Thursday, March 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Direct link to playlist:

Thanks for your support!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Join us for the first #edtechbridge tweetchat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#edtechbridge tweetchat

Date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014

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

Where: twitter

please use the hashtag #edtechbridge during our chat 

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

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

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

Your feedback on the choice of questions is always welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 8, 2014

My SXSWEdu Reflections

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

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

Bridging the Teacher / Entrepreneur Divide

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

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

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

#minecraft your classroom!

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

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

The SXSWEdu Playground

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

#edtechbridge survey part 3: What features would you like to see in a collaboration tool for teachers and entrepreneurs?

As I sit here reflecting on the fact that tomorrow is the start of #SXSWEdu and my presentation with Katya, I refer back to the survey to share more ideas presented by those who contributed their thoughts.  Our session is entitled "Bridging the Teacher / Entrepreneur Divide. It is a problem solving session.  We do not claim to have answers, but hope to engage in a thoughtful discussion that should be a starting point to build from.  We are hoping to identify the scope of the issue, and collaborate to develop an infrastructure to facilitate collaboration between teachers and entrepreneurs.

It is my belief that teachers would love to collaborate with edtech developers and that edtech developers truly value the input they could receive from engaging teachers in the process.  For some reason, it seems to me that teachers aren't aware of opportunities and likewise, edtech companies may not feel that they have access to teachers interested in the process.  This brings us to the point in the discussion and survey that focuses on what we would like to see in a tool designed to facilitate this process.

Question: If we were to build a tool for collaboration between teachers and entrepreneurs, what features would you like to see?

  • ease of login... not really Google+, but with a Google login for example.

    delicate notification settings.

    clear community values - it can't devolve into spam requests for beta testing

    clear purpose...not trying to be everything for everyone

    (This would be a great question for the DT4EdTech workshop! WOuld love for y'all to bring this to that session.
  • Google Drive / Dropbox Style Private File Sharing
    User Testing Tools like cursor heatmaps and eye tracking and surveys? Hard for me to be helpful here without knowing what you're thinking of building.
  • in-person meetups, listserv to post opportunities...
  • Discussion forum, chat function, ability to view background and current experience and position.
  • I'm weary of Yet Another Website to visit. Would rather something that integrates with existing platforms I use on a regular basis.
  • connection to Skype
    multiple participants and synchronous edits
    reviewing mechanism
  • Free is always good.
  • Easy posting of discussion topics, video, and other media. The ability to exchange files to share lesson plans, ideas, whitepapers, theories, research, and general plans for focus groups & technology implementations.
  • I don't know
  • Job postings/ internships
    Sponsorship for activities/events in school
    Skype/ Presentations
    Career and college readiness skills needed for applicants
    Certification opportunities
  • Community trend rating like reddit, follow/following, funding option like indiegogo. Access to angels who want to actually help ed reform not only turn a profit.
  • Group- curated website, with a running "document-as-you-go" set of updates to see how collaborations develop. It's important to see and share the process and progress of teacher/developer work.
  • Just easy ways to communicate and share files.
  • I'd like to see tools to facilitate collaborative peer review. These would include a way to connect live-collaboration Google tools like Drive and Hangouts with features like wikis, forums, and working examples that can keep a record of the threads of discussion. Also, an immediate space to sum up: blogs where people can post their takeaways from the collaborative experience and announce releases of products that have passed through this process. Finally, it would be good to list a strategy for sharing outcomes with the wider community, through working examples or external blog posts.
  • File sharing (media and doc)
    Instant messaging
    Video conferencing
    Easy file achieving and search (naming protocols)
    Chat rooms
    Review platforms
    Make it Fun!
  • I would like to see it use existing or new common platforms and venues rather than making teachers go somewhere different. I'd also like to see connections between practice (educators), research, and entrepreneurship. I fear that the commercial sector will run away with this before the good learning sciences research can take hold (as it did with textbooks) and that is a shame. I think research has to be more nimble and agile, and commercial entities need to be more altruistic - if those too things happen - we might be able to make a difference.
  • Forums, Profiles, professional networking capabilities (similar to Linkedin... education & work experience stats etc.), ability to syndicate blogs etc. as part of your profile info.
  • Area to ask for advice about "caught in between" situations
  • I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks and it appears that we are on a somewhat similar train of thought... I was envisioning something along the lines of a dating site (but not as cheesy) merged with an online community with features that we had in the education Nings a few years ago... A site where users can set up a profile -- aligned with their role (educator seeking collaboration opps, edtech entrepreneur/startup seeking teacher collaborators or beta testers) -- and then engage in community features such as forums, events/calendar, personal blogs/status updates, special projects, etc. with links to other social media as well.
  • Members, comments and replies, ratings, open posting, pilot and beta opportunities.
  • A space where people go to ask questions, chat, make connections. A space where people already visit, so they don't have to go out of their way to check yet another website.
  • I would like to see a matchmaking feature that connects educators and entrepreneurs related to product / curricular interests. 
It's interesting to see the ideas people have.  I see some common trends including a 'matchmaking' mechanic, discussion areas, and many people feel we could use an existing service to avoid creating a separate entity.  Thanks everyone for sharing your ideas.  

Feel free to add feedback if you haven't participated in the survey but would like to share your thoughts regarding ideas for a mechanism that could be truly useful in bringing teachers and developers together.