This update has been coming for a long time and was actually pretty much complete before the summer, but I’ve been so busy with my new role at College that I haven’t had a second to package it up and get it out. The new version of my Kinect educational games makes use of the latest Kinect SDK (v1.8) for the original Kinect for Windows, using the new SDK brings some performance boasts in itself. However the main thing that this release adds is the new X-Ray mode in my NoNeed4Green program (the green screen without a green screen). Press X once to show a skeleton overlaid on whoever is standing in front of Kinect, press it again to show just a skeleton avatar. I’m sure all you innovative educators out there can think of uses for this in the classroom.
Download the new version of Kinect Games from here. It requires Windows 7 or Windows 8 and a Kinect for Windows v1 or Kinect for XBOX360 with external power supply.
Thanks goes out to Benjamin Swindells (an ex-student of mine) for providing the skeleton graphics captured from his 3D models. Benjamin is one of the best 3D modellers/animators I have had to privilege to teach, far better than me at 3D art. Also thanks to my fellow MS expert educator Simon Johnson for creating transparent versions of the skeleton for the overlay mode.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :-).
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.
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.
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:
Full HD colour camera feed.
Much wider field of view (removing the need for the tilt motor).
6 skeletons can be tracked at once instead of 2.
Much improved depth camera.
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.
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.
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.
Most of the processing is now done on the GPU rather than the CPU of your computer.
It now comes with and requires a USB3 port, which allows for a much higher throughput of data from the sensor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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
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.
I’ve just finished doing the end of term educational conferences with Lee Stott who is a Microsoft Evangelist and a genuine nice guy. I’ve been speaking and running workshops, on Microsoft’s new mobile development platform TouchDevelop as well as speaking about Games Based Learning and the use of MineCraft in education.
TouchDevelop is a brilliant platform and is quite unique in that it runs entirely within an HTML5 web browser, which makes it truly cross platform. It will run on PCs, Laptops as well as Smartphones and tablets running Windows, iOS or Android. For me the outstanding feature of TouchDevelop is that students can create APPs easily, without having to go through a tricky process and they can then see their APPs running on their device, whether it is an iPhone, iPad, Surface or Nexus tablet. Whatever the device is, they can see something they have created running on their device. Everything they create in TouchDevelop is saved to the cloud, so its very easy for students to begin writing an APP on a PC in the classroom and then log back into their account on a mobile device at home (or even on the way home) and continue working on the same APP.
The first conference I spoke at, on TouchDevelop, was at Microsoft’s UK Windows Gaming Awareness Event at Birmingham City University on the 26th of March 2013. I did a presentation and the always risky “live demo” :-). Luckily it went well and I was invited to speak on TouchDevelop at 2 more conferences.
The first of these was Games Britannia at Sheffield Hallam University, organised by Dr. Jacob Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University, who himself worked in the games industry for Gremlin Interactive and later on Infogrames/Atari. Games Britannia was a week long event from the 10th to the 14th of June 2013, Tuesday to Thursday of which, was a series of workshops for KS3 & KS4 high school pupils to attend on many different aspects of the games industry. They had well over 300 pupils in attendance at the conference over the 3 days, attending workshops such as Concept Art, PS3 programming, CryEngine Art, Minecraft, Kinect Motion Capture and of course TouchDevelop.
I ran two morning sessions on TouchDevelop and it was great to see students aged around 14-16 really engaging in programming at a level they could understand. Being able to see them actually create something that worked within a 2 hour workshop was a thrill and one of the things I really love about TouchDevelop.
I also ran an afternoon workshop on Games Based Learning and I let students try out my free educational games (xGames and Kinect Games) which make use of gaming hardware to revise and engage students in subjects like Maths and English. The games went down very well, although by the end of the day my “Name that tune” pop music quiz was being replayed a lot. However it was interesting to see how that particular age group engaged with the games and which ones worked best with them. With the age group in attendance my xBots game was certainly the most popular, I’m guessing because there were a lot of teenage boys in attendance and that game is partially an FPS. However my Kinect Games and in particular my NoNeed4Green went down very well too.
On Tuesday evening I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing talk from Gary Carr, Creative Director of Lionhead Studios. Gary has worked with industry legend Peter Molyneux for the past 20 years and is responsible for the art in titles such as Barbarian 1 & 2, Populous 1 & 2, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and the Fable games. He had some fascinating insights into what is like working in the ever changing games industry and I’m hopefully Gary will come up later this year and speak with some of the 150+ games students at our new West College Scotland.
In between conferences I had a day in Leicester where I actually did a bit of shopping, although I was almost refused my Scottish ten pound note when the lady serving me asked what it was and if I would rather pay on card. I’ve been told repeatedly since that I should have said “I think you’ll find pal that’s legal tender”.
However, that day I also got to visit Leicester College and spoke to a great guy called Chris Seaton who is Computing Supervisor there. It was very interesting to hear the challenges he faces with the adoption of learning technology, which seem to be the same throughout education. I also got the chance to plug TouchDevelop to some of his computing lecturers and it was great to visit another FE college while on my travels.
CAS Conference 2013
On Thursday I headed with Lee to Birmingham University for the Computing at Schools annual conference. This is a great event which is probably the biggest educational conference for School Computing teachers in the UK. I ran a workshop at CAS last year on Games Based Learning, but this year I helped Lee with one of the plenary keynote presentations to the whole conference on the Friday morning. So I got to present and demonstrate TouchDevelop to around 200 of the most motivated computing teachers from around the UK, which was a big thrill, although a bit scary. We gave out around 200 TouchDevelop books and copies of my games development based curriculum. I also ran a workshop on TouchDevelop later on that day, which was attended by over 30 teachers and in a short 50 min session it was good to see so many teachers quickly picking up the basics of TouchDevelop and starting to create their own apps on a whole host of devices from Google Nexus tablets to MacBooks.
One of the things I love about these conferences is the people you meet and I met a variety of highly motivated teachers from different sectors, including a number from Scotland. I also found out while at the conference, that the Scottish government had announced £400,000 over 2 years to CAS Scotland to help support CPD training for Teachers in Computer Science, which is fantastic news.
College Development Network
The following week I attended two conferences in Scotland, this time without Lee Stott. The first was the Computing, ICT and Digital Media Annual Conference at City of Glasgow College on Monday 17th June 2013 and the second was the Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Learning Through Gaming conference at Dundee College on the 20th of June. Both conferences were organised by Gerry Dougan from the College Development Network (formerly Scotland’s Colleges).
At the first event I presented mainly about TouchDevelop to the audience who were made up of Heads of Departments and senior lecturers from around Scotland and I covered an exciting project I had organised for Gerry making use of Minecraft.
At the second event in Dundee, Chris van der Kuyl from Brightsolid gave a fascinating and motivational presentation on why games should be used in education. Chris was responsible for bringing MineCraft to the XBOX360 which became the fastest and biggest selling game on XBOX live marketplace ever, selling something like 6.5 million copies in North America alone. He gave some fascinating insight into MineCraft and how it could be used in education. He also spoke about E3 and showed the video below of a wonderful looking creative game called Project Spark coming to XBOX1 later this year.
I presented at the conference on Games for Learning and demonstrated my xGames and Kinect Games. I also went into detail about an exciting Minecraft project that I had organised for Gerry Dougan, which was the brain spark of Derek Robertson from Education Scotland. I will do a separate blog post on this project later to do it justice, but in summary 8 teams of 4 from Scotland and Norway competed over 3 weeks in the virtual world of Minecraft via a shared online server, to create their vision of what an “Ideal Learning Environment” would look like. What they came up with, the hours they put in and the learning that went on inside the world, truly blew my mind.
HEA STEM : Teaching and Learning Programming for Mobile and Tablet Devices
My final conference, before my summer holidays could properly begin, was a Programming for Mobile & Tablet Devices event at London MET University on the 25th of June 2013. It was literally a flying visit to London, down on Easyjet on Monday evening and back up Tuesday evening. I was reunited with Lee Stott and he presented on the Opportunities of Microsoft devices and services and I followed him with my now much rehearsed, presentation and demonstration of TouchDevelop, which you can download from here.
I must thank Jacob Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University, Simon Humphreys from CAS, Gerry Dougan from the College Development Network, Yanguo Jing from London MET and of course Lee Stott from Microsoft for having me at their events.
I spent over 10 years as a software engineer in industry, working mainly on database systems and in that time I never once used Physics and very rarely used Maths. However when I started teaching Games Development around 7 years ago, I finally started to use both Maths and Physics and it quickly dawned on me that Games Development would be an ideal way to engage students in Maths & Physics.
Around 3 years ago (2010-2011) Curriculum for Excellence came into schools in Scotland and was implemented in Primary Schools first. Part of curriculum for excellence was to contextualise subjects to make links between subject areas in order to make the learning relevant and meaningful for students. Teachers started developing cross-curricular topics in Primary Schools and were fairly successful at implementing these.
High Schools only properly started implementing Curriculum for Excellence in the last academic year (2012-2013) and I think it would be fair to say that they found it harder to find cross-curricular topics to make this work in High School.
This leads me back to Games Development, which I believe is the ideal cross-curricular topic to engage learners in traditional subjects like Maths, Physics, English, Music and Art, as well as ICT. These are subjects in which males in particular, have been disengaging in recent years.
In recent years Valve, a major games company, have been trying to get involved in education. They said,
“It’s eye-opening to see how video games can be used in amazing and unexpected ways to help educate our next generation”
In 2011 Valve made their popular puzzle game Portal free as they wanted teachers to play it and understand how much potential it has in educating young students, in subjects like Physics. Valve are quoted as saying,
“Using interactive tools like the Portal series to draw them in makes physics, maths, logic, spatial reasoning, probability, and problem-solving interesting, cool, and fun which gets us one step closer to our goal—engaged, thoughtful kids.”
In 2011 NESTA collaborated with industry luminaries Alex Hope and Ian Livingstone to publish Next Gen – a widely-applauded government advice paper on how to improve the teaching of computer science in English Schools.
The report came up with some interesting recommendations:
Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young people into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and computer science.
Include art and computer science in the English Baccalaureate.
Encourage art-tech crossover and work-based learning through school clubs.
Introduce a new National Video Games Development and Animation Schools Competition.
In February 2013, Michael Gove adopted one of the main recommendations of the report by announcing that Computer Science was going to become part of the English Baccalaureate.
Learning and Teaching Scotland (now Education Scotland) started a game based learning initiative in 2006 called “The Consolarium” which focused on game based learning,
The Consolarium also looked at Game Design as well as game based learning,
“Game Design is a creative medium. It challenges pupils to analyse problems, structure solutions and continuously evaluate their progress. There are many game design tools available for use in schools and at home. It can be used in a number of different ways in our curriculum – not just within computing clasrooms.”
With all this supporting evidence, I believe that Secondary Schools should use Games development as an integrated learning context to support Curriculum for Excellence. Games development is an ideal topic for the “Joyning the learning” approach that is an integral part of Curriculum for Excellence. Games development involves Computer Programming, Physics, Maths, English, Music and Art. Many would consider that Games Development is 90% programming and although programming is a vital part of it, there are so many other curricular areas involved.
Girls are currently outperforming boys, at most levels and in most subjects (even traditionally male subjects). This should help re-address this issue; however it should not disenfranchise female learners, as more and more females are getting involved in gaming. Indeed it should actually help address the issue of the lack of females choosing Computer Science as a subject in secondary school, when they choose subjects to study in the senior phase. This is reflected by the lack of females working in the computing industry and in particular within the games industry.
Adding further encouragement to using Games Development as a cross-curricular topic is the fact that from the early level through to the fourth level, curriculum for excellence lists Games Development as an experience and outcome that all students are meant to experience.
How do the various subject areas fit into Games Development?
I will now examine how different subject areas tie in with Games Development as a cross-curricular topic.
Programming is still central to games development and a topic that has been losing interest in secondary schools until recently; however you can teach the same programming skills that you would learn making a Business application by making a computer game or mobile phone app. If anything games programming is slightly more difficult as it encompasses things like Physics and Maths. Programming is a vital 21st century skill and a skill that is in high demand by industry. There are currently more jobs available in programming, than there are graduates to fill those positions. Games programming is the ideal way to get young learners interested in programming.
Physics is central to games, the Holy Grail in games is to make the game experience as realistic as possible and this is achieved by making games look and feel as real as possible. A major part of this is applying real world physics into the games. Things like Newton’s laws of motion, projectile physics and aerodynamics can all be applied in games.
English isn’t a subject you would normally associate with computer games, however more and more authors are getting involved in writing the storylines for games. Some of the big games have better production values and better writing in them, than some Hollywood movies. The biggest computer games make far more money than any Hollywood blockbuster. Students involved in essay writing, could write the storyline for a game, that they will then go onto make in computing. The story may even be displayed in the game or incorporated visually.
More and more games companies are employing people to work in specific areas, such as art direction, 3D animation, 2D animation etc. Art and in particular 2D and 3D graphics are vital to any game. Learners could be set tasks to produce art work, that would then be incorporated into a game. The art doesn’t necessarily have to be electronic, as the art could be scanned into an electronic format to be included in a game. Something my students did very successfully recently, when producing games for this years HNC graded unit projects in my college. Where they scanned in art work created by local Primary School children and incorporated the art into their games.
In a similar vein to Art, Music and Sound Effects are specific job roles in computer games development. Games need original music and sound effects to make the game a fully immersive experience. Again students could be set projects to produce sound effects or original music scores that could be incoporated into a game.
Maths is one of the main skills that games companies look for from potential employees. Maths is involved at so many levels in games development. A simple example of this is the use of trigonometry in games to work out the direction a vehicle is moving in. Learners could be set problems to solve that could then be directly implemented in a computer game.
To support all these subject areas would require a whole range of ICT skills, such as Word Processing, Photoshop, Music Applications, Sound Editing Software, 2D/3D animation packages and so on.
Enterprise is an area in secondary education that is becoming more and more popular and games development is an ideal topic for this. It includes core skills central to Enterprise, such as communication skills, problem solving skills and team work where you can develop a game in a group by assigning different roles and therefore takes advantage of the different skills sets the learners possess. In 2012 Paisley Grammar pupils came into Reid Kerr College for advice as part of an Enterprise project where they were attempting to develop an iPhone App; we were able to help them by producing a PC prototype of their game.
Two main problems exist in making this happen, one is a lack of programming skills amongst secondary school computing teachers, who for years have been primarily teaching Microsoft Office. The other problem is getting different departments and indeed teachers within those departments to work together to make this happen across subject areas.
The Scottish government have just announced £400,000 over 2 years to CAS (Computing at Schools) Scotland for CPD training of computing teachers (http://www.compednet.com/2013/06/government-funding-for-cs-cpd-programme/ 2013). Hopefully this money will be used effectively to help computing teachers, throughout Scotland, to update their skills, particularly in the area of computer programming.
In regards to the second problem, it will require management within secondary schools to recognise the value of Games Development as a cross-curricular topic and then show strong leadership to implement it by getting departments to work together.
This year our HNC Games students at Reid Kerr College worked in partnership with a local Primary School, Lochfield Primary in Paisley, to produce games for their HNC Group graded unit project. This is the third year we have worked in partnership with Lochfield for our HNC Graded Unit games, however this year we took things a step further with the schoolchildren actually contributing art work for the games.
The project began in February and in discussion with the school we set the theme for this years games to be “Healthy Living”. So we tasked our students to come up with game ideas that promote an awareness of the benefits of healthy living and asked them to select a representative from each team of 4, who would present those ideas to the primary school. On the 8th of February we visited Lochfield Primary and our students gave PowerPoint presentations on their game ideas to around 70 Primary 6 pupils. They were then given the opportunity to get feedback from the kids and discuss their ideas further in small groups, effectively using the schoolchildren as a focus group. Some of my students were extremely nervous about the idea of presenting to and talking to schoolchildren, but as in previous years those fears soon dissipated when they realised how enthusiastic and positive the children were about the games, something that rubbed off on the rest of their team-mates when the representatives reported back. One thing that we introduced this year, which we hadn’t done before, was that we asked the schoolchildren to draw art for the games, so during the discussions with the schoolchildren, our students also discussed with them the types of art they would like them to create.
From February to May our students worked away in their teams turning their concepts into games for Windows 7 using XNA4. We received a bunch of art from the schoolchildren which we scanned in and used in at least half the games, along with art produced by our own students.
On May 20th we had a big event at the college and over 70 Primary 6 pupils were bussed into the college for the day. We had to split the schoolchildren up and we enlisted help from the Care & Construction departments in our college, who took turns with half of the group while the other half played the games our groups had created. Once the children were finished playing the games they went onto an online survey and rated the games out of 20, based on originality, graphics, sound and most importantly gameplay.
Lee Stott from Microsoft attended the event and very kindly provided prizes, in the form of Kinects, for the winning team. It was a close call between two of the games and in the end one vote could have swung it either way; eventually the only game which featured a 2 player mode won. In the end it was a triumph for gameplay, however the game which came second had an excellent concept, was a great game with far more complexity to it and even had a level designer. I’m hopefully they will develop it further and enter it into the imagine cup next year.
This partnership with Lochfield Primary has improved our students’ experience of learning in a number of ways and opened the eyes of the schoolchildren to games development as a possible career path.
Benefits to Games Development students
1. They had a realistic learning experience by designing and writing games for a live client group.
2. The partnership was an enjoyable and positive learning experience for both the schoolchildren and the college students, as they experienced working with a partner to produce artwork for the games.
3. The competitive element of the partnership was appealing to them and a motivating factor.
4. Peer review by other students and by the schoolchildren was invaluable in forming ideas on how the games could be improved in the future.
Lee stayed on after the schoolchildren had left and took part in a judging event in the afternoon with my HND Games Development students, who had been tasked with producing a Windows Phone game based around an apocalyptic theme (so lots of Zombie games). We had an impressive judging panel,which I had kept as a little surprise from my students :-), that included myself, David Marshall & Martin Barrett from Reid Kerr, Fiona Rushton & Ian Tyson from James Watt, Daniel Livingstone from UWS and of course Lee Stott from Microsoft. Ten of my students presented their game concepts, how their games had been developed and how they felt about the way their game had turned out. They also answered questions from the panel, who had the opportunity to play all the games on Windows Phones. In the end the panel came up with a top 3 and Lee presented the winning student with a Windows Phone as a prize.