October 14 2016 edition

In this week’s newsletter: Sprint’s 1Million Project, MEL Science’s VR chemistry sets, Ada Lovelace Day, tech skills for social good, Jane McGonigal’s SwingVoter Go!, and Laila Shabir’s Girls Make Games.

Thanks to Nick Berry, Jacquie Gardy, Jennifer Javornik, Tammie Schrader, and Russ Shilling for contributions to this issue! You can send us your news and favorites by replying back to this newsletter or using the contact information shown at the bottom.

Games and Education

Sprint's 1Million ProjectSprint announced that they will be donating free wireless devices and connectivity to one million underprivileged high school students over the next five years. The “1Million Project” is designed to help bridge the homework gap for students lacking home internet access. Well done, Sprint. Details here.

Ryan Sumo asks “Can Political Games Change the World?”, pointing to and critiquing a number of interesting political games. But of course they can! His studio is developing a game called Political Animals, coming soon. Interested in political games? Check out my 2012 US Presidential campaign game list, and see the Playables section below for a new one from Jane McGonigal!

Research from Stanford and Microsoft concludes that Pokemon Go players are getting an average of 26% more physical activity than they were before, which could benefit their health and well-being. Yes!

Diane Main, from The Harker School in San Jose, California, has been using Minecraft for Education for about four years now. Main and her son explored MINECON together and share their thoughts on the game’s great potential for student engagement and project-based learning.

MEL Science VR ChemistryWe heard recently about Washington Leadership Academy and its goal to put its chemistry class in virtual reality. This week MEL Science announced it has raised capital to produce a VR/AR chemistry set subscription service. Subscribers get two interactive chemistry sets each month that work with the MEL mobile app and a Google Cardboard.

We’ve seen research on “brain training” games and now know them to be less effective than we once thought. But recent research from Yale suggests there may be value in using short games before a full lesson to prime the brain and improve learning for the material that follows. Interesting research worth learning more about. Thanks to GamesAndLearning.org!

Great coverage of the impressive ecosystem game Eco from Strange Loop games on Gamasutra this past week. The game has a Minecraft-like style and is designed to encourage thinking about interconnected systems. Check it out.

The new Cozmo robot from Anki is a palm-sized AI that may surprise you by being both adorable and independent.

The Seattle Weekly explored the origin of Seattle’s virtual reality community, talking with Dr. Tom Furness, founder of the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington. It’s a great article about the incredible potential to use virtual reality to explore what it means to be human. I got my start in VR there, so of course, I would say that. But go read it. πŸ™‚

Coding and Making

Ada Lovelace DayOctober 11 was Ada Lovelace Day, a day for us to pointedly consider the state of tech gender diversity and how we’re doing at improving inclusivity. It’s been three years since we first became aware of Tracy Chou’s impressive spreadsheet highlighting the low percentage of women engineers at most tech companies. Many companies have made efforts to improve their gender diversity, but progress has been slow. The Guardian summarized the current state at the top tech companies this past week. Redfin specifically published its numbers, citing progress. CompTIA commissioned research studying the problem and published its findings on why girls move away from tech during adolescence. Lastly, moving away from numbers and toward a more personal experience, I appreciated this story of a woman who realized she was limiting herself with her language.

Girls Who Code launched an app for its alumni and teachers to use to communicate with each other, opening opportunities for networking and a pathway to discover jobs and internships. Great idea!

Google opened a community computer lab in Oakland, encouraging students to come to the lab to pursue projects like coding, game development, and 3D modeling. The company hopes to develop a curriculum that it can open source to educators. A second lab will open in Harlem next year.

Zillow Community PillarRebekah Bastian, VP Product at Zillow, realized that she could use her skills not only to create an amazing product at Zillow, but also to improve her community. She dived in and learned about homelessness, then built out the Community Pillar program with her colleagues during Zillow “hack weeks”. You too can use your tech superpowers for good! What problems are you passionate about solving?

We mentioned the Bloxels/Mattel partnership last week. Were you wondering what Bloxels is? Kotaku did a nice piece exploring the learning toy that combines an iPad with a physical device to create a compelling simple game development experience for children 8 and up.

EdTech Magazine talked with educators at three schools about what it took to implement their makerspaces. Practical advice from real educators who have successfully integrated maker activities: How can you get better than that?

Learning.com has launched a coding competition for elementary and middle school students. In the Code-a-Thon, which takes place in early November, students use the CoffeeScript language to program a monkey to collect bananas. The winning school will be the one with the highest average number of points earned. Students can win free subscriptions for a digital literacy curriculum.


SwingVoter Go!SwingVoter Go! (Web) – Jane McGonigal and MoveOn.org have teamed up to create a web game for the US election, using gamification techniques to encourage outreach to your friends who are voters in swing states. More info on VentureBeat. Give it a try!

Cognition (iOS) – Guide two connected gears through a messy clockmaker’s workshop in this lovely hand-drawn game from students at New York University. Video.

Ice Flows (iOS, Android, Web) – A great game created by scientists at the University of Exeter that illustrates the impact of climate change in Antarctica in a simple and friendly way. Save the penguins! Video.

C0D3BR34K3RS (iOS) – Explore the museum and solve a crime by bypassing its math-based security systems. Stylish and fun! Video.

Dragon Quest Builders (PS4, Vita) – Rebuild and save the world of Alefgard in this Minecraft-like console game with a Dragon Quest story line. Video.


Laila ShabirCritical Path – Girls Level Up – Laila Shabir is founder of Girls Make Games, a wonderful organization that inspires girls to express themselves through creating videogames. Learn about Shabir and the Girls Make Games camps in this delightful short documentary from Critical Path.

Pong Project – This amazing Maker project reimagines the traditional Pong game as an interactive ice hockey-style table, with working Pong controls, a score display, and lots of flashy lights. Must be seen!

Games for Change interview – James Collins – The Classcraft folks sat down with James Collins of the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology earlier this year for a short interview. How can games be used to teach in the classroom?

Cozmo – Behind the Scenes – Anki’s Cozmo robot is some very impressive hardware and software, in service of a cute and engaging AI personality.

Nofrendo NES emulator on the ESP32 – The Maker world is abuzz over the ESP32, a 32-bit upgrade to the extremely inexpensive ESP8266 Wifi board. The “Hello World” of new chips may just be Super Mario Bros, so of course here’s a port of the Nofrendo NES emulator to the ESP32!


IndieCade Festival – The ninth annual festival and summit celebrating innovative independent games. Los Angeles, CA. October 14-16.
CHI PLAY – Interdisciplinary research conference focused on play, games, and human-computer interaction. Austin, TX. October 16-19.
Grace Hopper Celebration – The world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Houston, TX. October 19-21.
Meaningful Play – A conference on theory, research, and game design innovations for serious games. East Lansing, MI. October 20-22.
North American Simulation and Gaming Association – On using active learning to improve engagement, retention, and performance. Bloomington, IN. October 26-29.
Virtual Reality Developers Conference – Bringing together creators of immersive VR experiences to share best practices and technology demos. San Francisco, CA. November 2-3.
National Association for the Education of Young Children – The annual conference and expo is the largest gathering of early childhood professionals. Los Angeles, CA. November 2-5.
Education in Games Summit – Empowering teachers with new ideas for the Digital Technologies Curriculum through games and play. Melbourne, Australia. November 7.


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