Webinar Date: May 22,2013
Educational games and apps are a useful tool for Blended Learning, making it important to choose games in different content areas that not only align with standards and support learning goals, but engage students as well. In this session, Max Holechek, UX Designer, Ayu Othman, Art Director and Dr. Tim Hudson, explored games from a developers eyes. They discussed how game design principles can be used effectively to increase student engagement and achievement, both in the classroom and in digital environments. They shared examples of games that employ these principles in different content areas and in games that are solely developed for entertainment. They also explained how to classify and select educational games according to their purposes and needs.
TH: Director at DreamBox Learning and thank you for joining us today, for this webinar here at edWeb.net. It’s right about starting time and we’ve got a lot of great ideas to share with you today, so we’re going to get started. The very first thing are a couple of webinar tips that you see there on your screen: close other applications, maximize your screen for a larger view. there’s a link in the upper hand corner; you’ll get a CE certificate in the next 24 hours, and also information to access a recording of this presentation. And then also, for those of you maybe doing some live tweeting, we have a hashtag there: #edwebchat.
So really, my name and picture were on the first slide but today is far more about two amazing team members we have here at DreamBox, Max Holecheck and Ayu Othman who are our UX Designer and our Art Director as you can see on that slide and they have taught me amazing things about game design, user interaction. I myself, I’m a former high school math teacher, I spent several years in suburban St. Louis teaching high school math and then was the K–12 Math Curriculum Coordinator also in suburban St. Louis prior to joining DreamBox as the Curriculum Director. And there’s a wealth of things that Max and Ayu have to share with you today that I think you’re really going to find fascinating, learn quite a bit and I’ll be making connections to the principles they share to the learning aspect of what’s coming out of the games that students are playing. So this really is about design principles for student engagement and the principles apply to classrooms as well as to digital experiences.
So, if you are working on Blended Learning or doing anything related to Blended Learning, you probably checked out Michael Horn and Heather Staker’s, “Classifying K–12 Blended Learning” white paper, and in that they share several different, actually in-practice models of Blended Learning and here are two of them. One’s called the Flipped-Classroom—that’s being used by the Stillwater Area Public Schools, and then the Enriched-Virtual model and you sort of see here an overview of how many students, how many teachers, what’s happening in the brick-and-mortar school scenario, and then what’s happening at home—that’s were online instruction and content, are happening on computers. Enriched-Virtual does have some computers at schools. So you know, you look at these different models and you dig in to hear what the teachers and the educators in those situations are doing to help reach all learners and try to leverage technology.
And you know I think about when I look at this sometimes people think of which blended model is better and that question really can’t be answered because these are just two static images. We really have to answer the question, what is happening during class? What is happening on the computers? Those are the two key critical points because when we do Blended Learning or when we use games for learning, when leverage technology or even our classroom lessons, those are strategies, those are a means to what ends? So I really want to frame our conversation today in terms of Blended Learning because certainly for a lot of these schools, kids are doing, using learning games both in the classroom and on the computers. But really, the blending is a means to what end? So two key points, before I turn it over to Max and Ayu: Is the quality of digital learning experiences is just as important as the quality of classroom learning experiences? Too often, people don’t understand enough about what’s happening, when students are learning digitally and so maybe they don’t give that the lessons on learning online, the same amount of scrutiny and critical analysis about the pedagogy and things as they would to what’s happening in the classrooms. So that’s the first point and then the second point is that principles of game design can be used to improve student engagement in learning.
So with those two points, I’d like to introduce Max and Ayu and here’s a brief slide introducing a lot of the work that they’ve done. Both of them have worked together in the past at other companies. Max that you see there our Creative Director of the Nancy Drew PC Games Series and I’ll actually asked them to come on and start broadcasting here while I talk a little bit about this slide. And Max has worked as a Producer and Design Consultant in several different names. I’m sure you’re familiar with there: Nick Junior, PopCap Games, and he’s been a lead game designer on some of those games that you might have played as well. And Ayu is a 2D and texture artist. Is how she got started and then was the whole Art Director for that award winning Nancy Drew Series and then created the game, was the Art Director for Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box. But you can see them showing up in your window and I want to go ahead and pass it off to them and let them take it from here. So Max, Ayu, welcome, I’m going to hop off.
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MH: Hello, everyone.
AO: Hi, folks.
MH: Shall we continue with the next slide?
AO: I think so, on with the show.
MH: Okay, some of you might be here with the question on your mind, how can I make learning seem more like a game. And funny enough that might not necessarily be the right question unless you really know what you’re asking. Some of us really stepped away from the world of games when we got older and only when we got, when you became adults and we found we have more children in our lives. We find ourselves going back to games like Candyland and Cootie and you know what the last 15 to 30 minutes of these games are like, right? You know, you’re playing Candyland, it’s like you know, 45 minutes into this thing and you pull up the card—it’s just like back to the gum drop forest. Oh hey kids. Actually, the real one was you know, you’re just dying to end this game. And Cootie, last 15 minutes right, you’re just rolling the die for 15 minutes just trying to get that last six, right? So is this fun? No, these are terrible games. Let’s be honest with ourselves, they’re around only because of nostalgia. So we have to remember that focus on the game isn’t necessarily the best thing and Ayu, what should the focus be on?
AO: You know, I think there’s one word that sums it up and it’s just one word and it’s called: FUN! That’s right, so we assist of you know, focus on the fun people. We want to leverage sort of the engagement experience. You know and everyone should have a good time you know, having either playing games with learning, games for entertainment because you know, what it really boils down to is, you know, if you take the fun out of the play you know, a lot of times you know, the whole sense of learning and sort of the curiosity factor is just stripped away because most of the time these games are become grinds. We just have to complete a series of tests you know, to achieve something that may not be very meaningful to you, So that’s why I want to put that quote out there because you know, I mean as most of you are probably familiar with Joanne E. Oppenheim. She did write the book Kids and Play and you know I really like this quote, just really sums that what we’re really about. So the thing is … what is fun? Well you know, Max sort of he describes fun as the word to describe a complete engagement and I totally, absolutely agree with that. So here’s one theory that I think most, some of you may be familiar with, maybe in your game theory and game design classes and the concept is called flow. So, Max could we move on to the next slide.
MH: I wasdrinking coffee, Ayu.
AO: [Laughing] There’s no break for you, Max. No breaks on the webinar. So what is flow? So flow is the concept of, you know, of heightened focus and immersion. You know, where you lose yourself. You become so engrossed in the activity you know, time, sort of warps and you know, I’m sort of getting ahead of myself with what, what flow is. But we move on to the next slide, you know it’s sort of a semi-gratuitous shot of you know me, yours truly, you know, enjoying a good surf session but it really sort of highlights the concept of total immersion where you know, once you hit a certain skill level and you know you meet a level of challenge that just completely matches you know, your level of expertise. You know, instead of these beautiful, I called it a dance between the mind and the body, where sort of your actions you know, you forget yourself. You lose a sense of yourself. You experience ecstasy and the ecstasy in Greek actually literally means you know, standing to the side of something. And it sort of becomes the analogy of stepping into an alternate reality and that’s what games are about. Games are sort of presenting us with this beautiful alternate experience in depending on what your ultimate goal is, whether it’s for education, entertainment. You know, it’s a wonderful sort of sense of psychological state that you enter in. So let’s just kind of diving slightly deeper into the concept of flow. We have you know, as I put it in sort of in English layman’s terms. Flow is that sweet spot we experience during an activity and as you can see in this graph you know, there is sort of this interesting correlation between the difficulties of, you know, the challenge that you are experiencing and your skill set. And the idea of flow is to maximize that sweet zone that you see on the graph. You know, where if it’s you know, too easy and you have a high level of skill, it’s naturally obviously too boring or probably just you know, end the game or if it’s too hard, it’s too challenging and you probably also end the game because you know, unless you’re one of those where, you just have to finish the game no matter what. It’s not the best experience and you know, right in the center there is that sort of the flow where the level of difficulty that’s presented to you is just right based on your level of skill.
And then on,the next topic that I am going to present to you is, you know, the genius behind the Flow Concept. So, I am going to take a stab at pronouncing his name. He’s a professor of psychology, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and there’s actually an interesting TED talk and I really regret not posting the TED link but I will post the link to his TED talk at the end of the webinar and hopefully, Lynn can share it with the rest of the team. And what he proposed in this sort of lives we’re trying to figure out what is that makes people happy. It’s sort of do a lot of research into the psychology of happiness and, you know, irregardless of financial status, you know, once you’ve met your sort of basic hierarchical needs. You know, there’s a sense of what is it that makes people happy and he spends his life’s work in researching that idea and so in the next slide, some of his sort of the key concepts he came up with based on his research. So as you can see in the presentation, to that first point, I just want to clarify the challenge activity, so in the game design, game theory you know granted, we have what we called the noob, you know, the noob factor, where it’s N00B as in gamer talk is when you’re a complete and utter beginner to a game experience, right? And you’ll totally be called a noob but the thing is, a good game will, well kind of, getting a little bit ahead of myself with Max’s awesome presentation coming up. Oops. [Laughing.] Technical excitement there, going back to the elements of flow. So back to the first point about the challenge activity, we’re not assuming that, you know, we’re plunging someone into a challenging activity right at the get go. You know, a good game will sort of introduce that person slowly, you know, either tutorials or with the whole concept, and as they progress, you know, that the challenge level will you know increase along, you know, with the skilllevel.
And then to the secondpoint, you know, I just want to clarify the merging you know action and awareness seems. You know at first like could not quite understand what that meant, but the truth of it is all about being in that, so that mind/body awareness and then sounds it’s kind of you know sort of, I forgot what the term was, but it’s basically when you are so into the activity and so engrossed in it that you know your actions are basically are an extension of your mind. So as you could see in that early shot of me surfing, you know if I want to go left, my mind says left and I immediately going left and I’m just experiencing that at the get go. And I always like to joke it, you know some of the Karate Kid metaphor, right? So you go from wax on wax off and all of a sudden you know in the Eye Of The Tiger face where wax on wax off becomes sort of this flow and you know, he defeats his you know, archenemy on the competition field. And then the other points you know I think are pretty, pretty self-explanatory and the main thing I want to point out with this is that even if you don’t understand you know, we don’t call it flow. I think you know, great teachers and coaches actually utilize all of these you know, subconsciously or they have different terms for, you know for this. And I really want to make this clear that you know I think we are all speaking the same language. It’s just a matter of how we want to apply the concept of flow in good game design.
MH: Yeah, absolutely! So, in a nutshell, Cootie—not good flow?
MH: So, what is a game? According to the gentlemen below that says “A system in which players engage in an artificial conflict defined by rules that results in a quantifiable outcome.” But add a little flow to that and you have yourself a good game. So what makes a good game, these are some Good Casual Game Design Principles that both Ayu and I integrated into the work that we’ve done and what is—I should probably explain casual gaming to those who have better things to do than play games. Casual games are the kind that you most often play on your smart phone or your tablets. They’re simple, engrossing experience as designed so they can be picked up and put down after just a couple minutes of play and basically casual games are opposed to the hardcore console games like that potentially require a lifestyle change in order for you to complete those. And certainly, there are a lot more game design principles that are described here within our timeframe but here are a few and we’ll start off with relevance to the player and the game goals.
Contextualize your game and what do we mean by that? Well, who’s ready to play a game of Fist Flat Two? The rules are really simple, now fist beats two but two beats flat but flat does beat fist and you know, you’re wha-wha-what—and of course, if you will add a context of rock, paper, scissors then rock smashing scissors is a lot easier to remember than you know fist smashing two. Another way to look at this is, you have a mathematic concept, you have a curriculum concept, you have a game mechanic concept like you’re matching a three like items in a row and how do you present that? Well, this is certainly one way you can do it. But adding contexts just brings a lot more engagement and fun into the experience. So instead of you know matching you know like colored squares, you’ve got picking fruits or movie-style archaeology or the old favorite matching 3 gems in order to create rips in the time–space continuum which we’re all-
AO: And also pretty pictures do count ’cause as in Max showed in that slide, you got to have good art.
MH: Yeah, absolutely.
AO: So, it is a plus because I’m an art person. [Both laughing.]
MH: A second point is, don’t assume your assumptions are valid. Like the, well for instance you know, so many hours spent playing the old classic video games but in a way some of them have left us with bad ideas for what default game design is. Like when we think of video games we think, well, three lives? You got to have three lives, right? It’s going to be kind of punishing but you get three lives. It’s like, well only if one of your major goals is to collect quarters from children, right? I mean, that’s why you had three lives and that’s why they were a little bit difficult. And you know speaking of the topic of being kind of punishing, it’s a funny thing if you give the average person a pencil and paper and say design a game. It doesn’t matter who you are. They will come back with the rules like okay if you land on this space, you’ll lose everything you collected and you go back to start and you have to hold five live bees in your mouth until you roll a six, right? It’s, consciously or not, I think that we hold a lot of the humiliation and pain of playing games in our head. So when we do kind of decide to design themselves, we create a lot of penalties for some reason and keep that in mind next time you’re playing one of the contemporary casual games and you’ll see that we’ve come a long way from three players and all of the rules are written for what that game is trying to accomplish. It’s not adding any sort of foreign things just because you think that’s what makes the game if I make myself clear.
AO: Also, holding live bees in your mouth is not good.
AO: I wouldn’t advise it. [Both laughing.]
MH: And we’ll hand it back over to Tim to talk about Planning Backwards from Lesson Goals. Can you hear us Tim?
TH: Alright. Yep. So the classroom application here is that we need you know, the contextualize a game and you need to contextualize learning goals that if you’ve done any work and all of the curriculum work I have ever done from the start of my career has been around the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe with “Understanding by Design,” where you first have to define what is it you are trying to accomplish in terms of learning. And then, one of the, you know, pieces of evidence you are going to collect to be sure that those learning goals were accomplished. Then, you plan your learning experiences and instruction and that’s the context in which you should be you know, choosing games and designing games. And so the key questions, what do you want students to accomplish, how will you know they’ve achieved it and then question three, what games can help students meet these goals.
So, for example, if you have a learning where you want students to understand the perspective of others and you want them to have to exercise some strategic thinking, these are usually more process-oriented learning goals. Oregon Trail is a great way to actually do that. I think it’s a highly underutilized game. It has been around for decades but, you know, there’s all these variables down here about weather, temperature. You’re constantly making decisions. There’s this sense of you have to arrive hopefully with everyone surviving that’s sort of a badge of honor if you make that to make people like Nicole get dysentery that’s how the kids learn about dysentery. I think. But it gives you great perspective and puts you in the mind of people literally traveling the Oregon Trail in a pretty good way.
If one of your goals is for students to recognize the shapes of states, or to recognize presidents, the Stack the States game and Presidents versus Aliens, both published by the same person on the App Store. If it’s just about shape recognition of states, I mean these are pretty good games for it. You know the shape of Minnesota or Illinois, apart from, you know, rivers and geography, those are fairly arbitrary things. There’s no necessary reason with the shape of states. The way there is a reason why you know five times five is 25. There’s sort of some context and some meaning there as opposed to the shape of states. And then, what the presidents look like that’s something that you just sort of put into a game like that. And that’s a recognition learning goal. That’s the key thing there. If you want students learn about geography, culture, inquiry, investigation: Carmen Sandiego. You know, when Max and Ayu were talking about planning this, it’s sometimes hard because there are so many games out there to speak about games that everyone kind of knows and these have been around long enough that they are sort of worth bringing up to say you know what, I personally learned a whole about geography and culture from Carmen Sandiego because it’s open-ended. Students can make their own decisions and learn some things along the way. If your learning goal is practice, that is probably where you are going to find the most games in Apps that are out there and going way back, Number Munchers would be an example of that. It’s really just practice. Ideally, students would already have had some rich learning experiences to know what multiples of two mean. I mean, it is possible that students might just know that, multiples of 2 end in 2, 4, 6, 8, or 0 but that doesn’t give meaning to the mathematics. So, you could actually beat this game without understanding things about mathematics and that’s kind of what I called a practice thing. I wouldn’t want students to learn about multiples from Number Munchers but I’ll be happy with them practicing recognizing multiples after they have learned what they are mathematically.
And the reason a lot of these games and a lot of distinctions are important is because of how much technology can do these days. If you are familiar with WolframAlpha, just wolframalpha.com—it’s a computational knowledge engine as they call it. And, you can actually type something in like this, I have two cookies, you give me three cookies, how many cookies do I have? And this is the output of the program—it actually interprets the language you typed in and gives you the answer as well as a model for it. I would say 10 years ago or even in classrooms today, if you give students in elementary school that question, this is actually a highly viable answer because they’re justifying their response and explaining their answer and showing it in multiple ways. So what do we do when a free website available 24/7 on a smartphone can actually solve problems that we’ve been giving kids for a very long time? So, it’s a very different reality.
So, we have to be pretty clear about our learning goals. That’s the whole connection to that first point that Max and Ayu made that the existence of things like these WolframAlpha, calculators means we, as educators have to be more honest about the memorization, about the algorithmic procedures because they’re so easily done. David Bressoud, who’s a columnist with the Mathematical Association of America back in 2009 wrote an article. Here’s a couple of quotes. The second one’s pretty key in terms of learning games. “If a student feels she or he has learned nothing that cannot be pulled directly from WolframAlpha or perhaps a calculator, then our courses perhaps have been a really be a waste of time” and maybe even our games, too. So, you have to take a look certainly in mathematics at whether the game is teaching concepts or just practicing things that a calculator could give them.
We’re only going to show you two DreamBox games today. Here is the first one and we made this game kind of calculator proof to help kids add numbers that were negatives, decimals, fractions, and I think this was originally Max’s idea to put a mini golf aspect on it. You see the number line down there below. The student has two putts. They have two numbers to choose and they have to hit negative 8.3 but there is a windmill here. See, you can’t just choose any two numbers. You have to use your intuitive sense of ratio and proportion on this number line to kind of know where halfway is and kind of the windmill is kind of a third of the way. So, what’s the third of -8.3 means really great thinking and a really fun game. So, when I am classifying learning games personally, I don’t have any references or sources on this, it is something how I viewed them as a teacher and as an administrator.
I think about learning games where you don’t need prior instruction. These are really learning experiences. They’re usually conceptual. They’re usually simulation or situation. For example, miniature golf as a situation, Oregon Trail more of a simulation. There is usually a critical thinking focus. Kids have to be active agents. It is usually self-directed focusing on kids having realizations about content. It is usually content specific and then the learning context and content comes first and then the game is wrapped around the key learning points. And I contrast that with things that need prior instructions. For example, the Number Munchers, I would expect that there be some instruction that happens before students play that. Those are usually practiced. They are often rote, they kind of have a flash card design. That’s kind of I look at. When I look a game, I think is this really just a fancier flash card that is a little more engaging than written cards. A lot of times, there’s memory focus, which is valuable we just have to be sure about when that is happening during the learning process.
It’s often teacher-directed because that prior instruction is required. A lot of focus on recall and then a possibly interchangeable content like when I would look at math games, I would think, you know, can I swap out five times five equals 25 with you know the capital of Missouri is Jefferson City. That sort of, if it has interchangeable content, that’s kind of because as this last bullet shows. The game design came first and then the content was inserted and they’re certainly you know, there is a valuable time and place for that which we have to be careful and make sure we are choosing the right games for where students are in their learning. Jackie just chimed in at the bottom, she calls them worksheets on steroids that could be a bullet right there. Are they really just more engaging worksheets? So, back to you two.
MH: Alright. Thanks Tim. Yeah absolutely, one of our simple rules in casual game design is, if your game looks like an Excel Spreadsheet, it’s time to start over. What you want is understanding upon a glance, and this is really what we need. I think most of us are familiar with Angry Birds and even without a tutorial, just taking a look at the game itself, you can kind of put two and two together and really that’s one of the main tent poles for good design—at least casual game design which I should say and I should have said before really mirrors a lot of what was already established for game design for children. It’s being able to present the material in such a way that you look at it and you’re just ready to dig into it. It’s like you’re recognition’s like, I might not get it but I really want to explore. I really want to tinker with it or you can look at it and say, oh, oh, oh, I know exactly what to do and you just go in there and when you invoke that feeling in a player you don’t want to slow them down with a tutorial and I’ll get into that a little bit later. Another game that deliciously sort of like puts you in the action and you know what to do is Temple Run. You just run, run, and we’ll tell you later, just run. Monkeys are chasing you run, run. I love that. I’d never experienced the game or you just like go, go, go, we’ll explain later, just go. Love that.
And oh yeah, the gradual introduction of rules. I don’t know if you ever played Plants Versus Zombies. But the game that you have with the designers probably had in their head when they were thinking of Plants Versus Zombies was probably something like this. It’s like and then you know what you got to do, what you got to you know keep track of the suns and then you got to you know get the kind of plants that you know will react to a piece kind of zombies and then there’s a lot of different types of sort of structural things you can put in there and then there a lot of interesting strategy with the water versus the ground. This is all going on our head and a lot of times game designers tend to accidentally front load a lot of this and you know that you have a really good game design when your hands when in the later levels it looks like that but you start with this and again at a glance you can pretty much figure out what you probably need to do. Here’s a floating sun, you might want to click on that because this UI says that suns are worth 25 points, okay cool. And I can see here that these plants are worth a hundred and also if I plant these guys, I’ll be shooting at zombies that are coming after me. At a glance, you can kind of figure out what’s going on, which is great.
AO: And that totally ties in with the concept of flow.
AO: Where, when you first start out you know, you have no idea what you’ll be doing and if it’s presented properly. You start out with just you know that easy way, easy access and as you start mastering all these basic skills and progress you know, this is the screen, when you look at you go, this is awesome I can’t make to dive into this level.
MH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean looking at it. If you’d never seen this game before it’s like, here’s Plants Versus Zombies: GO! And if you’re looking at the screen. I mean it’s really daunting right? And I think one of the things that we tend to forget about casual games is that they can get very sophisticated and very complex. You know, level 100 you know, there’s this nice, slow ramp-up and that’s whats make casual games really nice as apposed to hardcore games …
MH: … sort of front-load, everything you need to go. You need to know and then go. I least a good portion of it. Another rule is just get out of the player’s way and I sort of touched on this a little bit before in that you don’t want to slow the players down with a lot of unnecessary content like for instance, what you are looking at are screenshots from a new game that just came out called Pudding Monsters. It’s a great little puzzle game and they did their best, I think to really maximize the localization of this game where there is little to no text in this and what they do is to explain to you how to play the game by these little Pudding Monsters who speak gibberish, giving you little graphic balloons that sort of explain the rules to you and what you didn’t get with the little word balloons, there are additional animations like in the column on the far right. You’ll see animation where it shows that you are to flick the little Pudding Monsters across the screen and between little animations like that and these little guys speaking to you in iconography. You got everything that you needed to know and not one word was printed on the screen and that’s brilliant. And certainly something that help you know, it helps kids like jump to the action more because when they see something that’ just really engaging and they want to get into it so try not to slow him down. And yeah and other points kind of fall into this like you know, you may have this great epic story line that you’re just you know waiting to sort of like provide as exposition to your wonderful world just like you know.Kids just wanted—or people—just wanted to jump in there and play the game, an exposition.
AO: Right. It’s sort of one of those you know one of those primary story telling averages right. It’s all about show don’t tell.
AO: I mean, show, don’t talk about it.
AO: Just get into the meat of the and just present it. Have the person just jump in and experience it as supposed to exposition text you know that’s too much of that.
MH: Yes, somehow bring the player into part of that past epic before you then move on to the game that you may be have it in your head already and with that, I’ll hand it back over to Tim.
TH: Great. So a couple of comments coming up about you know what do those games teach and just as a reminder, we’re talking about game principles and then I’m connecting it a bit to the curriculum. The idea being that you know Pudding Monster doesn’t necessarily help you meet your common core or state standards but there are design principles there that make people make children want to play the game and how can we leverage those in our classroom. So, the classroom application to this particular point about getting out of the player’s way is that often times when we front load explanation, it is actually disengaging. You know, you think about like the slide like Max had said that Temple Run, its just run. I’ll explain later and there’s way for us to design great learning tasks where we can give them to kids and let them run with them and we can save the explanation for later. So, an example, when I taught sophomore geometry, I wanted kids to realize and learn that a circle has maximum area given a fixed perimeter in two dimensions, which sounds pretty awesome and I could’ve have just said that and explained it and made it a bit of knowledge without necessarily much sense-making but instead, I decided to create this elaborate deal where they were creating an elephant habitat and I restricted it and I said it had to be a regular polygon. So, I was using the vocabulary and like these are regular polygons and we were using calculators and technology to help with this. And it took me about 15 to 20 minutes just to explain what on Earth they were doing, and even then, I had to answer question after question after question. That was a very disengaging experience. Even though, I wanted it to be more investigative kind of exploratory lesson, it failed on the engagement front because I was in their way. There was a high barrier to entering that task and there’s a lot of great folks in the math and science blogosphere talking about how do you just give kids a test that they can immediately run with.
So, in your classroom, if your learning task requires more than about a minute of directions, there is probably too high of a barrier to engage with. So, I encourage you to try redesigning the task to create a simpler entry point, a lower barrier to entering the task. So for me, with the Elephant Habitat Lesson, I should have just said, here’s the deal, you got a mile of fencing. Build an elephant habitat and make it as big as you possibly can and just let them go. You know, that’s 10 seconds instead of 15 minutes and then I could have had better classroom competitions about who can find the most area. And eventually, they would have settled on that. Now the trade off is this, it probably requires more class time to actually complete the task but it results in more engagement, much better thinking, and much better learning—and that’s really the key because it is about learning outcomes and about allowing kids to jump right in and start thinking. Yes, so like Robert Welch is saying how does it apply to upper or high school students? That’s exactly the example when I used with high school students. Lower the barrier to entry, give them a short task that is really rich and is noisy and is not exactly clear how they’re going to solve it.
So towards that end, we put explanation at the front of our lessons too often, there is a great book, “Teaching What Matters Most” by Strong, Silver, and Perini, ASCD published it has great ideas for all content areas and some great rubrics around authenticity, rigor, great ideas, and they have a quote from a fifth grade teacher in New York who talks about how you know, she had great math teachers, wonderful people, but they didn’t exactly teach good math because it was just “do your homework, go over the homework, here’s the new exercises, here’s how to do them, I’ll be around.” It is a very common experience every time I give talks and share this quote. People are nodding and I taught high school math. This is kind of how we did things. And so what it is, is what we’re really showing kids how to do something as opposed to some of the games we’ve been talking about. We don’t front load instruction but in the classroom, we tend to deliver content you know, let me show you how to do this, now you go do that. Can you do it on your own? May be we need to show that to you again or you know it. You know, there’s that collecting evidence there in the blue circle. And we are trying to give kids understanding and you really can’t give someone an understanding. That’s some learning principles out of Schooling by Design that really reinforce the points that Max and Ayu are making. When you want to understand the game or understand when you are learning something, it is about the student’s realization. It’s about them having those a-ha moments and understandings can’t be given. They have to be engineered, so learners see for themselves the power of an idea for making sense of things and as teachers, that’s what we’re trying to do. We are trying to connect students with their own critical thinking where they see for themselves the power of ideas.
So you know, there’s some pros and cons to Blended Learning if this is what you are trying. You know, the benefit is we’re really becoming more thoughtful and strategic about the use of precious class time. That’s a key thing and technology is a key part of that. What do students really need to come together to study? But the danger is sometimes we become less thoughtful and less strategic about how students learn and make sense of things. And we think that like Jackie had said, worksheets on steroids are really going to make the difference and that’s not just the case. So when engaging learning takes place, if you are looking at games or maybe designing games for your classroom, the key is first, you engage with the context. Plants Versus Zombies that’s kind of a context. Elephant Habitat, that’s a context. Miniature golf, that’s a context. Oregon Trail, there is your context.
And the student does some thinking. They make their own predictions. They do some you know inherit transfer of learning. They get feedback. Games are great at giving feedback. Teachers are great at giving feedback. How can we give kids better feedback more frequently. Then the game or the classroom and the teacher need to do some adaption, do some differentiation to help make sure which students didn’t understand it or aren’t able to independently transferr—that’s kind of how the cycle would look with better learning games and better learning experiences. And this is how we engineer learning from realizations.
MH: Great points Tim, and certainly I want to look to back on is, giving feedback to the kids. So let’s say that you are designing a casual game and you’ve done great work. You have this great context for your game that works really well with what it is that you’re trying to show. So, like mini golf, the context works well with the lesson and you did a great job at like whipping the kids into a frenzy where that you, they’re looking at it. They kind of get it. They want to jump right in and you open the gates to Wonka Land and they’re streaming in. If you’re still going, “Any moment they’ll have a mouthful of live bees.” You know, that you’re doing something wrong because feedback you know as we know, particularly for children, is really, really important that they’ll always feel safe exploring. That they kind of tinkering, kind of whittle, and that there’s no real repercussions for exploring. Another thing that’s important to keep in mind is, making sure that for the context of this webinar and kind of like swapping “player” with “student” because we’re kind of walking that thin line there.
So, I apologize if I’m inconsistent with that term. But, we always want to make sure that the player makes informed decisions while they’re playing based on what they can see. You know everything that they can see on the game, even though it might be complex like this screenshot from Coconut Queen and you have to like actually, you’re not seeing the entire map on the screen. You have to click and sort of drag the map around to see all the different properties that you’ve slowly been building on this island. If you have set a bunch of workers to work to like clear the forest in order to build a lodge or something. They’re not going to like wrap up and then be sitting there waiting for you to like come over and like give them more work to do and meanwhile, like you’re losing money on the deal and because you’re not watching the UI and you’re starting to lose points because you’re not paying attention—mouthful of bees—that’s what I’m talking about.
The player always knows what’s going on. There’s nothing going on off the screen that can be done to sort of hinder the progress of the game. And the reason why I put Coconut Queen up there is, a couple of friends of mine worked on this and did a great job of making sure the player always knew what was going on even if it was far off the visual portion of the screen by using some pop-ups and what not. Another point to keep in mind is the exploration is a great. When you think about exploration where talking about you know feeling free to like you know twiddle of that things without them exploding on you and you have to start over. But then also you have the ability to like make errors and maybe even use those errors and that exploration to lead to an a-ha moment. I don’t know if you ever played Cut the Rope, which is on the screen now. But the left hand screen shows the basic concept of the game.
You cut the rope, you try to gather as many stars as you can for expert points but ultimately you’re trying to get that little piece of hard candy down to the little creature, Om Nom. And to the right, you’ve got a screen that shows just how complex some of these physics puzzles get and there’s no way, well, the chances are very low that you’re going to end up figuring out how to do it on the first time and half the fun of puzzle games like Cut the Rope is, you have to use your trial and error to figure out the right combination of logic and steps to actually fulfill the puzzle and I really loved that about Cut the Rope. Yeah and is that a good segue for you, Tim?
TH: Yeah that’s great.So this kind of piggybacks some on what I said earlier that having that engagement in exploration first is a key thing and this is how we want to design our classrooms as well as our games. So, we have this learning myth, where we think if I cover it clearly they’ll get it. But like someone was mentioning in the comments a moment ago like the textbook is something that like a videogame manual. Is probably best read after you’ve played the game a little bit. Textbook isn’t really designed to connect with your brain in a great way. We need to remember that presentation of an explanation no matter how brilliantly worded, it is not going to connect ideas unless students have had ample opportunities to wrestle with examples.
Now, I realize in a webinar format, there is a little bit of irony there because we are just presenting information to you but given that everyone on this webinar is a professional educator who struggled with engagement, struggled with learning, learning about games. There is a course of accommodation for sort of a time for hearing new ideas. And so, we don’t want to really start by telling. It doesn’t happen in games which are highly engaging, and in a highly engaging classroom that’s not always how it starts. This is straight out of how people learn. Providing students with opportunities to grapple with specific information relevant to a topic has been shown to create a time for telling that enables kids to learn so much more from an organizing lecture. That’s a principle that I didn’t use in my classroom nearly enough. And so, that happens when kids are struggling with games. You know, they may go to somebody and say, I have been trying to beat this level and I just can’t figure it out.
So, if your learning goal is something about systems thinking, SimCity is a great game. It’s in its fourth or fifth iteration—who knows—but you are trying to build a city and my cities always failed and but I kept trying and kept trying and finally I did go ahead and ask somebody. I consulted someone who I thought had more expertise and they told me that you know, my industrial places were too close to my residential. I didn’t have enough fire stations and all you know. I was building my city for traffic jams. I mean there were a lot of things that had someone told me how to build my city at the start, it couldn’t have been fun at all because there is sort of the answer.
So, we need to make sure that within our classrooms, as well as within games we’re not answering questions that students haven’t even asked yet or trying to pick their interest to drive their curiosity. And if your learning goals are exploration or creative thinking, Logo which is a great thing that has been somewhat underutilized, I think in terms of learning and exploration for students. It’s great. Tons of exploration, tons of critical thinking and if you want some additional game ideas, I mean obviously we are highlighting more games than we are learning games. But if you go to Common Sense Media, you know, I think they have ratings on something like 1,300 games or whatever and they just recently gave out 50 awards. They’re on for learning award winners. There are 50 Apps, games and websites that received their highest ratings for learning potential. You can check that out, DreamBox is one of those 50 winners but there are tons of games across other content areas as well. So I encourage you to check that perhaps. And yeah, Carol just mentioned Scratch from MIT. I think Ayu, you have done some work with Scratch, right? A lot of folks—it’s great. I have known them about for years. It is a whole lot of fun and great thinking, just like Logo.
MH: Yeah and another thing to keep in mind is that the use of the rewards for engagement and then also replay motivation. There’s a lot of different things that are done in casual games to keep players coming back and keep them motivated as they play. Particularly as the rules continue to increase in the game so it gets more sophisticated. They can be challenging and the trick is always to keep it a fun type of challenging and not a frustrating sort of challenging. So one of these rewards is the old three-star system that I think we’ve all seen if we’ve played casual games and I think that we all sort of know how that works, wherein you have two types of level-passing scenarios. You can complete the goal, the minimum goal and good for you and that will get you on to the next level. But in the case of, we were just looking at the screens from Cut the Rope, if you collect a one star or one to three stars then you can sort of going for extra points. It’s like you can make by with the minimum to get to the next level or you can like really stretch your brain and go for those reach goals and it’s really funny—I found that it really depends on the temperament of the student of the player.
I see a lot of kids just sort of like do the minimum but they almost all will go back and then like the game menus are very good at showing which levels you have gotten different stars on and you can see like the ones you only got one or two stars on and vast majority of players will go back and they’ll try to get three stars and that’s really cool. Another way that, another reward that you can offer the player are meta game awards and these are the things that are like when you, by meta game what I mean is outside of the basic rules of the game. There are different objectives that you can get like when you pass the level 10, you’ll get an award or a badge for passing level 10 or if you really use your noggin like we were describing in Cut the Rope and do something that was, that really took some you know good thinking and good strategy. Then, you’ll unlock another badge or another engagement or another trophy and those things go into a trophy case that students can take a look at and this is something that will like motivate them to come back and try to fill up that trophy case.
MH: And we’re going to touch on it, yeah—
TH: OhI was just going to say there yeah, we’re going to touch on that in a second.
MH: Okay. Yeah. Sorry, did get a little distracted there. Tim, why don’t you take it away?
TH: Yeah. I thinkI might have put your slides slightly out of order here on this last point. Sorry about that.
MH: [Laughing.] That’s okay.
TH: Theclassroom application, we know too many of our students think about grades in terms of rewards. I think the classroom application here is that we need to rethink assessment and grading practices. Some of the best work I did in my classroom teaching and coordinating math was really, really making sure we’re assessing and reporting their learning in appropriate ways that don’t actually unintentionally create the wrong ideas in the minds of kids. So first thing is learning is not linear. You know, this is a screenshot from Angry Birds and you got the different stars like Max was just talking about and part of probably learning is you know, if you played Angry Birds and maybe you are working on level two and it takes you a million tries and you finally get and then get on down to level 15, if someone were to get back to you and say, “hey, how do you beat level two,” I mean it was a short term learning thing. You don’t actually retain it kind a like you think about it if your handling out series as packets to students to help them work ahead in mathematics and work independently. There is a concern there that you don’t actually retain in the long term learning.
So, we don’t want to sort of assassin and give assessment in that sort of linear fashion. And I think about when we’re assessing students you know, if we are giving them a puzzle or engaging them in some strategic thinking. If you think about Angry Birds, it more of puzzle and strategy than it is exploration because they tell you which bird is you have to use and how many birds that you get. So, it’s really sort of figuring out that puzzle and how do you, you know, knock this down with a fewest number of birds. Given that these are the birds that they going to give you but if it really strategic thinking, you will be able to pick your own birds and in your own order and you could really as an educator or as someone watching them play, you can really get some insights into how students are thinking based on the birds they choose and then which order.
And it’s kind of how we design something at DreamBox. And here we have this game with this very short term reward. You are trying to move the pirate ship around to find either the buried treasure or something you left behind and you could see the equations over there were adding and subtracting decimal numbers. Students create these equations themselves. Some series of things when we say here solve this, here solve this, and here solve this. Kids have to decide how they want to move the ship and by giving them that agency, we are able to know more about how they are thinking and allowing them to explore. So with grading practices with rewards and then we will get back to Max for the mini awards phase. Is that sometimes we assess behavior rather than learning and that could happen in videogames.
You could rack up a billion points on Super Mario Bros and never actually beat the game. And we know as educators, we have to find learning goals that students have to reach. So in thinking about you know, are they spending energy with impact for their learning? We know that score of zero just mean that student did complete an assignment. When you’re handing out points or you’re assignment points, there are some real things that you think about there and prefer you do something like Ken O’Connor’s book, 12 Fixes for Broken Grades. We know the percentages to still learning and there’s some meaningless numbers often. We know that we don’t go to the doctor and get a 78% or 82%. In the same way, capturing a whole year of mathematics learning one number or social studies learning is kind of odd. And we know students engage in point grubbing because of how we do this and that’s certainly a problem. Maybe they have earned enough points to pass but haven’t learned much like the Super Mario problem. Back to you, Max.
MH: Yeah, thanks. Yes, I think I had a little ahead of myself. But let us jump to the next slide since I already talked about what mini games are. Here is an example of three types of awards. Like for instance, we’re talking about the, and also it’s very important in casual games to give early rewards and many of them too. So one reward is you know, you’d pulled up a skilled move here. You got a combo bonus and sometimes you know, depending on the combo bonus, you can unlock a new trophy and then down in the lower right you see thetrophy case that I was talking about. And you know the interesting thing is and here’s another example of the store.
Another way that you can keep your players coming back is you can use a pointer commerce or completion systems to earn upgrades and features as well. And concepts like the commerce system and badges and trophies and achievements and earning rare items or decor for your game, those have taken really large step forward in what it means to be a game. We’re seeing something in the industry started a few years ago called gamification. The thought that you know, we can take elements of the game and put it in a nongame media experience like say a website and if we make the website social and we add a you know, point system based on what contents you know, you are looking on our site. And give you trophies for you know, watching a movie and stuff like that.
We’ll keep you coming back to the website and you know and that sort of works as a theory until I get you back to the website but you’re not necessarily making it a game. And as a game, these websites are kind of fall flat. And here’s Ayu to talk a little bit about why they fall flat.
AO: Well you know, just going back to the concept of gamification. It’s definitely of highly popular and overused concept these days. I mean if you even look at you know at like Nike for instance, you mean they have special shoes that connect with your app and you can track your progress you know, how many calories you burn and how your performance is, and you can compete and then there’s a social aspect where you can compete with your friends. See how well you’re doing. And of course, everyone knows Four Square, I mean that’s kind of like what started the whole trend essentially you know, with trophies and badges for you know, how and be, what is a king. I am not a Four Square person.
AO: Mayor. Mayor of some place you usually go to. So you know that I think, so it’s a bit like pulling the cart before the horse because you know gamification is completely valid as a you know tool for through engagement experience in a game design but these days I think it’s just you know, being put before content and a lot of times, you know products with you know, mediocre or just you know mere content. You know, try to use sort of gamification you know instead of a covering you know, to hide or mask inadequate content. I think, if I say content three times really but that they really underscores the importance of you know, creating highly engaging content whether it’s in your classroom or in a game product or you know, an educational game product in anything to be honest.
MH: In a nutshell,it’s being used as a crutch, which is easy to do. It’s you know.
MH: But it looks like game, plays like game but it’s got to have that –
OA: It’s got to have that flow and when all you do is mask, you know some experience with just awards and trophies and what not. It does become a grind and there are a lot of games out there you know, and it seems like a fun experience but all you have attest doing is you know,going out there and collecting items, trying to find things. That’s what the concept of grind is, there’s a lot of role play games tend to fall in that category. These are the ones that are not well designed and the good ones really engaged the person and you know, going out getting up you know and some Uber dragon and what not. That’s why I really want to emphasize that you know, I’m not against gamification, I just think it’s an overused and you know, somewhat abused mechanic.
So just simple flow, so you know, so the second point in testing the flow in the game design is you know it boils down to the player, you know, do the players want to pay the game. And I was like you know I mean, the quote about you know leading the horse to water and you can’t get it to drink because definitely you know, it’s on everyone’s mind when you know, you have this awesome product and you know, but your kids don’t want to or your students don’t want to engage with it. So it really starts with you know, student, the user, the player. You know, getting them on board with what you are presenting to them in the classroom sort of that you know, that first step of motivation getting you know, beginning the experience.
And then, I think was the last slide I put up was testing for flow or maybe it’s the second to the last slide. But like I always want to emphasize you know, it’s really striking that right balance between you know, understanding where your students are and you know, raising them to the next level of challenge. So if there is certain advancement where they can deal with the three-headed dragon, that’s wonderful and you have students who you know, partly would only deal with you know, a mouse first and that’s equally as valid. That’s all part of that you know, the flow of progression going from a noob in game terms to the highly skilled person who’s mastered the content. So and one of the final notes about testing for flow in game design is you know, empowering the user, empowering the player. Given the player a sense of control even if it’s sort of this you know, within artificial reality which is essentially the game.
You know, present them with the information and the tools they need to succeed you know either within the classroom or within the game of the game format. So these are sort of the four things you know, to look for and the main thing is that you know so many games out there these days and there are a lot of times you know we’re just in undated with all of these information on tips and what not. You know at the very least you know, if we can use of these sort of high level concepts is that taking away point in sort of identifying and evaluating the games on the educational games you see out there and hopefully that will help some.
MH: Uh-hum. So basically, if Cootie had achievements, it would still stink.
AO: Yes, you can’t mask bad game design. So, any questions? And we’re on the Q and A portion now.
TH: Nice. Nice. Well, we bumped up right against our 60 minutes. So, I want to make sure on a raced time. I did see a few questions come through the queue. Actually, probably just a couple, there was a question from Rick in Tennessee, who said he would know a lot about a game-based learning but was considering for it was like ancient civilization renaissance course. Hopefully, Ricky got some ideas about where to start in creating a more game-based class or maybe in college just a more engaging class in the sense that you take a look at you know, low barriers to entry. You take a look at certain different times of rewards where may brother and his wife both teach high school social studies and courses like ancient civilization and maybe to the renaissance.
Anything that you can do to create a context that put students in the perspective of people from different times, different areas, where they have to make decisions, where there is a lot of noise where it is not clear, what the stretch will be and then they get feedback on ideas that maybe well a couple of things that you can do in terms of, oh you know, the Magna Carta just got written. You’re a villager, somewhere, some place. How would you respond to this, and then as a teacher, you take a look at their responses and maybe the next day, you give them feedback on, hey, somebody did actually tried that and here’s what happened that sort of kind of simulation thing is a decent place to start. And then the last question, Tony from Alief Kerr High School said that we find a lot of things so far deal with beginning, the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
They want more and further and that’s definitely a reality that a lot of learning games. A lot of learning games are very much of a knowledge and comprehension like I said earlier the sort of memory focus, recall focus level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and hopefully in the future, there will be more games that focus on those higher order thinking type skills. So, one other question come through the name of the book from the earlier and that was Teaching What Matters Most and that’s published by ASCD. So, thank you all for your time. One quick slide about DreamBox Learning, we do higher order thinking in mathematics and we combine rigorous Elementary Math, Motivating Learning Environment and our Intelligent Adaptive Learning Engine help differentiate elementary mathematics for students in real time and Max and Ayu as you heard from their expertise. They are amazing people to have in our team to help with that all three of these pieces to be quite honest but certainly their area of expertise is the motivating learning environment. So, I can’t thank Max and Ayu enough for sharing their time and sharing their expertise with you all. I am fortunate to have them everyday helping us make DreamBox better. So, Max and Ayu, thank you so much.
AO: Thank you.
MH: Thanks a lot.
AO: Bye. Thanks for coming.
TH: There we go. Have a great day everyone. Thanks for coming.