Fifth Grade Encounter with the Man Behind the Video
Mrs. Stewart's Fifth Grade Classroom
Shaftsburg Elementary School
REFLECTING UPON HANDS-ON LEARNING
I came upon this opportunity for students to interact
with the inventor of first video game system (via
e-mail questions) as a result of the instructor's
willingness to allow me to extend myself and use precious
classroom time to further educate students in non-traditional
a precursor to the research project, the students
interacted in an extensive toy and video game history
presentation. They were very fascinated as an actual
example of innovation and making dreams come true
that they could relate to was shown to them. (They
invented their own toy patents and toy advertisements
to present before the class.)
students opportunity to learn from this experience
did not end there as they proceeded to learn about
Ralph Baer's invention in greater depth from a hand-out
I produced and from doing Internet research about
this inventor of the first video game system.
the stage set, the students made up meaningful questions
to better understand the life of this famous inventor
and be motivated by him. In class, students were given
the opportunity to read the answers to their own questions
to the rest of the class with that knowledge that
they may one day see their question in print.
is the image of Ralph Baer proudly standing next
to the first video game system (Odyssey) that
was released in 1972.
THE FIRST OF THE STUDENTS' INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
1. Was there anything you wanted to invent but
it was too hard?
Wrong Question: Nobody "wants to invent"
A person either invents something or
. But a person may invent something
that is too hard to convert into a real product or
a service for a lot of reasons, mainly financial ones.
developing the invention- the idea- into a product
costs too much money for an individual inventor. Then
he might try to get some company to take on the job
of developing the idea in a product. That is hard
to do. Companies general do not take outsiders' inventions
But that's another long story.
Links By the Author and Publishers' Corner
RALPH BAER'S NOTE TO THE STUDENTS
(Statement of Ingenuity)
do truly novel ideas come from? Do they drop out of
the sky like lightning and enter the inventor's brain
like something from outer space?
likely. Ideas almost always are the result of recognizing
some need by the inventor
that there's something
that could do a new job nobody had thought of before
(like video games)
or do an old job better than
it had been done before (like: Come up with the idea
of digitizing peoples faces and use them as heads
in video game.)
it's a truly novel idea- a Eureka!- then there is
probably something in the professional experience
of the inventor that caused the novel idea to float
to the surface of his or her consciousness.
you are interested in how video games came into being,
I'll tell you this. My idea for using a home television
set for playing games didn't come out of a vacuum.
I had many years of experience in electronic design,
especially in television receiver design. Therefore,
I had both the incentive for "doing something
new" with a TV set and I had the technical expertise
to see how it might all be done, looking at the design
problem from an engineer's point of view. As an engineer,
it was natural for me to do that just as soon as the
idea for doing games occurred to me.
the bottom line?
of us have inherited (from some distant ancestor)
the genes needed for original thinking about novel
devices. Almost everybody has some genes tucked away
in his or her DNA (Yep
that's where they sit,
waiting for you to put it all together!)
number one. Some of us have the education and training
to convert ideas into real things.
of us are willing to work hard to make dreams real.
just takes all three factors to complete the circle
from concept to end product. Here is no shortcut
and who would want one, anyway?
much for that.
Who was the first person to test it (the first video
My technician Bill Harrison and I played our first
chase (which he won) on May 15, 1967.
How long did it take you?
From the moment of inception on September 1, 1966
(when I wrote a 4-page disclosure paper laying it
all out) to the end of the development cycle during
which we built eight consecutive, ever more complex
game consoles (ending with the "Brown Box"),
it took about two years.
What's your favorite invention that you made?
invention of video games has to be at the top.
Baer's "Brown Box"
FROM A TEACHER'S PERSPECTIVE
Dan Arnold's introduction to Ralph Baer, who is known
as "Father of the Video Games," fit perfectly
into our fifth grade invention unit.
students viewed many video game overlays including
Odyssey's ping-pong game that would later become Atari's
"Pong." They also saw the image of the arcade
game "Journey," that used Ralph Baer's technology
of digitized photography in gaming.
The students were allowed to ask Mr. Baer questions,
which he ansered through e-mail, via Mr. Arnold. They
learned a little about Mr. Baer's personal life, his
journey as an inventor, his patents, and how he was
affected by our business world. They also learned
that Mr. Baer is still inventing. Thank you Mr. Baer
for taking the time to share with our class.
also thank Dan Arnold For bring a modern touch to
our invention unit!
Fifth Grade Teacher
MAKING VIDEO GAMES A REALITY
How did you come (up) with the video game system and
Once I had come up with, and documented the very concept
of playing games on a home TV set, I put on my engineer's
hat and asked myself what I could put on the screen
that would require a minimum of electronic part (hardware)
and still result in a playable game. The answer was
to design circuitry that would put two player controllable
spots which could moved all over the screen by the
players. With these two, we could play simple chase
games (one spot chasing another and wiping it out
upon contact) and we could "shoot at the screen
with a simple photosensitive "gun" and play
target shooting games with stationary and moving target
THE FEELINGS TOWARDS INVENTIONS
6. What was the hardest invention?
If you mean, which invention took the longest to convert
into a working model, then I would say it was the
What was your least favorite invention?
I don't have any "least favorable" invention,
but there are a few inventions among my inventions
that are relatively trivial and insignificant.
would like to thank everyone who played a part in
this exciting research project. Without Mrs. Stewart's
investment of time, I would not have had the opportunity
to make such a project happen within a school setting.
Without Ralph Baer's faithful support in friendship
and investment of the education of children, we would
not have had the opportunity to put this type of interaction
this publication will be submitted for further publication
to other organizations, be sure to check up on http://www.toylegacies.org
now and then to see where your question has been in
very proud of you students! You have been eager to
learn with a personal drive for innovation that was
first evident in your project to invent toys yourselves.
a blessed day and do not hesitate to contact me to
talk about my toy/video game history research endeavors.
STUDENT QUESTION WRAP-UP
8. How old were you when you started inventing?
Are you still inventing?
. Go into a Toys-R-Us store and look for
"Talkin' Tools" by Tonka or Playskool (both
Did you go to UCLA?
(The student spoke of the great technology and video
gaming program they have there.)
First of all, I live on the East Coast
while a good education is absolutely essential in
this technology-intensive world, there are many ways
to educate yourself. Large numbers of our most famous
U.S. inventors never even saw the inside of a college
(Think of Edison for example.) or left college early
because they were way ahead of their teachers through
self study and superior brain power (like Bill Gates,
is moving at an accelerated pace. I thank Ralph Baer
for starting the era of video gaming that became a
major part of my entertainment in my youth with friends.
Copyright © 2002, Daniel Arnold