Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quest Based Learning: A Model for the Flipped Classroom

Forty minutes of class time per day can be very limiting. It certainly does not provide an opportunity to teach everything and support students while working on their projects.  Furthermore, it limits the possibilities for students to extend their learning based on their interest in the content.  The ideal of differentiating instruction within this framework poses another challenge for sure. Over the past few years I have heard more and more about the 'flipped classroom'.  I think it's common to think of the flipped class model as having students watch a video or read the course content prior to a lesson so that class time can be devoted to discussion or work with the guidance of the teacher.  This is certainly one approach, but I am becoming increasingly aware that my classroom is flipped in a different way.

My course is conducted through 3dgamelab, a quest based 'learning management system'.  Essentially, students are presented with available quests that they can complete for experience points (XP).  The XP approach coupled with the achievements, badges, and awards provides a gamified layer which is appealing to many students.   More importantly, however, the quests provide what Jane McGonigal refers to as 'blissful productivity'.  Students are excited to complete a task, receive credit and feedback for it.  Often this leads to the next quest in the quest line which provides a nice approach to scaffolding the learning. 

I teach video game design and development.  I like to provide opportunities for my students to extend their learning as there are so many wonderful tools and learning materials available online.  This works beautifully in a quest-based classroom as students tend to work on these 'side quests' outside of class and they earn points which ultimately contribute to their grade.  It provides students with choice in the learning process.  This is great for differentiating instruction as well as allowing for extension activities for students who would like to continue the learning beyond the course requirements.  

Many of my quests include video tutorials that I have created (or curated) either during lessons in class or specifically for the purpose of demonstrating specific skills.  This allows students to work at their pace and review the content as many times as they need to rather than being expected to comprehend everything the one time it is presented.  This also solves the age old issue of re-teaching topics for a student that misses class for any reason.  

Generally speaking, my students have 3 large projects throughout the semester.  These are the main quest lines and during class this is what students typically work on.  However, to the observer, the learning environment looks more like a studio than a classroom.  I devote most of the class time supporting students as they work on their projects.  When I think of the goal behind the flipped classroom model, I believe this approach exemplifies the philosophy.  Students could complete the three main projects and succeed in the course, but most embrace the opportunities to complete side quests that are either related to the main quests or not.  Typically, I allow students to work on any quests they like on Fridays, adopting something similar to the google 20% time approach as it allows for student driven learning and often sparks interest for students to continue the extension activities outside of class.

One of the things I like best about the Quest Based learning environment is that there is a growing library of available quests through 3dgamelab that can be cloned and edited to suit your needs.  There have been many occasions where I have adapted some of the quests graciously created by others to offer additional learning opportunities for my students.  Likewise, I like to think that I have contributed a great many quests that can be used by others. On a similar note, once you put the energy into developing a quest or quest line it opens up new learning opportunities for students moving forward.  Last week was Computer Science Education Week featuring the Hour of Code challenge.  My students all participated, but the spirit of the hour of code should not only be celebrated during that one week.  My students can continue to complete the quests for XP and these quests are now already in place for my future classes adding to the value of my course moving forward.  

Scaling the course becomes intuitive due to the quest setup which enables the use of prerequisites to open up new quests.  You can set a quest to open after another quest is complete, based on a certain number of XP earned, etc.  One of my long term goals is to scale the game design and development curriculum down to the elementary level and up to the high school level.  Quest based learning lends so well to this as you can develop quests and break them up into different courses or have one course that is scaled based on working through the quest line.  If an elementary school student were to engage in the course and work through quests in order to reach higher level quests, why hold them back?  Likewise, from the standpoint of differentiation, it works well to allow students to start with quests at a level that they can handle.  

I hope that more educators start to see the value in this approach to teaching and learning.  Aside from teaching all of the skills and concepts in my curriculum, I believe that the opportunity for extending the learning will help cultivate a love of learning and demonstrate to students that they can continue learning out of interest rather than obligation.  After all, isn't the development of lifelong learning an esteemable goal in teaching?

What experiences do you have with a flipped class model?  Have you experienced quest based learning as a student or teacher?  I'd love to hear your feedback.  

Are you interested in learning more?  I got my start in one of the 3dgamelab teacher camps where I was able to be both a student (following the tracks that interested me) and an instructional designer as one of the tracks guides participants through the process of understanding quest based learning and creating quests for class use.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hour of Code: Student Reflections

As the hour of code continues, I am continually blown away by the accomplishments and enthusiasm of my students (and my 10 year old daughter!).  I teach video game design and development and provide a quest based learning environment using 3dgamelab.  When students complete their quests, they submit the quest, often with a reflection on the activity.  Following are a number of reflections that I pulled out to share.  I will say that the overwhelming thing I am hearing is something to the tune of, "I thought programming would be hard, but...".  If that doesn't sum up the value of the Computer Science Education Week hour of code initiative, I don't know what does.  I am beyond thrilled that so many students across the world are engaging in activities this week to demystify computer programming.  I truly believe this is a game changer in terms of people's attitudes and perspective on computer science.  I'm sure the interest will sustain in many, but regardless, it is raising awareness and understanding in such a HUGE number of students (and teachers).

Before I share the reflections, I want to note that my 10 year old was practically begging us to purchase the full version of the lightbot app after participating in the lightbot hour of code activities which were free.  At $2.99 I think we'll invest :)

Reflections from students:

"I learned a lot about computer programming in this quest.  I thought that computer programming was difficult and complicated all the time, but it can be easy if you really try to comprehend it."

"I learned that the 4 steps of computational thinking are decomposition, pattern location, abstraction, and algorithms.  I had some challenges when a new block was put in like the "repeat until" and "if path" boxes." ~female, grade 8

"I learned how to use the repeat block which I had trouble with at first.  I think it's really cool but challenging to program." ~ male, grade 8

"I am getting to learn more complex programming that actually makes you think through all the steps, compared to before where you just guessed and checked.  I did have trouble choosing some of the blocks and figuring out the number of degrees to use in a couple of places."

"I liked this challenge because it taught me how to make functions and use them." ~male, grade 8

"I felt it was really cool that you could repeat actions.  It is really cool how computer programming works because it's not like how regular life works." ~male, grade 8

"I felt that this quest was easier than the others.  I like this one because the new blocks, the "while" block and the "if" block were really helpful.  I did not have any particular challenges completing this quest." ~female, grade 8

"This was where it got a bit challenging, but eventually through trial and error I figured out the problem and completed the quest." ~male, grade 8

"I really enjoyed this quest.  It was a fun new experience for me creating drawings compared to what I normally do, programming robots.  It was straight forward and showed one of the essential lessons of programming - no matter what you do with programming trial and error is key."

"In the second part of code, the Artist level was a little harder than the first.  I learned more though about algorithms and how computers work and make tasks easier.  A few particular challenges I had were drawing a circle and drawing a snowflake shape on level 18. Overall, it was enjoyable." ~ female, grade 8

"I learned about repeating.  Computer programming seems to work by taking the problem, coming up with a solution, breaking the solution into simpler parts, and finding the best, fastest, and easiest way to accomplish all of these." ~male, grade 8

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  I think it's an incredible initiative and am so pleased to see so many kids exposed to coding.  Hopefully, the day will be sooner, rather than later, that coding is taught throughout the grades.

Please share your experiences.  I find it inspiring to hear what others are doing and how students are responding!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Code-a-rific! Embracing the Hour of Code Challenge.

Hanukkah has passed.  Now we are anxiously awaiting Christmas and Kwanzaa, but hold the presses!  It's Computer Science Education Week!!!  Feels a little like Christmas to me.  The highlight of the December 9 - 15 festivities is the Hour of Code Challenge.  Students across the world are committing to code for an hour this week.  From my experience, it seems like the hour of code is turning into the many hours of coding.  Regardless, everyone who participates is getting an opportunity to be exposed to coding and essentially demystifying Computer Programming.  This is a wonderful opportunity as hearing the words coding or programming can be very intimidating.  The activities offered this week are surely proving otherwise.

There are a number of heavy hitters involved in helping promote the event including, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Elena Silenok (, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Gabe Newell (Valve), Will.I.Am (The Black Eyed Pees),  Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Barack Obama, and many others.  These influential folks have been kind enough to help create instructional videos, public service announcements, etc. to help promote the event.

The point of entry to participate is quite simple.  Organizations like have set up turn-key opportunities to guide students through hours of coding including online and offline activities.  You can sign up as an individual student or as a teacher.  Teachers can provide students with the course code so that it is easy to manage their progress through the activities.  Students earn a certificate from many organizations based on completing an hours worth of coding activities.  The activities use activities created in blockly, a programming environment developed by google that is based on Scratch.

Tynker, also based on Scratch is offering a variety of activities for students in grades 1 through 8.  Tynker also allows teachers to set up a class with a class code for students to join.  Again, this helps greatly with managing student progress.

Lightbot is a puzzle game that teaches programming and procedural thinking.  They are offering activities for the week that come with a certificate of completion as well.  My 10 year old was up pretty late last night 'playing' lightbot and learning coding without knowing it!  Lightbot has an app available at the iOS app store as well as the google play store.  This is definitely a great option for students in elementary school.

One of my favorites is Codecademy, which really does focus on true coding (opposed to the drag and drop block approach) but in a very systematic fashion that makes following and learning to program easy.  Codecademy offers tracks in JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby, and other programming languages.  You could create a full semester course (or more) using the Codecademy environment.

There are certainly other companies and organizations offering their approach.  Please visit the Computer Science Education Week site for more ideas and lesson plans.

While I'm at it, here's a pearltree I put together a while back to highlight coding resources for grades K - 12. and the associated sponsors are even offering prizes for students who earn the 27 available trophies.  So far, two of my students at William Annin Middle School have reached this goal.  Prizes include a choice of software titles (Sim City 4, Portal 2, Fifa 13), $10 gift cards (iTunes, Skype), 10gb dropbox storage, etc.  One school in each of the 50 states will receive a classroom set of computers for having every student participate.  All teachers who have a class participate will receive 10gb additional drop box storage and several lucky schools will receive a guest skype session from one of the industry 'titans'.

Well, what are you waiting for?  Join in the celebration.  and Happy Computer Science Education Week!

Code on!!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Iterative grading with Quest Based Learning

Those of you who know me, may know that Iteration is my favorite word (Right, Lisa?).  I teach Video Game Design and Development and the iterative design process is crucial to the learning.  Students design their games, begin to develop them, recruit feedback from their peers, incorporate that feedback, and so the cycle goes until a game is ready for prime time.  I believe so strongly in the iterative process as it truly teaches students that they should continue to work on something until they are happy with the results.  Likewise, recruiting feedback allows students to understand how others perceive their game.  It is very easy for the designer to think something is intuitive while the player may have no idea what they are supposed to do.

So, in the spirit of iteration and quest based learning, I have become very fond of the notion of grading as an iterative process.  In education, we are too quick to collect an assignment or administer a test and then move on regardless of what learning took place.  A student might fail the test or assignment and expected to move on regardless of the acquisition of skills or an opportunity to truly learn the content.  When this occurs, we are not valuing the learning, but rather the pace of instruction.  Failure is not seen as a learning opportunity, but rather a reflection of self worth. My new mantra 'iterative grading' aims to encourage growth, determination, persistence, and pride in student work.

I have been using 3dgamelab with my 8th grade Game Design and Development students.  The entire course takes place in 3dgamelab. Students complete quests and based on successful completion, they receive experience points and move on to other quests.  The 'main questline' follows the primary activities in my course and 'side quests' provide students with opportunities to extend their learning by exploring other tools and topics related to the course.  When a student submits a quest I receive notification that the quest is awaiting approval.  I evaluate the quest and either accept it, resulting in awarding the student with the designated experience points or return the quest in order for the student to incorporate feedback in the next iteration.  This is not meant to imply failure, but rather to help me provide guidance to the student so they can continue to engage in the activity until it is worthy of receiving full credit.  I explain this process to the students and they are showing that they understand by resubmitting their quests until they are successful.  I am even beginning to receive quests where a student indicates that they know the game is not finished, but they would like feedback so they could make the game better.  This level of awareness and appreciation of guidance is really wonderful. Whether a quest is accepted or returned, students receive ongoing feedback through the process.  

I am excited by the authentic evaluation opportunity this provides.  In the real world, we expect people to complete something worthy of submission. The same should apply in school.  I hope you adopt a similar approach.  I believe many teachers do.  When I think of this approach, I often think of the writing process, which is by nature iterative.  Students brainstorm, write, peer edit, edit their work, receive intermittent feedback from the instructor, etc.  It is rare that a student is asked to submit a research paper without some degree of iteration.  Clearly, this idea exists in other areas as well.  Perhaps it should be prevalent in all areas.
In summary, my goal is to embrace the learning and the process and not perpetuate the 'hand in your over' approach to grading.

Your feedback is welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 2, 2013

From Logo to Scratch: Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch

Daisy the Dinosaur and Hopscotch certainly finds their roots in Logo and Scratch.  The programming environment provides a scratch-like approach to connecting blocks to teach coding.  Currently, they are both available exclusively on the iPad.  I imagine they will reach more devices in time, but I especially like the fact that they provide an opportunity to teach coding on the iPad.

Daisy the Dinosaur is especially great for younger students.  In my opinion, his app could be used to introduce students in grades K-2 to programming concepts.  The interface is beautiful and very easy to understand.  In fact, I give the developers a lot of credit for keeping it simple as to not overwhelm young students with too many choices.  Check out the video as the gentleman with the lovely British accent does a wonderful job walking you through using the app.

Hopscotch is created by the same people that created Daisy the Dinosaur and brings the concepts to the next level.  Hopscotch seems to be appropriate for students in grades 3 - 8.  Once again, there's no question that the developers drew from Logo and Scratch.  I was very excited to relive my Logo days of drawing fun designs by programming my iPad by connecting scratch-like blocks.  The graphic interface is fun and generally speaking, Hopscotch is very easy to use.  It is quite robust compared to Daisy the Dino (as it should be) and provides greater opportunities for students to learn coding on a deeper level.  

Who better to demonstrate a tool than a 9 year old? Nice work, Thomas!

Hopscotch and Daisy the Dinosaur are FREE!  Download them and please share your impressions with us here!

From Logo to Scratch: Where it all began...Logo

Oh, how I love Seymour Papert and constructionist learning.  There's no doubt (at least in my mind) that we learn by doing and creating.  This idea is at the heart of Papert's work and dates back to his work with Piaget in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  I'm a fan of Piaget's constructivist theory as well and think that the two theories coexist when it comes to learning in the 21st century.

In the mid 1960s Seymour Papert, a mathematician who had been working with Piaget in Geneva, came to the United States where he co-founded the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory with Marvin Minsky. Papert worked with the team from Bolt, Beranek and Newman, led by Wallace Feurzeig, that created the first version of Logo in 1967. (from the Logo Foundation website)
You can read more about the history of logo on the website as it is quite fascinating and is largely responsible for the push toward teaching coding in school.  Have you ever used Logo?  I have very fond memories of teaching our 6th graders to code with MSW Logo. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Logo is famous for the 'turtle' that you program to essentially draw on the screen.  It gets more complicated as you can incorporate programming constructs like user loops, input, variables, conditional statements, etc. Essentially, you are coding the turtle with commands like fd 100 (to move forward 100 units), right or rt 30 (to turn 30 degrees to the right), etc.  You can create subroutines in order to call upon code snippets within your program. as well.  Great language if you haven't tried it!

In the example above (from 14sia - Robotics), you can see a loop was created to tell the turtle to move forward 100 units and turn right 60 degrees, resulting in this lovely hexagon.
The culminating project that we had our students complete was to build a house using Logo.  They were required to create subroutines for certain parts of the house and ultimately write a program that ran all of the subroutines resulting in their house (oftentimes complete with landscaping, a car in the driveway, a playset out back, etc.).  I highly recommend the use of Logo to introduce young students (grades 2 - 7) to coding.  

Logo was the start and there were many spinoffs of turtle logo, but the concept continued to evolve further as you will see as I explore a variety of tools rooted in Logo.

For now, however, here are a number of versions of Logo for your exploration.

Why Teach Kids to Code?

I'm presenting a session titled, "Create. Learn. Play. Game Design and Coding in the Classroom "at the Games in Education conference.   I teach Video Game Design and Development at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, NJ.  When I tell people what I teach, they immediately respond by saying, "You must be teaching in a charter school."  Well, not so.  I teach in a public middle school.  This might sound progressive, but it really should not.  I believe that all schools should offer Game Design and Coding opportunities throughout the grades.  My goal is to develop a scalable curriculum and provide resources that span grades, primarily K-12 at this point.

Why?  Good Question.

According to Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab expresses the idea that

"coding isn't just for computer whizzes - it's for everyone."  In his Ted Talk (below),  he provides a demo "outlining the benefits of teaching the benefits of teaching kids to code, so they can do more than just "read" new technologies - but also create them." (Resnick, 2012)

The EdSurge Teaching Kids to Code Guide states,
"We are teaching them to code, however, not so much as an end in itself but because our world has morphed: so many of the things we once did with elements such as fire and iron, or tools such as pencil and paper, we can now wrought in code. We are teaching coding to help our kids craft their future. "

One of the tools that I use with my students is Gamestar Mechanic produced by e-line media.  The research done around Gamestar Mechanic reveals the following important ideas that teaching game design contributes to learning:

Designing games builds:
  • Systems Thinking,
  • 21st Century Skills,
  • Creative Problem Solving,
  • Art and Aesthetics,
  • Writing and Storytelling,
  • and creates a motivation for STEM learning.

In my classes, I use a number of tools and plan to explore more tools in depth in order to realize my goal of developing ideas for teaching coding throughout the grades.  In the next number of blog posts, I will highlight a number of the tools available.

Do you teach coding to your students?  What benefits do you see?  Do you believe we are barking up the wrong tree when we speak of the importance of teaching kids to code?  If so, please chime in.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Student Driven Learning: MineCraft Style Reflections part 2

Feel free to read my previous post to get caught up on the "Create Your Own Game in MineCraft" project my students and I are currently deeply engaged in.

The design document: Create, Receive Feedback, Refine document.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Image from
I have been collecting the game plans from my students via google docs.  I realize they are excited to get to building in MineCraft, but I believe the planning stage is important.  As such, we are employing iterative design principals to beef up their game plan so that it is clear and complete.  I am providing comments, or more so, questions in order to draw them out and better understand the idea behind their game.  This brings up the question of grades.  I am a firm believer that the educational system has grading wrong, especially when it comes in the form of give assignment, collect assignment, grade assignment, game over.  I would like for all of my students to earn an A (whatever that really means).  My main criteria is that the game description, rules, story, etc. is cohesive, complete, and provides the reader with a strong understanding of what the game will look and feel like, and how the player should expect to play.  In addition to my feedback, each team will recruit feedback from two additional students.  My suggestion to students who were providing feedback was to read the document and look for 'holes' and provide the author with questions to draw them out and have the author clarify any aspects that were unclear.  I invision this involving several iterations, but I don't want it to detract from the excitement, so students will begin building their game while having opportunities to improve upon their design document each time I provide feedback.  

Wrestling with the server ...

I am using MineCraftEDU and the associated server tool.  The tool is great and setting up a server is pretty simple.  However, I have students who want a flat land and some who want a world with terrain for their game.  In the past, I tried to run multiple servers on one machine and ran into some issues.  I received prompt help from the MineCraftEDU community (THANKS!!!) and got past my issue at least temporarily.  For anyone trying to run multiple servers in a LAN environment, feel free to learn from my mistakes.  The approach that worked (at least in the past) was to install the MineCraftEDU launcher as two separate installs in two separate folders.  This is crucial.  When I tried to run two instances of the same install I could not change ports which is required for the second server.  In theory, with the two installs, you can run both and have two server windows open and manage them by toggling between the two.  When you launch the server tool from the second install, you need to go to server settings, then advanced settings and then change the port (I suggest 25566 (the first port is 25565 by default). At this point you should be able to set up and run the second server.  


When I tried to run the two servers previously, it would work.  I would have to close the server window but could have students access the servers, one with the ip address provided by the server ( and one with the ip address followed by the different port (  Currently, when I try to run the second server it locks up when I try to save the settings start the server.  This brings me to the questions....

  1. Is it best to just abandon this idea and run 1 server as either flat or with terrain and have all students in the class work on that server (build up or flatten their area if necessary)?
  2. Should I have students create their game in single player without employing the server?  (I'm pretty sure this isn't the best answer).  If so, with minecraftEDU can students open their single player map to others through the LAN?  (our initial experimentation seems that the answer is no. It seems as though students would need mojang accounts to go this route.

I had another server issue, but I believe this one was on my network end.  Our students are currently involved in MAP testing so I am displaced with a cart of netbooks for the week.  I set the server up on a computer that was hard wired and tested with one of the netbooks (wireless) and was able to connect and join the server.  However, when I transported the cart across the building we could not connect.  I wonder if it has something to do with the way the wireless network is segmented.  Regardless, the netbooks aren't the idea solution in this case, so I will revert to plan B until we are back in my lab.  Not worth the headaches...

These issues are nothing more than hiccups, but I want to share them in the sprit of constructivist learning.  It's clearly a learning process and I am not alone.  The online community and my students are part of my MLN (Minecraft Learning Network).

Until my next update...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Student Driven Learning: Minecraft Style

image from 

Your assignment: Create a game in Minecraft

This was the prompt given to my students for their next project in my game design and development course.  I explained immediately that the assignment is intentionally vague as I want to allow for creativity and with a sandbox environment like Minecraft, anything is possible.  I certainly do not need to hold anyone back as I believe my students will blow me away given the freedom.

I teach an 8th grade semester long elective in video game design and development.  This is the first project I am using Minecraft for and the kids are beyond excited.  For this project, students may work alone or in groups of any size.  In some of my projects I limit the number of students to ensure that everyone is actively participating, but with Minecraft I am confident that large projects could effectively use more hands on deck.

Prior to starting work on the game we had a class discussion.  I want the kids to have control over the project, but I am a believer in planning and felt we needed to set a context.  So.... I presented the class with an important question.  What is a game? I wanted students to come up with a collaborative notion for important key components that are required for a game to be considered a game.  Each of my three classes had this discussion and the general list of key components included:

  • storyline or history of the game (i.e. a sport)
  • characters
  • goal (winning scenario)
  • incremental objectives
  • challenges
  • obstacles
  • rules
  • setting 
  • scoring mechanism(s)
The next step was for students to create a plan and a sketch for their game world.  For most games, I provide a specific list of required elements for a game design document.  This time, I chose not to, but indicated that the plan should be complete, organized, and clear.  I indicated that the plan will be evaluated and my main criteria is that upon reading the game plan (pun intended) I will have a good understanding of the idea for the game, the rules, and would essentially be ready to jump in and play the game when it is completed.  In the spirit of iterative design, I indicated that if I (or a peer) has any questions that reveal ideas that are unclear, the author(s) will be able to update the document.  As  grades seem to be a necessary evil, I feel that everyone can get an A but might have to refine their plan until it is clear.

The general idea for construction is that we will set up a server (or multiple servers) for the creation of the games.  Game creation will take place in creative mode, but gameplay can be switched to survival if that's what is called for.  Students will need to work together in order to ensure that everyone has enough space to build their game.  Teams will have several weeks to complete their games and then we will celebrate our accomplishments by playing the final creations.  I am very excited to see the creativity come to life as students are really empowered with the idea that they can create whatever they like.  There is a nice mix of students with minecraft experience and those with limited or no experience.  I look forward to seeing some mentoring evolve organically as team members work together.  I imagine leadership roles will be assumed naturally based on leadership traits and experience.  Collaboration, design thinking, critical thinking, iterative design, problem solving, and computational thinking are among the key learning goals.  All of these learning outcomes are inherent in the activity based on the minecraft environment and the nature of the assignment.  

Currently, many of my students know far more about minecraft than I.  Learning together will clearly demonstrate their ability to mentor other students as well as their teacher.  I am open to learning and excited about the journey ahead.  I know enough about minecraft and the content to guide them through the process.  I believe this is important as we should not simply assume the 'the kids will figure it out' mindset, but learning alongside my students is very exciting to me as an educator and lifelong learner.  

So far, we have spent 2 days on the project.  Most of this time has been devoted to creating a gameplan, but a number of students in one class chose to complete their plan at home in order to maximize the time in the minecraft environment during class.  This led to our first hiccup.  Some students felt they needed to start with a completely flat world, while others opted for terrain.  I had been playing with running multiple servers in the past, but today I was logged in to a shared account and ran into some issues trying to install and run two versions of MineCraftEdu.  After many attempts, I realized that I needed to not only change the directory of the second install, but also the root directory so that I could access it.  For some reason the AppData folder could not be found manually and the second install does not create a desktop shortcut.  I believe it may be simply a hidden folder, but I wasn't sure how to show hidden files and folders in Windows 7.  Definitely wasn't where I was accustomed to in Windows XP.  Rookie mistake, I'm sure, but hey...

Some questions have come up already and I would like to pose them here for some support from the my minecraft PLN, mainly the minecraft edu community, Joel LevinMarianne Malstrom, Lucas Gillispe, and Mr. Malm.  
  1. Can we utilize mods in conjunction with MineCraftEDU?  
  2. Where do I store mods and how do I incorporate them?
  3. Can mods be initiated on the client side or do they need to be controlled from the server?
  4. Does anyone have insight on the directory issue regarding installing two instances of MineCraft EDu in order to run two servers?
That's it for now.  I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A tour of my PLN / PLE

Do you have a PLN?

Greetings.  Over the past few years I have become very fond of my Personal Learning Network.  I have met a number of amazing educators and over time have really cultivated a network of educators that have similar professional interests and inspire me to be a great educator.  If you have not developed (and nurtured) a PLN yet, I strongly suggest that you do so.  There are amazing people out there to learn with in an authentic constructivist manner.  Join us!

The video below is a tour of the tools I use to engage in my Personal Learning Network.  Get some popcorn and enjoy the video :)

GameMaker Studio Tutorial Videos

GameMaker Studio Tutorial Videos:
The following tutorials are generally updated versions of the GameMaker 8.1 videos.  The changes are subtle, so you should be able to use the GameMaker 8.1 and GameMaker Studio tutorials interchangeably.  The initial set of GameMaker Studio tutorials will guid you through creating a Maze / Adventure game.

The Game Maker Interface: This short video will provide you with an understanding of the gamemaker environment. It will explain the different resources that are included in a game created with GameMaker. (5:48)

Creating Sprites, Objects, and Rooms: This tutorial will show you how to create sprites, objects and rooms. You will create and name your first resources using a proper naming convention. In the next lesson, we will program your objects with events and actions. (7:27)

Introducing Events and Actions: This tutorial will show you how to create events and actions for objects. Events and actions are what tell the objects what to do in a game. (6:51)

Creating Moving Objects: This video will assist you in creating objects that move automatically in GameMaker 8. (7:14)

Adding a background and sound: This tutorial will show you how to add sound and a background to your games in GameMaker Studio. (7:41)

Shooting with a pause between shots: This video will demonstrate how to shoot projectiles in GameMaker from a given object.  Timers and variables are used to provide a pause between shots. (6:20)

Adding a health bar: This video will show you how to create and display a health bar above your character.  This example uses the draw event and draw health actions. (7:48)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Introduction to Game Based Learning

Educational gaming: 

Review of Chapter 9 'Educational Gaming' by John Rice (2012) in What School Leaders  Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media.
Image from Learning Games Network:

“Could something that holds so much interest for the young be hijacked and used for pedagogical purposes?” (Rice, 2012)

The quote by Rice provides a great question and context for this chapter and continued research on the topic of the value of gaming in education.     This is a very exciting time to be involved in game based learning, as there has been an explosion in terms of interest, research, and utilization of games as a vehicle for learning. 

The chapter in the text in addition to other research by Rice (2007) on assessing higher order thinking in video games highlights the different uses for games in education.  Generally speaking, games are often used to encourage lower order skill development (i.e. drill and practice), but the true potentia is seen when we utilize games to encourage higher order skill development. It is important to note the concern that is prevalent in the study of game based learning regarding the correlation between learning through games and achievement (typically based on improved standardized test results).  This raises the question of when is the best time to use video games to teach? (Rice, 2012)

According to Rice (2012), the 3 Rs of instructional gaming include repetition, reward, and reason.  Repetition can be used to reinforce classroom instruction and often provide a fun outlet for what might otherwise be tedious repetitive work.  Games lend well to providing built in rewards that motivate players.  One of the key gamification principles relates to providing rewards to encourage success.  Finally, reason refers to advanced educational games that provide complex environments that are intellectually stimulating.  In games that focus on reasoning, the scientific method is often incorporated.  This generally applies to commercial games that are not intended for education. Teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, experiential education, higher level reasoning, and abstract reasoning are also characteristic of games that capitalize on reasoning (Rice, 2012).

Assessment is an important question when it comes to bringing games into the learning environment.  Some games have built in tracking and statistics (Rice, 2012).  This can provide valuable data for teachers in terms of progress, how much time is being spent on certain activities, determining which objectives are met and where students are encountering difficulty.  As such, this can help to guide instruction and help a teacher to direct students while using the game.  Off the shelf software most often lacks the direct curricular integration and poses a challenge for assessment compared to software designed for education that is aligned to standards (Rice, 2012). 

While games can be quite effective teaching tools, there are concerns regarding the time that can be dedicated to playing.  This involves the amount of class time that can be allocated for the game as well as logistical concerns regarding saving progress.  Another question that comes up is related to whether or not the game can be customized to meet the learning objectives.  While very time consuming, this can be a critical factor as many off the shelf games have great educational value but might not have a direct tie in to the curriculum. In an article written by Rice (2007) he explores the question of higher order thinking in games in greater detail.  Compared to edutainment titles that focus on lower order thinking (reinforcement of skills), higher order skills involve a very different approach.  Rice (2007) attests that in order to teach higher order skills, the learning must take place in a Virtual Interactive Environment (VIE).  Generally, this involves a 3d virtual environment that relies on extensive user interaction including reading, manipulating virtual objects, interacting with others.   VIEs are highly engaging and encourage extensive exploration.  These environments tend to be found in commercially developed software like Massively Multiplayer Online games and virtual worlds.  They tend to engage users in the expertise principle where users must demonstrate mastery before advancing in the game. 

My experiences with game based learning

Game based learning has been an integral part of my teaching from the beginning of my career.  When I started my career teaching students with special needs I utilized a lot of the edutainment software described to encourage skill development through repetition.  My students were all on very different levels in reading and math so it proved very helpful to utilize software to individualize their instruction.  Software that tracked their progress was very helpful as it guided the learning in the classroom as well as the computer mediated instruction. 

When we opened our interactive training and gaming center, many of the programs we offered incorporated gaming.  We utilized many historically based strategy games to engage students in the learning of ancient to modern civilizations as they accompanied their play with research on the civilizations they were exploring.  In addition, we taught game design as one of our key summer camp and after school programs.  Learning with games in this environment was ideal as the students were engaged in the learning process and we were not tied to curriculum shackles as this was an extracurricular activity. 

More recently, I have been teaching a full semester course on video game design and development where I have been able to focus on constructionist learning (Papert, 1993), computational thinking, iterative design, problem solving, and storytelling. 

Current happenings in the game based learning space There are great projects evolving in the game based learning space that incorporate off the shelf software as well as innovative design principles to bring learning experiences to students through gaming.  I have been actively incorporating the hugely successful game, Portal 2, by Valve software into my classes.  Portal 2 is a commercial game involving complex puzzles that encourage critical thinking.  Valve software started a program called Steam for Schools intended to bring game based learning opportunities to the classroom.  Portal 2 and the accompanying puzzle maker are offered for free to educators.  My students are so highly engaged throughout our Portal 2 unit as they play through parts of the game and then create their own 3d interactive puzzle levels.   The teach with portals website ( is the teacher ‘portal’ (no pun intended) and includes lesson plans and an online community for teachers to discuss how they are incorporating portal in their classes. 

WoWinSchools ( is another program that focuses on integrating a popular off the shelf title into the curriculum.  The curriculum was developed by Gillispe and Lawson (2011) and provides a rich integration Language Arts curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core standards. 

Recently, Electronic Arts has teamed up with the Institute of Play to enter the game based learning arena by offering curriculum to accompany the SimCity game for classroom use.  SimCityEdu ( is very new and I am excited to see how it unfolds. Minecraft, the quintessential sandbox game based on building with lego-like blocks and crafting special items and blocks for use in the game based on ‘recipes’ has been taking the educational world by storm.  MinecraftEDU ( provides special educational pricing for minecraft in addition to a vibrant community of educators who are excited about sharing their experiences and collaborating on integration of minecraft into almost every curriculum area.  I am excited to start utilizing minecraft in my classes as our PTO recently approved funding for a license for my computer lab.In addition to using or modifying off the shelf software, there are many games being produced specifically for education.  This dates back to the classic, Oregon trail, and more recently virtual worlds.   

Quest Atlantis, now branded as Atlantis remixed ( immerses students in educational simulated habitats (Barab, Scott, Siyahhan, Goldstone, Ingram-Goble, Zuiker & Warren (2008) intended to bring strategy gaming and commercial quality software into education.  

As you can see, many exciting developments are occurring in the area of game based learning.  Figuring out how to incorporate games in the classroom takes careful thought and planning, but the potential benefits are great. 

References:Barab, S. A., Scott, B., Siyahhan, S. Goldstone, R., Ingram-Goble, A., Zuiker, S., & Warren, S. (2009). Transformational play as a curricular scaffold: Using videogames to support science educationJournal of Science Education and Technology.

Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. Basic Books.

Rice, J.W. (2007). Assessing higher order thinking in video games. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 15(1), 87-100

Sunday, March 3, 2013

WoW in Schools: Authentic Game Based Learning

I am taking a graduate course in Leadership in Educational Technology, and the following question was raised for discussion:

You may notice some strong opinions about WoW across the scholarly, professional, and public arenas. We have seen similar issues in the past with controversies over online education or the long-running media effects debate. As a leader in the field of educational technology, how do you respond to conflicting opinions and beliefs when introducing a new technology in your school or organization or when engaging in research with "controversial" new technologies?
Below is my response related to the wonderful WoW in Schools project:

This is a great question. For me, it is important to be mindful of the opinions of others. I am a techie and a gamer, so my desire and motivation to integrate innovative technology might differ from other educators. It is important to get the buy in of educators in order to move forward. It is important to value their skepticism and not push a project on them.

I would like to use WoWinSchools ( as an example of an ambitious project that pushes the envelope. I am a fan of the work of Lucas Gillispe, Peggy Sheehey, and Craig Lawton and their dedication to the importance of true learning to be the goal of game based learning. It is easy to get excited about technology and integrating a game based learning approach, but it is also easy for such an endeavor to lack true direction and lack learning outcomes. I especially appreciate that the project aims to provide educators with a full curriculum that is rich in content and clearly engaging. I take a bit of caution in using the term engaging as I realize that it is difficult to sell engaging when we are so focused on 'achievement'. However, I believe in the value of engagement, and when it is coupled so carefully with good instructional design I believe it is especially effective.

The WoWinSchools project is aligned with the Language Arts standards (p. 13 - 16) in a very authentic manner. Through the journey, students are engaged in parallel reading (The Hobbit) and comparing the journey of their WoW character with that of Bilbo Baggins. Students engage in activities around the book including Literature Circles and other more traditional academic endeavors. Writing is a big component of the program and is at the core of the evaluation of student diary entries and other related writing activities. In fact the grading rubric provides students with experience points based on their writing. In order to receive the highest level of experience for the content portion of the rubric (400 - 500 XP), the writing is evaluated based on the following:

"This diary entry shows evidence of deep reflection and transference of class material and lessons to real life events. It shows higher orderthinking and problem solving skills. In addition, it clearly relates to topics and themes within the book study." (Cape Fear Middle School, 2011)

I could go on and on, but I am trying to illustrate the point that this project is not an excuse to bring games into the classroom, but rather an opportunity to engage students (often those at risk) in an opportunity to own their learning and embrace the connection between in-game content and academics.

WoWinSchools is just one example of effective game based learning. I believe that I would use it as an example for other projects that might involve game based learning in order to provide naysayers with a solid example of what is possible and how we can capitalize on student engagement without sacrificing content.


P.S. After writing this it occurred to me that a lot of opposition relates to violence in this and other games. I believe that much of the literature students read (including their history text) deals with violence. Taking on the role of the 'hero' in World of WarCraft provides an immersive experience when relating to the characters in the literature.

Gillispe, Lucas, Lawson, Craig (2011). WoWinSchool - A hero's journy: A middle grades Language Arts adventure. Retrieved from:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Move over Twitter, my PLN is levelling up!

Do you remember the old Reese's Peanut Butter cup commercials.  You got chocolate in my peanut butter.  You got peanut butter in my chocolate.  Two great tastes that taste great together.  Well, recently I got PLN in my game and I got game in my PLN.  The verdict: Great together!

I have always liked games.  I teach video game design.  I am working on my doctorate in game based learning.  Apparently, there are many other educators who like games!  They are out there and using games to encourage learning opportunities as well as networking with other like minded educators.  Interestingly, I have come to find that many members of my in game PLN were not always gamers.  In fact, I have recently become fascinated with the concept of 'point of entry' when it comes to people's foray into games.  If you could, please post a comment and let us know your story about how you got into games.  There are some pretty great stories about how people accidentally found themselves playing games.

In this article I will focus on World of WarCraft and mix in a little plug for Clash of Clans.  These are the two games that make up my in-game PLN.  World of WarCraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG).  Sounds geeky to those of you who are unfamiliar, but is a second home to many.  Essentially, the game allows players to complete quests, earn experience, gain items (gear) to improve their character, and take on virtual professions.  This is a very simple explanation.  The game is deep and has an incredible fan base that has turned the game into quite a phenomenon.  In fact, the second largest wiki (second only to wikipedia) is WoWWiki, currently boasting a total of 98,182 pages.  WoWWiki is a wiki (collaborative website where users contribute content) that covers every aspect of the game imaginable.  I could go on and on about the game, but I'll save that as my intent here is to talk about the Educational Networking possibilities to be found in the game.

World of WarCraft, as an MMORPG is a social game.  Players can group up to complete quests, work through in game content, and socialize.  In order to truly capitalize on the social aspect of the game, players typically join a guild (essentially a team).  Members of the guild work together to earn special guild achievements, share resources, and enjoy sharing in the gameplay experience.  There are guild comprised entirely of educators that game.  World of WarCraft is made up of two factions, the Horde and the Alliance.  On the Alliance side, the guild, Cognitive Dissonance formed as a group of educators that game and wanted to play and learn together.  After some time, the Inevitable Betrayal guild formed on the Horde side for the same reason.  These two guild are considered sister guilds and many members have Toons (in game characters) in both guilds.  In game, guild members play together while mixing in professional conversation.  I played World of WarCraft for years and stopped playing because I felt I did not have time to play.  Perhaps a bigger part of the reason was that the idea of an affinity group was lacking.  Last summer I met +Laurence Cocco at #ISTE12 and then I met +Peggy Sheehy+Knowclue Kidd, and +Lucas Gillispie at the Games in Education Symposium.  They clued me in to the Cognitive Dissonance guild and I knew it was time to get back in the game.  After all, I devoted a lot of time to cultivating and nurturing my PLN on twitter,, and Educator's PLN.  The idea of networking with like minded educators in game was more than appealing.  I joined Cognitive Dissonance and Inevitable Betrayal and can't emphasize enough how happy I am to have found my 'tribe' as many people in the guild refer to our affinity group.  Everyone in both guilds is so nice, helpful, and welcoming to new members. If you are an educator and interested in gaming, I encourage you to join our in-game (and out) PLN.  The in-game networking has expanded outside of game as the guild members are involved in so many exciting projects, including the Games Based Learning Mooc and G.A.M.E. (Gamers Advancing Meaningful Education).  These groups hold regular webinars and a Wednesday night tweetchat (#gamemooc) at 9pm EST.  I look forward to meeting many guild members at upcoming conferences including #ISTE13 and GLS9.0 (Games+Learning+Society conference).

Clash of Clans

Recently, there has been a spinoff of the Inevitable Betrayal Guild that has begun playing Clash of Clans together.    Our guild name is Invtbl Btryl and we welcome new educators to join us.  There have also been spinoffs of the guild in GuildWars2.  I have a feeling it won't end there.  Feel free to comment on other games that would lend well to an extension of the Educators' guilds and further nurture collaboration (and FUN) for the educational community.

Guild Wars 2

Are you a gamer?  As I mentioned earlier, I would love it if some of you could share your experiences as members of a guild, particularly a guild comprised of educators and more specifically, please share your 'point of entry' - How did you get here?

Some people indicated that they had difficulty posting comments or the story of their 'point of entry' into MMORPGs.  Trish Cloud (@trishcloud) was kind enough to post a comment on google+ so I will include it here.

"I started playing WoW about 2 years ago. Unlike many in our tribe I don't have alot of experience with NES, Sego, etc. I remember when Pong came out and I sucked at it. I was also terrible at Tetris, Frogger, Space Invaders etc. So I pretty much determined that I was not a gamer. Until 2 years ago I saw commercials for it and I began to wonder what it was like. You didn't use those handheld devices, you did it with a keyboard and mouse and I thought hey I can do that. So I got a friend to join it with me. Needless to say I was hooked. I was not part of a guild that instructed like IB but I was in a guild made up of some high schoolers we know. Great kids, One is at Savannah College of Art and Design now, the others attend Philip O Berry Academy of Technology here in CMS. But I digress, I learned pretty well and eventually got my paladin up to 75, but I was lured away by SWTOR.

Then last summer via Twitter I heard about the Games MOOC. Well let's just say that's all she wrote. I've gotten back into WoW via Cognitive Dissonance and now Inevitable Betrayal. My gameplay is better than ever. I've learned TONS about game theory and how to use games in the classroom. Learned much about different types of games, and best of all, earned the status of "Cool" with my daughters (10 & 13) and my students at the school I work at. "