Spring Updates

It feels like it’s been forever since I wrote here, and I apologize to any readers who follow this blog.

Truth be told, the semester was off to a very slow start due to the snow days, and I felt there was not much to share.

I’m happy to report that we haven’t had a major snowstorm in a few weeks, and things are starting to pick up. I’m currently on spring break, and it seems a little insane to me that I’m basically at the halfway point in the semester. Time is passing so quickly!

Here’s what I’ve been working on:

T560: I’m working in a team of three to further develop the UpTell project I had worked on in the HGSE Hackathon. It is a perfect project for the Universal Design for Learning framework. We’re still in the very early prototyping stages, but it’s exciting nonetheless to be going from a Keynote prototype to building out a website. My particular role in the project is media, which means I will be working on marketing materials that encompass our overall brand and mission.

T561: I’m working on the EcoMOBILE research team. My particular project is building out games in ARIS, an open-source platform for creating mobile learning games and experiences. I’m working with Nick again (I believe this is our 4th or 5th project together) to translate their current games into the new platform. We’ve ran into some tech issues here and there, but overall it’s been a fun learning experience.

T565: In this class, I’m working with someone from my cohort on a business plan for a digital K-3 math curriculum that generates content personally geared toward student interests. We are currently in the market sizing and research phase. I’m excited to see how it turns out!

T581: I’ve learned so much in this class, from furthering my HTML and CSS skills and learning jQuery. I’m working in a team of 5 to develop a social media site that connects teachers and technologists in order to improve the quality of educational content. We had originally started out as a social media site connecting STEAM educators, but felt that was too limiting. We’re in the wireframing stage, and will soon be building out our site.

In addition to class projects, I’m also doing an internship as a curriculum designer for the U.S. Department of State’s Resilient, Entrepreneurial, And Dynamic Youth (READY) Initiative. I’m working in an interdisciplinary team to co-design ten gender-progressive, professional development and global citizenship modules. We’ve only recently had our first meeting, but I’m eager to see how our work develops.

I really can’t believe classes are over on April 30th. That’s a little over a month away!


T550 Madness

Today we presented our projects for T550. I was a little curious about how it would turn out, as there were over 100+ presentations. It all went really smoothly, though! Mad props to Karen Brennan and the TFs for helping to facilitate that.

The presentations were done Pecha Kucha style, where each person or group had 40 seconds to give an overview of their project. (Karen did an amazing job of putting all those presentations together into one giant auto advancing presentation.)

It was really awesome to get a flavor of what everyone ended up doing for their project. Then we had an exhibition where people had the opportunity to explore the projects more in depth.

I worked with a fellow classmate on a project. Our project was a component of a bigger T522 project – some of you may be familiar with my previous posts about our boat game level that we user tested at TEDxBeaconStreet. Emily and I decided to work on the STEAM Lab component of our game for T550. The STEAM Lab is a constructionist space within our platform where students build their next mode of transportation.

Here’s a website that details our process and other design aspects.

(By the way, if anyone has ideas for a new name, we’re all ears! Apparently Full STEAM Ahead, Inc. is a Fire, Water, and Mold Restoration company.)

It’s amazing how quickly time has passed and how far we’ve come in our projects. I’ve really enjoyed T550, as it’s been a space where I’ve seen project-based learning take place with a group of over 100 people. I was able to learn more about and find theories that back up what I was always trying to do in my own classroom. Constructionism is something I would like to further explore, especially in terms of how it can be used to create digital tools and spaces in education.

I can’t believe my first semester is essentially over. I just need to submit some final papers, but other than that, I’m pretty much done.

User Testing at TEDxBeaconStreet

I previously mentioned a game concept I was working on with my group in T550 and T522. We are trying to address the STEM gap by creating STEAM learning games for kids. Our project presentation for T522 (Innovation by Design: Projects in Educational Technology) is this Friday. While we were getting great feedback from our peers, we really wanted to get feedback from our target users – kids.

We were able to user test this past weekend at TEDxBeaconStreet.

It was a little hard at first because we were competing for their attention. There were so many awesome booths near us – legos, interactive sand boxes, art materials – and we didn’t want to take away from their experiences with those things.

We were able to get feedback from about 15 kids ranging from ages 5-11, so that was good. We had put together a portfolio folder with each screen, and had kids tell us what they thought as we flipped through the pages.

Overall, the response we received was positive. They really liked the concept of being able to upgrade and customize their ship after each level. For the most part, they thought the interface and gameplay was intuitive.

They also gave us some pointers, such as how some of our designs didn’t make sense. In our STEAM lab, we had a screws icon but no screwdriver. They also said it would be cool to get to “choose their own monster” that they battle. We came away with a lot of neat ideas for more advanced levels.

We also learned a lot from hearing their thought processes as they looked at each screen. For one, it seemed no one was really paying attention to the menu bar. They also thought they had to use all the crates on the dock. Things like this give us a better idea of how to change our designs.

Another thing I learned from this experience is the importance of user test survey tools. Ours wasn’t the best. One of our goals with these games is to teach kids about math and science concepts, so we wanted to get a feel for where kids were at.

Most of the user testing was done with one of us asking kids questions, and the other taking notes. We originally started by showing the kids a happy/sad face scale and asking the following questions:

  • How do you feel about science?
  • How do you feel about math?

The first few kids we asked picked the happiest face each time, and we were starting to wonder if we were getting accurate feedback as some were taking a while to respond. We thought maybe they felt like they are supposed to love math and science, and felt like they should feel the happy face no matter what.

We decided to experiment and change our technique. This time, we asked the questions first before showing them the scale. Then we showed them the scale. We got much different results. I think this method allowed students to think about their feelings first, and then that made it easier to choose a face.

The other thing we realized is that we should user test with other student demographics. While there was some diversity in the user demographics at this event, the majority of students there seemed to come from more affluent communities and their parents were very educated. Most of the students we talked to felt confident with STEM subjects and had no trouble figuring out our game play.

Based on the research we did for our project, minority students typically struggle with STEM subjects and we would like to get feedback from them, since those are the students we are trying to help.

This is a pretty fun project and we’re going to try and pitch it to the i-Lab or HIVE.

Projects Galore

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Karen Brennan, our T550 professor, sent us an email with notes about our final project. This was the section at the end, which I really appreciated. While I am starting to feel exhausted, I’m trying to tap into my excitement about learning new things.

There are only a few weeks left of classes, and project deadlines are fast approaching. These are the projects I’m working on:

  • T510s: creating a data report or visualization with my own personal data from the course. I don’t really know what specific question to answer, and I’m still in the process of trying to identify relationships in my data.
  • T522: creating a game level that teaches STEM concepts in Unity where the user drags and drops crates on a boat, and triggering different animations based on how they arrange those crates
  • T550: creating another part of that game level where users build a boat, dragging and dropping various tools and shapes together
  • T509: creating a self-paced online learning experience around formative assessment tools

Here are the things I’ve been working on and learning:

  • Coding and making games in Unity
  • Visualizing data using various online tools, like Infoactive
  • Using Photoshop to create 2D artwork and sprites

Even though this is a project-intensive semester, I’m looking forward to having finished products that I can build a portfolio with.

In addition to all these academic projects, I have personal projects I’m working on, too.

One is finishing this ripple crochet blanket (pattern here). I started it a few weeks ago, and it’s neat to see how far I’ve come along. I work on it when I have free time, and it’s one of the ways I relax and de-stress.

Another project is getting little wedding planning details out of the way. David and I are getting married next September, and we’ve got the most important things settled away (guest list, venue, dress, our awesome stop motion Save the Date video). Now it’s just things like finding and bookmarking craft project tutorials, and compiling a music playlist. We’re having a black and rainbow 90s themed wedding – music suggestions appreciated!

I’m really glad we got the big things taken care of before we moved here, as now I can completely focus on my studies. It’s still fun to work on little side projects now and then, though!

Games and Learning

One of the group projects I’m working on this semester is a standards based one-stop-shop application/platform that addresses the STEAM gap in the K-12 education space. We’re hoping to do this by creating learning games that build student skills across different content areas and reach a wide audience. There’s four people in my group. None of us has any game building experience. So, we have some challenges in that regard.

Part of our work has been identifying relevant research and our target audience. Another part of our work is looking at games. What makes them successful? What makes them replayable? How can you take elements of great game design and combine it with educational learning theories and learning analytics to track standards mastery?

So, we have some ideas and our courses don’t necessarily require a finished, working product – prototypes and mockups are acceptable. But, being the driven overachievers that we are, we would really like to at least have one aspect of our project be an actual working game. So, two of us are delving into CS50 and trying to learn enough coding/programming to work in Unity to build a learning game.

We have spent some time looking at different games (both academic and non-academic) and trying to come up with components of a successful game. There are plenty of games out there – but what makes students want to play certain games over and over again? What gives a game appeal?

Admittedly, I haven’t played many games, at least not since I was a kid. I grew up on Super Nintendo and PS2 games, gameboy games, and some roleplaying games. Every now and then I’ll play some Mario Kart, but that’s about it. The older I’ve gotten, the harder it’s been to find that time to play. So, I was really looking forward to exploring some games in the context of research!

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My First Scratch Game

One of the first problem sets in CS50 is to create something in Scratch. Luckily, I have had some experience with this so I wasn’t totally new to the platform. This time I decided to try making something I had never made before – a game!

This is kind of dorky and kind of basic but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Use the arrow keys to move around and collect the magical items before the monsters get you.