Hacking PacMan in Gamestar Mechanic

Hacking Pacman collage
One of the first activities I have students do in Gamestar Mechanic as we move into video game design is to “hack” a traditional video game and make it their own. This all ties into some of the earlier work in our digital literacies workshop for high school students about the hacking and remixing culture. This summer, the task was to Hack PacMan, which grounded a lot of our discussions around topics such as top-down versus platformer; the use of backgrounds and colored blocks; the levels of complexity between an impossible game and an easy game; and more.

The simplicity of the classic game itself — basically a one-screen maze with a task and enemies — allows an entry point for just about everyone, from seasoned game veterans to newbies. It’s interesting to see where they take the concept of Pacman, too, as some try to replicate the original and others barely acknowledge PacMan in their game.

Want to try one of the games out?

Peace (in the maze),



Reflections via Comics: What They Are Learning

We are midway through our digital literacies workshop with high school students (as part of a larger initiative to target English Language Learners with academic support and enrichment and jobs over the summer) so we had them go into our Webcomic site to write about a few things they have learned so far this summer with us.

We like that students are referencing a range of learning, from creating games to using the Webmaker tools to our vocabulary activities around digital literacy terms.

Halfway Reflection1

Halfway Reflection2

Halfway Reflection3

Peace (in the sharing),


A Simplified HTML Code Cheat Sheet and Thimble

Yesterday, the high school students in our digital literacies workshop began using Thimble, the Mozilla Webmaker tool, to begin tinkering around with website creation. Soon, they will be creating a portfolio of some of their learning around hacking, remixing, game design and other strands of thinking, and I am leaning towards having them create their portfolio in Thimble. First, though, they need the basics of HTML coding.

I showed them this famous video yesterday as we continued our discussions around the possibilities of technology and the job market when they graduate. A few are definitely interested in a technology career. They were struckĀ  in this video by how far-ranging technology skills are in various jobs, and they were very intrigued by the videos of the workplaces in these technology companies, even though I pointed out that most smaller companies probably do not look like this (for example, having a sound room with drum sets. Cool.)

I tried to find a one-page simplified sheet of HTML coding commands, but then I gave up and made my own, inspired by some of the examples at another site. After showing an example in Thimble, I set them loose, bringing them to a blank Thimble page and having them play around a bit. This is not easy, and I tried to use the metaphor of learning another language (these students are all English Language Learner students). But they do persevere, a nice quality to have in a technology workshop, and a few of them even published some basic “fan” pages of artists they like. Their eyes shone when I would tell them, “You have just published a site to the Web.”

If it helps you, then feel free to use my HTML Code Sheet:

Basic HTML Code by KevinHodgson

Peace (in the commands),


Bringing in the Outside Voices

Lou Franco Visit Collage

I am co-facilitating a workshop with high school students this summer, and our theme has been digital literacies. While I have a pretty good sense of how to teach technology and writing, I am by no means an expert in computer programming or in video game creation (although working with my own students over the years has helped). So, I have been working to invite folks from “the field” to talk to our students, and yesterday, we were fortunate to have a local computer software programmer — Lou Franco — give up some of his time to talk with the students for about 45 minutes.


Franco was part of the Hack for Change in Western Massachusetts and along with his day job of software programming, he also works on developing mobile apps. In fact, the first thing he did was pull out his iPad and show us an app that he is developing that creates a filter for 3D photography. He gave out some 3D glasses and as he chatted about working as a software developer, the kids checked out an image that he shot of some of our supplies. (He also has written an ebook about developing for the IOS platform.)

I liked how Franco talked about job opportunities, dedication to doing something you are passionate about, and the advice he gave to students who are thinking that programming or technology might in their future. He suggested they begin by building webpages around a topic they know about, writing expository pieces for Open Source software, and volunteering web design services to social service agencies and small businesses. This will allow them to create the start of a portfolio, which can translate into job opportunities.

These are all messages we are regularly sending to these English Language Learner high school students in this program (which is built around academic support, workshops and then jobs in the afternoon). But Franco brought a new and experienced voice into the mix, and for that, I am very thankful. It says a lot when someone gives up part of their day, travels to another town, and meets with high school students he does not know after getting an invite from a teacher he does not know (Lou and I sort of know each other on Twitter).

Peace (in the visit),


Remixing the Hacked Picture Book Project (or Hacking the Remix)

Remix the Hack the Book

A day after the high school students in our Digital Literacies workshop “hacked and remixed” a Richard Scarry picture book, we handed them out some sticky notes and told them that we were going to “remix the remix.” Their task was to come up with new dialogue for someone else’s poster project, and attach that dialogue with the sticky note. The students were intrigued, adding some humorous touches to the posters.

This is all part of our conversations around the remix culture of the Web, and grounds our work with some of the Webmaker Tools we are starting to use to remix websites and create webpages.

Peace (in the mix),


Hacking/Remixing the Stories of Richard Scarry

Book Hack 1

I’m not sure if he is still alive and if he is, how happy he would be, but yesterday, in my workshop for high school students, we ripped, cut, hacked , shredded and remixed one of Richard Scarry’s picture books. To be frank, I even cringed a little bit, as I watched students go at the pages with scissors, glue, and ideas. Books are still sacred texts in my head. I don’t regret it though.

First of all, the book had seen some solid reading days with my three boys, and the binding was coming apart. And I bought the book, so I figure I own it. We could hack it.

Second, we remixed the book to make a few points in this digital literacies workshop that I am leading with these English Language Learner high school students. We’ve been talking about hacking and remixing as part of the digital culture they live in (referencing Dangermouse’s work with The Beatles and Jay-Z as reference points), and we will move deeper into both concepts today and next week when we jump into Mozilla’s Webmaker Tools. Our discussions yesterday centered on the perceptions of the word “Hacker” and I gave a brief history lesson of the Internet and the origin of the Hacker Movement, as well as touched on the Hack for Change events that are popping up. By the end, we had a nice balance of good/bad hacking.

Then, we moved into hacking and remixing this Nursery Rhyme picture book by Richard Scarry. Their task was to remix some pages of the book, to tell a new story, using three of the 11 digital literacy vocabulary words that have been introduced. We have word walls up, and we do daily activities with the words — such as portfolio, digital literacy, remixing. (I’ll share that work out another day). I shared out the one that I did as a sort of Mentor Text.

Book Hack 2

To be frank, I was sure if the high school kids would dive into it. And it took a few minutes. Then, they were all cutting up the pages and coming up with stories, and very engaged. It was pretty neat to watch.
hackbook collage2
The results is a nice, colorful wall of remixed Richard Scarry characters talking about digital literacies.
Hackbook Collage1
Today, we remix the remix, as I will be giving them sticky notes, and having them add new dialogue or text to someone else’s posters. Should be interesting …

Peace (in the book hack),


Considering Usernames, Avatars and Identity


We’re exploring the way that usernames and avatars in online space connect to issues of identity in our Digital Literacies workshop program for high school students. Yesterday, as part of their “writing into the day,” students mulled over and wrote about the usernames they invented for themselves in Gamestar Mechanic. I popped their usernames into a Word Cloud (including my own) as a visual way to show the names.

Our questions were:

  • What username did you choose?
  • Why did you choose it?
  • How does your username “represent” you as a game designer/game player in this space?

This writing connected to discussions we have been having about avatars, as visual representations, and how choices we make in regards to how we present ourselves to the world have implications around identity. Yeah, this is heady stuff for this group of English Language Learners, and while the class discussions come and go, the writing they are doing is pretty deep and thoughtful.

Here, for example, are some Lego Avatars they created before we went into our Bitstrips for Schools and worked with more realistic avatars:
lego collage
Again, we had them reflect in writing some of the choices they made, trying to make visible some of the thought process that we often take for granted. This all connects to digital identity, and digital literacies.

Peace (in the identity),

Hacking Our Own Website

Today, in our Digital Literacies/Game Design workshop for high school English Language Learners, we are moving into the world of remixing and hacking, with a bent on hacking for good and hacking for change, while also acknowledging both sides of the coin. Yesterday, we started this discussion a bit around privacy issues, and how they can begin to protect their privacy online. It was a deep conversation and it became clear early on that they had not ever really been asked to think about issues of privacy, data mining, Snowdebn/NSA, and more. They were intrigued and involved. I shared with them a few strategies:

Today, we begin to make the shift into hacking and remixing, and I am going to have them use the tool from Mozilla — XRay Goggles — to remix our workshop website. Honestly, I am not sure how it will go. These are not kids who can code, but part of the reason for using the tool is to show the underlying structure of websites — to make the world more visible — and to give them tools to mess around with the world, and learn from that experience.

Here is a screenshot of our homepage:

Here is my “mentor text” after I hacked the site:

Peace (in the hack),


Making Avatars in a Webcomic Classroom

Holyoke WorkshopComicClassroom
In the summer workshop for high school English Language Learners, we’ve been talking a lot about digital literacy and online identity, particularly about avatars. This concept of representing oneself will come back around as we move into video game design, too, and yesterday, after viewing a fascinating New York Times slideshow that features portraits of people and their avatars, I brought our students up into Bitstrips for Schools.

One of the first tasks in Bitstrips is to create an avatar for use in the site, so it ties in perfectly to what we had been discussing. And the webcomic space is very user-friendly, even for struggling writers. Today, I will give them an overview around how to create a comic in Bitstrips. But as they were working on their avatars, I kept refreshing the homepage of the site, showing how their representations of themselves were populating the “classroom.” They got a kick of that, shouting out to refresh the page.

Take a look at the class picture and you get a sense of the students I am working with this summer. (A few students were absent or are still working, which is why there are some blank spaces).

Peace (in the comic),

Game Design: the Good and the Bad

In the digital literacies workshop I am co-leading for English Language Learner high school students this summer, one of the focus areas and an overall thread will be game design. Yesterday, in our first real meeting with students, we led a discussion around what makes a game fun to play and what makes a game boring to play. As I have done with other groups in the past, I took their ideas and put them into a word cloud.

The good:

The bad:

It might be interesting to dig up the other word clouds from other groups of kids, and compare some of the themes of ideas.

Peace (in the thoughts),