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My Thoughts on Gaming and Learning from G4L15

g4lBefore traveling to New York for the Games for Learning Summit, I talked to my teenage son about his love of gaming and why he is so captivated by the game, Assassin’s Creed. My son looked at me and said…

“Mom, I know that you have some influence in education…or at least you think you do. But, if you say or do anything that makes Ubisoft change Assassin’s Creed from what it is to some watered down game for schools, I will hold you personally responsible [insert smile]”

My son loves this game because of it’s captivating graphics and brilliant integration of fiction and history. He also loves the video vignettes that take place throughout the game and has quite honestly, learned more about history through gaming than he did sitting in his desk…listening to lectures and writing down notes from powerpoint.

During my keynote at “G4L15“, I shared my son’s words as well as how he learns through playing games like Assassin’s Creed. I was also clear in saying that this is not a game for K-12 schools but that the intentionality with which the game was created to immerse players into a real historical experience was something that we should not ignore.

Gaming in My Classroom

As a classroom teacher, I integrated games but my games were specifically math based. I even blogged about them and how “great” they were. If my only focus was on skill development, those games would have been okay. However, my students demanded more than that. They were just beginning to download mobile games and wanted more “education-less” application that didn’t care whether they found the value of x but cared more about if they understood the why and when of the math itself.

Our deep dive into gaming started with Angry Birds but eventually landed in the territory of games like Farmville, Plants vs. Zombies and even certain sports games like Madden and the Tony Hawk series. Kids began to recognize algebraic and geometric patterns that existed within the context of gaming and that is how they often made their real world connections….ironically in a world that wasn’t real.

What they wanted to know was…

  • Why is it that math games created for school are boring and seem to follow the same formulaic pattern…skill practice, test, mini-game?
  • Why is it that games created for phones and consoles seem to apply more skills without making it seem “educational”?
  • Why aren’t we just playing the games that we want to play that use these skills instead of playing games that focus on the skill? (translation…math games = glorified worksheets with sound)

My Son’s Ideal Game

I asked my son if he could design a game for school, what would it be. His response is below…

“If I could design a game, I would make it a cross between The Sims, World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto…except without violence or stealing. I want the characters to speak languages of the world and even learn them, go to work/school and solve real problems in school and even in the community. If they go to a class in school, I want them to sometimes complete real assignments on their own and sometimes work collaboratively with their peers on projects in the game (project based learning). I want them to have social interactions and even experiences like trying out for the basketball team, going to dances and playing games. I would create a game about about the things that we experience as teens but I would make sure that it included things like anti-bullying without being too preachy and some way that kids could play, learn and feel good about themselves in the process. Oh, and I definitely want it to be in a realistic 3d world.”

My son told me that he has been dreaming about doing this for 3 years now and although he has been trying to learn to code, it’s not as simple as he thought. He’s also not giving up on the idea of game designing which is a great reminder about the importance of kids learning to design their own games which is still an entirely different but necessary conversation.

Also…My son’s game + adding elements of financial responsibility that can’t be solved with simple cheat codes would be a remarkable game and if anyone wants to make this or help him…he’s in.

Reflecting on G4L15

If I learned anything at the Games for Learning Summit…it is that there are entertainment game developers and organizations with a vested interest in education who want to find some way of engaging in this space. It is also important to have educators immersed in these discussions as well as development. If you think that this is not worth exploring consider this…

Educational Gaming 2015 = Britney Spear’s Dance Beat (2002)

I should know. I owned, played and beat that game…because in 2002, dancing via controller was a thing. (Yes, I am admitting this in public)

Our kids deserve so much more than this.

One more thing…to the teachers that say that games are not for learning and continue to bar such amazing experiences like Minecraft, I challenge you to spend one day with me, my son and any device.

Game on!


Privacy, Trust and Voice

Privacy, Trust and Voice

For the past few hours, I’ve thought, rethought, written and erased…over and over again. In between going back and forth, I got to experience the vile realities of twitter trolls…people creating accounts for the sole purpose of saying the most unreal, racist, sexist, body shaming…things to me. Clearly, speaking out against the “media interpretation” of awesome teaching ruffled some feathers.

And yet, I am still stuck at…

How do I best convey why #IWishmyteacherknew is not just a “bad thing” but a “Oh heck no” thing….

First let me say that I am an advocate for student voice. I believe wholeheartedly in not just hearing from kids but fully including them in the education process. I have also called out the educational community, on a number of occasions, about equity, community and decision making with students and families of poverty.

So, naturally I was intrigued by this campaign as the example that I saw was mild. It was the child wishing for friends. I shared it and then I read the article…many articles. I was mortified because those shares were not just “students sharing their thoughts”….those shares were “students sharing personal family experiences”.

In the age of social media, this is NOT good…not at all.

You see…aside from this teacher, and the colorful index cards of notes that she tweeted, there are families who are also connected…families who have children in her class…in the community…families who have facebook, twitter…the evening news.

No family should have to hear that what their child was feeling and shared with their teacher was posted to social media while watching the news. Talk about being blindsided…

Now, before you go all, “She had to have had permission” on me…

Let me be clear in saying that this teacher was asked on multiple occasions about permissions and the only permission that she seemed to have had was from the kids. They are 8 and 9 years old….sharing personal FAMILY details. If those thoughts were shared without parental consent, this is a problem…a Big one!!

I even consulted with my sister who is blind on this issue and I asked what she would do if she saw that my nephew wrote to his teacher about issues that should have been discussed with her but were instead shared online. Let’s just say that if that happened, a visit to the school and superintendent would have been in order.

There are quite a few who demand that this teacher was “brave” in selflessly sharing the voices of her students. No…the bravery was in the kids who wrote them. I personally find it quite exploitive that following the viral state of her shares…were tweets to give to her donors choose projects. That’s not brave. That is called pushing an agenda. Those tweets were auto tweeted to anyone that used that hashtag…same verbiage…even to me.

In addition…I need to alert the greater world that…


Newsflash: Millions of children in this country live through extreme poverty or unreal living situations. As a matter of fact, if you extend this prompt across the nation…you may even hear stories about…

  • Homelessness
  • Abuse
  • Divorce
  • Neglect
  • Drugs/Alcohol
  • Depression (as a matter of fact, a teacher actually shared a student saying that they had depression via this hashtag)
  • Starvation
  • Lack of guidance
  • Struggle
  • Worry/Concern
  • Lack of resources/supplies

You may even hear about kids who are poor but still happy. Those stories exist too. (You didn’t read many of those though) Even with the pieces of story shared are parents, siblings and extended family members. There are multiple sides that are not considered. There are parents who work late and hard to support their kids. Often, kids at that age do not connect with that. Imagine that working mother reading that her kid needed her in a news article online…and feeling the guilt 10x over beyond what she may already feel.

Maybe that’s not the story. Maybe it is. We don’t know though.

(Anonymity does not exist in this case for these families because original work with handwriting was published. Most parents know how their own kids write. Again…minus consent = problematic)

Sharing student work is done across the edu-sphere in all forms. This was different. This wasn’t just “work”.

We were reading notes, written in the original handwriting of students (locally identifiable…If I am a parent of a child in that class, I can simply ask my child or use community knowledge to know who those kids were and which families they were. Community shaming is real. That is unfair…period!)

But…tell me…Did you really need to see it written in the handwriting of students to know that those problems existed? Were you completely oblivious to the real state of the american child that it took the “Freedom Writer-ish” act of a “still new at this teacher” to connect with the fact that our kids need help because the world sucks and they feel it?

You should probably check your privilege because if you are too blind or disconnected to see the world around you and know that kids are affected without needing them to pour their hearts out onto colored index cards for the world to read…you are a part of the problem.

These shares are doing nothing more than what they are already doing…

…Exploiting the struggles of families

Yes people…families are stuggling…lots of them!

Student work is not owned by teachers or schools. We have zero right to share their progress, thoughts or examples. That right belongs to families and unless we get permission from parents and/or students…when they can legally consent…we have no business putting their thoughts on the web.

No, I am not muting kids. It is about ethics. It is about what is right and wrong.

One of the many twitter trolls that I had today reminded me that at the beginning of the school year, parent permissions to share student work are sent and retrieved. Let me guarantee you that parents who sign those forms did not count on their personal lives being shared. There is no way.

If this is the practice in your school or district, it is time to revisit that.

One more thing…

I am most disappointed in an educational community that turned a blind eye to this in public and were not strong enough to speak up for what we know is right concerning student/family privacy…until it became apparent that silence wasn’t the best option. It shouldn’t have to be me or any of the other educolor group members to push these discussions. Silence means that everyone loses.

If you were silent on this issue…what lessons can you possibly teach kids about the same?

In case you missed it…

We do not own student work. We cannot share personal thoughts of kids without consent. Trust matters.

My son shared a personal narrative with his teacher last week. He did it because he has great trust in her as another caring adult. Let’s hope that she does not betray that trust.

Dear Twitter Marketing: An Open Letter

I’m writing you this letter because I think that you should be much more intentional about connecting with the education community. To be honest with you, for a platform that fundamentally enables users to share stories, you are missing out on some of the most amazing stories involving twitter.

I know that you are fully aware of the impact that you are having on education. You see the stats and you may even be aware of the educational hashtags that scroll amongst the billions of tweets per second but I wonder if you truly “get it”…how deeply your platform has supported the transformation of teaching and learning.

Think about that for a second. Plenty of tech companies have tried but not many have done what you are doing…without really trying. I’m not asking you to provide any form of sponsorship, send money to schools or even change your platform in any way. (Although a private periscope channel would make that app a bit more user friendly for education)

What I am suggesting is that you have a more intentional presence in the education community.

There is an initiative going on right now to connect more kids, teachers, schools and communities. As a former teacher who used to be limited to the boundaries of her hometown, this connecting is critical and can be life changing. I had no idea that there were so many different ways to disrupt learning (in a good way) until I started connecting via twitter. I am one teacher. There are thousands more just like me.

There are schools who have completely changed the way that they approach learning because their school leaders and teachers engaged in conversations beyond their school walls. Teachers that could barely talk to the teachers in their halls are connecting daily with other teachers all over the world. That’s huge! There are kids gaining more opportunities because through twitter, practices were questioned through thought provoking questions…all in 140 characters or less.

It’s not just our teachers. Our students are connecting to each other and also to professionals in the field…real people who want to help support education.

I know that I may be asking for quite a bit but, it would be awesome if you had a presence at our educational events. You…dear czars of open communication…could even participate in conversations ranging from principles of learning to impact beyond textbooks through social justice.

You could be a part of the conversations about tech, diversity, equality and equity.

You could share amazing stories of connectedness on your blog or even help promote stories as they are being told.

The key, though, is in recognizing that we are an audience worth sharing about. Can you imagine the impact of capturing those stories on the ground in schools and sharing videos from around the globe? Think about the thousands of schools that are not connecting and that are not using your platform yet. Why aren’t they and how can you help them?

We share the power of twitter to anyone who listens because we know how much it has changed many of our lives and classrooms.

Maybe you could start sharing these stories too.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 3.33.10 AM


Thank you!


PS: At minimum, you should have a section on your blog that shares stories specifically from education. There are plenty of them…as long as your are intentionally grabbing them.

You Don’t Know Grit!

gritThere’s a really huge myth that kids come to class with zero experience in the grit area…that somehow “struggle in school work” is supposed to magically teach that. By definition, grit is about courage, resolve and strength of character in the face of obstacles. In real life, those obstacles can be hindering and impossible sometimes to just “do”…because of grit. Some kids thrive and some struggle beyond school.

With boys, especially black boys…those obstacles can be crippling, especially in a world that immediately judges them unfairly because they have those obstacles to begin with and not by how they rise above them.

I am a mother of a son who struggles. Over the past year, I’ve experienced his highs and lows, mostly in private yet still very much so out in the open. He has struggled emotionally with the constant rejection of his father and financial hardships of his mother working to support him alone. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders but his spirit in doing so is empowering and motivating…especially to his mother.

No one knows his real story. They see him, the son of a “seemingly successful” educator and assume that he is belligerent and just needs a little grit.

Trust me…he doesn’t need any more grit. He needs meaningful experiences, curiosity and the ability to escape into wonder…to be inspired. He has plenty of grit…even when you don’t see it and especially when you refuse to see it.

I can’t talk about grit without talking about my son’s good friend. He’s a young man who is learning how to survive in the face of obstacles and he is certainly trying hard. His mother, gone from his life indefinitely, is locked up and his father, unable to cope and deal, threw him from the home. He’s now thriving, in the face of hardship and rejection…living with his grandmother.

…An yet, he smiles

But…you want to teach him grit???

These two boys, for me, represent much more than the lives that they live. They are the epitome of hope. What their teachers/schools need to do is focus on how they can build a culture of support for them. How will they know that there are opportunities that can help them transcend the cards that they are dealt? How will they channel the anger and hurt into positive outcomes? How can they question the world that they live in and know that they too can contribute ideas and maybe even innovate to change their future?

If you’re focusing on grit, you’re focusing on the wrong thing because the ones who you think “need grit” the most…are the ones who are already drinking a full cup of it.

More of us need to sit back…learn from them…and create the system for their success.

Right now…it doesn’t exist.

One more thing…

Technology is not accessible to either of these boys at school. So, there’s that.

Storytelling with Adobe Slate and My Dad

Storytelling with Adobe Slate and My Dad

I’ve been an Adobe Voice user and have used it countless times with students. However, there was a piece missing for students who needed a platform to liven up projects or ideas that required much more text. A few weeks ago, I was able to get a peek inside Adobe Slate and I’ve been anticipating its release since.

Simultaneously, my father…with his ipad…has been thinking about publishing his family history based on his research. Today, Adobe Slate released and I put it to the test with my dad who at 63 years young is a complete tech novice who has never used an app beyond safari and the photo album.

Ironically, I was asked today if I have ever used this app with students. In a non-traditional sense, my dad is a student. We all are…aren’t we? As a matter of fact, my work with my father is something that I recommend for all of us to do. Whether we capture these stories via video, portfolio or web…capture them. This is necessary. Adobe Slate was simple enough for him to use and we appreciated that.

A Few Tidbits

  • The app was created with schools in mind although it definitely has applications beyond school. For now, sign-ups are limited to Adobe and “Facebook”. For many schools, this is limiting and even more so when students do not have email. Come on Adobe? Work with us here!
  • Typing was problematic so we’ll definitely have to purchase a keyboard.
  • The app includes an internal image search and cites it accordingly, which is awesome!
  • Adobe boasts that stories can be embedded yet, that option is only available via the ipad app so to embed his story, I had to copy the code to a note file and then share it. The published web piece should have an embed option, somewhere at the bottom or where ever the share options are, but it does not.
  • Adobe Story allows videos to be saved to camera roll. Adobe slate should at least export as a pdf. It does not and that alone almost made us not use this app.
  • Where is the option to copy the published link to share? Yes, we can post to social media and then grab the link but if I wanted to embed a Slate story into thinglink, I have to share it to social media first and then grab the link. Updated below!
  • When the research supports that schools using Chromebooks outweigh those using ipads, why make an application that works on an ipad only? Creative storytelling via the web should always be a thing!
  • I recommend this app for grades 5 and up or any age when a person is writing full stories, research, essays or letters. (The sign-up will continue to be problematic for the under 13 crowd)

My dad’s first creative app was Slate and so far, he is pretty happy with it. Now, to work on his space to house his published library!

Edited to add…

Thanks to Ben at Adobe, the “copy link” mystery has been solved.

“To embed and get the kink, go to the Projects, click the … and select Share, you’ll see an option to Copy Link. You’ll also see Copy Embed Code.”

Check the image below!


Tracing History Horatio Hearne Adams

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