WPT video game tested locally

Bonduel students, library specialist help to develop ‘Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case’
By: 

Contributed Photo Bonduel Elementary School students serve as the test subjects in the spring for the WPT game “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case.” The students helped to determine whether there were any bugs and told staff about how much they enjoyed the game.

A new online video game is expected to grab children’s attention and not let them go.

Parents won’t have to worry much, though, as “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case” is expected to stimulate — not rot — children’s brains and increase their appreciation for Wisconsin history. The game was released earlier this month on Wisconsin Public Television’s education website, WPTeducation.org.

A cohort of teachers and students helped develop the game with WPT Education and Field Day Lab, an educational game developer within the University Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Lisa Sorlie, Bonduel School District’s library media specialist, and almost 150 students from Bonduel Elementary School helped test the game.

“Wisconsin Public Television had sent out information to educators who have a specialty in technology,” Sorlie said. “Then there was an application process. They wanted to have representation from all across the state.”

The game is suitable for students in third through fifth grades, and it meets the Wisconsin Academic Standards for social studies. Sorlie noted that Wisconsin history is covered in the fourth grade, and that includes a field trip to the Capitol in Madison.

“It’s a commemoration of the Capitol’s 100th birthday, which was last year,” Sorlie said.

A book was created for the 100 years of the Capitol, and Sorlie said she would read excerpts to students who came into the library, but the book was geared more for adults. The video game concept, she pointed out, takes modern technology and incorporates historic inquiry.

The game turns the students into history detectives as they take on the role of Jo, a young girl trying to identify various artifacts found in the Capitol building, based on real artifacts from Wisconsin’s history.

“We had talked about, do we want to make it a board game?” Sorlie said. “As conversations developed, we were concerned about people having access. We looked at the game ‘Clue’ and that’s how it kind of became a detective story.”

The game does not end with simply locating artifacts. Players must not only identify what they’ve found, but they must argue their case with various evidence to win each challenge.

Sorlie noted that early tests of the game did not provide enough analysis, and students wouldn’t find key artifacts that might be needed in later chapters.

“We spent a lot of time developing storyline and plot,” Sorlie said. “When we had the students test the game, they would find things and move on to the next part, but a half-hour in, they would realize they’re missing a very important piece. Now, you get locked in a room until you find everything.”

Her favorite character in the game is a man named Wells. He comes up with alternative theories that are not quite correct.

“You feel quite motivated to prove him wrong,” Sorlie said. “He’s a know-it-all who knows nothing.”

Sorlie noted that other characters include the head of the Capitol, who introduces the plot, along with Jo’s grandfather, a historian who is in a bit of trouble for mislocating some historic documents that Jo has to help find. There is even a pet badger to give it a genuine Wisconsin feel.

The Capitol building is just a base in the game, and students get to journey to other places like a dry-cleaning shop and the UW-Madison basketball center. Players get to return to the Capitol often though, once they complete certain chapters, according to Sorlie.

The game is not something that can be completed in one sitting, but students get program codes to come back and pick up where they left off.

“Because the (test) game was released in pieces, they were loving it — until they got as far as the game was developed,” Sorlie said. “Then it was complaints of ‘I went home and played it and couldn’t get any further.’ There was frustration because it was so enticing and they wanted to move on (to the next chapter).”

Mondays through Thursdays were the test driving days for the students, and teachers would send the data to the developers, who spent Fridays cleaning up any inconsistencies or missed parts, according to Sorlie.

While the game is meant to provide insight into the state’s history, students of any skill set can play and excel at the game, Sorlie said.

“That was nice to see that the playing field was leveled,” she said. “There are some kids, I think, who aren’t the first to have their hands up … but some of them were the first ones to figure things out.”

Wisconsin Public Television released “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case” on Oct. 10, and the game has received acclaim, even from schools that weren’t part of the testing process, according to a WPT press release.

“The collaborative design process that brought teachers, historians, game developers and public media together has led to a playful entry point for students into the process historians follow,” said Alyssa Tsagong, WPT’s Director of Education. “We know that ‘Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case’ will be used alongside other WPT Education local history classroom resources, drawing on the rich stories of our state to spark the kind of curiosity and engagement that will lead to authentic learning experiences.”

“Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case” is free to play online at WPTeducation.org.

FYI

Funding for “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case” came from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, Ron and Colleen Weyers, Francis A. and Georgia F. Ariens Fund within the Brillion Area Family of Funds, the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc., the Conney Family in loving memory of Mildred Conney, Edvest College Savings Plan, Technology Education Foundation, Roger and Lynn Van Vreede, Eleanor and Thomas Wildrick Family, American Transmission Company, National Guardian Life Insurance Company, BMO Harris Bank, the Timothy William Trout Education Fund and Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.