WAUKESHA SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Capitol Case
Local teachers help develop video game to teach state history
WAUKESHA — From the moment you open the game “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case,” you can tell the titular character is an adventurer at heart. That’s perfect because the young girl was created to teach students in grades three through five about social studies, English and technology as they follow clues.
Players accompany Jo around the state Capitol and more as they also become adventurers and attempt to tell the true story behind several Wisconsin artifacts. Students can’t prove their case without sharing evidence or their sources, as they learn how to work with primary sources. The game was developed with the help of several Wisconsin elementary teachers, including Hillcrest Elementary teacher Boyd Roessler and Hadfield Elementary teacher Jennifer Guckenberger.
“It was all kind of designed as a centennial celebration of the state Capitol,” said Roessler. “2017 was the centennial of the current building, so they wanted this game to kind of be part of that event.”
There were three phases during which teachers and other partners, including Wisconsin Public Television Education, the Wisconsin Historical Society and Field Day lab, developed Jo Wilder and her journey. Roessler participated in the first phase and Guckenberger helped out during the second phase.
The first phase kicked off during summer 2016 in Madison. Representatives from all the aforementioned groups brainstormed ideas on how to best present Wisconsin history. They came up with a detective theme. Teachers developed the content while Field Day created the actual video game. It was important to those involved that students form their own arguments and aren’t just handed a bunch of facts.
“The real exciting part was last spring, they started to roll out versions of the game and we were able to test it with our students at Hillcrest,” said Roessler.
Feedback from students was then utilized to develop the final version of the game. It was designed to address Wisconsin Academic Standards while giving students a peak into the work historians really do every day. As the plot unfolds, the player has to corroborate and contextualize evidence they find with their primary sources.
“They (students) were very excited because they just like the gaming part of it,” said Guckenberger. “The kids really liked it and they were pretty quick at it.”
Guckenberger was also able to test early versions of the game in her classroom. She says her students were excited to be able to shape what the final product would look like.
It was also ideal for students who are more softspoken and are afraid of making mistakes in front of their peers. The game isn’t a high-pressure situation and has a casual flow.
“I think what works really well with the game is if they get the wrong thing, it isn’t a big deal. There’s a lot of room for error. They play around in the game and if they went one way (on the map), they would eventually get back to the other way,” said Guckenberger.
While the final game was officially launched on Oct. 10, both Roessler and Guckenberger say they haven’t launched it yet in the classroom. Roessler has plans to start incorporating it next week. Guckenberger says she’s waiting to share it with the now fifth-grade students who helped with development last year before rolling the game out.
“Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case” is available now at WPTeducation.org.
Screenshot of the video game “Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case,” which was developed with the help of two Waukesha School District educators.