Category Archives: educational gaming

Whakahaerehia tētahi Hour of Code Mahimaina mō tō akomanga


December 5-11 is Computer Science Education Week, and everywhere I go there seems to be all sorts of activity going on with children in schools learning to code and use computers in interesting ways.

One of the initiatives that seems to have taken off this year is Hour of Code™, and as part of this initiative the organisation I work for, CORE Education, has worked with with Microsoft, OMG Tech! and High Tech Youth support this by assisting with the development of a new Minecraft tutorial, which was developed in close partnership with

The tutorial includes Minecraft characters and Minecraft-inspired challenges that will be familiar to the expansive Minecraft community, while still being approachable to newcomers interested in learning the basics of coding and game design. The new Minecraft tutorial is for students ages 6 to 106—anyone can learn to code!

Our Māori team at CORE have contributed to this effort by ensuring new Minecraft tutorial is available in Te Reo Māori. This now makes this significant resource available to students in the many Māori Medium schools we have in New Zealand.

Why code? In a society continually transformed by technology, the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills gained through computer science education provide the essential tools needed to innovate, pursue in-demand jobs, and understand the world. All young people should have the opportunity to learn the skills needed to fulfil their passions.

It’s easy to sign up your school or class to run an Hour of Code programme – with everything you will need to lead your own Minecraft Hour of Code, including a facilitator’s guide, quick tip sheet, and PowerPoint slides. These materials are available for you here.

Focus on energy

energy kids

Occasionally I come across a resource site for teachers that I feel is worthwhile sharing on my blog – today it's energy kids – developed and made available by the US Energy Information Admistration. 

Energy – its production, use and conservation – is a hot topic for today's young people. It will be one of the things that defines how society develops into the new millennium as old forms of energy are depleted and new forms are developed, experimented with and adopted. Our young people will need to be well informed about these issues – and many of them will find employment in energy-related areas, so the focus on this in our schools is very important. 

What I like about this site is that it's a veritable treasure trove of key information about energy, that will appeal to and inform kids of all ages – and their teachers. It's an ideal site to be used as a reference for an inquiry topic, self study or you could use some of the games and activities as a part of a whole class activity. 

I found the section on the history of energy really intriguing, satisfying the belief I have about needing to look into the past to really understand the future. There's a great deal of well presented information here that could provide a springboard for further inquiry. 

On the topic of energy – let's not forget Electrocity, a game-based resource that helps develop understandings about the electricity supply chain – developed by the NZ electricity company, Genesis Energy.

I'd be keen to hear from anyone using these resources.

Gamification of learning

Gamification is another of those words gaining currency in education circles at the moment. It's about more than simply playing games for learning (which isn't a new thing anyway, remember things like scrabble and monopoly?).

Gamification is about bringing the design principles behind what makes games successful in engaging learners into the way we design learning experiences for our students – whether we are using ICTs or not.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the infographic below from Knewton provides some useful starting points for understanding. I'd recommend it needs to be explored and used as a catalyst for discussion, rather than an authorative piece – as ideas are evolving about gamification, we need to be engaging in more critical thinking about the value, opportunity and success of this sort of thing – it's worth reading the comments that follow the post to see what others are thinking.

Gamification Infographic

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media



Game-based learning – new research


I see and hear lots of reference to game-based learning these days – the concept isn't new, but is certainly seeing a resurgance of interest with ongoing development of computer-based games and the application of the principles of this sort of game-playing being applied to the design of learning experiences for students. 

The National Foundation for Education Rsearch (nfer) and Futurelab have just published a report titled Game-based learning: latest evidence and future directions (PDF) which provides some useful perspectives on the types of educational values that can be attached to gaming.

The report first considers how the notion of game-based learning is defined, with a review of the literature and then offering some thoughts for moving forward. It then addresses the impct and potential impact of game-based learning on education, before considering specifically the implications for future reserach and implications for teachers and schools.

An excellent publication for anyone interested in game-based learning, particularly those looking at doing research in this area.

The main findings are as follows:

  • The literature was split on the extent to which video games can impact upon overall academic performance.
  • The studies consistently found that video games can impact positively on problem solving skills, motivation and engagement. However, it was unclear whether this impact could be sustained over time.
  • Despite some promising results, the current literature does not evidence adequately the presumed link between motivation, attitude to learning and learning outcomes. Overall, the strength of the evidence was often affected by the research design or lack of information about the research design.

Minecraft in education

For some time now I've used Minecraft as an example of the sort of gaming experience that I believe has application for education. Minecraft is essentially a computerised version of lego on steroids, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. There's no pre-determined script or objective – just a mass of construction materials and opportunity to develop whatever you want. 

The video above, from PBS Idea Channel, provides a persuasive argument for Minecraft as an educational tool – based largely on the premise that it's so customisabe. I have a son who began using Minecraft soon after its early release in 2010, and have watched with interest how this game has engaged him during the years since. Using this game he has built entire cities, complete with electricity generation and reticulation (which meant he had to solve how to generate the electricity, how to construct circuits etc. and how to solve the storage issue). He has worked with friends to build their own server and manage an installation of the game, and he and his friends have also taught themselves how to program and upload new objects into the Minecraft environment. 


From my perspective it's a pretty compelling 'tool' for learning – and it seems that a number of educators from around the world think likewise. The resource Minecraft – a mountain of marvelous learning ideas – has been created as a Google Doc for people to add their own ideas and links to resources to support the use of minecraft in education. already there are several pages of ideas an links there that illustrate how Minecraft can be and is being used to support learning. 

Of course, there's always the risk that when a tool or resource such as Minecraft is assimilated into the formal education environment it will end up killing interest and creativity, as highlighted in a recent article in edudemic which looks at the pros and cons of Minecraft in education, but I do believe there's a lot we, as educators, can learn from the phenomena that is Minecraft, and we'd do well to consider how we might embrace the principles upon which the game is based in our formal education system.

Thinking more about game-based learning

I've just been looking thrugh the list of links that came to me via: Online Colleges titled The 20 Best Blogs About Game-Based Learning collated by Jasmine Hall, staff writer for the Online Colleges website.

Her introduction reads;

Adults these days… seem really into chastising video games those crazy kids are into as symptomatic of the human race's inevitable, steady decline. Like every hobby and medium, legitimate concerns regarding these technologies certainly exist, but their complete lack of validity is decidedly not amongst them. Intrepid educators, developers, administrators, and parents alike know that new and digital media can be harnessed for more productive ends, such as helping students soak up various academic subjects or training new employees. Even the FBI recognizes and uses video games as valuable learning tools! Because the push toward incorporating these resources still exists in a comparatively inchoate state, anyone curious about how they apply to educational settings should keep up with the latest movements and technologies currently shaping the movement’s future. Blogs can help with that.

I agree with her that the role of game-based learning is still not fully understood or appreciated – but our lack of understanding should not hold us back from being open to investigate what the potential may be. To that end the list of blogs collated here by Jasmine is very useful – not only because of the information they contain, but also because of the way that this illustrates how the open publication of new thinking, research and ideas on blogs like these represents a part of the new way that knowledge is being constructed and shared in the 'knowledge age'. 

Reflecting here I thought about some of the more recent posts I've made about educational gaming and gamefication, including;

  • Some thoughts I had about the use of Minecraft in education. Since that post I've spoken to a number of teachers who have described to me how they're using that as a part of their work with students. 
  • Comments about the Game-based Handbook, published by the European Commision, that provides a framework for games-based pedagogy. 
  • Reference to a paper titled 7 Things You Should Know About Gamificationproviding a very simple response to 7 fundamental questions people have about the concept of gamification.

As this breadth/depth of knowledge develops and is shared, I'd certainly hope that we begin to see more evidence of these approaches being adopted in classrooms – intentionally, purposefully and in ways that engage and excite learners.


Using Minecraft in education

Having watched my son spend countless hours creating all sorts of worlds in Minecraft I've become intrigued by what this virtual world enables users to do.

Minecraft in the Classroom is a recent addition to the field of game-based learning. It is a sandbox game where players can create and build, fight off enemies and explore vast landscapes.

His latest effort has involved creating a substantial virtual world that is "self-sustaining"; in terms of the automated processing of the minerals mined into various forms of fuel and energy.

How has he learned to do this? He and his small group of friends have shared the things they've learned through trial and error, and by following the online tips and support that are built into Minecraft's user interface.

For the more complex things, they've watched instructional, videos that have been uploaded to YouTube by other users, and by reading the blogs and help sites created by the user community. This is the essence of a highly performaing, informal learning community!

During the recent holiday period my son and  his friends even formed themselves into a team to develop instructional videos which they intend to upload onto YouTube to share what they've learned, in particular, their attempts at 'modding' the environment to create the specific features and components they want in it – thus they've becoming contributors to the community of users as well. 

This morning I came across this post titled Ideas for using Minecraft in the classroom, from Edutopia. In it, Andrew Miller suggests four ways in which Minecraft can be used in the classroom:

  1. explore real life buildings
  2. practise ratio an proportion
  3. learn about survival
  4. visualisation and reading comprehension

As the interested parent of a young user, and as an educator, these ideas resonnate with me – and I'm sure there are a number of other things that people could come up with as well. For me, Minecraft is a welcome addition to the field of virtual worlds, and a welcome alternative to the first person shoot 'em up sorts of virtual world games that have been so popular in the past (and still!).

I'd be keen to hear stories from anyone who is actually dong the sorts of things suggested by Miller in the Edutopia article -seems we have a lot to learn from each other in terms of harnessing the potential of these sorts of environments, and of how to accommodate the contribution of informal learning that is going on among many of our learners. 

A parent guide to 21st Century learning

I've just been reading this new guide published by Edutopia, titled A parent's guide to 21st Century Learning. As with much of the material published on the Edutopia site, this is a really useful collection of tips, ideas and links for parents and educators alike (and I qualify on both fronts 🙂

The ideas in the booklet are grouped according to the age of the students, and use the “4Cs” from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as a framework for emphasising the educative value of the learning resources that are shared.

  • Collaboration: Students are able to work effectively with diverse groups and exercise flexibility in making compromises to achieve common goals.
  • Creativity: Students are able to generate and improve on original ideas and also work creatively with others.
  • Communication : Students are able to communicate effectively across multiple media and for various purposes.
  • Critical thinking: Students are able to analyze, evaluate, and understand complex systems and apply strategies to solve problems.

Each resource is briefly described, followed by a section on 'how to get involved', providing practical suggestions for how to engage with and use the resource with you children. 

The resources provide a range of engagements, from projects that promote particiation in social change and the development of digitial citizenship, to using online games and social media to promote collaboration and support project based learning – plus everything in between. 

I like the section at the end titled Ten tips for bringing 21st century skills home which provides sompractical tips and links for parents wondering how to foster the 4Cs at home.

If you're not a member of the Edutopia site, here's a good reason to do so – it costs nothing to sign up, and the resource is free tod ownload to members. 


Game-based learning handbook

I spent today at the International eLearning Futures Conference (follow #ielfc11 on twitter) at Unitec in Auckland. I had a slot after lunch speaking about future trends in eLearning, which provided a good follow-on from Steve Wheeler's opening address. 
In my talk I spoke of several things that are shaping the expectations learners have of our educational institutions and the courses we provide – from mobile devices, to visualisation tools, to open content – and gamefication

So it was with interest I came across the e-book above when I arrived home this evening.  Titled The GameIT Handbook, the book has been funded by the European Commision, and provides a framework for games-based pedagogy. 

For those unfamiliar with games-based learning, this provides a pretty useful introduction, particularly the early chapters. For those who are more familiar with the concept, the book provides some useful case studies that unpack the ideas more and illustrate a range of contexts in which games-based learning approaches might be used.

7 things you should know about gamification

Te concept of gamification is gaining traction in education now (although this idea has been around for a long time, even pre-computer). My recently arrived colleague at CORE, DK, has also been promoting this thinking among our team since he arrived. For some, the word 'gamification' implies a trivialising of learning, based on having fun and therefore is not taken seriously. For others it is seen as the domain of the serious online gaming fraternity who are, frankly, frightening in terms of their addiction to the games they play. The truth is nowhere near either of these views, and so it was with interest I came across this paper from Educause, providing a very simply response to 7 fundamental questions people have about the concept of gamification.

Download the PDF or link to the E-publication