Ross School senior Melissa Ibrahim is bringing her lifelong love of games to her Senior Project as she creates a way for people of all ages to learn the universal language: music. Inspired by her mother, a curriculum designer in Brazil who has always advocated for innovative teaching methods, Melissa initially planned to design a game-based educational curriculum. Instead, her project has evolved into one that unifies her two greatest passions, games and music. Melissa is designing five levels of a video game to teach the fundamentals of music theory.
The game is set inside a piano. Players guide the lead character through scenarios that give them insight into aspects of music theory, ranging from memorizing scales to better understanding the rule of fifths. Because players do not need any musical proficiency to play the game, it is suitable for anyone who is looking for an interactive digital learning experience. For example, in the game’s first level, the player is asked to listen to a piece of music, identify its key, and guide the character to destroy the keys that are not a part of the musical signature. Players are encouraged to listen and block a few keys, checking repeatedly to see whether the altered score sounds correct. The next level is unlocked once the player has matched their composition to the initial sample.
Melissa’s interest in education has long preceded her Senior Project. It was the promise of a more dynamic curriculum that led to her join Ross School at the beginning of her 10th grade year. In Brazil, she said, both public and private schools are mandated to teach a national curriculum, and Melissa wanted something different. In addition to learning from a different style of classwork, Melissa took an internship last summer with Ross Learning System, where she worked on the launch of Project Circles, a web-based tool focused on sustainability that students are now using in the classroom.
Ross teaching methods, such as the use of interdisciplinary projects to lead students to deeper understanding of content and processes, have helped Melissa to develop her project. “Integrated projects helped me to conceptualize how I needed to combine media, music, technology, and pedagogy to create a final product,” she said. “Electives like Ceramics helped me with the physical aspects of the game,” such as designing her game’s main character.
Although she was familiar with Autodesk Maya, Unreal Engine, and ZBrush, the software used to model the scene and characters in her game, none of her previous experiences had involved building a project this complex, with variables that require branches of options. Once the game is completed, she looks forward to Exhibition Night, where she’ll have the chance to showcase her final product. “I’ve thought about this a lot, actually,” Melissa said. “I’d like to be outside with the game projected on an exterior wall of the Senior Building on a split screen. One side of the screen will show the game’s video introduction, and on the other, players will be able to test it out.”
Though Melissa is learning a lot from the development process and pleased with the opportunity to honor her mother with a Senior Project inspired by her work, she notes that completing the project it has not been without challenge. “It’s been scary because I don’t exactly know what I’m doing and no one really understands the blueprints I’m using,” she said. “But with time and lot of tutorials, I’m figuring it out.”