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