Worlds Day 1: Sock Monkeys

Hey guys! So today has been crazy and it is currently only 11:11 (make a wish!) I’m sitting upstairs in Union Station, away from the pit area so that I can blog. We can’t have wifi or hot spots in the pit area OR the arena because it will interfere with the robots and the game. We haven’t started playing matches yet, but we did have judging this morning! So, in the FTC judging happens at different times at every competition. This year is happened at 9:30 AM….bright and early. In judging we have the whole team, our engineering notebook, our robot, and anything extra that we think we might need to show to judges. The judging room is usually 2-4 people, our coach and obviously…us! Every team has a different idea or strategy that they use to talk to judges. Public speaking can sometimes be really nerve wrecking so we practice before we go in and make sure the team knows what they are saying. It is cool to see how the team becomes more confident and bold with speaking as the season goes on. For the World Championship we chose to set up our blogging like this:

1. Everyone will walk in and shake the judges hand while lining up saying “hello” or “how are you?”

2. We will the the judges stickers, buttons and key chains.

3. Logan Gross (one of the main speakers/a senior on the team) will be a key speaker along with me (Molly…who is also a senior) He will help transition from one topic to the next and I will help with forgotten or missing information.

4. As we step forward to speak, we will introduce ourselves.

5. After we all talk about what we have done/presented everything to the judges, we will ask if they have any questions (assuming there is time left..)

We only have 20 minutes to tell them about 9 months of progress, so sometimes it can get kind of tricky and we have to choose the more important topic. And today…for the FIRST time this season, we were able to finish judging AND answer questions from the judges which is a huge accomplishment considering we have a team of 17. Now that judging is over, the robot has to go to judging. She has to pass hardware/software inspections and she has to be able to fit in a 18×18 inch box. Only 4 or 5 of the team members go to robot inspections though. It is usually our main programmer, and our drive team. While they are doing that the rest of the Sock Monkeys have time to take pictures, scout, have some free time, or sit in the pit area. I usually sit in the pit area, but right now I am blogging. 😛 The people who sit in the pit area always smile, and say “Hi” to as many people as possible. A lot of other teams will come and scout us out, asking about our robots abilities, strengths, and weakness’s. We will have a lunch break from 12:30-1:30 and then we will continue on our day. Today isn’t very exciting because we haven’t started matches yet. We have gotten to meet the South Korean’s, the Australians, the Middle Easterners, and the Canadians though! Everyone else has been from the United States so far.

I’ll post tonight again with all of the pictures, etc!

Is Diane Ravitch anti-technology?

Screaming at computer

I confess that I’m struggling with Diane Ravitch lately (and not for the reasons I struggled back in 2010). I think that she’s a valuable voice in the educational policy landscape and I greatly appreciate her passion and her ability to energize educators and citizens as she speaks up against political and pedagogical abuses of our public schooling system. Heck, I just quoted her three days ago. But, despite her usage and leverage of social media to enhance her own voice and visibility, she’s increasingly appearing very anti-technology:

  1. On July 18 she said, “The demand for virtual schools is a sure indicator of the dumbing down of the American public and the triumph of American capitalism at its greediest.” In a comment to that post, I asked, “Diane, do you not see any role for online learning in P-12 education?” She replied, “Yes, I see a role for virtual learning. I see no useful role for for-profit schools. I see a very limited role for home kind nonprofit virtual schools.”
  2. Also on July 18, she blogged that she is against Bill Gates’ statement that educational gaming can be “an adjunct to a serious curriculum.” In a comment to that post, I asked, “Diane, do you not see any role for gaming and simulations in P-12 education?” She replied, “A limited role. Gaming is fun and kids can learn from gaming. But kids need to learn to concentrate and to persist when they are not having fun. Gaming doesn’t teach that. Nor does gaming teach how to understand theory or philosophy or how to read critically or how to understand the reason for the game.” When Moses Wolfenstein pushed back quite thoughtfully on those statements, she said, “Actually an all-game school is perfect for the training of drones.”
  3. Today she blogged against online education again, stating that she is “old-fashioned.” She went on to say:

there is something having the eye-to-eye contact, the face-to-face contact that is really better for purposes of teaching and learning than sitting alone in front of a computer.

I am not saying this to put down technology. I understand how wonderful it is to see visualizations, dramatizations, to see famous people giving famous speeches instead of reading them, to see events rather than reading about them. All of that can be incorporated into lessons.

My gripe is with the very concept that you can learn just as much sitting alone as  you can in a group with a live teacher. It may work with adults (although the author of this article doesn’t think so). But it strikes me as developmentally inappropriate for children.

So I’m struggling with her absolute, categorical refusal to recognize that SOME online learning options might be good for SOME public school children (who, after all, also have learning needs that sometimes would be better met by online courses, just like homeschooled children). Like Diane, I abhor the abuses of the online schools and companies that she so aptly describes on her blog. But there’s a difference between calling for better education / oversight and unilaterally denying the medium itself. Online learning is NEVER a good thing for public school children, under any circumstances? I disagree.

Since she’s willing to rail against educational gaming, I’m also struggling with her lack of understanding of the potential benefits of learning games (and maybe also simulations?). Her statement that educational games don’t teach children how “to concentrate and persist when they’re not having fun” shows an ignorance of children’s experiences in many of those games. Like Moses said in his comment, I’m sure that scholars like James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, Chris Dede, Constance Steinkuehler, David Shaffer, and others would be glad to remedy her misunderstandings. And I’m guessing that they also might be able to teach her how learning games can do some of the things that she says they can’t.

Diane’s anti-technology rhetoric matters because she has a voice that people listen to and others look to her for guidance. As such, her language is quite dismaying because educational technologies will only proliferate, not diminish. Online learning is here to stay, learning games are here to stay, computer-adaptive learning systems are here to stay, and a whole host of other learning tools are as well. The issue is not – as she seems to believe – that they never have any value. The issues are 1) Under what circumstances do these new learning tools and spaces have value?, and 2) How do we create learning and policy environments in which that value is most likely to be realized? [side note: Larry Cuban, for all of his wonderfulness, also typically fails to make this distinction]

Perhaps Diane will blog her belief system(s) about learning technologies and clarify any misperceptions that I have about what she thinks. But right now her beliefs are not ones that I wish she was espousing…

[UPDATE: Further proof of my claim that she’s anti-technology:]

Image credit: Bigstock, Screaming at the computer [no, the image is NOT of Diane Ravitch!]

What are 21st Century Literacies? [Guest Post]

TrappedWhat is information literacy in the context of an MMORPG?

How do you assess learning in a tabletop RPG?

What makes a proficient reader of graphic novels?

How do readers approach text in video games?

What literacies will be essential for 21st century learners?

When will formal testing adapt to the shift from individual knowledge to social knowledge, and what will that assessment look like?

These are but a handful of the topics broached in the GLS7 presentation on digital literacy that left game designers, researchers, and educators alike wondering what’s next. These are great big questions that I can’t even begin to answer, but that will no doubt be important topics of study and debate as our society and educational institutions slowly catch up with the rapidly changing nature of knowledge, communication, and collaboration.

So what do you think will be the essential “new” literacies of the 21st century?

[photo from Flickr user Will Merydith]

This article cross posted at

Josh Caldwell is a Junior High English teacher and technology specialist from Seattle, WA. Prior to entering the world of education, he was a systems administrator, programmer, and designer. Inspired by the potential for technology to empower students, he is constantly subjecting his poor students to experiments in gaming and technology while providing professional development opportunities for other educators. Josh blogs at

Is Gamification Really a Bad Word [Guest Post]

TrappedThe first day of GLS7 brought with it plenty of spirited debate and intense arguments, as you are likely to have with any diverse group of passionate professionals, but none so hotly contested as the validity of gamification as an educational tool. Commonly associated with social media marketing, gamification seeks to engage consumers by incorporating game mechanics (most commonly achievements or badges) into otherwise boring or unexciting activities, such as filling out surveys – in essence, the Madison Ave version of hiding your dog’s pill in a block of cheese. This, arguably crass, commercial interpretation of gamification has tarnished the concept of using game mechanics in education for feedback or recognition. As a telling tone-setter in his Wednesday keynote speech, Eric Zimmerman characterized educational gamification as the beginning of an “unholy alliance” between marketers and learning researchers; certainly reasonable call to be careful and cautious about with whom and for what reasons we share student information, but is that really reason enough to eschew gamification outright. Is gamefication so tied up in commercialism that we can’t we have a successful discussion about it in education with adopting new terminology?

Why Such Aversion?

Aside from the unfair connotation with advertising, many argue against gamification because they see it as purely a source of extrinsic motivation (though the extrinsic/intrinsic argument is a whole other kettle of fish). Must achievements be purely extrinsic? Is providing a badge for meeting a learning goal a more extrinsic motivator than providing a grade?

Others express concern that achievements or badges take focus away from content, providing opportunities for students to “game” the system for grades. Just recently a keynote speaker presented gamification as a way to get students to do something they don’t want to. Again, these concerns speak to the purpose and design of a given achievements. If you are concerned about students gaming the system for grades, you’ve got to wonder if your achievements actually reflect meaningful learning.

Couldn’t these arguments be leveraged against any number of instructional tools or grading systems, when used poorly or without sufficient forethought?

Why do so many assume that educational gamification as a concept is inherently flawed?

Achievement Unlocked!

In reality, teachers began gamifying education long before there was a term for it. What are gold stars, certificates, even grades if not signifiers of achievement? We have to acknowledge that the game-based framework of achievements, badges, and social recognition is familiar and meaningful to students; they share them on Facebook, or FourSquare, or Xbox Live, or a plethora of other environments that may be inherently more or less game related. Gamification isn’t just a marketing tactic, it’s a way of documenting and recognizing effort exerted, challenges bested, and goals reached. It’s up to us as teachers to ensure that we use this tool to recognize meaningful achievements that align to learning goals, instead of to coerce students into participation. A few great ideas for achievements/badges that came up at GLS7:

  • Mark student progress in terms of an overall school narrative
  • Acknowledge mastery of specific curriculum standards
  • Identify students as specific resource “gurus”
  • Reinforce cross-curricular
  • Celebrate students who demonstrate “non-academic” skills in an academic setting
  • Combine known achievements with “mystery” achievements
  • Display progress toward certain achievements

The key here is to provide a variety of achievement types so that all students can experience success while allowing for exceptional students to receive recognition for their talents. Take advantage of the social nature of gamification to connect struggling learners with peer “gurus.” As I personally strive towards standards-based grading, properly aligned achievements could serve both as a benchmark for my students as well as a tool to keep me honest with my grading.

As I see it, creating meaningful achievements that align to standards is the fun and easy part; getting a simple yet usable gamification system set up, now there’s the challenge. For those interested in a DIY setup (probably the direction I will take) there are a few fledgling frameworks out there with some potential, such as the Mozilla Open Badge project, UserInfuser, or this hodgepodge of WP plugins. On the other hand there are university projects, such as the MS/RIT collaboration Unified Game Layer for Education, which could be good tools for K-12 ed once they make it out of the university and into the public. To my knowledge, however, there aren’t yet any plug-and-play education-specific gamification platforms available, but I’ve got a feeling that it’s only a matter of time.

[photo from Flickr user rocket ship]

This article cross posted at

Josh Caldwell is a Junior High English teacher and technology specialist from Seattle, WA. Prior to entering the world of education, he was a systems administrator, programmer, and designer. Inspired by the potential for technology to empower students, he is constantly subjecting his poor students to experiments in gaming and technology while providing professional development opportunities for other educators. Josh blogs at

Text Based Adventures in the Classroom [Guest Post]


You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

This simple, succinct introduction opens the door to the rich immersive environment of 1980’s Zork, the most iconic example of the text-based adventure game genre. No graphics, no sound effects, just the richness of language to draw gamers into the experience. Though text-based games largely went by the wayside with the advent advanced graphical environments, it’s hard to ignore such games as examples of the beauty and power of language in an interactive narrative. Would that my Junior High English students possessed such descriptive prowess.

Jeremiah McCall and Greg Martin had the same thought and are putting text-based adventures to work in the classroom. Using the (ridiculously easy) Inform engine, McCall and Martin are empowering their students to write interactive fiction (and non-fiction) while introducing text-based gaming to a whole new generation. Using Inform’s incredibly intuitive syntax, students can demonstrate historical knowledge by building realistic (yet entirely textual) worlds, or work through the epic format with an interactive narrative.

While the idea of asking students to create video games could be daunting to a teacher with core curriculum concerns, it becomes quickly evident with use that Inform is crazy easy to use. By the end of the one hour workshop at GLS7, I had built a text-based framework of an Elizabethan theatre, replete with a mysterious Bard, a stage to explore, and several theatrical props. The potential for using Inform in a classroom is endless, whether you approach it as a vehicle to create games, simulations, or narratives. The nature of the programming language is such that it reinforces for students the importance of grammar, spelling and punctuation (for example, the system will tell you if you’re missing an action verb while giving examples of how to fix it). Just look at a line of my “code.”

The Bard is a man in the Globe stage. The description of the Bard is "A pale balding man dressed in black with a modest ruff. A pained expression plays across his visage as he angrily aims his rolled quarto stage left."

Let’s get excited about text-based gaming again! I have a feeling I’ll spend a good portion of my summer putting together instructional interactive fiction and thinking of ways to get my students to do the same.

[photo from Flickr user ajmexico]

This article cross posted at

Josh Caldwell is a Junior High English teacher and technology specialist from Seattle, WA. Prior to entering the world of education, he was a systems administrator, programmer, and designer. Inspired by the potential for technology to empower students, he is constantly subjecting his poor students to experiments in gaming and technology while providing professional development opportunities for other educators. Josh blogs at

CASTLE adds 3 new blog partners!

As part of our never-ending quest to tap into the potential of social media to enhance the practice of school administrators (and the university programs that prepare them), I am pleased to announce that CASTLE has added three new blogs to its portfolio. Two of the three blogs have been in existence for a long while; the third is a new blog by a faculty colleague.

Are we trying to become the Weblogs, Inc. or Gawker Media (or Education Week) of the edublogosphere? No, not exactly. But we ARE trying to assemble a portfolio of blogs that meet the various technology and/or leadership needs of practicing school leaders.

Our blogs

Here are the blogs that we’ve initiated to date (and their topical focus):

  1. Dangerously Irrelevant (technology, leadership, and school reform)
  2. LeaderTalk (school leadership; group blog)
  3. Edjurist (school law; group blog)
  4. 1to1 Schools (1:1 laptop programs; group blog)

To this mix, we’ve now added the following (which fill in a few significant topical areas in which we were lacking)…

5. Virtual High School Meanderings (online schooling)

Dr. Michael Barbour, an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University, has been blogging about online schooling for years. As you’ll see if you read it for a while, if it has to do with online schooling, you’ll likely find it at Michael’s blog. Michael posts A LOT; the comprehensiveness of information he provides is astounding. Michael also maintains a virtual schooling wiki or you can follow him on Twitter. Michael’s blog soon will be renamed Virtual School Meanderings to reflect the growth of online schooling in earlier grades. 

Here are some representative posts to get you started:

6. Educational Games Research (educational gaming)

John Rice is an educator, author, and speaker, as well as a doctoral student at the University of North Texas, who has been blogging about educational gaming since February 2007. I am a learner in the area of educational gaming so I always gain a lot from John’s posts. John does a nice job of looking at K-12 and higher education and also includes a post now and then on corporate simulations, serious gaming, and the like.

Here are some representative posts to get you started:

7. School Finance 101 (school finance / policy)

I have known Dr. Bruce Baker, school finance professor extraordinaire, for many years. Bruce is a fantastic scholar. His interests extend far beyond school finance to include a variety of policy and leadership issues. Those of us in educational leadership academic circles know that Bruce is not afraid to take on the establishment and confront uncomfortable political and educational truths. I was delighted to see that Bruce started blogging more extensively last fall and was even more pleased when he agreed to join us. Bruce writes about deep, significant school funding and/or policy issues, but does so in a way that’s accessible to those of us who aren’t experts in this area. You also can find Bruce on Twitter.

Here are some representative posts to get you started:

I encourage you to subscribe to all three of these blogs for a while. There is some really important information and thinking coming out of all three of these channels. I can guarantee that you’ll learn a lot and gain some valuable resources for your own work.

Next steps

What lies ahead for the CASTLE blogs? Well, we will be shifting a couple of our existing blogs over to WordPress, so you’ll see some visual changes and added functionality in the next few months. We’re going to add some new authors to our group blogs, particularly LeaderTalk and 1to1 Schools. And we’re in conversations with our sponsor, the University Council for Educational Administration, about initiating a blog that deals with school leadership for social justice. If you’ve got some other suggestions for us, or know of a blog that might be a good addition to our portfolio, let me know!

Happy reading!

Do most educational games suck?

Since my preview of Conspiracy Code: U.S. History at NECC, I’ve been thinking again about educational games…

Here are a bunch of screen shots of different online games for learning. I found them by typing into Google variations of learning games, educational games, learning games high school, educational games middle school, and so on. Most of these appear to be aimed at kids of middle or high school age.

FunBrain Math Baseball


PBS Kids You’re in Charge


Quiz Hub U.S. History Timeline Quiz


Math Playground Math TV


UPDATE: The creator of this would like me to note that Math TV is a 'learning activity' rather than an educational 'game.' See the comments below for more on this.

eSchoolOnline eMath Pretest


Asian Countries – Level Seven


Hotmath Number Cop


Teach-nology Diner Dash


CoolMath Pool Geometry 2


Eat or Be Eaten


Just from a graphics standpoint, I have to wonder how interesting these games are to preteens and teens when the games below are more along the lines of what they see at home.

Grand Theft Auto IV


Madden NFL ‘09


Elder Scrolls: Oblivion


Super Mario Galaxy


Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships




Plants vs. Zombies


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


So I’ve got some questions…

  1. Does the quality of the graphics matter when it comes to educational games? Or is the quality of the learning experience enough?
  2. Speaking of the learning experience, just how bad are most of these so-called ‘educational games?’ I wasn’t too impressed with the games shown above. In terms of gaming complexity, many of them are using pretty simplistic techniques to try and reach what I’m guessing are fairly-savvy students. Also, many of them seemed to be games from many years ago that still are being pitched to educators and adolescents. I found two of the learning games as links from a high school web site (Asian Countries – Level Seven and Eat or Be Eaten), which made me feel really sad for the students who were in that school.
  3. Maybe it’s completely unfair to compare online learning games with commercial games that are downloadable or on CD-ROM/DVD. So what is out there that’s comparable in the commercial downloadable/DVD educational games sector? Anything good? Vendors, if you think you’ve got educational games that are worth looking at, feel free to comment!

Your thoughts?

NECC – My adventures with Horse & Hound magazine: Florida Virtual School, Achieve3000

A few days before NECC I was invited by a publicist to interview Julie Young, the Executive Director of the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), and also speak with the folks from Achieve3000. I accepted because I’ve always wanted the chance to talk with Julie. I had no idea in advance that I would end up having a Notting Hill Horse & Hound magazine-type experience (and, yes, I was Hugh Grant).

Florida Virtual School

I knock on a door and am quickly ushered into a hotel suite. I meet and shake hands with Ben Noel, CEO of 360Ed, as he walks out the door. Then I am offered a beverage, plunked onto a couch, handed a packet of publicity materials, and given 30 minutes to talk with Julie and Andy Ross, VP of Global Services for FLVS. The topic: FLVS’ new online video game / American History course, Conspiracy Code. I’m a little bit disoriented but gamely dive in…

Conspiracy Code runs on a custom gaming engine designed specifically for FLVS by 360Ed. It cost $1.5 million to develop; costs were shared equally by FLVS and 360Ed and spread over three years ($250K per partner per year). Two hundred FLVS students are in the game now. Several other districts are piloting it. Conspiracy Code is designed to be an integrated, full-year course / gaming experience. Students take about 90 to 100 hours to complete the game. They dip in and out of the gaming engine throughout the year, assembling clues and completing missions. The game includes 51 assessments (both oral and written), 270 mini-games, numerous interrogations, 30 ‘agent eliminations,’ and 371 clues. Teachers monitor student progress; each of the 10 missions takes 2 to 3 weeks. Most students spend about an hour a day working for the class, some of which is in the game environment. Historical facts are interwoven throughout the gaming experience and student-teacher discussion. Sometimes the game requires students to do outside research to complete assignments and proceed forward.

The first evaluation report on the Conspiracy Code is due in a couple of weeks but anecdotal evidence looks extremely promising. The students who seem to like the game the most are the ones who ‘hate history.’ The game requires students to write, create data maps, make timelines, ask questions, make associations, solve problems, etc. Students must apply their knowledge and facts in a number of different ways to be successful. Some ‘barriers’ were put in place to ensure that students didn’t play more than work (e.g., students can’t move forward until they work on their data map, write in their journal, get feedback from their teacher, etc.).
The first two teachers were ‘gaming people.’ It still took them 2 to 3 months to get comfortable with teaching this way. All FLVS teachers receive extensive professional development before they’re allowed to teach. The first few teachers will train those that follow. There is a ‘Teaching Online 101’ course plus a separate gaming module for Conspiracy Code.
Now that the gaming engine has been built, FLVS will use it for other games/courses; I also suggested that FLVS release it to students to design their own games. The next Conspiracy Code game will target reading and comes out in August. All in all, it appears to be a solid attempt at integrating gaming into the education experience. It will be interesting to see the evaluation results when they come out. FLVS is a data-driven organization and is committed to reworking the game/course as need be to ensure students are both engaged AND learning whatever facts they need for success in the standardized-testing era.


Throughout our conversation, people are coming in and out of a door to another room in the suite (reporters? other bloggers?). When my 30 minutes with Julie and Andy are up, I’m swooped into that room, replaced by someone else who gets my spot on the FLVS couch. I’m handed another publicity packet, do the quick meet-and-greet, and away we go…

Achieve3000 is a ‘differentiated instruction solution.’ In essence, students are given an article to read on the computer that’s aligned with their reading level. The company recommends a minimum of 1 or 2 articles a week but there are articles available every day if desired. Great care has been taken to avoid stigmatization of low-level readers. For example, even though the article text and corresponding assignments are geared to students’ individual reading level, the overall layout of the article, font size, graphics, etc. all are extremely similar to what other higher-level readers in the class are experiencing. There is little to no difference in reading experience; it’s actually fairly difficult to tell at a glance at what level another student is working. The student reading at first-grade level also is reading the same content as her peer at the ninth-grade level. This allows low-level readers to still contribute to class discussions. All of this is in contrast to schools’ typical practice of having separate books or textbooks – often on separate topics – or pullout programs for struggling readers.

Results so far seem to be impressive. Expected student growth in a year is 46 lexile points. Students who read one article a week average 102 lexile point gains; students who read two articles per week average 124. The program accommodates Spanish-speaking students (and, soon, those that speak Haitian Creole). The New York City and Miami-Dade school districts (as well as the State of Hawaii) are using Achieve3000. Average gains in one year for ESL/ELL students are 166 lexile points (compared to 27 points expected). Good results also are being seen with students with special needs (see, e.g., the Arrowhead (WI) Schools).

Achieve3000 is working with the Associated Press and now has an archive of over 16,000 nonfiction articles. Next steps for the company are to 1) create a number of specific science units, and 2) identify and/or write articles that target specific career clusters and can be aligned with the WorkKeys job skill assessment program.

Final impressions

My time is up. I’m whisked out of the back room toward the hotel suite door. Julie and Andy are talking with someone new on the couch and I’m soon in the hallway, left at last to collect my thoughts. As I walk toward the elevator to return to my own hotel room, I’m left with one thought: Man, was that strange. Quite informative, but strange nonetheless. Who knows what else goes on in the back hallways, hotel suites, and meeting rooms of NECC?!

Disclosure: I received no incentives from either organization (other than a thumb drive from FLVS that contained the above Conspiracy Code materials) and was not pressured to cover them in any particular way. In short, I believe I was treated much like any media representative, despite being ‘just a blogger.’

2009 Game Education Summit begins today!


The 2009 Game Education Summit begins today in Pittsburgh. If you’re not attending, the keynote presentations will be streamed live and also will be available afterward. The summit looks awesome; it’s “the only conference where the video game industry and academics from around the world can come together to have meaningful conversations about the future of game development.”

Wish I could be there! Maybe someone’s liveblogging or there’s a Twitter hashtag for the event?