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.