Game and Learning Conference – Where are the games?

On March 14th, I attended the Games for Learning: Transforming Learning and Assessment with Digital Games hosted by the Finnish Government and GlassLab. It was recommended to me by one of my professors who is currently conducting research in collaboration with several Finnish researchers. It was a very small and short conference, and but I learned a lot of things about myself and the game-based researcher world.

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I was not in Kansas anymore.

When I arrived there, I realized how far removed I was with the gaming researchers and the gaming industry. Despite the fact that I am a doctoral student, most of my days are spent teaching in a high school classroom. The only reason I knew anything about gaming was because I had to take a gaming course in my program. Of course, that hasn’t made me an expert in game-based learning at all, and I am still learning. But I thought I was beginning to gain some important insights. While sitting in a room with industry experts, I realized how little I knew about the movers and shakers in the game-based education world.


Still I was thrilled to speak to Jessica Lindl from GlassLab whom I saw at the Games Learning and Society conference in June of 2013. I found out that she was scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers for this year’s conference.  Mighty Eagle, Peter Vesterbacak, from Rovio also presented to a small group of intellectuals and investors who could bring real money to start up companies, hoping to influence educational gaming market.  Even though I felt somewhat intimidated, I raised my hand and spoke during a panel discussion.


Teacher Professional Development in Gaming

I urged the group to think about all the barriers of getting the games into students’ hands. I shared my frustration of teachers being the biggest barriers in spreading the gaming and how companies seemed to miss great opportunities to work with teachers.


I sat next to a nice young man from Finland who had an educational application company. He told me that his target was parents. I told him that teachers were also parents. I shared an example I read in the book Freakonomics. When Roth IRA first came out, many investment companies aggressively targeted teachers because teachers naturally educate the public if they are convinced of the benefits. I suggested that they should consider creating games that encourages teachers to become gamers.  How can teachers use games to teach students when they don’t know how to play?

Where are the games?

Before we adjourned, I approached Jessica Lindl and asked, “Where are the games?” I asked because I see this happening all the time. In my years as a teacher, I have been to too many conferences with a presenter lecturing about why teachers shouldn’t lecture. For a gaming conference that was supposed to promote game-based learning, we didn’t do any activities that remotely resembled a game. Games work because they are situated and experiential. I realize the conference was more of an information sharing and networking opportunity. However, I thought we could have play one game.

Free SIMCity licenses

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At the end of the conference, Dr. Tamas Makany from GlassLab approached me.  He was sympathetic and wanted to help. We discussed the technical limitations and challenges that rural teachers face.  To help me, he offered 30 SimCity Edu licenses for free. He was so encouraging and supportive of my passion for spreading game-based learning into rural areas.

After nearly a month, we are finally getting around to installing the program at one of our computer labs. Why? Because we don’t have the right video cards on the computers that our school owns, which goes to prove how many barriers classroom teachers to overcome to do things that we know work.

I know that I still have so much to learn. But I am glad that I learned the value of game-based learning. I can’t wait to develop lessons for my students and colleagues in the future.

Sunday Stalemate

Having achieve no progress on Saturday, I decided to call on my tutor Skylar, who was a student of mine. Now studying computer science at UC Irvine, he volunteered to be my “technical advisor.”

First, we began working on getting the Flora hooked up because I wanted to get to the part of the LED strip that bought lighting up.

1138_LRG Flora Board

However, I didn’t realize that I needed an extra part. For example, to make the strip work, I needed a resistor and special hook up. Futhermore, the Flora board needed a specific program language environment that I didn’t have.

After spending 2 hours trying to figure out how to download the Flora specific Ardino program, I plugged in one of the Flora boards.  After about 1/2 second, I saw a red light blinking rapidly. Then I smelt something burning. When I touched the board, it was hot! And the program kept sending me error messages.

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So I stopped working on the board. Even my tutor couldn’t help me. This experience made me think about how much tacit knowledge one must possess to be able to take on a project of this kind. I just wanted the LED strip to light up based on Adafruit’s diagram. I had no idea how much I needed to know things about electricity, voltage, and data input and output of data to make this project work.

After that defeat, I decided to switch to a LiliPad to see whether I could at least make the Velostate respond to the input.

This time, I was able to make the serial monitor to respond! I was so EXCITED!!!! However, I was still apprehensive about what I had to do to make this project a success.

First Saturday Meeting

Even though we didn’t get anything “done” per se, I think it was a great meeting. Here are some pictures.


Trying to put the shoes together.


Using Kodu to create a game.


Working on Code Academy and Kodu.


Students learning how to code using Code Academy.


Trying to fly the electric airplane.


All the supplies out.


What’s inside a computer?

Coding Club Fun

When I brought the supplies to the Monday meeting, the noise level was deafening. They were beyond excited. But with 38 minutes for lunch, we hardly had the time to open the computer to look at the code. That’s when my students asked me whether we could meet on a Saturday or even after school! Now I am committed to meeting them on Saturdays and one day after school during the week. I hope I can find the time to make this happen.




Working with the Arduno board

Since I need to create a project for my own class, I decided to re-create a pair of Firewalker LED light up shoes.


Becky Stern with Firewalker Sneakers (

Originally I wanted to create a pair of shoes with a built-in pedometer that kept track of how many steps one took. But working with my coder tutor, I realized that I do not have enough technical abilities to make this possible at this time. Furthermore, I was much more interested in engaging my students in maker activities than making an amazing machine. In the end, I simply ran out of time. With taking three classes and performing additional functions at school, I have limited time to do a complicated project by the due date.

I personally think it’s a great thing that my students want to spend more time working with the materials. The fact that they want to meet twice a week says how interested they are.

I probably won’t meet the deadline set my maker class, but I haven’t given up! I still might be able to make a prototype with usable codes at some point. I am definitely continuing with my students. Wish me luck!

Coding Club Begins

With the bit of seed money, I ordered a few things to share with my students. First, I got the Makey Makey board from Amazon. Image

And on a whim, I also ordered an electric airplane kit.


I can’t wait to share these things with my students.

A Gaming Convert

Ever since I came back from the GLS conference, I have been thinking a lot about how to incorporate games into my classroom. The more I think about it, the more I am leaning towards analogue games for its low tech requirement, open-ended nature, and a collaborative structure.

So I asked a friend of mine to teach me how to play some. Not only did he offer to help, he created a Facebook group for me to join (

I was not a big fan of gaming before attending the GLS. Since then, I have been learning more and more about the benefits. Who knows? I might actually write my dissertation on gaming and education.

Games and Learning Society Conference 2013

First of all, WOW! In my 10 years as a teacher, I have attended my conferences. This, by far, was the most teacher friendly conference that I have ever attended. 

Let me clarify. It is true that California Teachers Association (CTA) or California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) host wonderful conferences for the teacher by the teachers. But outside of those conferences, many conferences often treat teachers as spectators or attendees rather than collaborators. At the GLS conference, I got the clear sense that I was considered their equal partners in solving our education problem. 

In addition, I collected lots of contact information from various participants, which I really appreciated. Some of my cadre members described the conference as an entry level conference where anyone could probably participate. As a person who is trying to “level up” (Yes, I am using some game terms here), I suppose that is not a bad thing. 

I have had so many wonderful memories from this conference. I can’t wait to return next year.

Child Development and Teaching

In her recent blog post, Rae Pica asked a question that resonated with me. She said, “What If Everybody Understood Child Development?” 

I have been asking the same question since I began working in the dean’s office at my school. As the assistant dean at a comprehensive high school site, I had many occasions to deal with conflicts between students and student misbehaviors in classrooms. Believe me. There isn’t a day I don’t think about how much I would love to have learned more about the adolescent psychology. 

Ask high school teachers. Many will tell you that they never received instructions on adolescent psychology. They will also tell you how much they would love it. 

I think that was Ms. Pica’s point. She would like us all to become educated in child development, because we are all in the business of educating our children. I think that some of the examples she included are appalling.

But, having been an administrator, I must say sometimes we suspend students for additinoal reasons. We just can’t put all of them on paper because the legal system is limited in dealing with a full array of human behaviors. 

Although I agree with what Ms. Pica is arguing, I caution people not to jump on the bandwagon of criticizing the administrator at the school without knowing all the details of the case.

Why Do Teachers Need More Theories in The Classroom

I am a bit afraid to complete this blog for fear of what other teachers might say about my declaration. Yes. I believe that the teachers need more theories. 

When I was a young, inexperienced teacher, I used to think that theories are for professors who never had to work with any real students in their lives. I believed these professor who only lived in their heads should quit wasting my time by giving me a whole bunch of theories, and just tell me what to do with my real, live, and difficult students.

But now after 10 years of teaching, I finally realized what they were trying to do. They were trying to make my job a bit easier by providing a framework and patter that I could apply to 90% of the time. 

I came to this conclusion because I realized how to be a better teacher. For example, I realized what I was doing wrong with grammar instruction. I used to focus on the “exceptions” to the rules. Now I teach my students about the patterns in English. 

And I think the theories can be that: an anchor for teachers to find their center in their overall instructional practices. Just as a leader will rely on his or her philosophy to guide his overall decision making process, teachers need more sound theories to ground themselves.

Teachers are in human business. As a result, it is too easy to let us get swept away by the minute details of our day-to-day problems. We need sound theories to keep us steady.