VEJ December 2014

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P o w e r o f C o d e

Reader ’ s Choi ceAwar ds

Gor dHol den,Edovat oroft heYear

December 2014

VEJ Vol. 3 Issue 5

Virtual Education Journal June 2014

Hello Everyone! First of all, we are very excited to announce Gord Holden, as the 2014 Edovator of the Year! If you have read the past several issues of VEJ, you have already learned a lot about his amazing work through the interview articles Scott Merrick did with Gord. The third part of his interview is featured in this issue of VEJ. We look forward to following Gord Holden’s work in VEJ for years to come. Also, huge CONGRATULATIONS to all of our 2014 Reader’s Choice A ward nominees and winners! All of these people and venues are doing amazing work in Virtual Environments and we highly respect and commend each of them for all they do to further virtual education. We are excited about the upcoming 2014 Hour of Code global activities beginning December 8, 2014. A lthough the Hour of Code is a weeklong global event (December 8 – 14, 2014) we hope that you will help continue it around the world 365 days a year. On their website, they report 74,028 Hour of Code events happening around the world with a m ap showing where the activities are taking place. Anyone interested in joining the movement can sign-­‐up on the website. Also on the website there are one-­‐hour tutorials in 30 languages for people ages 4 to 104. You do not need to have any experience to participate. For the first time this year, my (rl) school will be participating in Hour of Code activities K-­‐5. Several of the authors of articles in this issue of VEJ share examples of what and how they are teaching coding to their students. Be sure to check them out. Even if you don’t have time during the week-­‐long global event to organize Hour of Code learning activities in your classroom or at your school, do it sometime this year. Go to for FREE resources you can use with your students. Also, be sure to check out where your state stands on opportunities for students to learn and/or earn credit toward graduation for computer science courses. Most of all, you will probably be amazed at how many jobs requiring a computer science background in your start are unfilled. All students deserve the opportunity to get their hands on code and get excited about learning computer science. It will be with the hands and minds of our children that we can change the world! We hope you will share the Power of Code with your students this year! Again, CONGRATULATIONS to all of our 2014 VEJ Award nominees and winners! Keep up the GREAT WORK! Happy Holidays from all of us at VEJ! No matter which world you call your home, ALL THE BEST to you in 2015!

Keep smiling J Roxie Neiro (SL) Rosie Vojtek (RL)

In This Issue: • Gord Holden, 2014 Edovator of the Year • Virtual Worlds for Education, Part 3: An Interview with Gord Holden • VWBPE2015 – Hold The Date • Power of Code • Geology Valley: A 21st Century Collaborative Alternative • Going for the “Epic Win” In Computer Science • Understanding Coordinate Coding with Real-­‐World Examples • Electronic Blizzard Days • Did We Have Fun, Or What? @ ISTE2014 VEPLN • The Educational Potential and Difficulties Presented By Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games in Pubic Education • Digging Deeper: Minecraft as a Transition to Wider Virtual Worlds • Eliminating a Headache To Read VEJ online visit: For more information about ISTE SIGVE/VEN or to join the fun, visit: Follow us on Twitter @VEJournal or #VEJournal 2

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Edovat or oft he Year Gor dHol den

Gord Holden is an innovator with a mission. Once an “intermediate classroom teacher,” as Immersive Technology and Learning Specialist at Heritage Christian Academy in Courtenay, British Columbia, he has brought 3D virtual learning environments (3DVLE) learning to an entire population of young learners. Gord designed and implemented a groundbreaking province-­‐wide project to help address the transience of Canadian First Nations peoples, by constructing and making available virtual villages which keep alive a culture that the transience is threatening to destroy. He now trains teachers in British Columbia and Alberta in the use of 3DVLE’s and he is forwarding their use for learning and teaching as much or more than any other single practioner in the world.

Gord has been featured in a 3-­‐part VEJ interview series this past year. We look forward to learning more about his practices and beliefs in this issue as the series completes itself with “Virtual Worlds For Education Part


3”. You can read the other two interviews in the April 2014 and June 2014 issues of VEJ at and . We are proud to announce his selection as VEJ Edovator of the Year for 2015! We look forward to following his work in future issues of VEJ.


Virtual Worlds for Education, Part 3 An interview with Gord Holden

Heritage Christian Academy, Vancouver, British Columbia By Scott Merrick

In the last two issues of VEJ, we discussed and toured this pioneer's work to bring virtual worlds (aka 3D synchronous online learning environments) to his students and his students to them. Edovator of the Year, Gordon Holden, is literally leading a major front of the campaign up there at his school in Kelowna, British Columbia. Heritage Christian Online School is centered 140 miles, as the raven flies, inland from Vancouver in Courtenay, BC. Gord works from his home in Courtenay. Situated on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island, he is surrounded by forests and lakes, with the world-­‐ class ski hill named Mount Washington nearby to the west, and an ocean laden with 6-­‐25lb. salmon to the east. He has team members working with him from locations as close as a mile away (Ryan), to mid-­‐Vancouver Island (April), Vancouver (Heather), the interior of BC (Michelle), Sacramento (David), the Silicon Valley (Cindy), and as far away as Indiana (Scott).

Let’s continue the conversation, where we left off in the last VEJ Issue.


GH: So, regarding the discussion on the dangers of engagement, I’d like to add another word, investment. SM: Two words dear to the hearts of the readers I’m sure. GH: A great intro to this is the recent book written by Chris Hadfield entitled An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. SM: Sounds like mandatory reading for every teacher. GH: Indeed, but while we all tend to value “positive thinking,” the twist is that he attributes his phenomenal success to “the power of negative thinking.” While he clearly had to think “positively” about becoming an astronaut, he would have never become the commander of the space station had he not given serious consideration to every possible negative outcome in order to best prepare for it. SM: An interesting perspective. GH: It’s one I was forced to adopt when attempting to take my public school program into virtual environments. SM: The school was nervous? GH: Oh yes, and for good reason, I discovered. There’s much that can go wrong in this field. SM: Tell me about it? GH: Ha, Scott, now that’s a rhetorical question, if ever I heard one. SM: To quote you Gord “Indeed.”


GH: It’s simply human nature for us to see the best in something that amazes us, a trait that becomes reinforced when we become invested in it. SM: Can you give an example? GH: Sure. I remember my distress upon hearing from the technology department in our school district that “Oregon Trails” had been banned. SM: That’s an old standby. GH: Yes, but it turns out that while the students were using it a lot, they tended to get stuck on the hunting part, and would shoot deer until the keyboard was broken and needing to be replaced. SM: Kids being kids. If they can, they’ll find a way to exploit a resource for something that’s more engaging than the curricular intent. GH: Indeed. Ha. For me, it became a cautionary tale that steered me away from platforms such as SL and OS environments. SM: Yes, anyone familiar with these platforms is aware of the potential for actions that can be a diversion from the intent. GH: Ironically, while the power of negative thinking would reveal too many potential problems, can I make it clear that I am incredibly grateful for the amazing pioneering work that’s been done for education in SL. Where would any of us be without it? SM: It’s a staple in this field. GH: Deservedly so. It set some standards for technology and engagement that the rest of the field had to compete with. The question I’m thinking that needs to be considered is, at what point does the strength of competing platforms make our levels of personal and perhaps even financial investment questionable?


SM: Right. A difficult thing to consider given the strength of the engagement it offers. GH: Thanks for the segue Scott. I was recently speaking at a conference in Vancouver where the closing speaker was talking about the dangers of engagement? SM: Really? GH: Yeah, really quite interesting, especially given my passion for the “Engagification” of education. She went into the etiology of the word, and definitions for the word “engagement.” There was a set of definitions, the first being “to be occupied.” And of course that shouldn’t resonate with educators. SM: I hear “busy work.” GH: Yes, or simply shooting deer. Ha. Another definition was “betrothed,” you know, “in a fixed relationship.” And again, I do see certain dangers in that when it’s applied to information that becomes irrelevant in a quickly changing world. SM: Text books? GH: Yes. Even in VLEs, we need to be careful that content providers aren’t feeding students. If so, then the content may well be irrelevant, or outdated. SM: Outdate by the time it’s published. GH: Indeed. Another definition included “being engaged in a hostile relationship.” SM: World of Warcraft?


GH: Where victory is a goal? Well yes, but let’s be clear that this is not the primary goal for the excellent educators out there who embed a host of valuable goals within their educational use of WoW. Given the lack of funding for anything better, this kind of leadership is both necessary and vital. SM: Yes, there are a number of names that leap to mind. GH: They are heroes to me. Those who have exploited the high engagement factor to bring about the last definition…“of great interest.” SM: Yeah, it’s sounding like we need to get a new word. GH: Clearly you get it, Scott! Having a resource or platform that simply generates “great interest” is not enough. I’m not ready to throw out the word, though. I think we just need to ensure that the resource or platform lead generates interest as a first step, but then goes beyond that, to become educationally valid. If the goal is to simply engage students, we have fallen short. SM: Exactly. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the decades with educators parents, administrators, and students, it is that what one says is not always what one perceives, especially when it’s so connotatively laden – as is something like you are saying engagement is. And you know what they say, “perception is everything.” GH: Right. Well I was pleading with educators over 20 years ago to “engage” children with the use of games in education. There was no such word as “gamification” back then, and maybe ANY form of engagement was better than having none at all. In such a case, games like Oregon Trail would have been a step in a positive direction, even if I didn’t feel it was really all that educational. SM: Yes, I used it with my 3rd graders, back in the day…


GH: Back then it had the reputation as educational software, and you know. . . it was a start. SM: [Laughs.] GH: We don’t want the gym teacher, a pinball addict, filling a gym with pinball machines. They can justify it by saying the kids are engaged in practicing balance, fine motor skills, and hand-­‐eye coordination . . . SM: Well, yeah almost anything can be justified as a learning experience, but is it what we want to be doing with our kids? GH: I was just talking with a teacher who will be reading this interview. They shared about their son, actively recruited for his genius by post-­‐ secondary schools and even the NSA. He had a full ride, until he became involved with a game used by many teachers to engage students. His genius was applied towards hiding his addiction rather than passing grade 12. He went from being a straight “A” student to losing all his scholarships. SM: That’s a horrible story. GH: It’s a cautionary tale. Statistically, some 18% of the population has addictive personalities. Giving them something good to be addicted to could be a good thing, but anything less can be disastrous. I also just got off the phone with a family who did everything they could to protect their daughter, but she still fell under the influence of an online predator. SM: Not a pretty story. GH: No, but when we’re using tools that allow for this kind of thing it means that we’re going to wear it. Whenever possible we need to move away from our only options, to better ones. Just this past week I was having a fresh look at Gary’s Mod, and exploring CryEngine to see if perhaps they could convince me to move away from Active Worlds or Unity3D. They didn’t.


SM: So you’ll of course have total control in Unity, right? GH: Yes. Total control. No one gets in without a username and a password controlled by us. We can change that password day by day. They can’t go in unless we’re there. We also equip our students to be able to record anything that takes place in there. SM: Sort of the Quest Atlantis reporting model, where the students are invested in reporting inappropriate behaviors. GH: Yes. Which I guess takes us to Quest Atlantis. Quest Atlantis is really kind of an interesting story. It’s a kind of a child prodigy of virtual worlds. SM: I have heard that they are concerned with moving away from the AW platform into something like Unity or Unity itself.


GH: Well it’s interesting. Dr. Sasha Barab et al, at Arizona State University, developed a modular version of QA in Unity. Frankly, it’s gorgeous, and my students all salivated at the idea of being able to get in Successful there to use it. But despite the stunning graphics, they cartoons such lost interest in it. Successful cartoons such as The as The Simpsons, Simpsons, Spongebob, and South Park inform us that Spongebob, and graphics can be trumped by content. I suspect the fact South Park that the lack of engagement with this new resource was inform us that due to it being single-­‐player and lacking of an graphics can be overarching backstory, rewards, and opportunities to trumped by gain status. content. SM: So there’s some programming that hasn’t been developed yet? GH: I simply don’t know. There could be plans to go multi-­‐player and more. That potential exists with the Unity platform. My observations are from a very small sampling of students as well, so should be taken with a grain of salt. SM: So if QA is the child prodigy, maybe Unity is a baby dinosaur, or a baby dragon. GH: Yes, Unity is still a baby, with lot of promise for educators down the road. In time, a menu driven system will likely replace the need for programmers . . . and assets will become abundant and affordable. SM: Maybe we’ll all be Occulus Rifting. GH: Yeah, that too, if they manage to keep up with the new kids on the block.


SM: As you know, we had an Occulus Rift (OR) in the Virtual Environments Playground at ISTE. Bob Vojtek sent his Occulus Rift and we let people try it out at our ISTE VEN 2014 Playground. [This video was posted live during ISTE2014 Virtual Environments Network Events from edOvation on -­‐]

GH: It’ll be interesting to see how many people are affected by the motion sickness and such. SM: There’s a great article in WIRED Magazine this month about the tech specs and how the brilliant young inventor of OR benefitted from others’ research and innovation to conquer those issues with a wonderful kind of mash-­‐up of gyroscopes, frame-­‐rate enhancing hardware, and other stuff. You should read that. It’s worth a read. I’ll send you the url. (­‐rift-­‐4/ ) GH: As for ActiveWorlds (AW)… SM: That’s where I started. GH: Well it’s going through a renaissance. When you started in it there were a million users. Over the years many were lost to the possibilities offered by platforms like Second Life and OpenSim. I think AW has come to a realization that they’ll never win back those who are OK with “adult orientated” possibilities. But the very things that make AW weak for these, makes it strong for use with students. Ironically, I believe Second Life could recreate itself into an ideal educational tool, but while I hear the talk, I don’t see the walk. SM: Second Life. GH: Yes. I know many will disagree with me, and I want to say right now that I value that diversity of opinion. There needs to be disagreement and debate for productive discussions to occur. SM: We needs us some pushback.


GH: AW has done this by opening up a new universe at You’ll see profound improvements in the graphics and interface. I often show what my students are doing in AW only to find visitors insisting that I’m showing them Second Life. And the tools for presenting and building have an extremely low learning curve. SM: That’s so important. GH: A steep learning curve can bleed time away from enriching the educational content. Membership in AW is now free, but in AWEDU worlds come with accounts for 2 teachers and 30 students, with an option to purchase more. The worlds can be open to other students and teachers in this universe, or closed off. Worlds can host 50 avatars simultaneously, but numbers can be added.

Here are a couple preview pictures of the grade 8 Humanities Course work begun by Scott Miller.

SM: So there’s a whole lot of development goin’ on. GH: Exactly. It seems like upgrades every week. We’ve begun creating our grade 8 Humanities course. I say “we” because it’s the students creating the curriculum in the form of narratives arising from their historical


research. Narratives to be sandwiched between the beginning and end of the backstory, becoming interactive quests and exemplars for those who follow, enriching this dynamic “experiential novel” with their own chapters. SM: Go, Gord! GH: Well, hoping that this discussion will have served the purpose of having others examine both the purpose of engagement and the dangers of allowing an investment of previous professional development to preclude exploring resources that may be more student-­‐centered. SM: You’ve made a case for this. GH: The 2014 New Year is going to get very busy for all of us, but I’m always available to respond to any questions anyone might have regarding the developments in Unity3D and Active Worlds as educational resources and platforms. SM: Yes, there may be some. As teachers we should model being questers, seeking informed movement through the adventure before us. GH: Indeed. Thanks so much for the opportunity to discuss the direction I’ve taken Scott. I sincerely hope it’s been helpful to others to hear of this journey. “Always make new mistakes” is a wonderful credo for learning, but there are of course more allowances for this in virtual learning environments than in real life. (Gord Holden’s email signature line.)


Hold The Date:

The Annual VWBPE Conference – March 18-­‐21, 2015 – Every day is a crossroad that intersects a million tiny events. Most barely cause a ripple. Some radiate to lap softly at far flung and distant shores. Others unleash a torrent which can change the world. How we choose to reflect ourselves in each crossing has a bearing on our society whether we are being observed at each intersection or not. Challenge yourself to think on ways in which your crossroads creates positive energy. Make it a reality. Share.

Proposals Due: December 14, 2014. More details at­‐2015-­‐call-­‐for-­‐proposals


Power of Code By Kae Novak (RL) Que Jinn (SL)

Hello World! For this issue of the Virtual Education Journal, the Games and Simulations Networked wanted to share what some of our game based learning advocates and collaborators are doing for an Hour of Code and why they feel coding is important. After we started interviewing them, we quickly realized that their own words would be better than paraphrasing or summarizing. What follows is a transcript of our interviews. We start with higher education administrators and instructors, then elementary school educators to discuss “kids and coding,” and end with the perspective of a professional development expert from a school district working on integrating more coding into their curriculum. Power of Code Questions Each Higher Education respondent was asked three questions. These questions were: What is the importance of students, even those who are not computer science majors, in learning some coding? What computer language(s) do you think students should learn if they are just beginning? What trends do you see in computing and computer science?


Their responses follow. Chris Luchs, Associate Dean of Career and Technical Education CCCOnline, Colorado Community College System Project Lead, CCCOnline Hackathon ISTE Games and Simulations Network Member-­‐at-­‐Large Inevitable Instructors Gaming Guild 1) What is the importance of students, even those who are not computer science majors, in learning some coding? Coding is everywhere now. It’s in your webpages; excel spreadsheets, games, etc. Coding provides you with insight into how the world works. We are part of the information age and most of that information is digital. Coding allows you to access and interpret this data and then utilize it to make decisions. Also coding teaches you logical and systematic thought, which helps in a myriad ways. In coding, the software will only do what you tell it to as long as you provide the correct syntax and commands. Any error causes it to fail or generate an incorrect response. By learning this process, you develop a better understanding of how complex systems work and the importance of being accurate and using the appropriate channels. Once you understand how a system works, you can then look at how to efficiently and effectively use the system. 2) What computer language(s) do you think students should learn if they are just beginning? Most programmers know a variety of languages so it’s hard to pin down which one is the best one. Each language has its own unique constraints and limitations. However, I think most students should learn HTML 5. While not a “programming” language it is the base language of the Internet and webpages, and as such, it is extremely useful to know how to line code HTML. The most common languages that are recommended are some variant of C (typically ++ or #), Java, and then either Python, PHP, or Ruby on Rails.


3) What trends do you see in computing and computer science? One of the biggest trends is Hackathons. These are gatherings of programmers, graphic designers, hobbyists, and anyone else who has an interest in developing solutions to problems. They can take place in people’s homes, schools, community centers, hotels, almost anywhere there is a wifi connection and space for people to collaborate in large groups. Some of these events are funded by software companies and venture capital groups, but many are just people getting together to solve a common issue/problem. There are many instances of cities hosting Hackathons to allow their citizens access to city data to come up with ways to help the city provide better service. Typical products of these types of civic Hackathons are mobile apps for bus times, complaint registration (take a picture and submit a complaint for pothole repair), and those that show city investment in projects and infrastructure. These apps serve to promote more citizen buy in and investment into the community, as well as give greater transparency on how the city spends tax dollars. Erica Liszewski Computer Science Instructor University of Denver/Arapahoe Community College Classes: Intro to Game Design 7 Development, 3D Programming, Advanced 3D Programming, Analytical Inquiry and World Wide Web Programming 1) What is the importance of students, even those who are not computer science majors, in learning some coding? As technology becomes more and more pervasive in our everyday lives, I think it's useful for everyone to learn at least a little about how technology works. There are a lot of misconceptions about technology, especially when it comes to security, freedoms, and rights. Many laws are being put into place by people who don't understand how technology works, or how those laws will affect actual people.


On a more social level, because technology is becoming so important to how we live and work, those who know how to make and fix technology will have increasing power. If certain people understand technology and other do not, those in the know will have increasing power over those who aren't. This could easily create large gaps between those with the power and those without – which will become increasingly difficult to cross for those who are born on the wrong side. On a personal level, being able to code gives a person a new and powerful form of creative expression. Just as painting and making videos have been ways of expressing one's self in the past, digital art and games are new forms of creative expression. 2) What computer language(s) do you think students should learn if they are just beginning? This kinda depends on the eventual goal of the student. Do they want to become a programmer/computer scientist? Make games? Make art? My general favorite right now would probably be JavaScript. It's reasonably simple, requires only a text editor and web browser to get started, and it's easy to share the things you make online. If the student has any goals of doing programming for the web (server or client side, games, apps, etc.) JavaScript is probably the most popular and commonly used programming language. There are a ton of online resources for learning JavaScript, and when combined with things like the CSS3 or the HTML5 canvas you can make neat visual things pretty quickly. Java or C++/C# are good general purpose languages for just about anything. These are probably the most common languages for programming "real" software, including games. One or the other of these is usually the starting language for most computer science programs. For students who want to become programmers, you can't really go wrong with one of these.


3) What trends do you see in computing and computer science? This is a very broad question, and a bit difficult to answer. Programming is definitely getting more general interest now than I've ever seen before. When I was an undergrad, computer science was kind of a niche things, that "smart" people did. Or it was something you did because it paid well. Now I'm seeing programming promoted as more of a general skill. Digital art is becoming a big thing, and so "artists" are learning to program. This is really neat to me, since I've always been both "artist" and "programmer,” and this was seen as something impossible because the emotional arts and the logical programmers couldn't possibly mix. Kids and Coding

Picture 1: Project Dungeon, Nathan Sands and Randi Egan, Intro to Game Design & Development, Stencyl

Each K-­‐12 respondent was asked three questions: Could you tell us a little about kids and coding at your school?


What programs are you using at your school for coding? What the age and grade level? How is your class or school participating in hour of code? Their responses follow. Trish Cloud Technology Associate Grand Oak Elementary Huntersville, North Carolina ISTE Games and Simulations Network Member-­‐at-­‐Large Inevitable Instructors Gaming Guild 1) Could you tell us a little about your students and coding at your school? A couple of years ago when I was working solely with iPads, I discovered these new coding apps that were appearing in write ups in articles, so I took a look at them. There were a variety, but the main ones that I came across were Kodable, Hopscotch, and Daisy the Dinosaur. I spent the spring of that school year (2013) teaching the students in my school (K-­‐5) how to use all three. By far the most popular was Kodable. That summer when our district had its annual Summer Institute, the creators of Kodable, Jon Mattingly and Grechen Huebner, came to talk and show us their app. Since that time I have moved to a new school, but I still use Kodable with all my students and they love it. I particularly use it with K-­‐2 as it is fun and accessible for them. Last year, my first year at my new school, I decided to introduce a Coding Club as an afterschool club. I was pleasantly surprised when I had 20 students sign up. They ranged in grades 1-­‐5. At that time Tynker had a great thing going using blockley style chunks to do the coding. You could get as many licenses as you needed and the leveled lessons worked really well with the students. First graders had some difficulty with the reading but brave 4th graders stepped up and helped them through the difficult parts. We spent the year in Tynker and Gamestar Mechanic on the computer, and Kodable and Hakitzu on the iPads.


As we progressed through the year my students had access not only to coding but the programmers and entrepreneurs who created the programs. In the fall I Skyped with Jon and Gretchen from Kodable in California where they made this statement on the power of code on Digital Learning Day. I held a Google Hangout with the creators of Hakitzu from England (Video here). My students loved everything they did in any and every program we used. The power they felt they had to create was more fun to them than anything else. This year I am doing the Coding Club again and I have 31 students and a waiting list of 10. Unfortunately Tynker has changed their options for how you purchase licenses and I have had to choose alternatives. So, once again I have ranges from first to fifth grade and some have never been in coding and some are veterans from last year. I had quite the quandary when I was setting up how to implement the club. For brand new beginners, I am using the curriculum they have developed for all grade levels. I started the brand new 1st graders on the lowest level, 2nd graders who were veterans from last year and new 3rd through 5th graders were started on level two to get a feel for the coding. My upper grade veterans from last year are using Codecademy. I am very fortunate this year in that I have a high school senior coming to help who is using the Coding Club as part of his senior exit project. I also have a parent who just happens to be a Computer Science graduate from MIT who comes in, too. The veterans are working on HTML/CSS and it’s definitely HARD FUN. They get stuck and they have to find where the mistakes are. For 9 and 10 year olds this can be daunting but I have to say their perseverance is admirable. I still have days to when I give them a break. They go to Gamestar Mechanic or they can go to Hakitzu or Kodable. I have my eye on Alice which is 3D object-­‐based programming. I don’t know if we will get to it, but next year’s veteran’s (they will be 5th graders and, if they return, it will be their 3rd year in Coding Club) will be ready to handle it.


2) What programs are you using at your school for coding? What the age and grade level? 1-­‐5 Light Bot 1-­‐5 Kodable K-­‐5 Scratch 3-­‐5 Hakitzu Coding Club Gamestar Mechanic Coding Club Codecademy Coding Club 3) How is your class or school participating in hour of code? Well, we have testing from December 1 thru 19 so, like last year, I will run the Hour of Code for an entire week in January. We will do some unplugged activities and plugged on the computer.

Picture 2: Unplugged Activity Hour of Code, Grand Oak Coding Club


Laura Briggs Technology Resource Teacher John W. Tolbert, Jr. Elementary Loudoun County Public Schools, Virginia STEM Camp Director STAR Summer Camp ISTE Mobile Learning Network President 1) Could you tell us a little about kids and coding at your school? At my elementary school, students are actually doing two weeks of coding and programming activities in December as last year was such a success and students loved the programming activities. Students were excited about these activities and participating helped many gain confidence as they learned and progressed through the activities. Even first graders, six year olds, could code and learn about programming. It was a highlight of our year and we are excited to be expanding with many different activities this year! 2) What programs are you using at your school for coding? What the age and grade level? We are using a combination of several activities for the first two weeks in December. We are using, iPad apps, BeeBots with mat grids, and the Robot Turtles Programming Board Game. We are also using various websites to practice coding and programming. Activities by Grade Level Kindergarten (Age 5-­‐6) Week 1 -­‐ Students will create a custom robot at Make a Robot and print. Students will also work on programming language by walking on a physical grid on the floor dressed like a bumblebee. Students will then use BeeBots to program paths reviewing letter sounds on a grid on the floor.


First Grade (Age 6-­‐7) Week 1 -­‐ Students will use the activity with Anna and Elsa from Frozen to make ice fractals and skating patterns using basic coding skills. Students will use BeeBots to program paths reviewing counting coins. Week 2 -­‐ Students will use the iPad app Daisy the Dinosaur and the website Fix the Factory to complete coding challenges. Second Grade (Age 7-­‐8) Week 1 -­‐ Students will use the activity with Anna and Elsa from Frozen to make ice fractals and skating patterns using basic coding skills -­‐ and students may also choose the Angry Birds coding activity if they would like. Students will use BeeBots to program paths reviewing counting coins. Week 2 -­‐ Students will use the iPad app Hopscotch and the website Lightbot to complete coding challenges. Third Grade (Age 8-­‐9) Week 1 -­‐ Students will use the activity with Anna and Elsa from Frozen to make ice fractals and skating patterns using basic coding skills -­‐ and students may also choose the Angry Birds coding activity if they would like. Students will use BeeBots to program paths reviewing continents and oceans. Week 2 -­‐ Students will use the iPad app Kodable and the website Lightbot to complete coding challenges. Fourth Grade (Age 9-­‐10) -­‐ Fifth Grade (Age 10-­‐11) Week 1 -­‐ Students will use the activity with Anna and Elsa from Frozen to make ice fractals and skating patterns using basic coding skills -­‐ and students may also choose the Angry Birds coding activity if they would like. Week 2 -­‐ Students will use the iPad app Scratch Jr. to develop a programmable holiday card.


3) How is your class or school participating in hour of code? Students will be participating in a variety of engaging activities during the first two weeks in December. Students will earn coding certificates and we hope to develop a gallery of student-­‐created projects on our website. Teachers will also have coding activities available in classroom centers. Patricia Ruiz Computer Science Teacher & Department Head Sacred Heart Schools Atherton, California ISTE Games and Simulations Network Communications Committee 1) Could you tell us a little about your students and coding at your school? In the 9th grade, students learn basic HTML/CSS, and Python. In addition to the 2 weeks that we spend on each of these languages, students also use outside of class if they are interested in learning more on their own. This 9th grade course is a modified version of the Exploring Computer Science course developed through an NSF grant -­‐ you can find that curriculum here: 2) What programs are you using at your school for coding? What the age and grade level? In class we use for the HTML/CSS. It is a tool developed by computer science instructors that minimizes distractions for students and maximizes their ability to collaborate by sharing trinkets. This is a new tool and I have found that the developers are very interested in making it work well in MS and HS classrooms. In addition to, students find helpful.


3) How is your class or school participating in hour of code? We held a large assembly last year and had a speaker come to present to students. This year, we will use the momentum from last year and work with students in classrooms. We will provide a variety of options to our students for participating in hour of code and make announcements and provide spaces for students to work in.

Picture 3: Patricia Ruiz’s 9th grade Computer Science 1 course -­‐ Exploring Computer Science

Hour of Code in a District For our last segment, we wanted to bring a professional development perspective to coding and the hour of code events. Luckily we were able to find someone whose school district was in the process of integrating Hour of Code into the classroom curriculum. Our respondent was asked three questions:


Why should teachers be bringing coding into their classroom? Can you tell us about your institution’s involvement with and coding as part of the curriculum? What events are you planning for hour of code? Tanya Martin Coordinator, Professional Development Support Broward County Schools, Florida ISTE Games and Simulations Network Professional Development Chair Inevitable Instructors Gaming Guild Director of Recruitment 1) Why should teachers be bringing coding into their classroom? Coding is a literacy needed in this century, regardless of what career a student is pursuing. Teaching coding is actually teaching problem solving. It increases computational and critical thinking skills. Additionally, Computer Science is a field that is growing and is driving innovation. Regardless of career paths, computing jobs will be incorporated into those career paths including medical, manufacturing, defense, finance, and government. Coding used to be a niche class considered an "elective" and taught to a very small group of students. This is no longer acceptable, as we are doing our students and our country a disservice by not preparing future employees in a skill they will need to have. Coding is incorporated into multiple software applications from the use of a spreadsheet or database to coding a macro in a game. As digital devices and software become ubiquitous it is becoming essential to understand how to "talk to a computer" and give it instructions in code.


2) Can you tell us about your institution’s involvement with and coding as part of the curriculum? Broward County Schools has partnered with in providing Professional Development to instructional staff including teachers and administrators. Our district has a 3-­‐year partnership to provide 2 cadres of high school and middle school teachers, guidance counselors and administrators with the professional development necessary to schedule and instruct students in the area of coding. Our agreement began in 2013 and will conclude in 2016, in time to have students ready for the new AP Test in Computer Science. The new AP Test will be in Javascript. We are using the curriculum in middle school math and the Project GUTS program in middle school science. provided all the support and organization for the professional development. Middle school math and science teachers are teaching the regular math and science standards with a unit of study in Bootstrapworld and Project GUTS which incorporates coding. Incorporating these coding activities in regular classes serves to encourage middle school students to consider pursuing computer science courses in high school as they study the math and science standards. High school teachers are using the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum with a focus on expanding Computer Science to all students. Guidance Counselors and school administrators who handle scheduling are involved in the professional development, as they are the ones who guide students in making course selections and actually develop student schedules. The focus is to encourage all students, especially underrepresented populations in computer science (females and minorities). Beginning in the spring of 2015 our first cadre will been the "Principles in Computer Science" course while the second cadre will begin the ECS course. The intent for these students is to ultimately participate in the AP Computer Science course and test in 2016-­‐ 2017. The District has independently incorporated the


curriculum in elementary grades through our science curriculum requirements. 3) What events are you planning for hour of code? Broward County Schools led the nation in the number of students participating in Hour of Code in 2013. One of our high schools won a laptop cart with a classroom set of laptops as part of the involvement. We will have a district-­‐wide involvement again this year. Classroom teachers, schools and district departments are all participating. I am personally planning an event for my division, "The Office of Talent Development.” Individuals who work for the division as well as those who may be on our campus on the date of our event, will be spending an hour coding in Scratch. Last year we participated in an unplugged activity requiring logic and problem solving. The activity was one suggested by In addition to the activity I have planned for my division, I am also involved with an event sponsored by the Games and Simulation Network and the Inevitable Instructors of the Inevitable Betrayal Guild in WoW. That event will take place online in The World of Warcraft MMO. On December 10 at 8 PM EST, educators who have an interest will be logging into WoW into the Cenarion Circle Realm, creating a Blood Elf and joining the Hour Of Code Guild as we code some Macros and have fun with basic coding to animate our WoW characters. The event will be livestreamed via Google Hangout and YouTube on the Games MOOC channel. Macro: Piece of Code used by players to extend the basic functionality of a game like World of Warcraft.


In Conclusion As you have read there are many reasons to bring coding into the classroom. There are also many tools that make coding more accessible and easier to complete. Coding is changing from a niche skill to a new literacy and maybe even art. If you haven’t seen it before, on Wordpress the footer is “code is poetry.” That echoes game design instructor, Erica’s thoughts on how coding and art are beginning to combine. Coding languages change. Currently the popular coding languages are Java and Python and computer science instructors also recommend a scripting language like Java script. What doesn’t change is the computational thinking required to successfully use these languages. It requires the ability to work with complexity, persistence in the face of difficult problems, and logically organizing and analyzing data. The one-­‐hour unplugged activity that both Trish’s elementary students and Tanya’s teachers did is called Traveling Circuits and the full tutorial is listed here. It is a hands-­‐on programming logic activity that has learners using plastic cups as circuits. Is it a game? Well there is a challenge, the ending part has a time limit, there is scaffolding and maybe you can bring a prize or two? I will be doing this challenge with my instructional design team for our Hour of Code. Sincerely, Kae Novak Instructional Designer Information and Technology Literacy Mentor Front Range Community College ISTE Games and Simulations Chair Inevitable Instructors Gaming Guild



Geology Valley: A 21st Century Collaborative Alternative to Conventional End of Course Testing By Dr. William Schmachtenberg, Sl: Dae Miami Like most teachers in a few weeks, I will be preparing my students for their end of course test in Earth Science. Those students will be sitting down at a laptop in a cubicle, and answering multiple-­‐choice questions hoping to get a passing grade and a verified credit. Students need 6 verified credits for high school graduation. They will not be allowed to communicate with each other. In the October 5, 2014 edition of the Roanoke Times, Annie McCallum wrote an article entitled "Crystal ball for SOLs is cloudy” which critically examined our current means of testing. She quoted Ben Williams, Roanoke County's associate director of testing and remediation as saying "What we're finding right now is that businesses are telling us, the community is telling us, that getting students prepared for multiple choice questions isn't helping us prepare students for the next phase in their life." He continues to say that today's tests don't measure well what skills are important for students in the future, such as communication skills, ability to collaborate, and thinking critically. This is certainly no surprise to DOE as they have incorporated the twenty first century skills of online collaboration and problem solving into the new technology standards over a year ago. So, the question remains how to assess these skills. As part of the STIC (Student technology Integration Challenge) for the VSTE (Virginia Society for Technology in Education) 2014 Annual Conference in Virginia Beach this December, my students and I have


created a prototype of a new assessment program called Geology Valley. Kevin Tweedy, with Extreme Reality, graciously provided the multiplayer software needed for our simulations. Students log into a server, select an avatar, and log into the Geology Valley simulation. Students Explore Geology Valley As they approach boulders in the sim, they are given a question about geology. The question appears on all the computer screens for all the students. Students may discuss the question via chat in the sim.


Students, however, may pass incorrect information or incomplete information amongst themselves. It is up to each student to answer each question and scores are calculated individually for each student.


In the example shown above the correct answer is Granite, since it is an intrusive igneous rock. In chat, the message that Basalts are igneous may lead students to click on that answer. Basalt though would be wrong as it is an extrusive rock. The message that schists are igneous is also incorrect as they are metamorphic. You can access Geology Valley on the web at: . Firefox seems to work best on the pc and safari on the mac. I encourage teachers to try Geology Valley with their students and let me know how the lesson went. It is free of charge. Special recognition to the following students who worked on Geology Valley: Matthew Brosinski, Mariah Boone, Ethan Frazier, and Noah Flint. You can contact Dr. Schmachtenbert at the following email address:

Learn to Program with Minecraft Plugins (2nd edition): Create Flaming Cows in Java Using CanaryMod e2/learn-­‐to-­‐program-­‐with-­‐ minecraft-­‐plugins


Going for the “Epic Win” In Computer Science

By Dr. Amy Fox

I have been teaching computer science for 22 years. Having taught five high-­‐level programming languages, five programming learning environments, and working with games, robots, and animations, I would like to share my experiences and observations teaching computer programming to students of all ages. Programming is very much like gaming. Jane McGonigal, a lead game designer and author, in her 2010 Ted Talk, explains that when gamers are given the right challenge at the right time, they are willing to work hard because that hard work will result in success -­‐ an “epic win” (McGonigal, 2010). I have found the same to be true with programming. Giving the developmentally appropriate learning environments and/or languages to students where they can be challenged but meet success is as effective as going on an epic adventure in World of Warcraft ™. They are willing to work hard, but can see the results of their hard work, motivating them to work even harder for the next “win”. I would like to share with you the different learning environments and languages I have used in my classroom for students at different learning stages and abilities. Our youngest and/or least experienced students work with Scratch (MIT), GameMaker (YoYo Games), or other similarly developed 2-­‐D drag and drop environments where students can visually learn about objects, attributes and behaviors, logic, and control structures in a fun and non-­‐intimidating environment. They have the freedom in these environments to create movies, animations, and event-­‐ driven games, and tell stories. They are intrinsically motivated to work hard for two reasons. First, these are their creations – their own ideas hard at


work. Second, they will be successful because they are working to their best ability; they are in a self-­‐ differentiating learning environment. With intermediate and high school level students, I have found a great deal of success using robotics to learn about the engineering and design cycle as well as programming. We use Lego MindStorm robots, which can be programmed using the Lego software (block-­‐coding) or another language, such as Java. Students are able to design and program their robots using light and motion sensors, and the mechanical structures of their build. With older high school students or with students who have already been exposed to the basics, I have worked in two different 3-­‐D virtual environments: Alice (CMU) and virtual worlds (OpenSim). Alice is another


drag and drop environment that is based on Java; students can toggle between the dragged code and Java. This gives them an environment in which they can learn a more sophisticated high-­‐level language without having to tackle the syntax while they learn the constructs of the language. Again, they have the freedom to work on a variety of different projects. In two different virtual worlds (both created using OpenSim), my students were able to create 3-­‐D objects and animate them using scripts written in LSL (Linden Scripting Language). They began by using and modifying existing scripts, and some students were able to take it farther and write their own. These are also self-­‐differentiating learning environments. In my 2011 research study, I noted Students in the treatment group (in the virtual world) appeared to be more engaged, meaning they were not only focused on the task, but also committed to successful completion of the assignments. This was demonstrated by the enthusiasm with which they interacted with each other when working on an assignment and the quality of work that was produced. Students were on task, and interested in the subject. They looked forward to coming to class and were more immersed in the content since they were interacting with it in both the real and virtual worlds. (Fox Billig, 2011, p. 81) Many of my students continue in my computer science program to the college level courses I teach as part of a dual enrollment program with the local community college. The students who enter the first of those courses with some prior background in coding tend to have an easier time adjusting to learning the syntax and structure of the language (C++). Some of those who don’t come to that course with any background have to work harder, are sometimes more frustrated than their counterparts, and don’t always meet with the same success. They have to try harder for that epic win and some give up before obtaining it.


Over the years, I have learned a great deal about what students actually gain from learning computer programming. Although striving for a successful program is a terrific goal, it is not the only outcome. In my experience, computer science and programming teach logic, reasoning, problem solving, higher-­‐order thinking and higher mathematics skills. All of these are skills necessary for success in the “real world” regardless of profession. While its extremely important that my students be motivated to learn computer science, I am also mindful of the Common Core State Standards. As it stands, almost every single one of the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA) K-­‐12 Computer Science Standards, which I have been following since its inception, maps onto a Common Core State Standard. These include reading, literacy in science/technical subjects, writing, literacy in history/social studies, science and technical subjects 6-­‐ 12, speaking and listening, language and mathematical practice (CSTA/ACM). I am fortunate to be in a district that offers a computer science program. Only 10% of schools offer such a program ( We have recently expanded from strictly high school offerings to now offering an after-­‐school program to our grade four and five students using many of the resources from as well as CS Unplugged. I am advisor to four high school computer science students who run the after school program twice each week. This year, we are embarking on our first Hour of Code, sponsored by At the elementary school, our high school students will be working with the students on some of the more basic tutorials offered by for the hour.


At the middle school and high school, we will work together on beginning and intermediate level tutorials, given each student’s prior background and interest. All of these events will take place after school during our 10th period after school extra help hour. We are very excited to be a part of the largest learning event in history and are looking for an “epic win” for our students! References: website. Retrieved 11/4/14 from­‐3.jpg. Computer Science Teacher Association. CSTA K-­‐12 Computer Science Standards: Mapped to Common Core State Standards. Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved 11/2/14 from ped_to_CommonCoreStandardsNew.pdf. Fox Billig, Amy. The impact of integrating a virtual world into a federally mandated digital citizenship and cyber safety unit on student achievement, higher order thinking skills, and test motivation, 2011. Retrieved 11/2/14 from on.pdf. McGonical, Jane. Gaming can make a better world. Ted Talk, 2010. Retrieved 11/2/14 from


Understanding Coordinate Coding with Real-­‐World Examples By Fleet Goldenberg of Sambiglyon ( Almost anything in a program that involves moving or positioning something – whether it be an on-­‐screen game character or the location of an on-­‐screen button – involves direction coordinates. This has been true for as long as computer programming as we know it has existed. In a two-­‐dimensional program, these coordinates are described by the horizontal 'X' value and the vertical 'Y' value, while in a program involving three-­‐dimensional depth, a third 'Z' coordinate is added. An example of a 2D program is an operating system such as Windows or Mac OSX, while 3D is most commonly used by game programs. These coordinates can be further sub-­‐divided into 'positive' and 'negative' directions. Going upwards ('Y' movement) or rightwards ('X' movement) is a positive direction that causes the values of those coordinates to increase,


whilst moving downwards or leftwards is a negative direction that causes the values to decrease until they pass zero and become minus-­‐values. Moving toward the front of the screen or toward the back of it, meanwhile (three-­‐dimensional 'Z' depth movement) causes the value of 'Z' to increase or decrease, respectively.

For instance, if the famous videogame character Mario was running right along a flat horizontal surface in a 2D game such as 'New Super Mario Bros'


then his 'X' value would be increasing and his 'Y' value may be zero (ground level). If he jumped up onto a teleportation 'warp pipe' then his 'Y' value would increase as he jumped upward, decrease as he fell, and then become static as he landed on top of the pipe. If entering the pipe caused him to travel down to a secret room beneath him, then his 'Y' value in the game world would become a minus-­‐number because the on-­‐screen character representing him had moved below the zero-­‐height of the ground. When he found the exit pipe and returned to the upper level, his 'Y' value would become positive again.

The developers of software, such as games, sometimes program an X-­‐Y-­‐Z coordinate read-­‐out to be displayed on-­‐screen while they are working on the game to see how objects placed on the screen are behaving and then


remove that display before the program is released to the public. Likewise, young coders who are just starting out in programming can understand coordinates easily by using visualization to assign X-­‐Y-­‐Z directions to objects moving in the real-­‐world. Let's look at a couple of practical examples of how a budding coder could imagine coordinates in real-­‐life situations, using the three-­‐dimensional axes of X, Y and Z that allow us to move in any direction. The Running Track Sporting activities are an excellent cross-­‐curricular way to teach coordinate coding principles to young students, because the physical movement involved in those activities can make use of all three of the directional axes simultaneously. To take just one example: on an athletic running track with hurdles, at the starting position of a race, a runner's X-­‐Y-­‐Z values might all be at zero. This is because they have not moved from the start point yet (so 'X' is 0); their feet are on the ground (so 'Y' is 0 because they are not jumping upward); and 'Z' is 0 because they are not moving sideward on the track at present.


As the runner runs along the track in a straight line, their 'X' value will be continuously increasing as their distance from the race's start point increases. When they jump over a hurdle, their 'X' value will continue increasing as they leap forwards, but their 'Y' value will also increase as they jump upwards before decreasing as they fall back towards the track and become '0' again as they land on the track surface.


As the runner reaches a curve in the track, their 'Z' value will move away from zero as they deviate from traveling in a straight line. Depending on whether the curve bends left or bends right, their 'Z' value will either fall below zero and become a minus number or increase above zero. Once they have taken their first corner then their 'Z' value will not become '0' again until they loop around to the start-­‐point of the track, as they will be in a position that is adjacent to where they began the race from, when 'Z' was 0, rather than directly aligned with that directional axis.


When the runner has taken the first couple of corners of the track then they will effectively be running back towards the start point of the race in the opposite direction on the other side of the track. When they begin this phase of the race, their 'X' value will begin decreasing because they are moving back towards the start position, where 'X' is 0. In the final quarter of the race, they will pass adjacent to the start point on the opposite side of the track and their 'X' value will become a minus figure, before they take the final corner and they are running in a straight line toward the start on the side of the track that they began the race on.


'Z' will also become zero again once they are facing the start line, because their position on the track is no longer off to the side of the point that they started from. Once they are running toward the start-­‐point from behind it on the final stretch of the race, their negative 'X' value will decrease until they cross the line and their 'X' value becomes zero again. If there is more than one lap to the race, their 'X' value will begin climbing above zero again as they pass the line and the cycle described above will begin anew.


The equations become a little more complex if you are taking more than one runner into account. Only one runner can have a 'Z' value of zero – other participants in track lanes to the left and right of the zero-­‐‘Z’ person would begin the face with a 'Z' value larger or smaller than zero depending on what side of the track they were on. When they had run all the way around the track and reached the start point, they would have the non-­‐zero 'Z' value that they began the race with. They could not ever achieve a 'Z' value of zero unless they moved lanes into the lane that the runner who starts with 'Z' = 0 and became aligned with their Z-­‐axis. And that kind of lane-­‐hopping is forbidden in athletics. The Train Station Another way to look at the athletics track metaphor is in terms of a train pulling into a train station. If we assume the train's horizontal 'X' value to be zero at the moment the front of it enters the station, then by the time it passes a passenger waiting on the station platform then its 'X' value may be well into the positive region as the value climbs past 0 and it moves forward through the station. If the zero point of the vertical 'Y' value of the station is its platform, then the train would have a negative 'Y' value because its wheels would be below the height of the platform.


The 'Z' depth value would probably be zero while the train is on a straight length of track in the station, just like our runner on the straight line of running track at the start-­‐point of the race.

As the train decelerates pulling into the station, the rate at which the horizontal' X value increases would be continuously decreasing as the train braked and its forward motion was reduced. It would, however, still take some time to come to a complete halt, especially if it had a large number of carriages.



If the train is a type where the driver goes to a control cab at the opposite end of it and drives it out of the station in the opposite direction along the same stretch of track, then the 'X' value of the train will decrease as the train travels back towards the zero-­‐point at the station's entrance, and then attain a negative 'X' value as it leaves the station.

The 'Y' value of the train would remain consistent until the gradient of the terrain that the track was laid upon changed. If the landscape dipped then the 'Y' value would descend further into the minus range. If it climbed a hill, it would ascend past zero into the positive number range (remembering that in our example, '0' was the height of the station platform.) Most train stations have a minimum of two tracks, side by side. This is where the 'Z' depth value comes into play. A second train that is alongside the first one would have a 'Z' value other than zero, because its position is offset from the '0' position of the Z coordinate.


Like our multi-­‐lane athletics track example earlier, the side of the station that the train is on will also influence whether the train has a positive or negative Z-­‐value. If the station was a three-­‐track one and our 'Z = 0' train was in the middle, then a train on the left side of it might have a negative 'Z' value and a train on the right side of it might have a positive (above zero) 'Z' value. Even the train that has zero as a 'Z' value will lose that status however, when it leaves the station and turns a corner in the track, as the train will no longer be aligned with the axis where 'Z' is zero. This is just like the runner that lost his zero-­‐Z status when he turned the first corner of the running track. Conclusion A young student trying to understand how to code movement and the placement of on-­‐screen elements need not struggle to visualize precise X-­‐Y-­‐ Z numerical coordinates for an object or mentally track their changing values. Even professional developers rely on their creation software to automatically generate those values and display them on-­‐screen. All they need to know is where the zero-­‐point for the X-­‐Y-­‐Z coordinates in their program is located and how the values will change when they move in a particular direction and change their height and 3D depth in relation to that source-­‐point. Once they learn how to do this with one object then they can apply the same principles to any other object, whether in the real world or a digital one inside a program.


When you read the latest news in education, you may stumble upon the notion of students having school at home during winter blizzards in the north. You may have also heard of professional development days being done online with teachers from various locations also from their house. As a futurist, I chuckle. We were discussing this concept 5 to 10 years ago. That is what a futurist does. We try to consider what the future will be like in 5 to 10 or more years. I have a new prediction for you. I am predicting that within the next 5 years, schools will be having class via technology during hazardous weather conditions. As schools are starting to take seriously the concept of virtual classes during those blizzards and other days off of school, I believe they will need a more modern version of accountability. The standard concern that I hear when discussing these “Blizzard Days” is how we make sure the students have done enough work and learned enough content to be able to mark it as a successful 8-­‐hour day of school.


I think that answer is-­‐-­‐ you can’t—and actually you shouldn’t. Truly, it is near impossible to judge the amount of time a student needs to spend on an assignment. Time varies with individual students. We need to think in terms of accountability not time. Enter Virtual Worlds. This is where the electronic “Blizzard Days” and a source of accountability becomes a marriage of technology. Consider the virtual classroom for a moment. You have an avatar as a student and one as a teacher. You can have a teacher-­‐directed lessons and student responses. For example, the teacher can create ahead of time a journey through the virtual worlds where students can experience all sorts of things, from history to physics and from art to math. High School students can go to Second Life where they can visit Deadwood in 1876, and then go to vehicle sims where they can test their science skills in creating new vehicles. Middle School students could go to World of Warcraft where they can use the innovative teaching strategy of quest-­‐based learning. And for the elementary students, we have Minecraft. Students can work on simple math problems using the blocks in Minecraft or have their own version of quest-­‐based learning. When I started to work on this prediction, I wanted to take that hard look at accountability. I believe that this is why the virtual worlds will be the platform for these “E-­‐Days”. The accountability is virtually built in. Teachers know their students better than anyone. We have seen teachers without even turning around, know which student is out of his/her desk bothering other students. We have watched teachers know who completed the paper without a name on it or any other identifying factors. The teacher has always been the school’s best weapon in the fight for accountability. With Virtual Worlds, the teacher is still “in the room” with the students. The teacher still sees the students, in avatar form. The


teacher still hears the student’s responses, be it in chat or live voice. Because the teachers knowing their students as well as they do, they will be able to evaluate the students’ work. This virtual world experience becomes a true electronic school day (E-­‐Day) with full accountability. You can read more of Rob Furman’s work on his website at­‐furman and his blog

Did We Have Fun, or What? @ ISTE 2014 VEPLN


I began my thesis research as a result of something I had contemplated for a long time. Would MMO (massive multiplayer online role playing game) video games be effective educational tools? As an avid MMO gamer for the past 10 years I have often been told that I was "wasting my time" but personally I have always felt the experience enriched my life. I presumed to find what I am guessing most people reading this would presume to find – a medium that would be well received by students from a gaming generation but have very questionable academic value. However, after over a year of research I walked away not only feeling like I had been mislead by the media but that the misperception I had brought into this project was likely stifling one of the most "game changing" educational tools available to educators in the 21st Century. The research I conducted set out to answer several questions: 1. What do 21st Century students need? 2. What are the potential academic benefits of playing a educational MMO video game? 3. What are the danger/difficulties in using MMO games in a public education setting?


While the dangers/difficulties were somewhat predictable, what I found in relation to the first two questions was shocking to me. The verbiage used to describe 21st Century student needs matched almost word for word with the supposed benefits from active participation in MMO video games. As I continued my research I almost felt as though I had been set up. Virtually every example I was able to find of MMO games being used in a educational settings resulted in resounding educational gains. While research in the field is young both theory and practice all pointed to one thing, MMO games have enormous academic potential. Armed with the information from my research, I set out to survey a public school near me. The survey asked questions related to my research in an effort to determine the perception individuals at this school had in relation to the use of MMO games in public education. While the surveys were limited to one school in northern California, the student, counselor and teacher results suggested that there is a significant measure of support and readiness to embrace the medium. Survey results also suggest that school administrators may be much more apprehensive about the medium being used in a public school setting.


The school survey provided valuable information to me as I prepared to defend my thesis. My defense would be presented to a majority of former school administrators; a demographic my research suggested would be apprehensive towards the medium and possibly find some of my conclusions to be contentious. During my defense I detailed what an MMO game was and presented my research suggesting the medium to be one of the most powerful educational tools available to educators in the 21st Century. The information was well received but questions remained. I was asked, "If MMO games are used in public school how can we be sure it won't lead to more delinquent behavior?" It seems to be a widely circulated idea that video games lead to delinquent behavior in youths. I already knew there was a plethora of conflicting research data. A Google search, for example, yields literally hundreds articles arguing either side. There seems to be no universally conclusive results suggesting video games do or don't lead to delinquent behavior.

Figure 1: US Violent Crime Rates

I paused contemplating the best answer to the question. Finally, what came to mind was a statistic I had read about outside of anything


having to do with my research. My retort to the question was to ask a question, "Has violent crime gone up or down in the past 20 years?" As people looked around the room the consensus seemed to be that it had gone up. I then asked them if they would believe that it hadn't just gone down but had gone down dramatically in the past 20 years (See Figure 1 above). My following question, "Have video game sales gone up or down in the past 20 years?" The answer here was obvious (see Figure 2 below). Causation does not mean correlation but looking at large social trends logic would seem to suggest video game use in a public school setting would lead to less delinquency not more. Figure 2: US Video Game Sales (from

I don't have any empirical data to tie the statics sited in these two figures together. What I do have is life experience. When I was young my friends and I would get into "delinquent" behavior when we got bored . . . stealing baseball cards from a convenience store, going out late at night and spray painting the side walk, throwing rock filled snowballs at cars and the like. Then one Christmas I got a Nintendo. I distinctly remember my time spent figuring out the best place to throw rocks at cars was quickly replaced with trips down to the local video rental store to find a new video game.


After my research I look back at this "time wasting" activity in my life with new insight. Video games forced me to think creatively, improved my critical thinking and problem solving skills, introduced me to new vocabulary, taught me to work together with others, and it was all in 8 bit! Now we have large immersive worlds that teach all of that and more. MMO games specifically teach corroborative team play, 21st century literacy, how to analyze various decisions in complex environments, and ethical and social repercussions to choices that are made – the list is exhaustive. All of which, are educational objectives imperative to the success of a 21st Century student. My research sites many educational experts claiming that there are vast educational benefits to MMO gaming. From my personal experience I can definitively say these benefits are not hypothetical. I have frequently felt a lot of guilt and shame at being a 30 something gamer. I have actually tried to quit gaming multiple times in my life but I always felt like something was missing when I did. This research has helped me re-­‐evaluate my mindset towards gaming. I have come to realize my gaming, particularly during the past 10 years that I have spent as an avid MMO gamer, have changed my life for the better. I believe MMO gaming has brought me to higher levels of self-­‐efficacy than would have ever been possible otherwise. While there are certainly difficulties that need to be addressed, my research and my life experiences suggest that viewing video games, as a waste of time and brain energy, is very archaic perspective. Yet sadly, it seems to be a prevailing perspective found in the educational world. Why not assign some summer video games instead of just summer reading? Reading is important but the sedentary activity of book reading is viewed in an entirely different light despite its inability to help students learn the hard to teach 21st Century skills that are inherently taught by


many of today's video games. Assigning summer video games would at least give educators some influence in this area of student video game selection. The problem is most educators are such neophytes in this area they would be unable to create a list of good titles, let alone enter into meaningful academic/educational dialogue with a student about the video games they were playing. It is much easier for an educator to chalk off video games as something that leads to "delinquency".

Reading is important but the sedentary activity of book reading is viewed in an entirely different light despite its inability to help students learn the hard to teach 21st Century skills that are inherently taught by many of today's video games.

I would suggest it is this mindset in educators . . . an unwillingness to meet students where they are with what they need, that is far more likely to lead to delinquent behavior in our youth. Despite an educator’s view of video games, 21st Century students will continue plunging ahead into a cyber world filled with new technologies, new video games, and new dangers while our educational institutions are left behind. My research suggest that introducing MMO video games into a public school setting may be the educators greatest tool in reversing this trend. James Crockett’s Thesis is at or as a slideshare at­‐final-­‐37431591 James Crockett is the GM of the game community that was created partially as a response to his research: http://eternal-­‐ Personal contact:


Digging Deeper: Minecraft as a Transition to Wider Virtual Worlds By Keith David Reeves, M.Ed., a.k.a. Loren Alunaia

“It’s like virtual Legos®.” The first time I saw Minecraft, I figured it had tremendous potential, but like so many educational technology tools that catch fire, its simplicity is elegant in a way I could not have anticipated. “Left click breaks, right click builds” is about as straightforward an interface as one could imagine, and as such, the “technology overhead” we often encounter in virtual environments -­‐ the learning curve required to learn how to maneuver within and interact with the simulation -­‐ is practically minimalist.


That’s the beauty: Content shines through. “VSTE in Second Life” has been an active and innovative presence in the virtual environments education world since roughly 2008, with a strong focus on professional networking. Starting about 2012, the focus of the group was becoming more and more interested in learning and instruction. Serendipitously, this growth coincided with the introduction of Professional Learning Networks by ISTE, and so VSTE in SL became VSTE’s first PLN, the VSTE Virtual Environments PLN.

Minecraft is our first major focus after Second Life. It is a logical starting point for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its easy application into elementary school educational technology work. Whereas Second Life, as a highly sophisticated simulation platform, is somewhat more appropriate for learners at the high school, college, and adult levels, Minecraft lends itself well to immediate application for younger learners because of that “low overhead.”


Minecraft does what it does brilliantly, even if it doesn't do much. That's the beauty of the platform, and the fact that it is both secure and stable on so many platforms -­‐ including an iOS version for mobile devices! All of this makes Minecraft an ideal choice for many virtual building applications. There is absolutely no native inappropriate content, zero advertising, and zero links. While a student could, theoretically, build something that might be inappropriate, this is both unlikely and unseen. Minecraft is one of the most intuitive, simple-­‐to-­‐use, and easy-­‐to-­‐ engage-­‐with virtual environments. For teachers, the experience is identical


to students' experiences. As there is no hierarchy in the base (non-­‐Edu) version of Minecraft, the teacher experience mirrors that of the student experience. One need ask but one question to integrate it into one's lesson: "What would students build or make without a computer in this lesson?" One need only say "then build that here," and one has Minecraft within reach.

The edtech developers in the VSTE VE PLN have, thus far, built houses, taverns, overlooks, farms, lighthouses, treehouses, and most recently, an integrated railway system spanning hundreds of blocks (the fundamental building “block” of Minecraft, of course)! We’ve tunneled and bridged our way across the sim, through subterranean passages, under waterways, over mountain – we’ve created ramps, spirals, elevators, you name it! This trial-­‐and-­‐error experimentation mirrors precisely what one would expect from an authentic problem-­‐solving and construction learning activity. With the most rudimentary of interfaces (pick a block and place it,


or destroy a block), one can detach from construction and attach to design. For example, I set out to reproduce the Hotel Roanoke, one of the most popular VSTE conference venues. I had never built anything remotely like it, so I simply selected the colored blocks that mirrored the exterior of the Tudorbethan-­‐style landmark, and set about building. At one point, I ran out of space for a wing. Well, only one thing to do: I had to clear some space. It took a lot of clicking, but I mined out the side of a hillside, and kept on building the hotel.

My objective was to replicate an environment for purposes of demonstrating my comprehension of the Hotel Roanoke as an architectural landmark. My method was to build it in Minecraft. My process was a discovery-­‐based, entirely free-­‐form exploration of the virtual environment simulator to accomplish that task, with very little scaffolding or guidance. This same pedagogical process could be used in any number of applications. Ask yourself, as a pedagogue, what artifacts a student might


produce in “First Life” (a.k.a., physical consensus reality), and then entertain the ways by which that artifact might be created in a virtual reality, be it Second Life or, in this case, Minecraft. While I am a resident of and a major advocate for Second Life, building in SL is becoming increasingly sophisticated. I had just started to figure out how to manipulate basic prims when along came mesh, and wiped the slate clean of “top tier” designers, who now had to master 3D rendering applications like Maya or Blender. Well, sorry, kids, I don’t know how to do any of that! I’m a music teacher by trade, not a computer programmer, and having sat through a few less-­‐than-­‐spectacular-­‐result Blender classes, I can tell you, that’s not a simple tool. However, Minecraft inverts the relationship between the person behind the avatar and the avatar’s ability to build. Blender and Maya take extraordinary amounts of technology “overhead” for building; one could study these applications for years and never master them. However, Minecraft’s most sophisticated building techniques can be mastered in a matter of days, and its most essential building skills mastered in minutes. This liberates the VE participant from the daunting and sometimes


frustrating task of learning the interface “language” and allows that person to focus on design, content, and application.

The VSTE server has served as a tremendous sandbox, allowing us to discover the “facts of life” in Minecraft, just as students would: a pushed minecart can travel about 12 rail lengths if preceded by 6 powered rail lengths. A powered rail needs a redstone torch to light up and work. Redstone appears to be a power source. Redstone also appears to be conductive, like an electric wire. Buttons don’t just toggle redstone, but they’re a power source of their own. These little factoids, as discovered, naturally connect to other ideas, and the learner forms a unique, individualized comprehension of those ideas and relationships, in the course of building. The train lines have served as a great vehicle not only for connecting the geographic environments on the server, but connecting ideas about how the components within the VE work and how those overarching ideas relate in a more complex system.


As a member of the executive committee of the society, I consider PLNs to be an exceptionally positive development in our field – a great way to allow ephemeral, serendipitous, and evolving interest groups to seek and receive the support of their parent organizations. As the board liaison between the VSTE Virtual Environments PLN and the VSTE Board of Directors, I think the PLN serves as an exemplar in terms of its organization. However, as a long-­‐time VE resident and advocate, I’m most pleased and passionate about the VE PLN because it sees the potential of platforms like Minecraft, and throws itself into


exploring it, working with and in it, and discovering the countless ways in which it relates directly to student learning outcomes and teacher instructional practices. Minecraft’s simplicity and immediate applicability as a building sandbox has made it the ideal “entry level” choice for our newest virtual explorations, and we believe it could be the ideal “entry level” VE for your teachers and students for precisely the same reason Keith David Reeves, M.Ed., a.k.a. Loren Alunaia is Treasurer and Director At-­‐Large, Virginia Society for Technology in Education and the Senior Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Arlington Public Schools. You can learn more about his work at


Eliminating a Headache Faced By ALL SL Virtual Educators!

By Carmsie Melodie (SL) Carmel Hill (RL)

I just want to teach! One of the most common issues raised by virtual teachers in Second Life (SL) is how to get new students up to speed with the fundamentals. You know -­‐ walk, talk, navigate – that stuff. For those with little or no experience in 3D environments it’s not easy to pick up SL’s basics, however, these are the skills that underpin everything a resident’s avatar does in world. Needless to say a solid set of foundation competencies is vital to the success of any learning endeavour. The problem is that eradicating SL newbie-­‐ness takes time -­‐ many would argue lots of time. Virtual teachers’ estimates vary widely on this point, ranging from 2 hours to 8 hours. The bottom line is that regardless of the amount of time an SL educator decides to dedicate to up-­‐skilling, it’s precious time they could have spent on their real teaching.


But they’ve been to Learning Island and they’ll pick up the rest… Poor Mervin! He decided to enhance his students’ learning with some virtual classes. He worked hard creating the lessons and setting everything up in Second Life but there was limited time left in the semester. Mervin asked his students to complete SL’s Learning Island training so that he could forego the basics and get down to real teaching right off the bat. Mervin’s first lesson, so carefully planned and well thought out, quickly slid into mayhem. His students’ chat text reeked of desperation, “What’s this…?”, “I’m lost…”, “I can’t work this out.”, “How do I …?”, “OMG these menus…!”, “HELP!”. Mervin’s result was far from the positive introduction to virtual learning that he’d hoped his students would experience. The first destination for all new SL residents is Learning Island. It’s there that they pick up some introductory skills, but this approach has its limitations. Unless educators offer their students additional guidance they tend to blunder around confused and frustrated. The golden rule is: better prepared students means less virtual drama!

So what’s the solution? Many virtual educators in SL create their own introductory sessions and learning resources, which is great. But for those who have nothing in place yet, and are looking to embellish their own materials or want a flexible alternative, then the Second Life basics series may be just what’s needed. It’s new, it’s different, it’s


flexible, and all the work has been done for you! Hosted by the University of Western Australia (UWA in SL), the series contains 5 modules, founded on a blended learning model -­‐ eLearning and virtual learning.

A two tier approach The SL basics series imparts key newbie skills using a two-­‐tier approach: 1. Knowledge The core learning concepts are covered in interactive, online modules that are accessed on our Moodle MOOC site, The modules contain explanations, demos and tips on a wide range of fundamental SL skills. Each main module is supplemented with a matching Cheat Sheet and other helpful info that can be downloaded. 2. Practice and mastery But it’s not all theory. The main modules incorporate in-­‐world Practice Activities, giving the learners the opportunity to apply and master their new skills as they progress. To assist the learners there’s an Activity Station in world that aligns with the modules. When clicked, it gives

people module information, URL links that open the online materials inside SL and lots of other helpful resources.


SLeducate's Activity Station in Second Life Some of the key features of the Second Life basics series • Centralised and accessible The site stores a wide range of SL beginner information at a single web destination. Yep, no more jumping all over the net hunting things down! This is accessible by anyone, anywhere and at any time – virtual teachers, students and those who are simply curious about virtual life. • Engaging The SL basics series is fun, interactive and encourages learning via experimentation and play. • Thorough and sequenced The series imparts a comprehensive set of fundamental Second Life skills in a logical, sequential order. There are 5 modules that contain further bite-­‐sized elements called main modules. The series does not pay lip service to SL’s basic skills; it treats them as vital prerequisites but it’s also… • Flexible Flexibility underpins every aspect of the SL basics series. It’s almost made of rubber! The modules can be introduced and undertaken different ways to cater for a variety of learning needs and preferences, for example: complete everything in the series or do a selection of the modules; complete an entire module or only the parts that you need; learn solo or as a group; self-­‐directed learning or entire/partial teacher led instruction; explore the additional optional resources or skip these. • Ease of navigation The overall series and each main module have a summary so end users can see where skills are covered. Once a main module is accessed, a table of contents and other built in navigation tools enable users to view a topic list and skip from screen to screen with ease. • Resources The website contains helpful, optional materials that can be viewed online, downloaded by users or used as teaching aids, e.g. Cheat Sheets and shortcut key lists.


• Practical and effective The series integrates fun, SL Activities that allow learners to practice and master the skills. The skills covered in the modules are generic but, to ensure the activities really hit the mark, teachers are able tailor them anyway they like. They can simply provide students with customised or alternative module activities outlining what, how and where. • Pulling it all together Each module covers a discreet set of skills. The final activity is a Finders Keepers Hunt that ties everything together by drawing on all the skills covered throughout the series. Using clues, the learners find items hidden in various SL locations. Of course there are rewards -­‐ each item gives them gifts! • Timing The maximum duration of any main module in the series is 15 minutes and the majority are less, excluding the time to complete the activities. As a rough rule of thumb we recommend allowing a minimum of 2.5 to 3 hours to complete the series. Some will find they require more or less time than this. Timing varies between individuals and on the basis of the delivery approach. • Community, support and help Learners don’t feel isolated, even if studying is asynchronously. There’s a supportive SLeducate group they can join in world. As a member of the community they are able to approach the group for help and advice whenever needed. Teachers can join this group too or, if preferred, students can join a group their teacher establishes and discuss the modules or seek assistance that way. • SL glossaries SL is full of odd terms and phrases. To help with this the site has comprehensive, searchable SL glossaries, known as SLictionaries, which cover a wide range of SL terms and text chat abbreviations. • Educators’ resources The SLeducate website contains Virtual Educator resources that offer SL teachers and corporate trainers helpful info, ideas and tips in .pdf and video formats. • Techy stuff A viewer is the software users install on their computer to drive SL. The


module demonstrations are based on the Firestorm viewer. The SL basics series can be viewed on any flash enabled device.

Delivery options One of the big advantages for virtual educators is that the SL basics series can be successfully implemented without taking up a lot of precious teaching time. However, if a hands-­‐on role is preferred, that’s also easy to achieve. Some of the delivery alternatives are listed below. There are pros and cons to each option so teachers need to decide which is best for them, their learning strategy, and their students. A. Set the entire series or a selection (modules and activities) as prerequisite learning for students to complete before in-­‐world classes commence. B. Run the entire series or a selection (modules and activities) in a classroom setting, with students learning at their own pace or with a display on a central screen. If using this method, you’d need to allow individuals to complete the practice activities in Second Life. With access to a computer lab, this could be done with all at the same SL location and at the same time or in the learner’s own time. C. Ask the students to complete one or several modules themselves by a set date and then complete the associated SL practice activities in a classroom environment. D. Complete one or several modules in the classroom and ask the students to complete the associated SL practice activities themselves by a set date.


Want to check it out? The website and all its resources are available to help anyone, anywhere and at any time. There’s lots to see so here are a few links to get you started.

• • • • • • • website SL basics series web page (use Guest access) Avi to avi – let’s chat sample module (use Guest access) Virtual educator web page (use Guest access) SLeducate’s Activity Station in Second Life Get started in Second Life a brief overview SLeducate’s YouTube Channel

We hope this is a helpful tool for virtual teachers, students and others. All the best! Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jayjay Zifanwe in SL) is the Coordinator, UWA in SL Manager, School of Physics, University of Western Australia. Be sure to check out the recent blog post that takes a fairly close look at the SLeducate site and SLbasics series. Here's the link:­‐a-­‐sl-­‐resource-­‐for-­‐ educators-­‐students-­‐and-­‐new-­‐users/


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