Thursday, October 25, 2018

Own Your Skills

In September 2017 I gave a talk at the Pacific NorthWest PHP conference (PNWPHP). "Using PHP and JavaScript to Design a Better Board GameThe board game I discussed was Strengths and Troubles.

Meet Pup, the PHP-Women elephant I was given at the conference.

This fall that talk morphed into an article for php[architect] Magazine. "Rapid Prototyping a Board Game with PHP" was published in the October 2018 issue.

Recently, I was interviewed by the magazine for a php[architect] podcast episode. You can listen to the podcast here PHP Architect Podcast Episode 14. If you're not a PHP geek you may want to click here to hear my interview only. They really let me go on and on. My interview runs about 28 minutes.

Own Your Skills

One reason programming is so deeply satisfying is that it's creative. 

The fact that programmers are creative is lost on most non-coders. There was a widely held idea that our main job was to add a line to a form for a bank or other client. Graphic artists are supposed to be the creative ones. The app explosion demonstrates programmer creativity although many believe that's just about making millions.

My main point in my presentation, the article and the podcast is that having skills like PHP, MySql, JavaScript and HTML5 or any other languages allow you to be creative on your own personal projects. 

Suppose a skill you possess is knitting. Do you wait around for a paid knitting gig? No. You think about the striped socks your girlfriend's been wanting and get to work.

To quote Simon Sarris' final comment in the code for his HTML5 Canvas Tutorial,

“// Now go make something amazing!” 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Six Answers

Denise Pinho was a participant in the MIT edX MOOC on Learning Game Design. Denise lives in  the interior of southern Brazil and is a student, a published poet and an artist. She has kept in touch and is a member of the Facebook Learning Game Designers Group.

Denise recently asked to interview me for her post graduation's conclusion work where she's writing about learning games in math classes.

She sent me six questions.

  1- Can you tell me a bit about your experience with learning games?
CBS Software published my first computer learning game, Math Mileage, in 1984. This game was based on pencil-and-paper games I had used with my students in the '70s as an elementary math teacher. In the '90s and to the present, I've designed computer games based on my teaching experience. My games are not generally designed for classroom use. They are mainly consumer games where I keep homeschool families in mind.

2- You live on the United States. Could you tell me about how the educational system is receiving this proposal of using digital games?
The adoption of digital games in our government schools is growing at a very slow pace. Learning games have been researched since the '70s but usage lags, even though other computer applications in schools have increased. I blame this on inflexible curricula and schedules as well as teachers who do not realize the benefits.

3- Which do you believe are the characteristics of a good educational game?
This is my favorite question!
The game must be fun.
The goal of the game should be as simple and immediately obvious as possible but playing the game should provide almost endless challenge.
So, the game should be challenging but not discouraging with opportunities to learn from mistakes and try again.  And, by the way, if a game isn’t challenging it won’t be fun either.
Digital games should make good use of the special capabilities of computers, rather than simply imitating real-world activities. For instance, I wouldn't design a virtual sandbox for youngsters to play with.
In fact, I'm particularly interested in programming games that can ONLY be fully realized with a computer. Computerized versions of existing board games, card games, or puzzles should at least add some value that wouldn't be possible in the physical game.
The educational value of the game should be intrinsic to it. This is true of Math Mileage, for example, where using mental arithmetic to plan one's route to the goal is essential to winning. You may have seen games where this organic quality is completely lacking, such as a math game in which the player gets to make a football goal each time she solves an arithmetic problem.
Good games go beyond simple drill and memorization to a deeper understanding of a topic.
Good educational games can be for solitary play or competitive or cooperative, and never portray violence.

4- Could you tell me some advantages of using digital games on education? Especially in math classes.
Games can enhance engagement and concentration.
Games can provide individualized learning where a student can start right from where they are and “level up” at their own speed.
Games can give instant feedback which is optimal for learning a new skill.
Games can reduce “fear of failure” in math learners and increase confidence.

5- Could you tell me about some success story regarding the use of digital games in math classes?
My game Number Round-Up is a number theory game and was planned for ages 12 and up.  Although I’ve included advice for classroom uses in additional resources online, I don’t know that Number Round-Up has yet been used in a classroom. But an ambitious 7-year-old spent all his “screen time” at home to play it every day. The next year his math teacher moved him into algebra class!

6- And finally... Could you tell me about some difficulties occurred on implementing digital games in math classes?
I can only say that teachers will have to be assertive and plan more flexible and creative ways to use games in classes. Meanwhile, students will probably be playing them outside of school!

Thanks to Denise's questions I was able to put some of my thoughts about computer math games in writing.