Tag Archives: gaming

Common Sense Media Isn’t So Common Sense after all

This post is a reflection of my journey exploring Common Sense Media-educator curriculum while going through the Common Sense Educator recognition program. I’m a technology teacher, once integration specialist. I love working directly with kids and learning cutting-edge technologies every day. In the trenches I truly know how kids learn and discover creative ways to deliver instruction in my computer lab. Digital citizenship was once a peripheral idea. So much time spent on learning digital media and coding not enough on being a safe and responsible digital citizen.

I used to teach a class called Information Literacy. This elective course used technologies to critique websites and share collaboratively using cloud tools. The course became increasingly unpopular due to its title, so I recently changed it to Social Media. I’m using more Common Sense Media curriculum and social media tools as marketing tools. I have found the material to be very helpful. However I did find the format to be geared toward younger kids, I adapted the look and feel for my HS kids. 


I have been increasingly interested in working with students to navigate this new social experience. Long online and face-to-face discussions ensue. During discussions with students around fake news, it was challenging to maintain a neutral political position and to foster healthy balanced discussions. During that experience I may have isolated some students. I need to find a better way to engage in those conversations. On June 12th, we hosted a parent night which included the movie, Screenagers, followed by a 10-person panel made up of students, parents, administrators and a medical/psych professional. In addition, the four elementary schools had a viewing along with a student panel comprised of high school students. This was a very rewarding experience. Parents who attended felt this sort of activity was far overdue. Many spoke passionately about the difficulties at home. Students who were involved expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear adults who were not their parents voicing these concerns. Likewise, the parents also noted it was nice to hear student perspectives from other kids.


Digital citizenship is a necessary topic to explore, and it is now at the forefront of my teaching. I no longer just teach multimedia and coding. I now integrate ethics into computer science and responsible computer use durations. I advise the school bike club, and model for my students its good to get out and enjoy the weather too.


scene from the movie


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Gamified: a Personalized Learning Path in Technology-enhanced Learning

Gamified3The buzz about gamification in education has been in my Twittersphere for some time. I’m only recently beginning to examine the importance as it relates to differentiated instruction. How can I provide learning opportunities at different levels and reward students for achievement?

When we ask kids what work is, they would respond “school” and if asked what is play, they would respond “games”. Everyone loves a game. Why not? A game gives challenges with a lighthearted dance of successes and failures. Games consist of positive reinforcements and negative ones too.  Kids truly need to get points for showing up. Don’t you think? Kids may not see the long-range goal, but can find motivation is shorter ones.

My computer technology courses have developed into a blended model of instruction whereby the content is presented online with tutorials and clear steps for completing tasks. These “webquests” as they were once called, allow the student to work steadily at his/her own pace. Over the years I’ve created more and more activities and sorted them into modules. Students are given start and end dates for completing the module assignments. The difficulty level of the activities are sorted from easy to hard. I’ve created so many activities that I’ve come to a point where we do not have time to complete them all. I also find some students take longer to complete the tasks than others.

A research project aimed at individualization in Technology Enhanced Learning analyzes personalized learning describing the way that learners work and solve the problems they are given while learning.  It is noted that the use of the word personalization is often confused with individualization and differentiation. Personalization is learner-centered where the learner is driving their learning and actively participates in the design of their learning, while differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered where the teacher customizes instruction based on the needs of the individual learner.

Gamification is personalized because it gives students an opportunity to choose their learning experiences. Students are empowered to seek engaging activities which will help them find success. The learner has a voice and choice which means that the learner can decide which activities are more engaging for them and shape the course in collaboration with the teacher (Zajac, 2014).

Differentiation of instruction should coexist with the personalized experience. Along with multiple projects and activities, there should be a number of instructional modalities. For example, the instruction can be in the form of text on the screen and video tutorial. The personalized product can be generated on paper, in a slideshow or made into a real-time video. With the aid of technology, the four learning styles (visual, aural, verbal and logical) are addressed by different forms of learning content while kinesthetic, social and solitary are reflected in adequate activities  (Zajac, 2014).

Gamification implications include individualization with project-based learning as well as collaboration. Group work in the gamified environment may include roles of leader, researcher, co-worker and player. The breakdown can allow for opportunity for the teacher to assign individual tasks to students based on strengths.

To make things confusing for myself, I kicked off an experimental unit of gamification last year with my unit on making games here called The Scratching Post — programming games in Scratch. (It is the first time I’ve attempted to build a quest using a Google document published as a webpage. Google needs to work on the formatting – I’m not fond of sharing documents “can view” as that looks horrible too). Enough of the visual critique. The most challenging component is the scoring. It is difficult to determine what success is. While students could elect their path for the final product, points are given based on the percent of elements used in their product. It is hard to determine what was acceptable for kids to skip and what is an essential skill I want them to gain. I attempted to implement levels. I didn’t think I made the most of those. Overall I think it was fun. The students enjoyed it, but I don’t think they paid any attention to the gamified elements. This may be because the content was making games, which is confusing. If it were built around learning about internet safety, there might have been more awareness of the gamification.

Gamification Vision

Platform –  I am happy with my current delivery method. I create content in modules and time release them using the Edline website.  I may explore third-party software as described above. Leaderboard may be displayed on the website or in the classroom using digital signage software. There is web-based software available for assisting with the creation of a gamified experience. These include Classcraft, 3DGameLab, Gradecraft, and TheVirtualLocker.

Goal – The unit of study is considered one module – Rules are outlined clearly with a tutorial on how to play the game.

Personalized–  Modules contain multiple small quests with product options that practice a skill. It can be as simple as providing tool choices to produce the same outcome (example: video, paper, slideshow). These detailed quests are delivered at once, however, suggested due dates assist with time management.

Individualized – Each project option comes with multiple modes of learning. The goal is to provide at least text and videos/video tutorials for each learning objective. The instruction is delivered in the multiple modes as well.

Playful – the content needs to be playful. Rather than stamp “game” on a packet of worksheets, the content needs to be challenging and engaging in a playful manner. A story line can be added.

Collaboration – Students are encouraged to collaborate and team up to complete tasks or modules. Team play is equally engaging in games. This can motivate non-engaged students.

Modding – Students may choose to modify their experiences as needed to reach their goals.

Scoring – Point values are experience points and they vary based on level of difficulty in each module. If a particular skill is challenging for a student, he/she can elect two easier tasks with lower point values versus one more difficult task valued at higher point value. Each project option contains a point value as well as the components within each project. Badges may be awarded for completion of key tasks. For example, students may earn a collaboration badge for choosing to work with others.

Final/Unit Grade: The goal is to complete each module attempting to accumulate points. Within each module, there is a threshold expectation of points which translate to the “A” – students can reach above that point value in search of the “High Score” for each module or each unit.

High Score (to be debated) is posted and rewarded with an achievement award at year end. Semester or trimester format classes each have High Score, but there exists a Grand High Score.

There are several teachers already running with the movement. There are plenty of examples to learn from. My journey begins now.


Challenges for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better – Doing Better Things Proceedings of the European Distance and E-Learning Network 2014 Research Workshop Oxford, 27-28 October, 2014
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Teaching Intro to Programming/Game Making

The U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration put out a document, STEM: good Jobs Now and for the Future. According to ESA, science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers drive our innovation, competitiveness, and new industries.  There is a projected rise in STEM jobs over the next 6 years, and these positions are desirable. However, our nation struggles to compete with others in the areas of science and technology.

In the primary and secondary schools, focus has primarily been having students learn how to use computers by adapting to the creativity of others in use of their software. We may be missing a point.  Silicon Valley and Hollywood create dreams that everyone else pays for. When you take a computer out of a box, you benefit from the fruits and labors of software engineers from far reaches of the earth.  The user is limited to the creator’s vision. Perhaps instead of preparing them for the future, we encourage them to create their own future.

Many countries have progressed economically due to advances in the area of computer technology. According to author Thomas Freedman (2005), the painstaking task of designing hardware and software has been outsourced for the most part.

 Scratch is a game or animation maker created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology using a series of blocks to build programming language into interactive stories, animations, games, music and art. This tactile GUI allows students to drag and drop blocks of conditions onto sprites into correct order to produce an interactive product for others to enjoy. Students are driven to think critically and creatively considering user-end experience. Before the syntax of programming is learned, students are able to create, mix and remix programming structures through a trial-and-error experience. The program is ideal for children or early elementary school age and up to middle and high school aged children.

Alice is a similar idea to Scratch wich teaches students computer programming in a 3D environment. It makes it easy to create an animation for storytelling, playing interactive games or animating movies. Alice uses drag-and-drop tiles to create a program and immediately see how their animations run. The trial-and-error approach allows for manipulation of programming constructs and direct result viewing of results.

Google initially put out a similar program for creating apps on the Android platform. App Inventor initially hosted by Google in Beta, was adapted by MIT once Google announced it needed to end the program. The MIT Center for Mobile Learning took it a step further and provided a database of  lesson plans for teachers. The design is so closely related to MIT’s Scratch where blocks are used to assemble a programming sequence to create an individualized experience for its users.

The 2D platforms are closely related, the programs created by the students can be played on a computer using Scratch running JAVA, and App Inventor running an Android emulator. It is unclear if projects from Scratch can also be used on a mobile device. The stage in Scratch is square, not rectangular like mobile devices are.

Gamestar Mechanic and GameMaker 8 are games other communities designed to teach the principles of game design and systems thinking.  Here, elementary, middle, and high school students are motivated to create using game design tools. This game-like environment provides challenges to create, and  allows students to develop computer games without computer programming experience. Like Scratch and the others listed here, the drag-and-drop system allows students to intuitively create games by visually organizing icons on the screen.

A colleague of mine, Sterling Worrell, shared with me yet another platform for game programming/game creation. Construct 2 is a HTML5 Game maker. With Flash being a phased-out technology, and the rise of HTML5, this makes building games for multiple platforms much easier.

Over the summer I hope to put together a plan for teaching programming using some of these tools.  I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Digital Games in the Classroom

Life is a game. 

I gamed when I was a kid. I enjoyed the Atari and Commodore 64 early on. I bowed out of the console-device games around the end of the Saga era playing an occasional PC game. I skipped out of the Xbox culture completely. Instead my challenges grew into exploring and learning productivity software applications instead. First I reached to do everything possible in the Microsoft Office suite; then I slowly migrated into the Adobe collection —  first with photo manipulation, then video editing (which is my newest and current passion). I was geeky toying with spreadsheets, and making websites with Publisher. I enjoyed creating paper worksheets and manipulatives for teaching Spanish classes. In every lesson, I challenged myself to create even greater products then the ones that were available to me in textbooks or workbooks. I never took the easy route. More and more I expanded into the web and mobile technology of today. It began to feel like life was a game. 

Family Together Again w/ Digital Games

It was 7:30am on a typical school day. Three students sprang into my room to greet me and play Minecraft on one of the school computers. I watched as they crafted cool objects and used deep cognitive strategies to build profound contraptions with combinations of wood, stone and ore. There was something peculiar about this:  for once I wasn’t looking over the shoulder of a teen who was shooting guns at monsters — well, with the exception of creepers. Once my 16-year-old nephew came to me raving about it, I knew I had to try. Why not? Gaming online with family? How cool is that? After building side by side with my niece and nephews, I knew there was something special about this program. Now my 8- and 10-year-old daughters are in, and there is all-out creativity and collaboration.

Inspired by Joel Levin, The Minecraft Teacher, I am thinking about expanding what I bring to education with creative augmented realities. I’ve tried Secondlife, but the graphics always lagged with even the fastest internet connection. Minecraft first turned me off because the graphics seemed block-like. But as I grew into the perspective of the game, the lack of graphical detail is purposeful. A group of teachers at MinecraftEdu have put together an educational version of the game which makes greater sense. Not only do the students have a chance to learn from the nature of the game, collaboration, physics, and problem solving, but the teacher can create challenges, download curriculum-related landscapes or places of historical significance and challenge the students to explore their learning in a 3-D world.

I stumbled on a survey of 500 teachers who use digital games in their classrooms at Joanganzcooney.org. Seventy percent of teachers agree that using digital games increases motivation and engagement with content and/or curriculum. Joel Levin There is also evidence of sustained focus and collaboration. Teaching with games in the classroom is a natural way to teach. Riding on the challenges I experienced with digital games, this should be more of a focus in schools.

 How, then, do we transfer games to real life? (which I think happened naturally for me.) I look at games as a waste of time now in my adult life. I’d rather be exploring Adobe products or finding ways to creatively tell stories with nifty multimedia techniques through the power of video. Perhaps making games, students will be creating their own realities to share with others.  This may be where they share feeling through creative expressions — through creating digital games. Today’s gamers will be tomorrow’s game creators. What do we wish for tomorrow? Perhaps guiding them in schools is necessary for a brighter digital gaming future.

Another noteworthy read: Nomadic Education

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