Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kingdom Rush Final Thoughts and Reflection

(This is the last post in a four-part series about the iPhone app Kingdom Rush. Feel free to read post 1, post 2, and post 3 before continuing through this reflection.)

Last night, I was frustrated; today, I am reinvigorated. I was able to pass not only level four, but also level five, with three stars by using a more deliberate strategy.

I decided that, instead of attempting to hit the enemies as many times as I possibly could, I should try to focus on hitting the enemies with the attacks that would do the most damage. Therefore, instead of building several basic towers, I built a few (in carefully chosen locations) that I then upgraded to be more destructive to my enemies. The towers in the image below were the only towers that I built; I simply kept using my money to upgrade their effectiveness. However, I was still conscious of where I placed the towers. For example, I placed the armies near cannons so that the army men would stop the enemies long enough for the cannonballs to hit them. I still placed the arrow-shooting tower at the exit of the paths to take down any enemies that were getting away. I also tried to keep the tower-power even on both sides of the circle so that regardless of if the enemy went right or left at the fork, they would encounter the same attacks (a batch of army men, a cannon, and the arrow-shooting tower at the end).

By arranging my towers this way and upgrading them as the money was available, I was able to earn three stars on the fourth level.

I was also more diligent in using my special attacks while operating under my new strategy. I used both the extra soldiers and the raining fire and brimstone as they became available; though the shower of fire took far longer to reload than the extra soldiers, I usually waited to use it until I placed the extra soldiers at the fork in the beginning of the path so that I could stop as many enemies as possible there before hitting them with the fire and brimstone. This was the strategy that helped me take care of the seemingly-unstoppable trolls.

Proof that I actually did earn three stars on this level!

It was this strategy that also helped me complete the fifth level. The curveballs in this level were notable. First, the enemies came from two different paths on this level; as seen in the photo below, enemies could come up from the path at the bottom of the screen, or they could come from the forest to the right. The enemies also got more difficult to wipe out. In particular, giant spiders graced my screen, moving quickly and dropping eggs that would explode into multiple smaller spiders. I'm glad I don't have arachnophobia!

Here is a screenshot of the layout of the fifth level in Kingdom Rush.

Despite these challenges, the strategy I used to complete level four worked well for the fifth level as well. I felt so much more competent after playing today! I'm glad I was able to work through my difficulties and discover a strategy that would help me succeed.

I was able to earn three stars on this level without a problem.

While playing Kingdom Rush, it was helpful to think about the reasons why I was spending coins when I did. When I was randomly putting non-upgraded towers all over the screen, I was doing it without much thought. However, when I took the time to think about where I should place the towers, which types of towers I should place, and whether I should place a new tower or upgrade an existing one, I was much more effective at beating the enemies. It also helped that I searched around the app to find the upgrade area and began using the special attacks. These allowed me to control the game and become more engaged in the activity during the waves; during the first couple of levels, I mostly sat there (and occasionally built new things) while the towers did all of the work of killing attackers. Lastly, it was helpful that I was able to pause the game and restart the level when I knew that finishing would not earn me three stars. I think it was beneficial for me to decide to scratch an attempt and start over instead of waiting it out when I knew I wouldn't receive the results I wanted; it made the game much more enjoyable and captivating.

As I was playing Kingdom Rush, I also made some choices that hindered my ability to earn three stars. For example, I refused to use the special attacks out of pride; I assumed I could get through the levels easily without the "help." I later found out that these attempts were necessary if I wanted to earn three stars on each level. Additionally, I chose not to seek help from online forums, strategy guides, or videos. Doing so would have allowed me to move through the game much more quickly and may have kept me from becoming so frustrated (and needing a break to cope with my frustration). However, I knew that if I looked up hints (for example, upgrading my towers instead of building a bunch of ineffective ones), I would not feel as accomplished when I did achieve my three-star goals.

How do I put into words the feeling of achievement I enjoyed when I earned three stars on a level I was struggling on? It was, as Magda Galloway likes to refer to it in class, an aha! moment. All of a sudden, I felt proficient and accomplished. The feeling was similar to the instant when something finally "clicks" in class. Many educators cherish that moment when a student's face lights up because he or she suddenly realizes that what is being taught makes sense. After a period of frustration and failed attempts, success in Kingdom Rush (and any game) was similar to success in the classroom. Earning three stars was the game's version of a teacher giving a "good job" as an indication that the student succeeded.

There are many other ways gaming relates to the classroom. The campaign of Kingdom Rush is a journey filled with smaller accomplishments, just like reaching the end of the academic year is a journey with multiple lessons and learning experiences. Each level and lesson presents challenges that students must overcome to make it to the end. The beginning of the game included some very simple directions, and explanations accompanied new enemies and upgrades. This is similar to teachers giving their students directions at the beginning of a task and new challenges/hints throughout the task as needed to refine the experience. Additionally, playing the game helped build skills that students also cultivate while learning, such as problem solving, perseverance, attention to detail, and critical thinking.

Kingdom Rush and classroom learning are both epic journeys.

I think that students who truly enjoy this game could experience flow while playing. (I blogged about flow and how it relates to learning in the classroom.) In this way, playing Kingdom Rush is related to learning; it would be ideal for students and gamers to "get lost" in the experience. I personally did not reach flow as I was playing Kingdom Rush. Part of the reason was because each level was so long (because each had multiple waves of enemies) that I became bored during the level and just wanted it to be over. Additionally, I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated and stuck (before I discovered the strategy that works better) so I was desperately searching for the answers as I played. While we want our students to be in the flow and have opportune learning experiences, I think my testament from Kingdom Rush also reflects how some students feel when they are struggling in class. The goal for teachers is to appropriately challenge our students so that they can learn from the experience but also enjoy the process.

Playing Kingdom Rush just reinforced my opinion that gaming and learning are very similar, so gaming can be an effective way to make learning fun for my future students. I still think that creating a learning experience in the form of a game will take an incredibly large amount of time on the front end for the teacher, and I am not confident that I will be able to do this in my first year in the classroom (as much as I want to). However, I am dedicated to trying to create the most beneficial, appropriately challenging, and exciting learning opportunities in my classroom, and I hope gaming can be incorporated into that mission. As an elementary educator, I can already see ways to use gaming in my classroom (especially if I have an abundance of resources, particularly technology, to use); however, I think using gaming might be more difficult to incorporate for older students taking more specialized classes (such as literature or calculus). I suppose I feel lucky to have more flexibility in the ways I can use gaming in the classroom because I have so many different disciplines to teach at the same time. Right now, it is somewhat difficult to reflect exactly on how gaming impacts me as a teacher because I am not yet a teacher! However, I believe that once I land my first real teaching job in a classroom, I will only be able to make more parallels between gaming and learning.

Current or past educators: How are learning and gaming similar? How are they different? Has any gaming experience impacted how you perceive yourself as a teacher? Please share about it in the comments!

PS - If you read all the way through my experience with Kingdom Rush, thank you for following me in this journey!

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