Dear Gamestar (the Glogster Edition)

Yesterday, I shared out the letter my students and I sent to Gamestar Mechanic (and to which they have already graciously replied, which I will sharing with my students later today). This morning, I am sharing out the digital poster version of input that we created with some of that advice from students for the developer at Gamestar.

Peace (in the poster),

Student Reflections: Advice to Gamestar Mechanic

Improving Gamestar
My students love using Gamestar Mechanic to learn video game design. But they also expressed questions about features and abilities that do not exist in the site. So, I figured, why not give them an opportunity to express those wishes for improvements to the Gamestar Mechanic folks directly? I was thankful when I got a response from Gamestar folks, asking me to send along the student reflections and advice. There’s nothing like a real, authentic audience to spur some solid thinking out of my students.

Here is the letter we composed, with information from a reflective survey tool that we used:

                                    December 2012
Dear Gamestar Mechanic Developers,

Our sixth grade classes have been immersed in video game development for the past three weeks, working on learning how to design and publish games via Gamestar Mechanic as they work on a science-based video game project. Your site has been incredibly useful to us as we learn about games while playing games. As we neared the end of the project, we wanted to offer you, the developers, some feedback from us, the users. As part of a survey, we were given the chance to offer up some suggestions. We’re including some of the writing as well as some of the themes that came through in our writing, in hopes it might help you think about Gamestar Mechanic and consider possibilities. We connected this writing to you with our own efforts to gather feedback from users on our games in order to make them better. Perhaps our feedback might be valuable to you. We hope you find our reflections useful. Or, as one student wrote in capital letters: GET YOUR GAME ON!

Sincerely and with appreciation,

Mr. Kevin Hodgson and the sixth grade class at the William E. Norris Elementary School
34 Pomeroy Meadow Road
Southampton, MA 01053

Some themes that came up in a lot of responses:

  • Adding the ability for two players (multi-players) to play collaboratively in a single game at the same time
  • Having collaborative tools across two different accounts (ie, building a game together)
  • Uploading and/or creating own music soundtrack
  • Creating own sprites (avatars) for game play
  • Chatting with other designers while creating a game
  • Adding more color choices on damage blocks
  • Adding a third style of game (beyond top-down and platformer)
  • Creating profile pictures or avatars within Gamestar
  • Wondering about an app version for mobile devices?
  • Downloading a version of the game to the desktop

And here are some of the notes from students:

I really liked building and playing games, and that was really different for me, since I don’t usually play any video games. One thing I didn’t like is how design options are limited: you can do a platform or top-down game. To make this more interesting, I would like to be able to design my own avatars, enemies and blocks as much as possible. Also if I was able to download my own music for the soundtrack that would be really cool. But overall I really liked your website!

I think Gamestar Mechanic needs to let kids not pay to become premium member. They should add new characters. They should make all challenges not to expire at all because I didn’t have an account in spring and I wanted to do the spring challenge and it expired.

I think Gamestar Mechanic was a great experience. I wish that the game design could be 3D. I thought it was great.

To improve Gamestar Mechanic, I would make an icon or box on the website to show the gamers how you can earn more avatars, like how to earn the text box or the shooter gun. Show them what challenges to do to earn more things in your workshop. I LOVE Gamestar Mechanic how it is now anyways.

I really like this website and I normally hate any computer games. The only suggestion I have is to allow multiplayer games and allowing multiple people to make one game. That’s really it I love this website keep up the good work!!!

I feel you should include multi-player like the option to make your game multi-player so that when you publish it then you can go on at the same time as someone and then play against them like see who can do it the fastest. Also, you should include chatting so that if you’re on at the time as someone else and you have multi-player, then you could ask them if they want to play a game with you. That’s what I think you should include in Gamestar.

I enjoy the website as it is but, I think that it would be nice to be able to add our own sounds into our games. It would bring more life to the game and it may be easier for people to see the story of the game.

A good idea would by adding custom sprites for people to make the game a little different from others and maybe eventually, you might want to add a 3-D aspect to the games.
What I think is that they should let you design your own sprites, ride animals, and go on completely different quests.

I think that you can make this site even better by making things a tiny bit more realistic. Some examples are the backgrounds and the avatars. There should be a bigger variety of blocks, enemies, and avatars.

Peace (in the feedback),


Slice of Life: One Little Word for 2013


Over at Two Writing Teachers, my writing friends Stacey and Ruth are using today’s Slice of Life post (a Tuesday feature) to ask folks to write “one little word” for the new year.

Here’s mine, which goes to the heart of what I do as a writer and what I try to do as a teacher (and as a father and husband, and well, just about everything. I am not saying I am always successful with my reflective stance, but I try):

What’s yours?

Peace (in the word),



The Ted Talks Master List

This is a pretty amazing find from Twitter this morning: a Google Doc with listings of hundreds of TED talks. Actually, there are more than 1300 talks listed on this spreadsheet, with links and titles and more. I feel smarter just looking at the short descriptions. Wow.

Check out the TED Talk list

Peace (in the new year),


Graphic Novel Review: Cardboard

There’s a real creepy undercurrent to the latest graphic novel by Doug TenNapel. Cardboard tells the story of a single father’s gift to his young son of a magical cardboard box, which animates and brings to life whatever the recipient creates. Cam, the boy, and his unemployed dad, a down-on-his-luck kind of guy who has not yet come to grips with the loss of his wife, don’t quite believe the story (as told by a sort-of carnival barker who lays out a few rules for using the cardboard that Dad ignores, to his peril, of course). Still, Cam and his dad create a cardboard man anyway, who springs to life as a boxing champion named Bill. Then, in a burst of inspiration, dad creates a cardboard machine that can create other cardboard creatures (which is against the old man’s rule), and suddenly, the story is full gear.

The strange part of the story takes hold when Cam’s neighbor — Marcus, a boy with zombie-like eyes and a mean streak a mile long — decides to steal the cardboard machine and begins to create his own creatures. Needless to say, the entire plan by Marcus goes awry, with the cardboard creatures creating an entire city underneath the ground and staking out their own independence. Cardboard replicas of Marcus and others start appearing, too, with maniacal eyes. Told you. Creepy. Cardboard then becomes a story of good versus evil, as Cam and Marcus join forces to put a stop to the cardboard kingdom.

The story is engaging and the artwork is pretty interesting. I haven’t read any of TenNapel’s graphic novels before, but he clearly has a good sense of creating a world within a story, and using the image to tell the story. I imagine some of my students will be intrigued by the book cover, which shows Cam staring into the massive eyes of a cardboard giant.

Peace (in the box),