Thursday, April 17, 2014

Designing Fun: New post on Gamestar Teacher Blog

Hello friends,

It has been awhile. I do have some new posts in the editing queue for this blog, but for my most recent post, go check out:

Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming

It is posted over at the Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog.

A big thanks to the folks at Eline Media for the opportunity to blog for them. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Infographic: Cognitive Flow & Game Design

Here's an infographic I made for my game design students and future blog posts because I didn't like any of the graphics currently available. I'm open to improvement suggestions.

I used

Edtech tweeps, if you're writing about Game-Based Learning, Gamification, or Game Design, and you want to use this in a post, permission granted. If you have ideas on how it could be better, comment below or hit me up on Twitter.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

STE[a]M, App Flows, and Common Sense.

A few months back, I did a series of posts titled, "Hey computer teachers, stop wasting students' time". There I laid out the the basic premise that computer class, if it is to have value, should cover Computer Science topics.

I wanted to follow those posts up with some really practical posts for computer teachers, particularly those of us from the BCIT certification, who tend to lack of hard-core Information Technology experience. It's easy, after all, to say we need to spend more time teaching students coding, programming, dynamic systems design & analysis, and end-user experience and less time teaching keyboarding, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but how do we make that transition?

Today I'm going to introduce one tool that is relatively new, but growing quickly in popularity.

Common Sense Media App flows

Rather than attempt an lengthy explanation, here's the video from Common Sense Media.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Games, Gratitude, & Undergrads

Receiving a "buff" out of the blue... w00t!
On February 17th, I made the trek across the river to Millersville University. Jenn Shettel had invited me to lead a Middle Level Game Literacy Workshop with some undergrad pre-service education block students. We spent two hours talking about games, gamification, game based learning, and game design. More importantly, we talked about kids. We talked about teaching and learning. We talked about what works and does not work in the classroom. I had an awesome morning working with these students, and I got some great feedback from my host. I must admit, though, you're never 100% sure how a group you've worked with feels.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The promise & reality of GBL in Science

Citizen Science shown in GameUp
Though I am not a Science teacher, Science was by far my favorite subject in school. I enjoyed the occasional English class, but Science was awesome. I loved labs in Chemistry, Biology, and Geology. Somehow I missed Physics (probably when I took AP Biology), but I bet I would have loved that too.

The sad fact is, that due to shrinking budgets, time constraints, and, at times, facilities constraints, Science class in many schools is less and less about actual science and more and more about textbook reading and information recall. This is where games and simulations are coming in to fill the gaps. I get that a game is never going to replace real research and lab work, but it is certainly a better substitute than worksheet packets.

My school building has added two new Science teachers for next year. I would love to be able to share some great game based learning resources with them. That got me thinking, what would I recommend? What's out there? What is the current state of game based learning when it comes to Science?

Promising stuff

There are a lot of companies now that are producing solid simulations and games in science field. Some of these projects are in their infancy. Some have been forgotten and neglected rather than reiterated and expanded. Still, with the current STEM focus in education and the sheer awesomeness and promise of these projects, it's worth taking a look. With that said, let's take a look at some of the most promising games and simulations I've seen lately for science. 

Cyber STEM Academy

Cyber STEM Academy "is a virtual network of 3D schools. The schools serve as a multi-user platform to manage learning activities as well as student achievements" (CSAInfo).

I spoke with members of the team from Immersive3d this last weekend at EdSurge Baltimore. They definitely have a good handle on Games and Simulations in the classroom. They're currently partnering with Baltimore County Public Schools to develop some great content. This project is in the early stages, but it looks very promising.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Better classrooms by design

Classroom design is a topic I just can't stop thinking about. My regular readers will know that I'm a bit obsessed with all things design. Being such a grid-loving, whitespace-promoting, typeface-discerning, color-monitoring design-nerd has caused me to begin to notice how poorly we've designed our learning spaces.

It has taken me so long to get to this topic because my primary readers are teachers. As teachers, I feel, we have the least control over how our classrooms are designed. We have no control over the size and shape of our room. We can't paint. We can't change or add lighting. We can't even pick our furniture. If you're a computer lab teacher, like me, you are even more limited, particularly if your room was designed with drop poles (Mine are rammed right in the center of my room).  There are, however, a few things we can do and can stop doing, right now, to improve the environment of our classroom.

The Problem with Classroom Design

Everything comes back to 21st century skills and learning that truly supports said skills, rather than just providing lip service. If we're really going to develop a future workforce that is comprised of creative critical thinkers who can think creatively, work creatively with others, implement innovations, use systems thinking, adapt to change, interact effectively with others, and so on, we need to begin developing learning environments that foster such skills. Our current standard classrooms tend to foster unquestioning compliance, disengagement, solitude, inflexible finite thinking, and occasionally, extreme distraction.

Some of the things I'm going to discuss here are just common sense, or they at least should be. As Inc notes in the article, 10 Office Design Tips to Foster Creativity, "On vacation, would you ever choose a hotel with fluorescent lighting and drab grey rooms?" (inc). The answer should be obvious. Of course, not everything is obvious when it comes to designing spaces for learning. The SKG project has established "seven principles of learning space design which support... a learning environment which is student-centered student-centered, collaborative, and experiential." Here are their seven principles:
  1. Comfort: a space which creates a physical and mental sense of ease and well-being
  2. Aesthetics: pleasure which includes the recognition of symmetry, harmony, simplicity and fitness for purpose
  3. Flow: the state of mind felt by the learner when totally involved in the learning experience
  4. Equity: consideration of the needs of cultural and physical differences
  5. Blending: a mixture of technological and face-to-face pedagogical resources
  6. Affordances: the “action possibilities” the learning environment provides the users, including such things as kitchens, natural light, wifi, private spaces, writing surfaces, sofas, and so on.
  7. English: Framework for 21st Century Learning
    English: Framework for 21st Century Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  8. Repurposing: the potential for multiple usage of a space (The SKG project)

I would say that most of our classrooms do not lend themselves to any of these. We're even failing on aesthetics, let alone comfort, affordances, and repurposing. It's not like we are acting out of ignorance either. You don't have to go far on the TV dial to find a show on interior design these days, and you don't need to walk or drive very far from your home to find businesses that employ great design to attract and keep customers. Most of us should be able to at least recognize good design by now.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fixing Teach with Portals issues.

I must say that when I learned abut Steam for Schools, I was totally stoked. In my classroom it has been nothing short of awesome. Unfortunately, lately the SFS initiative has looked a bit like one of the dilapidated Aperture test facilities at the start of Portal 2. Valve isn't feeling the love for those of us wandering in the wilds of Public Ed. For those of you who signed up and are experiencing multiple crash issues, connection errors, and myriad other issues, here's how I got my Portal 2 installs back up and running. If you have to do this on 30 workstations, pack an extra sandwich (or potato) and plan to stay late after school.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

WoW, I'm finally giving this a try...

My character in a starting area.
It's time to get my nerd on! After reading the testimonies of countless educators, being inspired by Jane McGonigal's first TED talk, and reading "WoW in School; a hero's journey", I finally took the plunge. I am trying World of Warcraft. This shall be interesting...

I hope to get some experience with this game and perhaps con some friends (& preferably colleagues) into coming online with me.

So far, after playing for about a week, I have more questions than answers. For example, does my player need to eat? There certainly is a lot of food around but I've been fasting this whole time. I can read extensive articles on the wiki about food, food types, food preparation, and even feeding pets in the game. Nothing tells me whether my character will eventually drop dead from starvation. That would be interesting...

I'd be happy to accept any tips from you, my blogosphere peeps (& tweeps) on this one. I had to use Runescape in an online class I took (and eventually taught), and the help of others in getting started was precious. I was able to help a lot of my participants in that game as a facilitator. Hopefully, I can find a mentor to guide me. I'll keep you posted.
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Monday, January 20, 2014

Why you hate group work.

Collaboration, it's one of the 21st century skills. There's pretty much unanimous agreement among policy-makers, academic thinkers, and business leaders that collaboration must be a crucial part of our classrooms. Incidentally, there is almost unanimous agreement among teachers and students that group work is painful, cumbersome, annoying, and largely counter-productive. Even popular reality shows rely on group assignments to weed out contestants and create unnecessary drama. Why is something that is so important and crucial to our survival, so painful and dreadful? How can we make it more awesome? What do we do with collaboration?

Part 1: Why you hate group work.

Before our winter holiday break, I informally polled students in my classes. In all of my sections but one, 100% of my students noted that they hate doing group work. In one class two students said that they love group assignments because they can usually con their group mates into doing all of the work. When I speak to teachers whom I admire and respect, whose teaching philosophy is constructive and student-centered, I often ask how they use group work in their classroom. The most popular answer I get is something like, I use it as little as possible. Why is group work such a train wreck??

What experience shows

Individual Accountability

Inherent in our current system of schooling is individual accountability. Not only must our students all learn all of the material they may be assessed on by the State but also they must complete all required work, jumping through all of the correct school hoops. So many students ace all of the tests and quizzes, but are still failing because homework was not completed or an extensive fill-in-the-blank packet (that was incidentally supposed to be practice) had been lost. This inherent need we have, as teachers, to have everything we assign respected and upheld by everyone for the good of the cause seeps into our group assignments in various ways and poisons them. Often this comes in the form of extensive extra steps we add on to the project to make sure everyone is held accountable, but this need not be the case. The very context in which group assignments arise can lead to some killer awkwardness when it comes to grades.

Most group assignments in my experience begin like this. As we get bogged down in the malaise of Acronymia (NCLB, AYP, etc.) and begin to feel guilty about the overall lack of collaboration in our class, we typically decide something like, you know, I could assess this unit with a group project. Immediately, we have a problem, don't we? How do I assess this thing fairly? How can I ensure that all group members are held accountable? How do I deal with the student whose parents call this evening demanding that he or she be assessed individually so that the other group-mates don't bring down his or her GPA? What do I do to encourage students to include all group members while holding everyone individually accountable? How do I avoid having students use this a tool for bullying a group-mate they do not like? How did this become so awkward already?