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  • Getting Schooled at Filament Games


    This the blogpost I wrote as part of my responsibilities as a Teacher Fellow for Filament Games last summer.  

    Games 23, 2015 — INSIDE FILAMENT  “We have been very fortunate to work with outstanding teachers from all over the country through our Teacher Fellow program. Today, former Teacher Fellow, Peggy Sheehy, reflects on her time at Filament Games.” 

         Serious Play 16 I attend a lot of conferences. Sometimes I’m presenting and sometimes I’m not.  Regardless, I always SCAN the program to see what sessions are offered pertaining to games and education.  My MO is: if I detect a gaming session, and an actual teacher is the presenter, then hopefully optimistic, I’ll give it a go. Sadly, experience has taught me to find a seat in the back, so when the PowerPoint Jeopardy slide shows up, I can make a swift and discreet exit.

         On the other hand, if I find a session offered by a commercial enterprise, I’ll be curious enough to listen in, but I’ll sit right up front.  In this manner, when I get up to leave, not only am I “voting with my feet” but I’m also making my opinion crystal clear to the other attendees.  Usually it only takes a few minutes for these corporate folks to demonstrate that they’re totally clueless about what actually happens inside a classroom, or about how learning works and what today’s kids find engaging, or what teachers really need.

         A recent report projected educational gaming to grow into a multibillion-dollar industry by 2018. In addition, for the last three years, video games were listed in the Horizon Report as up and coming trends for deep learning, and the US Department of Education has not only sanctioned the concept of using video games in the classroom, but is actively organizing around it.

    dragyourfeet   Still, teachers are dragging their feet. Year after year, they dig out that old reliable Jeopardy© template so that when they’re asked if they use games in class, they reply with great satisfaction, “Of course I do!”  To be fair though, let’s consider the fact that those teachers are already overwhelmed by the constraints of standardized testing and a stale, outdated curriculum.  Not what they signed up for…

         But I’ve also learned that teachers aren’t likely to venture into a whole new pedagogical approach unless it is mandated.  The “if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it” attitude is pervasive and entrenched among our ranks.  But I would implore my colleagues to think again—-it is broke; just ask the kids.

         As much as I strive to maintain a professional demeanor at conferences, my frustration has often resulted in eliciting “heated discussions” with the corporate reps who  present these “pseudo games”  and tout them as  “the best educational game offerings”,  This results in my obligatory interview starting with what has proven to be the most telling question, “Who are the educators on your staff?”  That usually results in a lot of sidestepping banter and sales pitch rhetoric.   Heaven forbid I use the term “pedagogy” in my inquiry,  oh and, NEWS FLASH!—- someone on your staff who taught for a year or two and then quit does not count as having an educator on staff!  These are just some of the more salient points I bring to the forefront.

          I swear I’v261068895_708644bdc02b_largee  seen corporate reps flinch when I’ve entered their sessions, as often my reputation as a “gaming vigilante” has preceded me.   I choose to consider this reputation a “badge of courage” of sorts—- for I readily admit that any semblance of pride, or embarrassment, or even professional demeanor might fly out the window when I’m fighting for my kids!  I’m tired of hearing them say, “This game sucks” or, “Well, I guess it’s better than a worksheet.”  It baffles me that so many companies who claim to be designing educational games have absolutely no input from an educator.   What’s the problem?

         Well for starters, these “educational games” are mostly chocked full of artificial incentives, or are merely simulations that might be very distant cousins to games, or, worst of all, they may simply be digitized worksheets. I’ve seen it over and over again and I’m weary of this approach of desieating-sugargning educational games that try to “trick” students into learning by “draping dull academic instruction in the superficially appealing disguise of a game. Instead of placing the fun of discovery and mastery at the heart of the game, these imposters use the trappings of games “as a sugar coating” for their otherwise unappetizing content (1).” Most educational games attempt to combine a fun game mechanic with distinctly uncorrelated content. By doing so, the deep learning possibilities are missed, and the end result resembles a multiple choice worksheet more than it does a game.

         I’ve had enough of these (mostly) well-intentioned educational game producers and their misinformed attempts to extrinsically motivate kids to learn via digitizing mandated content. My kids deserve better—all kids do.

    I met Lucas Gillispie at GLS

    Truth be known, my kids do get better. I’ve always used board games and commercial off the shelf games in my classroom to support learning. But seven years ago, when I met Lucas Gillispie (from Surrey County, NC) at Games Learning and Society (GLS), a floodgate opened and all of the possibilities that had been cloistered in the realm of ideas were set into motion. GLS is a conference where educators, researchers, and game designers share a space, so Lucas and I put our heads towowinschoolgether, and came up with a plan to run an after-school program using World of Warcraft (WoW). The WoWinSchool Project began that fall as an after-school club designed to support literacy for kids who were disenfranchised and didn’t function well in a traditional classroom environment. These are the kids for whom school as we know it just doesn’t work.

         For a full school year we met in our respective computer labs after school with our tribes of kids, and really just played WoW with them. I designed an occasional challenge, but for the most part, we simply provided



    the space for them to play and we played alongside them—-observing and gathering anecdotal evidence where we could.   When school let out in June, Lucas and his lead teacher, Craig Lawson, devoted a good part of the summer to designing a full year’s ELA curriculum supported by WoW, and the WoWinSchool Curriculum was offered as an elective in North Carolina, and a remedial/support class in Suffern Middle School.         Ultimately it became the framework for my 6th grade humanities curriculum when I returned to the classroom three years ago.  I used some of the original quests and wrote new ones to address the learning goals of the humanities curriculum.  I already had the roadmap —- and I’d learned from the best!

         WoW in School, now known as MMO School,  has been the recipient of many awards, most notably, the Gamification Award for The Best Use of Gamification in Education. Lucas and I have been interviewed many times, had numerous invitations to appear in webcasts, and international doors have opened for us as we traveled to India, France, Australia, and New Zealand to share our approach to games in education with international teachers.   Most of the time they want to know how this works in a public school. What does it look like?  The inherent learning already present in WoW is complimented by teacher-designed quests, (in my case now systematically addressing every CCLS for 6th grade ELA) and delivered via a unique quest-based course management system originally out of Boise State University, 3D Game Lab.  Now a product from GoGoLabs, 3D Game Lab was the answer to my prayers.!gamelab_logo

    By creating my course in 3D GameLab, I was able to design and align each quest to the appropriate CCLS. As a result, the project is Common Core aligned, because of the technology component, it’s STEM, and my classroom is “flipped” since the quests are available online in 3D GameLab and can be completed at home.   Utilizing the pedagogical foundation that I acquired in my undergrad and graduate degrees, plus the existing quest model from Lucas, I also needed to become a content master, while remaining cognizant of the developmental profile of 6th grade learners. No small task.

         To that end, I’ve read everything I can get my hands on pertaining to games and education, I’ve revisited the learning theorists, becoming reacquainted with the likes of Papert and Vygotsky. I’ve presented at major education and gaming conferences, and really listened to some VERY smart people. And I’ve spent countless hours playing the games; tracking the learning within, and applying that knowledge to these new quests.1397414979002-tjn-0414-gameteach003 However, the most informative thing I do to shape my design, is talk with the kids. I watch them play. I ask questions and I ask for advice and feedback.   So, when I sit in a conference session and see some cheesy offering being touted as an “engaging and powerful tool for learning” and I know it is nothing more than an interactive worksheet, I admit to feeling a bit superior. I’ve challenged the industry about this problem more than once, in many different forums, both online and face-to-face so I guess I deserve that “gaming vigilante” reputation.   But as an early adopter, or, some may say, a renegade, I have to realize that I really only speak for a select few pioneers who have chosen to take the leap and use commercial video games in their classrooms. The majority of my colleagues across the country are just beginning to be exposed to the idea that video games might actually be substantial learning tools.

    That’s why the idea that these “pseudo-games” being doled out to the uninitiated majority of teachers might potentially become the accepted educational game standard terrifies me.   One might suggest that this is a ripe opportunity for commercial game companies to step into the academic arena of games for learning? (I’m talking to YOU, Blizzard!) Yes?  Or, even better, what a great time for the existing educational game companies to step up their act, and produce some games comparable to the commercial offerings our students play outside of school.   So I continue to attend conferences, cautiously hopeful, keeping an eye out for that renegade game—the one that could stand up to commercial games in terms of quality and engagement value, yet serve to support a distinct academic concept or learning goal. For years they were non-existent.

    Then quietly, offerings such as Journey and Gone Home gained acclaim at the Games for Change Conference in NYC, but have little hope of mainstream distribution to schools. Why? BeJourneycause these indie developers rarely have the big picture in mind, and lack the business acumen necessary to know how they might get their games into schools.   It takes a seasoned teacher, who “gets” games like Lucas Gillispie or like Paul Darvasi (Toronto, Canada)

    Paul Darvasi (Toronto, Canada)

    to play the game long enough to unearth the pedagogy. Paul’s work with the indie game, Gone Home, is a consummate example of the powerful potential these games, not initially intended for edugone home title square (1)cation, can contribute to the classroom when a skilled educator is at the helm.   Regardless of the fact that every year, videogames gain more credibility, and more and more research reports proclaiming the power of games in education surface, the uninitiated (non-gamer) teacher is unlikely to buy in until one of the well established textbook companies distributes “the latest, greatest advance in student engagement” –and some pale, reconstituted game resembling Jeopardy or Concentration or Tic-Tac-Toe, is delivered to their schools accompanied by a teacher Guidebook containing prescribed lesson plans, tidy little workbooks, and differentiated options.

    Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 11.58.00 AM
    Dan Norton and Dan White of Filament Games

    Therefore, at Serious Play, when I grabbed a back row seat in a packed room for a presentation by two reps from Filament Games, a Wisconsin based educational game company, I was feeling dubious at best. I remember sitting smugly and listening to the presenter, waiting for the inevitable evidence to surface proving they had NO IDEA what happens inside a school, or that their idea of a “learning game” was nothing
    more than some interactive worksheets, or a series of incentivized math problems to solve, granting the player five minutes of action gameplay.

    But it never came—and I slowly had to admit to myself that these guys from Filament seemed to know what they were talking about. The games Filament modeled were smart, well crafted, and fun! The two representatives (whom I later learned were at the top of the Filament food chain) were actually discussing the game design elements as they pertained to modalities of learning. They were dropping names like Jeremy Bruner, and while they spoke I hopped onto their website and read, “Our team is a creative, interdisciplinary group of people who are making a difference modernizing education and revolutionizing learning!”

    These guys talked a damn good talk, but that was no reason to deny them the “Sheehy Inquisition,” so when they concluded and opened Q&A, my hand shot up. Surprising myself, I didn’t open with the usual, “Who are the teachers on your staff, informing your design?” question.   No, I actually prefaced it with a compliment,

          “You seem to have grappled with the same design issues that teachers do.”
    The tall one just smiled and nodded (*was that smugness I perceived?) so I let him have it,
    “Can you tell me if you have any actual teachers on staff?”
    “Yes,” he answered, “as a matter of fact we do. Every summer we hire real teachers —-who are            currently in the classroom—-and we bring them on staff as Teacher Fellows to help inform our            design.”
    This guy was my new hero!

    url    Fast forward to this past summer, when I received the news that Filament Games was accepting applications for their Teacher Fellowship positions, I jumped on the chance! The application process was rigorous—-in addition to the very lengthy application, they asked for a lesson plan, a review of one of their games, and then two phone interviews. I have no idea how many people applied, but I was pretty

    Marianne Malmstrom (AKA Knowclue) hard at play at Filament Games!

    thrilled when I was awarded one of the two Teacher Fellowships. Major bonus: a very close colleague, Marianne Malmstrom, (*aka Knowclue) received the other. Now I was ready to see if it was just the guy at the helm who talked real pretty, or if this company actually understood the dilemma that teachers face finding games that work.

    Before I headed out to Madison, I put it out to my social network: “Developing new pres. What do you think game designers need to learn/know from teachers?”

    Here’s the best of the responses:

    Rory Newcomb (Mumbai): How to make the learning critical in the games that they design, not just an accessory of the game.
    Dean Groom (Australia): How to avoid making things boring and irrelevant to youth culture. Brendan Jones (Australia): Don’t think that learning and fun are mutually exclusive.
    Liza Martin New York): To allow students to creatively respond to the game, not just learn to win. Engaging kids’ creativity allows them to become problem solvers. Developing games that only permit a finite set of resolutions doesn’t help the kids develop skills.
    Christie Allison: Learn from teachers: What kind of scaffolding should be used to increase self-monitoring so students “know what they know”, and know what they have recently learned. Ex. Journal, in game reinforcement, etc.
    Jill Berkowicz (New York): Instead I’d ask, “What do teachers need to learn from game designers?” (I responded, “that’s last year’s pres, Jill! tee hee)”

    But it was this one response that arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the day I was to present to a room full of game designers, that floored me!  Read it. Then read it again:

    Natalie Denmeade (Australia): Game Designers need to know what a privilege it is to hold the focus of a precious young brain for hours of every day in the most formative years of their lives. Do not underestimate your influence – you are a teacher. Your innate understanding of Mother Nature’s trick to wrap up learning in play (and dopamine hits) gives you a super power. Use this wisely. Don’t resort to lazy storytelling to create drama and momentum, explore other ways that don’t involve damsels in distress, or mere sidekicks. As our modern day storytellers and Bards you reflect a society you are not responsible for making but we challenge you to do more than simply mirror what is and instead move us into what could be.”

    These were the words that would steer me at Filament every day.  Thank you, Natalie!

    The Teacher Fellow is expected to become a full-fledged employee of Filament Games for the duration of the onsite portion of the Fellowship, and also complete a roster of responsibilities outlined

    in a contract-signed, sealed, and delivered before the flight to Madison. There was also a great deal of references to non disclosure entities. All neat and tidy, “business as usual.” I was suspicious to say the least. At this point, the experience felt very “corporate” and I wondered if there was going to be any real creative juices flowing once I was on site.   Granted I was impressed with the professional expertise that was demonstrated sorting out the many logistics of the travel, housing and contractual responsibilities— a gargantuan task.

    Late approval from the grant end of things had created a housing shortage fiasco- but Filament resolved it by putting us up at an amazing lakeside AirBnB for the first weeks, and then a full service hotel for the duration. Since the hotel was a few miles away from the office, they gave us use of the company Prius, and for times we were traveling within the city, a metro card. Pretty sweet. Still I wondered just how much “teacher input” would be requested… how much impact I might be able to have.

    I finally arrived at Filament Games, ready to take them by storm. But that never happened, and here’s why. To start with, it felt as if every single member of that team went out of their way to make me (us) feel welcomed. These folks were all about the age of my kids. Some were shy, some gregarious. Some brought their dogs to work and some had started a “Cloak Club” since the impressive new offices on the tenth floor traded panoramic views  for some rather drafty spots.


         I was invited to join the “stair club” for anyone who chose
    the healthy route and walked up those ten flights in lieu of the elevator.  (I made it twice—the rest of the time I had grand excuses like carrying things that were just too heavy or shoes not fit for the hike…)

         But that wasn’t the reason why I could not call up any heavy-handed judgment. These young people were smart—really smart—-and their conversations contained catchphrases such as “learning principles” and, “We need to do more than align it to standards.”

         One of our initial training sessions took place in a pleasant corner with couches and bookshelves. The librarian in me took over and I started to scan the titles. “This will be the real proof,” I thought. All I can say is, the bookshelves at Filament Games, are almost a mirror of my booksIMG_1092helves at home. I’m not just talking about the big hit gaming books, or the old standby pedagogy texts, but much less popular titles—much deeper and specific books. They were varied and in different degrees of wear—but they were the RIGHT books. I was hushed. I realized that I had more to learn from these folks than to teach them. This epiphany put me in the right mindset, to become a member of the team—one who could really listen to other ’s ideas, and possibly—yes—change my mind.

    The next weeks proved bountiful for me. I learned how this company struggled with all of the same issues I did. I sat in meetings where the dichotomy was revealed of what worked, but what was right and which of the two should reign. They grappled with daily cognitive dissonances surrounding content vs. game play/engagement. They admitted where they had failed, and they really, really, really listened when they asked for my input.

    My time
    at Filament flew by. When I left I was changed. My arrogance took a back seat to understanding, and my “having all IMG_0106the answers” turned into, “having a million questions.”

    It was too short, but I had students who would be stepping into Room 339 soon; stepping into a “gammem&bennarcisoe-based classroom”.

    I would do better this year. I would understand the limitations and the complexities of designing for schools. Thank you, Filament Games. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

    I stand corrected.


     Oh—-and yes…
    there was cake!


     * nothing smug about them I realized once I was working there–Filament’s leaders are humble, teachable, and sincere in their quest to “get it ri


    Some sources:

    1. HABGOOD, MP Jacob and AINSWORTH, Shaaron E (2011). Motivating children to learn effectively: exploring the value of intrinsic integration in educational games. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 20 (2), 169-206.

    2. THE JOAN GANTZ COONEY CENTER AT SESAME WORKSHOP. Gamebased learning market expected to continue strong growth. http://www.gamesandlearning.org/2015/07/09/game-based-learning-market-expected-to-continue-strong-growth/ Accessed March 15, 2015

    3. GAMASUTRA. Bridging the gap between game design and educational games. http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JenHelms/20151012/255999/Bridging_The_Gap_Between_Game_Design_and_Educational_Games.php Accessed March 12, 2015

    4. Middle of nowhere gaming. Editorial, Harry Loizides, Video Games Gaming is the future of education. http://middleofnowheregaming.com/2015/10/09/gaming-is-the-future-of-educatio

  • The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter by Greg Toppo


    Greg Toppo has been visiting my school for years— literally years.  He’s clocked an amazing number of hours speaking with my students and, more importantly, listening to them–observing their play, their struggles with literacy, and their social interactions.  My dear friend, Marianne Malmstrom (@knowclue)  would be proud of Greg— for he truly did “Follow the Learning” but he did so by following the play.

    Often Greg would stay and chat after the kids had exited —in earlier times the library, and more recently the classroom.  Sometimes he would talk about things he had observed and ask me, “What do ya think?”Other times we’d talk about what he had seen that I had not and he’d answer my poking, prying questions about other projects and sch1397414979002-tjn-0414-gameteach003ools.  In hindsight, I cannot recall him uttering a disparaging word about anyone or anything he had researched. Always the consummate professional— always the just plain good guy.

    We talked about the name of the book when he had unearthed it–we discussed the bodies of research he continuously relied upon as footing for his own.  We’d share bits about our families, our jobs, and I truly became very fond of Greg.  We became the kind of friends who could just pick up where we left off whether the interlude was a week or a year.

    At some point, he began revealing deadlines for the book with a curious combination of excitement and unadulterated panic.  But he made his deadlines. One day he called with some “aIMG_0106bsolutely last questions and fact checking.”  Next thing I knew, a pdf arrived for my final stamp of approval.  I remember reading it and thinking, “Who is gonna care about this part—get to the part where you talk about the kids–and the play!”–and indeed he does.   There’s more personal information about me included than I would have deemed necessary, but again, the quiet genius that is Greg Toppo uses it to paint the complete picture.  I guess I’ll just resign myself to the fact that the world now knows my age, failed marriages, and lack of high school diploma.  He got most of it exactly right.   Greg's signing

    Chapter 7,  appropriately named after a direct quote from one of my students, “I’m Not Good at Math, But My Avatar Is”  has little to do with math, and everything to do with the work I’ve been  fortunate to be able to do at Ramapo Central Schools with hundreds of kids and scores of teachers.  Yeah—that’s what it’s really about.  I’m honored he felt it important enough to devote an entire chapter to my work with kids.

    The Game Believes in You was released to instant rave reviews… and I’m not talking from some fly by night stand in who can whittle a phrase, but instead from the royalty of games in education such as Jim Gee, and Jane McGonigal.

    From the prologue (Hard Fun) right through to the Epilogue (Games Everywhere)  I was glued to this book.  Greg has dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s and just made so much sense PLUS he does so in a sometimes snarky, sometimes sweet, extremely readable way.  Buy this book and read it.  If you care anything about education, read it.  I promise your eyes won’t bleed from footnotes and rambling “academeese” terminology.  Yes, there are references to research(ers) but only when they solidify a point. Greg speaks with his reporter voice, and one barely notices how much deep, important information is being delivered  The book gave me hope.

    “I really hope gaming is not the next big thing in education, because the next big thing in education always sucks,” he said.

    Thanks Greg—and don’t forget to stop by.  You know you always have an open invitation to Room 339.  But (as you stated on p. 128),“REMEMBER! If a future you tries to warn you about this class, DON’T LISTEN!

  • OK, I’ve been tagged in the #EdChatNZ MEME and so I will…PLAY!!

    If I understand the protocol correctly, I am now instructed to  answer these questions and then conclude by tagging a few victims of my own!  Muauahahaha    Here we go@

    1. How did you attend the #EdchaIMG_3078tnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn’t)

    Visiting New Zealand, a leg in the “There and Back Again” Tour with colleague Marianne Malmstrom and Bron Stuckey, we were honored to enjoy a tour of Hobsonville Point Secondary the week prior to EdChatNZ.  Since we had our return trip tickets to Sydney booked for Friday, we were so IMG_7111disappointed that we’d miss EdChatNZ when we heard  @MissDtheTeacher speak of the event—and even more so as each teacher we encountered spoke about what they would be sharing.  But as the excitement built we realized that perhaps we needed to have a little powwow with Qantas about changing our flights.  @Claire Amos overheard this  and insisted that we do so –stepping up with covering the cost of the ticket change–and @MissDtheTeacher immediately started to rearrange the conference schedule in order to allow us slots to present our work!
    So we continued on with the week’s  planned visits to Rotorua (yes–we did the baths, the tour, and the mud!)  as well as the Polynesian Village where our tour guide, Carla, gave us a detailed history of the Maori people and their customs.

    Next we were on to Napier-a little seasideimages hamlet that leads one to believe they have been dropped into a post WW art deco city—where the shops even carry the theme forward and offer period clothing and accessories.  Ultimately we arrived in Wellington, but instead of Hobbiton, we visited the Titahi Bay North School where they stole our hearts and honored us with the Kapa Haka.

    Later that day we visited Amesbury school where I was most impressed with the inquiry approach based around the concept of Living Stories. It centers around the premise that we can communicate through a wide range of art forms – story, poetry, dance, drama, photography and a range of visual art formats.IMG_3083

    Once our school visits in Wellington were completed, instead of flying to Sydney, our staunch and masterful tour guide, Bron Stuckey, drove  us straight through the night to Auckland in time for us to head over to EdChatNZ on Friday AM!

    Friday, I started by attending a session entitled Digital Literacy – Learning & Social Implications by Andrew Cowie. Twitter: @cowieandrew
    Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AndrewCowie74/posts
    Website: http://schools.natlib.govt.nz/supporting-learners/digital-citizenship/digital-citizenship-schools

    avshuldrFull disclosure, I was fully prepared to rip this apart and dutifully point out the error of his thinking –(since he already had me a bit chaffed by calling it “Digital” Literacy –rather than dispensing with what I perceive to be an antiquated clarification–to me these days, literacy is just that—literacy –and there’s no longer a need to distinguish that which happens in bits and bytes from that which does not.) However, I was most pleasantly surprised as Andrew started to dispense some forward thinking ideas, in digestible little bites that elicited great conversation from his audience, and he shared some truly insightful concepts to assist teachers in the shift to future focused thinking! Bravo!

    2. How many others attended from your school or organization?

    Three of us traveled from New York, New Jersey and Sydney

    3.IMG_0214 How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?

    I had to skip this portion of the day, as every spare moment I had was devoted to developing a new presentation for KIWI teachers who were ready to grapple with much more sophisticated concepts than my usual audiences.

    4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?Georgi de Stigter

    1. (who will always be “Ginger” to me) gave a gorgeous talk on games–succinctly providing just enough information before she facilitated a game to send the message home!  Brilliant and FUN!

    2. The students in the library Friday were enormously helpful in validating for me that kids are kids and play is a natural authentic arena for learning.

    3. Maurie Abraham, Claire Amos and Diane Cavallo modeled leadership that encouraged community, comradery and a sense of adventure!

    Of course, so many others whose names escape me now in a flurry of new friends!

    5. What session are you gutted that you missed?

     1. Design thinking: think agile, discover & innovate with Di Cavallo

    2. Unleashing Curiosity and Creativity in the Classroom with Steve Moulday

    3. Curriculum For The Future: The Game with Rachel Bolstad & Dan Milward


    6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned? Brian Fox

    Would have loved to have taken Brian Fox, @smsprincipal, my principal who is already a leader ahead of the curve but would have appreciated seeing and hearing  from those a bit down the road from where we stand!

    Also would love to have brought my Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum.

    Lisa Weber  who has demonstrated an understanding of future focused  learning but would have really enjoyed seeing it in action!

    7. Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why

     Would have loved to had more time with the folks from CORE.  The few minutes I did get to spend with them were illuminating and their enthusiasm for their work was absolutely contagious!

    8. What is the next book you are going to read and why? 

    Need to finish:

    1. The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning : James Paul Gee

    The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning

    One of the first champions of the positive effects of gaming reveals the dark side of today’s digital and social media.  Today’s schools are eager to use the latest technology in the classroom, but rather than improving learning, the new e-media can just as easily narrow students’ horizons.

    2. dana boyd’s  It’s Complicated: 

    It's ComplicatedWhat is new about how teenagers communicate through services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Do social media affect the quality of teens’ lives? In this eye-opening book, youth culture and technology expert danah boyd uncovers some of the major myths regarding teens’ use of social media.  She explores tropes about identity, privacy, safety, danger, and bullying. Ultimately, boyd argues that society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions.  Best thing yet?  IT’S FREE!  Download the book here.

    3. Papert (1993) “My goal became to strive to create an environment in which all

    children could  learn in ways more like the informal learning of the unschooled toddler than the educational process followed in schools.”  “People laughed at Seymour Papert in the sixties when he talked about children using computers as instruments for learning and for enhancing creativity. The idea of an inexpensive personal computer was then science fiction. But Papert was conducting serious research in his capacity as a professor at MIT. This research led to many firsts. It was in his laboratory that children first had the chance to use the computer to write and to make graphics. The Logo programming language was created there, as were the first children’s toys with built-in computation. The Logo Foundation was created to inform people about Logo and to support them in their use of Logo-based software for learning and teaching.”

    9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #Edchatnz?

     Spread the fire!  Share the links, and community with those back home!

    10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?

    My students will not only have a blank canvas, but they will decide the size, shape, and medium with which to create!

    Who will I tag with this meme:

    I’ll tag @Knowclue, and @BronSt as they  will have context with which to participate having attended EdChatNZ as well!

  • Media

    World of Warcraft Finds Its Way Into Class

    Katrina Schwartz


    World of Warcraft

    Students’ passions can be a powerful driver for deeper and more creative learning. With this knowledge, some educators are using popular commercial games like World of Warcraft (WoW) to create curriculum around the game. And they say they’re seeing success, especially with learners who have had trouble in traditional classrooms.

    World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay (MMOR) game, where players take on the identity of characters in a narrative-rich plot, working together to overcome challenges.

    “In my estimation, a well-designed video game is pure, scaffolded, constructivist learning at its best,” said Peggy Sheehy, one of the designers of WoW in Schools, an elective English Language Arts curriculum built around the game. “Mastery of content opens up new content and offers unlimited opportunity for success.” And that’s what learning should be like, she says: interesting, engaging and collaborative. Research on gaming in an educational context corroborates Sheehy’s viewpoint that games demonstrate mastery learning because a player cannot move on until he or she has completed a set of tasks.

    “Game designers get that failure is anticipated and celebrated. It’s a learning opportunity.”

    Sheehy designs “quests” with particular learning objectives in mind that the students or — “heroes” as they’re called in class — must complete. Quests might include components of comparative writing or characterization exercises. For example, Sheehy had her students read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit as they progressed through the course, and for one assignment, they had to pick a character from the book and categorize that character within World of Warcraft. They were asked to defend their choices in writing, supporting their argument with the text.

    “When I bring these to their other teachers, I am consistently told, ‘I don’t get anything like this from them,’” Sheehy said in reference to the writing her students produce. They write complex arguments because they are passionate about the game, the storyline, and the class. “When there is no passion you get dutiful, for the grade work,” she said.

    One of the benefits of using a multiplayer, collaborative game is that students also work together to accomplish quests. They post their writing in “guilds” within the game and are asked to critique one another’s writing, creating a constructive peer review.

    Perhaps one of the most prominent ways that game-based classes are different from traditional ones is how failure fits into the daily experience of learning. “Failure in a game typically means that you tried the challenge in a new way,” Sheehy said. It’s not bad; it’s creative problem-solving, risk-taking, and a natural outcropping of trying something new. But in most classrooms, kids are programmed to understand failure as shameful at early ages. “Game designers get that failure is anticipated and celebrated. It’s a learning opportunity,” Sheehy said.

    [RELATED READING: Money, Time and Tactics: Can Games Be Effective in Schools?]

    Those accustomed to having assessments be part of the learning model may wonder how to measure things like reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary.

    “Assessment and gaming are so contradictory,” Sheehy said. “Gaming is almost like the scientific method. You get your quest, you form a hypothesis, you try it out, you encounter challenges and you draw conclusions.” She thinks that’s assessment enough and is wary that formally assessing students will take the fun and the passion out of what she considers to be a very effective education tool.


  • Just Ran Across My Piece in the New York Times…

    In my first graduate degree at Stony Brook University,  I was graced with a gifted English professor who really made me take a hard look at my writing and where it might go were I willing to do the real work.   Unbeknownst  to me, she was in the habit of sending student work she deemed worthy to luminary portals such as the NY Times , The Atlantic, Forbes, Harpers and more.  I found this out when I received a release  form from the times…

    Anyway, would I edit this now–Oh yes!  Voraciously!  But, was I thrilled?  Yep.  Do I remember writing it?  Nope– it was just another assignment but I do remember being excited about the topic.  It was personal, it was authentic, and it was my choice.  Hmmmmm….


    The piece is below but here’s the link to the NY Times Archive

    Thank you Dr. Brown.


    July 28, 2002

    OPINION; Surfing My Way Back to My Past

    HAVING turned 40, I found myself thinking back about the adventures I had let slip out of my life over the last decades. Reigning supreme among my memories were those of surfing in every season at every time of day, even fully suited in December with a coat of Vaseline between my skin and wetsuit.

    Those brief winter excursions in the freezing water off Gilgo Beach were done for bravado, to maintain my status as ”one of the guys,” and were not much fun; not food for the soul. But the rebel in me hadn’t fully emerged so I remained anchored to the climate along with school, and the dictates of the underage suburban rebel.

    But later, once I broke free of the shackles of high school, I propelled myself to warmer climates, surfing Rincón, Puerto Rico; Blacks Beach by San Diego; Sebastian Inlet by Cocoa Beach; Nags Head and Cape Hatteras. Most times it would be a group of us embracing the camaraderie and the security in numbers and all falling in with the spirit of the sport, trying crazy stuff, coaxing a stunt from a lackluster wave just for the pure fun of it, knowing a buddy would bail us out if we landed in trouble.

    But the Zen of surfing, for lack of a better phrase, that I discovered by returning to it on Long Island two decades later, that was quite another story.

    The rush of surfing is not just about the skill but is about getting back into the primal state; the ocean is the catalyst. (Anyone who has ever gone alone for a swim offshore for a half-hour or so would know this sensation.) I wanted to get back to those beginnings; that is why I decided to welcome my 40th summer by getting back on a board.

    Arriving one early morning at Gilgo Beach, where I surfed so often in my youth, I met fog and damp sand and a shoreline like a fresh sheet of paper, all of yesterday’s footprints erased. Years had passed, but having surfed that very same break so often, I still knew that the wind was the deciding factor in what the day would give and what the ocean would sanction.

    Checking the wind I sat for a while, studying the waves. They were arriving in sets like families on an outing. First little cousins and toddling siblings would dribble up in spurts and tangled tempests, then an aunt or two, arching their backs, until finally, the elders, proud, thunderous and wizened waves, and at last the patriarch himself would rise and fall, as if dragging his kin back to the sea to begin again. The trick was to see the patterns and to know that the family always had a renegade. It was the break in the pattern for which I really watched, and the aim was to meet it poised.

    Between the exuberance and the thrill that awaited, there was a twinge of anxiety: the undercurrent of the idea that I may not return; not a likelihood, not even a strong probability, but merely a possibility. Always aware of the vastness of the sea and the eternal wild it represents, I went through the paces, hand over hand stroking the salty water, my body knowing the rhythm of the ebb and flow.

    So on that glorious day of my return to the sea, I floated on my board waiting for the first wave that would carry me home. Finally, it came, and I was ready. I signed the pact, dropping down the face with speed and legs thrusting toward the shallow then up and over and maneuvering for the crest, roller-coasting the left, and cutting back before the crash, exhilarated, turning back to flat waters to line up again, breathing deeply, washed in Poseidon’s grace.

    I did not try to conquer the waves, but to find a place on them and harness their power to meld with my own. When the ocean sought to remind me of my place and the currents tumbled and passed me from hand to hand like a rag doll, I remembered what I had learned — to relax, not to resist, not to panic.

    Survival required submission. Beneath the surface, curled into a ball, knowing that position to be the path of least resistance, there was a sense of complete abandon, and simultaneously, in the womb of the wave, a sense of helplessness and trust. There I was, a woman of 40 and rolling in the arms of the sea; a mother myself, in the cradle of the universal mother.

    Paddling back again and again, kissing the sand and bending back to the deep, I had a sense of remembering, or almost remembering, or perhaps it was more a precognizant awareness of the next wave, knowing the pulse of the ocean tied to the cadence of the blood in my veins.

  • A Letter to My Brilliant & Humble Friend, David Warlick

    Screen shot 2014-07-01 at 1.10.43 AM My friend David Warlick, who blogs at < http://2cents.onlearning.us >  posted, “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14”  back in April of this past spring.  I’ll let you read that and then come back.  No…really… Go ahead– I’ll be here…

    I adore David, and we’ve had many “spirited” discussions over the years.  David has challenged my thinking and re-framed ideas for me, and, in true southern gentleman form, has always managed to do so by posing questions that allow me to consider other possibilities–entertain new solutions, and maybe even  change my mind.. David is not one to tell you, “You’re wrong…it’s like this…” Rather, he will set the  scene with enough information, a gentle nudge, and a warm smile, and when all is said and done, you’ll wrap up your chat with a hug, and walk away with a changed outlook  feeling it was your idea all along.   The fly on the wall might see David smile as you part; and not a dismissive head-shaking smile meant to establish superiority, but instead a genuine, warm, “isn’t the universe a fascinating place” sort of easy smile.

    So, long past it’s due date, here is my response to this Ed Tech giant (Noooo—I am not overextending here– David is an ED Tech giant.  Not convinced?  Did you ever use Citation MachineYep–his–  Class Blogmeisteralso his–and  software is just the beginnig. ok?)

    Dear David,

     I waited David, I really did –I actually let months pass before I responded to your post. In fact, I had tucked the idea away in the land of good intentions. where all is forgiven if the items parked there float off into the nether…)  But this afternoon, as I reviewed some materials I am sharing at ISTE ’14, I remembered that you are not going to be there. Then I remembered that last week, when I reached out to Joyce (Valenza) about visa info for my trip to Australia in August (yay for Oz librarians!), she said that she would not be there either. (I believe there”s usually a conflict between ISTE and the ALA Conference each year—this year they overlap but ALA is in Vegas@$#!!!)

    Next, my darling dearest Bernajean Porter shared with me that she will not attend this year (the first time in 20+) but instead she will be working her learning wonder in South Africa… and the list started to grow.  I will respect the privacy of those who haven’t been specific about the reasons why they are skipping Atlanta,. None-the-less, my little “witch-hunt” determined that the list of presenters who will be MIA this year because of the “wisdom” of the ISTE selection committee seems inordinately extensive.   So, in the spirit of full disclosure, allow me to say:

    1. Although I have been asked, I have never participated in that selection process, so I don’t know the mechanics of the  actual procedure or how “blind” it really is. (Methinks perhaps too blind?)

    2. Funding is always an issue.  My district always paid for my ISTE Conference participation until a few years ago when the economy tanked & everything changed.  Since then I’ve either run an event for ISTE (last year it was the Leadership Symposium Augmented Reality Experience where any of my WoW Gamer Educators who were attending ISTE, stepped up, volunteered and ran an amazing ARG experience that spanned the month prior to the conference and concluded with Jane McGonical joining us for Q&A.on site)

    3. Before that, I co-hosted the Opening Kickoff with Mario Armstrong, and in 2011 I was pleased to be one of the featured speakers at the Kickoff (along with Julie Lindsey and Adam Bellow).

    My point is that for each of these ISTE conferences (2011-2013) my registration, travel, and hotel were reimbursed to compensate  (and honor)  my time and expertise.    I was a happy ISTE camper!

    Plus, as you know well, David, –there is NO ONE better to work for/with than Jennifer Ragan-Fore, Jessica Medaille, or any of their crew!

    Think about it, David.  Most of the well respected, keynote speakers I know attend ISTE and don’t charge a dime for the same work that generates them thousands of dollars elsewhere.

    But let’s talk about, “after the spotlight”– when it’s just me and my program–deciding who, what , and where might yield me some legitimate, eye opening, “aha” learning!  Where did I look?  Well, for the most part, I head to the seasoned pros– to the presenters who bring a wealth of rich experience from their conference travels- back home to ISTE  –for free.  

    I go to see you, David –and  Joyce Valenza and  Sylvia Martinez, and Bernajean Porter and Julie Lindsay– I listen to Steve Hargadon and Audrey Waters, and tune up my librarian skills with Michelle Luhtala and Gwyneth Jones— at some point I’ll probably  get to go head to head with Will Richardson or grab Adam Bellow’s ear, or perhaps Steven Heppel and I can grab a bite and argue the merits of gamification while Gary Stager munches on overpriced fondue and sneers at the whole thing!  It’s fabulous, it’s my time with my PLN– where I actually leave with more than I had when I arrived; it’s ISTE.

    Now, please understand, this is NOT to say that 1st time presenters don’t  show up with some really innovative stuff that knocks your socks off; (case in point Rory Newcomb from ASB!) However,  the majority of what I see in sessions is either simplistic fluff that I can’t really use (“build a better Power Point”  isn’t as satirical as you may think…and may actually be useful for someone…somewhere) OR it’s a deluge of  “representative” presenters on leave from the vendor floor, which seems to be more and more central to the conference’s primary focus each passing year; blatantly serving corporate interests.

    The worst part is that the more of “that stuff” which is served up and presented tp teachers –the more teachers start to think that that’s what they need– and once again they are turned away from activities that support empowerment —of renewing the inherent well of teacher creativity and innovation– critically important for those who hold this sacred vocation – and do not require any transaction of dollars.   

    The investment is time and energy-=-the exchange of ideas and success stories–and dismal failures–that help evolve best practices. You are always a part of that portion of ISTE, DAvid–you know of what I speak.

    Friends, if your team of teachers has to travel to Atlanta (let’s just say travel=$300.00) pay upwards of $150.00 per night for housing, dish out $269 for registration (after the $100.00 membership fee) and then cover assorted and sundry cabs, meals, etc. JUST to learn how to use their promethean boards (which they probably didn’t request) –and manage high stake testing, then something is very …very ..wrong. But then we educators know that something is very, very, wrong.  The issue is that we used to look to organizations like ISTE to counter those maladies–and not feed them.

    The Twitter fiasco that ensued right after ISTE sent out their accept/reject notices this year ( https://storify.com/dancallahan/the-best-of-rejectediste14 crowd out the more authentic voices in instructional technology. )  was probably the most entertaining TweetChat (Twitter hashtag #rejectediste14)  I’d seen in ages.  In spite of the snarky nature of the comments, I realized that many of the luminaries I seek out each year–had somehow fallen short of the requisite presentation zen, and been passed over.

    However, a quick search of the program yields 345 returns for the term common core, 143 for standardized testing,  116 for STEM, 105 for tablet, and yes…35 for Power Point.

    I fly to Atlanta Friday afternoon – after closing my classroom for the summer at SMS. When I get to ISTE, I’m one of about 5 gaming teachers who will be assisting Marianne Malmstrom (Knowclue) with her MineCraft Workshops and events. We will also have a panel at some point, and I’ll be presenting in the Games and Simulations PlaygroundVirtual Worlds Playground or whatever they’re calling it now—I’ll be there sharing the remarkable year I had back in the classroom, serving 6th graders a game-based hero’s journey humanities curriculum and most nights writing the curriculum, and aligning it to the %@$!#% CCLS, so that I might teach it in the AM —and I’ll be sharing that curriculum, PLUS the original WoWinSchool Curriculum from Craig Lawson and Lucas Gillispie that started this whole approach.
    I’ll be looking for Paul Darvasi , a Canadian high school english teacher I met at Games in Education < http://gamesineducation.org/ > an annual FREE conference for teachers in upstate New York. Paul took the senior year english class –where they’ve basically already all checked out— and turned it into one of the most engaging and complex learning experiences I’ve encountered in a long time (see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when you get to his site < http://www.ludiclearning.org/ >

    I’ll be looking for teachers like Rory Newcomb who teaches at The American School of Bombay. I met Rory when ASB invited me to India to facilitate a WoW in School workshop at their ASB Unplugged Conference. Rory is young, uber smart, and has the freedom at ASB to approach learning in new and unusual w3ays—which has yielded a remarkable program and approach to teaching science!

    I will also tap into the conference vibe–and see—see if it’s just me –or if ISTE has ventured in a direction that just doesn’t sit with my philosophy- –or with the philosophy that brought me to my first ISTE conference many many years ago.

    Perhaps it isn’t ISTE or the new leadership at the helm deserving of the blame. Perhaps ISTE is doing exactly as it is meant to do–reflect the current state of technology in education —  Here’s the Mission Statement –followed by the Vision Statement  (BTW– I was asked and served on that rebranding committee—-  but that’s anther rant,…errr post.

    “The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier nonprofit organization serving educators and education leaders committed to empowering connected learners in a connected world. ISTE serves more than 100,000 education stakeholders throughout the world.”
    “The vision of ISTE is a world where all learners thrive, achieve and contribute.
    As the creator and steward of the definitive education technology standards, ISTE’s mission is to empower learners to flourish in a connected world by cultivating a passionate professional learning community, linking educators and partners, leveraging knowledge and expertise, advocating for strategic policies, and continually improving learning and teaching.”

    Sounds good, eh?

    At the risk of sounding a dullard…antiquated and misguided, I am left with a burning question…Who’s conference is it anyway?

    David, when scholars of your ilk are dissuaded from attending an event where so many might benefit from your expertise (and learn some lessons in humility if they pay close attention to your demeanor…and I count myself in that last group) then it’s time for the event to rethink —regroup–and reenvision the conference and truly align it with the mission.  From where I’m standing ISTE has the “linking educators and partners (*vendors) down really well.  How about the rest?

    So David, you need to know that you will be sorely missed, on so many levels!  I will carry on and do my best to connect and listen more than I speak (in your honor)  I will also adopt your new mission as my own:

    “To explore the  intersection between

    play, passion, and purpose”  

    David, I’m wise enough to know that change is inevitable, but I’m foolish enough to think that people have just GOT to come to their senses and remember what it is we are supposed to be accomplishing in our role as teachers…

    In my opinion,  that sacred vocation in practice  looks much more like “some role-playing old codger telling stories and speculating about…what education looks like ten years from now, if we continue to do our jobs well and resist the corporate-ization of public education,”  than it does,  “vendors and speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance.

    Come back, David.

    PLEASE come back.

    We are in dire need of your…2¢ Worth!