Monthly Archives: August 2016

August 26 2016 edition

In this week’s newsletter: the amazing Mars Experience Bus project, MIT’s Mitch Resnick on “wide walls” in education, the Jurassic GO photo safari game, and President Obama shares Yosemite with you in VR.

Sometimes the amount of amazing news, events, competitions, book releases, and job openings from our community is totally overwhelming. What a great problem to have! I try to keep this weekly newsletter short enough that you can read through it. Apologies to the many people whose amazing activities don’t wind up in the report. I keep thinking about how to do an “expanded” version but time and funding are constrained quantities, so many things just wind up in my Twitter feed instead. In the meanwhile… here’s this week’s news!

The US Department of Energy is accepting applications for its Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program. Applications due November 17.

Thanks to Nick Berry, Gaurav Mathur, Ed Metz, Mitch Resnick, Russ Shilling, and Greg Toppo 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

Mars Experience BusThis week we were extremely impressed by the Mars Experience Bus project. Sponsored by Lockheed Martin, and brought to life by ISL, Framestore, and McCann NY, this ordinary looking school bus arrived at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington DC and took students on a field trip to Mars. Video. Behind the scenes.

Getting a grasp on when gender and racial achievement gaps begin to form is fundamentally important for us to begin to address the problem. F. Chris Curran from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County published an interesting research piece, “Understanding Science Achievement Gaps by Race/Ethnicity and Gender in Kindergarten and First Grade”. Unfortunately the paper is behind a paywall. This EdWeek summary is behind the EdWeek paywall but you may be able to reach it as part of the free trial. It sums up the paper well, highlighting that the gender gap is indistinguishable in Kindergarten, and becomes visible in 1st grade.

Congratulations to ThinkZone Games, maker of Hats & Ladders, grand prize winner of the Reach Higher Career App Challenge! The game-based app helps students explore careers through self-assessments and challenges. The team hopes to bring the app to beta in Spring 2017.

A study at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland is testing the use of virtual reality to distract kids with sickle cell disease from the pain that comes with their illness. Could VR be used as a therapy to reduce dependence on pain medication?

Dr. Ray Perez from the Office of Naval Research believes that playing video games improves your cognitive and visual processes. Now the question is: if games can increase your capacity for speed and efficiency in decision making, how can they be used deliberately to train that capacity?

Can games be used as a therapy to improve the health outcomes of children with autism? Frankie and Friends is a game being developed and tested in Perth that is designed to target social skills that many children with autism find challenging.

Should augmented reality games be forced to acquire regional event permits for parts of the game that take place in particular physical locations? Milwaukee County’s parks director think so, and has asked the makers of Pokemon Go to apply for a permit to enable game play on park land. Can of worms… opened?

Coding and Making

Mitch ResnickMitch Resnick, director of MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, expands beyond the idea of “low floors” and “high ceilings” in learning technologies. Let’s focus on designing “wide walls”: providing multiple learning pathways for students so they can find their own way and work on projects that are meaningful to them.

ThoughtSTEM, creator of the popular LearnToMod Minecraft program, has received a Phase II SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation to broaden the development of their web-based coding environment for learning programming. The software supports both Blockly and JavaScript. Congratulations!

Is a juvenile detention facility a great place for a makerspace, or a horrible one? You can probably guess my opinion, though of course some are cautious. Learn about the Tehama Juvenile Hall Makerspace and the positive impact it’s having on youth who spend time there.

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, is doing amazing work tackling the gender bias in computer science education. Read about how their computer science program graduated its first majority-female class, and how Klawe is spreading what they’ve learned to other colleges and universities through the BRAID Initiative.

Researchers are increasingly using DIY electronics kits, 3D printers, and consumer-grade sensors to help advance their work. Scientific American reports on the Maker Movement and its impact on the ability to quickly build prototypes for research.

MindSpark is a Santa Monica-based startup that hires and trains autistic adults to test enterprise software and find bugs. The nonprofit has worked with Fortune 500 brands including Fox Networks Group and Liberty Mutual.

Want to know how to get computer science education really rolling in your local school district? Ask Claire Shorall, manager of computer science for Oakland Unified. It starts with dreaming big!

Cotee River Elementary took advantage of the hype around the Olympics to hold their own STEAM Olympics! The activity for fourth- and fifth-grade students at this Florida school was designed to engage students early and get them excited about learning and the school’s new makerspace. Sounds like fun!


Jurassic GOJurassic GO: Dinosaur Snap Adventures (iOS) – Take a tour through the countryside and try to spot all the wildlife! This riff on the old Pokemon Snap game is a delightful photo safari through a Jurassic-era landscape. Video.

Google Search games (Web, iOS, Android) – Shall we play a game? Solitaire and tic-tac-toe are now as close as your nearest web browser. Just type the name of the game into the Google search bar on desktop or in your Google app!

Story Sphere (Web) – These 360-degree images with audio will immediately transport you to locations around the world. Try them out in your browser, or better yet, on your Google Cardboard. Now, go make your own Story Spheres and share them with your friends!

Pythonroom (Web) – Have you been meaning to learn Python programming? It’s easy! Start with this interactive site that will teach you all the basics.


POTUS Yosemite VRThrough the Ages: President Obama Celebrates America’s National Parks – The White House teamed up with National Geographic, Oculus, and Felix & Paul Studios to create a narrated 360-degree video tour of Yosemite National Park. You can enjoy the experience on your desktop, but it’ll be even more impressive on your Gear VR, and soon on your Oculus Rift.

Women in Tech: Defying the Odds – In a video from Bill Gates’ personal YouTube channel, four female computer science students discuss their love of computing and give advice to girls who want to pursue careers in technology.

Maker Faire Tokyo 2016 – Curious what the maker movement is up to in another countries? Be inspired by this interesting short video of things seen at Maker Faire Tokyo.

Computer Science for All: A Panel from Games for Change – Four members of the New York City movement to improve computer science education gathered at the Games for Change Festival to discuss the current status, and how the nationwide CS4All movement is gathering STEAM.


PAX West – The big Penny Arcade Expo, West-coast edition. A huge consumer event for the love of games. Seattle, WA. September 2-5.
Digital Kids Summit – Discussing trends, products, and innovation in the kids digital space. San Francisco, CA. September 13-14.
Austin Game Conference – The return of AGC! Highlighting the development of live, participatory games with real-time engagement. Austin, TX. September 21-22.
MINECON 2016 – The huge annual Minecraft event! Anaheim, CA. September 24-25.
GameSoundCon – The leading conference on the art, technology, and business of game audio. Los Angeles, CA. September 27-28.
Digital Media and Learning – Linking scholars and practitioners together for a discussion of theory, study, policy, and practice. Irvine, CA. October 5-7.
Intentional Play Summit – A full-day event on using games for learning and motivation, at the Computer History Museum. Mountain View, CA. October 7.


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