Lesson Plan

Iterative Design with the Portal 2 Puzzle Maker

Students will learn the basics of game design as they create their own levels in Portal 2 and work with peers to peer test and iterate on their design.
Steve I.
Classroom teacher
William Annin Middle School (Basking Ridge, NJ)
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My Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Arts
EdTech Mentor

Students will be able to...

  • Play and reflect on design elements present in the Portal 2 game
  • Build game levels by utilizing a variety of elements provided with the puzzle maker level design tool
  • Engage in the iterative design process through several stages of the peer evalutaion feedback loop
  • Improve upon level design based on peer feedback
  • Engage in critical thinking, problem solving, and troubleshooting through play as well as the design process
Grades 8 - 11
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook

Activity: Exploring

Students will play Portal 2 for two class periods to get a sense of the game and the structure of the puzzles.  

Does it grab students' attention and capture their interest?

Playing the game in class will not only excite the students, but provide them with a valuable experience prior to creating their own levels. 

Does it make a connection with prior knowledge?

Students make connections with other game types and also see the innovative approach to an engaging puzzle game in this unique game.

Does it motivate students to want to learn more?

ABSOLUTELY!  Students enjoy this highly engaging commercially successful game and are excited to create their own levels and challenge themselves to mod the game and challenge their peers. 

2 Direct Instruction

Activity: Presenting

Are new concepts introduced and/or being presented in a novel way?

After experiencing the game play, students are introduced to the puzzle maker through a demo of how to change the room size, add devices, etc.  Once a level is designed in the editor, the puzzlemaker renders a 3d puzzle based on the created level.  

Are concepts and processes clearly outlined and modeled?

Elements of design are discussed in the context of the puzzle maker and the iterative design methodology (create -> test -> edit -> test) is demonstrated.

Does it provide concrete examples of the desired outcome(s)?

The process of demo and student exploration combined with discussion in context ties in directly with the learning outcomes.

3 Guided Practice

Activity: Creating

Does it provide multiple opportunities to practice, with scaffolding from easy to more difficult?

Students will have the opportunity to play the game first, then explore the puzzle maker tool in a number of ways. 

  • Free exploration
  • Sketching level on paper (brainstorming puzzle elements and sketch layout of puzzle)
    • Students will ultimately create 2 original levels (one that uses only the basic elements and a second that allows students to utilize any of the elements available)
  • Creating initial build of room
  • Testing, editing level
  • Peer testing, feedback loop, edit game based on feedback
  • Share completed game with class

Does it check for understanding?

Collaborating with peers and gaining an understanding of peer reaction to level helps students develop an authentic understanding of design elements.

Is there an opportunity for students to question and get clarification?

This exists throughout the process as students can recruit support from facilitator as well as peers.  In fact, this is an integral part of the process.

4 Independent Practice

Activity: Creating

Does it give ample opportunities for individualized practice?

Creating their levels is a hands on activity that involves students in the design process throughout the activity.

Can students display mastery?

Students demonstrate mastery by completing a game level that is perceived as challenging and fun by their peers and 'functions' properly in that it can be completed successfully by a player.

Does it provide a form of assessment (diagnostic, formative, or summative; authentic/performance)?

This is a project based problem solving activity.  The authentic assessment comes in the form of student evaluation and feedback.  The level must demonstrate the incorporation of design elements and be pereceived as engaging by players.  All of the elements in the game must function properly and the level must be beatable.

5 Wrap-Up

Activity: Assessing

This activity is entirely project based.  As far as extension activities, students are presented with additional activities based on a lesson called 'the Broken Levels' where they recreate levels that are flawed and need to find interesting ways to solve them.  Peers play their levels and assess whether or not the level can be solved within the constraints provided.  Differentiated learning is at the heart of this lesson as students get to choose the level of difficulty they intend for the levels they create.