Monthly Archives: February 2014

Portal in Elementary School

You may have noticed a shout-out in my most recent video to Nathan Manderfield, an elementary school teacher in California, who teaches with some of the coolest projects I’ve ever seen. Nathan’s been trying out some crazy, innovative technology in his classroom to get his students excited about being makers. And they’re even making the world a better place 🙂

I asked him to give us a small write up about what his students are up to. Here’s what he had to say!


My name is Nathan Manderfeld and I teach 4th and 5th grade at Monroe Elementary School in Bermuda Dunes, CA. Five years ago I started a program at our school called, “Learning on the Edge.” It is a two year program that concentrates on using technology in the classroom and project based learning. My students have done some amazing projects including becoming commissioned artists, creating and running their own small business, publishing a book, launching a movement called Twenty 4 Change, and now becoming game designers. Through all of this I continue to be amazed by what students can create when we as teachers set the stage, support them, then get out of the way! In this guest post I want to concentrate on just one of these projects: game design.

Technology can be amazing. I became aware of the game Portal and Cameron by searching Youtube looking for information on game design. I came across a Google Hang-Out that was nearly a year old. It was a hang-out sponsored by Gamers Advancing Meaningful Education. In the hang-out Cameron was featured explaining how he used Portal 2 in the classroom. I quickly was inspired and bought myself the Xbox version on Amazon. To my delight it was an older game so I got it for a steal. Playing Portal 2 was awesome and I immediately began thinking of how I could incorporate it into the game design unit I was developing. I decided to set up my Xbox in class and let students have 30 minutes each of uninterrupted time to explore the game. We had already been discussing the basic principles of game design from mechanics to the “magic circle”. We had conducted a Google Hang-Out with a game designer from San Francisco and were now playing various games and analyzing them using the vocabulary of game design. My students were very excited about playing Portal 2. We had a whole Portal 2 area set up in our room.

After playing and analyzing games it was now time for my students to make their own. I decided to use the site Gamestar Mechanic. It is an awesome site that allows students to work through a quest as they learn the different components of basic game design. At the end of the quest they make their first game. They then are allowed to do challenges to gain more “sprites” to use in building more and more advanced games. We currently have published our first games in what we call the Monroe Arcade.  My goal in the long term is to teach them about iteration, the slow process of refining a product. We have already shared our games in the Monroe Arcade with our second grade buddies and some other schools in the district our playing my students’ games.

I am also trying to expand the Portal 2 portion of the unit by having students build their own levels. After seeing Cameron on the Google Hang-Out I reached out to him and he made me some custom Portal 2 levels that teach Newton’s Laws. I plan to incorporate those lessons when we get into our Engineering unit. Project based learning is something I am passionate about. I thank Cameron for sharing his expertise with me and letting me do a guest post. If anyone is interested in knowing more or collaborating on a project feel free to contact me anytime at njmander *at* gmail *dot* com.

Building the Monroe Arcade

Exploring Aperture Laboratories

Building the Monroe Arcade

Building the Monroe Arcade

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