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RACINE — Some Wadewitz Elementary students, along with one of their teachers, learned earlier this year about Wisconsin history while contributing to the development and testing of an online video game.

The game, called Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case, was produced by Wisconsin Public Television Education and Field Day Lab and was released Oct. 10.

“Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case, set in and around the Wisconsin State Capitol, assists educators in teaching history while engaging students as ‘history detectives’ to immerse them in the action,” according to a statement from WPT.

The local contribution to the game began when VaLisa Harmon, a library media teacher at Wadewitz Elementary, 2700 Yout St., traveled to Madison earlier this year and brainstormed for the story line, along with around 30 other Wisconsin teachers.

“What was really cool is they brought in artifacts and they had us look at artifacts,” Harmon said. “I think they were trying to give us an appreciation for how historians work.”

Then the teachers broke into groups and developed mysteries for game-players to solve.

“How could we take these great events in Wisconsin’s history and make a mystery about it?” Harmon said about the process.

The prototype

About six weeks later, in April, Harmon received the initial prototype of the game for her fourth grade students to test.

Although the finished version of the game includes music and colorful characters and background images, the prototypes were bare-bones. The images at that point were just pencil sketches.

Gamers play as an elementary-age detective, and click through their surroundings to find clues. They have to pay special attention to dialogue bubbles that give them directions.

“They’re encouraged to find evidence,” Harmon said.

During the game, students use detective skills to solve mysteries about real artifacts from Wisconsin history, and then use the evidence they find to argue their case.

Student testers

Vanessa Medrano, a Wadewitz fifth-grade student who helped test the game, said she enjoyed learning about Wisconsin history as she played.

Her fellow fifth-grader, Kendell Morris, also enjoyed the process.

“I think it was very cool how we got to investigate on a lot of different things,” he said.

Harmon said that students especially liked seeing the final version of the game when it was released this fall.

“I liked that it was a mystery so we had to really think about what we were looking for,” said fifth-grade student Brandonte Johnson. “You really had to read or else you wouldn’t know what to do.”

Giving feedback

While playing the prototypes, students used note cards to document any issues with the game or parts that they felt were too difficult. They also took note of the elements they enjoyed. Their feedback was sent to the game’s creators to help them make revisions.

The students tested the game for several weeks, and received updated versions as its creators finished the story line and incorporated student and teacher feedback.

Then when they played a subsequent version and saw the changes made from their suggestions, it made them feel important, Harmon said.

“I feel really good,” Johnson said. “I feel like I accomplished something.”

Harmon said she liked seeing her students take ownership in the game, and realize that their input mattered.

“Even though they didn’t create the game and do all the pictures, they had a part in it,” Harmon said.

The developer

Wisconsin Public Television Education and Field Day Lab is an educational game developer within the University Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

“The collaborative design process that brought teachers, historians, game developers and public media together has led to a playful entry point for students into the process historians follow,” stated Alyssa Tsagong, WPT’s director of education. “We know that Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case will be used alongside other WPT Education local history classroom resources, drawing on the rich stories of our state to spark the kind of curiosity and engagement that will lead to authentic learning experiences.”

The game, aimed at third- through fifth-grade students, can be played for free at



Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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