Monday, August 13, 2012

My First App

I just made a super-simple app for Android! It meows at you when you tap on the picture of the kitty. Amazing!

I am working on a quest chain in 3D GameLab that is teaching me how to design apps. We are using MIT's App Inventor. There were some technical challenges to overcome.

I found it important to follow the set up directions carefully. I had to search around my computer to make sure that Java was enabled. I couldn't get it to connect to my phone, so I used the emulator option instead.

If you want to see my super-amazing-totally-awesome HelloPurrKT app, use a barcode reader to scan the blue QR code at the end of this post

My Second App

In our second quest, we did a tutorial to create a PaintPot app: tapping and dragging on the screen lets the user color on an image. This time, I was able to connect my phone, so I could download the app directly to my phone. And it worked!

Picture of me holding my phone with PaintPot app on it

I went beyond the tutorial a bit, because I noticed that I could upload images for the buttons. I got these ones from Open Clip Art Library, my favorite place to get clip art in the public domain. The tutorial explained how to make buttons that would make the paint dots big or small. I used that to make lines big or small as well. I was very proud of figuring out how to do that.

In fact, the whole thing just makes me burst with pride. Even though it's just a little coloring app. I. MADE. IT. I'm sure the experience of making it is better than the app itself, but you can try the red QR code to download this one.

I would be very interested to hear if anyone was able to get one of these apps to work on their Android device.

Update 8/22/12: I changed where I was hosting the app files and posted new QR codes. These ones seem to work.
Download HelloPurrKT for Android Download PaintPotKT for Android

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why Educators Should Read Reality is Broken

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
One of the most thought-provoking and inspiring activities of my summer has been participating in the Level Up Book Club organized online by librarians Jennifer LaGarde and Matthew Winner. Our first book of the summer is Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal.  Within the first few chapters I felt very strongly that this is a book all my teaching colleagues should read. Why?

To understand our students better

We can’t teach our students if we don’t know them, right? And a big part of our students’ lives are the games they play. As McGonigal explains, we have a societal bias against games, thinking that they are a trivial waste of time. She argues strongly that we need to overcome this bias because games are extremely effective at helping us meet our most basic human needs and provide a guide for how other aspects of our lives could be more meaningful. We need to recognize that there is a reason our students love the games they play and to respect this important part of their lives outside of school. McGonigal shares several examples of popular games and helps us understand what our students are getting out of these games.

To start thinking about how game design could enrich learning

Games are incredibly engaging. Contrast the addictiveness of Minecraft amongst our students with the boredom even our best students feel in school at times. According to McGonigal, games provide challenge, meaningful work, a sense of accomplishment, and social connections. They motivate us by providing a real sense of optimism about our ability to succeed. And when we fail at a game, it just inspires us to try again and try harder this time. These are all things that we want to increase at school. Learning more about how games give us motivation, challenge, satisfaction, confidence, and perseverance will help us design better learning opportunities for our students.

To help us do new things in new ways

Technology is increasingly available in the educational realm, but just turning a worksheet into a pdf or a lecture into a Keynote or PowerPoint presentation does not improve learning. We need to break out of our old habits to take full advantage of how technology can enrich student learning. Good game design offers clear goals, immediate feedback, and choice. Those design elements could guide us in how to use technology to create new, more powerful learning activities.

A guild is stronger than an individual

Our book club’s discussions have generated a lot of exciting ideas that I want to implement at my school. I keep thinking how powerful this book could be if my local colleagues read it, too. Incorporating game design into education is a new way of thinking for many of us. Such a challenge is best met by a party of willing adventurers.

For more information about Reality is Broken, visit Jane McGonigal’s web site which includes related videos, reviews, and ordering information.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

First Thoughts on Minecraft

I've been playing around with Minecraft for the last three days or so - not to the exclusion of everything else in my life, but I can see how that could happen! Since I am so new to the game, I only have the beginnings of ideas for how to use Minecraft as a learning opportunity. Here are some of my first thoughts as a player:

Survival Mode
  1. Unless you really like to figure out everything on your own, watch a tutorial about how to survive your first night.
  2. Be prepared for the adrenaline rush of nightfall and strange creature noises.
  3. My daughter and I partnered up: She played the game on our desktop while I used my laptop to research how to accomplish various tasks on the Minecraft Wiki. When we couldn't find charcoal to make torches and had to spend the night in a dark hole, just waiting for morning to come, this was the place that showed us how to make our own charcoal.
  4. Making blocks of glass was one of the first things we did. That way we could have a protected view out into the night so we could see when it was daylight again.
  5. Even when it is daylight, there may be a spider hovering above your front door. I wish I had a video recording of the first time this happened. Terrifying and hilarious!
  6. Here's one of my first hidey holes with my crafting table and furnace - very important!

Creative Mode
  1. In this mode, I had access to many different items rather than having to mine and craft my own supplies. It was fun to be able to use whatever I wanted as I built the beginnings of a home under a hill. (Not quite a Hobbit hole...)
  2. This mode shows me what I could aspire to do in Survival mode. It shows me something of what is possible.
  3. There are monsters about, but they don't attack, so that's nice.
  4. Here's one room of my house under the hill:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Games?

Photo by Bjorn Hermans
So why am I so interested in learning more about gaming and education? Because I love games. And kids love games. Don’t we all love games? Tennis or chess or Monopoly or Castleville or Minecraft or Super Mario Bros. or Angry Birds?

What makes games so enticing?

If you think about all of those games, they all share certain features:
  • Goals
  • Rules
  • Feedback
  • Voluntary participation 
We enjoy participating in games when these four elements are well-designed and meet our personal interests. Some of us like really clear goals and some like more open-ended objectives. The rules need to provide just the right amount of challenge: if the game is too easy we get bored, if it is too hard we give up.

The feedback lets us know that we are succeeding with points, XP, leveling up, badges, etc. Or if we do something wrong, feedback comes in the form of fewer points, losing a “life,” starting a level over, or losing the game to an opponent. The great thing about games is that negative feedback usually leads to trying again.

Voluntary participation is a huge part of what makes playing a game fun. It includes the decision of whether to play the game or not. I think this also relates to the amount of choice within the game. We enjoy playing when we can choose how to participate.

How does traditional education compare with games?
You may have noticed that educational activities also include goals, rules, and feedback. Sometimes we make the goals clear to our students. Sometimes we provide scaffolding that makes the “rules” of our learning activities at the right amount of challenge for students, but not always. Too often we offer one level of difficulty which some students find to easy and others find too hard.

Some voluntary participation and choices may be included, but not nearly as often as mandatory activities, at least in traditional classrooms. Too often students feel trapped in school, forced to do whatever activities teachers put in front of them. Where’s the fun in that?
Another big difference between games and traditional education is in the type of feedback. Usually when students complete an assignment, quiz, or test, if they do poorly, they get the feedback of a bad grade and that is the end of it. They just fail with little opportunity to try again. Also, there is a stigma attached to that failure that is lessened in games. In a game, you can always try again.

Gamifying education

As I consider my teaching, I would like to design learning activities that are more like games. I would like to give students more choices, so that they have more of a sense of voluntary participation. I would like to set up activities that provide variety and scaffolding so that they are at just the right level of challenge. I want to set up feedback systems that recognize students for their accomplishments and encourage them to try again. I think 3DGameLab will provide the structure for these learning activities.


 My thinking about games in education has been influenced and inspired by Lucas Gillispie and Peggy Sheehy through NCSLMA and NCTIES conference sessions this school year. Gillispie’s blog Edurealms is a great place to read more about games in education.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A couple of questions for you

In case it isn't clear, you can respond by sending a text message to 37607. Your message has to include the poll number: 268451 for the first question and 268522 for the second question. After the number, put a space and then your response.

Or you can go to and answer there. You will still need to enter the poll number and then your response.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I first heard about Ransom Riggs when award-winning author and vlogger John Green shared a video Riggs had posted about his photograph collection. It appears that these photographs played some role in inspiring Riggs to write this book for young adults*.

Jacob is a teenager who was fascinated by photographs of extraordinary children his grandfather showed him when he was young. As Jacob gets older, he dismisses the stories surrounding these photographs as mere fantasy and accepts his ordinary life as the way things really are.

When his grandfather is killed in the woods behind his house, Jacob thinks he sees one of the tentacled monsters that were the villains of those stories. Ensuing nightmares lead to visits to a psychiatrist and a diagnosis of acute stress disorder. To resolve Jacob’s continuing questions, he talks his parents into letting him visit Cairnholm Island, the setting of his grandfather’s stories of peculiar children threatened by monsters.

Readers will get drawn into Jacob’s journey to seek the truth. What he finds is an intriguing and dangerous world with some very peculiar children indeed. Their meeting will cause irreversible changes to the worlds of both Jacob and the children.
 *Disturbing violence and some profanity

Friday, March 30, 2012

Game on!

Next week, I am starting an online class on game-based learning through 3D GameLab. I am really excited about finding ways to harness the motivation that is inherent in good game experiences and use it in learning experiences for my students. Check back if you are interested in seeing what I discover along the way.

The following infographic from Knewton gives a good overview of why I am interested in this topic.

Gamification of Education
Created by Knewton and Column Five Media