Thursday, June 25, 2015

My #ISTE2015 Guide



It's that time of year!  ISTE is right around the corner.  I'm super excited about all of the activities I'll be involved with.  This post should serve two purposes.  First off, it will serve as my guide so that I know where I need to be throughout the week.  If you see my wandering around aimlessly, please send me a link to this post :)  In addition, it will provide insight to the super cool panels, meetups, and events I'll be involved with.  I hope to connect with you in Philly!

Friday, June 26
I start my pre-ISTE Experience on Friday as I will be presenting at the Tomorrow's Classrooms Today conference being put on by the Evolving Educators Group.


I'm excited to present a session on Quest Based Learning: Encouraging Passion Through Student Choice.  Providing opportunities for students to pave their learning path is at the core of my philosophy on teaching and learning.  There will be so many other great presenters at the event.  I'm excited to connect with many people from my power house PLN.

Saturday, June 27
My lovely wife, Cathy (@catc937092) and I will be settling in on Saturday as we try to charge our batteries for what's sure to be an action packed, non-stop 4 days to follow.  I'm intrigued by the fact that the Tall Ships festival is in town.  Might have to check that out.  


Sunday, June 28

6:00 - 7:00 am CoffeeEdu with Alice Keeler - Join a passionate group of educators for your morning coffee and edu-awesome conversation. CoffeeEdu is the ultimate unconference. One Hour.
Great way to start the day!
Starbucks | 1500 Market Street #465, Philadelphia, PA

11:00 am - 1:00 pm: Games4Ed Meeting
In January, the Games4Ed Initiative was officially launched. The group is comprised of stakeholders from all areas related to games in education (educators, developers, publishers, policy makers, researchers, etc.) .  The overarching goal is to overcome barriers and facilitate the process of getting games into the classroom.  You will be hearing a lot about our work in the coming months.  I am the project lead for the Pilot Programs and Research group.  If you'd like to get involved in one of the working groups, please complete the Games4Ed Interest Form.

1:30 - 3:00 pm: Opening Ignite Sessions | Philadelphia Convention Center Hall A
14 presenters | 5 minutes each | 20 slides
Looking forward to hearing from Ben Gallagher, Bill Bass, Brittany Bannister, Chris Tumbull, Christy Fennewald, Doug Timm,  Hannah Weitzer, Jonathan Spike, Akaren Lireman, Marily Carr, Michael Luetjen, Pernille Ripp, Rafranz Davis (yes, I'm a fan!),  Robert Dillon, and Shirley Campbell.

3:00 - 4:00 pm MineCraft focus group
I am excited to meet with folks to talk about the future of MineCraft in education.  It's an honor and a privilege to be part of these important discussions as Microsoft works to continue to provide (and expand upon) the great learning opportunities minecraft brings to students in and out of school.

5:45 pm - 7:00 pm Opening Keynote: Soledad O'Brien 
All I can say is that I hope her address is more relevant than Ashley Judd's (sorry, couldn't resist) was and kicks off the conference in style.

7:00 pm - ??? Barenaked Ladies, Violent Femmes, and Colin Hay at the MANN
This show happens to be in Philly on the opening night of ISTE.  Should be a good time!

Monday,  June 29

6:00 - 7:00 am CoffeeEdu with Alice Keeler - Join a passionate group of educators for your morning coffee and edu-awesome conversation.  CoffeeEdu is the ultimate unconference. One Hour.
Great way to start the day!
Starbucks | 1500 Market Street #465, Philadelphia, PA


11:00 am - 12:00 pm Integrating Commercially Successful Games in the Classroom | PCC 125
I will be presenting with Justin Eames, Paul Darvasi on the topic of using AAA titles in the classroom.  We'll certainly be talking about games like Minecraft, Portal 2, Gone Home, Little Big Planet 3, and others.

2:30 - 4:15 pm EdTekTalks | PCC Terrace Ballrooms I/II
Excited to see the mini-keynotes presented Ted Talk Style by Adam Braun, Amy O'Toole, Annie Griffiths, Hadi Partovi (yep, I'm a fan!),  Sergei Lupashin
I attended this session at #ISTE14 in Atlanta and it was probably the highlight of the conference.

5:30 - 6:45 pm Birds of a Feather Twitter Chat Moderators | PCC Level 3 Overlook
Birds of a Feather Meetup and Learning session with Twitter Chat moderators / representatives.
We will network, share tips and tricks as well as have a few guest speakers.

6:30 - 9:30 pm ISTE Games and Simulation Network LAN Party! | Marriott Room 307
Join folks from the Games and Sim Network for some gaming.  I am sure there will be some WoW, MineCraft, and so much more.  I think Matt Farber is even setting up a mobile makerspace for the event!

7:00 pm - ??? Can't wait to meet all my #BFC530 buddies face to face.  I am pretty sure there will be a lot of hugs!!!!




Tuesday, June 30



6:00 - 7:00 am CoffeeEdu with Alice Keeler - Join a passionate group of educators for your morning coffee and edu-awesome conversation. CoffeeEdu is the ultimate unconference. One Hour.
Great way to start the day!
Starbucks | 1500 Market Street #465, Philadelphia, PA

10:30 - 11:30 am Introduction to Minecraft Hands-on workshop | PCC 203
Come learn about the game your students are buzzing about!  In this hands-on workshop designed by teachers, you'll walk away with a command of basic Minecraft gameplay and inspiration from amazing Minecraft projects created around the world.  No prior experience is required.
I will be assisting with this and a number of other Microsoft sponsored Minecraft workshops.

12:30 - 2:00 pm STEM and Coding with Minecraft | PCC 203
Come learn how Minecraft can be a fun, effective way to teach STEM and coding skills.  In this hands-on workshop designed by teachers, you'l walk away with an understanding of Redstone, modding, and simple STEM lesson plans.  Basic Minecraft proficiency or completion of Intro to Minecraft workshop is required.
I will be assisting Sarah Guthals from ThoughtStem (check out http://www.learntomod.com)

2:00 - 5:30 pm ISTE Games and Simulation Network Playground | PCC Level 3 Overlook
The ISTE Games and Simulation Network has an exciting set of activities planned for the playground including tables to explore and experts to speak with about Virtual Reality, Interactive Fiction, Game Design and Coding, Minecraft, The Virtual Education Journal, The Ready, Player One Book Club, and a reading by Greg Toppo, author of "The Game Believes in You". 

This Birds of a Feather meetup / networking session is being hosted by my EdTechBridge partner Katya Hott.  It is a great opportunity for people interested in connecting with other edtech stakeholders to develop relationships that can lead to working partnerships.  This will be the official #ISTE2015 #EdTechBridge Meetup


Wednesday,  July 1

6:00 - 7:00 am CoffeeEdu with Alice Keeler - Join a passionate group of educators for your morning coffee and edu-awesome conversation.  CoffeeEdu is the ultimate unconference. One Hour.  Great way to start the day!
Starbucks | 1500 Market Street #465, Philadelphia, PA

8:30 - 9:30 am Breaking Down the Classroom Walls: Creating Space for Student Learning| PCC113a
When passion drives the learning, students flourish.  There are many opportunities to expand our ideas of how earning with technology can look.  From game design to an entrepreneurial club, we share multiple examples of how we've successfully redefined technology learning with our students.  
Mark Suter, Marianne Malmstrom, Lisa Castaneda, Steven Isaacs (there I am again!)

11:00 am - 12:30 pm STEM and Coding with Minecraft | PCC 203
Come learn how Minecraft can be a fun, effective way to teach STEM and coding skills.  In this hands-on workshop designed by teachers, you'l walk away with an understanding of Redstone, modding, and simple STEM lesson plans.  Basic Minecraft proficiency or completion of Intro to Minecraft workshop is required.
I will be assisting Sarah Guthals from ThoughtStem (check out http://www.learntomod.com)

1:15 - 2:15 pm Games and Learning: Filling Gaps in Education | PCC 110
Brigning games into the classroom can help fulfill many educational needs like new types of assessment, socio-emotional learning, System thinking, and STEM skills.  In this session, Chris Avilles, Erik Martin, Joel Levin, Deirdre Quarnstrom and Steve Isaacs (that's me!) will be sharing thoughts on this timely topic.


So, as you can see I'll be pretty busy at #ISTE2015.  I am so excited to connect with people at my panels, minecraft sessions, meetups, etc.  Please follow me and #FindMeAtISTE - The best part about conferences is the interactions with people.  I hope we can connect.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Beta Testing Eco: Design Thinking in Action

Screenshot of the gameplay in Eco.  Here the player is trying to hunt a wolf that is wandering the land.

My students were invited to beta test the game Eco, currently in development by StrangeLoop Games.  Eco is a sandbox game with some definite similarities to Minecraft, but with a definite focus on maintaining a sustainable environment.  Players hunt for meat, chop trees for wood, and plant and harvest crops.  All activity is tracked and players can quickly generate graphs to show the impact of their actions in the game.  Resources are clearly limited and maintaining the proper balance takes collaboration and cooperation.  Essentially, everyone in the game is playing together in an attempt to meet the winning condition based on challenges posed by the game.  A very interesting mechanic in the game is that players can propose and vote on laws.  Once laws are adopted, the gameplay adjusts to the laws.  For instance, if a deforestation law were put in place to limit the amount of trees that can be chopped down in a given timeframe, this will be reflected in the game, limiting players actions.

Here is a screenshot that provides an idea of the winning scenario:


This served as a great discussion starter in class today.  If you notice, there are 4.8 days left to complete the goals outlined and win the game.  Marked by the red arrow is the fact that in order to win we can only allow 1 animal to become extinct but currently we have 2 extinct animals.  When I realized this, I asked my students what this meant for the current game.  After a little thought they realized that we could no longer meet the winning conditions.  The students are in my game design and development course. I asked them to comment on this from a game design standpoint.  Students realized that it would present a problem for players who are playing the game as they realize there is no way that they could win.  So the discussion began.  Since we are beta testing the game, one of the activities my students have is to provide bug reports and suggestions for the further development of the game.  I asked students to start to think of possible suggestions based on the dilemma we were now faced with.  Here are some ideas that students came up with:


  • Breed a new species of animal. This is an interesting idea, but even if this were possible in the game, we still exceeded the number of extinct animals so this wouldn't help the current issue.
  • Reproduce animals that were extinct - well, this brought us to an interesting discussion of what extinction meant.
  • Set something up in the game where it automatically resets if the game cannot be won.
This led to further discussion of how this issue could have been averted.  Students (as well as myself and a co-teacher) came up with additional ideas which would be exciting additions to the game:
  • Pose warning when animals get close to extinction.
  • Add a news feed to the game that provided headlines and articles about the declining population of certain species and the impact this would have.
  • Include a visible estimate (it was brought up that providing a number of remaining animals of a particular species is not realistic) of how many of a particular animal remain in existence so players can act accordingly.
  • Include an economy of sorts where prices fluctuate based on availability of resources - that sure would alter the moral aspect of gameplay!
The discussion quickly branched off to the discussion of what should happen related to the laws in the game.  Currently, if there is a law that you can only chop a certain number of trees, the player becomes unable to chop trees once the threshold is met.  This raised the discussion about how realistic it is to go up to a tree and try to chop it but not be able simply because of a law.  We started to discuss how this should be handled in the game.  Students came up with some great suggestions:
  • When a player is in violation of a law their name shows in the game in red so that other players can turn them in.
  • Include a system of consequences for breaking laws.
The discussion continued and will certainly continue.  As a teacher of game design and development this served a very valuable purpose.  My students participated actively in the brainstorming of ideas to incorporate in this game which got their mind going in terms of game mechanics, game design elements, etc. in a very authentic manner.  We will continue to play Eco and I hope that our contributions are valuable to the development team.  I already see how valuable the learning has been for my students.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

If I were to design a high school program...

This morning I was working out at the gym watching "The Guild" (can't believe I'm only just starting to watch, but that's a story for another time) on Netflix and a twitter notification came up on my iPad.  It was a tweet from Sujata Bhatt.  



I've met Sujata on several occasions and of course thanks to Social Media, she's always only a tweet or email away. Sujata was trusted (for good reason!) with the enormous task of creating the Incubator school several years ago.   I met her during the year leading up to the opening of the school.  It was very exciting to hear the wonderful ideas and vision for the school.  The mission of the incubator school is simply stated...

I find it especially interesting that this was the mission of what started as a middle school (grades 7 and 8).  Now they are adding grade 6 and 9. I love the idea of starting this entrepreneurial mindset in middle school.  The vision (in my opinion) is nothing short of brilliant...

To say that the vision is entirely in line with my vision of education would be an understatement.  So, with that said (and I could go on and on), let me get to my point of sharing my ideas for a high school program with Sujata (and now with you as well).

Our school district (Bernards Township Public Schools) has been talking about creating a STEAM program in middle and high school (with plans of bringing the ideas to the elementary school as well).  The ideas I outline below are primarily my own, but based on our recent STEAM committee meeting I will certainly be blending ideas that our district is considering.

I love the Academy model.  My daughter is currently attending a half day program at our county Vo-Tech program.  She is in the culinary program.  Vo-Tech has had it's struggles over the years as it has often been perceived as a program for kids who may be underperforming.  There, let's see the elephant.  However, i believe the model is so wise and should be experienced by all students.  Vo-Tech allows students to pursue an area of interest in an authentic environment.  

Creating an Authentic Learning Environment

I think that it is time to throw away the model where learning takes place in 40 minute segments, 8 or 9 periods a day with some reinforcement taking place in the form of homework.  This is counter to how I (dare I say we) learn.  For those of you who have followed any of my work, I continually speak about the Studio Environment I try to create for my students.  I am still confined to the 40 minute class model, but by providing choice in learning through a quest based program I have seen my students break free from learning only when they are with me.  In fact, even when they are with me, much of their learning takes place without my instruction.  

Learning Spaces vs. Classrooms

If I were tasked with creating a school program (or a school for that matter), learning spaces would be at the center of the physical plant planning.  A classroom with desks in rows and the teacher in the front of the room.  Puh-lease!  In the sixties they tried to create something akin to learning spaces through an open floor plan.  Sadly, when you visit most of these spaces you will say how the file cabinets, bookshelves, etc have been used to break the spaces back up into what looks more like a traditional classroom.  Perhaps the idea was ahead of it's time but also didn't quite meet the true needs of a learning space.  The idea was to foster large group learning and interdisciplinary study.  Not a bad idea, but clearly there were issues.  We can learn from this.  In an academy situation, the learning spaces would be more aligned to the learning themes.  My vision would be to have large spaces that create the studio environment I talk about. Resources should be available for students to utilize for project / problem based learning tasks.  I will touch more on this in context...

Production, production, production, and embracing failure!

Students need to be creators, not consumers of content.  Well, there is much great content that they should be consuming, but only when done so in context.  Have you ever watched a kid learn outside of school?  As a parent of two girls, I have been amazed to see how my daughters go right to youtube to learn how to do things and then proceed by creating original projects only to return to youtube to share their newfound knowledge.  I teach video game design and development.  My students are ALWAYS creating.  If I can quote President Obama, leading up to Computer Science Education Week last year he said, "Don't just buy another video game, Make one!"  Music to my ears.  With this in mind, we need to tap into student passion.  Students should be encouraged to pursue their interests.  We can tie this into the curriculum and meet learning goals through the process.  As for failure, I was glad to see that the Incubator School vision includes "generate fresh ideas, collaborate, tinker, text, execute and learn from their mistakes."  This statement really gets to the heart of learning from failure without using the word failure :)  

The learning environment, as I envision it would have a beautiful space with technology, related resources, equipment, etc.  I believe it would be very important to showcase the work through the production of video and images throughout the projects.  The process should be documented by students in an audio / visual diary which can be shared in parts of it's entirety.

Co-Learning

Another philosophy on teaching and learning that I am committed to is the idea of being a co-learner with our students.  I believe that one of the primary goals of education is to teach students how to learn.  How better than to allow students to see us in the role of learner.   I LOVE to learn.  I am always learning.  I love when my students come up with a problem that I don't know the answer to and we can conference regarding possible solutions and we can engage in learning together.  

Creating and nurturing a community of learners

I am a firm believer that schools should be at the center of the community.  Students should want to spend time at school.  Schools should be open to students after the last bell has rung (that's if we have the need to have bells at all, but you get the idea).  Community members should be stakeholders in the school and the school community should be stakeholders in the community.  The incubator is all about entrepreneurship so it would only make sense for the school to reach out and provide services for businesses and members of the community.  Community members should be clients and should feel invested in the school community (and vice versa).

Celebrating all Stakeholders

Another critical piece is to make sure that good work, effort, thinking, etc. is celebrated. In order to create a truly engaging and inspiring learning environment it is important to recognize all stakeholders.  Often this piece is overlooked, but as my #ECET2 and connected educator friends know, it really should be at the center!

So, Sujata, to answer your question... I envision (as you mentioned) strands that allow students to choose an area of study, thus creating a number of schools within the school.  I love the idea of students being involved in the leading of the school.  This can be achieved through the design of their own projects.  Collaboration should be at the core.  Students should be able to find their niche within a project area.  In my class, students often come to find that they prefer graphic design or sound engineering over the game programming.  This can work out perfectly and if this helps a student find their passion, I say YAY!  The learning space is so important. The space should include availability of a wide variety of resources and when those resources are not available there should be an opportunity for students and teachers to be creative in terms of reaching out to the community.  I hope you find some of my ideas to be in line with yours (I have a feeling you will).  Your tweets inspired me to put many of my thoughts in words.  Thank you for that.



Monday, September 15, 2014

#LearningToFail PAX Prime Panel




Learning to Fail: Why Kids Should Make Games


On September 1, 2014 we presented a panel at PAX Prime in Seattle on the topic of embracing failure and how games and game development lend so well to seeing the value of failure.  Here's our panel description:
Helping kids make video games, in any setting, presents some big challenges. From huge ideas to highly technical work, the barriers are many. So what happens when you start to take those walls down?  We want to discuss three projects we have done that explore the power of game creation on kids. What we have seen from our work, and what we want to share with you will hopefully expand perspectives on what the role of video games in learning is.

PANELISTS:

Lisa Castaneda [CEO, foundry10], Tom Swanson [Development and Implmentation, foundry10], Jared Gerritzen [VP of Publisher & Developer Relations, Major League Gaming], Steve Isaacs [Technology Instructor, William Annin Middle School]

Before going on, we were very proud to be included by Pixelkin as one of, "The 8 Best Family-Gaming Panels We Attended at PAX".  
During our Q&A some great questions were tweeted to the #LearningToFail hashtag.  We wanted to share them an d answer any questions we were unable to answer during the session.  Feel free to contact us with any questions regarding the session, foundry10's work (lisa@foundry10.org) with innovative approaches to learning, or ideas related to Game Design and Development in the classroom (stevei2071@gmail.com).
Tweeted Questions:
@agtmadcat: "C.R.E.A.M.?" ~ Cash rules everything around me.  Our survey of middle students returned some interesting comments.  When students were asked if they were interested in game design as a career, some responded with ideas related to getting a 'real job like on Wall Street'
@Acend: "Any thoughts on game tools out of the classroom like spark/RPGmaker as a tool for parents to encourage creativity?"
ABSOLUTELY!  Some of my favorites include:

  • Project Spark - Spark is available on Windows 8 and the XboxOne.  Last year I wrote a Donors Choose grant titled "Empowering Learners in the Maker Age" and one of the items we received was an XboxOne so that my students could learn and develop with project spark.  Here's a link to a blog post about the project: 
  • GameMaker Studio - my favorite game development tool by far. It is simple to get up and running creating games with GameMaker but the program is so robust that it can be used to teach advanced computer programming skills.  There is a drag and drop environment that provides a concrete approach and a complete programming language behind it called GML (Game Maker Language).  I have talked to many professional developers who love programming in GML.  The Standard version of GameMaker studio is now free: http://www.yoyogames.com/studio.  Check out http://www.yoyogames.com/learn for a variety of skill based and project based tutorials.  
  • Gamestar Mechanic - Gamestar Mechanic gets kids up and running in no time and provides a great game based quest-line that teaches students about game design elements through playing games and reading the accompanying graphic novel based narrative.  There is a fantastic community of users that create games and provide feedback on games created by other community members.  
  • RPGMaker is supposed to be great and I purchased a copy when it was on sale through Steam.  I haven't used it yet, but I've heard many great things.
  • Scratch - The Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab created Scratch and it continues to be the go to tool for many.  Scratch uses a drag and drop approach where you connect blocks of code to program the characters.  The scratch community is tremendous and users can see the code to any project and even 'remix' it to modify it.  Great for teaching programming and modding.
@rwj2005: "Coding: gui based versus text based. For kids."
I find that kids should be exposed to both.  I have my students work in code.org (drag and drop) and codecademy  (coding) and have them reflect on the experiences.  I find it especially interesting that some find the drag and drop visual coding to make so much sense while others clearly feel more comfortable with the hard coding.  I thought they would all feel more comfortable with the drag and drop block code approach, but not necessarily.  Drag and drop is definitely more concrete so there are some kids who will benefit from that as a first step.
@JMcKasson: "Could coding as a skill in game design be viewed much like typing as a skill?"
I'm not sure I fully understand the question.  I do see it as a skill we should be encouraging, but see it more like learning a foreign language than a rote skill like typing.  The problem solving and iteration required in game design is quite different than learning technique in typing.
@Simiosys: "Are games just 'the new Hollywood' or is it the media of the future where most career training is simulation?"
I would say that both are entirely relevant to games.  The blockbuster gaming industry is definitely seen as similar to the movie industry.  However, when we think of the possibilities of simulation we open up far greater possibilities through the use of the technology.  
@Simiosys: "Moms being one of the fastest growing gamer demographic, what about games helping parents 2 B better teachers?"
I believe it depends which games and our approach to gaming.  Playing games with your kids is sure to create a dynamic learning environment.  The goal may not even be for you to be a better teacher, but rather a co-learner.  Let your kids teach you where appropriate.  What a great opportunity for learning for you and your children.  
@Yakoby83: "What advice do you have for parents of young children who also don't have these skills, first steps?"
The hour of code activities are wonderful.  Check out the Computer Science Education Week page or code.org.  There are so many great activities for kids and adults.  They are structured in such a way that you do not need any prior experience to jump in and start learning.  Let your kids see you embracing the opportunity to learn. I can't think of a better way to model and encourage lifelong learning.

Thanks everyone for joining us and for those of you who couldn't I hope that this post provides a sense of our presentation and don't hesitate to post comments or questions.

For more information about foundry10, our presentation, and and to view our slide deck (coming soon), please visit http://www.foundry10.org.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Play. Make. Learn: Empowering Students in the Maker Age!





Don't forget to use code 100WOMEN
for matching donations!
I recently posted a project to Donor's Choose in order to enhance the opportunities for my students to learn based on their passion for video games and computer programming.  It all started when over 15 of my students completed the 27 trophies for the code.org Hour of Code Challenge and code.org awarded us with $750 toward a project.  We started to discuss the possibilities and came up with a number of items that would really continue to spark their interest and extend their learning beyond our regular class activities.  I am modeling the project after the Google 20% idea where google encourages their employees to devote 20% of their work time to developing their own project.  Many google products have come from this and I have a feeling my students will come up with some amazing things when the technology is put in their hands as well.  

My video game design and development class lends so well to this as students are provided with a number of paths they can take in terms of learning.  This will provide a number of additional learning strands.

If funded, we will be able to purchase the following:


Xbox One Console - Project Spark  allows users to create their own virtual environments and games and share them with the online community.  This is sure to capture the creativity of my students as the toolset allows for beautiful creations.



Raspberry Pi - the raspberry pi is a credit card sized computer that is ideal for learning a number of programming languages.  In addition, there is a version of minecraft, Minecraft Pi edition, that allows the users to play in the minecraft sandbox environment by coding in order to build their creations.


Here are some resources to help you learn about and get started with the Raspberry Pi:

Examples can be found in the books that we have received as part of the project:
  • Raspberry Pi for Dummies
  • Adventures in Raspberry Pi
  • Getting Started with Raspberry Pi
  • Super Scratch Programming Adventure
Additional Resources:

And a video reflecting on the first two years of Pi...





Ouya Console - The ouya console is a gaming console built on the Android operating system and geared toward indie developers.  We use GameMaker (yoyogames.com) and gamemaker games can be published for android, so it will be exciting for students to extend their work with gamemaker to code the use of the game controller and publish and play their games on the console.



MakeyMakey- The MakeyMakey is an uber cool creation tool that allows students to create input devices (game controllers, keyboards, etc.) by completing electric circuits using anything that can conduct electricity (water, a banana, play dough, graphite, etc.).  In my class it will be great for students to create a custom controller for their games.


Here's a link to getting started with MaKeyMaKey
Additional Resources:


Disney Infinity- Disney infinity is a game that puts players in the disney universe to play games as a variety of disney characters.  Better yet, there is a world builder component that puts users in the role of game designer.  Users can create their own disney themed game and virtual environment for players to explore.
In addition, we will be purchasing a number of books related to the products in order to kick start the process and help learn and generate ideas for our creations.  This project will take place mostly during lunch and after school, but students will have opportunities to work during class as well.  



Since I originally posted this project it was fully funded thanks to a matching pledge by 100WOMEN and the wonderful supporters of the project (family, friends, and my PLN!).  Students have begun working with all of these tools for their 20% time and you can see the project evolve through our project playlist on youtube:



Direct link to playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_Qs7sfiASRw_ILBZOaILLW-fqWITmBQX



Thanks for your support!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Join us for the first #edtechbridge tweetchat!


Well, the dust from #SXSWEdu has settled, but that just means it's time to dust ourselves off and start moving forward on our #edtechbridge promise.  At SXSWEdu, we committed to using the session as a starting point toward our mission...


to build an authentic community of EdTech Entrepreneurs (developers) and teachers with the ultimate goal of working together to create great EdTech products that will ultimately benefit students and move education forward.

We hope that you share in our mission and are ready to get to work!  This will continue to be a community effort that will rely on the commitment of all stakeholders.

Before we get started, it's important that we understand that the idea here is to build a community that has product development and improvement as the primary goal.  This community is not intended to provide an audience for salespeople trying to tout their wares.  There are certainly other avenues for that.

It has become increasingly obvious through our discussions with many developers, teachers, administrators, and students that there is a disconnect between developers and the educational community.  This disconnect is not intentional and it is neither a developer issue, nor an educator issue.  The resounding message that is heard over and over is that educators and developers want to work together and share a common goal of creating products that will help achieve learning outcomes. The common sentiment is that the relationship building is the key to success.

So, to keep it real simple, this is about creating and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships among people interested in becoming part of this community.  I know that I will be speaking with many of my educator peers and industry friends and hope you will do the same.

We are not exactly sure what this will look like over time as we need to approach this as a community.  We will start with a series of tweetchats in order to get the ball rolling.  Please join us for our first tweetchat!

#edtechbridge tweetchat

Date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Time: 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm EST

Where: twitter

please use the hashtag #edtechbridge during our chat 

Leading up to the chat, please help us by spreading the word with a simple show of support of the #edtechbridge mission and the upcoming tweetchat.  Please spread the word through email, twitter, facebook, google+, linkedIn, etc.

Our tentative list of questions for the chat include the following:

Your experience
  • Q1: What experiences (positive/negative) have you had collaborating with teachers/edtech devs?
  • Q2: What advice would you give to teachers who want to be involved? to edtech devs?
Value of community
  • Q3: What value do you see in creating a community of edtech devs and teachers?
  • Q4: What would you get out of a community like that? What do you want to get out of it in terms of compensation?
How to have the community/what is it
  • Q5: Which platform can we use to keep in touch and connect people?
    • Google+, tweetchats, face to face (i.e. EdTech Summits)
  • Q6: What kind of relationships/partnerships do you want out of this?
  • What level of involvement would you be willing to participate in?
Wrap up:
  • What questions/topics should we address in our next chat?

Your feedback on the choice of questions is always welcome.

While I am at it, I would like to acknowledge a number of people who clearly share this passion and continue to share the message...



William Jenkins from EdTech Stories has joined our efforts in a major way.  He has been instrumental in sharing the message and planning our efforts moving forward.  He fancies himself a 'recovering edtech salesperson' and brings great insight with regards to what doesn't work in EdTech product development.  He has been involved in communities that have been primarily comprised of suppliers and has understood that the education stakeholders have often been missing from the conversations.  Please follow William on twitter (@EdTech_Stories) and read his blog.  His recent posts have focused on our #edtechbridge mission.

Katya Hott (@katyamuses) is my #edtechbridge partner in crime.  Our #SXSWEdu presentation was Katya's brainchild based on the sentiment that #SXSWEdu lacked a teacher presence which contributed to this divide.  She asked me to join her and #edtechbridge was essentially born.

Lindsey Own (@lindseyown) and Stephanie Sandifer (@ssandifer) became our kindred spirits as they, too, were presenting on the Strategies for EdTech/ Teacher Engagement.  The resounding message that they shared with their panelists Jay Goyal and Dion Lim was the importance of developing relationships as the context to working together.  I certainly got the message and was glad to hear it loud and clear in their session as well as ours.

Thank you for your continued support.  We hope to see you at our #edtechbridge tweetchat on April 2 at 6pm EST!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

My SXSWEdu Reflections



Conferences are funny.  The leadup is filled with much anticipation and unrealistic expectations.  SXSWEdu certainly didn’t disappoint in this regard.  The schedule was packed with hundreds of sessions.  It would take the super power of dividing yourself numerous times to manage to attend everything you would ‘like’ to attend.  This applies to the evening activities as well.  So, what to do?  The best anyone could do is take each time slot and the desired activities for those time slots and throw darts at the narrowed down choices, commit to those, and don’t look back!  Otherwise, you can spend much of your life second guessing choices and thinking about what you  coulda shoulda woulda chosen.  And truthfully, the best part of any conference is just being in the space and making relationships, some of which you only hope sustain beyond the conference.  The people at SXSWEdu were great.  I really enjoyed all of the interactions I had.  Now I just need to sort through the business cards and hope I remember who was who.  Otherwise, I might just have to send an email to everyone and say, “Hey.  We met at South by and you made enough of an impact that I asked for your card.  I’m the guy who teaches Video Game Design and Development.  Who were you again?”  Not sure if that’s too tacky.  We’ll have to see.  Quite honestly, in the spirit of this conference in particular and the large number of startups present, it makes me think I should partner with someone to create an app that really helps you organize these relationships.  I wonder what that would look like?  Perhaps a quick and easy method to take a picture, scan the business card, and jot a quick note with keyword tags.  Anyone interested in partnering on this one?    Let me know…

OK, so I can’t write about the sessions I couldn’t make it to.  Time to switch gears and share what I can!

Bridging the Teacher / Entrepreneur Divide




My main reason for attending South by was to present with Katya Hott as the session we submitted was accepted.   Our session had the distinct honor of being the first problem solver session offered at the conference.  This is a new category and the intent is to present a problem and work with the attendees to address it.  We were excited to see our session show up on the official daily South by Southwest EDU “What ‘s happening today” bulletin for the first day of the conference.  This was quite an honor as only about 5 sessions (one being the keynote) were highlighted on this publication delivered to all attendees.  Katya is a former teacher who worked at e-line media until recently when she moved to a new position at Brainpop.  One of her primary roles is to work with educators to recruit feedback on products in order to make them better and more effective in reaching desired learning outcomes.  I have been fortunate enough to connect with Katya and develop a relationship that has been mutually beneficial for sure.  As an educator, it’s wonderful to have the ear of a developer.  It has helped me to shape the development of products and see key features added that help me use the product as a teaching tool.  I’ve managed to develop similar relationships with other developers and for me it has really enhanced my experience as an educator and a member of the EdTech community.  Our goal in preparing for our session was to work with others to create a community of those already interested, but also to provide a means to reach out to those who would be interested in participating but may not be connected currently.  It is our belief that teachers want to be involved in this process and that developers value the input of educators. We also entered the discussion assuming there were cultural factors that interfere with the potential.  It was our hope to acknowledge and address these factors and work together to come up with a method to move past any cultural issues and develop empathy for both sides so that we can truly work together in a way that can ultimately move the EdTech field forward in a positive way.  In our session, it was confirmed that developers and educators have similar goals and definitely want to work together.  I’m excited to continue to move forward and work with others to make an impact.

Ours was not the only session looking to address this issue.  Lindsey Own (@lindseyown), Stephanie Sandifer (@ssandifer), Dion Lim (@dinolim), and Jay Goyal (@goyalj) spoke on a panel titled, “Win-Win! Strategies for EdTech/Educator Engagement”.  We were able to initiate conversation with Stephanie and Lindsey prior to the conference and continued to collaborate and share ideas through the conference and support each others’ efforts.  Their session provided attendees with the opportunity to explore some common myths or misconceptions that occur on both sides.  The resounding message that I took away from their session was how crucial relationship building is to the success of collaboration.  This is right in line with what came out of our session as well.  Clearly, teachers do not want to be approached randomly by edtech companies that don’t even know what we do.  Rather, creating and nurturing relationships is the key to success.  Many other great points came out of their session, but this idea really stuck with me as the most relevant. 



As the week went on, the twitter connections certainly continued.  One connection that was especially productive was the discussion that developed with William Jenkins from Tech Stories.  Clearly, we have set out on the same mission.  William has been working on community development in this area already through online chats and his work with (and outside of) Tech Stories.  The synergy is obvious and as we move forward, I am certain the collaborative efforts will grow.  



#minecraft your classroom!

I was able to attend and support the #minecraftedu crew in this hands on session.  In order to make this session a success, 30 computers were rented and configured for the activities designed for the hands on experience.  The 30 computers were snagged immediately and about another 30 (or more) people continued to flow into the room creating a standing room only environment.  In fact, a good number of people were turned away once the room filled.  Joel Levin (@MinecraftTeacher) and Stephen Elford (@EduElfie) led the session.  Elfie came in all the way from Australia.  He is one of the key contributors to the MinecraftEdu online community.  To give a little context, MinecraftEdu is a product created by Teacher Gaming, LLC.  The idea behind minecraftEdu was to create a mod that made using minecraft in the classroom easy (so easy that even a teacher could do it!).  The mod provides teachers with a launcher that does not require individual logins, a server tool, and building tools that facilitate the creation of in game content.  The community of educators is wildly active and the level of support teachers provide for one another is amazing.  There is a google group devoted to the minecraftedu community as well as a google+ community. 




The session was comprised of educators who have heard about minecraft, but had little to no experience with the game (aside from possibly watching their own child play).  There was a lot of excitement in the room as the possibilities of the game were explained and the buzz got greater as the audience of teachers were able to log into a multiplayer server and experience the game first hand.  Several maps were shown, including the tutorial map that teaches beginners how to navigate the world.  It was great to be part of this and help teachers get acclimated to the game.  Of course, seeing those ‘a-ha’ moments really made the experience rewarding.  I believe a number of these teachers will be bringing minecraft to their classroom in one way or another after engaging in this experience.

The SXSWEdu Playground



I spent a good deal of time in the ‘playground’.  This area was introduced to the conference last year and has grown this year.  The playground was essentially made up of a number of experiential areas related to the maker movement and game based learning, Digital Harbor Foundation (http://www.digitalharbor.org/) was represented and shared some projects created by students in their programs.  One that was especially cool was an LED board that changed colors based on a tweet indicating the color you wanted it to change to.  



Sparkfun electronics (https://www.sparkfun.com/) gave attendees a chance to play with some of their neat makerspace products including the Raspberry Pi, Arduino board, and their LilyPad product helps people ‘hack’ their clothing and create wearable electronics.  Tynker (http://www.tynker.com) had an active presence in the playground at their own booth allowing people to explore their approach to teaching coding to kids in grades k-8.  

The brainpop (http://www.brainpop.com) crew was showcasing the Game Up section of the site (http://www.brainpop.com/games).  Game Up is brainpop’s integrated approach to game based learning.  The site features 91 games covering content areas including Science, Math, Social Studies, Health, English, and Engineering & Technology.  I have always been drawn to the way Brainpop features the game in context rather than isolation.  Every game is displayed on a separate page with the associated brainpop video and related activities and lesson ideas on the same page.  This really helps teachers to bring game based learning into the classroom in a seamless manner.  In addition to GameUp, brainpop was chatting with attendees about games and assessment and highlighting the mybrainpop features that allow teachers to track student progress and provide feedback to students.  Students can share reflection through the snapshot tool where they essentially take a screen capture at any phase of the gameplay and can then reflect on the experience and share their entry with the teacher.  In terms of assessment,  Sortify is a playful assessment tool that allows the student to demonstrate their understanding through a sorting game that provides instant feedback to the student and the teacher. 

In addition to the many booths that were set up throughout the conference, the playground played host to a number of conference sessions and hands on workshops.  David Conover and Celia Alicata presented the session that stood out most to me.  Conover is a high school teacher who runs a career readiness course in Game Design and Development at Connally High School in Austin.  His students shared their experiences in his class.  The class operates like a Game Design studio where students explore real world problems through game design.  Within the class, students have unique roles including experienced students serving as project managers.  Other students work on different aspects of the design process based on their areas of skill and interest.  It was clear from the students that they are gaining real world experience in a thoroughly engaging manner.  I was able to connect with the students and we are in the planning stages of creating a mentor / mentee program between the Connally high school students and the middle school students that I teach.  I’m excited to collaborate with this fine group of students!


I’ll stop there for now.  SXSWEdu was fantastic.  As I digest more of the conference I will be sure to post more reflections.