Game Design Discussions: The Good, The Bad and the Playable

We’re just starting our video game design project, which will stretch through the end of the calendar year. Yesterday, we had a long discussion about the games they like to play (not just video games), and then design elements of games — the good designs, which make you want to return to a game, and the bad, which make you want to abandon the game. These two question will be ones that we return to periodically as they begin to design, create and publish their own science-themed video games at Gamestar Mechanic in the coming weeks.

I took notes during our discussions and made these there word clouds. The concepts and ideas were only the ones that were repeated across my four sixth grade classes. In other words, the lists for all three questions were pretty lengthy. But I was looking for common themes from my four groups of students.

What struck out to me is the popularity of Minecraft these days (a huge leap from last year), and how graphics are front and center for both what they like in good games and what they don’t like in bad games.

The Games They Play
Games We Play 2012


Design Elements that Work
Game Design We Like 2012


Design Elements that Don’t Work
Game Design We Don't Like 2012

Peace (in the sharing),

PS — if you want to learn more about our video game design unit, you can visit our reflective website from last year, which has student and teacher video reflections, handouts and samples. Go to our Video Game Design website.


Final Digital Writing Month Comic: Worlds Within Worlds

Today marks the last official day of Digital Writing Month, which has been quite an adventure. I’ll reflect more this weekend when I have time about the ways I tried to push some boundaries and take part in the activities, and what I think of it all. This morning, on the last day of the sharing, I have another meta-comic called Worlds Within Worlds. It echoes one I did earlier in the month, with ideas folded into ideas. But I think it captures a question that I often wonder about: how writing and ideas can take root in digital spaces, and remain there, in ways that are different from non-digital writing.

Worlds Within Worlds

Thanks for visiting during the month. I hope you tried out a few new things here and there, too.

Peace (outside the frames),


Digital Writing Month: A Hyperlinked Video Poem

As part of Digital Writing Month, I am refashioning an old multimedia poem piece using the YouTube annotation feature. With that tool, you can embed links in a video to other videos — in this case, all of the poems as videos are connected together in one larger project.  I’m not sure if this just gets too confusing to experience.

Peace (in the video poem),

Digital Writing Month: No Net Access

This has been me this week, as our Internet has been down for three days. I’m writing now in a cafe during a pitstop to a conference, and while I am enjoying the downtime (and yes, we are doing plenty of reading), my ideas keep on needing a place to sit.


Peace (in the comic),

The NCTE/NWP Hackjam Rocked!

(note: yeah, I am still processing and writing about my visit to Vegas for NCTE and NWP.)
Hackjam2 Chad and Andrea

At the NCTE Meeting, there is always a Tech To Go booth set up, where teachers share technology tools and learning strategies. It’s cool, but most of us are usually passing by it on the way to other things. On Saturday, I skipped a session so that I could hang out with some NWP friends — Chad Sansing and Andrea Zellner — who were collaborating on a Tech to Go session version of a Hackjam. First, you need to understand that the negative connotation around hacking is all wrong, and upside down. Instead of imagining some creepy programmer causing mayhem and mischief, think of an average person repurposing media and technology for their own needs, and remixing the world to their vision. Yeah, that’s hacking, and it doesn’t have to be a technology-based idea.


Chad and Andrea got us started with a fascinating adventure that had nothing to do with computers. We were given one of two “secret missions” — either go into the NCTE exhibition booths and take as much free stuff as you could find, and then come back to the Tech to Go area and remix it; or grab some sticky notes and hack the long line of celebrity photos in the main hallway leading into NCTE. I joined the image hack crew, and we had a blast adding dialogue boxes to the pictures. Lots of folks were stopping, wondering what we were doing and reading what we were writing. It was very mysterious, and fun, and the activity really had us thinking of how to use humor and hacking to remix a public space.


Unfortunately, the hack didn’t last. Someone soon came down the hallway shortly after we left, and removed all of our sticky notes. Luckily, we had already tweeted and photographed our work, saving the hacking for posterity (for good or bad). But the activities (including the remixing of the free stuff) reminded us of agency of the user, of remixing our experiences, and of how to shift our thinking from passive consumer into active participant.

Which led us to technology, where we used some of the new Mozilla Foundation tools in its Webmaker system to hack some web content. The Hackjam was a blast of fresh air from the room sessions, and Chad and Andrea made it fun and engaging, and steeped into the larger ideas of helping our students have agency in the media-saturated world.

You can view Andrea’s Storify collection of the tweeting that took place during the session. It’s a handy overview of what happened.

Peace (in the hack),


Digital Writing Month: A Poem for My Multiple Voices

multiple me screenshot

I’ve been playing around with audio as part of Digital Writing Month, and wondering how I might be able to “layer” in multiple voice tracks for a poem about multiple aspects of personality. I ended up using Audacity, and tinkered with the pitch and effects setting to differentiate the layered voice — so that one is low, one is high and the main one is smack dab in the middle. A fourth voice gives a little echo to some of the lines of the poem. It’s very odd to compose this way, and yet, it is fascinating, too. It was as if I were splitting me apart and then reconstructing my voices back into the whole, but on different points of the spectrum. (although at times, it sounds like the Borg talking)

And actually, it’s pretty fascinating to see how your words become waves when you are using audio files in a system like Audacity. The peaks and valleys – the gaps of silence – all remind you that our voice is really nothing more than sounds on the audio spectrum.

Take a listen to the podcast of the poem:


And here is the poem, as text:

Multiple Me

Those voices I hear
have become a chorus in my mind –
reverberations of an identity:
the confident me
the meek me
the analytical me
the poetic me
tapping into tools that may move me beyond
the pen and out into the wider world
with our voices
all merging
together —

I speak from this space (space, space)
with those voices in mind (mind, mind)
I hear them reply to my query (of course, you don’t say, what did you expect)
as if my questions were nothing but mere tangled wires,
nodes of information running through these veins
away from my brain
down deep into my heart
where logic has long since been forgotten

Yes, they are me
Yes, we are one
Yes, these strands become me
becoming us
when we share this same page together
in sound
in image
in voice

Try not to pull too hard on me
as I close my eyes to dream
of how this fabric that rips so easily by the barbs of
words and wonder
can be woven back together again
in order to make me whole.

Peace (in the poems),


Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7 (The Third Wheel)

Listen — Jeff Kinney is probably never going to sweep the “serious awards” category for his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. And with the seventh book in the series (The Third Wheel), the newness of his drawings and the discovery of his characters have long since become just … “comfortable.” But Kinney can still get you chuckling over the circumstances and ego-centric world of his main character, Greg Heffley, in ways that are sly and (as a parent of three boys) a bit too real at times.

Here, in The Third Wheel, Greg is off to a middle school dance with his goofball friend, Rowley, and a girl they bring as their “friend” (the title gives away what is going to happen, so I don’t have to). But much of the first half of the book is Greg remembering various events from his childhood, and it was in these tales of Greg in the womb, Greg commandeering the television when his mom tries to use the Baby Genius tapes, Greg’s frustrations at getting everything as a hand-me-down from his older brother (including underwear) that had me chuckling.

It’s a quick read, as all the Wimpy Kid books are, and Kinney’s illustrations are light and funny. My 8 year old son read the book — devoured it, actually — in two hours. My older sons read it in less than an hour (the older one being a bit furtive about it now that he is in high school, I think). In the end, The Third Wheel is a good entertainment, and sometimes, that’s all we ask in a book, right?

Peace (with the kid),

PS — bonus video: Jeff Kinney drawing lesson!


Come Play The Digiwrimo Video Game


I finished up the video game project for Digital Writing Month, and I want to invite you to play it and see what you think. You’ll notice from the above level map (which I shared yesterday) that I used the letters of the #DIGIWRIMO hashtag as the foundation for the game play, so your player has to move through and around the letters to get to the end, and collect jewels (nuggets of wisdom?) along the way.

Have fun. Don’t give up. I purposely did not make it too easy, but I hope I didn’t make it too difficult, either. (hint: use the letter Z to portal from one spot to another, and the space bar shoots freezing ice rays, and get all of the jewels. There are checkpoints throughout, in case you die or get too lost.) And I would love to get some feedback from you about how it went. And of course, this kind of activity raises the larger question: is my creating a video game a form of digital writing? Is your playing the game a form of digital reading? Where does gaming fit in our exploration of digital composition. I have some ideas but I would really love to hear from you.

(play the Digital Writing Month video game with this direct link, too)

Peace (in the game),


A Tool for Checking and Adjusting Privacy Settings

I saw this site — Adjust Your Privacy —  in a newsletter from the fantastic Doug Belshaw, who found it at Lifehacker. The tool allows you to check out your privacy settings on various sites, and also provides a handy lists of places to check out how easily you can be “found” with the personal data that other sites have collected on you.

Be careful of what you share, and do your best to keep track of where you’ve been. I know it’s not easy. I spent just a few minutes using some of the tools and found that my privacy setting seemed OK, but it is a little odd to see how much personal information one can gain with the search queries they also have listed on the page. Worrisome, even.

Check out Adjust Your Privacy

Peace (in the snooping),




Graphic Book Review: Amulet (Prince of the Elves)

Amulet Comic Creator
You have to admire writer/illustrator Kazu Kibuishi for the way he is unfolding the story of the Amulet graphic novel series. Years go by between books (the latest is Book Five: Prince of the Elves), and Kibuishi wastes no time with backstory for readers. He trusts that we have been reading, and thinking, and that we remember the characters and storylines enough to be brought right back into the tale of the Stonekeepers. (I’m not sure what a new reader would make of it all, though. They would be completely lost, it seems to me)

As I dove into Book Five,  I had to jog my memory, but I bit in to the story in the latest Amulet book anyway. You can’t ignore the beauty of the illustrations, which are so evocative and powerful, nor the narrative sweep that Kibuishi is setting forth in the series, which tells the stories of a girl, Emily, who is learning how to harness the power of her magic stone; Max, whose mysterious past is slowly coming to life; and the showdown between the race of Elves and others in the world that was once hung together with the magic and power of the Stonekeepers.

There are echoes of many traditional epic stories in the Amulet books (the mysterious voice inside the stones, the pull between good and evil, the redemption of society, the reluctant hero) but I find it refreshing that Kibuishi trusts us to believe in his storytelling power and to let the narrative strands slowly pull apart before coming back together again. We are shifted quickly into different storylines and you have to stop to take stock of where you are. This is not a bad thing, but I wonder about his young readers. Or maybe, like the cult of Harry Potter, the legions of kids who were wowed by the first Amulet book years ago are now older, and more sophisticated, readers.

And I can’t ignore the comments of my 8 year old son, who snapped up the Amulet book as soon as it was out of the box. (He has read and re-read all of the series many times)

“That book is one of the best books  I read,” he said, handing it back to me a few hours later. “Serious.”

I won’t go that far, but I will say that the Amulet series is bringing the art of graphic novels to interesting levels, and I am ready for Book Six, whenever that happens.

Peace (in the frame),

PS — I used the comic creator at Scholastic to create the top comic from the Amulet template;