How I Use It
My fifth grade students spend the year exploring the intersection of art and technology. As we have begun the year, they have been learning how traditional media can be translated/transformed into digital media for art and design purposes. To highlight this point, I decided to use Pixel Press Floors to create video game levels because it allows students to make a drawing that is later translated into a digital design for their video game using an iPad.
Students began by watching some of the short tutorial videos available on the Pixel Press Floors website. http://www.projectpixelpress.com/floors-videos
This gives the students an idea of how they need to design their video game and how the code translates into computer commands. Everyone started with the printed paper that is provided by Pixel Press. Students drew different symbols on the graphed paper using a pencil and a protractor (just for the straight edge). When the designs were done, students took pictures of their designs and began to edit and refine their video game level on the iPads. Students can also add colors, textures and designs to their video games so that everything is visible and looks the way they want it to.
My students (fifth grade) really struggled with taking the picture of the graphed paper to import the image into the iPad. It involves holding the iPad perfectly level at just the right height so that the black and white squares on the paper line up with those on the iPad screen. It's really tough! Actually, once I had done a few, I got pretty quick with it and I could usually get the image captured within about 20 to 30 seconds.
One of the advantages is that the students may take the papers home to work on and do not need any technology at home. However, it is important to beware of the fact that wrinkles irregularities in the paper will make it harder if not impossible to capture. I had one student who must have practically smashed his into a ball to take home and design. There was no way to capture his image because the paper had too many 3-dimensional irregularities. All other issues with paper were able to be resolved by simply having two students pull the corners down flat to the table with their fingers.
Once the picture is taken, it imports the design into the app for further editing. This caused some additional problems. When printed as downloaded from the site (in color) the graphed design paper prints a bit too dark on the grid lines. When pencil lines are added, they may not show up distinctly. I found that printing the paper first from the computer and making copies on the photocopier actually worked better because it lightened the lines. A simple edit of the design paper would solve this quickly. I also found that the problem of lighter lines could be mediated a little bit if the pencil lines were traced with a pen to make them darker. Alternatively, a softer pencil could have the same effect. The problem with all of this is that when there is not enough contrast between the drawn lines and the existing graph lines, the app gets confused which lines are which and you end up with A LOT of erroneous marks in the app interpreted design. Students then have to go into their design and erase things to correct the image that was captured.
We used protractors to help students make straight lines. The straight edge on a small metal protractor worked well because of the small size (you don't usually need to make long lines). When used properly, students had slightly better results when the image was imported into the app. However, I do not feel like this is a necessity. If students are reasonably accurate in their line-making and are able to make fairly straight marks on their papers without a guide, they can finish faster, and the results are not significantly different. However some students are not very neat...and this can be a problem! The app will do its best to interpret the image, but inaccurate marks will make for an inaccurate image capture. I told my students that it is just like their standardized tests - "erase all marks completely and fill in bubbles completely."
I absolutely enjoyed using this app and would highly recommend it to other teachers. The ability to send work home with students for technology use without technology was awesome! Many of my students went home and came back the next day with finished designs! In fact, the students that were engaged to this degree were not usually the ones that I typically find most studious! So, in terms of student interest and engagement, I would rate this app a 10. The only real issues that we have had were in the capture of the paper image. As I previously mentioned, the contrast issue in the grid seems like a simple fix for Pixel Press. I would also hope that they can refine the capture quality so that there would be less erroneous marks in the captured image in the future.
Aside from the ability to send the papers home with students, the app also has the option of posting the levels to an online database of user-created levels. This is very exciting for the students and adds a nice element to the project since the students can post their levels online and play them from another device at home. The app helps students develop the basic understandings of computer programming in that it shows students how a code is translated to something with meaning by a computer. My students were able to quickly adapt to the app and often times had a working video game level within 10 to 15 minutes.
The only other difficulty that I ran into was adaptability. There are some ways that this app and activity can be modified for special needs students such as skipping the drawing portion and going straight to the iPad. It is possible to design the whole level without the paper drawing element. For some students who are unable to neatly draw their design, this is a better option. I also had some students questioning why they could not simply go straight to the iPads as well. Of course, I wanted them to understand the traditional media to digital media transition. However, given the problems that we had with the app interpreting grid lines as design lines, I began to question this precise idea as well. If the software could be improved upon, it would be much easier to draw first, but at this point it is a toss up. Aside from this, my special needs students still struggled due to the small size and the tedious nature of the design process. It would be helpful if there was some way of making this more manageable for them.
Some may argue that this is not art, but I would argue that weaving is not art either, it is craft. So, rather than teaching an outdated form of craft, I am choosing to teach a modern, technological craft that implements design and creativity. For this purpose, the Floors app is a terrific addition to my curriculum and I will continue to use it in the future to teach about computer programming and video game design.