The girls at Girls Middle School had a super secret tool on hand during their recent week of outside-the-classroom learning.
Super Secret is an online game currently in its beta testing phase after a year and a half of development. In it, gamers choose an avatar, cruise around in a fantasy world, chat with friends and "grow up" from age 11 to 18, gaining privileges along the way from owning a pet to voting.
This start-up company's goal, according to their mission statement, is "To become the leading site for tweens: a place that's loved by tweens and trusted by their parents."
Administrators at Girls Middle School, or GMS, like the game because it fits well with their plans for Intercession Week, a time when the school asks parents, relatives and friends in the community to help lead the girls in a week of non-academic, hands-on learning. Meanwhile, the school's tweens had a good time learning about how a computer game is made and playing and contributing to a social networking game.
For their part, parents were pleased to hear that the game is protected and controlled, said Allyson Campa, mother of a GMS sixth-grader and chief marketing officer at the San Francisco-based company.
"Now the computer is a social tool," Campa said, explaining that Super Secret is designed to be a social networking primer for kids, before they are fully exposed to Facebook or MySpace. The company believes there's a gap between the online games for younger children and the age when it would be appropriate to start using a less protected site.
"The most important thing about [Super Secret is that the players remain anonymous and never give personal information," said Campa.
Dani Gonzales, a sixth grader at GMS, got a chance to help put the finishing touches on the game when she signed up to be a tester during Intercession Week.
"I never really knew how a computer game was made before, and it's cool to know that I designed some of the stuff when I see it online," Gonzales said.
Gonzales was the perfect girl for the job because she has been looking for an online game that wasn't a "boy game," she said. What's a boy game? "You know, guns and shooting, racing and battles."
What really excited Gonzales was watching a drawing she made of an ice cream sundae transformed by a graphic artist into a prize within the game, right before her eyes. She loves art, she said, and takes a flash animations class once a week at Community School of Music and Arts to work on graphic design and animation.
Ultimately, Super Secret got some testing done with its target audience. "We listen to what they want and deliver it. In fact they are our secret weapon," Campa said.
Intercession Week, held once a year, or twice a year for sixth graders, is a non-academic learning period at the school. Peter Koehler, assistant head of school, said this kind of week is common in independent schools.
"It allows for action-learning, experiential learning, and gives the girls a chance to explore," Kohler said. "They learn by doing."