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Language Arts > Media Literacy


Students Complete The United Colonies mystery

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Mike Minadeo


An alternate reality game (ARG)is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants' ideas or actions.

The form is typified by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real-time and evolves according to participants' responses, and characters that are actively controlled by the game's designers. Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and often work together with a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities. ARGs generally use multimedia, such as telephones, email and mail but rely on the Internet as the central binding medium.”- Wikipedia

The physical component of ARGs is similar in many ways to geocaching. Those who are familiar with this recreational hobby will be especially drawn to this storytelling method.

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Experience breakdown

Lesson Plan Overview

United Colonies ARG- PART 2.

This was a truly transmedia experience that ran alongside and beyond school, was student-driven, advised by but not controlled by the teachers, and not officially within the regular curriculum.

Nonetheless, it gripped a selection of extraordinary students who were not only deeply engaged but exhibiting/practicing some of the most highly desirable skills and competencies -- learning outcomes often considered incredibly hard to capture -- including self-motivation, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and knowledge transfer.

Learning Objectives

1. Solve various cryptographic puzzles through knowledge of history, science, and media literacy concepts explored in class.

2. Develop creative-problem solving skills through deciphering a variety of cryptographic puzzles, including ones that employ invisible ink, Caesar Ciphers, Pig Latin, and American Sign Language.

3. Formulate working solutions to the various puzzles, revising them along the way through communication with peers and analysis of textual, visual, and physical evidence.

Lesson Steps

TIME REQUIRED: Year-long participation


MATERIALS: Paper, Computer, Photoshop, Illustrator, Oven Baked Clay, Burlap, Canvas, Pencils, Paper, Red Film, Pinecone, Smartphone or Tablet, AURASMA Augmented Reality software, Hollowed out book, Ultraviolet Ink, Ultraviolet Bulb, Stamping Kit (Alphabet), Permanent Black Ink Pad

The game continues


Valentine’s Day Puzzle

Valentine's Day was the reintroduction of the ARG. The students were curious and eager to play again.

Since the intent was to give all of the students as many chances to participate as possible, 38 "Valentines" were distributed.

This was a huge hit!

The envelopes contained six hearts that had been cut in half. Each student had to assemble these scrambled hearts.

A piece of transparent red plastic was included in each envelope. When placed over the hearts, it highlighted the word fragments that were part of the puzzle.

Combined, they spelled out "Who was the first woman in space?"

You can watch as the students have an "ah-ha" moment and make the connection in the Student Highlights video in United Colonies Module 1.

The game culminated with an augmented reality final clue.

Upon scanning the Eye logo with a smartphone and the Aurasma app, a final AR puzzle was revealed.

(Can you guess what it says?)


Augmented Reality Puzzle



•Grit factor
•Obsessive urgency to solve clues
This type of teaching is not traditional, but there are some very important lessons to be learned from its success:

  • Educational ARG’s can help create a new student mindset, where students work on puzzles and collaborate together outside of school hours. They look at their environment in new ways by being subtly encouraged to make connections between the present day world and their history lessons; by observing and dissecting new information.
  • Alternate Reality Games are a powerful learning tool that encourages students to develop skills for a “21st Century Literacy”[MIT Press Article: Alternate Reality Games as Platforms for Practicing 21st-Century Literacies]
  • These nuggets of achievement manifest themselves in self-motivated learners who are intrinsically motivated to spend more time studying. And the best part is, the kids see this as fun and not as schoolwork.
  • I hope you've enjoyed this play by play- if you have any questions, or get stuck, feel free to reach out to me.

    I can be found on Twitter at @MikeMinadeo

    History of Alternate REality Gaming

    If you're curious to learn more about the history of Alternate Reality Gaming, you might find this helpful. I've put together this primer for those who have never encountered ARGs before.

    The TINAG (This Is Not a Game) philosophy

    Setting the ARG apart from other games is the "This Is Not A Game" philosophy, which keeps a serious tone that lends reality to the activities. The game should not provide an obvious set of rules to the players.

    Precursors to ARGs

    ●1997 movie The Game

    Some popular and groundbreaking ARGs

    ●In 2001, to market the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence . An elaborate murder mystery played out across hundreds of websites, email messages, faxes, fake ads, and voicemail messages. At the end of the trailer for the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence, the phrase “This Is Not A Game” flashed in red. A large and extremely active fan community called. "the Cloudmakers", formed to analyze and participate in solving the game.

    SAMMEEEEES one of the first grassroots ARG’s, lots of interactions with profiles on mySpace,etc

    I Love Bees was an interactive narrative set in 2004, and a War Of The Worlds-style radio drama set in the future, the latter of which was broken into 30-60 second segments and broadcast over ringing payphones worldwide. The game pushed players outdoors to answer phones, create and submit content, and recruit others. ARG for 3rd Matrix movie

    Intel “The Chase” Adventure ARG- multiple digital platforms, successful ARG campaign for commercial campaign

    Flynn’s Arcade Tron Legacy promo at Comicon

    ● Nine Inch Nails released the album Year Zero, in which fans discovered leaked songs on flash drives at concerts.


    Common Core - English Language Arts

    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA. R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
    Speaking & Listening
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    ISTE NETS - Digital Age Skills

    1. Creativity and Innovation
    Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
    Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
    Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
    Identify trends and forecast possibilities
    4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
    Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.
    Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
    Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
    Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
    Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions

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