Sunday, August 16, 2009


A couple of months ago I heard about a new game that was in development called Atmosphir. This game is a first person shooter game similar to Mario Bros. What sets it apart from other games is that all the levels in the game are created by the users. When I heard about this I thought it might have some potential for education so I signed up to be a beta tester. This week, after having completely forgot about signing up, I received an email from the developers of this game accepting my invite.

Now, for a few years now some commercial games have come on the market that allow users to make their own mods. What is different about Atmosphir is the whole game is a mod. When you download and install the game you are asked to go to their website and create a user account. When you load the game it asks you to login with your username and password. You are then presented with a few options. You can play, create, or modify your character. When you choose the play option you are presented with a display that looks kind of like YouTube where you can choose from among other user created versions of the game sorted by ratings, most played, etc.

When you choose create you are brought to an editor screen with a blank grid. You can choose among many different objects to build your level. My 4 year old and I spent a good afternoon engaged in this world building and game play. The game engine itself is nice. You get a rich 3D environment, smooth graphics, and complex movement. The biggest downfall I can see is there are no options for users to build or import their own objects. If there were such an option I could see this program being ideal for building educational games. For my purposes this limitation is a huge downfall. However, this project is in private beta and possibly this kind of feedback could make it into later edits of the game.

In its current version it is still a nice constructivist toy. You can build much in the same way you can build with legos. There are quite a few user created levels that exhibit high ammount of creativity. It could also be used to teach about game theory to an extent.

My hopes with this program were that it might have the same potential for engaging students in programming and game creation that Scratch or GameMaker have. While my hopes have been slightly let down at the moment I will continue to watch the development of this game and how it influences other game developers.

A new version of Scratch that works in Second Life came out over the summer. I have yet to play around with it but it looks promising. However, Second Life is not free and presents some unique challenges for use in K-12. I also intend on taking a look at later this fall as it also looks like it might have some potential for education.

Do you know of any other free programs for game creation or free games that allow users to make mods of their game?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What is the Purpose of School?

I have spent a significant amount of time this summer conducting workshops and giving presentations to teachers, administrators, and school boards about topics ranging from disruptive innovation to emerging technologies to project-based learning. In nearly every presentation discussion seems to turn to some degree to the question of, "What is the purpose of school?"

Whenever I pose this question the responses always seem to vary between three distinctly different overarching concepts. First, I always hear people refer to schooling as serving a Jeffersonian purpose of creating an informed electorate which is essential in a democracy. Second, I always hear people bring up the Hamiltonian idea that schools should prepare students to enter the workforce or go to college so they can be further trained to enter the workforce. Third, I usually hear people say the purpose of schools is to prepare students to become lifelong learners.

When I think these ideas through I always come to the conclusion that the first two are inherently contradictory in nature and the fact that for the duration of state sponsored education these ideas have always been at the foundation of our education systems is amazing. The notion that schools are supposed to prepare students to become lifelong learners is one I almost only hear from other educators. I also find it flawed or at least not complete. This thought, and I am not sure where it originated from, implies that people are not inherently lifelong learners. I find this hard to fathom. Do we need schools for this or are people naturally learning creatures? Is there ever any point of any day that a living, conscious person is not learning? Of course not, learning is a quality of life.

So, why does this notion sound so appealing? What does it imply that is not really said? I think what is really meant by this notion is that the purpose of schools is to help direct students' learning. It is not to create lifelong learners so much as it is to create lifelong learners within a socially acceptable and proper context. A context that has been established. When viewed this way there are two divergent paths that can be taken. First is conformity and adherence to authoritative structures and the second is critical thinking. I propose we drop the idea that the purpose of schools is to create lifelong learners altogether and instead replace this third purpose with, "The purpose of schools is to create lifelong critical thinkers."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Two years ago, as part of my capstone project for my MAED, I was fully entrenched in a study of virtual worlds and their application for education. As part of my research I tested as many free virtual world platforms as I could get my hands on. One platform that was in development at that time that I was not able to access was Metaplace. Metaplace is a totally flash based virtual world platform that can be accessed on any computer. It is free, though some of the things you can do there are not free. When you sign up for an account you get a free world that you can build on. Metaplace provides you with lots of building materials but you can also create your own. Unlike other virtual world platforms you create objects from jpg images. Additionally, you can assign properties to your objects that perform various functions such as opening web pages, playing YouTube videos in the integrated player, perform animations, etc. The list of options is pretty vast.

I played around with this platform for just 30 minutes tonight and found it very easy to build things. I didn't create anything that I feel has any value as of yet but I do see enormous potential for this platform in education. Imagine assigning students to construct their own worlds or multi-player games to demonstrate their learning. I also noticed that these worlds are embeddable:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Video Games as Learning Engines or "My gammer fragged your honor student"- David Warlick

The following are my sketchy notes from David Warlick's session in Byron MN on video games and learning.

Glenn Weime "Video games have become complex because the brain demands it."
David Schaffer

What we know:

  • only 21% of teens have played MMORPGS
  • only 10% of teens have played in Virtual Worlds
  • Most virtual worlds are being targeted to elementary age students (HS teachers, they are coming we need to be prepared)

Living and Learing with New Media -Catherine T. McArthur foundation
  • -Youth use online media to extend friendships and interests
  • -Explore interests with communities of interests
  • -engage in peer-based and self-directed learning ("Messing Around")
  • -They don't think of it as learning.
  • -"Geek Out," diving into a topic or talent
  • -New media allows a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth learners

Implications for Ed
  • -be more experimental, experiential and social/collaborative
  • -rely less on standardization of content and assessment
  • -adults should be role model learners
  • -stay relevant

  • -Got Game - John Beck and Mitchell Wade
  • -The kids are alright: How the Gamer generation is changing the workplace - Beck and Wade
  • -What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy - Gee
  • -Don't bother me mom--I'm Learning - Marc Prensky
  • -How Computer Games Help Children Learn - David William Schaffer
  • -Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture - Henry Jenkins

  • Games, Learning, Society Conference - Madison, WI
  • Games for Change - Real World Games, real world impact
  • RezEd at GLS
Role Playing
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon
  • Assassin Creed
Problem Solving
  • Pikmims
Serious Games
I hope he talks about having students make their own video games or making game mods.

Noticed his kids making their own games while playing games like Halo

World Building
  • Spore
  • The Little Big Planet
Kids are more happy with an interactive experience.

Talks about Machinema

ARGs (Alternate Reality Games)
  • I Love Bees

Deborah Fields - Expert in Cheating

Elonka Dunin - Kryptographer - says editing on Wikipedia is like playing a game

Justin Hall - Passively Multi-user Online Games...or information as game

Sandbox Learning
  • Scratch
  • PHUN
  • Second Life
Sorry this ended up looking more like a presentation outline than notes.

Redefining Literacy - David Warlick Keynote in Byron, MN

I am attending a day of professional development at Byron High School with David Warlick. This kicks off the first day of of their week-long professional development academy. Here are my sketchy notes

Says he and his SL avatar both came from a school system where students worked:
"In straight rows, performing repetitive tasks, under close supervision."

Shows us a photo of his office and explains that he, his wife, and many of his neighbors have offices like this.

Points to the telephone in the picture and describes how it is becoming obsolete.

Handouts in conference in AZ handed out a flash drive because they assumed everyone was bringing a laptop. Christian Science Monitor went 100% virtual because they found most of their readers were reading it electronically.

We produced 5 exabytes of information in 2007. Only 1% was produced on paper.

Experts tell us we are going to be wearing our computers soon.

GPS toe rings?

"For the first time in history we are preparing our children for a future we cannot clearly describe."

When he started as a history teacher he had no idea teaching would change in any significant way in his lifetime.

"I think we should stop integrating technology and start integrating literacy."
"Best thing to teach students how to teach themselves."

"Part of being literate today includes being able and willing to ask questions"

-Ask Questions

Demonstrates how to do URL backtracking and how to dissect an email address.

Demonstrates RSS.

add &output=RSS to the end of a Google search and you will create an RSS feed from that query

Demonstrates how to take data from a spreadsheet and use visualization tools to make it tell a story.

Just as important for students to learn how to communicate with images, sound, video, etc.

Contemporary Literacy
  • Exposing whats true
  • Employing the information
  • Expressing ideas compelling
  • Ethical use of information
Redefine literacy, so that it reflects today's information environment,

...and integrate that.

David used a backchannel for participants in his keynote. Here is the transcript from that discussion:

  • Jen (MN) : Thanks for sharing so many new sites with us! I am a little overwhelmed but excited to start looking at the new possibilities.
  • Jen Hegna (MN) : I am impressed with the number of people here listening today - what about those who are not? Will they understand the direction we need to go?
  • JenGreen (MN) : We need to start with critical consumer skills. Kids just seem to take everything in at equal weight and credibility.
  • Mindy (MN) : How do we help students move past wikipedia? And how do we help ourselves recognize plagiarism?
  • Jen Hegna (MN) : Is our classrooms adequately preparing our students for this world? Where do we start?
  • carolynne (MN) : where are we teaching excel skills like this?
  • Jen Hegna (MN) : I love the excel demo - real world application!
  • JenGreen (MN) : I could get so caught up in all this--how do you limit/sort/edit all this to keep your sanity?
  • Carl Anderson (MN) : here is the link: inst_the_history_textbook_wiki_project_invitation
  • Carl Anderson (MN) : Clay Burell at is running an open collaboration project this year for history teachers globablly to have their students question the facts in textbooks.
  • Jen Hegna (MN) : What value do textbooks have in our classroom in the digital age?
  • JenGreen (MN) : "I am not preparing kids for my future, I am preparing them for theirs"--this is a key shift that educators need to embrace.
  • sue (by) : Do you think actual destination conferences will continue?
  • Jen Hegna (MN) : How do move from "cell phones as a distraction" to cell phones as a learning tool?
  • Carl Anderson (MN) : Is this archival?
  • Clovis (NC) : I look forward to reading your conversation....
  • Jen Hegna (MN) : Fabulous!
  • plasticshore chat:welcome