Bayside Students make own virtual reality game

By Dale Martin

San Mateo - In the old days, students have learned cooperation by working together to construct a relief map out of paper mache.

In today’s high-tech world, however, it takes more that paper mache to fuel those skills – as one group at Bayside Middle School for Arts/Creative Technology can attest.

In the latest episode of "children meet technology," those students are finishing a virtual reality game on which they have spent almost two years in both an after-school club and in class.

As part of the project, which will be officially unveiled June 5, the dozen or so students created a series of worlds that they took from the concept stage and developed into a computerized virtual reality scene.

Although they learned some sophisticated computer applications along the way on expensive, donated equipment, the students’ say one of the main lessons came in working together.

"Everything started off kind of rocky, but after a while, we got into it. We’d figure out what were the problems we have to solve," said Iosefo Masitalo, an eighth-grader

Once called cooperation, this same quality has been repackaged for the 21st century and is now being referred to as cooperative learning skills.

"We learned by doing. We learned together and we learned cooperatively," said instructor Ken Sakatani.

"The kids had to cooperate, think together, visualize, work with software and develop a whole lot of patience."

The project was largely experimental and not without its pitfalls.

Aided through donations by Kaiser Electro-Optics Corp., Autodesk, Hewlett-Packard and several other technology firms, the students worked on software that included Autodesk’s Game Creator, Windows and DOS as well as with video, laser discs and CD-ROM. One Company providing assistance went bankrupt, within the timeframe of the project.

Sakatani, who has fused are and technology into his instruction, acknowledged virtual reality is not likely to be replicated in too many classrooms because of the expenses involved.

But, he said, " We wanted to model how it would be done if resources were available. We wanted to prove that kids could do it."

Warren Black, a virtual reality produce who voluntarily brokered the project, working with high-tech companies and the schools procured the equipment, said the project forced cooperation between companies and schools.

Black indicated the project may also foster such values as capitalism for companies looking for new markets.

Although parents are unlikely to run out and buy a Autodesk program at $3,500 a pop, its introduction to children can’t hurt, Black maintained.

"Look how Apple got into the home. Kids were using them in schools," he said.

Beyond that, Black wanted to work with the students, because, he said, "No kid has ever gone and designed virtual reality before," in school.

"They are using computes on the highest end, using visual and graphics arts, programming. The world becomes full-size," he said.

Joe Keenan, a computer-savvy adult volunteer in the project, also said the students gained some sophisticated skills.

"They’ve gone ahead of me," Keenan said.

Although virtual reality games have a reputation for promoting violence, the students took on mythological creation themes involving fire, wind, earth and water.

"We found a lot of violent themes, but we’re dealing with creating the world," said eighth-grader Victor Lopez.

The challenge of their game is to get through a world and then bring themselves all together.

"Separate there is chaos. United there is balance." Said Ios.

"I liked it because we have the power to chose what they can do," said Karen Cusguen. "I never really knew what this was before, but now I know how to do it."

San Mateo County Times, Section B, Tuesday, May 28, 1996