Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Student Voice: A Published Author!

GameMaker Programming by Example available
on Amazon and through PACKT Publishing
Last year I was approached by Packt Publishing, a publisher of technology books to author a step by step guide to learning the GameMaker Language (GML). GML is a programming language that is used to program games using the GameMaker development environment.  GameMaker has a drag n' drop approach to creating games as well as a robust language that can be used to program. Programming with GML provides incredible flexibility over the drag n' drop approach. I teach video game design and development to 8th graders. Generally speaking, instruction focuses on the drag n' drop approach as it is a great way to introduce computational thinking and GameMaker is great for learning syntax through the visual approach which translates well to learning coding.

I always encourage students to learn GML on their own and support them the best I can. I am not an expert and definitely do not claim to be. As a result, I was inclined to turn down the offer to write the book. Fortunately, it occurred to me that one of my students took immediately to the language and essentially taught himself as part of our 20% time project. I approached the publisher and asked if they would be open to me co-authoring the book with my 8th grade student. I was clear that he was the expert and I would support him in the process. 

Brian - published author at age 15
The writing process began while Brian was in 8th grade and he wrote through the summer and into the Fall to complete the book. I assumed the role of editor as Brian truly was the brains behind the project. I am so proud of his accomplishment. He was extremely organized through the process and demonstrated great responsibility in terms of ensuring the content was accurate and the directions to the reader were clear. I am proud of the final product which is now available from Amazon and Packt Publishing in paperback and kindle. I'm 47 and this is my first published book. I can only imagine what Brian's future has in store!

I am a firm believer that students need to create content and publish to an authentic audience. In my class, students are active bloggers, write step by step tutorials, and publish videos to youtube. I was very pleased to see that there is a strong emphasis on student voice in the new ISTE student standards. It is so important to empower our students to contribute to a global audience and be active members of the educational community.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Student Guest Blog Post: #20PercentTuesday reflection - Oculus Rift and Sketchup

Hi there! My name is Sophie and today I am sharing my #20PercentTuesday experience so far. Before I decided to pick my option in this Mr Isaacs asked the class if any one wanted to play the Oculus Rift. As soon as he said that my hand went straight up! I always see famous youtubers use it and it looked so cool and awesome! After I played a game in it, the game was that you could go around a detailed house in virtual reality! After I tried that game, I knew my choice and was definitely to work with the Oculus Rift, it was so cool that I could see my potential with virtual reality.

My friend and I were thinking what we would make to play in the virtual reality object. We decided to make an idea off the first game I played on the Oculus Rift, we want to make a house with objects inside that you have to find. We looked up some youtube videos that went through the process of making the house and saw that we have to go to the system called SketchUp. In SketchUp we would make our house with a bunch of specific tools.

After we make our house we will put it into Unity. Unity is the program where the Oculus Rift plays its games. So far through my experience I have really learned the basics in making my game in SketchUp. I have gone through all of the tools in order to make all the specific measures and basics of the house. The progress we have been making is very good so far, we have made a mini version of the house to see what we know so far in SketchUp. Since we know a lot now about it, we plan to move forward in making the base of the real house. In this whole experience it's just crazy and amazing to imagine me walking through my own game and creation using the Oculus Rift.

Here is another game called MushroomVR Ball that I played where you have to collect coins without falling out of the world.
Here is a game on the Oculus Rift called Don't Let Go that you can play virtually. In this game you cannot let go of the computer while scary things challenge you. I played this too and it was great.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Student Guest Blog Post: #20PercentTuesday: Getting Started with Unreal Engine

In Game design and development we are allowed to do 20% time , and for that i am using Oculus rift and recreate a house in Colonial Williamsburg that people could explore in Virtual Reality with Oculus rift.

So far i have done some tutorials while i am working with Unreal engine 4.  I got inspired to do this by visiting Colonial Williamsburg, and this is a town that shows you how it was lived during the Civil War.  I think it is important to know how people lived back then so we appreciate how we live better.  I have learned to create a project and create a blank
My next steps are to create a room like this one and sort of create a game out of it.

I wanted to use the oculus rift rather than Virtual Reality because i like how you can physically pretend that you are actually experiencing the home.  I am going to recreate a Colonial style mini town and the main focus are in a couple of forms.  I like that the room i am going to create is going to allow you to interact with the technology and people and hoe the daily life was back then

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Whitehouse #CSEdWeek Computer Science Tech Jam Recap

A little over a week ago I was doing homework with my kids with my phone close at hand as usual.  I tend to obsessively check email and often think to myself, Why am I doing this?  Do I think I'm going to get that email that says I won the lottery or was being invited to an event at the Whitehouse or something? Well, low and behold, I glance down and see an email with the subject line: 
Invitation: Whitehouse CS Tech Jam - December 7, 2015
You could say that it caught my eye.  I opened the email and was presented with the following:

I was a bit excited, in a little bit of disbelief, and certainly honored.

As the day approached, I became aware of some of the other dyamic people that would be there and was excited to find out that a number of friends that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for would be there.  This list included Lucas Gillispie (@lucasgillispie) was also attending. In addition, friends including Rafranz Davis (@rafranzdavis), Mark Deloura (@markdeloura), Deidre Quarnstrom (@Deidre206) along with Robin, Jason, and Michelle from the #Minecraft team, Erik Martin (@Eriklaes), Jed Dearbury (@mrdearbury1), Tammi Schrader (@TammiSchrader), Kara Chesal (@KCintheNYC), Katrina Stevens (@KatrinaStevens1) and others.  In addition,  members of the google classroom team, Magic Leap, Sphero, and Raspberry Pi, Glass Lab, and a number of amazing educators from around the country would be in attendance. I was very excited to collaborate with such an amazing and resourceful group.

Sunday was a great day in the city as Lucas and I spent a beautiful day strolling around the Capital hacking portals and making the city a safer place for the Resistence team in Ingress.  Sorry, that's a lot of geek talk for we walked around and played the location based game, Ingress in the area around the Whitehouse.
The before picture - when the 'enlightened'
still controlled the White House
The after picture - Peace of mind is restored as
the Resistence has regained control of the Whitehouse

We awoke early on Monday as we needed to arrive at the Whitehouse by 7:15 am to ensure there were no hold ups with our security clearance.  We were quite early and it was beautiful to see the Whitehouse and the surrounding area as the sun was rising and the moon was still in plain view.

Early morning view of the WhiteH
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the Whitehouse - our office for the day.
We made it through security and then Lucas and I found ourselves alone and a bit lost in the Eisenhower building.  There was a sign that indicated that the Truman Bowling Alley was located in the basement.  Very tempting... We wandered around the entire first floor before running into some other participants and realizing that we needed to make it to the 4th floor :)  

We entered and were greeted with breakfast and the opportunity to spend some time interacting with the other invited guests.  It was great to reconnect with Jed Dearbury who I had met in Seattle a few weeks prior.  He's a rock star in terms of Skype in the Classroom.  His presentation at the #redefinelearn event was one of the highlights.  I realized Tammi Schrader, who I have been friends with online for some time and have been waiting to meet was also at our table.  It was great to meet her in person (finally!). Then, as the talking continued, I realized that next to me was Greg Zecchini from the Google Classroom team.  I was on the lookout for him and others from the team based on Jonathon Rochelle's alert that they would be there.  

The Welcoming remarks were kicked off by Danielle Carnival, Assistant Director, Education and Learning Science, from the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy (@whitehouseOSTP).  Danielle had been the one communicating with us prior to the event.  She was followed by Megan Smith, CTO from the OSTP.  Megan brought a great energy and passion to the discussion as she framed the day of a day for us to be inspired and create projects that will inspire others.  

Megan Smith brought Pikachu and other toys along to help inspire creativity for the day

Next up was Richard Culatta (@rec54).  I have always been a fan of Richard and his leadership as the Director at the Office of EdTech.  Richard has a game design background and totally believes in and supports the value of games in learning.  He is helping to push the needle and move the discussion forward in a significant way. My favorite Richard Culatta quote remains, "Learning is Fun.  We need to stop making it boring."  Yep, that about sums it up!

"Learning is Fun.  We have to stop making it boring." ~@rec54

Other speakers included Janice Cuny, the Program Director for Computing Education at NSF, Gretchen Achenback, Research Scientist from NCWIT (National Center for Women and Information Technology.  Rafranz Davis closed out the house in her typical awesome fashion.  

Rafranz Davis, amazing educator and advocate for equity in education

Now it was time to get to work.  The day was structured as a hack-a-thon, termed a Tech Jam with the goal of solving problems and generating opportunities around bringing computer science to elementary school.  Mark DeLoura kicked off the working session by setting the stage for our teams to solve problems and CREATE.  

We had six hours to develop something as a team of 5 to 6 people to showcase during the Expo at the end of the day.  Groups were made up of educators, developers, and other industry professionals.

Ideas included:

CodeQuest, monthly coding challenge in a box, created by my group.  Our idea was modeled after the Loot Crate idea and would be a subscription based service where each month the teacher / facilitator would receive a box with a new tool (i.e. MakeMakey, Sphero, Little Bits kit, Arduino board, Raspberry Pi, etc.).  The module would include a series of one sheet cards to explain the technology, teach a coding concept, share a 'watch it - code it' activity where students would follow a step by step tutorial to create something based on the tool and the coding activity.  The next step would be a 'Mod it' step where a series of design challenges would be provided to allow the student to modify the project and thus extend their learning.  Finally, they would be presented with choice of Quest Cards that provide a real world problem to solve using the contents of the monthly kit and the coding knowledge the students have to date.  

Lucas 'pitching' CodeQuest during the Tech Jam Expo

CodeaGram might have been my favorite product as it was modeled after Instagram (talk about meeting the kids where they are!) and users could code something (a small app or program) and upload the program to the service. The code would be available by clicking a button on the app and the user could download the code right from the app.  What a great way to have coders showcase their work and be part of a larger coding community. 

Wowwing me with the prototype (pretty close to being ready to launch!) of CodeaGram

There were many other great ideas for sure.  I would need to write a series of posts to cover all of them!

Closing remarks were provided by John King, Delegated Deputy Secretary, Department of Education.  He spoke of the importance of making opportunities accessible to everyone and shared stories of him being the person to represent any form of diversity on occasion.  We need to create products and opportunities that meet the diverse needs of all learners.  

The day was amazing in so many ways and as is the case often, the people really made it the tremendous experience it was.  Thanks to Erik Martin for thinking of me when it came to invitations and the OSTP staff, the awesome interns who organized the day's events, and everyone who participated and made it possible.  What a day!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Guest Blog Post: Student Reflection on 20%Time with Disney Infinity

For my 20% time, I am working on the Disney Infinity on the PS4. So far, my partner and I have been working on a battle arena to fight monsters, as well as a parkour map. Through this experience, I have learned how to use a PS4 controller (being a PC gamer), and how to design cool things in Disney Infinity. I think the next step would be to continue working on the parkour, and create cool jumps and obstacles. But overall, I am excited about playing Disney infinity :D

In this image, you can see the parkour that my partner and I  have made. One of us built the parkour map, and the other tested to make sure it was possible to  complete all the jumps and  rolls. The farther you go down the parkour, the harder it will be. As we developed the map, some slight changes were made in order to make the parkour possible.

In this image, you see the battle arena (w/o the enemies). Normally, this big structure would be packed with monsters. But in order to take the picture, we made sure there was no monsters to mess up the shot. Over to the left you can see the  ramp which leads to the exit of the arena, once you fight you way through all the monsters, In order to work in the game, the arena usually has about 50ish monsters, Once all the monsters are defeated you could even fight against your ally! Our next steps might be to make a scoring mechanism, and to make a monster spawner.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

20PercentTime for Teachers

I have come to believe that it is important to surround yourself with the people you want to be around. For me, those people are others passionate about playing, tinkering, and continually learning based on their interests. Might sound a lot like my approach to teaching, but I suppose that makes good sense.

As you may know, my students have been involved in a project called #20PercentTuesday where they pursue passion based projects. Well, us teachers need some of that time to dedicate to learning about what excites us as well. This past weekend we did just that, in fact on two occasions. On Friday, Kevin Jarrett (@kjarrett) hosted a group of us in his awesome learning space at the Northfield Community School (@ncsnj). We had a blast working on our own projects and sharing what we were doing. Here are some highlights:

Sarah receiving some help to use the Oculus Rift

Rurik (@ruriknackeraud ) flying a plane (a little better than Sarah aka #croptopknitter @artdabbler13)
Leila (@leilaboo215) editing her vlog alongside an oculus rifter
My lovely wife, Cathy (@iwearthecrowns) trying to configure the @littlebits cloudbit to work with #minecraft BitCraft mod
Every school needs an awesome studio for their daily news show!

Kevin Jarrett (@kjarrett) trying his hand at the Oculus.  The play by play provided was priceless.

Please check out Meredith Martin's (@geekyteach) Black Friday maker Day post for a great run down of the day's festivities!

So that was Friday. Fast forward to Sundat, quite possible our most fun #coffeeEduNJ to date. More playing and exploring cool stuff. Jonathan Rochelle (@jrochelle) brought the google expedition kit and took our caffeinated group on a few great journeys including the great barrier reef and some amazing waterfalls.

To stay with the virtual reality theme I brought the oculus rift out for a spin. People played mushroom ball VR, a fun VR 3D platformer and our goto horror experience "don't let go". One great quote of the day came from the son of Chris Harris (@principal_H) who stated emphatically, "this is the most fun I've ever had at a coffee shop". 

Jonathan Rochelle (@jrochelle) guiding an excited group through #googleexpeditions.  I spy @mzgrz and @keith_guarino)

Wait... Is that Barry Saide (@barrykid1) and his lovely wife jessica (@jazica30) at a #coffeeEduNJ?

Principal Harris (@Principal_H) watching as his son explores virtual reality with the oculus rift.

Our coffeeEdu group has become a family affair and adults and kids in attendance were wowed by the virtual reality experiences. Definitely made for rich discussion and excitement about what's possible. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Global Skype-a-Thon: Promoting Education without Borders

Join the Global Skype-a-Thon on December 3 and 4, 2015.  

Have you used Skype in the Classroom?  There are so many wonderful opportunities to get involved and bring amazing learning opportunities to your students.  A few weeks ago I participated in the #RedefineLearn event at the Microsoft campus in Redmond.  One of my key takeaways was how amazing the Skype in the Classroom program is.  The Skype-a-thon is a great way to get you started with using Skype with your students.  Getting started is easy and the resources available through Microsoft make it easy to get involved.

I encourage you to sign up now.  The easiest ways to get involved:

Mystery Skype connects you with another class somewhere in the world.  Both teams ask yes/no questions in an attempt to figure out where the other class is from.

Guest Speakers are available and willing to meet with your class. You can also sign up to be a guest speaker.  The Skype in the Classroom program has a wide array of speakers on many different topics.  From my experience, experts are very willing to take some time to visit your class, so if there is someone specific you would like as a visitor, I strongly encourage you to reach out directly.  Twitter is a great starting point to make the connection.

Virtual Field Trips are a way to bring your students anywhere in the world from the comfort of your classroom.  At the #redefinelearn event we met with someone from the Museum of Science in Raleigh who shared 'the unhuggables' with us.

How I've been connecting globally:

I have been using Skype and Google Hangout to connect my students with game developers.  I find it incredibly valuable to provide students with access to industry professionals who can share ideas, tips, and even guide my students to follow their passion through our interactions.  Some of the experts we met with so far include:

Caro Williams Pierce (@therealcaro).  Caro is a doctoral student who created a game for her dissertation using Little Big Planet 3.  I have students working with LBP3 so it was great to get a first hand account as well as a walkthrough of the game including how it was developed. 
Rahul Banerjee, the creator of met with our class four weeks in a row.  It started with a guided tutorial to show my students how to use the 'no-code' game development environment. Rahul met with two of my classes each week and as we progressed it was evident that the input from my students was as valuable to Rahul as his instruction was to them. My students provided feedback, asked questions, and contributed ideas to features that are now in the program. Rahul was even kind enough to meet with one student from a different class who really wanted to meet him.  When they met, the first words out of my student's mouth were, "I can't believe I'm really getting to meet you!".  They were able to meet one on one on several occasions.  Rahul is pretty awesome and my students love when he visits!
John Day, one of the developers who worked on Disney Infinity met with us to discuss his career as a game designer and specifically ideas about working with Disney Infinity, one of the tools my students use to create games.  
Mike Watanabee, creative director (and voice of Tim!) from Brainpop (@brainpop) was kind enough to meet us from his home in Hawaii. In order to do so, he had to get up at 4am. The kids were super excited to meet with him and talk about brainpop, the process of developing the videos, and of course roared when he addressed us as Tim :)  
We've had other visitors and I plan to continue develop these connections and allow my students to communicate directly with the experts. In fact, I have a commitments from some very exciting people in the game development industry.