Back to the game

I’ve had a really hectic year. It’s been a great-stable year and one in which new challenges have arisen. I started working at Australia’s unique International Football & Tennis School, where all our classrooms are both open learning spaces and use the project based learning approach.

In 12 months, the school has transformed itself several time and this year has been well and truly established itself as a highly successful and innovative place that parents want their kids to be. We took out an innovative schools award along the way and our classrooms are bursting with kids who love the unique opportunity to train and play with professional football and tennis players – the kind who represent their country. It’s a place like no other — and doesn’t have to pretend it’s PBL (while being stuck inside the dogma of public ideology and testing). Not do it’s teachers hold court on Twitter to appear important.

Its amazing how consciously taking a year off from the madding educrowd of Twitter has been positive. I know we all think ‘connected’ is essential, but when some of those you’re connected to are on a loop — it’s actually bad.

This year I got to design and teach a Masters course in Game Based Learning as well as put a lot of time into designing learning spaces, future professional development and a game-based positive behaviour for learning program for middle school. All of these things were important to the students … whereas Twitter seems important to teachers who seem to want to be important. Didn’t really miss it …

Next year will be the same, I’m really going to put most of my spare time into my PhD and get on with it. My research has started at which I invite you to take part in and share if you would extend me that kindness.

I hope everyone has a great 2016 … cya next year.

Return of the DS

Ever keen to find way’s to create ‘shared environments’ I’ve recently revisited the Nintendo DS.(Duel Screen). These were HUGE around 2005ish, and for many kids they were the thing to have BEFORE the launch of the iPhone and iPad — which really changed how we experienced and conceptualised hand-held gaming.

Nintendo DS was educational! – Derek Robinson was at the vanguard of this and in my view set the scene for the rest of us. The Captain Crunch on video gaming in school. Of course some quango of short-sighted suits in Scottish Education failed to recognise this for what it was — the tragedy that many pioneering ‘game’ innovators know too well. If you want to hear this from the man himself – watch this video on YouTube in which he sets out the opportunity and passion which is still waiting to be tapped into.

So back to DS 2015. A group of Year 8’s (13-14) have started playing their DS’s in ‘genius’ hour (and other times as I’m pretty lax on gaming). More and more have joined it, and it’s great to see them stroll down memory lane. They are busy discussing games and much more, sharing social-history. Any time I see ‘connecting’ happening, I encourage it … and no I don’t really know where this is going … but at my school – that’s just fine.

Not getting what you want?


One of the most annoying things people can do is – not give other people what they want. It’s something parents strive to teach their children resilience around. In life, there will be many times you don’t get what you want. I’d argue that adults ‘want’ things for complex reasons and despite their advanced years, are not reasonable when then don’t get it, nor do they effectively communicate what they want to everyone involved, just those they believe supporters or enablers.

Some throw visible tantrums, but others simply stop communicating and selectively engaging with those around them which creates lag for everyone. Children call it sulking.

Business Insider reports that a Google there are five things that make their teams successful: psychological safety; dependability; structure and clarity; each team member has a meaningful role and they each have purpose.

This seems like a sound set of norms for the classroom – or anywhere.

Minecraft vs Minecraft Story Mode

Minecraft Story Mode is not Minecraft, but an example of the increasing interest and ability of game developers to engage children in what amounts to a neo-novella.

Neo-novellas are interactive, animated, short stories written for adults (which children also enjoy). It’s a game, but it’s not Minecraft. If you want a review of Story Mode, I suggest Meta Critic here. This post is about why Story Mode is new cultural move for the brand.

It’s been widely accepted that the uptake of digital media doesn’t divorce the user from older media. New iterations become part of the  cultural aesthetic and processes carried on by society. Story Mode brings a new set of adventures to the Minecraft brand, finally being more recognizable as a text type than the original game to parents. It actually has a story and characters that deliver on the narrative.

While this ‘port’ from one popular cultural artifact (Game of Thrones, Walking Dead) might not be a more than another remediation, it provides a key bridge between the original sandbox game, which is mostly autotelic in nature, to one which is clearly a consumer-driven product that expands the franchise. For parents who didn’t see the ‘point’ of Minecraft, this new title presents itself in a much more recognisable form. Unlike the developers other titles, Minecaft Story Mode isn’t bound by it’s original ‘show’. It’s likely that they can sell ‘new adventures’ to players for the foreseeable future. The hardcore Minecrafters will carry on with their creative labours and server-owners will continue to farm ‘mini-game’ players. Story Mode isn’t Minecraft. It’s a game which is based on Minecraft, paying closer attention to YouTube popularity than the original game.

Story Mode is a potential gateway game from endless hours of personal creativity and mini-gaming (which comes with many issues for parents) to a game which leads kids into the well-established narrative-games. It remains to be seen if Story Mode has any new ‘literacy’ value to children, but it certainly has tremendous cross-platform economic value to the developers.  It also serves to mask some of the concerns parents have over Minecraft “over use” and the kind of trading, collecting and behavioral conditions present on mini-game servers. Minecraft has effectively had a sizeable PR overhaul in Story Mode as well as another injection of cash for its owners.

Families & Games Research: Please contribute

This Christmas I’m sure many families will be playing the latest installment of FIFA on their consoles and computers. In 2015 it’s creator, EA Sports was the #1 publisher on PlayStation4 and Xbox One consoles in the world, driven by the success of Battlefield™Hardline, Dragon Age™: Inquisition and FIFA 15.

To put this in perspective, each day there were 16 million online matches played of FIFA15. EA is now considered a top ‘sports brand’, nor just a game-maker with revenue last year of almost $5billion.

Despite these astonishing numbers, we actually know very little about how families come to buy, talk about or play video games such as FIFA.


To find out, I’m researching families with children between the age of 4 and 12, as most of the research on video games has focused on later teens and often looked for negatives. Despite the vast numbers of people who play them (79% of Australian’s played a video game this week) there’s almost no research into where families see games fitting into the overall entertainment and leisure time of children.

I’d really appreciate your input into this. I have a short 5-10 minute online survey as part of my research which I hope you’ll consider taking – or sharing with other families in Australia. I’m also hoping to interview a few families about their experiences in the near future …

I’ve also posted some links that you might find useful about games, classifications and regulating them. Please share this post with others … thanks!

Back to my future

This post has been delayed. It seems fitting that this week has also been full of “Back to the future” nostalgia then. 2015 has gone by in a blur for me. So much has happened and in comparison to a few years ago, dealing with institutional trolls the last two years feel like I’ve emerged from the kind of acid fog that teens routinely find deadly in YA novels. This year I have put 110% into my new school job, which as any good teacher knows, means putting 110% into getting to know the students and figuring out how best to help them. I always think it’s arrogance mashed with ignorance to believe I or anyone can move from one school to another without taking a long look at how to do this — and I gave myself three terms to get it right, before starting to think more about how to improve and add value to that day-to-day school experience.

Along the way, I loved being able to co-write a Masters Unit for CSU in Game Based Learning. That has been a real high for me as I vividly remember @heyjude telling me years ago – before Jude was at CSU, how real change happens though member organisations and institutions. Of course I was brash, so thought change could be done though the pre-hashtag channel of social media, but seeing ‘games’ in a Master’s Course really did validate over a decade of exploration and talking about their potential. I’m not discounting social media and networking here, but as a society there remains value in learning though scholarship and I’d argue that our course is an effective blend of game-culture, information-fluency, pedagogy and practical fun.

I’m still enjoying working with MQ on EDUC106 – As I love the sociological aspect of mass education and being able to add some value to that – for first year student mostly – helps me keep focused, and hopefully I add some value beyond marking etc.,

Now it’s time to get back on track with my thesis too. Having done the annual round of paperwork, I’m setting up my ‘research blog’ today. My initial survey is ready to deploy, but I’ve had endless battles with my web-host — Arvixe.

I’ve used them for several years, but each year, their support deteriorates. Currently my two domains ( and ( are broken. Their WP consoles are crippled by 403 and 500 errors and despite logging tickets, attempting to use so called “live chat” to resolve, they seem uninterested. The only part of their service that works is the automatic billing cycle it seems. It’s a shame, as when they are new/smaller, they are pretty good value for money.

I then made a mistake. I signed up for BlueHost. I didn’t realise at the time, Arvixe and Blue Host are owned by the same company. From Australian (and I assume other International locations) they don’t tell you that they want a phone-call verification to move your domain (same company remember) and that Live Chat insist you do that between X and Y office hours, Mountain time. Why is that an issue? Simple, the International number doesn’t work, Live Chats is hopeless and I ended up on Twitter irritating a corporate brand pacifier to gain attention. It somewhat worked, and apparently I’ll see a refund soon. They also charge 12 months in advance, which was also not too clear, nor the adding charge for something called SafeLock.

What is interesting is the flood of automated “welcome” emails one gets from people with corporate titles – and yet they are all black hole accounts. Thankfully Ben Harwood suggested I try Reclaim Hosting as it’s designed for educators. WordPress and more for just USD$25 a year. I now have to unlock my domains from Arvixe … sigh … so finger’s crossed I can get my Thesis Blog up soon.

I’ve used WordPress forever it seems. I’ve run eCommerce sites for my ex-bike shop and numerous blogs for friends. For my thesis, I’ve been looking at Scalar. It blogs, but it also works like a book, or rather pathways though a book. I saw an academic blog called Bad Objects and this is what has prompted me to look into it and give it a try.

I’ll sign off by saying that I’m getting back into my research into families and games. My thesis blog will be up and I hope that parents will take part. I’ll keep this blog going of course … and my class blog is at – thanks to Sue Waters. My year 7/8 class is using it to learn about research and writing in my technology class – some 85 kids!

Thanks for sticking with me all these years!

Picking groups

How do teachers pick groups and groupings these days? In an age of data, we know that most classrooms will have kids with plus or minus two years of ability. While some are de-emphasising ‘traditional’ school-learning approaches, we know from decades of research that reading, vocabulary and comprehension are critical to student engagement and achievement.

I am wondering, in an age of online metrics, what tools are teachers using to pre-test and/or post-test students in order to evaluate what tools and technologies are being used — and the language we use with those technologies to deliver learning?