A key feature of the way children play games in the Fifth Dimension is that the game is not played bare-handed. Instead, it is played using auxiliary tools that we create and which we refer to as game guides. Game guides offer goals for children, guidance through the Fifth Dimension for novices of all ages, and provide occasions for written reflection and communication about achievements and strategies.
Sometimes called adventure cards, task cards or game cards are written by experts (sometimes collaboratively by researchers, students and children) who have played a game and have grasped its central challenges and potential for learning. Task cards are used as tools for guiding progress and supporting interaction between children, peers and undergraduates trying to solve problems in a particular game in a way that enhances the educational value of playing the game.
Task cards differentiate the levels of the game (and difficulty levels). When creating task cards, authors try to keep in mind that the difficulty level should increase with each task card level. Functional graphics are sometimes used to enhance the task card by explaining key concepts. Each task card typically includes one writing requirement (to write down a hint for a "hints box" archive, to write to another child over e-mail or to write to the "wizard" about strategies, problems, questions etc. about the game.
Here are some general principles for
writing task cards:
During this level, the child should begin to explore the game, variables, tools and goals. If no apparent goals, break the game up into smaller pieces and identify goals and key concepts.
During this level, the child should begin
to acquire and test out different strategies that may help him or her attain the
At this level, the child should be able to
identify the goals, implement one of the strategies he or she identified at the
good level and continue on, increasing the complexity of the strategy or
generating a new one. At the end of the level, they should be able to show
mastery of the game and concepts and be able to communicate their knowledge to
another person- The Wizard or another citizen in a far-away place.
The quality of the task cards plays a big role in determining how successfully the Fifth Dimension can achieve its goals. The task card for each game specifies three levels at which it can be played: Beginner, Good, and Expert. The levels differ in the degree of proficiency required; the intention is to allow children of different ages, abilities, and degrees of expertise to play and enjoy a given game. Ideally, each child should find at least one level available which is neither too difficult nor too boring. It should also be possible for children to advance from one level to another if they are willing to try hard enough and are provided adequate encouragement.
Closely associated with the task cards are the consequences associated with the level of performance achieved. The basic rule is --- the higher the level of achievement, the greater the child's freedom of choice about where to go next. Beginner level assigns a next room, good level gives some choice, expert level provides the most choice. Thus, in choosing a level, children are also choosing a future in the Fifth Dimension.
The higher levels should work with the same basic framework as the beginner level, but should transform it so as to enrich and deepen it. Both the goals the children are asked to achieve and the means of achieving them should be more complex and more informative. The lowest level of each game should be easy enough to be completed by any child who wants to give it a serious try, if he or she is provided with a little help (and remember that we have to accommodate a wide age range). The higher levels should be more challenging, and should give the child who completes them a fuller sense of accomplishment.
Often the games are already described in the booklet provided with the software. But in writing the task cards we often have to go beyond the booklet (and the instructions that will appear on the screen), for several reasons. The most important reason is that the booklet instructions are usually guided by a narrow set of goals (if they are designed to be educational) or they have no educational purpose at all (if they are arcade style games).
Task cards need to be updated and modified to make sure they fit the current technological configuration (hardware platform, version of a game/software version) and the general age and ability range of children in the site. They can also be translated into Spanish or other languages in whole or in part to support goals for bilingual education if this is valued locally.