Microsoft in Education Global Forum Barcelona 2014

Last week I attended the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona. I was selected as part of a ten strong team from the UK to attend the conference, although I was the only Scot in the team and the only FE lecturer. The week was an amazing mix of talks, panel discussions, collaborative sessions and a TeachMeet. We also spent 2 half days exhibiting our learning activities on stands to the other educators and school leaders at the conference. However for me the best thing about the forum was the amazing educators that I met from around the world and the future projects that I will now be able to collaborate with them on.

UK Expert Educators
UK Expert Educators

On day one of the conference a highlight for me was Stuart Ball, UK PIL manager, presenting on some of the amazing apps for education that are available on the Windows 8 store and more specifically for the Surface tablet. I downloaded 5 or 6 apps onto my Surface during the session that I hope to make use of them in my classroom practice.

Stuart Ball presenting
Stuart Ball presenting

The other major part of day one was the first exhibitor session, where we got to show off our projects to educators and school leaders from around the world. There were 6 of us from the UK manning stands, with a variety of projects. Simon & Ray both had projects around TouchDevelop, while the Queen of Kodu, Nicki, was presenting on the KoduKup. I was mostly talking about a project I ran, where my college students made games in groups in conjunction with a local primary school using XNA. However I was also speaking about using Kodu & TouchDevelop to teach coding to children and teachers. So there was a common theme of coding in 4 out of the 6 projects, which reflects the current trend in the UK towards programming in Computing. I found the exhibitor sessions invaluable, my only criticism is that I wish I had more opportunities to visit the other stands myself, as we were pretty much tied to our stands. I think a system where only half of us were presenting at a time, while the other half were free go around and visit the other stands would be a much better approach in future.

UK Team Exhibiting
UK Team Exhibiting

On day two we started with an inspiration keynote address from Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s worldwide Vice President for Microsoft Education. He started by saying that our students are learning without us; I wonder myself if sometimes it is despite of us . He talked about Microsoft’s commitment to education and teachers. He also made it clear that he recognises that technology isn’t the answer, but great teachers using technology well is. He also demonstrated the amazing Project Spark, which although not new to me, drew gasps of amazement from the audience. Project Spark is Kodu on steroids, it builds on the creative 3D world available in Kodu, by allowing students to create truly jaw droppingly beautiful worlds, but is also allows them to fully customise that world by programming the objects within it, to do whatever they want. Whether it is telling a rock to follow your character or making an ogre dance when you are near it, you can truly create whatever you want.

Anthony Salcito
Anthony Salcito

He also demonstrated an amazing new app called ChronoZoom, which allows you to create dynamic timelines on any topic. A great tool for teaching History, but not just limited to history as it can be used to visualise historical or future timelines for any subject.

After the keynote it was back to exhibiting our learning activities. This time I decided to take time to talk to the other expert educators, so I was a little bit naughty in that I left my stand unattended for a while and went to the other displays and spoke to most of the educators near me, which just so happened to be mostly team USA. This was my favourite thing from the conference, making connections with other educators from around the world and seeing the innovative ways that they are making use of technology in the classroom. I spoke to Michael Braun from Seattle, who I had actually met before when I visited a high school in Seattle to speak about TouchDevelop, while I was at the MVP summit in November last year. I learned about how he has been using TouchDevelop to teach coding in his classroom on smartphones and tablets. I also spoke to two teachers from Tampa (Bradley Smrstick and Joshua Sawyer) who are running Coding camps in Florida during July, which coincides with when I am there on holiday with my family, so I’ve arranged with them to do some sessions on TouchDevelop & Kodu while I am there. I also spoke to a primary teacher from Canada (Leah Obach) who is now going to enter 2 teams from her School into a Minecraft competition that I am running in conjunction with the College Development Network in Scotland.

Exhibiting
Exhibiting

It was also great to see so many Kodu projects from educators around the world, I think I counted 7 different projects, including one from my friends from Norway, who have 70 schools involved in their KoduKup competition this year. My Norwegian friends have also invited me over to Norway in May to judge at the Norwegian KoduKup, which hopefully I can arrange to do. It inspired me to look at setting up a Scottish KoduKup, which Microsoft have given me permission to do, so watch this space for further details.

In the afternoon after I finished exhibiting, I attended a hot topic panel discussion on “Inspiring Student Learning and Creativity through Gaming”. I wasn’t actually expecting much from this, as it was not a formal talk, however it featured an Australian guy called Simon Breakspear who is an educational speaker, researcher and innovator. He communicated much of my own thinking about the proper use of games in education, in a far more articulate manner than I could have. Simon was my favourite presenter from the entire week, as games for learning is something close to my heart. I was chuffed to get a retweet from him with my thinking that the “gameplay should be where the learning happens”, as far too many “learning” games use the gameplay as a reward for answering a question. The key to a good educational game is where they learn through playing, rather than by using the gameplay as a carrot. We also need to look at how games that students already play & love, can be used in learning, a great example being MineCraft, which is so much more than just a fun game and can be used to encourage collaboration, teamwork, creativity and even programming. Simon is someone I hope to hear from again and I will try and get him to come speak at one of the conferences I am involved with in the upcoming year.

Simon Breakspear
Simon Breakspear

In the evening I managed to get away from the conference and went down to see Barcelona beat Manchester City at the Nou Camp. Being a good Scot, I was wearing my Barcelona top and sat in with the Catalans. It was an amazing experience to see a near full Nou Camp cheering on Messi and co to victory, although I must be honest and say the atmosphere doesn’t compare to Ibrox on a Champions league night (although it might be a while before I experience that again). I also got to witness the nasty side of English footie fans, as the Manchester City fans, who were right behind me, went about wrecking the fence that was keeping them separated from the Barcelona fans.

Nou Camp
Nou Camp

On day 3 we had the Learn-a-thon, which I wasn’t really expecting much from, however it was actually a valuable experience and put the educators on the other side of things, as we worked together with educators from around to world to create a learning activity, while overcoming obstacles such as the language barrier. Our team worked to our strengths with our art teacher Darko from Macedonia creating an impressive stop motion animation about our theme which was “Treasuring Water”, while I created a Kinect game on the same theme.

Learnathon - Kinect Game
Learnathon – Kinect Game

That evening Stuart Ball and Dave Rogers from the UK team did a fantastic job organising a TeachMeet for Western Europe. Unknown to me, TeachMeets are a British thing, which the other countries were not familiar with, however it went very well and it was one of the best events I attended all week. I got another chance to present my xGames to educators who had never seen them and I had a lot of interest in them, especially from the Netherlands.

On the last day we presented our Learn-a-thon learning activity to the judges in the morning, after which myself, Ray, Simon & Dave Rogers finally got a chance to enjoy the Sauna & Jacuzzi facilities of the hotel that Microsoft had very kindly put us up in. It was nice to get a chance to relax for a couple hours and take in the wonderful views of the surrounding area.

Hotel Jacuzzi
Hotel Jacuzzi

Early afternoon we went back to the main conference auditorium where we had an address from Prince Felipe, heir apparent to the Spanish throne. We had to go through proper airport style security checks to get into the conference arena, because of the presence of royalty, as evidently he isn’t too popular in Catalonia.

Prince Felipe
Prince Felipe

In the evening we got dressed up for the formal Gala Dinner and awards ceremony. I spoke with James Ptaszynski at the dinner, who is Senior Director in MS for Higher Education strategy, about the role that FE & HE may play in future Global forums. At the awards ceremony Scott Wieprecht from the UK team placed 2nd runner up in the Cutting Edge use of Technology for Learning category, so Congrats to Scott and his school Saltash.

UK Winners
UK Winners

At the after party I spent hours with my Norwegian friends speaking about teaching, education, politics and the meaning of life. We agreed that I must visit Norway again soon to help judge at the KoduKup final in May and whatever else I can fit in while there; perhaps some Project Spark and TouchDevelop.

Me and the Nordes
Me and the Nordes

Overall it was a fantastic week and it was also great to catch up with friends like Ray and Simon, while getting to know Nicki & Dave Rogers better, but also it was lovely to make new friends with some amazing educators from all over the planet.

I have a bunch of events lined up between now and the summer, all of which would not have happened without my involvement with the Partners in Learning network. I am going to Lincoln University next week to present on Kinect for Windows v2, as well as taking part in a Kinect Hackathon. During our Easter break in April, I am going to the Codebits conference in Lisbon, Portugal, to present on Kinect v2 and from there I fly to Berlin for a Kinect v2 developers event & Kinect Hackathon. At the end of April I will travel to Microsoft’s data centre in Dublin for a Microsoft MVP open day.

In June I am doing workshops on TouchDevelop and Project Spark at Games Britannia which is being held at Sheffield Hallam University. The same week I am presenting on Kinect and playful learning at the JISC ITECH conference in Glasgow. So busy, busy times ahead. Thanks to Stuart Ball and the PIL UK team for all their support and the opportunities they have provided me.

My Travels with Microsoft

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog; I’ve just been so busy that I’ve hardly had a chance. Last time I wrote I was about to head down to Birmingham for the NEC Skills Show to demonstrate the incredible Project Spark, so I thought that would be a good place to start.


Project Spark Demo

Skills Show Birmingham NEC 14th to 15th November 2013

I spent two days at the Skills Show at Birmingham NEC, at the invitation of Lee Stott (Microsoft Technical Evangelist), presenting on Microsoft’s amazing new game creation tool Project Spark and on Microsoft’s cross-platform app development tool TouchDevelop. Microsoft sponsored the City and Guilds stand at the Skills Show, which was an amazing event which had at least 75,000 visitors over the 3 days of the conference.

Simon Michael, Simon Johnson, David Renton, Lee Stott and Dene Palmer (far right)
Simon Michael, Simon Johnson, David Renton, Lee Stott and Dene Palmer (far right)

I also got to meet up with another one of Microsoft’s Innovative Expert Educators, Simon Johnson Highfields School – Secondary Comprehensive (11-18) in the City of Wolverhampton.a High School Computing teacher from Highfields School in Wolverhampton. I had been corresponding on Twitter with Simon for months about TouchDevelop, as he was using some of my TouchDevelop game creation tutorials with his pupils. Simon has set up a TouchDevelop challenge website with some great resources on it and fascinating examples of games created by his pupils.

Demonstrating Project Spark and TouchDevelop to the masses
Demonstrating Project Spark and TouchDevelop to the masses

Simon concentrated on TouchDevelop at the Skills Show, while Simon Michael (Microsoft Technical Evangelist) and I concentrated on spreading the word about Project Spark to the legions of High School pupils passing by. The reception for Project Spark was incredible; I really think the creative types who love Minecraft will love it. Project Spark has the creative aspects of games like Minecraft and game engines like UDK, but unlike Minecraft you can change the way the world works and program the characters to do what you want, including programming NPC (non-playable characters) with AI. Spark was created by the same minds behind Kodu and it builds on the simplistic language of KODU, so those who are familiar with coding in Kodu will take right to it, however there is so much more you can do in Spark than you could in Kodu. In Project Spark you can create a rich beautiful 3D world with its amazing next generation graphics, far superior in my opinion to the blocky world of Minecraft, but for those who love their Minecraft blocks there is even a cubify option. Project Spark has been added to the Kodu Kup competition this year and it will be launching free soon on Windows8.1, Xbox One and Xbox 360.

Princess Anne visits our stand
Princess Anne visits our stand

I had a great 2 days at the show, showing off Project Spark to the multitudes and even saw a few famous faces, like Theo Paphitis of Dragons Den fame and Princess Anne, who came by our stand for a visit, but unfortunately did not try her hand at Project Spark. I also got to demonstrate and do a recording of my Kinect Math Mage game, being played by Dolly bow bow. What you have never heard of her? Neither had I, she is YouTube famous evidently :-).

Dolly Bow Bow playing Math Mage using Kinect
Dolly Bow Bow playing Math Mage using Kinect

Microsoft MVP Global Summit Bellevue / Redmond 17th to 21st November 2013

Straight after my 2 day stint at the Skills Show, I jumped on a plane to Seattle from London for my first visit to Microsoft HQ in Bellevue, which is just outside of Seattle on the North West coast of the USA. I was visiting for the Global MVP summit, as I have recently been awarded the title of Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for Kinect, making me the only Kinect MVP in the UK. The MVP programme has around 4000 professionals in it from over 90 countries and they answer more than 10 million questions a year to the technical community.

Kinect4Windows MVPs
Kinect4Windows MVPs

I got to Seattle on Saturday and the conference was beginning Sunday evening, so I spent Sunday during the day doing a bit of sightseeing, my favourite thing was having brunch at the top of the Space Needle.

Brunch at the Space Needle
Brunch at the Space Needle

I spent the first 2 days learning about the new Kinect for Windows version 2 which will be coming out probably around summer 2014. It is based on the Xbox One Kinect and has many new features over the old Kinect for Windows, such as:

  1. Full HD colour camera feed.
  2. Much wider field of view (removing the need for the tilt motor).
  3. 6 skeletons can be tracked at once instead of 2.
  4. Much improved depth camera.
  5. Much more accurate skeletal tracking with more joints detected and far less jitter. It can now track when someone is standing side on to Kinect. It can also detect if you are leaning forward or backwards and continue to track joints.
  6. Hand detection and tracking, allowing for better grip detection and new gestures such as lasso which is pointing two fingers together for drawing or dragging. Also thumb tracking allowing the detection of a shooting gesture, which I’m sure, will have applications in games.
  7. Facial expressions are now available such as left or right eye open or shut, smiling, mouth open or closed and more. It should even be able to tell if you are wearing glasses or not.
  8. Most of the processing is now done on the GPU rather than the CPU of your computer.
  9. It now comes with and requires a USB3 port, which allows for a much higher throughput of data from the sensor.
Lasso
Lasso

While I was at the conference all Kinect MVPs in attendance (about 12 of us) were gifted an alpha version of the new Kinect for Windows (K4W) v2 developers kit. It really is an amazing piece of kit and the accuracy of skeletal tracking is far superior to the previous generation.

Kinect XBOX1 on left Kinect for Windows v2 on right
Kinect XBOX1 on left Kinect for Windows v2 on right

All MVPs attending the summit also received $300 off a Surface 2, making it a bargain at only $150, plus they gave us a free keyboard cover as well. I really love my Surface 2 and my iPad mini has almost been retired. There are still some Apps missing that I would love on Surface, but when I want to do some serious work on the go, or I want to take my work with me without having to carry about my full size laptop, there is no comparison and Surface wins. Plus it has a USB3 port, which might seem like a minor thing, but it really is a God send on a tablet when you have been used to not having one on the iPad.

On the afternoon of day 2 of the conference I was able to visit with the TouchDevelop team in their offices and meet Peli and Nikolai who I have been emailing for the past year. I have spoken with Peli on the phone and in person many times while I was creating my games development curriculum for TouchDevelop, which I have been using to teach games programming to our entry level college students.  It was great to see where TouchDevelop was created and meet with the rest of the TouchDevelop team.

On the morning of day 3 I got a message from Peli early in the morning, asking if I wanted to go to a School with him, so I quickly got ready and took a taxi out to the school for 8.30am. Peli goes to the School 3 or 4 times a week from 8am until around 9.30am and then goes into Microsoft to do a full day’s work, that’s commitment for you. I gave a talk to the class about games development and TouchDevelop and showed them some techniques I use with TD to make games with my students back in Scotland. It was fascinating to see a full class working on TouchDevelop just using phones or tablets to program on. In college we mainly run it on a pc and load it up on a phone or tablet for testing, but these students were doing it all on the phone. It was also strange and flattering to hear that students from half-way around the world were making games using my games curriculum.

Teaching TouchDevelop at Rainer Beach High School
Teaching TouchDevelop at Rainer Beach High School

Later that day I recorded a video for Microsoft where I was interviewed about my use of Kinect and they also recorded me demonstrating my Kinect Games. That evening I had a great night out at the MVP attendee party at the Seattle Aquarium and Seattle Great Wheel, at which I beat Ben Lower at Kinect Golf and enjoyed a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel, which is a slightly smaller version of the London Eye.

Seattle Great Wheel
Seattle Great Wheel

On the last day of the summit I visited Microsoft’s amazing Envisioning Center with the rest of the Kinect MVPs and I got a glimpse into the future of technology, which evidently involves a lot of talking to appliances and rooms which sense your presence and sets the environment to suit you. I also got to go to the games studio that is behind Project Spark and meet with Scott Fintel who is project lead on both Kodu and Project Spark. I got to see the team hard at work on Spark and see the amazing concept art behind Spark. Peli & Nikolai from the TouchDevelop team came over later on and we jointly recorded a video with Scott, about Kodu and Project Spark for the Hour of Code on Channel9.

Nikolai, Peli, Scott and me
Nikolai, Peli, Scott and me

The MVP summit was truly an amazing experience and I got to meet some incredible people from Microsoft as well as some inspirational MVPs who are doing amazing things with Kinect and other technologies. I just hope they renew my MVP award next year so I can attend again.


Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert UK Training Event 3rd to 4th January 2014

The last (but not least) part of this blog post is about my visit to Cardiff in Wales to meet up with the other Innovative Expert Educators who will be attending the Global educational forum in Barcelona with me. Strangely enough Wales is the only country in my travels with Microsoft to which I had never been before. It was great to meet up with friends like Gareth, Ray, Stuart & Simon, but also to meet the likes of Katie, David Rogers & Scott for the first time. Gareth Ritter became our tour guide for the weekend and took us in his School mini bus around Cardiff finding various places to eat and drink that only Gareth would know about.

When we got down to work on the Saturday, Stuart Ball laid out his plans for us for the coming year as MS Innovative Expert Educators and discussed our areas of expertise and what we are going to focus on. He also helped us get our heads around what we need to do for Barcelona in March. Overall it was a great weekend with some old friends and some new ones and Wales is not that bad after all, but Cardiff Airport is tiny, what gives with that?

Cardiff TeachMeet for MIEE
Cardiff TeachMeet for MIEE

Thanks again to the Partners in Learning Network and in particular the UK programme manager for PIL Stuart Ball, for supporting us Innovative educators and for putting me on this path. Also a shout out to Lee Stott Technical Evangelistic at MS for inviting me to speak at so many events and for the great support he has given the Games Dev courses at West College Scotland over the past few years. My next post about my travels with Microsoft will be on the Global Education forum in Barcelona in March, at which 250 of the most innovative and inspiring educators from around the globe will be in attendance. Watch this space!

Links
TouchDevelop https://www.touchdevelop.com/
Project Spark https://joinprojectspark.com/
Microsoft MVP http://mvp.microsoft.com/en-us/mvp/David%20Renton-5000398
Microsoft in Education Global Forum http://www.pil-network.com/Forums
Kodu Kup http://blogs.msdn.com/b/teachers/archive/2014/01/22/kodu-kup-2014-it-s-back.aspx

Kinect Games, xGames and TouchDevelop

The main reason for this blog entry is to have a single place for teachers to grab the best of my resources. I’m doing a stand at the Scottish Learning Festival next week, where I will be promoting the CPD training my college (West College Scotland) can provide in coding using tools like Kodu, TouchDevelop and Scratch. However I will also be demonstrating my educational games as well and I will be directing teachers to this blog if they are interested, so again a single place to get everything will be beneficial. My games were just shortlisted for the SQA Star Awards in the category of Innovation and I will find out in November if they win first place.

Kinect Games and xGames in action
Kinect Games and xGames in action

Downloads

xGames
Click here to download xGames v2.2 installer which will run on Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8 (135MB). You require 2 to 4 wireless XBOX360 controllers which you connect to your PC with a USB wireless receiver.

Kinect Games v4.1
If you are using the Kinect for Windows sensor with your Windows7/8 PC then click here to download the Kinect for Windows runtime v1.7 (110mb) and then install it.

If you are using the XBOX 360 Kinect sensor with your Windows7/8 PC for evaluation purposes then click here to download the full Kinect SDK v1.7 (222mb) and then install it.

Finally click here to download Kinect Games v4.1 installer (160MB) and install it.

Alternatively click here to download Kinect Games v4.1 all in one installer (383MB) which includes the SDK and install it.

If you have any problems either of the installers then click here to download the XNA4 runtime installer (6.72MB) and try installing it first before running the installers.
TouchDevelop

TouchInvaders created using TouchDevelop
TouchInvaders created using TouchDevelop

Click here to download my games development curriculum for teaching coding using Microsoft’s free HTML5 browser based free development platform TouchDevelop.

Click here to visit my YouTube channel for my free tutorials on creating games using TouchDevelop. These videos tie in directly with my games dev curriculum. Keep on eye on this channel as I plan to add a PacMan tutorial soon.

Click here to download the free official TouchDevelop book from Microsoft.

Click here to visit the TouchDevelop challenge blog, which contains more tutorials for teaching coding as well as a forum for students to share their games and blog about their experiences.

Click here to visit Ray Chambers blog and have a look at his scheme of work for teaching coding using TouchDevelop.

Windows 8 Appathon and BETT Show 2013 (My week in London)

First off respect to all London workers who do the tube thing every day, it’s a very quick and efficient way of getting about London, but I couldn’t handle the rush and crush every day. I saw one women getting the door slammed shut on her and another few close calls, plus I experienced being crushed hard against the other commuters on the tube on the way home from BETT one evening, something I’ve not experienced since I was in Manchester to watch Rangers in the UEFA cup final a few years back. So respect to those who do that every day.

Before Christmas I took part in 3 virtual university sessions on TouchDevelop with Peli de Halleux from Microsoft Research in USA and was selected from the 50 or so educators from around Europe who took part, to go to London for a final 24 hour appathon.  TouchDevelop is an exciting new platform which allows you to create apps on any HTML5 enabled browser and therefore you can develop on pretty much any platform, including mobile devices such as tablets or even phones. The apps you create can also be tested in the browser, so this platform provides the opportunity for students to create apps on mobile devices for mobile devices and on pretty much any device they have and see it running on that device. The final apps can be published as Windows 8 RT apps or Win7/8 phone apps on the Windows marketplace.

Microsoft Offices in London
Microsoft Offices in London

I flew down to London (courtesy of Microsoft) on the Sunday night before the event and due to Easyjet delays ended up getting to the hotel just before midnight. We began the event on Monday in Microsoft’s plush London offices and it was exciting to meet up with the other educators from around Europe who were taking part. Along with my English friends Jimmy Edwards and Ray Chambers who I knew from Microsoft Partners in Learning, I especially enjoyed talking to and sharing ideas with the 2 guys from Norway who are doing amazing stuff with Minecraft in the classroom. The appathon kicked off properly at 11am and we went hard at it, developing our app ideas into reality using TouchDevelop way into the small hours. I was creating a Windows Phone app version of my Kinect Math Mage game which I had just finished developing the previous week.

The guys from Norway
The guys from Norway
Appathon kicks off
Appathon kicks off

The competition went on late into the wee hours and I was last to leave at around 4am, but on the walk back to the hotel it dawned on me that I had a bug in the game and did a bit more in the hotel and finally went to bed around 5am. Luckily we didn’t need to be back to present our apps until 1pm.

End of the night
End of the night

We gathered together at 1pm and presented our apps to the judging panel and to our fellow educators. Math Mage was one of the fully completed apps, which made me feel pretty good about it, but there was some very stiff competition from Eastern Europe and from my friend Ray Chambers.

Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon
Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon

I must give a shout out here to Michael Philp a Scottish art student who created the amazing original art work for Math Mage, in my view anyway Math Mage was certainly the best looking app :-).

Math Mage for Windows Phone
Math Mage for Windows Phone

At the dinner later that night, the Ukraine pulled off the win for an amazing app which lets you construct and test electric circuits on your mobile phone. The winner received a brand new Surface RT Tablet courtesy of Microsoft. Despite not winning the big prize Microsoft UK were very impressed with the apps that myself and Ray Chambers produced and are going to publish them both in the Windows Marketplace.

Winning App from the Ukraine
Winning App from the Ukraine

On Wednesday I went to the BETT Show at the ExCeL Convention Centre where Vince Cable and Microsoft VP Anthony Salcito opened the show in the new Microsoft Arena in the middle of the massive ExCel conference centre. I bumped into Ollie Bray on the tube on the way to BETT and had a good chat with him and he shared some ideas for things I could do with Kinect, as well as catching me up on the exciting things he is involved with at present.

Anthony Salcito Microsoft VP
Anthony Salcito Microsoft VP
I enjoyed exploring the show on Wednesday and met up with the Northern Irish team from GameToLearn who I had done a Skype interview for last year, but never met in person. I recorded a new interview for them at the show and tried to be more positive this time when they asked for one word to sum up education (last time when they sprang it on me and I said “Challenging”). I also saw a company from Greece who are producing some nice educational Kinect games, not a million miles away from the Kinect Games I have created, but who are charging for their games (better grab my games for free while you can). Their system does have a whole backend reporting system to give feedback on how the students are performing which is a nice touch, but my games make better use of Kinect’s camera to give a more augmented reality aspect to my games. I couldn’t see an overall theme running through the show, but if I had to choose one I would say BYOD was the dominant message, which is Bring Your Own Device and the idea that in future students of all ages from Primary through to FE and HE should be allowed to take the amazing technology sitting in their bags out and use it in the classroom.
BETT Show 2013
BETT Show 2013
On Thursday Ray Chambers was back in town and after a morning of footering with our PowerPoint we headed to BETT to present on Kodu, Kinect, xGames and TouchDevelop. Before we presented we went to the NAACE stand for the launch of the Kodu Kup in conjunction with Microsoft. I bumped into Microsoft VP Anthony Salcito at the stand and had a chat with him about my Kinect Games and showed him pictures of how they were being used in Schools on my iPad mini (never have I wished for a surface tablet more). However he wasn’t totally put off as he came along to our K-Team presentation later on. On the NAACE stand Stuart Ball from Microsoft Partners in Learning along with Nicki Maddams from the K-Team launched the exciting new competition for all school kids aged 7 to 14, where they are challenged to work together in teams of 3 to produce a game which will be judged by Microsoft, with the top ten teams from around the country winning a trip to Microsoft HQ in July, where the top teams will be rewarded with XBOX360s and Kinects.
After that myself and Ray rushed over to Learn Live D where we were presenting as the K-Team on Kodu, Kinect, xGames and TouchDevelop and how these tools can and are being used to the classroom to engage and excite learners. We had some famous faces in the audience such as Anthony Salcito and Stuart Ball from Microsoft and the game developers behind the Fable game series. The presentation went very well and it seemed to be well received by everybody.
K Team Presentation
K Team Presentation
Math Mage live demo at BETT Show 2013
Math Mage live demo at BETT Show 2013
On the Friday myself and Ray had initally planned to take it easy and just take in the show and I had planned to go see Professor Brian Cox presenting, but Lee Stott from Microsoft managed to glently persuade myself and Ray to take part in another Appathon, this time it was the Stone Hackathon which was being judged by Johnny Ball of 80s kids tv fame. Ray made a french and maths version of his Spelling Bee app and I made an English version of my Math Mage called Word Mage which tests kids knowledge of Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs and Adjectives. Congratulations to Ray as he managed to grab second place for his Spelling Bee App and won a small portable printer for his efforts. It was another day spent on touchdevelop and it is a platform that I am getting very familar with in a short space of time, so much so that I have agreed to produce teaching materials for Microsoft on using TouchDevelop for games development and programming. The materials will cover basic programming concepts and how to use TouchDevelop to create classic arcade games like Pong, Breakout, Space Invaders etc.

Professor Brian Cox at BETT Show 2013
Professor Brian Cox at BETT Show 2013

Word Mage for Windows Phone 7/8
Word Mage for Windows Phone 7/8

Johnny Ball at the Hackathon
Johnny Ball at the Hackathon

Ray presenting Spelling Bee
Ray presenting Spelling Bee

Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon
Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon

Presenting Math Mage at the Hackathon
Presenting Math Mage at the Hackathon

Presenting Word Mage at the Stone Hackathon
Presenting Word Mage at the Stone Hackathon

Using technology to stay in touch with family
Keeping in touch with family

A final thank you goes out to Stuart Ball for inviting me down to the Appathon and to Microsoft for paying my flights and accommodation for the event. Also much say thanks to my Head of Section Bill Gallacher, Head of Department Anita Osborne and my Principal Audrey Cumberford for giving me the week off from my teaching duties at Reid Kerr College to attend these events.

It has been an inspiring and eventful week and something I have learned a lot from and with TouchDevelop I am taking back a great new tool to Scotland that I will hopefully be teaching to college and high school students in the coming year.

Another busy week using Games to Learn

Another interesting week at Reid Kerr College, on Monday afternoon myself and Cherry Briggs MBE met with Mark Ratter from East Renfrewshire Council. We spoke about and demonstrated the games based learning tools and the CPD training we can offer teachers in Games Development using tools like Scratch, Kodu etc. The funny thing was, when I met Mark we both thought we knew each other, but neither of us realised until after the meeting that we go to the same Church. This is the second time this has happened recently, so I’ve requested a Church directory with pictures from our Pastor to help me with this :).

Demonstrating Kinect Angles to Mark Ratter

On Wednesday Dave Sharp from Binary Asylum came into the college and spoke with our Games Students about routes into the games industry and what to expect once you get into it. Dave has worked in the games industry for almost 30 years, for various companies including Virgin Media and has worked on games such as Fallout and NBA Jam. His work has taken him all over the world and he shared his experiences of working in the UK, Sweden, USA and Hong Kong. He was also one of the main people behind the successful train2game blended learning course on Games Development.

He shared experiences and offered some great advice. He also gave some invaluable tips about creating a portfolio of work and what employers expect from graduates. After the main lecture and Q&A session, he came up to our games lab and spoke to our 2nd year HND students and they got a chance to quiz him in a smaller group. Dave is hoping to arrange for some of our students to visit one of his games companies in Scotland, which will be an invaluable experience for them.

Dave Sharp speaking with RKC Games Students

On Friday I did another online web conference/chat about my xGames and Kinect educational games. This time with GameToLearn and this week the web conference tool of choice was Skype. The chat was recorded and they will be posting it on their fb page soon. They are interested in the Gamification of educational resources to engage children in their learning, which is right up my street and hopefully it will encourage more teachers to make use of my educational games.

I finished the week by adding the facility into my xGames to add wave sound files to questions, which should be useful especially for music teachers.  I will be posting this version of xGames very soon.

Busy week of Games Dev events

So far my blog posts have all been for software releases, but I guess that isn’t really what blogging is all about, so I thought I’d try doing a more standard blog since last week was quite an interesting one. On Monday I ran a whole day of staff CPD training for Kersland School in Paisley, which is a School for children with additional support needs. A few of their staff had been at a previous CPD event I had run and requested I do a whole staff training event for them. They were particularly interested in how they could use xGames and Kinect in the classroom, so I focused on my Kinect Games, xGames and also did some Kodu with them. Overall it went extremely well, although perhaps it could have been more tailored for their learners.

Kinect Angles being played by teachers from Kersland School

On Tuesday I was at a meeting with the Principal & Vice Principal of the college, along with other staff, about the future E-Learning strategy of the college. I think I was mainly there to give an update on the xGames project, however it was very interesting to hear the thoughts of the management on the way forward in regards to embedding IT more in the learner experience in the future and I hopefully managed to contribute a little as well.

On Wednesday I organised what I think was a very successful event, we had 3 graduates from UWS, along with a final year UWS Computer Animation student and a guy with 30 years experience working mostly freelance in the Games Industry. Two of the UWS guys were ex Reid Kerr College HNC Games Graduates and one of them recently graduated with a 1st class honours and has secured a job as a programmer in industry.

The big lecture theatre in Renfrew North was packed with standing room only left by the time the event kicked off and we had well over 100 students from the various Computer Games courses and from Creative Arts.

Packed out RN Lecture Theatre for talk about Jobs in the Games Industry

The main speaker was Lauren McKellan from One Thumb Mobile in Glasgow. Lauren graduated from UWS with a degree in Computer Animation and now works for a mobile games company as their Lead Artist, mainly working on 3D models and Animation. She spoke in detail with the students about how to get a job in the games industry and gave them some invaluable advice about online portfolios and the content they should put into them. Sean also gave some great advice on the business side of things for those that might want to work freelance in the industry.

In the Q&A session at the end, the 2 ex-RKC students (James & James) really came to the floor and answered a lot of questions about the progression from College to University and what would be expected of them. They hopefully demonstrated that FE students can go onto University and achieve and go on to great things, through hard work and dedication.

On Thursday I had to deliver an online webinar for JISC RSC TV on the xGames JISC funded project. In this I provided an overview of the project from initial concept to completion and I also went over the benefits of the games for learners of all ages. The session should be available soon to watch back by clicking here.
Later on the same day, I was taking part in the first Virtual University session for Microsoft Partners in Learning Appathon Competition. I am one of 50 educators from around Europe taking part in this event. 25 out of the 50 educators will be selected by Microsoft to join them in January for an all-expenses paid trip to London to take part in the first Microsoft 24 hour Appathon for educators, where we will work with an expert to create an educational app for Windows mobile 7/8 platforms. The winning app will be put out onto the Windows Store for educators’ world wide to make use of.

The first sessions was very good, however I struggled to keep up as I was unaware that Microsoft’s TouchDevelop platform was HTML5 only and IE9 on my Windows7 laptop isn’t compatible. It must have pained the MS tutor to say it, but I was informed by him to install Google Chrome which is HTML5 compatible. Once I got Chrome installed it was all good. I also had the weird experience this weekend of playing about with Microsoft TouchDevelop on Google Chrome on my Apple Ipad.

At the end of the session we were set our first homework assignment, the second part of which was to use the Turtle library in TouchDevelop to come up with a script to draw something of our own choosing. In my vain attempt to court favour from my Microsoft tutor I came up with a script to get my turtle to draw the picture below. You think it will work?

USA Flag created using the Turtle Library in MS TouchDevelop

It doesn’t stop there, next week I have a meeting on Monday with someone from East Renfrewshire education department about using Games Dev in East Renfrewshire Schools and how we can assist with this; perhaps in the area of CPD for teachers. On Wednesday we have a guy called Dave Sharp coming in to speak to our students. He has 30 years experience in the games industry, including time spent working overseas, in places such as New York. He currently runs a video game company (Digital Asylum) and was one of the key guys behind the successful train2game online course. He will be speaking to them about the paths into the games industry.

Should be fun!


Video showing my USA Flag Turtle script running on Google Chrome on my Ipad.

CPD Event – Playful Learning

I’m running a free twilight CPD event for School teachers on the 6th of June at Reid Kerr College. It’s an introduction to using free Games Development tools such as Kodu and Scratch, as well as looking at free educational games for use in the classroom. There are about 10 spaces left, if you are in Renfrewshire you can book your place on the CPD council website, if you are outwith you can contact Gary McIntyre directly to confirm your place:
Email: gmcintyre@reidkerr.ac.uk
Tel: 0141 581 2316