Text Adventures in Grade 3/4B

I have used text adventures in the classroom before, with grade six students. I didn’t really think my grade 3/4 students would enjoy or benefit from playing text adventures: I thought they might not understand a lot of the words, or have a lot of difficulty with typing commands, or be able to grasp the idea that the player must discover the world within the game with no images and zero guidance. Once again, my students have blown me away with what they have achieved. I stand corrected.


Text adventures have been around for years. Like, 30 years. When I introduced Zork I: The Great Underground Empire to my grade I led in with “this game is older than me”. After recovering from the responses of “woah, that game is OLD” and “really? Did they have computers back then?” I loaded the game on the IWB and asked them what they thought we needed to do.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 8.05.10 PMAfter almost a year in my grade my students know that we need to take risks in games and have a go, because what’s the worst that can happen in a game? “Click on the black square!” “Press the up arrow!” “Google it!” None of that got us anywhere in the game, so I asked them to close their eyes and I read the text to them, asking them to visualise themselves in the open field, with a white house to their left and a mailbox nearby. Several pairs of eyes sprang open – “open the mailbox!”. I asked how to do that – “Type it!” So we did.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 8.11.19 PM“Why is there a leaf in the mailbox?” “No, it’s a leaflet”. “What’s a leaflet?” “You know, you get them in the mail, like junk mail. They are ads for stuff”. “Yeah, they are persuasive texts you get in the letterbox!” “Can we read it?”.

The conversations sparked by this game were amazing. Students were sharing prior knowledge on items and places in the game, reading words to each other and discussing the meaning of what they were reading. The grade quickly got used to the verb-noun pattern for typing commands and started exploring the game.

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They had soon ventured to dimly lit forests and discovered jewel-encrusted eggs. They stumbled upon a white house and explored the rooms, encountering hidden creatures.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.59.49 PMThe grade worked in pairs or groups of three to play the game but mapped the world within the game individually as the game unfolded for them. They were challenged by the lack of images in this game, as some needed assistance in visualising what they read, but as they got used to the game they became thoroughly engaged and really excited by it, cheering whenever I announced we would be playing it at school and choosing to play it at home, too.

I think the fact that players cannot save their progress in this game and that they must restart if they die in the game helped students to develop persistence and problem solving. Students collaborated with each other to provide advice on how to advance in the game (don’t jump in the kitchen…) but, as we practiced a lot in grade 3/4B last year, they never just gave the answer to the problem, instead encouraging their peers to have a go, because “what’s the worst that can happen?”

Zork 1 presented a wonderful challenge for my grade 3/4 students, and was a vehicle for learning in vocabulary, verbs, nouns, adjectives, spatial awareness, visualisation, mapping, directions, team work, collaboration, risk taking and problem solving. I would recommend it for grade 3+.

Zork 1 was incorporated into our Literacy program as a GBL rotation activity using school netbooks. It is available for free online and does not require downloading. I usually access the game here. Recently I have experienced difficulties in loading Zork due to an issue with my browser blocking Java – I have heard this is not uncommon and have been directed to this alternative site.

This year I am again a grade 3/4 teacher, but this year I am teaching my grade part time and teaching ICT to the whole school part time. A fun new challenge! Also 2013 was my last year as Miss Barr – from this year on I am Mrs Camm, one of the teachers of The Mighty 3/4CC, who will most likely feature in future posts.

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I have been testing the waters of GBL in a grade 3/4 classroom this year. It has been a wonderful challenge for me as a teacher and students have been open to and enthusiastic about using games to support their learning. It has taken a longer period of time (compared to previous years with grade 5/6 students) to help students understand that we play games with a learning focus in mind. I have had to pack up the PlayStation2 and take it home once this year due to students watching the GBL activity rather than concentrating on their own activity, but in this lovely third term everything has fallen into place and my students, especially my grade 4s, have worked really well to investigate the concepts brought forward by games.

Late last term and early this term, we have been using Electrocity in Science and Literacy. Electrocity is a free online game, funded by Genesis Energy, an electricity generator and retailer in New Zealand. The game is modeled around energy use in New Zealand, but I think Australian usage is very similar, and this factor does not impact on the concepts explored within the game.

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Students begin by creating a new game and naming their city. They are then presented with a map of their town and the surrounding, randomly created landscape, including mountains, hills, beaches, rivers, plains, forests and lakes. They begin with a population of 10,000 entirely happy residents and a budget of $400. The aim of the game is to create enough energy supply for their town, but it’s not all that simple.

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My students, with some teacher encouragement, began clicking on things to see what would happen. They soon discovered that different areas of land can be used for different things. Budget restrictions quickly came into play, so making money became the first task for many.

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Some did this by raising taxes, but they quickly realised that high taxes result in unhappy residents, a reduction in the population and sometimes angry mobs.

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Students can explore the pros and cons about each power source they are able to build, and as they work through their turns (they get 150) they make connections between the power source, it’s impact on the environment, population sentiment and cost of production.

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By clicking on their town, players can implement energy-saving programmes for their citizens which may help to reduce energy usage.

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Things can quickly go wrong if players build things such as docks, airports and stadiums without enough energy to support them, and once you go broke it’s game over.

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If players do manage to make it through their 150 turns they are given feedback on their game play and how they have impacted on the environment, population, energy management and popularity.

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The game has more complex aspects to it, including buying and selling units of coal and gas on the market, improving tourism and increasing town populations, but I have used this game with the focus of the impact of power sources on the environment. My grade 3/4 students have had some fantastic conversations while playing this game, discussing clean energy, budget constraints and the idea that you can’t please every citizen all the time.

I highly recommend this game to teachers with students from grade 3 and above. The game website provides teacher resources for multiple age groups. I created a simple comparison activity for my students to complete while playing, and have found it best suited to grade 5/6 students, as they are generally more able to understand the technical language in the game.

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Electrocity is fun for students and creates an awareness of the impact of creating power on the environment and the restrictions faced by government in the process. It encourages risk taking to achieve goals, which is one of the most powerful aspects of games-based learning.

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Super Scribblenauts on DS in Literacy

This term we have introduced the use of Super Scribblenauts on Nintendo DS into our Literacy Rotations in the 6B classroom. Released in 2010, the game is a little gem for GBL, as the puzzles rely on the player correctly and creatively using spelling, adjectives and nouns to solve puzzles that encourage players to think outside the square.

The game is rated PG, so I sent home notes to gain parental permission for students to play the game in class. It was easily the fastest return rate on notes I have ever seen, and every child received permission to play.

For the first time, I have been able to get a class set of games through a wonderful partnership we have established with a games association in Sydney. Previously I have funded all of the consoles and games used in my classroom and have not been able to afford class sets of games. This has restricted the focus of the literacy learning to topics that apply to different games at one time e.g. character focus, vocabulary in the game. With a class set of Super Scribblenauts I have been able to create learning foci more specific to the content of the game. This has enabled students to work much more collaboratively on a puzzle than when they were playing different games at one time. Students have also been able to save their game progress and continue from where they were the week before without another player adding to their score or progressing further in the game.


The use of adjectives has been a focus for the students in my grade since the beginning of the year. Most students tend not to use adjectives in their writing, even though some are using similes and simple metaphors. Success in Super Scribblenauts depends on the use of adjectives to clearly describe the nouns required to defeat monsters, fill the empty box, cause the extinction of the dinosaurs, fix the race car, allow the arguing brothers to get along and many other goals to achieve in the game. I have created graphic organisers for each puzzle we have focussed on and they are downloadable as images if you right-click on them and select save as from the menu.

Four of my students this year were in my grade last year too and are now very comfortable with learning through the use of games. The other students, who had not experienced GBL prior to this year, very quickly got used to approaching a game as a text and with a particular focus for learning in mind with the four experienced students guiding them.

The graphic organisers made the learning focus for each puzzle very clear to the students and reminded students to use the internet to source further information around the puzzle’s focus. Students were able to compare and contrast items within each puzzle, group them according to use, alphabetise them and find a relevant match for them. When we began to use Super Scribblenauts students seemed to automatically rely only on their prior knowledge to solve the puzzles and would come to me if they didn’t know anything about the topic presented to them by the game. After a few weeks of this students now come to me only to ask if they can get a netbook as they now know that exploration of the topics through use of the internet is a way to make text-to-text links with the game.

This year my school is employing a new data tracking system, which includes the tracking of student attendance across the school. As of last week, my grade had the best attendance in the school for the year so far. I believe GBL has quite a bit to do with that statistic.

The puzzles in Super Scribblenauts cover a wide range of topics and I think this is a positive as it exposes students to a range of landscapes, vocabulary and themes they don’t engage with on a daily basis. For example, one puzzle focuses on homes for different characters, including a tiger, a boy and a cow. The graphic organiser asked students to list these characters and the homes that match them, but then asked them to list other animals and their homes. Some students were able to complete this using prior knowledge, others used the internet to research some animal homes to complete their list.

When playing the game, students must use at least two adjectives to describe any noun they use for a puzzle. I then linked this focus to writing, and asked students to include two adjectives for each noun in their narrative writing, so as to encourage students to make further text-to-texts links between the game and their own writing. From my experiences with games in Literacy last year, I expect that students will begin to make this link on their own during term three.

Super Scribblenauts has been an excellent game for use in the grade 6 classroom, and I recommend it to teachers in the grade 5 to year 8 areas (middle years). The game presents challenges that entertain and engage players of all ages. I know I’ve been challenged by it, especially in level 8, where one puzzle still defeats me! It has been much more valuable in regards to focussed learning to have a class set of one game rather than a broad focus designed to suit the learning in a variety of games.

I’ll post more graphic organisers as I create them.

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New game from FableVision – Villainy Inc.

FableVision, the company who co-created Lure of the Labyrinth (LOTL) with MIT, have released a new online maths game called Villainy Inc. Like LOTL, the game is free and requires the latest Flashplayer download, meaning it can be played on all types of computers with internet access but not iPads/iPods. Also like LOTL, Villainy Inc . links to the standards of the Maryland (US) Mathematics curriculum.

The game is broken into two missions, and each requires the application of several mathematical concepts to achieve the goal of the narrative. Players take on the role of a secret agent going undercover as one of the evil Dr Wick’s own agents in order to undermine his plans for world domination. The good guys maintain contact with you through a watch you wear, and you have 2 agents assigned to you as assistants should you need help. You can also call upon the mysterious Deep Thought if you become stuck on a problem.

The narrative has a stronger presence in Villiany Inc than in LOTL, and is presented in animation rather than in the comic form seen in LOTL. Each part of the narrative reveals the next step in Dr Wick’s plan, and gives players a preview into what kinds of maths will be needed.

Mission one, the Golf of Mexico, is a great problem solving task where players need to apply their understanding of area and perimeter, addition and subtraction, ascending and descending order, multiplication strategies and tessellations. Problem solving skills are developed, as the player may need to complete three or four steps with a different mathematical skill required within any task.

Tools are provided to the player, such as area blocks and a notepad to type on (although I found myself reaching for pen and paper anyway). Measurements are in miles, but that has no impact on this particular mission, as the problem is about area and you only need the distances to multiply them.

The above problem involves the player determining the most expensive option for building Dr Wick’s Golf Course and recommending it to him in order to send him broke quickly. Again relevant tools are provided for the player. This problem has many steps for completion, and as problem solving is an area for improvement in my grade I am particularly looking forward to using this game with my grade.

While Villainy Inc. lacks the sophistication of LOTL’s monitored chat spaces for students and monitoring tools for teachers, Fablevision have once again provided teachers with tips and ideas for using the game in the classroom. They have also provided clear links between each puzzle and the mathematics curriculum standards and supplemental worksheets to extend and support the learning in each puzzle.

There is only one thing that frustrates me about this game (aside from the slightly annoying characters in the narrative) – within Lure of the Labyrinth is Puzzle Mode, and as I teacher I used this to pinpoint the focus of a lesson, e.g. area and perimeter in The West Garden Puzzle, by using a particular puzzle with the whole class when needed. With Villainy Inc. you must play from start to finish, and cannot skip ahead to any puzzle without first completing the ones before it. On the upside, there is no login/password required and the website for the game doesn’t have the word “game” in it, so it won’t be blocked at school. Another great game from FableVision, but as a teacher I need more freedom in accessing the puzzles within the game in order to facilitate student discussion and model problem-solving using the Interactive Whiteboard.

Villainy Inc. is great for students to explore concepts and discover things through trial and error in their own way and own time. I know my students will love it, and I really like the problem-solving aspect of the game.

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Case Study of Lure of the Labyrinth

As part of the DEECD’s Innovating with Technologies Serious Games Trial, Pentland Primary School was selected as a case study school for our use of Lure of the Labyrinth in our grade 5/6 classroom.

We had great success with implementing this game as part of our Numeracy program, and I have created a report with details of the game, work samples, photos, reflections and some of the assessment data we collected.

The document includes some detail into how we used the game with our students and how we assessed students before, during and after using the game.


The full PDF document, which includes the assessment data collected throughout the project, is available through this link (large file). I hope this will be useful to teachers looking to implement the use of Lure of the Labyrinth with their students. Our students really enjoyed playing the game last year and my grade this year are begging to get started with it this year!

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Learning Without Frontiers 2012 Day Two


Here we are again, we’ve packed our suitcases (I had to sit on mine to close it, and while I am sure it now weighs more than I do, I am assured that it doesn’t) so that we can go to the airport after the last presentation of the day.

Morning Session – 21st Century Learning


21st century learning is the theme, and Lord David Puttnam is kicking off the day by chairing a panel. Lord Putnam presented at last year’s LWF, and was one of my favourite presenters. Many of those in ps are likely to spend their working lives predominantly dominated by voice recognition technology. The technology in Apple’s Siri is 3-4 years old, and what they are working on now is remarkably more advanced. Lord Puttnam believes that voice and gesture recognition technology is going to play a big role in our lives and the lives of our students as they enter the workforce.

Puttnam mentions a book he read over the Christmas period called The Culture of Military Innovation. He discusses the idea that technology, along with new forms of instruction and assessment, is having a positive effect on education, and that the UK is in a great position to lead this.

The first panel speaker is Mitchel Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten at the MIT Media Lab. He is talking about how Kindergartens came about, and the power of the learning that occurs through play, specifically the process of creativity. “We need to think about how new technologies to extend the kinder approach.” He shared a video about a 2 week camp for girls in Boston aged 11-13 run by MIT in conjunction with the Girl Scouts. The girls had created amazing thins with Lego and other technologies. One group created a speedometer for her roller blades, another built an huge house for her pet gerbil with doors that opened when the gerbil stood on a button. The best one was a diary security system, which took a photo of anyone who tried to open the lock. He went on to talk about the use of Scratch in schools all over the world, and the projects that gave been shared on the Scratch website, including some lovely little Mother’s Day animations children had made, and a lot of creations and remixes related to a set of books I haven’t heard of called Warrior Cats (great website!). I must have my finger off the pulse, because I’ve never seen these books on the shelves in book/ebook stores or on the desks of my students, so I’ll be searching one out when I get home. Resnick tells us that he thinks of ICT as Information Creativity Technology.


We sneak out of the Main Theatre to attend the Games Based Learning breakout in another inflatable dome. There is a video playing about the games industry, where one guy states that the schools and universities are “failing the programming industry”. On a friendlier note, the video goes on to show how different games and programming software is being used in schools. It looks like Andrew Goff is running this. It’s nice to put a name to the sender of the emails I have gotten every couple of days since I visited his booth at BETT last year. Goff introduces himself as a teacher of 20 years and a person who wants to try to link schools with industry.

He then introduces Don Passey, who works in educational research at Lancaster University, and he is talking about GBL and the project using LBP2 in Wolverhampton schools and it’s interim findings. 193 students and 10 teachers over 18 weeks, “results indicated significant improvement of the mathematical achievement of the experimental group versus the control group. No significant improvement was found in the motivation of the groups.” Really??? Interesting… “Females enjoyed the activities as much as males, and were as successful.”

Passey notes that future studies into GBL need to “pick up longer term skills as well as shorter term skills”,  and that it would be useful to have longer term studies to see how transfer occurs. “Games vary, which makes GBL a difficult concept”.

When talking about LittleBig Planet 2 Passy says “you can play it but also it is to do with construction of games and levels, which was a focus of this research”. Some skills required are technical, artistic, team working, logical thinking and planning. He suggests the research needs to look at whether each student gains all skills or it different students develop different skills and why this occurs. The student teams were found to be quite important in this study. Students’ experience with LBP2 far outweighed the knowledge of the teacher, and teachers saw this as an opportunity, and took on the role of facilitator, providing the technology and the space to students. Research was based on pre/post questionnaire and interviews – the interim findings suggest big improvements in team work and communication.

At this point, GBL is tending to engage students who might not be otherwise engaged at school – comment by one of the teachers involved in the study. The skills being developed Merlin John has reported on it. Website.

The next speaker is Kristian Still (@kristianstill), a teacher, presenting about Interactive Fiction and Literacy. I have used interactive fiction with my grade 5/6 students with the text adventure Sorcerer for literacy and geography. Lil Red is a text adventure that Kristian co-designed with some of his students. Students created games around topics that interested them, with themselves as the main characters.  “Reading becomes playing and writing becomes game design” when creating text adventures (interactive fiction).

Now Tom Cole (@thesynapseuk), who is a part time teacher, part time games design student is sharing the story line of the interactive fiction he created, which required players to have some knowledge of KS3 science. I had a chat with him after a fabulous comment he made in response to the audience question of “why use LBP2, why not use educational games?”, the answer being “because more often than not they are absolute rubbish”. SO TRUE. Edutainment is not GBL.

Alex Warren shared how he has been working with interactive fiction also. This tent is a great place to be, it’s great to see some real Games-Based Learning stuff here at LWF12.


I’m still in the GBL dome; what started as one excellent session has extended into three excellent sessions, as I’m not going anywhere. I’ve even missed morning tea! Andy Goff is back, recapping the main points he mention in his introduction about his company Interactive Opportunities and what they are doing with schools. Changing the Game and Hack to the Future (to be run next month) are events run by iO, and they are wanting to assist students with using GBL in their after-school clubs.

Goff talks about Algodoo, and how teachers can get started on this with their students straight away, with support from iO. With that, the session is over, and everyone clumps together to swap business cards.

Oh, and the guy with the question about educational games walked out more than half an hour ago. Not his thing.


After the GBL breakout I spent some time wandering around the domes. I revisited the Nintendo Dome and and spied on the expo section from the floor above.


Jesse Schell is on stage. He is a games designer and is discussing the trends of beauty (beautiful phones, buildings), customisation (avatars/Miis in gaming, and did you know you can customised M&Ms and Coca-Cola brands – this is a FB app –  in the US???) and sharing (Wikipedia, social media) in the 21st century. Schell says “and that’s what you see in the classroom, right? …Right?? No. That’s not what you see. The classroom is freakin’ ugly”. He asks why school seem to be immune from these trends, and attributes this to schools being slow to adopt things. He talks about customised learning being a sign of respect towards the learner, and states that curious children have an “insane advantage” because anything they want to learn, they can, “just like that”, but “developing curiosity is not in the curriculum, and standardised testing punishes curiosity”. He suggests we use simulations to get close to reality where we are hindered by location.


Got a good sandwich for lunch today, again with a salad but no fork. Sadly the salad had olives in it, so I didn’t bother with the location of cutlery. Stephen Heppell is on stage setting up as the room fills. I’d say it seats about 400 people. Don’t you hate it when 2 people sit on each end of a row of chairs so it’s difficult to get to the seats in the middle? Luckily, as we are experienced conference-goers, we get in early. We’ve formed a small group of Aussies, as I’m sitting with Adrian Camm (@AdrianCamm) and Louise Duncan (@LouiseEDuncan). Happy Australia Day, by the way!


Afternoon Session – Leading a Learning Revolution

Graham introduces Stephen Heppell by saying “I’m not going to read you the bio that his mum sent me, because it’s pages and pages. And if you don’t know who Stephen Heppell is, then you bloody well should”.

Stephen Heppell is well known in the ed tech community and is a consultant with some really great ideas about teaching and learning. The education projects that really worked were “the ones that were properly scary, really frightening”. He talks about the shoes-off learning environment and surfaces such as walls and tables being writing surfaces where students can take a photo of their writing to record their thinking and their work. He showed a video featuring him interviewing 2 students about what they think university will be like. The students said that because universities are experienced with education and learning that they will be able to learn in a style that suits their needs “Schools are the intellectual powerhouses of our communities”. “We need to trust our students to do amazing things, we need to trust ourselves to let them”, and “we need to trust our systems to get out of the way”.

Francis Gilbert currently teaches part time and has published a book called I’m a teacher, get me out of here. He runs a website which celebrates the achievement of local schools. He starts by saying “welcome to the Matrix”, referring to the educational matrix he says teachers and students work in today. He shares an experience where a student came to him and asked him what the definition of impartial was. Gilbert says that this student didn’t do a Google search for the word definition because, he assumes, the students didn’t know how to. I have had a similar experience to the one he describes, and I disagree with his assumption. I found that students knew exactly how to search for a word definition on Google – they are just in the habit of going to the teacher to get the answer, as a lot of the time their experience of education is still the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, and that the teacher has all the answers.

Gibert mentions the book Regulatory Discourses in Education: A Lacanian Approach, in which the authors look at teacher training which they suggest creates oppression and anxiety in schools.

He talks about the construction of teacher identity through Ofsted (UK), “how quiet is your classroom?”, and “your” results, and he states that “the assessment tail is wagging the dog”. This leads into his stance on standardised testing, which he makes clear is detrimental to student self-esteem and attitudes to learning and clouds teacher understanding of student capabilities and misconceptions. He says we need to have a system much more focussed on experiential learning and personal student response and has much more awareness that emotions construct who we are. He adds that embracing new discourses is the way to achieve this goal, and with the teacher in the role of facilitator, not someone who imposes learning on students – an educational Matrix where “everyone is a creator”.


Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft Corp.’s Worldwide Public Sector organization, works with education institutions and partners globally to embrace technology to optimize learning environments and student achievement. He states that students participate in learning experiences using technology to enhance them, and then are assessed in an environment where devices are forbidden. He quotes an article he read recently that claims that devices improve student results by 20% (I also saw this pop up on Twitter, and agree with Salcito’s next statement: “The students improved their learning, the devices just helped along the journey”. The role of the teacher is changing with the fundamental shift in the availability of information. Salcito touches on GBL, saying it is often discussed in connection with personalising learning. He says that when he himself plays a game he knows nothing about the game world, how to move around, the currency, the characters etc, but as he plays that game he is becoming an expert. He touches on multiple examples of the positive effects of games-based learning but is talking so fast that I can’t keep up with my typing and will have to watch the video when it is published. Wow. My brain hurts.

Jim Knight starts his talk with a slide of the picture that was on Apple’s website the day Steve Jobs died. He was a government minister of schools for 5 years, and says that in his 5th year in this role someone brought him a document that he believes is the first thing presented to him that was truly designed, in regards to where words where o the page, the fonts, text size, colour, were are placed for specific effect, as per the design for a purpose. He asks, what would happen if our system was truly designed? And he wants to explore the idea of a truly designed school, taking ideas from the biography of Steve Jobs because of the simplistic and effect designs of Apple products. It’s an unusual talk, and came about when LWF’s founder Graham saw Knight present in Scotland on the day Steve Jobs died, where Knight made a one line comment, wondering out loud what a school designed by Steve Jobs would have been like. He was then invited to speak about that idea today. He’s losing me a bit as he seems to be pausing for a bit to try to read notes off his iPhone, which is too small for this job. Towards the end of his talk he mentions that he and someone else are working o a new school in Portland, so maybe all of the great things he is saying will come to fruition.

Emma Mulqueeny is the founder of Young Rewired State, which is a network of under 18s who have taught themselves how to code. Emma tells us that she suffers from stage fright and so has recruited some of the young people in the network to present their thoughts and some of the work they have been doing. They have had about 24 hours in total to “hack education” – those were the only instructions given – and came onstage to share what they had achieved in that time. One presenter, Michael, shared his frustration about what isn’t and, in his experience, what techs won’t put on school servers. So he created a simple program that is online so that it doesn’t need to be on a school server, and it enables students to use coded to do “stuff”. Another 2 boys talked about edugrid, a tool for teachers to assist them in creating and sharing grids. They mention Beta Fest, an event for young people that they are organising. Then they talk about eduk!nect, which they coded in only a matter of hours. It’s an app for use on the XBox360 using the Kinect, and is a simple maths game which requires players to control it and answer questions using gestures. The last coder who spoke has a future in presenting, and shared his team’s education hack, which is a website for students to share their homework, so that it doesn’t “go to waste” and “gets the audience it deserves”. They were all great presentations by some talented young people, and they said that of the 150 young people involved in the Young Rewired State, none of them learned their coding skills in a school setting. Great stuff.


The last speaker of the day is Sir Ken Robinson, via video link, from San Francisco, where it is 9am and he’s been watching some of the live feed of the conference. If you haven’t heard of him, have a look at these fantastic videos.

He talks about how we already know what needs changing in education, as evidenced by the speakers and the educators attending, and the work they are dong in schools. He discusses that in education, theory, practice and policy are isolated from one another – those who practise literally don’t have time to research theory, theory doesn’t involve much practice, and policy, I guess, is the one to rule them all. Sir Ken suggests that these need to be intertwined in order to create change in education. Inspirational as always. I’ll be rewatching his video when I get home.

So that was day two of LWF12. This conference was really interesting, with presenters from a wide variety of fields. I found that this year, more so than last year, the presenters all tied their talks back to technology and education, regardless of their field. It was great to listen to speakers of such high calibre as Kurzweil, Heppell, Chomsky and Robinson, and the organiser has done an incredible job in bringing all of these speakers together in one conference.

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Learning Without Frontiers 2012 Day One


We’ve just filed into the Main Theatre here at the Olympia Conference Centre on Hammersmith Road in London, the same venue that hosted the BETT Conference 2 weeks ago. A different area of the venue is being used – instead of using the huge open area utilised for the BETT Expo, a narrower, longer space is being used to house big, white, inflatable domes with displays in them. I spotted a Nintendo Dome, and it’s full of 3DSs set up for delegates to have a go on. I’ll be going back for a closer look and a chat.

Morning Sessions – Learning Futures


There are three huge screens at the front of the theatre, and Noam Chomsky has appeared on all three – it’s a pre-recorded interview about learning and education.

He discusses two ideas of “education”, indoctrinarian and inquiry. He asks “are you trained for passing tests or are you trained for solving problems creatively?”. He talks about how learners need to be able to approach a resource as large as the internet with a framework/driectives in order to navigate and find what you need, not just random “factoids”. He states that information is not enough, we need to learn how to question and analyse. He adds that “taking tests can be of some use for both the person taking the test…and instructors (for development the course of instruction) but apart from that, they don’t tell you very much”. A person can do magnificently on every test without understanding the topic well at all. Lastly he notes that “passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring into topics that excite and engage us” and, my favourite quote, “it doesn’t matter what you cover, it matters what you dis-cover.”


Learning Without Frontiers founder Graham Brown-Martin (@GrahamBM) is speaking, using iPromptPro on his iPad2 – a great app for presenting, I use it every time I present now. Love the bit about how he said his daughter only knows the 21st century, but we (educators) are still discussing the 21st century in terms of how best to teach her Geography. For her, technology “just is”. She is a master of AppleTV, Nintendo 3DS and YouTube. She can manage Google without any issues. She is 6.

As educators we need to take into account that students come to us with better digital knowledge than most teachers and to tap into it rather than shying away from it – I don’t believe it’s fair to have students “gear down” while at school, so to speak.


Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near and Founder of The Singularity University is on stage. Here’s his Website. Here’s Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. The main topic throughout his talk was exponential growth in education, technology, biology, health and medicine. It took 400 years for the printing press to be adopted by a mass audience. Sanitation took 100 years to be adopted. It took 7 years for the cell phone to be adopted by the masses. Social media took 3 years.

Kurzweil describes technologies such as calculators and search engines as Brain extenders. When calculators were introduced to schools, some educators feared students would not learn arithmetic as thoroughly and would rely on the calculator.

Kurweil states that “young people plus ideas plus passion” change the world. Technology accelerates the process. Do it in school! When talking about students at his University he says that young people who are already changing the world are of interest. “A young woman who has designed a way to convert swamp water into safe drinking water is of interest to us. A young man who designed an iPhone App with a million download is of interest to us”. Kurzweil says that for him, education should be more about creativity and the ability to solve problems. And I agree with him. Here’s one last great quote from Kurweil’s talk: “Your daughter can’t take her iPad to school? That’s foolish”.

So are our students coming out of school with the creativity and problem solving abilities discussed? Can they, if they are completing worksheets daily?


Debbie Forster, Interim CEO of CDI Europe, is on next. She talks Apps for Good which is a problem-solving course where students work from their own interests and passions, through a vigorous 5 step program to solve a related problem. Students do market research, put together business models and more. Classroom teachers are trained as part of the program and resources are available on line. The program involves 200 experts visiting schools, Skyping with students and participating in online forums to offer advice to students.

Jaron Lanier is a man with THE longest dreadlocks I have ever seen. He is a musician, artist and computer scientist for Microsoft. He unpacks this amazing looking musical instrument that he explains is in the same family as the mouth organ, and is called a Sheng. Lanier tells us that “innovation knocks on the door via mistakes”. He mentions that he was part of the team that made gadgets for use in the movie Minority Report. He shared stories about creating things for use in Hollywood blockbusters such as extra limbs and gadgets. A great idea he is sharing is about the use of Avatars in education, and says “turn kids into avatars that are the things they are studying. For example when teaching chemistry – turn a kid into a molecule. If you are the molecule, that molecule is interesting because it’s you… it gets very interesting very quickly”.


Ellen MacArthur shared stories about her dream of becoming a Veteranarian, which were shattered when she scored 1 point lower than required in her mock exams and was told not to bother trying to be a vet because she wasn’t smart enough. When this happened she returned to her childhood dream of sailing around the world, which she did. Ellen has now left professional sailing to found the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works with companies to assist them rethink and redesign what they do with finite resources.

Discussing mobile technology and it’s impact is GSMA’s Michael O’Hara. This guy comes from Belfast, lives in Boston and works in London – “distance is irrelevant”. He predicts that the world will hit 24 billion mobile connections in the next ten years. He says that when using devices students are workers, teachers are coaches and that “kids are waaaaay ahead of us with this stuff and can do amazing things”.


Keri Facer, a Professor of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, is speaking about how we need an education that helps us to live with our technologies, live through environmental change, build intergenerational and social solidarity and to create real economic resilience.


Afternoon Sessions – How Innovation Happens


After a sad lunch (I was given a nice looking couscous salad but told there were currently no forks and that “more have been ordered” – I never saw them) we have wandered back into the main theatre for the afternoon sessions with the theme How Innovation Happens. First up is Charles Leadbeater.

Charles presented a keynote at the 2010 DEECD Innovations Showcase, where he was introduced as Charles Leadbeater. Here he has been introduced as Charles “Leadbetter”. So we’ve ben saying it wrong back home!

PS. Sitting in the seats directly in front of me are Conrad Wolfram and Michael Brooks. I’m hoping to gain some knowledge through osmosis while in such close proximity.

His new book is called Innovation in Education: A Million Tiny Revolutions and is for sale outside the door, and is named this so it turns up in Google searches for the terms “innovation” and “education”. Google is the death of metaphor, Mr Leadbeater jokes, as he wanted it to be called “Doors to Infinity”.

Leadbeater suggests that “new ideas come from mavericks, mixtures and margins”, people who are “leading a movement, not running a system”. He states that we need an education system that follows what he calls The Barcelona Principles – Move, pass, connect, always.


Conrad Wolfram , founder of Wolfram Research Europe Ltd and computerbasedmath.org and brother of the creator of WolframAlpha, is talking about Math. Or Maths. In the US it’s Math, in the UK and Australia it’s Maths. Wolfram thinks that Maths is a better descriptor, as he believes there are 2 types of Math: real world and school based.

He discusses and argues the advice from some experts to teachers (get the basics right, computers dumb maths down and hand-calculating procedures teach understanding) in regards to the teaching of Mathematics in schools.

“Get the basics right” – Wolfram questions this – “basics of what exactly?” Of the subject (maths) itself. He suggests problem centred maths – design a currency, how many levels of friends are we separated by on Facebook, making a perfect password for a login, what is a beautiful shape and here’s a face – what happens when it is compressed?

“Computers dumb maths down” – this annoys Wolfram and he asks “have computers really diminished learning? Computers have allowed much more powerful modelling and analysis, because computers do the calculating”.

“Hand-calculating procedures teach understanding” – Wolfram agrees to some extent and shares his belief in the importance of students learning how to follow a process to solve an equation.

Launch of the Wolfram UK Programming Challenge, where UK students can create learning demonstrations to share of Wolfram Alpha with the aim of producing the best demonstration.

We have to fix assessment – the completely dumb way in which people are assessed. It needs to involve computers and be much more open ended.

Michael Brooks (@drmichaelbrooks) is a scientist and author and campaigns for science education, and the importance of it, in the face of the perception that it can be dull and boring. I only saw the very beginning of his talk before…


I suddenly realised I was meant to be in a session elsewhere, snuck out and ended up in an inflatable dome, watching people write on post-it notes about project-based learning, extended learning relationships, school as base camp and school as learning commons. I’m not sure how but I’ve been bypassed for 2 rounds of sticky-notes and some sort of sign up sheet, and I can’t hear my group’s discussion as their backs are turned. It seems that the presenter is from a company that produces publications on project-based learning, and is handing out proof copies for free. They have collected the group brainstorms and are keeping them for future reference. I don’t learn a lot from this session and wish I had stayed for more of Michael Brooks’ talk.


I’ve come back into the main theatre and found the seat I left earlier. I had to ask a man if I could please get past him. He seems a bit annoyed with me. I soon realise, as he gets up on stage, that he is Ed Vaizy MP, opposition spokesman and Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industry. Well, big deal, I needed to get to my seat.

While Mr Vaizy talks about how the education system needs to be porous and flexible and that the enthusiasm of LWF delegates needs to be harnessed and directed by the government, I have googled something that 3 presenters have now mentioned – a cheap computer called a Raspberry Pi.

4.20pm Afternoon Break, and another delegate and I were very resourceful in locating a powerpoint to charge our laptops. My little MacBookPro did well to last the 9 hours since I unplugged it this morning. I’m back up to 23% and good to go.

Oh, and look who I met in the break!


Jakob Kragh, President of Lego Education has taken the stage to great applause for the Lego product (because who doesn’t love Lego?). He is talking about nurturing creativity and innovation in schools, and the fact that a lot of student learning is occurring outside of the school setting. “All children are creative, and we want to put them in a situation that enables them to explore that creativity”. The skill of learning, the will of learning and the thrill of learning, resulting in the students wanting to learn more. Kragh says “we believe” that introducing play into the classroom is important for education in many subject areas, e.g. being able to build the structures they are learning about. Lego robotics project for science and mathematics education.

Mr Kragh then had people distribute little packets of Lego to everyone in the audience, and asked us all to build a duck in 60 seconds. There was much discussion and laughter around this activity, and everyone around me created a different duck. My duck was VERY different. It’s the one on the left, obviously.

This short exercise brought home the point, reiterated by Kragh, that everyone is unique, and students learn through their own creativity, and that Lego Education are working with schools to tap into this to enhance the link between learning and play.

The final speaker for today is Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of NESTA, an organisation which promotes innovation as a way to solve economic and social challenges. Mulgan puts forward the thought that the iPod is not the idea of Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive: if you take it apart it’s an assembly, a hybrid, of other people’s ideas put together in a way that makes sense, making each element more powerful. Mulgan also mentions that the digital education field is currently relatively evidence free, and NESTA is looking for evidence.

He recommends the book Redirect by Timothy Wilson, about a new set of ideas in psych and accounts of programs in the us for cutting teen preg, reducing crime and encouraging positive social interactions.

He shares his concern that there are small pockets of innovation that are only small and how little our system has changed. He suggests that in education there should be small trials for changes in the system and not across a whole state/country as has been done in the past, and “making mistakes on a colossal level”, affected the learning of many students.


We’ve just returned to the hotel after the Learning Without Frontiers Awards, which were both fun and sad. They were hosted by Dallas Campbell, presenter on BBC’s Big Bang Goes the Theory, a science show. He was good fun in his role as presenter. There were awards for innovators and innovations in the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors. There was also a special award presented by Tony Parkin (@tonyparkin) and Dawn Hallybone (@dawnhallybone) to the wife of Tom Cooper, who passed away in December, recognising his enthusiasm and dedication to ICT in education.  I’m fairly sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

So that was Day One of Learning Without Frontiers 2012. More to come tomorrow with another big day!

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