students. I would have liked the interface to have been a little more user friendly. However, with some assistance my students were able to figure out how to navigate through iTunes U. 

The girls loved working with Bloxels. They enjoyed every aspect of game creation. They spent most of their time on character design but other students in the past have spent more time on other areas. As a teacher it was very enjoyable to work with a tool that engages students so well. Even though, we spent about 4 hours in total over the course of a month creating our games the girls were enthusiastic about the game design from the beginning to end of every class. 

Future Lessons 

In the near future I hope to adapt this lesson with Minecraft PE. I believe that students could create mini games or adventure stories by following a similar lesson. Also, this lesson would work well with different coding apps like Hopscotch.