Video Game Design: Off-Screen Hacking Uno

hacking uno

We don’t spend every teaching/learning moment doing game design, but I suspect that might be the impression some folks get if they read my blog. We do a lot of other kinds of writing and reading activities. And we are not always on the computer either.

One of the ways I introduce and reinforce game design elements is through hacking of other games. Some years, we hack chess. This year, I pulled out my decks of UNO cards, and over a series of days (which sometimes are far and few between as we do other things), my students have been redesigning the game of UNO.

The supplies are simple: a deck of UNO cards. But I did introduce the game variable of dice one day, which led to interesting discussions in the groups about whether dice would improve their concept or not. Most have not used the dice, even though they were all excited about it.

They have been working on finalizing the Rules of Play for their hacked card games, and one of these days, I will separate each group and reform them in a Jigsaw Activity, so that every new group has three to four new games to play, with an “expert” from the original groups to teach their classmates.

Hacking Uno Wordcloud
(Names of New UNO Games)

We then use the UNO game development as points of discussion when we shift into our Science-based Video Game Project, now underway. Hacking UNO provides for collaborative discussions on game design, and creativity, and collaborative writing, while also connecting nicely to the larger project now underway.

Peace (in the cards),

Made with Code: A Holiday Tree

I was so focused on the Hour of Code activities last week with my students that I forgot that Google has put out some nifty coding activities, too. It’s “Projects with Code” seems aimed at girls, but that’s fine.

Yesterday, my son and I worked on the Holiday Tree activity, which allows you to work with the lights on the state trees in Washington DC using Blockly code. When you are done, it gives you a time when your “lights” will flash on the tree of the state you choose. Is that true? Neat.

Peace (in the lights, flickering),

#CCourses: Not Quite #Notover

#ccourses is #notover

As the last official phase of the Connected Courses comes to an end, there is ample discussion among participants on the question of: Why does a connected community end just because a course ends? (And why does an online course end when a traditional semester ends?) The #notover hashtag is being used, which I used for the comic above.

I’m reminded a bit of another comic I made for Alan Levine earlier in the Connected Courses, as he mulled over this same topic, and I reflected on an LMS I am in right now that I don’t care more than a whit about.  He put forth the idea of “keeping the lights on” and not using language about anything ending.

Keep the lights on #CCourses

And I agree.

So many folks are plotting ways to keep people connected. There was even talk of a task force. Made a comic. (Surprised? I doubt it). I was thinking of superheroes. Personally, I like the Mad Hacker.
For the Connected Course .... #ccourses

Just like anything of this nature, it will depend on the participants now, not the facilitators (although facilitators should now have permission to become participants) as to whether sharing, connecting and exploring continues under the #ccourses banner.

For my part, I will try to share out on a regular basis ideas from the collaborative Daily Connector site that (digi) Simon, Maha (B.) and Laura and I worked on. I’ve been doing random Daily Connects throughout December (after we originally posted them each day as new ideas back in October), and the ideas there have value beyond Connected Courses, for sure. The random generator is such a cool function of that site. (Thanks, Alan!)

Push for Fun-1

To be honest, the Connected Courses has been intriguing and I have enjoyed the discussions and hangouts and meeting people (I mean, I’ve been “hanging out” in spaces with Howard Rheingold and Mimi Ito and others … how cool is that? It’s a thrill). But as a K-12 teacher, much of the discussion about designing open education courses for the University level has been intriguing on a thinking level, but not all that practical on the day-to-day level.

But you know, I am still in the rather vibrant #rhizo14 network (coming towards #rhizo15), and I connect with DS106 via the Daily Creates (our model for the Daily Connects), and the #clmooc community is still sharing in various spaces. A different, more relaxed energy comes when the planned world falls away, and the unknown maps of what is ahead takes place. Sometimes, it sustains itself. Sometimes, not.

We’ll see where the #ccourses goes and time will tell if it is really #notover … but I do know that the people I have connected with there have greatly expanded my own online networks of friends I can turn to with questions and advice and projects, and ideas. And, of course, comics. I made a ton of comics for Connected Courses, in hopes of infecting a little fun into the conversations.

Check out my Connected Courses Comic Album

Peace (may it continue),


176 Collective Hours of Coding and Programming

Do the numbers matter? Not really, but it does energize my students when I work to calculate the combined and collective number of hours we spent this past week doing Hour of Code and related activities. This chart will be going up on our class blog this weekend.

Hour of Code 2014

This includes:

  • Collaborative problem solving on the Frozen game with our kindergarten buddies;
  • Angry Bird coding on the Interactive Board;
  • Flappy Bird coding collectively and individually;
  • Working on programming and designing our science-based video game projects.

Do the numbers accurately gauge the interest of my four classes of sixth graders in the coding and programming concept? Not even close. They were invested and engaged, and even yesterday, a fair number were still working on coding activities during breaks with their game design projects.

It’s all good …

Peace (in the chart),

Getting all Flappy with Hour of Code

My students had a blast yesterday with the Hour of Code project in which you can learn how to build and then publish your own style of “Flappy Bird” game. We began our Hour of Code in the morning, when I had the Angry Birds coding activity on the board and posted a sign: Play This Game!

They did.

hour of code angry birds

Then, during each of our ELA classes, students collaboratively, via the Interactive Board, went through the Flappy Bird programming lesson. There were lots of encouragements as kids used the pen to program the game, and cheers when it worked. I struggled with finding a way to collect all of the Flappy Bird style games, so that as classes and as individuals coded the games, they could share them out for others to play.

I decided upon using a Padlet, which makes the collection visible, but a quirk in it means that when you click on the game link in Padlet, you have to find the source button to get to the actual game. I find that extra step annoying. The students didn’t, so there’s that.

Class Flappy Games

A number of students went from the Flappy Bird game to the Angry Birds game, to the Frozen activity, but the “aha” moment came when a girl began watching the Javascript tutorial (via Kahn Academy). She was transfixed for a long stretch of time, and every now and then, she would say, quite loud, “This … is … so… interesting.” She eventually called some of her girlfriends over, and they all huddled around her computer, trying to wrap their heads around some more advanced programming language.

Who knows what seeds got planted during the Hour of Code … and where it might take them.

Peace (in the share),


Writing a Protest Song (of sorts)

We had an ice/snow day yesterday. Or, rather, I did but my kids did not, so I had some time at home to catch up on work and play. During the day, I noticed a tweet about Questlove calling for artists of all stripes to be the “voice of the times” when it comes to Ferguson and Staten Island, and race. I’d be dishonest if I say I wasn’t living the privileged life, as a white male in suburbia in a tolerant part of the United States.

But there was a time when I wrote only protest songs for my first bands, so I grabbed my guitar yesterday and worked for a short stretch on a song that might reflect some of my thinking, as I read the news and wonder where our country is heading. We’ve had large protests here where I live — we are in an area with five colleges, including UMass and Smith College — so I began with that scene, and moved forward from there. I wanted to end on a hopeful note. I think I did.

Here, then, is my rough song: Cities Rise Up


I am not naive to think I am in Questlove’s sphere or talent. But every artist has a chance to call for change, right?

Peace (in the muse),

Honoring Anne Herrington at WMWP

(I thought I had shared this out earlier but I guess not …. never too late …)

Anne Herrington, whose work in the field of composition and digital writing, as well as her leadership for many years in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project, was honored this past weekend with the Pat Hunter Award at WMWP’s Best Practices.

I’ve known Anne for many years and have worked closely with her on many projects, and her work and inquiry and approach to issues always struck me as very insightful and full of wonder. She led our WMWP through a very difficult time in recent years, before stepping down as WMWP site director, and her continued interest in digital literacies in many forms helped inform my own work as a classroom teacher.

Here, Anne accepts the Pat Hunter Award (named after one of the earlier site directors of our writing project whose legacy still shapes who we are) with her usual insightful commentary on the work we do, and the learning community we are part of with the writing project.

Peace (to Anne),