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.

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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

Serious Play Conference

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If you’re interested in serious games, serious play and so forth, there is a conference on right now using #seriousplay which is throwing up some interesting ideas, research and resources. My good friend Bron Stuckey is presenting on Gamification along with Peggy Sheehey and Knowclue Kid, I only wish I could have tagged along.

The website for the conference is here. For a mere $50 a year, you can become part of the Serious Games Association too (here).

For an example of the kind of work being done in this field, have a look at this ‘social clues‘ game for children with autism. I don’t think lacking social clues or empathy towards others is necessarily limited to autism — perhaps playing this game might help the ‘normal’ people to be more inclusive and empathetic — not least in the workplace later in life.

Another great resource is called Preloaded. This to me is where the future is — people who understand media-games-education working with libraries, museums, and broadcasters to bring great games into learning though methods other than the belief of the current local educational czar who may or may not be interested. Preloaded is well worth spending time exploring.

Minecraft digs deeper into learning.

Minecraft has many potential benefits in education. I believe these are being under-estimated. While some uses seem obvious — building a sustainable house, making a replica of a ancient monument and so on — it’s important for teachers (and parents) to recognise and value the learning processes which are happening. I’m about to argue these processes have widely been considered the domain of adult eLearning — and are skills which go beyond many definitions of “21st Century Learning”. In addition, your children and mine are bringing these skills into school.

Regardless of whether a school allows or sees value in Minecraft, there will be a significant number of children (using sales, age and platform sales) who have these skills and are sharpening them evenings and weekends.

Let me be more specific here. Using John Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design, its possible to show Minecraft is teaching kids skils that get buried underneath ongoing controversies around screen-time.

Keller’s ARCS Model for motivational design

  • Attention – Get the learners interest and curiosity
  • Relevance – Show the importance and usefulness of the content to the learner
  • Confidence – Including challenging, but do-able activities (tasks and sub tasks)
  • Satisfaction – Make the experience worth it (ie Why should I care about this?)

Using computers to assist learning only really works when the learner feels satisfied and commits what they learned to long-term memory. We’ve all been to demo or had training where we walk out and never revisit the lesson.

As a parent, it’s totally frustrating that my children seem to remember a thousand items in their favourite video game inventory — yet can’t remember what todays homework was. Keller’s model is the foundation of many eLearning and classroom activities. What I’m saying is that we can see kids doing this without any adult prompts or motivators. The brilliance of the game design is that it allows humanistic learning.

The major problems of our age deal with human relations; the solutions can be found only in education. Skill in human relations is a skill that must be learned; it is learned in the home, in the school, in the church, on the job, and wherever people gather together in small groups. – Knowles.

Minecraft doesn’t have ‘rules’ on how to accomplish a task other than the machine-rules about the properties of objects in the virtual landscape together with the players ability to interact with those objects. The game itself allows an ‘idle’ state where by the player can do nothing at all if they want. Time passing is marked by the sunrise and sunset. The first task learners perform is how to create a personal space — where they can be safe from harm. The classic hierarchy of needs becomes realised almost immediately. She builds a shelter by analysing her performance constantly to race again time and if successful in that task — starts to think about deeper task analysis.

This is hugely powerful stuff. A four year old is undertaking constant task analysis more often than they are reacting to tasks set. To me this represents a significant alternative view of “flipping the classroom”. Among the questions she’s asking herself (and seeking media information to answer) are:

  • What’s the complexity of the task?
  • How often does it needs to be performed?
  • Is the task critical to the end state (performance) I want?
  • Is this task separate, connected with or linked to other tasks?
  • What does the overall task-relationship look like?
  • What are the risks associated with not being able to complete the task?
  • What background skills to learners need to perform these tasks?

It’s critical to acknowledge that kids playing Minecraft are developing two fundamental skills. They are working towards developing the kind of reflective, critical “self-directed” skills previously associated with adult learning.

This immediately creates new challenges and opportunities. Minecraft allows kids to engage in humanistic informal learning by becoming self-directed learners, maintaining deep motivation towards their own goals. I think Knowles would have liked Minecraft.

This will, to some, clash with many EdTech’s assumptions about what kids can/should do with computers. In particular who benefits most from using them – students, system or teachers. It fly’s in the face of popular opinion and assumptions. When I then hint at the power of connectivism and network culture, I begin to see kids as part of a new and vast network of learners.

I think using this lens, kids are doing things in Minecraft is quite staggering. The objects they make are not the measurement of their achievement, but simply a landmark on their increasing ambition, skill and knowledge. As I said at the beginning of this post — I question the need to create lessons for Minecraft. I see greater value (to them) by simply allowing kids to play for a few hours a week. This has benefits which so far, EdTech has really not achieved despite vast investment and enthusiasm.

Minecraft is not just a game — it’s a sandbox for self-directed learning which is probably one the most significant skills children will need in the years ahead. Obsessing over “digital literacy” seems a particular teacher and system obsession.

(Tapped on a phone, in a train).

Minecraft’s Notch is the new Rodin.

Minecraft again today.  Just a quick post as I wait for a machine to finish a dull task.

I thought I’d introduce parents to a theory of learning called “contructionism”. As thats probably not interesting, I’ll skip to a few points that are – why Minecraft is the best FREE design teacher you’ll ever meet.

Minecraft encourages two of forms of learning that teachers would see as absolutely brilliant in their classroom (if they could magically have anything they wanted). These things are also REALLY important to “design thinking” which is another really ‘hot’ topic in how to get kids to think critically about problems and coming up with solutions.

So what are they? Perspective-Talking and Object Construction. These two topics have been mulled over by academics for decades, as they are all about our relationships with knowledge – or put another way – how do we get smarter.

Minecraft forces kids to ‘de-centre’ their view point and take someone else’s point of view. That might be in the game with another player as they make something, or it might be when they try to explain what they are making to you (the awesomely important parent and praise giver). It might be in a forum debating which is the best solution to a redstone problem or disagreeing with a YouTube “Let’s Play” video which is WRONG.

Despite outward appearances, Minecraft is not all about the player – it’s actually more about their relationship to knowledge (how to get more of it, ditch the rubbish and improve the wobbly bits).

Object construction gives them a kind of “gods eye view” of the world they are making. But they can’t succeed if this is their only view. It’s one BIG reason parents need to play with their kids in the game, not just moan about it and why allowing one person to have all the power tends to suck for the rest of us. Relate that to life – anyone know someone with a god-complex that likes to rule over everything? Did you read the Hunger Games?

In order to build knowledge Minecraft uses imagination to teach kids that they are not actually gods, ruling over the game or others, no matter how many tantrums they pull. The game-world works in certain ways only. If they really want to change the way the world works, then they need to learn how to ‘mod’ it. Is this not the same message ‘self improvement’ pundits like to talk about? Don’t take the world as it is, but take action to improve and change it?

By playing Minecraft, kids learn when they start to learn from opposites, forge new relations and separating ideas about the game-world, they have relevance to the real world. I’m yet to meet a kid playing Minecraft that’s a sheep. They are all goats who like to do whatever they want. That’s powerful stuff, but it’s also massive thing to learn, and Minecraft (can) do it really well. (With great power comes great responsibility). You tend to only hear about the ‘bad Minecraft’ in the media of course. But trust me “good Minecraft” can be used to tackle just about anything positively too. Notch has put down the ground work, but parents clearly need to be on deck to help their children make use of this new found knowledge and agency.

This form of learning (yes, learning) is not at all unlike the way science is taught under constructionist methods. If fact, it’s endorsed by your local school. I’ll just use Science to illustrate here. There is a borad consensus that children’s learning depends critically on their ideas about science, scientists and experiments. Minecraft is just a science lab by another name. The fact it can replicate this experience without a teacher or curriculum at all is just one of the many unique qualities games have, and most schools don’t’. It’s powerful stuff, and of course disrupts how we see ‘learning’. As with science, the way we ‘learn’ it can result in active identification with it (Science is awesome) or alienation (Science is rubbish). It’s the same with computer and video games, how we (you, me and others) learn about them matters a great deal. Remember I said – perspective talking. That’s what is happening all the time when playing Minecraft.

Take social media in schools and collages. No one’s learning about them as a subject, in fact most schools BAN them completely. Yet in order to make sense of the world, students need to learn about them (just as they do science) if they are to function in parts of the world where online is just part and parcel of life. Teaching them only about ‘fear’ is like only teaching them about “when science goes bad” and in fact education spends vasts about of time trying to build “wicker men” from any technology it doesn’t understanding (like games).

My point is, that simply allowing kids to play Minecraft in school would be far better than giving they stupid cyber safety chats, quizzes and lectures by the local police. Kids don’t turn learning off and on, like teachers sometimes turn the job on and off (bells). You can’t tell a kid that games are not learning and you can’t stop them learning when a game like Minecraft is so optimally tuned into the most powerful educational theories out there. The irony of course is that ‘culture’ get’s in the way and most educational administrators have not themselves learned the value of perspective talking and can’t separate the game from the objective.

Designers sort out what object mean to them or others; then they selectively connect features of an object and features of a CONTEXT into a coherent unity. This belongs here because, this works here because, I am happy here because and so on. Over time, designers build up a lot of knowledge and understanding about how to place and connect objects in the world, so as to give them situated meaning to others. BIG examples: Egyptian pyramids, great sailing ships, statues, buildings, vehicles.

Now ask yourself, what is MY kid doing in Minecraft … playing AND learning to be a designer? – How are they relating DESIGN in the real world to themselves and others in the game-world?. How does copying from the board do this? How does filling out a worksheet do this? How does listening to a lecture do this?

It doesn’t. Kids put up with it, because kids have no power at all in school – despite dubious claims from educational advoates about how technology ’empowers students’. Rubbish, one persons in charge, the dude at the front. And that dude has no clue about games like Minecraft, so will avoid it like the plague.

Most of all, according to the theory, the construction of meaning is most potent when learners are engages in building external and sharable facts. Minecraft is all about those things.

To the generations past, Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” was the prototypical image of thinking. Notch gave us a new image, one which is a now prototypical of todays “thinkers”. They happen to look like boxy-stick-people, but really, Notch’s design for the new thinker is right up there with Rodin in terms of art and craft.

The Digital Dust Bowl

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One of the things that is changing the way families experience games are the new media layers that games are appearing on. We’ve known for years that media works better when it is fluid. If you like, if we were to take the sum total of all forms of media that appear in popular culture, make them immersive and interactive – and where to you find yourself?

On the Internet is not the correct answer. The Internet is just the transport for media layers. Where you end up is inside one of several networks, which carries media more powerful and fluid than newspapers, radio, television, books, magazines – or websites.

Sony, Nintendo, Valve, Xbox, iTunes and Google Play are the network layers that manage to exist in two key areas of our lives. Firstly, the pocket. At any moment we can be entertained, thrilled and most importantly – consume and purchase. Secondly, in the lounge room. The one place that most families inhabit  Not the study or a nook (where the PC lives) but front and centre of viewing.

Games are more powerful, because games are a significant part of these networks overall media business. Not just blockbuster games, but Indie games which are relatively smaller and cheaper to download. They exist alongside the DLC (downloadable content) which are ‘additions’ to the games you buy in the store – and you pay for. They sit along side downloadable videos, television, music and news. They link into you social feed. An Indie game, such as Super Meat Boy can turn 10,000 units in a day at 12000c a pop, which is somewhere around $20.00.

A big reason the media (be that television, print, or websites) will fail to win their relentless attempts to diminish games as a media (we already spend more time playing that doing anything else) is that games are central to the economic success (and growth) of these media networks. If you were born after say 1978, you grew up playing games on micro-computers. If you were born after 1990, you grew up on optical-media based consoles. If you were born after 2000, you are growing up on network-games.

The thing about this – the thing which seems of the most importance to me right now – is that we know almost nothing about the motivations and perceptions of parents towards their use in the home. In education, the scary thing is that these things are never mentioned in relation to ‘integrating ICT’. There’s a huge assumption that eventually, though the pathways put forward through popular Internet media layers (the feed of blogs, Twitter and so on) – sufficient adults will understand online information pathways to develop the skills (what skills) needed for the future. At best, this near future is seen as a shift from laptop top tablet.

This of course means that the ‘cutting edge’ in popular culture of online education is based on tablets, mobile phones and on maturation of Internet websites. It ignores completely the use of wearable technology, smart televisions, Kinect, Google Glass and many more technologies that have already entered the home. When educational futurists painted a vision of Web2.0, they assumed it would be on a computer, then a laptop and now a tablet.

The future of online learning won’t be these things. It will be in fast moving, on-demand content that can be immersive and fluid. It is perhaps the biggest reason I found the MS Surface tablet exciting. It looked, worked and talked to my Xbox network. It amases me in higher education that no one (or no one I can see) isn’t working really hard on how eLearning might look via a network layer such as Xbox live – one which has a mature system of reputation, avatar, history of use, money and of course downloadable content. How hard would it be to create an amazing learning managent system that worked on the Xbox network? Well, impossible actually – as education simply hasn’t considered that just about all of it’s ‘innovations’ for interactive screens, live cams, secure mail, gamification, flipped classroom, internet searching and so on can be done on Xbox live.

So when these media networks have machines hooked up to wall mounted LCDs pushing data at us though 8 cores of processing – and hiring thousands of programmers to do it … it seems almost Edwardian to suggest websites have much of a future. Every major media player in the world is on or trying to get on the network layers that sit in our pockets and lounge room walls.

My money (if I had any) is on the future being a solid return to subject mastery in classroom and a retreat from the high invested (low return) that we’ve seen in the last decade. I don’t imagine for a moment that student results will be diminished. I think that higher education and other offerings of ‘learning’ will make their way to layers such as Xbox live (and not just iTunesU) and we’ll be interacting in real time with real people using gesture based technology, wearable technology – because the networks which carry games such as Crysis3 are currently limited by the machines – the Wii, the Xbox and the PS3 are a decade old.

Imagine if the classroom had laptops and computers 10 years old, they would barely run todays software – and yet the ageing PS3 and Xbox still deliver media and games which you’d expect on your iFad3 or i7 PC. If anyone knows how to get the maximum interaction out of a machine – it’s game developers and all of these media networks (those used to selling movies, TV and music) know – if they want a future doing just that – then they need to fund the games industry … and that is expensive … like many millions and years of waiting for it expensive.

I doubt you’ll find a single proposal at ISTE last year, this year or next year, that will look at how networked media will flood into lives of kids in the next few years. We’re about to enter a new generation of machine – the PS4, the Xbox (720) and so on, which will quite simply transform the way media is delivered and interacted with. Instead theres a bunch of people who are in the old-marketpace. To me it’s like the boom and bust of the wheat farmers who ignored the cattle-men and believed the solution to low grain prices what to produce more grain to sell, or if the price of grain is high, plant more grain to make money.

The dust-storm is arriving … me, I’m working on figuring out how and why families choose the games and networks they do … as it’s only by getting that, could I then try to imagine how we might prepare teachers for the next generation – the ones who will grow up feeding on high-speed media via cheap boxes that know their name.

Now I”m going to play Fez – which is metaphor. The world is 3D, it has four sides, a top and a bottom – what I’m seeing in edu-tech is an unwillingness to accept change is not about changing one surface for another (web1.0 to web2.0, computer screen to laptop screen, laptop to tablet screen). It’s about waking up and realising there’s stuff going on around the back that your current feed does not want you to know about.

At times it feels ironic that what is presented as ‘the edge of new learning technologies’, quick to vilify ‘old methods’ – is already a chapter in history – relevant in the 1990s, but in denial of what comes next – for no greater reason than they don’t have a place in it, and about to find themselves living in the ‘digital dust bowl’.

It’s very exciting stuff. It’s like finding the Web all over again, or that whole – what am I doing here – thing that came with Second Life or Minecraft. I’m betting that the way MOOCS and online learning for adults will explode is exactly the same way they exploded for games. I’m also betting right now all the money for MOOCs and massive online learning delivery systems is going into dust-ware.

Me, I’m working on a game with Mr11 about a Monkey with a monocle – because his homework said to make a pencil box using a set-square. I’m by-passing the Google Sketch phase and going straight for the understanding of the design process.

5 stages of Games Based Learning

The Kübler-Ross model suggests suggest that the patterns of grief are one way of describing the basic patterns of integrating new information that conflicts with previous beliefs.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” said Schopenhauer of the learning process.

I’m not sure he’s right – he had some barking-mad ideas … yet corresponds to the five stages of grief in the Kübler-Ross model with ridicule being denial, opposition being anger and bargaining, and acceptance being depression and acceptance.

It is hard to deny social-media for educators is awash with people seeking satisfaction, and though we are more free to do what we want – we’re still can’t simply will it.

Denial

  • This is high-school, high-stakes tests, so games are not relevant to the way we teach.
  • We’re not in charge of curriculum, if change is needed, they would tell us.
  • I don’t have gamer-kids here, these just are my students.

Anger

  • I can’t believe you think games are academic!
  • Why is no one showing us more about using games!
  • It’s just going to consume more time we don’t have!
  • This is just a waste of my time!

Bargaining

  • What about I just change grades to points?
  • Can we just talk about it next semester when I have more time?
  • To do this, can’t you lighten my teaching load?
  • I suggest we ask the parents before we decide anything.

Depression

  • Sigh. We’ve done all this work on blogs, wikis and now you tell us these tools are not so powerful?
  • There’s so much in this, it’s really hard to get my head around.
  • What’s the point, it’s just another thing that won’t last.

Acceptance

  • Lets take a look at the ideas in a way that doesn’t compromise our goals or professionalism.
  • Lets look at the scholars we already know about’s theories and ideas about games, play and imagination.
  • Wow, kids who play games develop skills we can use to teach them even better.