Game Development Directory

Throughout this semester I’ve been developing a game idea. To make it easier to find all of my blog entries related to my game idea, I’ve created this directory entry. Below is a list of the blog entries including links and a description of each entry.

  1. Learning Theories Mash Up — These two entries describe the learning theories I consider most appropriate for the type of learning that will occur in my game.
    Initial Post and Update
    Follow up post
  2. My (Story) — First thoughts about my game idea and the storyline behind it.
  3. My (Toys) — Two ideas for toys, or mini games, related to the larger game idea.
  4. My (Puzzles) — Two ideas for puzzles related to the toys that make a stronger connection between the toys and the larger game idea.
  5. My (Game) — The identification of the game’s goal, depending on the type of user, and how the storyline ends.
  6. Unobtrusive Assessment — A description of how assessment will be embedded in the game so as not to detract from the gaming environment but allowing for robust use of data to set a player’s learning path.
  7. Math Game Scenario — A description of the beginning of the game — how students will enter the game, get “into” the storyline, and receive their first tasks.
  8. Game Flow — A diagram showing a player’s movement through the game from entry to completion.



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Game Flow

In previous posts I have outlined pieces of my math game idea. In the diagram below, I have attempted to illustrate the game flow. The initial clouds outline the entry into the game. The first cloud is where the animation I posted yesterday will appear. The rest of the diagram takes you through the player’s journey.

As mentioned in this post, players will be presented with a task list. The initial list will be based on their performance on the initial, embedded assessment.

After completing each task, the player will have the option to choose another. New tasks may be added to the list as a player’s skill set improves. Tasks may also be added as bonuses or to provide foundation for tasks players were unable to complete.

The game goal is met when a player completes all tasks needed to show mastery of the Common Core State Standards expected for a given grade. If the player is self directed, they will be given access to tasks beyond assigned grade level. Teachers may also choose to grant access to these tasks to students at their discretion.

AECT Standards

1.0 Design — The design of this game is based on my learning theories mash up. It takes into account a learner’s current skill level, interests, and preferences. The instructional strategies used by the game are based on students’ need to understand math skills on a conceptual level as well as seeing how math is used in a real way. The overall message of the game is that math is interwoven into everyday activities.


Photo by JacobMetcalf on Flickr.

In a previous post, I described two “toys” that I will include in my educational game to provide a greater opportunity for engagement, motivation, and fun. To provide a greater challenge and connection back to the educational game, the two toys will have optional puzzles.

Puzzle 1 — Packing the Truck

This puzzle connects back to a time-management game in which players fulfill orders by pulling items off a conveyor belt and packaging them into boxes and/or crates. The next step in the process is to put the orders into a truck for delivery. Using some Tetris-like skills, the puzzle is to get a set number of orders to fit in the truck.

Puzzle 2 — Combinations

This puzzle connects back to a design toy. Players design items to be created in the factory. The puzzle is to determine how many unique products can be made with given constraints. For example, one such factory makes T-shirts. A puzzle could be that the factory currently has in stock two different colors of T-shirts in 3 different styles. They also have 8 different paint choices, but only want to use 2 or 3 colors on each shirt. How many different combinations of T-shirt colors, styles, and paint options are there?


AECT STandards

1.3 Instructional Strategies
There are many levels to good instruction. Teachers who know their students well know when students are ready for in-depth, “heavy lifting” projects and when they need to back off for a while and do something that may appear unrelated but still has underlying educational value. Students who self educate have their own gut feeling of when they need a break. Puzzles embedded in educational computer games give players the opportunity to take a break from the “heavy lifting” project, yet still learn through seemingly unrelated challenges.

Unobtrusive Assessment

One key feature to my game idea is to use unobtrusive assessments. Involving players in some sort of obvious test activity at the beginning of the game would eliminate the possibility of a player approaching this game as a game. It will be obvious that this game is a learning activity, a school task, not a game. So it is important that assessment throughout the game is done in the background. Players will not know that the game is pulling data, making inferences, and re-shuffling the learning environment “deck” to serve up the next activity the player will need in order to succeed.

In order to be successful in the game, players will have to understand and be able to compute within the base-ten number system. If they can’t, the first tasks will involve concept-based activities that feel like a game but get at the concepts underlying the base-ten number system. Once they are in that game, their actions in the game will serve to assess their understanding. The data resulting from their actions will build upon each other fine-tuning the data-based inference results.

But before they can be placed within any of the tasks/scenarios of the game, some minimal assessment needs to occur. I need to consider several questions before I can determine the type of task that would provide the data needed to determine a player’s understanding of the base-ten number system. These questions include:

  1. What do people do in everyday situations that show their basic understanding of the base-ten number system?
  2. What are the important elements in these situations?
  3. What do people need to know and do, beyond manipulating mathematical symbols, that is related to the base-ten number system?

Using some guidance and an assessment planning tool from, On the Structure of Educational Assessments [1], I created the following diagram to show my thinking around the initial assessment. The basis for the initial assessment idea comes from Gersten and Chard [2].


[1] Mislevy, R. J., Steinberg, L. S., & Almond, R. G. (2003). On the structure of educational assessments. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, 1(1), 3–62. doi:10.1207/S15366359MEA0101_02

[2] Gersten, R., & Chard, D. (1999). Number Sense Rethinking Arithmetic Instruction for Students with Mathematical Disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 33(1), 18–28. doi:10.1177/002246699903300102

AECT Standards

1.1 Instructional Systems Design
One key aspect to designing an instructional system is knowing what you want the student to learn. Once you know that, the next step is to plan the assessment. The assessment is the “bones” of the system. Without it, you can have wonderful activities that go completely astray and go around the mastery of the skill you wanted the student to learn.

1.3 Instructional Strategies
It is important to be aware of foundational skills in mathematics. Number sense skills are the foundation to math, much like phonics skills are foundational to reading. Knowing this, you know where the “fall back” position is. If students struggle in any area in mathematics, number sense is suspect.

2.3 Computer-Based Technologies
Embedded assessment is an exciting possibility with computer-based technologies. Technology is great at collecting data and, following programming rules, use the data to guide user experience. “Data-based decision making” is a high priority in education and technology can make it easy and effective.

The Gamification of Education

The infographic below, created by Knewton, provides a wonderful summary of games in education. The last portion of the graphic is a time line of game development starting with Carmen SanDiego in 1985.


Carmen Sandiego

Image via Wikipedia

I was in college with Carmen SanDiego was first released for children. Even though I was in my 20s, the game engaged me. I didn’t even mind flipping through an Almanac to improve my odds at catching the thief.


Mavis Beacon was my friendly typing teacher just as I was beginning to use my computer as a word processor. I thought the race car theme was a little odd, but it did make learning the manual skill of typing a bit more interesting.

I never owned Math Blaster, but I played it on the school computers my first year of teaching. I encouraged my students to play it when they had time in the computer lab.

Sim City was my first game that wasn’t designed specifically for the education market. With it’s easy point and click interface, I could spent hours trying to please the residents of my city.

When I could afford to purchase my own computer, I had to go with one that would help me advance in my career. I was working for a publishing company by then and Macs were the only way to go. At that time, Hoyle’s card and puzzle games were the most popular Mac games. With the increased expense of developing visually-rich games, PC game developers didn’t bother to make their games available for the small Mac consumer base. So I don’t have much experience with most of the other games on the time line.

Diner Dash

Image via Wikipedia


Only in the past decade or so have I started to see a greater availability of games for Macs. I spent many hours in Flo’s Diner Dash world and sourcing ingredients for chocolates in Chocolatier.

Reviewing the games in the time line and my experiences with them, I understand why I am drawn to more direct, task-based games. I find the open, world-exploration, sandbox games frustrating. I need a goal and an achievable task. That has been my overriding experience with games.

In order to develop successful games for the current generation, I need a much broader range of experiences. While Diner Dash and other time-management games are popular, there are many other game types that students experience today. Their expectations of games will be much different from my own.


Gamification of Education

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media


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The Lure of Video Games

Wordle -- Video Game Elements

The Seduction Secrets of Video Game Designers is a news article that appeared in the Guardian last May. This article describes the features of video games that tend to hook us. Looking at these elements with an attention to the needs of students can help us build educational games that are just as satisfying and addictive.

As I read the article, I made notes about the elements described. The Wordle shown at the right was made from my notes. The size of a word indicates how often it appears. I love using Wordle. It helps me see, very graphically, what I found most important or compelling.

The element that I mentioned the most in my notes was “feedback”. Video games provide feedback in many ways. And, as described in this article, the feedback is disproportionate to the action. You get rainbows and fireworks for hitting a target. It’s like a gold star on steriods. One game I play tells me how wonderful I am for identifying 4-letter words in a jumble of letters. The praise ramps up as the number of letters I use in a word increases. I’m “PHENOMENAL” when I identify a 6-letter word. Someone in the same room as me hearing the audio for this game would go nuts at the repetitive nature of the feedback. But for me, the player, I’m getting the kudos I deserve because, face it, finding a 6-letter word is akin to saving a life! 😉

“Failure” is another big word in my Wordle. Video games do not judge, but they do give feedback when a player fails. If that feedback is entertaining, even failing can become an enjoyable element of the game. Some games have even (and now I’m beginning to realize why “even” is such a large word in my Wordle) created an option for players to fail in spectacular ways.

In digital education products I’ve worked on, we’ve learned to make failure a non-spectacular event. We have found that students enjoy failing if the feedback we provide is funny or entertaining in some way. But we are always sure to make feedback non-judgmental.

“Environment” is an interesting element of video games. Players are attracted to environments that provide what they are missing in the real world–a place where they can be themselves, fail without judgement, be recognized for their accomplishments, be independent and in control. Some of the educational programs that allow students to work at their own pace contain these elements. Even though they are not games and do not have the excitement and addictive quality of games, I think they are still attractive students and motivate students to do more than they would in a regular class setting because of these environmental elements.

Layering a few more features on to the environment that gives the student more control over their own learning will contribute to a feeling of “ownership” and “autonomy”.

These prized elements of video games contribute to what Margaret Robertson, director of game development at Hide&Seek, identified as the seduction loop. This loop, the holy trinity of game design, Robertson defines as agency, learning, and disproportionate feedback. Agency is rolled up in environment and ownership. It’s what give players a sense of power and control. Combining these elements in a game or in a class will make students motivated, engages, and coming back for more.

AECT Standards
2.3 Computer-Based Technologies
Harnessing the best elements of video games and using them in thoughtful ways can help us build educational games that not only help students learn, but motivate, engage, and inspire students to pursue learning outside of the game.

Learning Theories Mash-up Update

Learning Theory Mash UpAfter discussions with educators, instructors, and classmates, I’ve refined my Learning Theory Mash Up. I’m grateful for those conversations as they always help me refine my own thinking (via experiential learning). Please keep the feedback coming.

In my experiences as a learner and a teacher, I have found I learn primarily from cognitive and constructivist learning theories. As a teacher, I have found these theories are most effective in teaching mathematics. One theory may be more useful than the other depending on the type of activity and the stage of learning.

Cognitive learning theory says that we learn based on our own filters. We build and expand on those filters as we are exposed to more ideas. For example, a child may start by placing dogs, cows, and bears all in the same category because they all have 4 legs and they are usually brown. As a child’s experiences/exposures to these animals and other four-legged, brown animals broadens. more categories may be introduced such as pets, farm animals, and wild animals. The more we learn, the more the categories are refined. Newer research has shown that the more we can refine our thinking by making connections, the lower the cognitive load when learning new things. Under this theory, teachers can present ways to connect information helping students develop a more organized “filing system” in the brain and, thereby, reducing cognitive load.

In relation to math, they have found that when students reach the level of automaticity with basic math facts (students no longer have to solve 6 x 8 but instead know the result to be 48), the cognitive required to solve more complex problems lessens. Students who haven’t reached of level of automaticity with basic facts often get hung up solving 6 x 8 and lose track of the larger problem they are solving.

Constructivist learning theory is similar in that it says we learn from our experiences and build on our prior knowledge. The main difference is that learning is more personal or internal. A teacher can facilitate learning by asking questions, providing guidelines, and creating an environment in which a student can construct understanding.

There are times during the learning process that I feel students need to be given more structure, more specific direction in order to build new thinking. When enough prior knowledge exists, students can construct their own learning. This is the way I think cognitivism and constructivism work together pinging off of each other. This combination of theories works well with Kolb’s experiential learning theory. Students start with a concrete experience–either something they have experienced in their daily lives, or something orchestrated by an instructor. From this knowledge base, students can observe, reflect, and sift through their discoveries to develop abstract concepts. Pulling from the constructivist side, students test their own ideas and will likely refine them further, possibly by creating their own concrete experiences. And the cycle continues.

An additional learning theory, contextual learning theory, can be the cloak over which experiential learning occurs.

“Contextual teaching and learning is a conception of teaching and learning that helps teachers relate subject matter content to real world situations; and motivates students to make connections between knowledge and its applications to their lives as family members, citizens, and workers and engage in the hard work that learning requires.” (Berns, 2001)

In addition to its use in career and technical education,  the contextual learning theory has been found very effective when teaching mathematics. When students can see math in use within situations they find familiar, it reduces cognitive load. For example, suppose students are given a problem involving calculating the amount of hay a horse eats in a day. Students who have never seen a horse will have a portion of their brain trying to figure out what a horse is, how big it is, why it would eat hay, etc. That cognitive load will take away from their ability to solve the problem. If students have a concrete experience of a horse, they context of “horse” will not draw on their cognitive load.

English: A book cover for The Practice of Lear...

Using the basic cognitive and constructivist learning theories are often helpful when building new knowledge. A cognitive approach is best when no prior knowledge exists or the learning requires a complex connection to prior knowledge. Once students are ready to apply learning to build understanding, experiential and contextual learning theories come into play. This is when students are ready to start integrating and applying their knowledge.

The more I work in the field of education, the more I see that each learning theory has its benefits and draw backs. Sometimes the most beneficial learning approach depends on the topic, other times in depend on the student. I think it is important to be flexible as students’ capacities to learn constantly grow and change.

Learning theories are complex and often interwoven. I would love to receive feedback regarding my combination of these learning theories. Do you think they work well together, or are there contradictions? Are their other learning theories that blend well or would enhance what I have included here?

AECT Standards

1.1 Instructional Systems Design
It is important to keep these, and other, learning theories in mind when designing instruction. Depending on the audience, it may be necessary to use one or two learning theories as the guiding force for the instruction. Most computer games expect students to construct their own knowledge and understanding by exploring the game, testing and analyzing results. To keep a player from giving up in frustration, tutorials or helps with direct instruction may be necessary.


Update:  Based on the comments and conversations, I’ve attempted a new diagram for my learning theory mash-up. You can see the new diagram here.

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