Monthly Archives: April 2017

April 14 2017 edition

In this week’s newsletter: Richard Culatta takes the CEO role at ISTE, NYTimes highlights the value of computational thinking, Google’s AutoDraw fixes your squiggly drawings, and Bill Gates points out modern innovations in a 360-degree “hide and seek” video.

150 IssuesHappy 150th issue, Level Up Report! Sometimes I worry that we’re saying the same thing over and over in this newsletter each week. I have a strong aversion to sending you a newsletter full of things you already know: there’s enough boring in the world! We’ll continue to stick with things that are important or just plain crazy and fun. Onward!

Games and Education

Richard CulattaCongratulations to Richard Culatta, new CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)! Readers of the newsletter may be familiar with Richard’s previous work as director of the Office of Educational Technology at the US Department of Education, or his more recent role as Chief Innovation Officer of the state of Rhode Island. He is a kind soul with a deep passion for using technology in innovative ways to enhance education. We can’t imagine anyone more perfect for the job!

Can being silly, making friends, doing projects, and just – playing – help improve learning? City Neighbors High School in northeast Baltimore includes time each day for kids to just be kids, breaking free from the “school as factory” mentality. They assert that, perhaps, high school should be more like preschool, full of projects and more self-driven.

Matt Farber discusses co-viewing Minecraft videos with your child, in a blog post for the Cooney Center. A number of parents have shared with me concern over their child’s interest in watching Minecraft videos, almost greater than playing the game themselves! Wonder Quest is a popular spin-off series from Stampy Cat, and includes some educational content in each episode. Why not try watching it with your family’s Minecraft fans?

Here’s a pair of interesting articles on VR and the classroom… On EdSurge, Kerry Gallagher interviews a number of educators about why they find VR useful in the classroom: interactivity, empathy, and creativity. At EdTech Magazine, Maya Georgieva asserts that adding a dash of VR to class is becoming increasingly affordable through use of Google Cardboard, Daydream View, Samsung Gear VR, and upcoming Microsoft headsets. She’s right, but I’m not happy with just a DASH of VR – how do we get all students in VR at the same time, interacting, affordably? We’ve still got a long way to go.

Why is it that so much education research fails to find application in the modern classroom? Jay Lynch and Nathan Martin explore how to move education research forward, and how to improve its relevance and usefulness, in an interesting piece for EdSurge.

Friend of the newsletter Russ Shilling is also wondering about researcher/educator collaborations, and suggests that DARPA’s model for research aimed at transformational innovation may hold the key to rapid progress. Russ is responding to a fascinating new publication from the Cooney Center and New America, “STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering and math education in early childhood”. According to research, children who engage in scientific activities at an early age develop more positive attitudes toward science. So how can we encourage and support those activities, making sure that parents and educators have the resources they need? THE Journal will give you a short summary of the report.

Coding and Making

Bee-BotThe New York Times dives in on computational thinking, which it calls “thinking like a computer”. It’s a good article, detailing the concept through conversations with a number of prominent thinkers in the space, such as UC Berkeley’s Daniel Garcia and Tufts University’s Marina Umaschi Bers.

Maybe this should go in the “Videos” section, but this littleBits article highlighting famous female and male computer scientists over the years through YouTube videos is a great resource. Learn about Ada Lovelace, Margaret Hamilton, Alan Turing, and more!

Park City kindergarteners are learning the basics of computer programming through a gift of Bee-Bots from a local donor and cloud services company BoardDocs. The instruction is currently offered to students in grades K-3, with the intent of expanding the program to a graduated curriculum for all grades.

At a recent Cambridge event, EDC released the “State of the States Landscape Report”, detailing the state of computer science education in the United States. The report provides an excellent summary of current policy progress around the US. Absolutely valuable information if you are interested in K-12 CS education.

This Kickstarter for a low cost LEGO-compatible electronics kit is blowing my mind. Check out “Crazy Circuits”… it’s an impressive integration of existing electronics parts with conductive tape and LEGOs.

There were several interesting pieces recently on teaching kids how to hack (Slate, TheHill), with an emphasis on the importance of cybersecurity and of training a workforce capable of dealing with these new threats. This training is important yet challenging, as it goes directly against the movement toward higher levels of technology abstraction. How do we incentivize learning about the lower, fundamental layers of technology through hacking assembly language and sniffing network packets? Perhaps competitions like picoCTF and games like TIS-100 can help.


Google AutoDrawGoogle’s AutoDraw (Web) – This impressive AI-driven app will try to guess what you’re drawing and give you a clean and professional line drawing in reply. It works pretty well with my chicken scratches. Give it a try! Video.

AP CS Principles: Coding Lite (Web) – The New York Times published a selection of ten multiple-choice questions from the new CS Principles practice exam. They make a fun puzzle. Test yourself!

Adopt the Planet (Web) – Celebrate Earth Day 2017 with NASA by adopting a piece of the Earth. Then explore the interactive map to learn more about Earth science data.

QwertyTown (Web) – Looking to improve your typing skills or teach typing to your kids or students? Check out QwertyTown, a web-based keyboarding game that teaches you the basics while keeping you engaged. Includes analytics and reports for educators! Video.

WebVR Experiments (Web) – Curious about the progress of VR for the Web? Check out this site on your Google Cardboard, Gear VR, or fancier headset to see how WebVR performs and experience the latest interaction experiments.


Small Innovations Big ImpactSmall Innovations – Big Impact – Bill Gates highlights amazing innovations in a fun 360-degree “hide and seek” video. See if you can find the innovation before he points it out!

Design Thinking: Prioritizing Process Skills – Watch kids become master problem solvers through designing, building, and iterating. Great Edutopia video.

MyLab – Mixed Reality Chemistry for HoloLens – How can we use AR to enhance education? Check out this interesting chemistry app that encourages you to mix atoms to make molecules. Now we need it to simulate chemical reactions!

3D Printing Hermit Crab Shelters – Why can’t hermit crabs have fashion too? Let’s build some style into their shells via 3D printing.

Kids Try 100 Years of Cookies with Cookie Monster – Because cookie!


Arctic Climate Game Jam! – Multi-site game jam using scientific data to create games about climate change in the Arctic. April 21-30.
Scratch Day – A month of global events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Scratch! Worldwide. May.
GamesBeat Summit – Game industry execs discuss the latest trends and opportunities. Berkeley, CA. May 1-2.
Construct3D – National conference on 3D printing in education. Durham, NC. May 5-7.
E3 Expo – Game industry’s largest U.S. event, showcasing upcoming games and technology. Los Angeles, CA. June 13-15.
Computer Science Teachers Association conference – CSTA’s annual conference for computer science educators. Baltimore, MD. July 8-11.


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