Bloxels: Build Your Own Video Games by PixelPress Technology was one of the great finds at the Toy Fair 2016! Tucked into a small booth was this incredible and innovative new concept in not only creating your very own “video game” but also making it from the ground up by first designing with tangible pixel-like blocks in a 13x13 grid. This is a game and app for the whole family or any classroom. It is reminiscent of the old Atari or the early Mario Brothers games – except it puts the kids in the driver's seat for building game content and complexity. To begin, one starts with a story and the imagining of a hero, and then the storyline slowly begins to evolve. Simple child’s play, you ask? Nope. It takes creative thinking, problem-solving and the ability to visualize a cohesive whole from component parts. It is all this plus good old fashioned elbow grease along with trial and error to complete it. I love that there is physical play combined with cognitive challenges. As when designing, kids see and FEEL what works and what doesn’t. They learn to listen to the story inside of them and with that comes the confidence to make it happen. In other words, it serves as a bridge from ideation to execution. One of the best parts of Bloxels is that it also teaches kids (and teachers) to reach out for assistance and feedback. That little act of asking for help is a major milestone and is what truly makes a community – that is, a community of life-long learners who collaborate and work together towards a mutual goal. On the Bloxel’s website, there is literally tons of information and support, from CCSS links to lesson plans and tutorial videos. Be sure to check out the website and read the tutorials and suggestions. Then, open the box and see what’s inside! On opening, one sees the Bloxel Gameboard where stories begin. It is an actual physical board with a 13x13 grid where blocks can be arranged to make characters and decorations using the color blocks as pure color. The block colors also have specific meanings for the landscape or layout of a particular game. For instance, blue=water, red=hazard, and a pink is a power-up! Pressing the quick play button on the app, may give you a feel for the difference of making characters or objects as art, and using color with intention in the layout of making a game. My initial testers blew me away as they were up and running in minutes while I was still downloading and reading the lesson plan trying to figure out how to get started. It just never ceases to amaze me how much kids just intuitively know what to do when it comes to technology. Once a board has been constructed it can be uploaded into the app for more refinement. The library will help flesh out the terrain and the layers of background to give the layout more depth or one can customize with their own colors. Kids can make a very short and simple game, or by adding in other layouts make a complex world to play and navigate. There are ample opportunities to test out theories and gameplay as well as the visual appeal of a created game. One tester found it possible to make use of the library and color selector and not necessarily use the game board to make a layout for a game, but by using the grid and the manipulatives together with the app is what makes it so appealing to educators as it syncs body and mind and immerses a child in a 3D learning experience. And there is nothing more thrilling than to see a kid’s game play out and work flawlessly. Pixel Press Technology and Bloxels are the ones to watch this year as the next generation learns the ropes in creating, collaborating and sharing. These are the workforces of tomorrow, and practicing these skills is one to encourage and reinforce. Although made for kids K-12, kids will need some sense of self-regulation and the ability to accept it when their games may fail. For the younger one's 3rd grade and below, I would recommend smaller groups with adult assistance. For those students and educators that have a hard time incorporating technology, the physical blocks will serve as a sensory anchor and are quite grounding. The important take away with all the support Pixel Press Technology provides is that creating a game is achievable and most of all fun. Bloxels is most definitely, a TWA Top Pick and is Highly Recommended. Jo Booth OTR/L has been an Occupational Therapist for over 35 years, and currently practices at EasterSeals of SEPA, Montgomery County Division mainly focusing on Early Intervention. It is an APS (Approved Private School) and home outreach based setting. She has also worked in Adolescent and Adult Rehabilitation. Writing reviews for Teachers With Apps have been a tremendous opportunity and experience to share and learn with others.
Written by Jo Booth
Jo Booth has been an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and currently works in Pediatrics with early intervention. She sees kids newly diagnosed on the spectrum as well as medically fragile kids. She loves to move, explore and play every day; so that “her kids” grow up to be healthy independent learners.