Tag Archives: video games

When Ed Meets Tech, Both Fields Win

When Nikki Navta, founder and CEO of edtech company Zulama, was testing Zulama’s login system in classrooms five years ago, there was a hiccup right out of the gate.

The company included the standard username and password login, but schools blocked students from logging into personal email accounts to retrieve an activation link—and logging in through a social media account was out of the question. Plus, students had a difficult time remembering their passwords. Zulama wasn’t able to get students into their system at all.

“There are people who are developing technology for a classroom that have never set foot in a classroom.”

“We thought, ‘Wow, we’re operating in a whole different world here,’” Navta said. “‘We’re not going to make any more assumptions.’”

The company started asking teachers for their input, beginning a close collaboration with educators. Today, Zulama is used in more than 50 schools throughout the United States and internationally, including Elizabeth Forward High School in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, and West Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh. Matched with a thorough teacher-training process, Zulama’s Entertainment Technology Academy teaches students the principles of game design through hands-on projects with the goal of recharging their engagement with school.

Zulama grew alongside Pittsburgh’s expanding edtech scene, which is forming around a small hub of startups popping up in new coworking spaces and tech incubators throughout the city. Like Zulama, several key players in the city’s tech scene have found that listening and collaborating with the people who will use their products—teachers and students—are invaluable in building products that work.

Growing Scene

Photo/ EdTech PGH

The EdTech PGH Meetup Group. Photo/EdTech PGH

Ever since Tom Lauwers, founder of BirdBrain Technologies, started commercializing the Hummingbird Robotics Kit in 2010, which he originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, he too has witnessed the edtech scene in Pittsburgh grow around him.

Lauwers said he has used Pittsburgh as the “test bed” for new products before scaling nationally, partnering with educators almost every step of the way. BirdBrain recently started shipping its new Hummingbird Kit Duo, which was shaped by the feedback from a number of Pittsburgh teachers who have been using the product for years.

“Many of the same teachers who have worked with us in the past have provided us tons and tons of advice in terms of how could we improve,” he said. “Most of those people [who have been giving me feedback] have been in Pittsburgh, because I see them around and at Kids+Creativity Network events. Because the events and network exists, that’s what helps me connect more easily with people who are, in a way, my customers, but also my co-developers.”

A similar idea exchange happens monthly during the meetings of the Meetup group, Ed Tech PGH. Courtney Francis, the organizer of the group and co-organizer of the upcoming Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh, has worked in the edtech field for 10 years. She said the group’s 241 members are fairly evenly split between educators and technologists and that the goals of the group speak to each group’s unique interests.

“It’s such a complex ecosystem,” Francis said. “There are people who are developing technology for a classroom that have never set foot in a classroom. There’s such a complex system around doing this effectively that I think people really want to do it right. Working on the tech side, I’ve seen clearly that there needs to be 360 degrees of support for developing this kind of technology.”

“I’ve seen clearly that there needs to be 360 degrees of support for developing this kind of technology.”

For example: At one open forum, technologists had the chance to showcase their work and receive teacher feedback.

“There were a lot of lightbulbs that went off,” Francis said. For one thing, technologists weren’t aware of the really low budgets for tech in the classroom, and some didn’t understand how many schools’ sluggish internet connections can’t run web-based applications well. Others weren’t aware of how difficult implementation can be.

Although getting ed and tech in the same room can be eye opening for the tech side, the reverse can be true as well.

“The collaborative aspect is really important,” Francis explained. She said introducing teachers to the process of development can both broaden their perspectives and introduce new tools to teachers who are interested in using different technology in their classrooms.

Sales vs. Learning: Can Goals Really Align?

Although there’s a healthy back-and-forth between educators and technologists in the group, Francis said some educators have been “burned” before by poor implementation or products that don’t serve their needs. Not all of the estimated $7.9 billion pre-K–12 edtech market in the United States is made well. Seeing gaps or becoming frustrated, many teachers have struck out on their own to develop products. But Francis believes that teachers’ priorities of learning outcomes and technologists’ goals of creating great products can be aligned. Ideally, products are going to sell better if they really work.

But collaboration across sectors isn’t just key for tech to work better in schools. As Jesse Schell, founder of Schell Games, told Barbara Ray in an interview, collaboration across sectors is how new ideas pop up in all disciplines.

“Interdisciplinary collaboration is where the best and newest innovations are coming from,” said Schell.

Zulama’s Navta sees the growth of the city’s edtech scene, and the emerging partnerships, as running parallel to an overall renaissance of Pittsburgh.

“Along with this revitalization, there’s been a lot of opportunities to imagine what Pittsburgh can be like in the future. And I think that’s carried over into our educational community,” Navta said, adding that the same is true in the edtech field, where new coworking spaces—like the one Zulama is in—have helped form a community that works off one another.

“Now we have the physical spaces for very small companies to set up shop, talk to each other, and share successes and failures.”

Game Design Contest Empowers the Player

A national video game design contest takes the game controller out of kids’ hands and replaces it with the reins.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge, an initiative of the Smithsonian Institution in partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and E-Line Media, is soliciting applications for its fourth annual game design competition. High school and middle school students are invited to submit entries by February 25, 2015.

We’ve often written on the benefits of game-based learning. Games, digital or otherwise, engage kids’ imagination and critical-thinking skills. Most games present a complex problem to be solved or introduce the player to interdisciplinary topics and narratives. Or a game might simply serve as a novel, enjoyable tool for learning traditional lessons.

The video game challenge takes all these benefits of game play and adds a sense of ownership and empowerment. Participants can use various innovative game design platforms to make their game. Some of these products, like MIT Media Lab’s Scratch, require or teach basic programming skills. Others, like Gamestar Mechanic, are games themselves. By solving a variety of puzzles, users “earn” items they can incorporate into their own game design. One of the most popular programs, Gamestar Mechanic was founded on the idea that “game design is an activity that allows learners to build technical, technological, artistic, cognitive, social, and linguistic skills suitable for our current and future world.”

“Pathogen Wars” is one of the winning games from the 2012 contest.

That’s the premise that gave rise to the contest. A product of the Obama administration’s Educate to Innovate initiative, the video game challenge is meant to give participants an immersive experience in the STEM fields that may be neglected in traditional education.

The contest is also designed to help girls and low-income kids enter an industry they’ve traditionally been left out of. One-third of last year’s entries were created by girls.

The winning games in 2013 ranged from 14-year-old Lexi Schneider’s “Head of the Class,” which takes players through the grades of a virtual elementary school inspired by classic comic strips, to Noah Ratcliff and Pamela Pizarro Ruiz’s “Fog,” where players solve puzzles to uncover pieces of a mystical world enshrouded in fog. The two high school students teamed up to use their respective skills in coding and design. Another duo—eighth-graders Henry Edwards and Kevin Kopczynski—made “Etiquette Anarchy,” where the player navigates Victorian England at the height of a rodent infestation, attempting to make it to a party clean and unbitten.

Teachers, too, have flexed their design muscles to make products tailored to their students’ needs and interests. Dan Caldwell, the winner of the previous National STEM Video Game Challenge prize for educators, developed sciTunes, a series of video games and songs designed to teach elementary school students about the human body through interactive exercises.

“Good teachers are always aware of what their students are doing,” Caldwell said in a video for the contest. Because they’re attuned to their students’ particular interests, struggles, and attention spans, educators are in a unique position to create something that engages and challenges them.

Last year’s National STEM Video Game Challenge raked in a whopping 4,000 entries. It’s no wonder, given that the participants get to play with a medium they’re naturally passionate about to create something exciting and educational. The $1,000 prize plus software for each winner—and $2,000 for each sponsoring organization—can’t hurt, either.

Game on.

Can Screens Help Young Kids Learn?

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That’s certainly the case for kids and babies who, just like their parents, are using smartphones and tablets more than ever.

A new Common Sense Media study found 38 percent of toddlers under 2 have used a mobile device. That number is up from 10 percent in 2011, when Common Sense conducted the first national survey of parents of children birth to age 8.

It’s worth noting that kids aren’t necessarily plugged in more than they were before. The total average time kids are using screen media actually dropped 21 minutes, leaving the average amount of screen time a little under two hours. While TV is still the predominant way kids consume media, the use of mobile devices is on the rise. The average time kids spend using mobile devices tripled to 15 minutes per day.

There are a lot of reasons for the shifts, the most obvious being access. The study found 75 percent of kids age 8 and under have a mobile device in their home, compared to 52 percent in 2011. The digital divide persists; 63 percent of higher-income families own a tablet, compared with 20 percent of lower-income families. But that’s up from just 2 percent two years ago. Plus, when lower-income kids do have access to a mobile device, there’s almost no gap in how often they use educational content.

Another reason for the jump among our youngest techies? Mobile devices and the apps on them are becoming more intuitive. (For a clear illustration of that fact, just watch this baby try to use a magazine like an iPad.)

“iPhones and tablets are game changers, because they’re so easy to use. While there was some floor on how young you could go with computers and video games, a young child who can touch a picture can open an app, or swipe the screen,” Vicky Rideout, the author of the report, told the New York Times.

Are all these screens okay for kids? According new guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it depends on how they’re using them. Some things haven’t changed; the AAP still says no screen media for youngsters under two and discourages screens in kids’ bedrooms.

However, the guidelines did become more nuanced. New to the guidelines is the idea of a healthy “media diet,” one with limited but purposeful screen time. Content that’s interactive, social or educational is preferable over passive media, where kids just sit and watch. “The amount of time spent with screens is one issue, and content is another,” the AAP wrote in a statement about its new guidelines.

As NPR points out, Skype or FaceTime are some of those activities that are screen-based, interactive, and social. Plus, they have potential to show young kids the links between their onscreen experiences and their offline lives, something that’s crucial for learning.

Even with the new guidelines, managing toddlers’ media worlds is still uncharted territory. Pittsburgh is home to a number of leading organizations that are providing guidance for parents, educators and media makers in using technology in ways that are developmentally appropriate for young kids.

Fred Rogers revolutionized educational TV programming for kids, so it’s only fitting that the Fred Rogers Center has the same goal for the 21st century media. The center is providing national leadership on this issue. In 2012, the center partnered with NAEYC to release a position statement on using technology and interactive media in early childhood programs. The center’s Early Learning Environment (Ele) is an online support system that provides resources and guidance for digital media literacy to parents, family childcare providers, and educators.

To help close the digital divide among Pittsburgh kids, Baby Promise is connecting underserved families with hand-held technology through home visits and summer day camps. The curriculum is balanced out with swim classes, yoga, and healthy meals.

Lastly, a prime example of using media in an active, multilayered way is Message from Me, a project from CREATE Lab, the Children’s School of Carnegie Mellon University, and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. Using email, digital cameras and microphones in kiosks set up in classrooms, kids 3 to 5 record their daily school experiences and then send them to their parents.

“The technology is great. But the goal of the project—to increase communication among parents, teachers and young children and improve language development—is what’s primary,” Michelle Figlar, who heads up PAEYC, told Remake Learning in October.

Figlar’s sentiment echos that of the AAP and other media experts. Technology for young kids is best when it’s used for the things we know have helped kids learn even before the existence of screens—communicating, and engaging with the world around them.


Photo / Brad Flickinger

Why They Love to Learn

Our new occasional series highlights exceptional students who’ve fallen in love with learning and the unique opportunities in and around Pittsburgh that have triggered their passions. Last week we profiled 14-year-old Caroline Combemale, who in addition to being a full time student at Agora Cyber Charter School, also happens to be an award-winning chess player and YouTube developer. This week we talk with an 18-year-old game designer Allyssa Dangel. Here’s more:

Allyssa Dangel: ‘Lunch is no longer my favorite class’

In the spring of her sophomore year, Allyssa Dangel visited her counselor’s office with an issue in her schedule. She needed to add a class, one to replace the study hall she no longer felt she needed. The only option that struck her interest? A brand new course called “Gaming Through the Ages.”

The course turned out to be the unexpected catalyst for a 180-degree turn in Dangel’s high school experience. Part of Elizabeth Forward High School’s Entertainment Technology Academy, “Gaming Through the Ages” kick-started a sudden zeal for learning and a passion for game design—a career she hadn’t even considered before.

“I didn’t think of myself as smart enough of a person to be a doctor, or good enough with my hands to be a carpenter or something crazy. But when this came along I thought, ‘This is something I could really get into,’” says 18-year-old Dangel, now a senior. “Being in those classes is my favorite part of the day. Lunch is no longer my favorite class.”

The Entertainment Technology Academy (ETA) teaches the principals of game design. Created in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, it was developed with the goal of getting students engaged in their education by incorporating something 97 percent of them do outside of school—play video games. “Gaming Through the Ages,” the first prerequisite in a sequence of over 10 classes, focuses on the history of games from all cultures. It combines a little bit of everything—math, history, problem solving, writing—and a lot of playing hands-on games.

“I didn’t think of myself as smart enough of a person to be a doctor, or good enough with my hands to be a carpenter. But when this came along I thought, ‘This is something I could really get into.’” 
The ETA program resonated so well with Dangel because it combined her two biggest outside-of-school hobbies: art and video games.  Dangel grew up playing “Tomb Raider” and racing games, but her current favorite is the apocalyptic RPG “The Last of Us.” She spends her time outside of school writing fiction and drawing in her sketchbook. But until she met CMU graduate game design students, she never pictured blending the two together into a potential career.

Math teacher Mary Wilson, who taught Dangel’s “Gaming Through the Ages” class, says Dangel always got good grades, but was never really one to seek attention or latch on to an interest. Until she found herself in the course. “Allyssa just absolutely took off from there,” Wilson says. “She made her own plan; ‘Ok, this is what I want to do. I now see that I can take my personal interest in video games and art and formalize that with an educational plan.’”

Dangel started becoming more and more invested in anything her school offered having to do with technology or game design. Wilson says Dangel now said “Yes” to volunteer opportunities, trips, and just about anything offered.

Then, Dangel was invited to speak on a panel at the Reimagining Education Summit in Washington D.C., hosted by Andrea Mitchell. The audience of 200 (not to mention the TV viewership) didn’t make Dangel nervous though—she says she was prepared to talk.

“[Kids] seem to lose interest,” Dangel said, when asked why so many kids give up in school. “They feel that they really don’t need this education in the real world because it’s just your everyday math and English. But if we turn all the math and English into something interesting, maybe something different, and apply more technology to it, they might become more interested.”

With all the game knowledge she’d gained through the ETA program, last summer Dangel applied for the selective CMU National High School Gaming Academy. She spent six weeks in workshops and classes, by the end designing the futuristic art for a strategy game called “Proto-Wars.”

As she heads into her senior year, Dangel is researching colleges with game design programs. She’s looking forward to the internship she’ll have at an outside gaming company as part of the ETA program. With her parents and mentors supporting her, she plans to continue studying to be a game maker.

“The way my life got really extraordinary was all serendipitous,” she says of the sudden enthusiasm she’s found for going to school. “It was all spontaneous and it was all by accident, but it was a great accident.”

Games+Learning+Society conference Day 3 notes from Lucas Blair

Day three’s keynote speaker Mary Flanagan brought some much needed energy to a sleepy auditorium Thursday morning. Mary’s speech was filled with a ton of information, including ideas about the challenges in creating learning games. She also shared some strategies to overcome those challenges like using sustainable models and having a diverse team. The subject she spent the most time on during her speech was the pervasiveness of biases and prejudices in our society. After referencing several studies about some of the sources of biases and prejudices, she discussed the consequences of them, citing an interesting paper called Why so Few?. Mary then played a card game with the audience, called Buffalo, that shines a spotlight on some of the subconscious biases that we all have. A great use of a game to call attention to an important subject.

The first session of the day, titled “Assessment”, featured a series of speakers discussing different theories and strategies for assessing learning in games. The first speaker, Jodi Asbell-Clarke, showed research that demonstrated how strategies developed by players in physics games illustrates that they have a greater understanding of the physical laws of Newtonian motion. Hopefully more work is done in the area to include entertainment games like Portal and first person shooters.

The second presentation discussed research by V. Elizabeth Owen, Shannon Harris, Dennis Ramirez, and Richard Halverson that explored in-game failure, tracking how and why players fail in games. The researchers made several interesting points about why failure is not necessarily a bad thing and that early successes in games is not a great predictor of actually finishing the game. The focus on avoiding failure in schools is probably preventing many students from exploring and taking chances that could lead in great discoveries. The third speaker, Dr. Dan Hickey, shared some of his thoughts on assessing learning. Dr. Hickey argued that discourse and kids writing about what they have learned is missing in game learning assessment. My favorite quote of talk was “Grade student reflections rather than artifacts”.

The second session of the day, “Implementation is a %!#@& Too” featured three speakers that represent implementation failures from the perspective of a designer, a teacher, and students. The first speaker Jim Bower, spoke about implementing a game in a Los Angeles library that was meant to replace the card catalog used to organize books. The game worked “too well” and Bower was asked to remove it because kids enjoyed the game so much they were blocking the real catalog with a line. The important takeaway from this lesson according to Bower is always finding out if the institution you are working with really wants to change. Another implementation failure Bower shared was the original implementation of avatars into Whyville. Users immediately gave them negative feedback so they fixed the system and allowed kids to make their own avatar art. Kids in Whyville currently make 8,000 pieces of art per month.

The next presentation, by Christine Bediones and Camille Macalinao, discussed some of their experiences implementing health games for kids. One of the games, a tower defense game for teaching about how small intestines work, was ineffective during the first build. After play testing, they found that kids focused more on the tower defense mechanics than the biological system representations. During interviews some kids assumed that food is bad because the “enzyme towers” were attacking it. This is another good reason to not get hung up on genre when creating a game.  Genres bring baggage.

The third team of speakers, Stephen Slota, Michael Young, and Roger Travis, presented on the reasons that technology rich projects have high failure rates when being implemented into curriculum. They identified the following problems/solutions:

  • Problem: Fatal mutation (schools change tech to fit into their system)
  • Solution: Offer modular programs with a la carte features.
  • Problem: Loss of fidelity
  • Solution: Seek buy-in from school and make pedagogy primary above the tech innovation.
  • Problem: Failure to thrive
  • Solution: Pay attention to the creation of meta games and nurture feedback.

During the second half of the day I checked out a few more of the games in the Arcade.  One of the best demos there was a new piece of hardware called the Oculus Rift.  The system is a virtual realty headset for 3D games.  I had the pleasure of playing Team Fortress 2 with the system before I had to share with the other “kids” and I must say that I am sold.  You can freely look around the game world by simply moving your head.  I think this system will be particularly great for games like Minecraft and Medical Simulators.  I just want to know who is getting one in Pittsburgh and when can I come over to play!

Notes from Day 2 at Games+Learning+Society

The second day of Games+Learning+Society 9.0 got off to an informative and controversial start with keynote speaker Steve Schoettler, co-founder of Zynga. During the talk he discussed some of the struggles Zynga had early on and reviewed his biggest lessons learned from his time there. Schoettler’s five takeaways from Zynga were:

  • Think big
  • Test all of your assumptions
  • Provide players with continuous feedback
  • Focus on metrics
  • Use analytics to motivate, engage and personalize

Towards the end of the talk, the speaker included a slide and a few comments that painted teacher’s unions in a negative light. This was received about as well as could be expected from an education conference and the time allotted for questions was dominated by the contentious topic.

The first session of the day was entitled “Beyond Badges & Points: Gameful Assessment Systems for Engagement in Formal Education.” The term “gameful,” for anyone hearing it for the first time, is now being used interchangeably with “gamification,” or the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order for increased engagement and enhanced problem solving. The session included speakers who have successfully implemented gameful assessments into their classrooms. The first speaker, Kate Fanelli, shared her experience implementing a system she created called MathLand. Kate’s creation runs on Queso, a piece of open source software that was featured during yesterday’s blog post. Playmaker School was also featured during this session, a program which serves 6th graders utilizing gameful mechanics, as well as learning through play and making. Another interesting technique used at the Playmaker School is having students participate in live action role playing where they take over the role as the teacher. Speaker, Lee Sheldon, the author of The Multiplayer Classroom, discussed his experience using techniques like allowing students to make up their own lessons and creating student guilds where they share rewards.

The final speaker of the session, Barry Fishman, discussed an open source project currently being used at The University of Michigan called Gradecraft. The program is a game-inspired Learning Management System that is currently undergoing testing in several university courses and was described as not being a game in and of itself, but instead being the board, the spinner, and die that the game takes place on. Its current features include: Badges, Teams, a student dashboard, and an Interactive Grade Predictor for students. One interesting future study will be asking students how they think they will perform in a class and tracking their accuracy.

University of Wisconsin campus / Photo courtesy of babcock.wisc.edu

Photo courtesy of babcock.wisc.edu

The second session of the day, “Dancing with Learning Objectives and Game Mechanics”, featured speakers sharing lessons learned from some of their most challenging projects.  Some of the interesting takeaways from the session were:

  • Don’t get hung up on a genre for your game too early in the process
  • Ask why people are not learning with the current system and make your game fill the gap
  • Finding the right SME (subject matter expert) is everything

The third session of the day was a continuation of the gameful mechanics presentations from session one. The first speaker, Michael Donhost, discussed a game-like design model that gives teachers the ability to structure learning in the same way games are designed. The model is structured with three parts: wonder, play, and make.  The speaker also felt that teachers needed less structure and more freedom in the classroom. I believe the students could benefit from the same thing. Another speaker during the session discussed a study performed by Selen Turkay, Charles Kinzer, and Sonam Adinolf which discussed the effects of customization on MMO (“massively multiplayer online,” such as World of Warcraft) game players. The study tracked players in the Free-to-play MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online. Important takeaways included:

  • Relatedness Satisfaction being facilitated by socialization in games
  • Competence satisfaction is facilitated by unlocking new skills and leveling mechanics
  • Autonomy Satisfaction is facilitated by quest choices and customization
  • Mastery of Controls is the gateway to player engagement

Finally, the day wrapped up with a cocktail hour and poster presentations, leaving attendees with plenty to think about and lots of excitement for the next day.

An Exploration Into Inquiry-Based Learning

To inquire is to wonder. To essay is to try. To know is to create.

I am a teacher who has been wondering about teaching and learning for almost 20 years. Formatively, I was influenced as an educator by the work of Paulo Freire and William Pinar. For me curriculum has always existed as its Latin infinitive: currere, a process of self-reflection in dialogue with others and the world. Thus, curriculum is not a noun, it is a verb. And in this way, there is a central place for human agency in the process of constructing knowledge.

It is my desire to work with children (and teachers) in contexts of their own self-discovery in relation to what they learn to create in and for the world.

What does this mean for in-school and out-of-school learning contexts? The layers are multiple and just as I teach in order to wonder about knowing, I write in order to wonder about knowing. Thus, my thinking here spins from a place of play and intends to open a space of dialogue more than tie up threads into a ball of what can be known or held.

The notion of arranging learning contexts that grow from students’ questions is not new, nor is the idea of knowledge as something constructed. But I often wonder about how such ideas get introduced to teachers and how they are supported in learning contexts.

It seems to me that inquiry-based learning often gets reduced to a method of practice that can be implemented in steps, much in the same way that processes of writing have been reduced to a list of writing steps. I am thinking that perhaps inquiry-based learning could be explored as an approach influenced by certain assumptions, certain ways of being. In this way, perhaps we might consider a question such as: What habits of learning encourage student agency and creativity in our world?

Through my experience, I have discovered certain habits of mind especially powerful in growing learners who create knowledge for themselves and others. Curious learners notice, appreciate, show rigorous persistence over time, connect with others and find pleasure in the playfulness and process of wonder.

I offer a scene from a study of found objects with a class of first graders:

As Dante (the names of all children have been changed)sits at the circle, he pulls out an almost completely corroded metal button and says “I found this on the street. Isn’t it beautiful?” He passes it around the circle while children ask him questions and he shares the colors and shapes he sees inside its form. My heart fills up in this moment. This is a big departure from the Dante we knew at the beginning of the year who worked hard to be tough and keep his distance. Now Dante’s button gets placed on a table to be sketched by others. As children sketch, they notice more about the button. Jordyn finds a rock that she thinks looks a little like the button. Others ask questions about how things get corroded and why some people say things are ugly when they are beautiful. Children connect objects to what they are learning about geometry and pattern, what they are learning about description and story as readers and writers.

My work with this class of children taught me how important it is for children to develop an appreciation of beauty in small things, and how explicit teaching of how to notice carefully, sketch from many perspectives and speak precisely matters in children’s development as learners.

And here is a scene from a Kindergarten class working with Circuit Blocks as part of the Children’s Innovation Project:

Children are setting up a circuit with one light, then two lights and then three lights. We want them to notice what happens each time another light is introduced. Many children get frustrated and think their lights are broken as they fail to be bright once all three are in the series circuit. But then Kristen says “Ms. Melissa, I said something smart to my group. I said there isn’t enough power to share with all the lights!” And this begins a conversation about many things beyond how to create a parallel circuit. Children practice the habit of persistence in looking closely and trying again and again. Children find pleasure in the act of setting up a circuit where nothing happens. They like to talk with each other about Kristen’s discovery. They continue to return to this discovery throughout the year.

Spaces that encourage and support children’s creative expressions are important if we want children to develop their own agencies to contribute positively to our world. Perhaps the best thing we can do as educators to support such learning spaces is to continue to be curious ourselves: to wonder, to try, to create.

Proposal Submission Deadline for DML2013 Quickly Approaching!

The deadline for proposal submissions for DML 2013 is rapidly approaching on November 6th, 2012!

The upcoming conference, themed Democratic Futures: Mobilizing Voices and Remixing Youth Participation, will be taking place in Chicago, Illinois on March 14-16, 2013. This annual event unites scholars and practitioners to engage in collaborative dialogue over theory, empirical study, policy, and practice. By submitting a proposal, you can have a hand in shaping the conversation from which great ideas will grow. Proposals for DML 2013 can be in any of three forms: panel, workshop, or short talk. Each having their own structural strengths, taking advantage of the opportunity to choose a format that best suits your idea is encouraged. Panels: bring four presentations representing a range of ideas and topics together in discussion, are scheduled for 90 minutes, & should include a mix of individuals working in areas of research, theory, and practice Workshops: provide an opportunity for hands-on exploration and/or problem solving, are scheduled for 90 minutes, & should be highly participatory Short talks: short, ten-minute talks where presenters speak for ten minutes on their work, research, or a subject relevant to the conference theme and/or subthemes In addition to selecting a format, a proposal must also fall under one of the five sub-themes for the 2013 conference:

  • “Envisioning 21st Century Civic Education”
  • “Youth Media & Youth Movements: Organizing, Innovation, Liberation”
  • “Whose Change is it Anyways? Futures, Youth, Technology & Citizen Action in the Global South”
  • “Tech for Governance: Community-Driven Innovation”
  • “Digital Media and Learning”

If you’ve got a great idea relevant to the upcoming DML 2013 conference, ready your proposal and get it in by November 6th at 5pm PST. If you’d like to learn more about proposal themes and guidelines, click here.