Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gamestar + Gamekit Beta = Awesome

21st Century Skills... why game design?

I've been using game design for the last couple of years to increase the application of "21st Century Skills" in my class. The actual curriculum of my course is focused on the ISTE NETS, my official standards, and the Pennsylvania Computer Information Technology Standards for grades 6-8. My goal in teaching and assessing those skills, though, is to provide a context including as much STE[A]M focused content as possible and as many opportunities as I can for students to practice the 21st Century Skills.

Game Design is concerned with studying the concepts behind the basic elements of a game, and how the balance of fun and challenge in games creates flow. It is also concerned with the iteration feedback loop and how games are a complex system designed around creating a satisfying user experience. Game design is a great jumping off point for introducing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) learning through the lens of systems-thinking and user-centered design. Working with these complex concepts requires creativity and critical thinking in generous amounts. Basically, students have to figure out how a user is going to interact with a system that hasn't been invented yet. Further, the iterative feedback loop requires collaboration. Students are not going to learn to work well with others by being forced to do class assignments that they could do just fine on their own in a group of random peers. They either just divide up the work like a pie, ending up with an end product that looks like five different people made it, or one member does all of the work while everyone else sits there and argues or gossips. When you make a game, you need other people. Even if you make the whole thing yourself, someone is going to have to play-test it and give you feedback.

Gamestar Mechanic

Gamestar Mechanic is awesome. I can't say enough good things about it. "Gamestar Mechanic is a game and community designed to teach kids the principles of game design and systems thinking in a highly engaging environment" (GSM). You don't have to be a game design expert to do this (I certainly wasn't and still am not), but you must provide some context. Gamestar Mechanic is not a babysitter, and most of your students will not accidentally pick up the concepts. I've used Gamestar Mechanic with the excellent scaffolding provided by E-Line Media in the Gamestar Mechanic Learning Guide, as well as plenty of my own.

Gamestar Mechanic is one of the projects of The Institute of Play, an organization that is involved in a lot of other epic projects. One of those is GameKit Beta.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leveling up: Best beginner tools for taking game design to the next level in the classroom?

This is not a guide. This is a conversation. Hopefully the comments on this post will be more useful than my ramblings. With that said, let me hit you with the premise.

The Premise

Game design is a great jumping off point for introducing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning through the lens of systems-thinking and user-centered design while stopping short of providing any real foundation in coding, programming, or engineering, areas covered in the realm of game development. I would like to find a way to begin the transition from game design to game development in my classroom, in order to move from STEM theory (ideas and concepts) to STEM skills (concrete practice).
Some rights reserved by artnoose

  • Game Design is concerned with studying the concepts behind the basic elements of a game, and how the balance of fun and challenge in games creates flow. It is also concerned with the iteration feedback loop and how games are a complex system designed around creating a satisfying user experience.
  • Game development deals with concepts like sequences, loops, parallelism, events, conditionals, operators, and data storing... You know, computer programming.

Moving from one to the other, particularly at the introductory level (I teach 7th and 8th grade computer science) can be frustrating due to a decided lack of good tools at the right price for education (In today's climate the right price is "free").

Teachers, Let's fix this PowerPoint thing

“PowerPoint doesn’t kill meetings. People kill meetings. But using PowerPoint is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: You can do very bad things with it.”
Peter Norvig, Google Director of Research
I'm going to take a break from talking about games and project-based learning and focus instead today on design. Specifically, I want to talk about a tool that is in most of our boxes these days: presentation software. You know, PowerPoint, Google Presentation, Impress, Keynote, Empressr, etc. We all use it to teach. Many of us use it as a tool for student projects. Most of us love it and hate it. In most circumstances, presentations are fun to make, awkward to give, and terrible to watch. What's going on?

Show & Tell

The main key here is Show & Tell. The presentation tool shows and you tell.

My Show & Tell notes on my new murse.
I often illustrate this point by having my students access prior knowledge of Show & Tell with a think-pair-share. Students are encouraged to re-live their favorite Show & Tell memories while boiling down the process.

After students seem to have a good grasp of Show & Tell, I summarize for them by demonstrating. I do a Show & Tell presentation. Instead of showing what I'm telling about, though, I hold up written notes (in bullet-list format, of course). Students can't hold it in. They get indignant about how that is not Show & Tell. Some yell, "Where is it? You're supposed to show it!" Sometimes I have a very small picture of the item I place on the side of one of my pages of notes. This really frustrates the students. "I can barely see that!" shouts one student. One student even yelled, "That's just Tell & Tell! You're not showing anything!" I thought that that was very perceptive... brilliantly so. Kids are so darn smart.

Bonus History Lesson

License Some rights reserved by smohundro
Simply put, slide presentations are complex Show &Tell. The thing is, if you're trying to show something that you can't bring to your presentation, such as a building or a country or a massive chemical reaction, you need pictures. In the past, this was accomplished with everything from presentation boards to old-school slide projectors (pictured on the right). With the advent of personal computers, we (or, more specifically, developers like Dennis Austin and Thomas Rudkin) realized we could make software to replace the old slide deck, and we could present from our computers. Since text was still easier to add to computer-generated slides than pictures back in 1988, PowerPoint and similar applications morphed from Show & Tell to Tell & Tell, basically becoming an overpriced and over-powered whiteboard. Meanwhile, we humans still prefer Show & Tell to Tell & Tell, and as a result, we've all come to loathe PowerPoint presentations.

Some background

Typically, I don't talk about things as mundane as PowerPoint in my class. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my course focuses on projects and problem solving rather than specific apps or techniques, and I'm certainly not a fan of teaching the typing / office curriculum to secondary students. I have, however, had a lot of complaints. Colleagues often complain that when they assign students or groups of students to do a presentation project, the results are not what they had hoped for. I'm often told that "these students make bad PowerPoints." I typically reply that just about everyone makes bad PowerPoints. Either way, as the tech teacher, it is incumbent upon me to fix PowerPoint for all future generations. After having some students "make PowerPoint" presentations for me (they could actually use whatever slide software / app they were comfortable with), I quickly reached three conclusions:

  1. Many of us have created this problem ourselves.
  2. This is a design problem (that goes way beyond presentations).
  3. There are some very simple things we can all do in our classrooms to get better presentations out of our students (and ourselves).

Hey, Computer Teachers, stop wasting students' time! (Part 2)

In my previous post, I argued that mandatory computer courses, particularly on the secondary level (7th grade and beyond) should move beyond a myopic focus on keyboarding and Microsoft Office.  I did note that a curriculum steeped in keyboarding and productivity applications is quite appropriate and often essential at the 2nd through 5th or even 6th grade levels. By grade 7, though, if we're not moving students forward and addressing the actual standards for our grade level, rather than reiterating elementary school, we're doing our students a serious disservice. In that post, I promised a Part 2 that would share ways that you can "transform your computer classroom into a relevant, standards-compliant, juggernaut of 21st Century STE[A]M-tastic awesomeness." Talk about over-promising! Okay, I'll do my best. On to glory...

Beginning with the end in mind.

If you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. This is why we have objectives and standards in education. In my classroom, I am to adhere to the ISTE NETS as my official standards.
ISTE's NETS for Students (NETS•S) are the standards for evaluating the skills and knowledge students need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital world. 
Simply being able to use technology is no longer enough. Today's students need to be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore. Digital-age skills are vital for preparing students to work, live, and contribute to the social and civic fabric of their communities. (NETS-S)
If you don't follow the national standards, you likely focus on your State's standards. Pennsylvania, where I reside and work, has Computer Information Technology Standards for grades 6-8 and 9-12 among its secondary computer standards. These standards focus on many of the same core STE[A]M-based concepts as the ISTE NETS. They look for students to be able to "interpret and apply appropriate social, legal, ethical, and safe behaviors of digital citizenship", "create advanced digital projects using sophisticated design and appropriate software/applications", evaluate online sources of information, and "create multimedia projects using student-created digital media."

In either case, there is a clear focus on Technology Fluency, Technology Skills (as opposed to rote technology knowledge), and ultimately Project [or problem] - Based Learning. Technology fluency is an idea I discussed in my last post, which is essentially a term I've stolen from Vicky Davis. Davis defines true technology fluency as "the ability to determine and use the appropriate technology tool(s) for the task at hand in a manner that allows seamless transfer of created objects and documents to flow easily between the selected tools without outside intervention." Basically, we want kids to learn to apply technology skills in the myriad, fluid ever-shifting ways they're going to have to in life. A class that builds those skills is going to revolve around project based learning by default.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hey, Computer Teachers, stop wasting students' time! (Part 1)

Despite increased globalization; despite the need to prepare students to access, evaluate, synthesize, and build upon information and media; and despite the drive to promote Creativity, Innovation, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Communication, and Collaboration, the curriculum of many schools' secondary Computer Information Technology programs tends to hinge on keyboarding and Microsoft Office. Let me explain, for those who are not already with me, why this is a waste of our students' time and our parents' taxpayer dollars. There are a growing number of voices clamoring to get rid of the "Computer Teacher", arguing that in today's atmosphere of integrated technology we are irrelevant and redundant. If we're teaching 7th to 12th graders Keyboarding and MS Office classes, that is 100% true. Don't get me wrong, a curriculum steeped in keyboarding and productivity applications is quite appropriate and often essential at the 2nd through 5th or even 6th grade levels. By grade 7, though, if we're not bumping up our game and addressing the actual standards for our grade level, rather than reiterating elementary school, we're doing our students a serious disservice.

Preparing kids for the future, not the past

In terms of keyboarding alone, a quick Google search will show you that everyone from the BBC to the Wall Street Journal has heralded the end of the Keyboard and Mouse. Leaving the whole dying skill issue aside, though, what about just prepping students for career survival in the 21st Century?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections' Occupational Outlook Handbook, careers in Office & Administrative support, you know, the people who need killer keyboarding clerical speed and accuracy and tons of experience with MS Office, tend to be some of the lowest paid careers with the poorest growth. The fastest growing career in this sector, at 24% (Faster than the 12% national average), receptionists make a whopping $25,240 per year or $12.14 per hour. The highest paid career in this sector, Postal work, which averages $53,090 per year or $25.52 per hour, is shrinking rapidly at 26% per year. This doesn't seem like a great way to spend our time in computer class.

On the other hand, careers in Computer and Information Technology are growing and are well compensated. Software developers, for example, make an average of $90,530 per year or $43.52 per hour, and that field, like most in CIT is growing at 30% (much faster than the national average, a measly 12%). This is why so many industry leaders, politicians, and celebrities have gotten behind projects like I've posted this video before, but it's worth a re-post.

Perhaps this overwhelming need for highly qualified people to fill these positions is the reason behind President Obama's multiple public statements that we need to spend more time teaching computer programming and game design.

Further, you'll be hard pressed to find many industry leaders or National Presidents bemoaning the lack of people who can type over 30 words per minute at 95% accuracy or have memorized how to set tabs in Word 2010. This is why there was a National STEM Video Game Challenge last year instead of a national STEM Clerical Challenge. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why learn game design?

See also:
Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming - on The Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog.

The context

Why are we learning game design? I asked my seventh grade students this question last week. On page 61 of "The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument", it is noted that in a classroom that reflects distinguished instruction, students should be able to identify what is going on and why. "If asked, students are able to explain what they are learning and where it fits into the larger curriculum context" (Danielson, 2013). I provide some context for this on a regular basis by reviewing objectives and broader essential questions and standards. focuses on
the game design process.

My students, though, are thinkers. I'm trying to foster that. They really want to know, "why are we learning game design". Many of them did exactly what I would want them to do when given a discussion question like this. They Googled it. The results of their search were less than stellar. They found very little and expressed their frustration. These are students who know how to use advanced search strategies and even change the reading level of their results.

It turns out that there's actually a lot of very solid information for teachers and even parents out there on this topic. The excellent video below, for example, from Gamestar Mechanic is great for getting teachers and parents on board. Now, what do we tell the kids? As teachers, we can sit around and talk about STE[A]M, "Systems-Thinking" and "User-Centered Design" until we're giddy with 21st century awesomeness, but students will just tune such phrases out. Below, I have tried to lay out the context for game design in a way that a twelve-year-old can read, understand, and explain to peers, parents, and teachers.

Why learn game design?

There are hundreds of great reasons to study game design. Here are three that aren't "becoming a better computer programmer".

Reason 1: Game Design makes you a more creative problem-solver.

Okay, so you've probably heard your teachers talk about 21st century skills. A big part of that is creativity and critical thinking (problem solving). The thing is, when someone points to creativity and critical thinking (problem solving) as modern survival skills, they're not talking about the ability to create beautiful watercolor paintings or solve the word problems on your state math exam. Those are cool skills to have, but when we're talking about the 21st century, we're talking about complicated stuff, often referred to as systems. We're surrounded by complex systems, from computers and the power grid to natural systems, such as ecosystems or your digestive tract. If you change one part of a system, everything else changes too, often in surprising ways.

Games are complex systems, that are made up of inter-working elements. Game Design helps you learn about how systems work and how they can be modified or changed. Often you have to come up with very creative solutions to solve problems within the design of a game so your end product works and is fun for the people playing it. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Review - "Learning Stencyl 3.x Game Development: Beginner's Guide"

The following review deals with a book about Stencyl. Stencyl is "a drag-and-drop gameplay designer" (Stencyl), modeled after the MIT Scratch project. Basically, it's blocks-based programming made specifically for game design. The sweet part for teachers is that it is free. Now, on to the book review...

Have a Go, Hero...

I've spent some enjoyable moments over the last two weeks working through Packt Publishing's "Learning Stencyl 3.x Game Development: Beginner's Guide", by Innes Borkwood. This is a great book for teachers who want to do more with game design and development in their classroom, but aren't that well versed with coding and programming.
I've been using Stencyl, off and on, with students for two years now. It has still managed to elude me up to this point. I had done the crash course and watched plenty of YouTube Videos. None of it helped. My students would ask me questions, and I would feel clueless. I think that they were starting to see through my Socrative responses, "That is a problem. What have you tried? Hmm, perhaps you could Google it..." 

This book promises to
guide you through learning the essential skills that are required to create your own video games without knowing how to write computer code. We're going to start with a blank screen and, before we reach the end of the book, we'll have developed a complete game, ready for publishing. We won't stop with just the basics in place— we're going all the way, right through to including many of the important features that we would expect to find in a professional production! (Learning Stencyl 3.x Game Development Beginner's Guide (Kindle Locations 500-503). Packt Publishing.)  
It did not disappoint. Each section is set up like a well planned lesson. There's a hook, where we look at what we'll be doing and why, often identifying a problem in the game we're developing along with the book. Next, it's "Time for Action", which is a step by step tutorial of how to apply this particular skill in your game. Then, we review in the "What just Happened?" section. Finally, it's time to "Have a Go, Hero". where you practice the skill.

In the end, I'm not only excited to teach Stencyl this year but also to start developing some of my own epistemic games for my classroom and my colleagues!

If you are teaching Game Design in your classroom, you need to consider adding Stencyl to your application library. And I highly recommend adding "Learning Stencyl 3.x Game Development: Beginner's Guide" to your personal or classroom library.

Final notes:

"Learning Stencyl 3.x Game Development: Beginner's Guide" does assume you are using Stencyl 3.x. According to the Stencyl Web Site, Stencyl 3.0 is currently only available to paid customers through a closed beta program. I successfully completed this book using Stencyl 2.1.0. If you would like to do the same, make sure you visit the following discussion within the official forums:,23398.0.html. The first entry in this forum contains a downloadable document which explains the differences that users of Stencyl 2.2 will find when following the tutorials in the book.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Awesome videos to inspire epic classrooms

Okay, so I realize that everyone and their sister, at this point, has posted their own curated roundup of videos on Game Based Learning and Gamification in the classroom. I'm certainly not doing anything new here. Occasionally, though, I want to share with a colleague or fifty, during workshops or conferences, my cannon of inspirational videos of gaming goodness. It's just more simple to put them all in one place, so here they are.

Ultimately, these videos speak for themselves. I'll keep my commentary to a minimum. I will say that these videos actually started me down the path of actually taking games and game design seriously in my classroom. If I hadn't seen Chellman & Mcgonigal's TED talks one fateful day in 2011, I never would have attended break out sessions on games and gamification with Jeff Mummert at the first or taken an online course called, "Simulations and Gaming Technologies for the Classroom". I certainly wouldn't be as passionate about this topic today. 

Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to re-engage boys in learning

"Should we send this child to the psychologist?" And the answer is no, he's just a boy. He's just a little boy. (Ali Carr-Chellman)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Is Twitter Keeping you down?

Back on October 17 of 2011, I posted a bit of a guide for my tweeps and colleagues on building your PLN. In that guide, I shared Jeff Dunn's post from earlier in the month, The A-Z Dictionary of Educational Twitter Hashtags, that shared some general points about hash tags that I've applied myself and shared with most of my friends and colleagues over the years. Some of that information is no longer true. Mainly, I want to look at this quote from Dunn's post:
The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keyword or topic in a Tweet. Any Twitter user can categorize or follow topics with hashtags.Those hashtags (usually) mean something and are a great way to get a tweet to appear in search results or discussion monitoring. (Dunn 2011, emphasis mine)


Hashtags & Top Tweets

In order to follow a hashtag, users must complete a search, then save it (typically using a thrird party app, like Hootsuite). This used to provide users with a running timeline of everything anyone posted with that hashtag. This was a good system for consumers and creators because it allowed a way for Jo Schmo teacher to share resources from his classroom with anyone, even if he wasn't a famous published author and speaker. This helped build a Personal Learning Network. This is no longer the case.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Games, Fun Failure, and the Learning Process

Last week, Dr. mentioned on Twitter that this coming week's #GBLFriday topic would be, How Games Help Students Learn Failure. Failure is a topic I've been thinking a lot about lately and hitting on in previous posts. Alas, I have decided to to tackle this topic a bit here and put in my two cents worth...

Failure shouldn't be fatal


There are a lot of popular articles out there that say students should be failing regularly in school and activities (just Google "failure good for kids" or something similar), that point to various studies into the benefits of failure. My conservative crotchety old windbag friends love these articles. The driving idea is that children benefit from plenty of experiences with frustration, failure and defeat.
Without a doubt, this will motivate them to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and try even harder the next time. It will give them grit and prepare them for the "Real World". Clearly, today's students don't get enough of these experiences because we, the helicopter adults, coddle and protect them. Yada yada yada... when I was a kid, they didn't even have children! (Standard conservative crotchety old windbag diatribe)
The thing is, in my experience, our students are not coddled at all. Sure, there are plenty of botched "self-esteem" initiatives out there that promote fake success in meaningless activities (everybody wins at kickball!), but when it comes to actual learning, our students are being allowed to fail in epic numbers, some of them in ways that are fatal to their education. In a previous post, I said that Kids are only motivated by failure if it isn't actually fatal. Here I hope to unpackage that statement a bit more.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Scaffolding Portal 2 for Game Design Thinking.

As mentioned in earlier posts, I've been using Gamestar Mechanic to facilitate technology fluency and systems based thinking in my Computer Information Technology class. Gamestar Mechanic is an online tool from my heroes over at the Institute of Play, that gamifies the process of game design, which is essentially game based learning (for more on those terms click here). Game design is just as it sounds. It's is the process of planning the components, goals, mechanics, environment, and rules of a game, as well as considerations, in many cases, of storyline and characters. Its the consideration of user interaction with your design. It is the process of responding to user feedback and creating iterations on your design. [Video] Game design can also include coding, programming, and digital art, but in this case, I'm simply focusing on game mechanics and user experience.

My Classroom Door Sign
At the 2012, Jeff Mummert introduced me to Teach with Portals, an initiative of Steam for Schools. I was able to register my class for a free educational version of Portal 2 and the Puzzle Creator (sometimes referred to as Puzzle Maker). In terms of approaching Game design from the perspective of game mechanics, particularly the five elements discussed in Gamestar Mechanic, Portal 2 with the Puzzle Maker is a natural extension of the activities begun in Gamestar. It simply requires some additional scaffolding. I'd like to share some of the scaffolding resources I created with you here.

Making Connections

Okay, so the first task I found to be necessary, particularly for middle school students, was making the connections obvious between the lessons learned in Gamestar Mechanic and students' experience in Portal 2. As a prerequisite for beginning the Portal Project in my class, students must earn the Apprentice Badge in GameStar Mechanic. As a part of this badge, students have the opportunity to analyze the 5 elements of game design as a system, evaluate games for balance (flow), participate in the iteration feedback loop, and consider end user experience. I wanted to extend this experience to Portal 2. Steam for Schools is quite limited in that it provides no method for sharing projects between students or community for students. In order to provide some opportunity for community, I've had to use blogging and Edmodo.  First, I require students to blog throughout the project during play and Test Chamber creation. Students may blog as an analysis of game play (focusing on the 5 Elements) or as fanfiction from the perspective of Chell.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gaming the System & The Epic Quest for Professional Development

This month, I am re-reading What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, by James Paul Gee and Reality is Broken

Seriously, If you haven't read What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, by James Paul Gee and Reality is Broken

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Project in Process: Coding & Programming

I'm working on a two new posts dealing with my Game Design, Game Based Learning, & Gamification Adventures. They should be rolling out next week. Meanwhile, I've been thinking a lot about Coding & Programming thanks to this video:

As a result, I developed the project below for my classes. I could use ideas or feedback on:
  • Adding more Gamification elements.
  • Scope and Sequence issues.
  • Providing better resources.
Also, I would like to offer it up to any other CIT teachers out there who are interested. Come along for the ride. We can try this together.
  • Project Wiki (feel free to contact me about joining).
  • Edmodo Group for this project (Send me a message if you send a join request)
  • My Class Website (if you're interested in stealing ideas from my other projects)
Hope to hear from you soon.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Game Based Learning, Gamification, & Game Design: A n00bs guide.

Lately, I've been doing a lot with games in my classroom. I've also been teaching other educators about ways they can use games and game design in their classroom. One thing that often frustrates and confuses newcomers to this discussion is the differences between Game Based Learning (#GBL), Gamification (#Gamification), and Game Design. Often the lines between these three distinct fields are blurred in conversation as well as practice. This isn't a good or bad thing; it just is. Sometimes though, it is helpful to make a distinction. For example, If I'm telling someone how successful Game Based Learning or Game design has been in my classroom only to have them ask questions about Gamification, the whole conversation can get confusing. Don't get me wrong, Gamification is awesome, and I use it to an extent, but it is not Game Based Learning or Game design. As a n00b* myself, I'm creating this n00b's guide to help clear up these topics and how they apply to our classrooms. It has taken this n00b awhile to unravel these mysteries, so I'll try to share what I've picked up along the way.

Game Based Learning

Identified on Twitter by the hashtag #gbl (and now the edchat: #gblfriday), Game Based learning is game play that has defined learning outcomes. In other words, GBL involves using actual games in your classroom that you've selected to reach specific objectives or goals. For example, a Physics teacher might use Portal 2 to work with concepts such as mass, friction, elasticity, and conservation of momentum. A Business or Math teacher might use Lemonade Stand or Coffee Shop to teach micro economic or computational concepts. A social Studies teacher might use games like Win the Whitehouse or We the Jury to teach Political Science concepts.

Game Based learning is not Gamification. You are using actual games in the classroom, be they Epistemic games (educational / serious games), Commercial Games, or Mods of Commercial games. I'll go over some great resources for these games at the end. For now, it's on to Gamification.


Code Academy Badges gamify learning code.
Gamification is the application of game mechanics in a non-game context, such as your classroom management system, your assessments, your grading procedures, etc. in order to increase user motivation and engagement. Gamification techniques use people's natural response to challenge, achievement, epic meaning (being a part of something bigger), and mission completion. Good examples of Gamification in the classroom include Chore Wars, which gives you an avatar and level-ups for completing classroom chore; Class Dojo, which uses avatars and badges to reinforce desired classroom behaviors; and even Edmodo badges, which can be used in a variety of contexts.

You can gamify parts of your classroom, such as my use of the ABI system to make grading more closely resemble leveling-up, or you can gamify your entire course, like Paul Anderson's Science class. Gamification is tricky, because it can easily be gimmicky. Simply replacing the language with which you present things, for example, but maintaining the same old methods of assessment and teaching are not gamification. They're just gingerbread.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grades: Gamification, ABI, & PBL

Thoughts on learning, grading, gamification, and motivation from a n00b. I'm just wrestling with these ideas. Conversation is more than welcome.

Games & Gamification: Addictive vs. Additive 

When the concept of Gamification is mentioned to most teachers, the reaction is neutral at best. I'm sure many people are visualizing trying to turn their subject matter, which they take very seriously, into something resembling Dungeons & Dragons meets Angry Birds. I'm not saying that's good bad or indifferent (See my earlier posts on games). There are others who would (legitimately so) argue that great games function a lot like great teaching. Therefore, Gamification is just a gimmick and really just good teaching. For an example, see the below graphs on "Flow" (a key concept in game design) and Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (educational psychology).

flow zone
Flow: A key Concept in Game Design Zone of Proximal Development: A key concept in scope & Sequence

Despite your thoughts on these issues, there's one area where games consistently kick our butts as educators, and it's not graphics. I would argue that games would be so darn addictive if they weren't additive. We wouldn't play so consistently and with such devotion if we weren't getting anywhere.

Leveling up: Games are Additive and Grading is Subtractive. 

Have you heard of leveling up? Your students have. For the newbies, novices and even the hapless n00bs, here's the 411 on Leveling up.

In today’s immersive multi-player games, you play a character (often represented by an avatar). That character typically begins in a state of ignorance, innocence, and overall inexperience. As you experience things in the game, work at tasks given to you by mentors within the game, and seek knowledge / make discoveries in the game your character becomes learned, savvy, and experienced. This process is reflected by leveling up (often making your avatar more awesome). If you're an educator, this concept should sound a lot like how you envision your classroom. Unfortunately, this vision of our classrooms is entirely romantic, wrong, and ridiculous. Our students see it differently...

You see, in public school at least, we have grades. Grades are not additive. They are subtractive. No matter what rhetoric you wrap it in, grades are punitive and demotivating to most students. Think about it. At the start of the marking period, most of us set up our electronic grade books. We enter categories, weights, and assignments. Our student rosters are listed down the left hand side. Down the right, we either see a black space or 100%. Once our students receive scores for their first graded assignment, the right most column may contain three to five one hundred percents. This tends to decrease further, the more assignments that are entered. Basically, every new challenge is an opportunity to lose more points. One could easily look at our class in the following light: "If I just never showed up, I would be better off."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Epic Tale or Epic Fail: Designing User-centric narrative experiences in Gamestar Mechanic

As mentioned in earlier posts, I've been using Gamestar Mechanic to facilitate technology fluency and systems based thinking in my Computer Information Technology class.
The following activity, developed with the help of several of my students, is appropriate for lessons
in game design, plot development, user-centric design, and creative writing, among other things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves "Systems-Thinking" and "User-Centered Design". To develop even a simple game, a student must act as sociotechnical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with a system and how said systems shape both competitive and collaborative social interaction. This is the 21st Century Story Tellers Art. This is where Liberal Arts meets STEM. This is why those of us in our 30's remember and even revisit a great old game, much as though it were a great piece of literature we had read in childhood. I'm not trying to blaspheme here. Please do not attack me for putting Cloud and Frodo in the same basket.

The Lesson

This lesson assumes that students have:
  1. Completed the quest, "Addison Joins the League"
  2. Completed some challenges from the workshop (Message Block, Level Map, & Background Challenges are highly recommended).
  3. Completed the Challenge Card Activity or similar activity in making a game from scratch and getting feedback. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Game Design, Game Based Learning, & Teaching with Portals

Getting there (a not-so-brief introduction)

About two years ago now, I started down the path of actually taking games and game design seriously in my classroom. This is a topic, I've been thinking about since 2008, when I read Dennis Southwood’s article, “It's Not Just a Game—It's Skills for Life” from Educators' eZine. From 2008 to to 2011 I built a CIT class around the idea of Applying computer skills in Project Based Learning. It was marginally successful, but I still wasn't getting the results I wanted with at least half of my students, in terms of
In 2011, I attended the first, spending a lot of time in break out sessions with Game Based Learning & Gamification expert, Jeff Mummert. I also took a course from PLS called, "Simulations and Gaming Technologies for the Classroom™ Online". During this time I read What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, by James Paul Gee and Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal. 

Fast forward to now: Games and Gamification are a huge part of my class. All of my students are engaged, thinking deeply, and even demonstrating technology fluency. Most of them, through the use of Gamestar Mechanic, which uses game-based quests and courses to help students learn game design and make their own video games!

At the 2012, Jeff Mummert introduced me to Teach with Portals, an initiative of Steam for Schools. I was able to register my class for a free educational version of Portal 2 and the Puzzle Creator. So far, the work my students have been doing in Portal 2 is amazing! I hope that this is the first of many posts where I share my experiences using this tool.