Sunday, October 23, 2016

Playstation VR: Why bring Tech into the Classroom? Ask your students!

I believe strongly in student voice in the learning process. Currently, my students are part of a large scale research project looking at the implementation of Virtual Reality in schools. The research is being funded and conducted by foundry10, an educational foundation in Seattle looking at non-traditional approaches to learning. This is our second year in the study. Last year, foundry10 provided us with an Oculus Rift and a high end computer to run it. Members of the foundry10 team came to visit and provide a demo of the HTC Vive for my students (as well as staff and administrators). They left the Vive with us for 2 weeks. To say it was a huge hit would be an understatement. My students loved it, as did everyone we pulled in to try it. This year, foundry10 provided us with an HTC Vive of our own! We raised money through donors choose for a computer to power it.

Now, we are looking to add the Sony Playstation VR to our VR collection. The Playstation VR is unique in that it might very well be the most reasonable point of entry in terms of high end VR technology as it is priced at $400 (providing you already have the PS4). For our class, having the three current forerunners, we can truly become the authority on Virtual Reality. My students are doing research, comparing the devices, creating their own content, supporting others, and ultimately helping to contribute to how VR can be best integrated in schools.

Donors Choose provides a wonderful opportunity to put your ideas out there and use community support to crowd fund projects for the classroom. To leverage student voice, they have added the option for student led projects where students share how funding the project will help them to learn and how they plan to use the purchased items. Student led projects ask students to respond to 3 questions:

  1. What is Your Project Idea? How would you use the items in your classroom?
  2. How will you be a leader in bringing this project to life? How will it help you demonstrate leadership skills?
  3. Why is this project important to you and your school community?

Our project, Virtual Reality in the Classroom: Take 2 is a student led project. The link will provide the project overview and some of the student responses. I tossed the idea out to my students to provide their response to the three questions, and I received far more student feedback then could be fit in the project writeup. So, I wanted to share the remaining student responses here so everyone can see why my students want to get the Sony Playstation VR in our classroom and how it will contribute to our learning as well as the greater research community.

Student responses:

"I believe it would be a very good idea to add VR to our classroom. First, we are researching VR to discover what it's like and what we would like added to it. Having more than one system of VR could help because experiencing different types of it will further our understanding of it. We will be able to play a bigger variety of games which would really help."

It would help our leadership skills because it would let us work in VR to discover characteristics of it ourselves and be able to show leardershib by explaining these characteristics to others. 

If the project is funded, I would like to complete some quests to do blog reviews on different VR games. Also, I would learn about VR to be able to explain it to others as well as right blog posts about VR in general so others can learn about it. Overall, adding the Playstation VR to our classroom would be really great for our class."

"I think it would bea great idea to add Playstation VR to our classroom because I think it will really help us understand how our games are supposed to make the player feel. For example, if we have created a jungle themed game, we could use VR to test out our game and see if it actually takes that player to the atmosphere we want them to be in. It would support VR research because it would get young teens to experience new things which would show a number of people supporting it ideas on improving VR and much more. 

This project will help us develop leadership skills by allowing us to virtually lead someone or something in a game, such as a pack of wolves or a tribe. Though this is just one example, there are many ways that VR will effect us in a good way. 

If this project is funded, in Game Design class, I would like to create some of my own VR games because I think it would be extremely interesting that you could create your idea. Not just on a computer screen, but for the time being your idea could be in virtual reality. Therefore, I think using VR in Game Design class as well as other classes would be an amazing experience for everyone!

"I think it will be a good idea to add the Playstation VR to our class because it gives students new and/or different experiences they might not otherwise be able to experience. It would support our research in VR because the Playstation VR gives a wide variety of different games / genres for us to experience and by adding controllers, it makes the games feel more real.

This project will help us develop leadership skills because you get to experience certain events that may happen to you in a later date. This can serve well for simulations so when you experience these events you will know what to do and how to do it. It can help us learn how to perform important tasks.

If this project is funded, I would simulate events I wouldn't be able to experience, such as old time events or science fiction."

There were many other student contributions, but this gives a good sense of the enthusiasm my students have for this opportunity to put learning in their hands with such cutting edge technology.

We would love your support if you could help out. Donations of any size will help us reach our goal.. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Minecon 2016: Can't wait for Minecon 2017 :)

Last week I attended Minecon with 12,000 of my closest friends :)  It was an amazing experience and my hat is off to the Mojang and Microsoft Teams that put the event together. It was truly a celebration of this game that everyone in attendance adores. The schedule was packed from the Opening Ceremonies, which brought ALL attendees together to kick off the event to the Closing Ceremonies, which brought us all back together to shed a tear and celebrate the shared experience.

I was excited to participate in two panels, one on eSports in Schools and the other on Resources for Education featuring a group of Minecraft Mentors. It was great to collaborate with an all star lineup on both panels. I will be posting the video recording of each panel when they become available. I only wish I was able to attend the many incredible panels through the weekend.

The exhibit floor was awesome including a variety of areas designated by minecraft themed biomes, numerous vendors, a Minecraft: Education classroom with sessions by Jim Pike (@joakleyiii), John Miller (@johnmilleredu), Shane Asselstine (@hikarikishi), and Adam Bellow (@adambellow) presenting the new partnership between Minecraft: Education Edition and BreakoutEDU (@breakoutedu). 

Without a doubt, one of the best parts of Minecon for me this year was the fact that I was able to share the experience with my daughter, Leila.

Leila and I celebrating Minecraft at Minecon!

 Leila moderated the Student Voice pane which featured some amazing kids. Generally, the kids presented with their teacher, but Braeden (@braedenart) presented with Rafranz Davis (@rafranzdavis), his aunt. Braeden shared his story of how Minecraft was a great unifier for him. The story starts with he and his classmates being given a rather interesting homework assignment. The assignment was to "NOT play minecraft."  REALLY??? Anyway, don't get me started on that one. Later at school there was a tech day where a number of kids were playing minecraft and started to play together. They took their interest outside of school and a number of friendships were formed.

I can't talk about Braeden without sharing an amazing Minecon moment. Braeden poured his heart into creating a puppet in the likeness of Stampy Longnose. We spent a good deal of time with Braeden and the puppet. Braeden was on a mission to give the puppet to Stampy. Well, a few hours before Braeden and his aunt had to leave to catch their plane, a meetup was arranged.

Braeden meets Stampy! Mission Accomplished!

 There is so much more to share and I will likely write a few more posts, but wanted to get something out there before I kept putting it off. You know, the plight of the blogger...

Friday, July 22, 2016

Breaking News: First non-Pokemon related accident reported since the game's release!

This just in! There has been an accident reported that is NOT related to PokemonGo. I know it is hard to believe, but it's true. When asked about the incident, Isaacs reported, "I figured that as long as I wasn't playing PokemonGo while I was riding my bike I didn't really have to pay attention. All I hear these days is about people getting hurt, mugged, etc. while playing." Isaacs continued, "I am an avid player of the game, but at this time I had my phone safely tucked away in my backpack as I was riding my bike.".

The blood is real. Surprisingly, there were
no Pokemon involved in this accident. 

This story is leading many to believe that we still need to follow standard safety protocol even when we are NOT playing the game. When asked how this could be avoided in the future, Isaacs proclaimed, "I think it is still important to watch where you are going. I would still suggest not taking candy from a stranger, even if they are not offering you a rare Pokemon.". He further concluded, "I beg all of the people out there, still look both ways before you cross the street.  Even if you are NOT trying to catch a Pokemon."

All we can conclude from this story is that it seems as though the same rules that we used to apply to safe living still apply, Pokemon or no Pokemon.

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!