Don’t panic: Ask the gamers for help

Warning: This post contains important information about COVID-19 and online schools. Some teachers might find this distressing and choose to waste a few more days trying to get Adobe Connect to work. However, if you want a fast and easy online space up in less time it will take to read this rubbish … welcome to the server.


All this fuss about closing bricks and mortar schools is distressing. It’s also a timely reminder of how the billions (yes billions) which has flowed into the pockets of “EdTech” which is a long, drawn out crash site of experiments and failures.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how poorly prepared western schools are for working at arms length, let alone ‘online’ in a meaningful way.

Today, I was informed my students need to be 1.5m apart.  – This is of course impossible. The message was telegraphed and then ignored due to pragmatics. Kids carried on in exactly the same way – because the paraphernalia of school was unchanged.

Schools are not ready of ‘online’ in the sense that few are able to meet students at the intersection of youth communications and actual usage. This results in dull conversations as to whether Google Classrooms “will do” or “can I just email it in”. A direct result of Audrey’s shit show of edtech.

95% of teachers are perhaps familiar with, or using, Ista, Email and FB with their friends and family, re-sharing photos of dogs or inspirational quotes.

95% of kids are online in Discord because they know it’s a productive way to save time and improve your chances of success and enjoyment.

Yep, Discord: That means every kid in you class can (or knows someone who can) use it right now.

They can also show you. You don’t need to panic or waste more time and money on “edtech” just because you’re a special snowflake teacher who only uses ‘teacher’ apps.

Just get your kids to create a server and relax. It took mine less than a minute and they are all over it.


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.

Great games for under ten bucks?

In an effort to start collecting the use of games in the classroom, I’ve make a really short Google Form here in which I’m asking people to recommend a game for the classroom, which costs under ten dollars. The results of what people put into this are shared on this response form. We know people are using Minecraft, Portal etc., but for many schools free or cheap is an essential criteria for choosing a game.

I’m asking for simple information: the game name, a link if you have it and to choose what platform and game type best describes it from a list (or add your own). Finally, just let people know why you recommend it.

The aim is simply to start to collect what games are being used in a spreadsheet of data that you can use for your own purposes. No names or personal information please … this is anonymous crowd sourcing. Open to anyone, teachers, students and parents!

Thanks for your input

Classroom motivation

Okay, this only works if students actually have or are allowed to use a device, but it doesn’t mean the teacher needs to be using technology in the lesson. I use the Pomodoro Method a fair bit personally. My brain like to have too many tabs open, and it helps me stay focused and motivated on a task — even if it’s boring. I happen to like the 20mins on, 10 mins off routine and in the case of learning with technology in the classroom, I’d also recommend alternating between 20mins using device and 10mins off AS WELL AS 20mins off and 10mins on. I think it allows for better workflows because you can set a ‘peak’ of activity as well as have some really clear deadlines and conclusions.

Pomodorium is a gamification variation with some nifty software that COULD help those students who seem to lack the ability to stay on task or focus. I grant you that if they are given some dull worksheet to complete they won’t begin to love science or geography, but I really think some kids — especially by mid-year in Year 8 are beginning to massively tune-out and simply idle the fifty minutes away.


Why create playlists for Flipping The Classroom

Playlists are awesome. If you are planning on flipping the classroom (FTC) then they are essential. My view of FTC is that using media to support learning is a good idea. The patterns and schemas used by everyone to access media to support their goals is substantially altered from traditional classroom delivery of information (chalk and talk and so on).

At the same time, the idea of  additional production time needed amid the increasing ‘do more with less’ environments of today’s educational agendas seems daunting.

Thus playlists become important to those who want to enrich learning and have limited spare time. Playlists are not bound to the kind of linear explanations of Khan nor the high production efforts of Extra Credits. Playlists provide a rich thematic landscape for students which can be endlessly tuned and tinkered with.

For example, if I want to talk about ‘gamification’, I can create a playlist which is based on some simple Blooms taxonomy. For example, videos that list examples, that explain what it is, those which demonstrate it in action etc., I don’t necessarily want to order this using the ‘feed me’ methods where we trot though each topic and idea in sequence. Best of all, I don’t need to make anything at all to FTC and give students something to move around in.

However, I do need to know something about how to find media, organise it and then string pathways though it. I want to make my classroom ‘playable’. This post isn’t going to cover that, but I will set out two key ideas.

  • Playable playlists turn work into play, where play is joyful means of production. My class time therefore becomes a place of synthesis, justification, organisation and design thinking. The output might simply be a better playlist or the removal of dodgy items I stuck in there because students could make a decent argument to delete it.
  • Non-playble playlists are also useful, but they are not a means of production for the student. For example, a collection of how-to videos which scaffold learning. They might give tips on software or help people figure out workflows. These are things we just ‘need’ as bricks to get the playable stuff done. They too are background and I might need to make some or more likely edit things other people have made. In this case I need to start using something like Jing or Snagit — but essentially I’m remixing rather than making it end to end.

Finally — the teaching stuff.

This is all about balance. Sometimes it’s new things I want people to try or things I want them to avoid or rethink. Most of the time I think Jing is great because it limits you to 5 mins and suits mass broadcast and you wont go on and on too much. Ultimately the course design still adheres to good principles in Blended Learning, but you are now flipping out new ways to use media beyond the idea of pre-recording tomorrows PowerPoint. You are organising learning in new ways which get ever further from the linear origin.

To get started all you need to do is start making your own playlists. I suggest YouTube is a simple place to begin. For the more adventurous you might use Pinterest or Diigo … because you are going to need more than videos. In the end your flipped course uses playlists so much that students can use them like a cargo net to get up and over just about anything.

The Flipped PBL classroom

What’s a PBL flipped classroom?. It’s really about flipping the emphasis of time. In a PBL flipped scenario, the teacher mainly works before the project begins (rather than lesson) and not after. They do work during, but unlike even a video-flip, the teacher isn’t doing the bulk of the work (marking) at the end. The end is a celebration and feedback time. Almost all the assessment will have been handled during the project.

Game Based Learning – Start Here.

This post presents there ares of consideration, and what to consider when thinking about using a computer or video game as the technological environment for game based learning. It might help you think of how to evaluate various games in pre-selection. Please note that I don’t believe game based learning needs a video game at all, but many people have asked me “which games” and on what devices and platforms, so I hope this helps to start a conversation and thinking critically about the options you might have. To me, making games ‘okay’ is a win – but there’s little cudos in using educational games alone – so really here I’m talking about commercial titles.

Choosing your game

  • Browser compatibility? – Which browsers can they be played on? Many of your students will want to play the games you’re offering on their desktop and laptop computers. If the game you wish to use is accessed from a browser, you need to check that students have access to it – and it functions beforehand.
  • Plugins or software required? – You’ll want to know just how complex the game is. Do students need to download software in order to view them? Will the game pass through the firewall (the number one reason games are kept out of learning). Does the game need to authenticate to the Internet – even if it is actually installed on the local machine.
  • Device compatibility? – Not all games can be played on all devices. You’ll want to know which devices can be used so that you can prepare to support them. For example: Minecraft on the PC is quite different to Minecraft on an Ipad or Xbox. Many ‘app’ games, designed for mobile platforms have no equivalent on the PC or OSX Apple platform. So consider when and were the game will be played – what group sizes, level of supervision and so on – this will help you select the best device for you to use as a game platform – it might not be the one you think of first.
  • Do they play games? – Many students don’t play video or computer games. Some don’t like them, some are not allowed – you can’t assume all kids love video and computer games. Find out what games they do play … you may find from this you decide not to use a video game at all, but start to think about using your classroom as a game-space, and in doing so might create a role-play, use dice … all manner of alternatives. Don’t assume games based learning means video and computer games.
  • Data Collection? – Consider what data the game will collect (be that a video game or not).  Computer and Video Games collect a stack of data – some of it more useful than others. Consider, when choosing a game – what metrics you need and what would be great to have. This is one reason I like Minecraft on a server – it’s dripping in data, where as on an ad-hock LAN or iPAD, I get far less data – almost none in fact. Next consider what data the game is sending where. You need to make sure your students don’t accidentally push data to public spaces, if your school is against it (and in reality, most have no policy or idea about game-data)  yet.


You’ll want to get to the heart of things by asking specific questions about the features and functionality that  your students need. I see game based learning emerging most strongly from a social emotional learning perspective, so the functionality I think matters most looks like this.

  • Can students play without overt supervision? Learning in GBL is fundamentally about trust between the teacher and the student. If you don’t feel you can trust them – then let me assure you they will not trust you when you say they are going to learn by playing games. It’s a total deal breaker – if kids can’t play without overt supervision in the game and platform you choose – then the experience will be always be less.
  • Is the role for the teacher as a ‘trusted adult’ or as a supervisior?Can you afford the time to police a game inside or outside of it? What is the imperative you MUST be there (and that is a MAJOR question, as I don’t believe you should be in THEIR game – but I’ve worked out how and why over a few years, so you’ll need to resolve it too).
  • Single player Mutli-player cop-opt or Multiplayer use? This ranges widely according to e-Book vendor. Some packages offer unlimited use of e-Books meaning that any number of readers can view and download the same e-Book at the same time while others only offer single use of e-Books, similar to a print title being checked out. There are also variants that will offer a limited number of users at once.
  • Sales/Pricing Model? – can I buy bulk licenses for the game? Do I need to get game cards? How to I manage user accounts? Does the school own them? Do the kids own them? Are there educational pricing (warning educational games are not the BEST examples of games at all)
  • Game fees and Server costs (Annual, one-time, etc.) – There is most often a platform fee and it’s usually annual or monthly so you’ll want to find out how much this is. Don’t get caught by ‘free’ or ‘self-host’. Take Minecraft for example, to self-host is indeed free only, but when you cost in the time it takes to build, manage and stay in tune with modifications and changes, buying into managed hosting will work out substantially less in my experience.
  • Cost of the game Games are on many platforms and devices, all with very different price points. I have created games using cheap 20 sided dice and free online Interactive Fiction creation sites for a few dollars – I’ve also created them using virtual worlds with server rentals of thousands of dollars. There are many games, such as Myst or those on the game platform Steam which cost a few dollars – so in may ways games are inexpensive compared to other classroom software.

Training and development.

Game Based Learning is not one thing and there is a lack of agreement in what it is. This is not surprising, as for decades scholars have also disagreed what games and what they do. There are workable taxonomies, ways to plat a series of lessons, how to create wonder, foster creativity, self-discovery and so on. The best training you can do is to play games – seriously – download something like World of Warcraft and play the entire free trial. Block out a day and grind away – taking notes about how the game is teaching you. This process can take a while – so think about getting someone to come and do some training and development – take a short cut. You will still need to play, but knowing why and what to look makes it easier. DO NOT GO TO ONE OF THESE DIDACTIC COMMERCIAL COURSES EVER. They are hopeless, only there to make money – and are a total waste of money.

10 considerations for bringing games into class

Before heading into using games in the classroom, there are a few considerations that are essential considerations. The biggest one surrounds understanding the culture of games, and from than developing a differentiated curriclum. Fun is not differentiation.

1. Physical structure of the setting

Video games are not played in physical groups, where everyone sits side by side.

2. Individual schedule

Play is an emotional activity, and the type of play (solo or group), who we play with and how often is a choice that game players make.

3. Individual work system

Gamers create systems of work using a range of tools, configurations and preferences. The more complex the game, the higher the need to create an individual system. For example: playing a game also invloves interacting with forums, websites, videos and people who are external to the classroom – constantly.

4. Routines and strategies

Games require very different strategies, not least social strategies and routines to optimise play experience. These are unlilkly to co-incide with those in the ‘traditional classroom’. How that is managed – without making play ‘un-fun’ is an art.

5. Visual organisation

Games are not orgnised in visual ways that are familiar or even related to ‘the desktop’. The more complex the game, the more individual the visual organisation will be. Students may have little or not experience of doing this, and additionally teachers may have no understanding of the game UX or the game-space.

6. Parent involvement

Parents should be involved to a greater extent. If parents don’t understand the power of play and games, expect a phone call.

7. Assessment Practices

Schools need to have a clear guide to understanding their students as ‘players’, customising the programming for each individual student, and monitoring outcomes so that games can be used to evidence achievement, knowledge and skill. Do not rely on in in-game scores or ‘badges’ as reliable indicators.

8. Cognitive Readyness

Cognitive readiness skills such as logging-in, pre-reading, communication, social, play, fine motor, imitation and group skills are all part of game-play.

9. Games are personal

Developing an individualized person and family-centered plan for each  student, rather than using a standard curriculum. (see individual schedule)

10. Visual Supports

Make the sequence of ‘dailies’ predictable and understandable – don’t fall into the trap of thinking play is immediately productive or motivating, simply because games can be ‘fun’. These supports can be imaginative – earned, flexible and individual (ideally).


Cross Posted:

Kids expect to learn differently

Thanks to Sarah for her take on Massively Minecraft. I was a little taken back by the responses from the metaverse, including Will Richardson’s post. [open invite to come thump a tree Will]. I thought I’d pick up on it, and expand some of the ideas we’re using and the things we are seeing.

De-sensitizing means we miss things that matter!

It made me realise how easy it is to get de-sensitised to kids who quickly build high levels of digital-literacy in games. We have posted some of this on our blog, but not as much as we should. Not all our kids have game-history. For many this is their first multiplayer, constructive game-word.

We’re planning it like this

Each week Jo, Bron and I get together for a few hours and we go over what they kids are doing, what they are asking for and the transcripts of what they have been saying (though many use Skype). We discuss game-theory and community – and look for what Bron calls ‘teachable moments’. From October we will be running Parent sessions to extend this.

The world is kid-ruled – and doesn’t intend to be a classroom

We are at great pains not to introduce lessons or activities. We never have. Massively Minecraft is the kids world – all of it. We are using game-theory, project based learning methods (perhaps), but most of all – it’s built on the foundations of what makes gamer communities work so well.

Kids are Self-Directed

We ask them to tell us their goals, and offer help, but 90% of the time they don’t want it. Even after a few days of playing together, they are more than able to tell each other what the goal of the day is and teach each other. Some days it is building games, others it is digging mines. We attempt to maintain a deep, but effortless involvement with their work – mostly by admiring it (very important) or handing them out resources which they might otherwise have to collect. They have learned in our game – being productive and helpful to others is more likely to get you somewhere you want to go faster.

Kids are conceptual planners and designers of their own learning

In the game, they often talk about wanting ‘stacks’. This refers to resources. In Minecraft a stack is 64. Each kid can ask for one stack a day. They learn to plan what they want, so they might want 10 pistons, 20 wooden planks, 12 glass etc. What this means is that they are planning well ahead – they are actively visualising their goal and know how to achieve it. An adult that can’t give them a stack is fairly useless, of little more interest than a tree. I think that is how kids see adults much of the time, especially when kids feel they have little control or right to ask for something. Of course the kids get more than one stack if they can explain what they want it for – so again we’re asking them to defend their ideas – not judge them.

Kids are risk taking and building positive Self-Efficacy

What we see is that the concern for themselves dissipates while playing, but the sense of self is stronger after they stop. We have kids that are typing, talking, designing and take control of their work at a speed which would to be quite honest, spin the heads of most teachers. In fact we have kids in the game – who, according to school – can’t do things we see them doing in their stride.

Kids are learning outside the game

What Sarah hasn’t seen (yet) is the out of game work they do. Quite often they Skype each other and talk about the game. This talk is usually about their ideas. The “skindex” Sarah mentions is interesting because we know how important identity is in virtual worlds. It is common for them to Skype each other to ‘go on the skindex’. They will spend vast amounts of time creating new avatars using Miners Need Cool Shoes, and checking to see if anyone has downloaded their creations.

Skype in itself is interesting. It is not used as a sit back technology, but more of a surround-sound ampitheatre. As far as they are concerned, what is happening on the screen is the only visual that matters, they only want audio – and they want it on all the time.

As Skype only lets you have so many people on at a time, if they run out of users, they just open another call on a different machine, they hate headphones – so what you end up with are dozens of voices all talking at the same time. Somehow, though the noise, they hold multiple conversations – and still text chat in the game – usually to highlight IMPORTANT things.

Compare this to how adults use Skype or even a webinar, we focus on it totally – we mono-task where the kids just see it as a convenient way talk about what is happening in and out of the game. They are acutely aware of RANDOMS, those ‘add me’ requests on Skype. I mentioned this to one player “let me know if anyone you don’t know wants to add you” .. “oh, they did, but we don’t accept RANDOMS, only players we know”. Ahead of me again. They also tell new kids to get their parents to Skype us, to ask permission. Some parents don’t, but amazingly, the kids will include them using chat, often reminding other kids – “she can’t hear you, type it”.

Sometimes they will Skype to ‘go on YouTube’. They like to watch Minecraft Monday among other things, but again they are totally engaged in exploring and discussing the video they are watching. The never – never ask to broadcast a video so others can watch in sync. To them it doesn’t matter if you are 10 seconds ahead or behind – its all about the connected moment.

Kids need game-sympathetic helpers

“Jo, can I please have 12 pistons, some redstone a switch and 64 slabs” – from a 5 year old. This to me to a major point – schools still do not have game/virtual world specialists,. Where  Jo knows what these things are for and can predict what will happen next – this isn’t something that a teacher is going to pick up in a training session.

If schools are going to use games well (and avoid novelty games-based-learning) they need specialists with expert knowledge of virtual worlds and game theory – just as if they are going to teach engineering, they need and engineer.

I don’t see this yet – and to me is a missing link in motivation and engagement, especially in the 9-12 year old bracket. To me, this is the idea age to get into project based learning or serious games … but I don’t see sufficient investment in these areas yet … and it’s one of the many reasons Massively Minecraft exists – to provide it and talk about it.

Kids want to play with their parents

What isn’t so commonly known is that Massively Minecraft is also about PARENTS. A place to come and play with your kids in a world where they have the power and you get to learn about games in their lives.

Where are we going …

Towards the end of the year, we will be organised enough to offer some games based learning workshops – using Massively Minecraft for teachers interested in games. These won’t be FREE, but not expensive either. I know the Mining Industry is supposed to be lucrative these days in Australia, but Massively Minecraft actually costs a lot of time and money – and none of what we do with the kids online is funded (but we’re open to offers). We are always looking for new Guildies.

We are also looking at running ‘school based instances’ of Massively Minecraft – as action research projects, lead by Bron.

Thank You.

I’d like to thank all the teachers who have visited our world, those who have kindly Tweeted and RT’d comments – and those who’ve taken the time to blog about it. Our game is Minecraft and we are recruiting brave teachers and parents to come and learn about kids who inhabit game-spaces.

Meet the Miners!

Some of the kids will be at the FREE Games For Change Symposium in Sydney on 23rd September, where Bron is helping them organise a teacher workshop, so you can come and talk to them, play their game and learn what #GBL is – or should be.  Other kids will be in the game world, so you are welcome to come and join them too. The whole day is about games and the line up of speakers and activities I think is second to none right now. Hope to see you there.

GBL is not about games, it’s about mindsets

Games don’t want to bow to the will of education, as every game designer knows, as soon as the fun stops – you’re dead. For example, kindergarten kids are supposed to count to 30 by the end of the year (I know, it’s crazy). Setting that as a limit in games would appear to the designer as ridiculous. Imagine if all games for young kids abides by the rules of the syllabus, not of the players. No game could score past 30, they could only use one of 50 sight-words and only ever discuss basic social-concepts and toilets.

Education likes to use competence before performance as it’s under pinning view, so that you have to have the mark, the qualification before doing something else. It’s how we have built the leveling system, and it’s broken. Very broken.

Games are the opposite to this – performance before competence. You have to level your way to mastery and understanding constantly to be relevant to anyone else in the game.

You can’t have a so called ‘flipped classoom’ until you have performance before competence – and to do that, you need an entirely new way of working and assessing – which is exactly what you get with Xbox Live, not blogs or wikis – unless you design them that way.

This is game based learning. You don’t need a game you need a new mindset.