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: