Post Game Wrap-up

For the Education Arcade I originally planned to build a game that had a constantly rotating board, which meant it required a motor. The idea of that was so daunting to me that I eventually gave up on it, only to find that ‘s clever son actually managed to motorize her board game! I wound up building Adder-All, an adding game, with software using Microsoft’s Silverlight platform.

I really did want to make a learning game, but settled for a game that required the player have a preexisting knowledge of how to add. I thought if I wasn’t going to teach something, I could at least try to make a game that sharpened a skill they already had.

In Adder-All, the player essentially had to add two numbers (under 100 each). So, it was mostly a game of skill, the only luck factor being that the numbers were random, so it was completely possible to get a lot of simple problems, like 10+0, 1+1, etc. The players definitely showed signs of relief when the simple problems popped up.

Adder-All allowed players to really showcase their addition skills. Unlike the games like Snake Holes where players had to progressively use reason to make sensible determinations, my game relied fully on what they were bringing to the table.

The mechanics of the game were too fast, and often quirky. 60% of the players scored over 1,000 points (about 10-15 correct answers with 10 lives), but that means 40% didn’t. So I knew I had made the pace of the game too fast, too quickly.

It was buggy too, it froze a few times, and didn’t behave the way it did as on the computer I wrote it on (you have to click on the game after entering your name for example). These bugs caused players to lose lives, the game, and even stopped one of the kids from playing at all. At those times I wished I had a physical game that I could mend on the spot, but the best I could do was go out of server for a few minutes to update the Silverlight plugin to the latest version. Unfortunately, that didn’t help.

If I could do it again I would slow things down a bit and add some more features, like powerups to freeze time or get extra lives. Ideally I would have ended the game with a review lesson of the problems the players got wrong, perhaps with tips on how to solve them more quickly.

The Education Arcade experience, and AC 230 itself, were wonderful experiences for me, totally exceeding my expectations. I was expecting that I would learn how effectively present information, in PowerPoint or something. But it turned out that I was learning how to think about much bigger ideas, like building, and using creativity as a means to a goal. Most of all, I was happy to find that it was all fun. Plus, it was great being around people who have dreams of being educators. I tried to feed of their desires to want to share their knowledge, and their openness to learning new things through such unconventional methods as building our own Caine’s Arcade.

In regards to the course description, I don’t think I would change anything about the class. I was intrigued by how Prof. Smith was using the Web 2.0 to join in and participate in like-minded networks. I wish we learned more about how to discover, and be a part of our own niches, on the web. Perhaps that’s best left for a course of its own though.

When I’m ready to find my niche, I’m definitely now keen on blogging and will likely be doing so. And if such a course exists by then, sign me up!


P.S. If anyone starts a blog, be sure to let me know. I would love to follow it.

Fast Twitch Addition with Adder-All

The goal of this playable lesson plan is to help improve ones mental addition speed. Addition is an everyday tool that we use, and even though almost all of us walk around with calculators on or phones or laptops, it’d still be faster to just do simple sums  in our heads.

So I came up with a adding game called Adder-All.
The game works by having a summand fall from the top of the screen towards the bottom. The goal is to enter the sum before it falls off the screen. As the player progresses the summands fall ever faster, forcing the player to think fast or it’s game over.

Each time the player correctly answers a bonus multiplier is used to calculate the score. For example, if the player gets 10 in a row correct, then the points for the next correct answer would be 11 x [number of points for correct answer]. It’s an incentive to be extra precise in their calculations, and the best way to get to the top of the leaderboards.

The game is pretty ugly right now, so I’d like to modify it to make it look nicer. It could also use a bail out feature, like by hitting space to stop the summand from falling, giving the player a chance to save a life. I’d also like to add more bonuses, like the ability to earn extra lives.

The game doesn’t teach the player how to add. I thought about having a summary of the wrong answers at the end, with visuals of the expression and the sum. But I didn’t have time to do this. The lesson here is mainly to get to a new level of comfort and confidence with addition.

GAMEKIT.beta: Towers of Dubai

For my GAMEKIT, I went with the Find Play in Things model.


The materials are pretty simple. A pair of different color die, and a bunch of coins.

Exploring Activities
While messing around with the materials, I wound up doing a lot of stacking. People seem to like holding the worlds tallest building title, so that’s why I decided to call the game The Towers of Dubai (at over half a mile high, Dubai currently has the tallest building in the world), and pretended these coins were buildings. 

Proof that people love being the highest builder.

Core Activity
The gameplay is driven by the luck of the die. The green dice here determines the type of coin in play: 1 = penny, 2 = nickel, 3 = dime, 4 = quarter, 5 & 6 = skip turn.  The white dice determines the number of coins in play, so G3W5 would mean 5 dimes are in play.


  1. If your tower falls, the fallen coins are out of the game, and the other player keeps them. Forever.
  2. If a certain denomination of coin runs out, the corresponding number on the green dice becomes a skip.
  3. If a certain denomination of coin is less than what the white dice calls for, just use them all.
  4. No adjusting your tower to make it more stable.

Stack as many coins as you can before the community pot of coins runs out. Get rich.

Play test
Surprisingly, even with free money up for grabs, I had to demo this game pretending to be two people. Here’s a run through:


Chucky Cheese Milk Machine

A lot of the games at Chucky Cheese are purely based on timing, these are a lot easier than the other games of chance or some other skill (like basketball). They’re great if you came to win tickets, because once you’ve got the timing down, it’s just a matter of letting your muscle memory work for you.

An example game is Hat Trick. The mechanics of the game itself are a bit complicated (it’s a machine with moving parts), but the gameplay mechanics are pretty simple:

  1. Roll a token down the ramp
  2. Avoid the big holes and make it across the bridge
  3. Once you’ve crossed the bridge you’re in the money (ticket winner), but you can keep rolling through a tiny slot to win the jackpot.

It’s best to see this in action:

A game like this is definitely doable though. It’s just a matter of finding a way to rotate the table at the right speed. The ramps and board itself could be easily constructed.

To add an educational element to this game I’ll modify the rules so that the the numbers on the gameboard are different and there are now +, -, ÷ and × holes. The students get a free roll, and the number they hit is the number of tokens they are given for their turn. The goal of each turn in the modified game would be to hit a target number by performing a series of arithmetic based moves.

Example gameplay:

  1. Free roll: lands on 8, gets 8 tokens
  2. Student draws random number from a hat, lets say 32.
  3. Student must make the number 32 by using, at most, their 8 tokens:
    -Student rolls and hits a 14
    -Student rolls and hits a ×
    -Student rolls and hits a 2
    – Student rolls and hits a +
    – Student rolls and hits a 4
    – Student has 32, wins.

Digital Fusion Cusine

For Mission: DS106 I decided to do a design and video assignment. For the design assignment I chose to create an animated magazine cover. I thought these would be pretty cool if they actually existed on newsstands, so it sounded fun.

I used the December 2012 cover of Black Enterprise (the self-proclaimed “#1 Resource for Black Entrepreneurs, Professionals and Small Businesses”). The original features actor-comedian, Kevin Hart, who has an alter-ego named Chocolate Droppa. Chocolate Droppa is pretty much the worst rapper, ever, who probably talks more than he raps.

I put a little animation from the Flight of the Conchords’ song “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” (great song, btw).

Now a worldwide pop-culture, hip-hop was originally a black american enterprise, and even though these three people are just having fun with it, I thought it fit.

Kevin Hart (top) with the Flight of the Conchords take the rap world by storm.

For the video assignment I tried to visualize a song, “Let the Sunshine In (Reprise)”, by the 5th Dimension. I’ve always thought it was a powerful, soul-filled song. It’s one of those songs that I wished were longer (actually there is a longer version, that’s also pretty good; Billboard’s has it pegged at the #57th greatest song of all-time). One of the songs I wish I were around for when it was being tested out on the road, maybe in some oversized shack of a music house, where the only drink on the menu was moonshine. Needless to say I think it invokes a lot of emotion, almost in a celebratory way. But I can also see it as a terribly miserable song, that can also sound like a pleading to darker world.

I juxtaposed the song with some USG film and photos of atomic testing and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I did this to play on the miserable plea theme combined with one of the faces nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is the power source of the Sun and hence life as we know it, so I think it’s a wonderful thing. Being a huge proponent of nuclear energy (I want nuclear reactors providing the majority of the baseline power in this country and wherever possible, especially in poorer parts of the world) I wanted to explore why most citizens of the world are bitterly opposed to the idea of nuclear energy. I think that people associate it with the horrors of nuclear weapons, so this song visualization is a mix of those fears contrasted with the celebration of the longest running fusion reactor in our neighborhood, the driver of life, our Sun.

Hit Me: Using Math to Win

Core Design Elements

  1. Space: The player stands infront of a deck of cards and a board that holds six grocery items.
  2. Components
    • one deck of cards
    • six grocery items
    • numbers for placing prices underneath the grocery items
    • upright board that holds grocery items, players hand, and house hand
  3. Goal: The sum of the player’s cards must be greater than the sum of the house’s hand. The sum of the player’s cards must not go over 21.
  4. Core Mechanics: The player should constantly be dividing item prices by 1-10, to see if the the multiple makes sense. For example, if a bottle of water has $20.00 price tag, and the player knows that bottles of water are $1-2, then the player can conclude that the bottle of water is worth a 10 card.
  5. Rules
    • The player cuts the deck of cards. The top two cards are then given to the dealer. One face up, one face down.
    • The player is shown six grocery items. Each has a price underneath.
    • One item price is the actual price (1×price)
    • One item price is ten times the actual price (10×price)
    • The other items are some multiple of 2-9 times the item price (2×price, 3×price, 4×price…9×price)
    • The player selects an item, receives a card that is equivalent to the multiple value (see bottled water example).
    • The player stops selecting items when he or she is satisfied with their hand.
    • The player loses if his hand is greater than 21 or less than the dealers hand.
    • Selecting an item with its actual price gives an ace, which is worth 1 or 11 (decided by the player).
hit me run through

Sample run through of the game.

The player has to use multiplication or division skills to earn the best hand possible. In this case the player thinks the Slim Fast priced at $49.90 here might be 10 times the real price, and picks it hoping to get a ten card. Then the player thinks the price of the nuts is the actual price, so picks it to get an ace (worth 11 or 1), which gives the player 21.


From Foreign Language, to Programming Language, and Back Again

It’s true, I’m not studying to be an educator in the traditional sense of the word. That may make it seem like I’m different from the other arcade players since my goal isn’t to be the influence in a classroom. Despite that though, we’re not that different. I do want to be an educator, by making smart software that teachers. While I may not be an  influence in the classroom, I hope my software will one day be.

I’ve had a chance to look back at how I came to the conclusion that software can improve the way we learn, and it all started with a fellow who goes by the name of Khaztumoto. Some years ago, after a fateful post-new years hangover, I had a strange introduction to Japanese culture by way of a DVD that I accidentally obtained. That’s another story, but it ends with me deciding that I absolutely had to learn the Japanese language.

I didn’t know where to begin, but the google-fu was strong in me and I turned up Khaztumoto’s blog, All Japanese All the Time. Before even reading about the study techniques he was advocating, I was sold on the opening of its about page:

I am your host, Khatzumoto. My zits have been photoshopped out of that picture. I learned Japanese in 18 months by having fun. In June 2004, at the ripe old age of 21, all post-pubescent and supposedly past my mental/linguistic prime, I started learning Japanese. By September 2005, I had learned enough to read technical material, conduct business correspondence and job interviews in Japanese. By the next month, I landed a job as a software engineer at a large Japanese company in Tokyo (yay!).

Khaztumoto improved upon a method (perhaps invented) by a couple Poles who essentially went from zero English ability to fluent simply by learning 10,000 sentences (it turns out there might be something to that number). He did so in an obsessive way in which he brought Japan to the US, immersing himself completely in Japan and Japanese in everyway imaginable. But what I was most keen on was how he went about actually studying 10,000 sentences. With software, of course.

The software was basically a simple flash card tool, I don’t remember the name, what was important was that it was using an interesting algorithm by P.A. Wozniak (who coincidentally hails from Poland), which was producing incredibly promising results in his own flash card-like program, SuperMemo.

Sure it would be possible to have thousands of index cards. Sure it would even be possible to implement the algorithm without a computer. But realistically the algorithm is too complex to be calculated in one’s head, so traditionally index card based flash cards used much simpler, less efficient algorithms like the Leitner system.

Animation of the Leitner system sorting

Animation of the Leitner system in action. Box 1 contains cards that need to be reviewed sooner rather the later. Box 3, contains cards that don’t need to be reviewed for a while. In practice there can be any number of boxes and review intervals. It might help to see Box 1 as items that need to be reviewed today; Box 2, three days; Box 3, one week, and so on.

But now that we have computers practically all the time, be it on our desks or phones, why not use the more complicated and efficient algorithm that offers up to 96% retention rates? Not only does learning with software make save time studying over using less efficient methods that are brains are capable of computing, but it saves space, adds convenience and never makes a mistake.

I was never able to follow through on Khaztumoto’s methodologies, but I did begin wondering about how software in general can be used to improve the learning process for any given subject. More than that really. I created a web-app to help students learn kanji in context, and eventually ported it to iOS. It’s not what I want it to be though (only 3½ stars in the App Store), and don’t have the time to improve it or add some of the new e-Learning ideas I’ve come up with right now — however, since this is my final class, depending upon how the job market is, I soon may.

It turns out Khaztumoto and I have somethings in common: we both studied computer science, have Kenyan heritage somewhere down the line. Because we have similar interests, it’s not surprising to me that we both turned to software to make learning more effective. So, I still read his blog occasionally, and follow and unfollow him on twitter (depending upon how psyched up or bummed out his realist motivational tweets make me feel).

If I am to ever make an application that makes language learning easier, it will have been in-part to the ideas that Khaztumoto continues to share with the global community.

Whether it’s for my software iterations, or iterations of myself, I’lll end wtih one of the most valuable lessons he’s shared:


Make Your Own Postcards

In these days of email and instant messaging, people often forget how nice it is to receive a letter or card in the mail. Communicating the old fashion way adds a personal touch to things, your handwriting for example. If you want to make a postcard 100% your own, why not make your own?

Materials required:

  • Poster board
  • Pictures or artwork
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue

In this case I’ll be making postcards from standard 4″×6″ photograph prints and a 22″×28″ piece of poster board.

Step 1: On the poster board, using the ruler draw a grid with 4″×6″ cells.

grid on poster board

The grey areas can be discarded or recycled.

Step 2: Cut along the lines, when you are done you should have 20 4″×6″ rectangles.

4"×6" piece

A single 4″×6″ cut-out.

Step 3: Paste your photograph onto the side of the paper with the grid lines.

Make sure to evenly spread out the picture, and smooth away any lumps.

Step 4: On the back of your postcard, write your message on the left and the addresses on the right. Save space at the top-right for the postage.
Step 5: Once you’re done making all the postcards you need, send them to your friends, family and penpals!

Notes: The maximum size for a postcard is 4¼”×6″. It must be rectangular (square sounds technically safe, too), and no smaller than 3½×5″.

While I am aware that it would be easier just to print photos onto premade postcard photo paper, I still think that seeing how this looks handmade adds a little bit of human essence to it that premade photopaper lacks. I need to work on my penmanship and cutting skills (and spelling, see “Contry”), all-in-all I think I’ll really send some of these out one day. I think would be happy to receive one.

Information Overload: Education Data and Learning Analytics

The What?

For a while now, our society has been keeping track of just about everything that it can. Temperatures, wind speeds, number of traffic accidents at the intersection of Broome & Sycamore Streets, social security numbers, and on and on. If we were to enumerate the names of each dataset and what kind of information they kept, that list too, just might be another big data dataset. We have all of this information, but the problem is it’s very disjoint and so big, that drawing connections takes massive amounts of computing power.

Information Overload

Even with an infographic like this, it’s hard to imagine just how much data we are all creating each day. Some people are trying to bring it all together to see what they can find.

But when people are able to analyze big data and draw new meaning from once unrelated datasets it can offer highly valuable insights. Whether its the relationship between human activity and global warming, or if an asteroid is likely to join the earth, or if a student is having trouble keeping up in his or her distance learning course.

That’s why there are a couple of new buzzwords in the education industry: Education Data and Learning Analytics. There are many types of education data, such as the somewhat controversial metrics on teacher performance, and there are many issues that arise from the data, like privacy (for example, students and teachers deserve their privacy, but in order to protect it, researchers might not be able to access the data). But here I’ll only discuss the ideas in general sense.

Education Data

Education Data is the collection of information on a student from the key indicators such as grades, but now also bits of information like how long a student spent time reading the assigned chapters his or her eBook.

Learning Analytics

Learning Analytics uses the various algorithms created by the Educational Data Miners and bringing them all together. So while Education Data might be used to search for an answer to a question like “what are the most successful methods for teaching the alphabet?” or “what are the main indicators of dislexia in new readers”, Learning Analytics will group these models in to larger applications such as one whose goal is to teach literacy but can also, on its own, identify a dyslexic student and adjust how it goes about presenting the material to him or her.

The Why

Why Mine Data?

The hope is that by mining this sort of granular information that researchers can use this data to do things like make predictions about the student’s future performance, or find patterns that show up in good or struggling students. They do this by inventing new computer algorithms and creating new data models that analyze the data to help us understand what the data says about issues we are interested in. The Department of Education wrote a brief about ED and LA in which they explain their belief that through this type of processes they would be able to answer  questions that are highly specific to an individual. I’ll list a couple of interesting ones found in the report:

  • What sequence of topics is most effective for a specific student?
  • What will predict student success?

The DoE and many researchers all believe that the answer to such questions can be uncovered in these seemingly meaningless datasets

Why Practice Learning Analytics?

Again, here are some questions that the DoE in particular hopes to be able to answer learning analytics:

  • When are students ready to move on to the next topic?
  • When are students falling behind in a course?
  • When is a student at risk for not completing a course?
  • What grade is a student likely to get without intervention?
  • What is the best next course for a given student?
  • Should a student be referred to a counselor for help?

With a mature set of data tool and learning analytics, I’m sure that Massive Online Open Couses will be able to offer eLearning to students without requiring the same level of attention (or perhaps none at all) from a professor or instructor.

STEAM Powered Classrooms

Despite its reputation for being one of the most innovative countries in the world, it might be surprising to learn that the United States is not doing a good job at producing strong math and science students. This is a serious concern not just for educators, but all others who are invested in the future of the country, and its children. That means everyone from policy makers like President Obama, to high-tech companies who need the engineers and designers to create the next innovative product that will drive their business.

Which is why there is a national movement to get young students more interested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) branches. There is the belief that by introducing children to the maker movement and the idea of making and being makers will do just that. And with constant budget cuts that kill art programs, bringing the maker movement to the classroom might just help remedy that problem as well.

One of president’s goals is to get more young girls and boys excited about what’s called STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. And I believe that the maker movement, the maker culture is a really powerful way of doing that. Tom Kalil, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Making forces children to utilize all of their mental faculties from brainstorming, to planning and problem-solving. Turning an idea into something real and tangible is like an art. So if the maker movement found its way into classrooms it would generate interest in not just the sciences, but the arts as well, giving us STEAM powered classrooms.

Art or science? Probably a touch of both.

I didn’t know it, but I guess I was always a maker (when I wasn’t being a breaker). I used to make things with broken electronics, owned a electronics kit from RadioShack as a child, tried to start a comic book with a friend using linoleum prints, rewired and recycled an old Xbox controller into a PC controller. While making didn’t make me an artist or great at math, it did allow to to explore those worlds. As it turned out I did eventually become a science major, so maybe there is something to this maker-STEM connection.

Casey Shea certainly thinks so. It’s the reason why he’s converting one of the classrooms at Analy High into a makerspace. The author of the article (Maker Education Initiative Executive Director, AnnMarie Thomas) actually goes on to discuss the maker-STEM connection. Here she is actually demonstrating it: