Creative Writing Games for Stage 3 and above

I don’t like ‘ice-breakers’ as a rule. They tend to be far too pushy for people who are naturally introverted. So as I thought about kicking off a new set of Year 7s this week, I opted to create a simple writing game which later we’ll use as the basis for art making – drawings made from text. This is an example – and great for getting people who think they can’t draw to write (and then make a drawing). The game is designed for table work, so I’d suggest 2-8 players. It lasts about an hour. You’ll notice in the games that there are objects. For my purpose these things are simply concepts, but they could be physical things or even mathematical formulas etc., It’s a pretty low tech game, but I guess you could do this online.

The aim of the activity is to get students to think creatively and to critically follow rules to re-frame their original position. Let me know if you use it or modify it! Creative story writing game.

Active Production Networks: Simplifying PBL for middle-school with media.

Next year, I’m labeling my teaching as ‘active productive network’ based (APN). This is based on Goodyear (1992) SHARP learning cycles. Among several other scholars interested in how networks produce and reproduce knowlege, Peter Goodyear at Sydney University is someone I recommend you discover.

The key idea in APN is that it places students in a persistent, iterative corporeal and hyper-mediated process of rendering tacit knowledge (the things we are required to teach) inside local working practices (and cultures) through a share-able media interchange.

Unlike the ‘flipped classroom’, APN doesn’t attempt to jump-start learning with a media blitz, compensate for a lack of time, money, resources or make a shallow effort to reform teacher behavior to the technological determinism of Web2.0. It relies on every day culture. While  SHARP learning pre-dates YouTube and the subsequent rise and dull fall of Web2.0, APN learning is socially designed and embedded in today’s media culture. The re-production of knowledge, error checking and correction occurs through and because of this network culture. To me, this allows children to explore decision-making processes which have been traditionally denied in schools — even schools which claim to be “Voodle Sites” and so forth.

20141216_084116In this model, there is a pre-defined structure to the learning, where membership allows for constant, mediated, peer-review which I don’t see the same as PBL’s ‘critical friends’ approach. There is also an expert-prompt, which I don’t see the same as a lesson hook.

For example, we might start by asking why do some soccer fans sing and others don’t at matches?. Then we design experiments to find out, collect some raw data, then share and report what we find. The process of designing the experiments is not the same as selecting a method, or being told what method would work best from the outset (classic teaching).

The APN cycle is simpler than PBL, and closer to research than to art or design methods such as design thinking. Inside it, students provide and are provided with persistent peer review (even though as individuals they come and go) online. All they need is a simple communications interchange. The cycle is simple to follow and focuses on the social design of networks which actively reproduce information effectively. First, research problems and questions are defined. Next, experiments are designed which students think will help them process the problem (some will work better than others). The network produces raw data (which can be re-used by anyone) and finally the product appears through student reports and discussions. The discussion of the method (experiment) and the data is vitally important. Some students will repeat the cycle, others will come to a conclusion (at that point). The environment can be open or closed social-media, an open or close video game, open or closed online course … and much more.

Anyway, this is something that I’ll be using in order to compress the seven step PBL process (which does not take into account media networks or cultures) into four in order to accelerate and increase the active cycles that can be had in the classroom (middle school). Here’s a diagram I drew, based on Goodyear (1992; 2014) and the open source bio medical research site design ( The main aim (for me) is to use media spaces as social design, not necessarily an ePortfolio … and so the hunt for the right tool/space to do that begins.

What makes Minecraft a highly motivated community

A lot of the discussion about why teachers might use video games in their class has centred around the belief that video games are motivating. It’s also the central controversy about children playing games at home — they are so motivating that they are reluctant to put them down. Education often puts forward the theory of flow — to suggest that once motivated, children are in an optimal learning zone, a view presented by Jane McGonigal (2012) from which she claimed games are optimal learning environments, which predicated the launch of her book – Reality is Broken. It’s a compelling story, bursting with emotion, pop culture and ‘common sense’ – a way to rescue the shallowing of society and death of childhood. I don’t believe this is the case, or rather that video games have somehow found secret success factors no one else has.

For most people, tweenager and above, the construction of success is now deeply linked to their construction of themselves. This is partly visible in the identities, routines and rituals that they engage in. This engagement is also one based in consumerism, where material objects are part of personal expression and communication – their Y-Phones, Tablets, Game Consoles etc., These things all combine to influence their overall motivation towards everything. For example, it influences what they say and how they behave when told to get off the Xbox in the same way it draws them to it. Parents and teachers are not dealing with opposing forces — good and bad machines, books, games, behaviours and so on, but with one behavior.

Motivation is bound by two things for the ‘screenage’ generation, expectancy and value. Expectancy is comprised abstract elements: confidence, experience, importance and success. Value is perceptive: extrinsic motivation, social motivation, achievement motivation and intrinsic motivation. These things are so complex and variable, that video games are not universally motivating, nor are they a way to engage the disenfranchised or isolated members of society. Reality is not therefore broken, but variously experienced — particularly outside of the snow-globe of TED Talks.

People enjoy games because game-designers put ‘community’ to work. To me, this is at the heart of games-based-learning and project-based-learning. Community has numerous subtle components, however four main archetypes need to be considered when we’re talking about motivation and what spaces kids are in that might tap into that: Participation; Cohesion; Identity and Creativity.

Consider Minecraft not as a game but as a community space: it’s physically located on a device, but conceptually located in media consumer culture. It has the necessary attributes of a ‘good community’ and therefore is more likely to motivate players to participate. This is what all game designers are learning to do, and is critical to the commercial and every day pop culture discussion of those games inside their respective communities.

Now ask yourself, how connected is my kid to the local corporeal community: re-visit the four factors and ask yourself are they participating in ways that are sustained over time, have they become part of a core-group and do they have an emergent role in that group. Do they find cohesion? Is the group supportive, tolerant, allow turn taking, responsive, funny and playful. Do they have an identity? Is the group self-aware, does it share vocabulary and language, does it give them a personal space and brand … and finally, is the community creative?

I’d argue some schools have massive community and others are people-factories that pretend they are a community. The thing with games is, there is no pretending. Games which are motivating have communities that are motivating … which is why gamification at school or work is not about points, badges and rewards — it’s about community.

Is your school global or snow global?


Is your school global or snow global? That was the question sketched out by @kevinhoneycut this week. I liked the question and the ease of which middle schoolers could reflect on their own lives with it. For me, it makes a great, short, getting to know you project. .The image of the snow globe, famously used by Pixar, can be easily extended to escapism, globalization and consumer filter bubbles. All great fodder for visual arts and design … I hope this turns out to be a global collaboration with my American friends. Its been a long time since I got to do this. Boom.

The grass is greener on the other side of the screen

One way to overcome potential and real negative reactions is to use wrap your view in humorous media. Even dull products and ideas can be made more interesting to an audience with if they are presented humorously. They will also be more memorable if they also get ‘a little bit personal’, so include a personal anecdote, photo or experience. To get people to repeat your view and endorse it, simply invite the #audience to the #conversation and get people feeling like it’s okay to participate and get behind the idea. To do that, you need to give the audience something to think about. For example: post a photo of Kate Middleton throwing a sideways glance or say something controversial. There’s even a sub Reddit for that if you’re stuck for something.

My point is that media is increasingly used towards homogeneous disarming of thought. By entertaining the crowd, it doesn’t need to become wise and therefore very little critical interaction occurs between its immediate members. This means that criticism is less likely than endorsement, regardless of the facts, validity or relevance.

For example: A well placed Tweet at a conference, will create immediate echos from the local audience, which the wider audience sees as a signal of a valid truth. Little fact checking or consideration is given as the re-tween button echo’s the ‘true message’.  As I’ve said, this action can be promoted by the speaker with some reliability. Many speakers clearly build their presentations around it, and rarely bother with facts.

Websites such as Buzzfeed rely on the fact people only read 27 reasons, 7 ways, 9 idea — type posts these days and amplify them to their friends and imaginary audiences via social media. Are you interested in what Iron Man Rob Gronkowski did with a fluffy kitten? – perhaps society will amuse itself to death after all with our telemedia obsessions. Education is not immune to this culture. At both educational events I went to this year, I saw thin assertions presented to the audience as I described at the beginning.

The culture of everyday life is increasingly marketed for the sole purpose of making a profit from education. Education should not be constructed though the media as homogenization or hybridization. This idea that metaphors are better than evidence, or can be used in lieu of it is an immediate fail for me as they ignore the complex cultural systems that schools exist in (economic, social, political and religious) and how these things effect one another. I’ll sign off with the ultimate ed-tech metaphor — the grass is greener on the other side of the screen. You can tweet me on that.

This blog’s a mess :XD

I ran a blogging class recently and had to hang my head in shame. I realised how utterly disorganized and fractured this site has become over a decade. This is mostly a result of changing interests and shifting technologies and communications processes. So my categories don’t make much sense, my tags are inconsistent and frankly some of them are so dated.

I’ve become very lazy. Most of the time I swipe-out posts on my Samsung phone using the mobile app and my finger on public transport. Predictive text and cursor moving is far from perfect. This leads to the odd bizarre word selection, literal and typo, which I shamefully admit to ignoring and not bother fixing most of the time. This is terrible, I should be diligent and proof-read everything blah blah … but I don’t. I don’t because things pop into my head and I don’t want them there. So I blog about things in the hope my humble readership will join in the conversation. I’ve also blogged in epochs, so the focus of what I’m thinking changes as life changes around me. From school stuff, classroom2.0, Second Life to higher education, Minecraft and parenting. After a decade, I’m conscious that this blog is at best eclectic and at worse mis-representative.

It’s time for a clean up. Out with the old and in with the new, which means my categories are about to get nuked and replaced with one which makes a lot more sense. From next year I’ll be doing three things: working on my ‘negotiations of play’ thesis about parenting and videogames, working on games based learning, which is connected to my M.Ed as Teacher Librarianism and teaching media, design and art in middle school using project based learning.

Therefore, I shall hereby promise to clean up my blog, get may act together and even proof-read occasionally. Please stand by as things get moved around. In the meantime, please subscribe to my thesis/games/parenting blog (Mobspawner) which is updated far less often, but really awesome.