Peytann Weiland spoke with all the affection of a proud pet owner as she described a magical monster that makes its home in the clouds.
Weiland, a fifth-grader at Meadow Point Elementary School, couldn't hold back a certain amount of delight as she spoke about the Mutu, an imaginary creature she designed as part of a school project that fused creativity and technical know-how.
"He's called Mutu. He's tiny, he's all pink and he's just adorable," Weiland said, adding important details about the monster's natural habitat and extraordinary abilities. "I imagined that he lives up in the sky. He's magic – he has the ability to use mind control."
The Mutu doesn't live solely in Weiland's imagination. Anyone with an iPad roaming the halls of Meadow Point Elementary on Dec. 16 could find an animated image of the creature, along with similar digital portraits of dozens of other fanciful monsters conceived and designed entirely by fifth-grade students. With the simple scan of cards placed around the school, a savvy hunter could track a whole menagerie of colorful and vibrant creatures on a simple tablet.
This basic structure will sound familiar to any loyal fan of "Pokémon Go," the online game that debuted in 2016 and quickly garnered millions of devoted players. Using their smart phone or tablet, users roamed real-world settings to find virtual animals from the Pokémon universe. It's an online game that encourages real-time activity and exploration, a combination that served as an inspiration to art and tech teachers at Meadow Point.
"'Pokémon Go' has been all the craze, especially this past summer. During our first staff meeting, I went to (Technology Teacher) Dustin Vick and asked if there was a way to make our own version," said Meadow Point Art Teacher Alexandra McBride. "I wanted the kids to design their own Pokémon and bring them to life somehow … It just kicked off from there."
Vick and McBride worked together to create their own take on the game model and came up with "Meadowmon," a project centered in 'augmented reality' that fuses imagined and real worlds. The real brunt of the work for the game fell to the school's fifth-grade students, who worked throughout the semester to create a cast of fantastical characters.
From Weiland's Mutu creature to the Vapelion, a hybrid lion/aquatic monster created by Elijah Karlin, the "Meadowmon" animals are an imaginative spin on basic cues from the Pokémon universe. Students summoned their skills as artists and graphic designers to create the animals before implementing tech skills to bring the creatures to life through cutting-edge software. According to McBride, the activity perfectly encapsulated the cross-curriculum of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM).
"We wanted to tie more technology into our art curriculum," McBride said, adding that the Meadowmon project was a featured component of this year's STEAM-a-Palooza celebration held at Grandview High School in November. "We've been discussing with our fifth-graders that this is graphic design. This is something that they could get paid to do someday."
Along with the rest of the school, the fifth-graders had a chance to see all of their work come to fruition during the school-wide "Meadowmon" hunt held on Dec. 16. Students from all grade levels crisscrossed the building, searching for the colorful cards that would open up living, breathing portraits of colorful creatures on their tablet computers. The game successfully paired imaginative visions of airborne, mind-controlling monsters with acrobatic dashes across a real-world environment.
As students rushed to capture as many Meadowmon as they could to qualify for a first-prize finish, the fifth-graders who designed the game and its colorful characters had a chance to see months of hard work pay off.
"They worked on it all trimester, and today is the day to celebrate their accomplishments," McBride said. "We figured the whole school could get involved."