Snow Days and Spring Courses

I’m experiencing my very first snow day and blizzard! Coming from California, this seems like a whole different world. It was incredibly shocking to look outside my window and see everything covered in snow.

Spring semester started yesterday. I was going to start my second class today, but classes were cancelled due to the weather.

This semester I’m taking:

I am also probably going to add T581: Advanced Design Studio. 

So far, I’ve only been to T561, which I am absolutely excited about! I love that we can choose which assignments we do, and that we can propose our own. I am hoping to work on one of the research teams and get some hands-on experience with augmented reality. I’m also looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of emerging technologies, and how they can be implemented to create better learning experiences.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would like to do after I graduate HGSE. I would love to pursue a career in instructional design or educational media. Regardless of what I end up pursuing, I think the skills and experience I’m gaining in my courses will benefit me tremendously.

In T560, I will be gaining a better understanding of the UDL framework and how to design learning experiences that are accessible to all types of learners. In T565, I will be learning how to create a business plan and do market research. This is a perfect follow up to the T522 course I took last semester, which was all about coming up with ideas for educational technology. In T565, I’ll be learning how to take those ideas and actually make them something real. I will gain a better understanding of the business side of ed tech, which is something I am not too familiar with.

T581 should be a great followup to T522 as well. It focuses on project development, analysis, design, and implementation. I also like that there’s a workshop/lab component where I would be able to further my design skills and learn HTML, CSS, and jQuery more in depth. These would be really useful skills to have, especially since I’m interested in digital media.

I’m hoping this snow storm doesn’t cancel any more classes, as I’m really excited to dive in. I can’t believe it’s the spring semester already! I don’t know if I will have time to pursue an internship this semester, as on top of taking more project-based courses, I will also be looking for a job. But, I suppose I’ll figure it out as I get a feel for how the work load will be.

In the mean time, here are some pictures of my snowy adventures.


I crocheted myself a fox hat! =)


The tennis courts are completely covered in snow!


Our doggies love the snow

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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.

Learning Unity: Progress So Far

Learning how to build a game in Unity for our T522 project has basically taken over my life.

I don’t know if we will have a complete game built by the end of the semester but we will at least have part of it done.

The part I was working on was getting the crates to be clickable and draggable. It’s still not totally perfect but considering where I started, it’s pretty neat to see how I have progressed.

crate

Attempt 1: The crates would change color when you hovered over them and you could click and drag them, but there wasn’t any physics component.

boat_drop

Attempt 2: The crates have physics attached to them but kept falling through/not landing on the boat.

crates_dropping

Attempt 3: The crates are landing on the boat but there’s glitches in the coding. Some crates go toppling/flying/replicating.

crate_dropping_final

Attempt 4: The crates aren’t as glitchy but some aspects still need to be tweaked.

Next Steps:

  • Set up colliders/hit boxes so the crates “snap” to a specific part of the boat
  • Set up event triggers for animations – the boat will change position showing how its balanced or unbalanced depending on how the crates are placed

Our overall project concept is a one-stop STEAM shop with interdisciplinary learning games. This is one of those games, tied to the objective of learning one-to-one correspondence.

The objective of this game is to balance the boat by placing the crates on it, and taking those to the Science Lab. The crates are filled with materials that can then be used to upgrade your ship. The bigger your ship is, the more crates you can carry, and the more customizable options you will have.

I’m also working on the Science Lab component with another of my project mates in T550.

Here’s some concept art one of my project mates put together:

science_lab

The idea is that the user will be able to draft/piece various parts of a ship together onto a blueprint and see it in real-time.

So far this has been a really awesome/frustrating experience. It’s awesome because I’m learning so many new things. It’s frustrating because I want to get it to work right away, and it takes many attempts to get something workable.

My experience has made me think about fixed and growth mindsets a lot. Prior to being at HGSE, I would have never thought or even attempted to make a game. I just didn’t really see myself as being able to develop those skills. Truth be told, I’m kind of a perfectionist and it really frustrates me when I can’t get something the way I want it to be right away. The more I think about my own learning I realize that the things I have learned to do – crocheting, for example – have been experiences where I failed over and over again. While I may have initially been upset/frustrated at “not getting it,” I started to look into solving those problems. I knew I could do it, and it would just take practice and different techniques to find what worked.

I’m also thinking about some of the concepts we’ve been learning about in T509, such as connectivism and learning networks. I don’t think I would have made progress as quickly as I did if it weren’t for the Unity community and forums. Whenever I had an issue, I could just google it and there would usually already be a thread about it with solutions. When I first posted in the forum about my plans, an user pointed me to some resources that were extremely helpful. There are also TONS of video tutorials on YouTube. It’s so awesome.

For anyone who is also working in Unity, or plans to, I highly recommend the Unify Community Wiki. Users post their various scripts/solutions for others to use, modify and adapt. The Unity forums and Unity answers are also helpful if you are having problems.

The Unity Asset Store is also incredible and amazing. There are many free, open-source assets you can download and import into your own game. You can also buy assets. This saved me a lot of time as I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel – I could just take something and modify it to fit my needs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 3.15.46 PM

I know I still have so much to learn but I’m really excited about how far I’ve come.

Projects Galore

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 5.49.14 PM

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!