Building the Candy Factory

Screenshot of Level 1While it has been very tedious and detailed work, I’m enjoying building my Candy Factory app. It requires creating and keeping track of many variables. I’ve gotten hung up a few times when I didn’t have the code ordered correctly. Verifying answers requires several nested If and IfElse statements that I’ve had to tinker with to get to work the way I want. Overall, I’m pleased with my progress. When I’ve run into a snag, I’ve been able to read the code and find the error in a fairly short amount of time.

I have 3 levels of the game working. The screenshot to the right shows the program in one of my testing modes. The table is for level 1. The answer boxes are for level 2. It took a bit of testing to make sure the variables for the two different levels were working correctly. I kept the “Cartons” answer box visible for a while to make sure nothing was happening with it during Level 1.

I was going to have the user progress through all three levels of the game in one sitting, moving up a level after getting 5 problems correct. I’m thinking I’ll change that. I can let the user choose the level he/she wants to work at and progress up when they feel they are ready for the challenge. I just need to figure out a way to show a user’s progress/score after each attempt.

I’m disappointed with the look of the screens in my program. I found the perfect image to reinforce the groupings of 10 candies, but it shows up a little blah on the screen. It also takes up way too much room. I’d also like a background that gives the feel of a factory. (Oh! I need to look for a factory sound, like a whirring machine or the end-of-the-day whistle.) I wish I was a graphic artist so I could create the exact image I want.

Tomorrow I hope to show my current version to my co-workers for some constructive feedback. Once every couple of weeks we review iPad apps. I’m going to ask them to review my app as harshly as we have reviewed others. I’m sure I’ll come away with a long list of things I’ll want to fix/change.

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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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Using Games to Improve the World

English: Game designer and author Jane McGonig...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m glad I watched the video below after the previous TED Talk. While I was trying to remain positive, the images of war in the other TED Talk really hit my pessimistic site while this video fired up my optimist regarding the potential of games. Jane McGonigal made a convincing argument for how we can use video games to change the world.

What caused me to feel better about the potential of video games? Jane pointed out that it is with great optimism that we approach games. We believe we can solve the problems of a virtual world. We only need to encourage the same belief and optimism in the real world in order to put those skills to good use.

Jane McGonigal – TED from Calixte Pictet on Vimeo.

During the video, Jane McGonigal shared three games she created that encourage gamers to develop the skills needed to improve the world. I haven’t played them yet, but they look interesting. If you want to check them out, they are World Without Oil, Evoke, and Superstruck (which looks like it’s not available to play anymore).

The games McGonigal created teach skills necessary to solve current world problems. World Without Oil puts the player in the middle of a global oil crisis. Players have to learn how they will survive, how they need to change their actions based on the price of oil and food and other situations in order to make it another day.

In general, gamers turn to games to get away from the real world. Sometimes that may be because in the virtual gaming world, they get the feedback and positive strokes they don’t receive in real life. They also get to feel a part of something bigger. Games can set up just-right-sized challenges that, when met, empower and encourage the player to continue their pursuit.

In school, students who aren’t “good” at studying, are often faced with a day of negative feedback. They are constantly reminded what they are not good at. But in games, they can be good at something. They receive points and badges and awards that prove they are good at something.

By using the best elements of video games, we can engage and encourage students to take on just-right-sized challenges that help them develop the skills and understanding they need to be successful right now while also preparing them for their futures.

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Video Game Potential

Today I watched a TED talk about where we have come and where we may be going with video games. The purpose of the talk wasn’t directly connected to using games in education. It was more about how the video game industry has developed exponentially–in profits, users, and, most importantly, in innovation. If the video game industry continues on a similar trajectory, where could they take us in years to come? The graphics alone have become so life-like that they are almost even more beautiful than what we see in real life.

While I am awed by the potential of video games, I also carry a deep concern over the direction video games have taken. Seeing the history of war and fighting video games in this talk stirred fear over what’s next. I personally do not think it’s a benefit for children or adults to participate in realistic killing “games”. That’s just one negative story line video games have latched on to. What will they choose to capitalize on next?

With the current emphasis on using games in education, the optimist in me hopes the video-game industry uses their creativity, innovation and stunning, realistic graphics to create games that inspire learning while teaching the benefits of collaboration and communication.


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Gamifying Education

English: Teen Patti Game Play 1Video Games and Learning*, a video viewing assignment for EdTech 532, provides some key ideas for utilizing engagement and enthusiasm brought from game play into learning. Among the ideas presented, I think the following are important to keep in mind when designing educational activities, games or not.

  1. In general, people learn with greater ease when they are engaged. Think about the topics you are interested in. You probably remember facts that would bore with friends. And these facts were easier to remember than the 50 state capitals (unless, of course, state capitals are your thing). Educational activities need to provide a hook, something that captures student interest and makes them WANT to know more.
  2. When we are playing a game, it feels like a huge detour if we have to stop and “learn” something. Learning opportunities can be built into a game almost seamlessly so it doesn’t feel like we are being beaten over the head with a lesson. DimensionM

    is a game that requires detours. I honestly don’t understand the success of this game when fun, virtual world, game play is interrupted by a multiple-choice question.

  3. Tangential learning was one of the biggest points made in this video. We learn tangentially when our interest is piqued by something in a game and we choose to find out more about it. This IS a great way to learn, but it isn’t something an educator can bank on. Some, but not all, students will make the choice to self-educate. Some will find a factoid in a game interesting enough to find out more about it. Educators are required to meet set standards and can’t build activities on the hope that students will self-educate. This is a great idea for inclusion in all games. It’s just not reliable enough for educational products.

There is much the world of educational games can learn from standard, off-the-shelf games (both digital and non-digital). The gaming elements that are appropriate, suitable, and improve the learning opportunity all depend on the activity. As I learn more about gaming elements, I will gain a better understanding of where and when to use gaming elements for their greatest effect.


HUGE Disclaimer

*If you are a reader of my blog, you know that I always provide links to the videos, articles, or websites I write about. I am purposefully not including the link to this video because I believe the creator used images without permission. There’s a small chance that I am wrong. The reason I believe this to be true is because I work for a company who went through the process of gaining permission for one of the images used and I know that we had to provide attribution, in addition to paying a large sum of money. No attribution is included in this video.

Too often people feel that sharing images on the web falls under the “personal use” clause of the copyright law. With the type of distribution available via YouTube, this avenue of sharing goes well beyond “personal use”. Awareness and understanding of copyright and ownership needs to be improved across digital channels, especially in education, as opportunities for sharing (eg. via iBooks Author) increase.


AECT Standards

1.1  Instructional Systems Design–It is important to keep in mind elements such as those utilized in games to improve the engagement factor of instructional systems. Engaging a student is half the battle. If you can’t engage a student, you have lost the chance at helping that student learn. Sure, students can get by without interest. I know I did throughout most of my history courses. I could get an average score by memorizing things long enough to take a test, but what I still remember today aren’t those facts. What I remember is the stories my American History teacher told that brought history to life. I was engaged in his class because of these stories, and my ability to recall facts from that class proves to me that engagement is what I needed to deeply learn.

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Educational Games and Simulations

One of my first quests for Edtech 532 involved watching this TED talk.  I have seen much better videos about gaming and how to use their mechanics in education. But this video is a good introduction if you haven’t read much about gaming. It starts with some staggering statistics on how much we are spending on games. The speaker, Tom Chatfield, eventually explains 7 ways in which games engage us. It’s a bit dry, but informative.

During the video, I found myself musing about creating a game-based learning math course. There are so many resources on the web (mostly low quality, but there are a few gems) that it seems like it would be easy enough to pull together a set of activities to create at least a mini-math quest. Without creating a few of my own tools or using offline materials, I could not cover all of the skills expected by the Common Core State Standards for any grade. But I could definitely create a game that could be used as a component of a math course. The teaching would happen offline, in the classroom. The game would be a way for students to maintain math skills they had learned. It would be the “spoonful of sugar” that would make homework more enjoyable.

Eventually, it is my goal to create a math game that does teach, in addition to provide practice, in a game-based format. This game will engage students, put them in the drivers seat of math in way that helps them understand it in a meaningful way, not just a memorization of rules. Students will learn math by doing math in situations they find interesting. Doing so will require a team of software developers, math education whizzes, and all sorts of creative types, just as game developers do. I am certain my ideas for this game will continue to morph this semester. I’ll be throwing out what doesn’t work and pulling in more of what works. It’ll be an interesting process of refinement that I am curious to see develop over the coming months.


AECT Standards

1.1 Instructional Systems Design — Viewing and reflecting on this video gave me the opportunity to analyze elements of game-based learning. These elements, when combined thoughtfully in gaming applications, can be key to engaging and motivating students to go beyond the effort they may normally put towards their learning.

2.3 Computer Based Technologies — The mechanics of game-based learning are best managed and most effective when they are incorporated into computer-based technologies. Computers allow us to analyze bits of data and tailor education in a way that’s just not possible in a non-digital format.

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