The Ooohs and Ahhs of Augmented Reality

The past few days, for morning work, I have had my students coloring. I made it a sort of mystery about why we were doing coloring instead of our usual morning work routines (critical thinking puzzles, math and writing work, etc.). Yesterday, I brought my iPad into the classroom and hooked it up to the Interactive Board, called up my ColAR app (free, with some premium features) and asked kids to bring their colored pages up to me.

I then pointed the iPad to their pictures … and the oohs and ahhs began.
Using colar

The app brings to life the colored pages, and it led us to talk about the wave of Augmented Reality apps that are now coming out, and what AR even is (most had never heard of the phrase before). They were really jazzed about the app, and I suspect more than a few dashed home to download it.

I still want to find a way to hack the coloring pages to make them my own. But I haven’t yet had a chance to experiment with it.

Peace (in the AR),

The Library of Games and Connected Learning

Tonight, I am a guest on a Learning Aloud program with some high school students who are going to be talking about video gaming. The Learning Aloud series is youth-centered sharing and is part of the Connected Learning movement. You can listen in and join with the chat. The show begins at 5:30 p.m. (eastern time). A focus of the show is something known as the Library of Games in Chicago. It seems like a great idea.

Library of Games (LoG) is a video game journalism program sponsored by YOUmedia Chicago at the Chicago Public Library. LoG is open to all high school students who love video games and want to learn more about games, gaming criticism and journalism. Students in LoG produce a weekly video game podcast and produce all of the content on the LoG blog including articles, editorials, videos, graphic design and more.

We believe that video games are an incredibly important part of people’s lives, especially teenagers, and we need an open and intelligent forum to discuss games. We want to represent the diversity of teen gamers and prove that teens can speak and write intelligently about video games. — from

Peace (in the game),

Video Game Design Storyboarding

Writing is a central feature of our science-based video game design project, and we come at it from a few different angles. One is the pre-planning and storyboarding that has to take place before they can begin building the game. The storyboards offer students a chance to articulate the vision of the game but also a way for us to chat about what they envision doing, the potential roadblocks, and a path forward.

Here are a few storyboard scenes:
Gaming Storyboards 2013

Gaming Storyboards 2013

Gaming Storyboards 2013

Gaming Storyboards 2013

Peace (in the game),

Book Review: Spirit Animals

Scholastic is making another push into what appears to be a lengthy book series, and I feel mixed about it. Spirit Animals begins with this first book, Wild Born. Here, there is the story of 12-year-old kids connecting with mythical animals that arrive during a special celebration and then the four set off on an adventure to save their world from evil forces brewing all around them. Sure, we’ve read this tale before. Many times. I’m not complaining, but I have to admit that my son liked this one better than I did, as we did it as a read-aloud together. I did enjoys the cover of the book. It’s very attractive and eye-catching. And I appreciated that writer Brandon Mull added complexities here and there in the plot and character development, such as competing storylines so that you are never quite certain which group is the real bad side.

But I can’t escape the feeling that there’s a marketing genius at work, though. I mean, you can’t go wrong with connecting animals with young heroes when it comes to young readers. Everyone loves powerful animals. And that’s what rubs me the wrong way with Spirit Animals. It feels like marketing more than storytelling.

I felt the same way about Scholastic’s 39 Clues series, although my older son loved those books and read them as they came out. Maybe it’s just me and a natural apprehension when a big company enters the room. Like 39 Clues, the Spirit Animals series has a web-based platform for students to “play the game” as they “read the book.” I let my son go to the site and set up an account, but looking over his shoulder from time to time, I can’t say that I was all that impressed with what I saw. He lost interest after about 15 minutes. Yet I don’t think he every got to the Quest part of the site, so maybe we didn’t fully experience the “play the game” element.

I remember sitting in a conference session at NCTE last year, where “transmedia books” was the topic, as represented by some publishing companies, including Scholastic. But I had to walk out midway through the presentation because their vision of “transmedia” was setting up a companion website for kids to “play” with the story and characters but it was clear that what they really meant was to “sell” more books in a series. Now, listen, I know publishers are in the business of selling books but I feel odd when kids are targeted through games and online portal spaces that are branded with by a company. Maybe I am being too critical of Scholastic here. I know they are trying to navigate the changes in the way kids read. I just feel a little put off by it all.

Peace (in the stories),

PS — the trailer:


Humbled and Honored to be in the Mix

I am honored to have been nominated for some Edublog Award categories this year. If you have the inclination and time, I’d appreciate support. Just being part of the crowd of blogs and folks in these spaces is enough for me, though. Like many of my colleagues, I don’t blog for awards. I blog to reflect and understand and to share, and connect.

But, thank you.

Peace (in appreciation),

Hour of Code: A Sixth Grade Collective Infographic

I tried to keep track during the week of the minutes that my sixth graders did with the Hour of Code project. Between teaching and playing with simple coding programs and sites, we also spent a good amount of time around programming with our science-based video game design project now underway.

I used Piktochart to make this Hour of Code infographic, although I have to say outright that the total minutes are collective (all students time on tasks together) and in the end, the numbers are interesting but meaningless. The real success is that I can see we sparked interest in computers and technology this week in ways that I had not been able to before, AND lots of girls as well as boys were deep into the activities.
Our Hour of Code Infographic
Peace (in the numbers),

How I fell Off #DS106 and Bumped My Head

I’m not sure how it happened but sometime around Thanksgiving, I fell off the DS106 Headless Course Wagon Train and bumped my head. Prior to that, I was deeply engaged and deeply involved in the creative storytelling adventures that unfolded, from audio podcasting to gif creation to … well, the gamut of ideas ran far and wide. I’m still proud to be sharing out our Merry Hacksters radio program.

The headless element (no real leaders, although I would not say it was completely headless, as folks were always behind the curtain to some degree). It was an amazing experience that reminded me once again that the technology and the tools are always second fiddle to the stories we want to tell and the experiences we want to share. It reminded about the power of narrative across mediums. It was a blast.

So, why didn’t I stick with it all the way to the end?

An easy answer would be to say that life just got busy, and it did. It always does. That’s not it, though.

There was something about the turn in the headless course towards video in the final few weeks that gave me pause, and then to a gif-related project (see this great storify for more details) that took root and took hold with the DS106 friends when I turned my head to other things (like presenting at conferences), and I could not seem to get caught up again. The thread got lost.  I bumped my head. The video elements were very interesting and tapped into something I am very intrigued about (video as composition), but I soon realized that time and attention to video would be my enemy (or was that only what I thought and not what reality would be?). It also felt as if a natural cycle of an online experience had happened and the course was still running. (We noticed this with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, too.)

Again, I blinked and then I was lost.

So when notices started to come about this past week about a wrap-up event, I thought: I should take part in that and reconnect with the course and my friends there. Then this morning, reading through Alan Levine’s post about the virtual gathering, I realized: Crap, I missed it. It was last night. Drat. I appreciated Alan’s post about the event (I am a fan of pulling back the veil on the technical aspects so I read his reflection with pleasure) and it reminded me of what I most appreciated about the DS106 Headless Course: the open nature, the collaborative spirit, the sense of adventure, and the realization that there are communities of people doing amazing things and sharing them out to the world.

I had heard about #DS106 over the last few years, and even checked out the site from time to time. I couldn’t quite figure it out: was it some kind of real course at a college? Or just another place for sharing out of ideas? Or something in-between? A creative community pushing the boundaries of storytelling? Yep, to all of those, it turns out. Yep to all of that, and more. What you make of it is what it is, and for me, what DS106 was was a chance to push myself in odd directions and compose across media lines. Which I enjoyed immensely.

I absolutely adore the Daily Create, and I would point anyone to the the bank of assignments for digital storytelling as a magical place of ideas. But it wasn’t until I became immersed in the Headless Course that I understood how imagination powers our views of technology, and if nothing else, DS106 reminds us that the agency of creation rests with us, not our machines. We are the ones telling stories to make sense of the world. Our computers, and mobile devices, and whatever else comes along should be examined and evaluated through the lens of “making and creating.” Let’s make sure we with technology.

Have fun out there.

Peace (in the reflection),



What They Choose: The Science in the Video Games

We’re in the midst of a video game design project. I queried students about the geology/science theme that underpins their video game projects, and created this chart that breaks down the topics. It’s no surprise that Layers of the Earth gets the most attention, as it translates nicely to a multi-leveled game.
Video Game Science Concepts

Peace (in the topics),