Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An UPDATED peek into my Game Design and Development Program



A number of years ago a member of my PLN, Justin (@techucation on twitter), had a few questions about my Game Design and Development class. I took it as an opportunity to share what I've been up to with a global audience in the initial "Peek into my Video Game Design and Development Program" post. Looking back, I see that I posted that in 2012. Now, several years and several iterations of the course later, a similar question was raised. This time it was fellow educator, David W. Deeds (@dwdeeds on twitter). Take a look at the initial post. This post will reiterate on some, but otherwise take off from where the last post left off.

David asked about my curriculum as well as a list of products / resources I have available for my students. I will start by saying that my class as well as my epic learning space has evolved over a number (ten plus) years. I believe it could serve as a great model for others interested in creating a similar program and I am happy to chat as I believe there should be more opportunities for kids to learn based on their interest / passion and for many games is at the center of their universe. Furthermore, the game design industry is HUGE and rivals (perhaps has even surpassed) the movie industry. There are many opportunities for students to pursue a career in game design and development. The roles within the industry are quite diverse including graphic design and animation, programming, 3d modeling, sound engineering, storytelling, marketing, advertising, game testing, and so much more. My goal has been to provide a choice (Quest) based learning environment modeled after a game studio in order to allow students to find and nurture their niche within a game design team. The blog post, "Evolution of a Game Design Studio" will provide some insight into the ideas related to the learning space as well as the resources that we have brought into the space to provide many options for students to take learning into their own hands.



For a number of years I used 3dgamelab (http://www.3dgamelab.org) as my quest based learning management system. Within 3dgamelab you can create quest lines for students to pursue and set prerequisites needed to unlock other quests / quest lines. Students earn XP for successfully completing quests. Once submitted, I review their quest and either approve it or provide feedback so that they can improve upon it and resubmit it. I have coined the phrase "iterative grading" for this model. The beauty is that it provides a great vehicle to create a valuable feedback loop between the student and the teacher. From a philosophical standpoint, I value learning, not grades, so for me allowing a student to keep improving until they are successful is much more effective than accepting something, giving a grade (whether or not the child can demonstrate their learning) and moving on. The choice based model lends well to this because I am not trying to wrangle an entire class through a curriculum that is time sensitive or group paced. In the end, grades (again, not a fan really) are based on student accomplishments related directly to the quests they complete.

Recently, I moved over to ClassCraft (http://www.classcraft.com). I love the classcraft team and have been hassling Devin to add a quest based component to the platform as that is without question the most important aspect of gamification to me. I love the idea of earning XP and all of the other elements that turn the class into a game, but choice based learning is at the center of my course, so this was a must. Devin and I had met a few times and his team recently launched a beta of the integration of Quests and they did a beautiful job incorporating quests into the platform.

Teacher view of the quest building area within ClassCraft. When Kids enter any quest line, fog of war is in effect so students can only see the quests available to them (i.e. they may just see the starting quest and once complete other quest(s) are unlocked and they can see them. This works great in terms of ensuring that the view is not overwhelming for the student.
ClassCraft allows you to share your quest lines and I am happy to share so essentially all of my lesson plans are available for others to import and use as is or 'remix'.

Here are links to my current quest lines in ClassCraft. I am interested to see if the links automatically update as I add quests to each quest area as my course is always evolving with additional learning opportunities for students. In fact, I still need to import quite a bit from 3dgamelab so that all my quests are available to my students in ClassCraft:


  • Journey to the Center of the Game:
    https://game.classcraft.com/import/quest/WtxzuFeaqrCKRab2G
    This quest line has students explore a variety of game genres and write game reviews to analyze game mechanics, storyline, and other game elements as they start to learn about game design experientially. These quests lead to opportunities for students to create games based on the genres being explored, thus containing much of the real meat of the course.
  • To the Mines:
    https://game.classcraft.com/import/quest/wBfuvvRa2q6zSgD4T
    This quest line focuses on quests involving Minecraft (primarily Minecraft: Education Edition). Students explore tools within the game, design and build redstone contraptions, and create games using Minecraft.
  • Real, Virtual, or Virtually Real:
    https://game.classcraft.com/import/quest/RoGYGK4yqFoLNPtoP
    This quest line will grow quite a bit, but it coincides with research on VR in the classroom that my class is participating in with foundry10, an education foundation in Seattle that is researching non-traditional approaches to learning. With regards to VR, my students explore VR on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlaystationVR. They write game reviews and create content for others to explore in Virtual Reaality.
  • If you think it, you can code it:
    https://game.classcraft.com/import/quest/dDWGE6ccpE5jXWgyf
    I love to present kids with opportunities to learn to code and there are so many avenues they can take in a self paced manner. This quest line features code.org, Codecademy, and Codebuilder for #MinecraftEdu currently. This will expand greatly as I import quests related to Code Kingdom, Khan Academy, and further develop the Code Builder opportunities. Interestingly, the codecademy quset line has grown primarily because one student keeps plowing through the quests and moves on independently and then provides me with the content I should include to add the new quests. Nothing like students co-creating lessons!!
As I mentioned, there will be additional quests added as I fully move over to ClassCraft, but the new quest lines are growing organically as the kids are ready for new content.

Following is a list of resources I have made available to my students. Special thanks to our school PTO for their contributions of the large flat screen TVs and the yogibo furniture! Many of the other resources came from crowd funding (donors choose), foundry 10 (as part of the VR research) and activity funds from our game club. In addition to my courses, I am the adviser for a VERY active after school game club. That's another conversation entirely but we are looking to bring casual and competitive gaming into more schools and create an exciting program that can connect schools for multiplayer gaming, tournaments, leagues, etc.

Resources (hardware and software used):

  • HTC Vive
  • Oculus Rift
  • PlaystationVR
  • Sony Playstation 4 with a variety of VR games
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo WiiU
  • Nintendo Switch
  • 3 large flat screen TVs (2 mounted on back wall, 1 mounted on front wall)
  • Blue Yeti Microphone and Logitech Webcam (for class and game club youtube channel)
  • Steam with a library of games for game club and VR games for the VR research
  • GameMaker Studio 2.0
  • Gamestar Mechanic
  • Minecraft
  • RPG Maker (XV Ace and MV)
  • Mario Maker (for WiiU)
  • Portal 2 with level editor
  • Starcraft with level editor (completely FREE now) 
  • Twine - great for writing Interactive Fiction / Text Based Adventures
  • Codecademy
  • code.org
  • Code Combat
  • Unity 3d - FREE for education!
  • and so much more (including whatever else the kids bring to the mix)

Please check out our Game Design WAMS class youtube channel (hit that subscribe button while you're there!) and our showcase of student work on pinterest. You will find many games created by students, redstone contraptions, tutorials, game walk-throughs, reviews, and much more!

Thanks for reading :)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Minefaire and Minecraft Education Edition: Perfect Together!





Minefaire, Philly took place on October 14-15 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA. Before the general public (over 13,000 in total) arrived, the first day of the event kicked off with a special three hour event exclusively for educators. This FREE event was co-sponsored by the Minecraft Education Edition team and included breakfast for attendees and three hours of learning about how Minecraft is (and can be) used in Education.













The idea behind the event was to bring educators together to connect and learn together while growing the community of educators interested in using Minecraft in Schools. Over 30 attendees and 6 global minecraft mentors participated. The participants were able to meet mentors from around the world including Marco Vigelini (all the way from Italy!), Ben Spieldenner from Ohio, Sean Arnold from New York, and Mark Grundel, Steve Isaacs, and Cathy Cheo-Isaacs all hailing from New Jersey. Educators were able to hear from each of the mentors who led the three hour event. Steve  introduced Minecraft Education Edition, Mark taught the educators how to play, Ben took the educators through a sample lesson that he created and Cathy introduced the new code builder for Minecraft. The other mentors as well as a number of students and other educators supported the event to help the educators and answer questions about the value of Minecraft in Education.



Mentor Ben Spieldenner shared, "The Minefaire PD was empowering for teachers and for Mentors. It was exciting to have conversations about creating immersive educational experiences".  And to go a bit cooler yet, Ben's daughter Bella who was one of the kids who was happy to help the teachers learn commented, "I actually got to interact WITH teachers...that never happens!" There's nothing we love more than having kids help out in the learning lab. Anyone who has ever played Minecraft knows that they are the experts and best teachers!





Justin Aglio, Director of Innovation (K-12) for the Montour School District in Pittsburgh shared, "As a school administrator, I left Pittsburgh at 3:00 AM on Saturday morning to attend the Educator event and volunteer at Minefaire, Philly. I arrived in Philadelphia at 8:00 am and entered Minefaire. By 5:00 PM I realized that I did not eat or drink anything since I left Pittsburgh because I was so engaged with the learning culture of MinecraftEdu, Overall, I was not only impressed with the learning potentioal of MinecraftEDU, but I was more impressed with the people including the Minecraft Mentors' enthusiasm of unlocking brilliance for all children." We are happy to report that Justin did not suffer from dehydration nor starve to death. We did make sure to keep him fed and hydrated on day 2 of Minefaire :)



Michelle King also made the road trip from Pittsburgh. Michelle participated in the educator event and stuck around to help out in the learning lab for the entire weekend. Michelle is an incredible educator and an even more incredible human being. It was wonderful to have her join us for the weekend! She shared, "Minefaire has captured the essence of what's beautiful about humanity -- a reminder that we love to be in community and sharing what we love." I love this quote as it speaks directly to the vision of creating a space for educators to come and spend time together while learning with and from one another. Not to mention the amazing bond found among game based learning and in this case more specifically Minecraft educators.

Marco Vigelini from Italy was able to present at the event and also took to the diamond stage to share a new Minecraft map of Florence, Italy. It's a beautiful map that you can check out here:



Marco added, "It was a way to learn easily and deeper from each other" to reflect on his thoughts on the Minefaire Experience.

Educators who attended this free event were invited to stay to take in all that Minefaire has to offer as our guests for the day. It became pretty clear to the attendees what a true phenomenon Minecraft is as they witnessed the droves of people entering the Expo Center as those with VIP passes entered followed by those with General Admission.





The learning opportunities did not end with the 3 hour workshop. The entire weekend featured:
  • hands on workshops in the learning lab
  • 20 minute presentations on the Inspiration Stage
  • Build Battles
  • YouTube Q&A panels throughout the day
  • A costume contest on the Diamond Stage
  • YouTube Meet and Greets. 
  • A cardboard challenge where attendees built a huge physical minecraft world with cardboard
  • learning how to code in Python and other languages in Minecraft
  • and so much more!







Monday, June 12, 2017

Guest Blog Post: Grounds of Grey Completed Game Reflection


The levels increase in difficulty so that there are not too many levels that are easy. It's interesting to see how people react to some of the more difficult parts and then how they react when they get past it. My intention from creating the game was to make people want to keep playing and finish the game. IT has been an interesting experience to be able to do just that.






Click here to play my game: https://gamestarmechanic.com/game/player/7275675

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#EdTechBridge Done Right: Legends of Learning



I've been interested in working with EdTech companies for years. I have always appreciated the EdTech companies that seek and value teacher and student input when it comes to product development. This passion led me to working with Katya Hott from E-Line Media and then Brainpop, two companies that I have had wonderful experiences collaborating wit /h. Together we founded #EdTechBridge to address the important issue of the culture gap that appeared to exist among EdTech stakeholders. It was apparent that Educators wanted to work with EdTech companies and vice versa, but these groups often had trouble developing and nurturing relationships. Our goal was to build and facilitate a community that set out to help bridge this gap.

In many cases these relationships formed and often this leads to the development of ambassador programs that provide opportunities for educators and edtech companies to really deepen these opportunities to work together. The best case studies start with authentic relationships. A few  successful ambassador programs that immediately come to mind include the Brainpop Certified Educator Program, Common Sense Media: EdTech Mentors and the Minecraft Mentor Program.

Along comes Legends of Learning...



Over the past year or so I got to know Aryah Fradkin. We developed a relationship as I like to... through twitter chats. Aryah became a regular in both the #EdTechBridge and #Games4Ed chats, the two chats I am most involved in. The thing I like most about twitter and twitter chats is that we start to find like minded people and develop true friendships through interactions. Aryah and I quickly became friends as we have many common interests and very aligned ideas regarding education and EdTech. As is often the case, our conversations went from online interaction to emails, phone calls, and more.

I met with Aryah and Legends of Learning CMO, Geoff Livingston. We discussed the idea of involving teachers in the process. I am always sure to impress upon the importance of ensuring that educators feel valued in the process. It quickly became apparent that Aryah and Geoff completely understood this.

As we talked, Aryah and Geoff shared the vision of Vadim, the CEO and founder of Legends of Learning. Vadim is a research scientist by training and brings great experiences to the development space in terms of iterative design, and often building by trial and error. He has a solid background in using data to improve a hyptothesis and make it stick.


Dr. Vadim Polikov recently founded and is serving as CEO of Legends of Learning, a game-based learning company dedicated to improving the way we learn to function in the technologically driven society of the future. He started Legends of Learning to create solutions to the current education challenges facing the United States.
Prior to starting Legends of Learning, Vadim started and sold two companies for more than $50 million each. Vadim received a B.S. and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University. He has two boys and one girl, and his favorite superhero is Batman. 


Initially, I had no idea how expansive their vision was! I figured they were planning on putting out a few science games and wanted to reach out to several teachers for feedback. Early on, Aryah asked if I had some science teachers in mind. I gladly connected him with a few great science teachers in my building.

Well... clearly the Legends of Learning team had much bigger plans than I imagined! One day I received an email inviting educators to get involved and become ambassadors. The email indicated that Legends of Learning was going to take 50 (yes you read that right) ambassadors to ISTE in San Antonio as a thank you for their hard work and involvement in helping to shape the development of Science games to positively impact learning.

Legends of Learning is creating an amazing ambassador program, including educators in every
step of the process. If that wasn't enough... they're bringing 50 ambassadors to ISTE in San Antonio
This was interesting because often ambassador programs look for educators already actively using the product. Legends of Learning took a very different approach. They understood that they needed to recruit educators from the very beginning. They created a program including hundreds of educators spanning every area of the science curriculum. In addition, they contracted a number of game developers to create games based on suggestions and feedback from the educators. When I first entered the Ambassador community I was overwhelmed initially. There were discussions based on hundreds of different learning objectives that Legends of Learning is aiming to hit through their vast selection of games being developed. The overall idea is to create a repository of science games that are bite sized and teach to specific learning objectives. This will allow educators to build playlists of games and integrate them within the existing curriculum. This addresses an age old issue in game based learning where games often are seen as taking away from valuable teaching time as teachers race to complete the curriculum. The Legends of Learning approach addresses this issue beautifully.



If you are an ambassador you know that the discussion boards are quite active and the direct interaction with the developers has been a key component from the start. Games are starting to launch in beta which will continue to allow educators to further shape the development through continuous feedback and iteration.

I am so happy to see this authentic approach to EdTechBridge collaboration by bringing educators, students, and developers together from the beginning and through every phase of development.

Kudos to the Legends of Learning team. You've demonstrated #EdTechBridge done right!


Aryah and Geoff will be co-moderating the #EdTechBridge chat on March 29th at 7pm ET. We hope you can join us!

For more information, please check out the following:






Saturday, January 14, 2017

Leveraging Student Voice: Showcasing student work to an authentic audience



Our goal for students is for them to demonstrate their learning. Student expertise should be celebrated and shared. I have become increasingly interested in how students learn in informal settings. Minecraft serves as a perfect example. The game comes with no instruction manual. Who knew how brilliant that would be! Essentially, all of the content for this game is user generated.
The official minecraft wiki contains over 5,000 articles and close to 11,000 files all contributed by members of the minecraft user community. When you do a youtube search with the query minecraft it yields a modest 147,000,000 results. Other sites like Instructables, Snapguide, and Pinterest will prove my point further regarding the plethora of user generated minecraft content out there. 

I believe strongly in student voice, student choice, constructivist and constructionist learning. I am committed to providing opportunities for my students to contribute to this growing knowledge base around the game. It allows them to demonstrate their understanding while writing or producing for an authentic audience. It is safe to say that our students perform better when they know their work is out there and available to the public. They typically take more pride in their work when this is the case.

In this blog post, I will share my approach to showcasing student work and making the meaning relevant to them and the global minecraft community. 

My game design and development course is choice / quest based. I use 3dgamelab and students choose the quest lines that appeal to them. Quests revolve around many learning pathways including coding, analyzing and reviewing games, writing step by step tutorials, learning skills related to game design, and of course creating their own games. Many of the quests are submitted in a public manner so they can be shared with the world,


We have a class YouTube channel. Student projects are showcased throughout the channel. Currently, my 7th grader cycle class is working on a project where they are using Minecraft to Reimagine Timeless Fairy Tales We have started to post walk through videos of the stories as well as 8th graders games in progress:




A while back, we created a number of redstone tutorials to demonstrate the use of redstone when it was released in the Windows10 Version of Minecraft. Microsoft featured these videos on the Minecraft in Education Blog :) My students were super psyched to create these knowing they would be available on youtube. They came in for many lunch periods as well as before and after school  to record and edit their videos.




We have a number of other Minecraft related videos on our YouTube channel. One of my favorites (I apologize for the poor video quality) is a walk through of the student created mini game Cart Wreck. It includes a conversation I had with the students about the development of the game. I'm blown away every time I watch this. The thought and planning that went into this is amazing and it is a great demonstration of student expertise.





A few years ago I was introduced to Snapguide and Instructables, two DIY sites designed for users to create step by step tutorials complete with images and text. I love this as a way for students to teach others while demonstrating their understanding. If they can write a guide that others can replicate from their directions, it is quite evident that they understand what they are explaining. This activity is a quest that repeats as I am happy to have students submit multiple tutorials and receive credit for them. When they are completed and worthy of sharing, I pin them on one of my class showcase pinterest boards. One board is dedicated to Minecraft Tutorials and Videos and is full of great snapguide tutorials.

This particular snapguide tutorial teaches you how to use noteblocks in Minecraft to play the Mario theme. I especially loved this one as I sat with the student for him to explain the process to me and was thrilled to learn how to do this. Hearing his explanation was great as it served as a terrific authentic assessment and opportunity to hear how enthusiastic he was to share his work :) 

I love the way the completed tutorials come out and really love sharing them with the world!

The process of sharing student work has become a natural part of my workflow. I use the pinterest chrome extension and while evaluating student work, if it is worthy of publishing to a wider audience, I simply click the extension and add it to the appropriate board. It's been fun to see the showcase evolve as I currently have close to 300 student projects shared.

I hope you will share my enthusiasm for student choice and student voice as we can really amplify the great work our students are doing.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Evolution of a Game Dev Studio Inspired Learning Space

For years, my vision for the ultimate learning space was taking form. I teach Game Design and Development at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, NJ. My dream was to create a studio feel for my learning space where students could pursue different avenues for learning and have a wide variety of resources available for them.

When I wrote the curriculum for the course I was able to build out the computer lab and include an Xbox 360 so students could create content for the Xbox using Visual C# and XNA Studio. This was a start, but I had bigger plans.

My vision included large LCD wall-mounted TVs, cozy sitting areas, multiple gaming consoles, Virtual Reality headsets, tabletop games, and other resources to provide students with a wide variety of opportunities to take learning into their own hands.

I was not sure how I would fund this venture, but that didn't stop me from dreaming BIG!

In March, 2014 I discovered Donor's Choose. I created a project called Empowering Learners in the Makers Age and asked for funds to purchase items including The XBOXOne, MakeyMakey, the OUYA Gaming Console, Raspberry Pi, Disney Infinity and several books to support students in learning to use these products. The project was fully funded and provided a great starting point in terms of moving toward the vision.

This TV is screaming for an upgrade... Stay tuned!

For the next phase of my vision, I wanted to bring non-digital games into the classroom so students could analyze and deconstruct the game mechanics. While most of the games my students create are digital, I believe it is important for them to experience and consider creating non-digital games as well. With choice at the center of the class, students get to choose what type of game they create. From a pedagogical standpoint, my class is about the iterative design process so the type of game is left up to the students.

We submitted another donors choose project, Game Design, Analysis and Deconstruction of Non-Digital Games. This project was submitted in October, 2014 and funded in 3 days!




Making progress! 

We had acquired some great resources and the kids were embracing the passion driven / choice based learning environment. 

Now it was time to start on the capital improvements to really reach my vision.

Our PTO has a call twice a year for 'wish list' grants to enhance the learning in our classrooms. In February, 2015 I put in a wish list for 3 large screen LCD TVs, a sound bar, and the hardware to connect the TVs throughout the room so that we could view content and present on all three TVs. This would make for a great space for learning as well as student content creation when it came to creating and testing games on the consoles. It would also provide a great training space for district wide Professional Development. I conduct a lot of PD for our staff and this would benefit our staff college program as well as classroom instruction. Above all, it would make for a super cool learning space that helped my vision to become a reality.

The PTO was gracious enough to fund the project and now we were REALLY moving forward!



We continued to move forward with two another Donors Choose projects, Empowering Learners in the Maker Age: Take 2 and Empowering Learners in the Maker Age: Take 3. These projects brought additional resources to our class including The Playstation 4 with Little Big Planet 3 so students could create games for the PS4, the WiiU and Super Mario Maker so students could create their own Super Mario Brothers worlds, Little Bits so students could work with Minecraft and Littlebits to merge the physical and virutal worlds with the Bitcraft Mod and much more.

You can read about how my students were using many of these tools through blog posts dedicated to our 20% time projects:

The TVs have also provided us with great opportunities to connect with other classrooms and Industry Professionals via Skype. For the past two years we have participated actively in the Global Skypeathon. We are excited to meet with some amazing people this year!

Next stop... Virtual Reality!

foundry10, an educational foundation focusing on nontraditional approaches to learning began conducting research on the use of Virtual Reality in the classroom in Fall, 2015. My Game Design and Development program was selected as one of the pilot programs to participate. As such, we received the Oculus Rift SDK2 for students to use to explore VR content and create content to be experienced in Virtual Reality. During our first year, members from the foundry10 team visited us from Seattle to demo the HTC Vive. We were able to use the Vive for two weeks. To say the Vive was a hit would be a gross understatement. In addition to my students using the tech, they became the experts who could demo it with others. We maintained an open door policy in the classroom allowing others to come in and experience VR. It was an empowering experience for my students and certainly provided others with a sense of the potential of Virtual Reality in education.

Now we are participating in year 2 of the research and this year we were provided with an HTC Vive of our own. The students are exploring content, creating content within VR, and reviewing VR software to contribute to the greater community.




The final piece to complete the vision for our learning space was comfortable seating around the TV areas. This would help to truly create an inviting and inspiring space for my students. Once again, I went to our school PTO with a wish list grant. I explored a number of options for seating with my students. Some were prohibitively expensive. Based on suggestions from other educators, Marianne Malmstrom (@knowclue) and Peggy Sheehy (@peggysheehy) who have created truly student centered learning spaces we looked at yogibo bean bag furniture. The goal was to create two spaces, one for each side of the room in front of the TVs. Up to this point, kids were sitting on regular classroom chairs or standing to use the gaming consoles on the TVs. I couldn't wait to create a true living room inspired space for use with the TVs for building games, table top gaming, skyping with other classes and professionals, collaboration, and relaxing while reading or watching relevant videos. In addition, the space is often used by other classes and the after care program. This would create a space that the students could truly love being in. After all, school should be inviting and inspire learning. I believe that my learning space does just that. As Beth Houf would say,  "We want to create a school where students, staff and parents are beating down the doors to get in...not out"



Here are some pics that show the final result and the learning space that my students and I absolutely LOVE!