It is always a joy to put the spotlight on my colleagues who are doing innovative and original programming and instruction.  I’m honored and pleased to feature this special guest post from my Cherokee County School District colleague Wendy Cope!

When I think about gamers, I think about slack-jawed adolescents, hands glued to controllers, faces lit blue from the television screen. Wasting time. Not reading books. But I also know there was something significant to the culture of gaming that we needed to acknowledge in our fledgling library program.  When my partner Keara Rubin and I brought the idea of celebrating ALA’s National Gaming Day before Knight’s Tale (our advocacy/literacy club) and they got excited, we knew we had hit on something big.  Two of our boys, Jesse and JD, really took ownership of the event, securing the games and gaming systems from teachers and friends (we labeled EVERYTHING including cords).  Especially for this first event, we chose games that were multiplayer and (relatively) non-violent; Mario Krash Kart, Dance Dance Revolution, Madden 12, and Rock Band were HUGE hits. We explicitly said no to Halo and to Modern Warfare. At first, students griped that the event wouldn’t be any good without FPS (first person shooter) games, but when they realized we wanted to make this an inclusive and non-controversial event, they understood.

We shut down the MC for lunches and sold wristbands for admission ($3 ahead of time and $4 at lunch, with a discount for students who wanted to contribute games, systems, or controllers to the event).

Despite two weeks of promotional posters and general announcements followed by a couple of days of explicit announcements, we got a little flak on that day from kids working on projects, but we sent them to our counseling office, which has several computers and welcomes kids during lunch.

We used the 2 SMARTboards in the media center and set up an additional 3 screens/projectors/speakers.  With their parents’ permission, students brought in a plethora of systems:  PS2, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360. Jesse and JD looked at the games and systems and determined which position in the library would be best for which games.  For instance, Beatles Rock Band needed good speakers AND enough floor space for players and their instruments, so that went to a screen with access to the sound system.  Madden ’12 needed a high resolution screen, so they went to the SMARTboard.  Their knowledge of how to optimize the games’ effectiveness contributed heavily to the positive gaming experience.

For community outreach, we invited a representative from Play N Trade, a local gaming store.  He brought “Warriors of Rock” and tons of guitars so that more kids could play.  He interacted brilliantly with students, giving pointers along with gaming coupons.  Since he was used to dressing up like Mario and being mauled by elementary school students, he was grateful for the chance to work with potential customers who shared his passion.  He even stayed through the tornado watch, talking gaming with the kids huddled in the hall. Good community relations.

One PTSA member came to help, and Knight’s Tale kids stationed themselves at each game system for security and “fairness”, but neither presented an issue.  At each station, the rules of play seemed to emerge organically with little negotiation. We also asked the teachers to come down to play with the kids (and to provide a little supervision), and that perhaps turned out to be the biggest hit.  The kids loved gaming against their teachers and schooling THEM.

In fact, the amount of problem-solving, teaching, and collaboration going on between the intense (slack-jawed) bursts of gaming surprised me. One group in the computer lab even commandeered the whiteboards for brainstorming tips and shortcuts.

All told, we had thirty kids gaming in the library over three lunches.  Since we regularly have at least 50 kids in our library during each of the three lunches, this event could have been viewed as a failure.  I don’t see it that way.  I stayed outside the media center selling wristbands to last minute-takers and to take in the scene from the outside. What I loved was that, even though event wasn’t well-attended, kids were peeking in the windows and saying, “They had MADDEN? Man, I wish I had gone. That was cool.” For some reason, the posters and the two weeks of announcements just didn’t register.  Our student body is not composed of early adopters or innovators, so they’re only beginning to understand that when we launch a program, it’s going to be good. Next time, their response will be even better.

Our version of National Gaming Day provided an opportunity to game at school with new friends and to make a little money with no financial outlay.  The real prize?  It cemented us as a cool place to be.

To view an Animoto video with highlights of the event, please visit this link.

Wendy Cope is one of the librarians at River Ridge High School in Cherokee County, Georgia.  Her email address is Twitter: @rrhslibrary