Permission to Be Silly – Permission to Engage

In my 17 years as an educator I’ve come to a conclusion.  We educators can be pretty stiff.  This, of course, isn’t always the case and there are exceptions to the rule, but sometimes we get bogged down in data-driven decision making, behavioral objective writing, assessments, and so forth.  All of those are valid and worthwhile, but sometimes we forget to let our hair down and simply be in the moment.  In fact, I fear some of us may have even forgotten how to be in the moment, cutting up and having fun.

cq-blueThe annual NCTIES Conference is an absolute highlight of my year as I have the opportunity to learn new things and connect, face-to-face, with my network.  It is also the perfect place to unleash my inner mad scientist for some fun social experiments.

You see, I think we all desire to have fun and even be a little silly from time-to-time.  However, professional conferences are rarely the place where this happens because of the aforementioned stuffiness.  [+ 5 to me for using “aforementioned”] What a missed opportunity!  Sometimes, we simply need a meaningful context to engage with others and grow our network while having a little fun in the process!

GAMEFUL THINKING to the rescue!!  Games give us a context to engage even when it’s difficult to find one.  So, last year, I created Quest Cards/Conference Quest to provide people with an excuse to have fun, meet new people, grow their network, commit random acts of kindness, and yes, act a little silly.

Conference Quest is back for #NCTIES16!  There are even new quests contributed by @ewolfhope and @kristinedwards3!  Want to play?  It’s easy.  You can play by yourself or with a group of friends.  All you need to do is download and print a set of cards for each player.  You can follow along with the #CQ and #NCTIES16 hashtags.  Will you be bold and challenge a featured speaker to an arm wrestling match or will you be the one who starts a zombie flashmob?

Download Your #NCTIES16 Conference Quest Cards Here

Update:  If you’d like your own set of blank cards to use with students or your own events, you can download them here.  Just please give attribution! Thanks!

Teacher as the Game Master

Paper, pencil, and dice games are fundamentally simple.  Players track information for their imaginary characters using sheets that keep track of  vital numbers like health, charisma, dexterity, and strength.  With a roll of a few special dice, the outcomes of combat or encounters with story characters are determined and drive the game play forward.  Likewise the Game Master/Dungeon Master sets the backdrop, spins the initial story, spurring the players on  to adventure and uses their own dice rolls to randomize outcomes within a set of parameters.  Game sessions are engaging, imaginative, and far from canned experiences which makes them incredibly compelling.

So, what if a teacher were to take the best elements of the role of a game master to create an adventure in learning for their students?  What if that thematic unit you’d planned for October were not only immersive but also playable?  That’s the topic of one of my recent presentations.  Take a look!

 

 So, what do you think?  What tips and experiences do you have?

 

-Lucas

It’s The Teachers That Make It EPIC

ninjaThree weeks ago, I launched the SCS EPIC Academy pilot with a group of educators in Surry County Schools.  In case you missed my last post on EPIC Academy, it’s a fully-online, game-inspired, approach to professional development.  Through a quest-based learning approach, teachers and administrators can select challenges that interest them, complete them in at a pace that’s right for them, and explore these topics to a depth of their choosing.  Follow a quest chain to its culminating “Epic Quest” and you’ll unlock an official SCS Badge.  That’s the elevator speech version, anyway.

 

So, what’s the response so far?  To date, 40 district educators are active in the system.  I just shared with them their collective accomplishments just a moment ago.  Together, they have:

 

  • Accumulated a total of 7880 XP!  (That’s 7.8 CEU’s!)
  • Completed 217 quests.
  • Acquired 91 achievements.
  • Submitted 201 quest ratings (for an average rating of 4/5 stars).
  • Shared 681 educational resources via Pinterest.
  • Discovered one ninja and her secret quest chain!
  • Unlocked 2 official SCS EPIC Academy Badges!

 

Beyond the numbers, however, our teachers are sharing some incredibly thoughtful reflections (especially on a game-inspired approach to learning).  Consider this reflection by one our guild members, tarheelgirl:

 

Considering the seductiveness of autonomy in gaming is a new thought process for me. What would it be like to set parameters and then allow students to chose a series of experiences to “test” their abilities? I am also drawn to the idea that children need to experience (really feel) success before they will be motivated to keep reaching for it. If you have never had chocolate….then you do not crave it and certainly will not walk on the treadmill to earn yourself a Hershey bar. If kids never feel academic success, then how will they know what they are striving to attain. Quick, easy success early on in acquiring a new skill could lead for more applied interest.

 

And, this thoughtful response from teacher_heather:

 

How will students learn to grow and change if they don’t learn to fail first?  I couldn’t help but think of when I used to play Mario as a kid.  I remember I would get so angry if I didn’t get past Bowzer to rescue the Princess.  I would take note on what I did wrong, fix it, and finally rescue the Princess!  Of course after hours of playing, I would get bored and voila!  I would find a secret tunnel that would lead to another land and find a few hidden treasures along the way.  If we give kids something to work towards through gaming, mixing math, science, etc. along the way and let them know that failing is okay, they would be more willing to do their best.  I would have to say the same for teacher’s professional development.

 

To say I am proud to be working alongside such professionals would be an understatement.

 

sortinghSo, what else is going on?  I am encouraging players to set personal goals for themselves this week and gave them some examples:  “I’m going to reach 300XP by week’s end.”  “I’m going to unlock my first badge this week.”  “I’m going to write a new blog post tonight.”  I’ve also challenged them to explore ways that we can use 3DGameLab’s newest feature, Teams.  Personally, I keep going back to Hogwarts, there.  I just need a sorting hat.

 

Lastly, the secret quest series.  To date, one player, iluveducating, has discovered the ninja, and has embarked on her quest to find the three hidden keys.  As a “game designer” (yes, air quotes, there… term used very loosely), I’m torn between dropping serious hints, and simply letting it unfold over time.  I’m leaning toward the latter, though it’s taking self-discipline!

 

In March, I’ll be presenting the pilot for the first time to our Board of Education and will also be doing a session at NCTIES 2015!  Stay tuned!

-Lucas

 

EPIC Teaching Academy

Most of my past projects have focused on leveraging games and gamification in the K-12 classroom with students, however, a project specifically for teachers is long overdue.  EPIC Teaching Academy, turns the attention to educators and their professional development.  Though, I’ve tossed these ideas around for awhile and even built a loose framework, my new district, Surry County Schools, is truly the right-place, right-time to launch this project.  There’s been incredible support.

The EPIC Guild BannerSo, what is EPIC?  It’s really the result of some conversations and observations over the past several years in my primary role as a provider of teacher professional development.  The catalyst was a conversation two years ago at EdCamp Raleigh.  There, a group of educators from across the state including Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), Bethany Smith (@bethanyvsmith), and many others talked about what we, as educators dislike about professional development and what we really want in  our PD.  It was an incredible conversation, as most are at EdCamps.

Of course, I have my niche passions within the education arena, so instantly began to see opportunities to leverage a playful, game-like approach as a solution to many of the problems the group had with typical professional development.

EPIC Teaching Academy is program I’m developing, using 3DGameLab as a platform, that will offer players (yes, players) the opportunity to explore professional development topics of their choice to a depth of their choice.  These learning quests will increase in complexity and commitment as players progress through successive quests as they progress toward unlocking an official badge showing their mastery of a particular topic.  These badges can be shared through the educator’s website, social media, and/or badging system like Mozilla’s Backpack.

Of course, my ultimate goal is to move beyond simple gamification toward truly game-like experiences.  Perhaps a hidden Easter Egg (a la Ready Player One)?  Perhaps we’ll divide schools into teams like a local Hogwarts to host some fun, competitive learning experiences?  Likewise, a hope is that our educators, through this experience, will gain a greater understanding of the merits of an approach like this, ultimately paving the way for student badging.  Here, my friend, Dr. Bron Stuckey (@bronst), has offered some great starters and inspiration!

Tomorrow I’ll begin recruiting district teachers to participate in a pilot beginning in February.  Along the way, I hope to collect some data, pre- and post-, of their attitudes toward professional development overall and of the EPIC experience.

Here’s a presentation that I’ll be sharing that explains the program in a bit more detail:

 

 Time for some fun!

-Lucas

UPDATE (2/2/15):  The pilot launched today!!  Out of 50 available slots, 47 were filled.  There are a good mix of elementary, middle, and high school teachers along with media specialists, administrators, counselors, and others.  40+ quests are available to our teachers at launch and two official badges:  one for Twitter as a tool for growing your PLN and one for professional blogging.  There are 30+ Achievements and numerous Awards, too.  In total, nearly 2.0 CEU’s worth of content is out there for them to explore.  Lastly, yes, I was able to develop a hidden game-with-the-game with clues and activities hidden throughout!  More updates to come as we move forward!

-Lucas

Transitions!

Wow!  I’m embarassed that it’s taken me this long to update my blog.  As some of you know, I’ve experienced some pretty major life changes of the past several months.  In August I took a position as Director of Academic and Digital Learning (Cool title, huh?) with Surry County Schools, the school district in the home town where I grew up.  This change also resulted in I and my awesome (and supportive) family moving across the state!  We’ve finally settled into a home and have truly hit the ground running!  God has opened some incredible doors, is providing awesome opportunities, and is forging new relationships for us.  It’s pretty incredible.

-Lucas

Want to Take Your Students to Saturn? Strap on The Oculus Rift!

riftdk1For over a year, now, I’ve been following the development of and talking to educators about a piece of technology, that, in my view, could have a huge impact on learning experiences for our students.  It’s the Oculus Rift.  The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted virtual reality display that provides a stereoscopic, 110 degree field of view with responsive head-tracking.  In other words, you put this thing on, and you’re looking around inside a digital world.  Of course, virtual reality has been the promise of science fiction for years, from Star Trek’s holodecks to The Matrix.  Despite previous efforts in years past, the technology simply couldn’t deliver on science fiction’s vision for virtual reality.

All that’s changing, today, though, as technological advances in display capabilities, coupled with motion sensing, and of course, faster computers with better graphics, are making the dream of immersive digital experiences a reality.  Though marketed primarily as a gaming device (and what an awesome gaming peripheral!), I believe the Rift holds some pretty awesome potential in the classroom.oculus-bms

For several months, now, I’ve been talking about the technology and the ways I think it could impact learning.  For example, imagine taking students in a virtual time machine back to ancient Egypt at the height of its glory.  As you walk with them through busy streets and markets, filled with the sights and sounds of the time, imagine that your tour is interrupted by characters (played by others in this multiplayer experience) who sweep you and your students up in a playable (and educational) mystery adventure!  Remember the 60’s flick, Fantastic Voyage, in which a team of doctors enter a spaceship and are shrunk to microscopic scale and explore a man’s body?  Wouldn’t it be great to take your Anatomy class inside the eye or the brain?  Better yet, imagine a set of tools that would allow your students to easily build and prototype models and concepts and to experience (and share) them in an immersive 3D world? As described in this article, some developers are already looking at the Rift’s potential in education, and that’s exciting!

Flying through space with the Oculus RiftThe technology is on our doorstep and I suspect will be mainstream within five years.  Rumors are flying regarding when the Oculus Rift will be released in a consumer model, but it’s already possible to purchase a developer kit.  After riding the fence for months wondering whether to wait for the consumer version or buy a developer kit, I finally decided to take the plunge and it arrived this week.  Within minutes I was exploring a cozy home in Tuscany and moments later, flying through the solar system in the Titans of Space demo.  I even explored one of our Minecraft servers with a version of Minecraft (called, Minecrift) and walked amongst our students’ creations.  The technology is amazing.  But, I’m a fan-boy and a geek, so I had to see if my non-gamer co-workers would react the way I did.  I fired up Titans of Space and called them down to my office.  The response was unanimous, “Oh…. WOW!  Oh…. This is amazing!!”  The next day I took it out to one of our schools and let a science teacher try the same demo.  “My students need to have this experience.  This is incredible!”

So, how long until we have these in the classroom?  Let’s look at some barriers.  The better your graphics card and processor, the better experience you’ll have.  Most of our classroom computers aren’t powerful enough to support the Rift, at least not with fluid frame rates.  For a classroom implementation in the next year or so, I’d suggest a station-based approach in which three or four Rifts are paired with powerful desktops or perhaps a strong gaming laptop.  (Our WoWinSchool Alienwares could handle some of the low-end demos fine.)  Another issue, though one that the developers are likely to overcome in the consumer version, relates to the seemingly imperceptible differences in the time it takes between your head’s movement and the display’s updated image response.  With prolonged use this can cause what’s been dubbed VR sickness, a queasy, dizziness akin to motion sickness.  As one of my co-workers, who rode one of the virtual roller coasters can attest, it’s very real!

Today, I’m not the only Oculus Rift fan in the district.  Everyone who’s experienced it has had a similar response. Experiencing the immersion, educators are quickly making the connections to learning.  The four walls of the classroom are less of a barrier than ever!

-Lucas

Another Collision…

You know, aside from the gas money, I don’t mind my commute to and from work each day.  The morning commute, especially, is a time when I can think, listen to music, and talk with my Dad.  Today, I had a particularly interesting time of thought and meditation sparked by a song on my Spotify “Video Game Music” playlist.

As I pulled out of my daughters’ elementary school, I tapped shuffle play and waited to see what’d come up.  The first song, a haunting and sad melody called “Lament of the High Born,” from World of Warcraft was the first track, but it was the second track that set my thoughts in motion.  The song was “Baba Yetu,” an incredible, vocal track entirely in Swahili from the opening of the Civilization IV introduction.  I’ve listened to this song countless times, either while actually playing Civilization or in this playlist.  Listen to it yourself:

I listened closely to the vocals, with no idea what the lyrics were about, but began to think about some recent conversations Elizabeth and I have had about Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven.  As the the sounds of the singers filled my little car with passionate and moving words, I thought of the verse in Revelation that describes this scene:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10, NIV)

I imagine what Heaven will be like.  I know it won’t be this boring and misguided vision we’ve been sold over the years of monotony, clouds, and harps.  My God is a redeemer.  He’s not just a redeemer of people, either, but a redeemer of art, music, culture, and so much more.  I began to imagine what it might be like to be a part of a great celebration in Heaven.  Perhaps there would be a Southern Gospel performance, afterwards, perhaps Switchfoot might lead the crowds in worship, and maybe the next world perform a song such as “Baba Yetu,” teaching us the lyrics in Swahili.  (It’s not like we won’t have time to learn new languages!)

I was then reminded of some of C.S. Lewis’ writings on Heaven:

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.”

Heaven will be a place of ongoing celebration.  A place of purpose.  A place of meaning.  My imagination continued to think about how this massive crowd might worship Jesus and celebrate that real, unending life He bought for us, as the song came to a close.  “…every nation, tribe, people, and language.”  Diversity unified.

I hit pause and let that simmer for a mile or so.  How awesome.  And then, I wondered… “I wonder what that song is really about?”  So, I looked it up on Wikipedia and found the lyrics in Swahili and English.  Again, I’ve heard this song countless times, but today was the first time I ever investigated the words.  Look for yourself:

Swahili

English

Baba yetu, Yetu uliye

Mbinguni yetu, Yetu amina!

Baba yetu Yetu uliye

Jina lako e litukuzwe.

Utupe leo chakula chetu

Tunachohitaji utusamehe

Makosa yetu, hey!

Kama nasi tunavyowasamehe

Waliotukosea usitutie

Katika majaribu, lakini

Utuokoe, na yule, muovu e milele!

Ufalme wako ufike utakalo

Lifanyike duniani kama mbinguni. Amina.

Our Father, who art

in Heaven. Amen!

Our Father,

Hallowed be thy name.

Give us this day our daily bread,

Forgive us of

our trespasses

As we forgive others

Who trespass against us

Lead us not into temptation, but

deliver us from the evil one forever.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

On Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.

 

 

…I see what you did there, God.

-Lucas

 

This…

Found this on Imgur…  It pretty much sums up why simply punching in and out will never be sufficient for me…

zombieslifequote

 

Now, go do something awesome.

-Lucas

A Hero’s Journey: From Azeroth to Tyria (Guild Wars 2)

The WoWinSchool Project continues to amaze me.  What began in 2009 has grown, evolved, and continues to engage students in unique and exciting ways.  The keys are tapping into relevance and creating a space in which what our Heroes learn relates to the context of their experiences.

The curriculum that Craig Lawson and I wrote for the program and released in June of 2011 has resonated with other pioneering educators around the globe.  This year has been no exception.  With the more affordable, dynamic MMO’s entering the market and game-based learning gaining the attention of district-level decision makers, more Lorekeepers (teachers) are taking up the banner and guiding a new generation of student-heroes into this adventure in learning.

The adaptability of the learning quests in the curriculum makes it suitable for games beyond World of Warcraft.  In Pender County Schools, our programs have made a significant transition to a new world.  The subscription fees associated with WoW have, historically, made it cost-prohibitive for many would-be additions to the program.  As our allotment of 60-day subscription cards began to dwindle, I began to research viable alternatives that might allow us to continue our momentum.

I experimented with Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and though they have merits, both, at the time, were subscription-based, and in my experience, didn’t provide the epic-level experience we’d had in WoW.  I began following the developments of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 and held out hope that this might be the one.  A month after release, I was convinced.  Around this same time, LeVonda Vickery from the REACH School in Oregon, contacted me regarding her desire to use our curriculum with Guild Wars 2.  So, I wasn’t the only one thinking about the possibilities!  Guild Wars 2 would take us and our program forward, providing our heroes with deep, story-driven content, while adding a huge layer of community-driven experience I felt had always been lacking from World of Warcraft.

We conducted a test to see how well it would fit with a group of five students in Cape Fear Middle’s SAGA class.  Their feedback was very positive and the game performed acceptably on our newest Dell desktops (with integrated graphics) and beautifully on our Alienwares.  After discussing with our school-based Lorekeepers, we agreed.  “It’s time to move to Tyria!”

All of our 30+ Heroes have now embarked on a new adventure in Tyria.  GW2’s emphasis on character and story during character creation really sets the stage for focusing on a player’s role in the bigger picture of world events.  The unique level-adjusting system means that players who have outpaced their guild mates in level can go back to support their lower-level friends while still being challenged.

GW2’s focus on guilds also creates unique opportunities for our student guild, The Legacy, to engage with the larger server community.  The perks that guilds earn for gaining influence points (by working together in the game), allow for students to have a greater say in the direction of their community takes.  A great example of how we’re taking advantage of this is with our recent guild emblem contest.

Already, more schools have joined or expressed an intent to join the program in the near future.  The Legacy Guild is growing!  Exciting possibilities are on the horizon!

-Lucas