October 7 2016 edition

In this week’s newsletter: Virtual reality announcements, Touch Press launch, Arduino ESLOV modules, Amazon’s $10M donation for CS, Toca TV, and Hadi Partovi on changing the world.

Thanks to Jean-Michel Blottiere, Michael John, Jason Mitchell, 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

Google Daydream ViewIt was an amazing week for virtual reality last week, with a big press event for Google and the Daydream headset, tons of information about the upcoming PlayStation VR (PSVR) launch, and the third annual Oculus Connect conference. Google announced so many things at its event (here’s a summary video), but for us the most interesting was the Daydream View, an inexpensive GearVR-style headset that uses your phone as the screen and includes a controller similar to a Wii remote. PSVR is launching October 13, and many websites posted their thoughts last Wednesday: Ars said “a lot of bang for your buck”, and The Verge said “when good enough is great”. Oculus had many announcements at its event, from a December launch date for the Oculus Touch controllers, to work on a standalone wireless headset prototype, to earphones, social features, and a VR web browser. What a great week for VR!

This deserves a separate call-out: At its conference, Oculus announced $10 million funds for both educational programs and apps that promote diversity. We’re very curious to learn more and I’m sure you are too!

There was so much great VR news this past week. Here are a few of the articles on VR and education. Washington Leadership Academy and its VR plans were highlighted in a piece on VR in the classroom for US News & World Report. Alfred Thompson calls out the promise of VR in education, and the slow pace at which schools typically adopt new technology. Natalie Orenstein points out that expensive new technologies for the classroom typically exacerbate equity challenges. Lastly, take a look at how this innovative student is attempting to learn calculus with the help of his HTC VIVE and Google’s Tilt Brush!

The popular foreign language learning app Duolingo is getting chatbots. Now you can practice your Spanish, French, or German by texting back and forth with these AIs as part of your learning experience.

Google says there are now 20 million students using Chromebooks. That’s up from 10 million a year ago! The low-cost devices have been gaining popularity in schools, now over 50% of computing hardware purchased according to some research. Google also announced a free online conference for educators, Education on Air, which will be livestreamed December 3.

Touch PressI was excited to hear about the launch of Touch Press, a new educational digital publisher. It will include the games and apps of Amplify Games, StoryToys, and Touchpress. If you’ve been itching to play more of the great education games from Amplify Games, you can download a number of them for iOS now, or sign up for their subscription option. (We’ll include them in the Playables section as we try them in the weeks to come.)

How can we empower all teachers to create their own digital tools for the classroom? EdSurge talks about educators at KIPP who worked together to build tools that enabled them to more easily give their students personalized lesson plans. It’s inspiring. How might we scale this skill up?

Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools is an impressive network of 87 school systems that meet bi-annually and in working groups to share lessons learned and best practices for improving student outcomes. Learn about some of the newest members, and more about the League, in this post on THE Journal. Video.

Learn about the use of gamification techniques to improve health outcomes in this long survey piece on US News & World Report.

The University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning is researching the use of games to reinforce math concepts, and strategies to help students who are falling behind. Games like Chess Heroes and NumberShire are used by the lab to help identify effective learning techniques for games.

Coding and Making

Arduino ESLOVAt the recent New York World Maker Faire there were several excellent developments in the world of Arduino. First off, the two organizations using the Arduino name settled their differences at last and agreed to a common path forward together. This was so important for the future of the Arduino community! Arduino also announced ESLOV, a set of new hardware modules that you can easily plug together and program with the Arduino IDE to create small devices. You can add sensors and buttons, and easily upload data to the cloud. Very interesting!

Infosys Foundation, ACM, and the CSTA have launched the Awards for Teaching Excellence in Computer Science. The annual awards will give up to ten innovative CS educators $10,000 each. Nominations for the first set of awards end November 1. Click here to submit an application!

Melinda Gates recently announced her intention to focus on improving gender diversity in the tech industry. Jessi Hempel summarized the community’s ideas and feedback to Gates, and it’s a very interesting read.

The second annual Games for Change Student Challenge has kicked off in New York City, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. Students will design games around the topics of local immigrant experiences, climate change, and future communities. Prizes include internships, mentorships, and a trip to Games for Change 2017!

SAP will donate $1 to the nonprofit organization Girls in Tech for every tweet that includes both #sconnect16 and #All4GIT until the end of the year. Let’s get to tweeting!

UW CSE2 BuildingAmazon is donating $10 million to the University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering program to help construction of a second building for the department, doubling the program’s capacity. As a Seattle-based company, Amazon hires a lot of UW CSE grads. Thanks, Amazon! (I’m a proud UW CSE grad.) Video.

SRI and MakerEd have launched a report summarizing the results of a survey on the motivation of maker educators around the United States. Lots of interesting information, including this: 92% of maker educators indicated that information about grants was somewhat or very important.

St. Louis-based Pixel Press is teaming up with Mattel, forming a strategic alliance for Bloxels, a hands-on physical platform designed to inspire children to build, collaborate, and tell stories through video game design.

MIT Sloan professor Susan Silbey writes for Marketwatch on the challenge of being a woman in a college engineering program. For the research, 40 students wrote about their experiences throughtout their entire college experience at least twice a month, and 100 additional students were interviewed twice. The findings were summarized in some paywalled research, but the article itself is quite interesting on its own.

Code to Inspire is an organization that teaches women and girls about technology and coding… in Afghanistan! Founder Fereshteh Forough talked with PBS about her Herat-based organization and the challenges they have faced.

The Nerdy Teacher, aka Nicholas Provenzano, has launched a book on starting makerspaces at school. “Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces” is a practical and personal look at how to get started with the maker mindset. Check it out!


Toca TVToca TV (iOS) – A new streaming video service for kids from Toca Boca, maker of many popular playful and educational mobile apps. Video.

Parachuted In (Web) – The Hechinger Report produced this web game and report about students who grew up in China or Taiwan but then enroll in US schools, often without much support from home.

Vidcode (Web) – Vidcode is a coding site designed with teen girls in mind, mixing tech with self-expression through creating and sharing videos. It’s a unique approach to learning coding. Give it a try! Video.

#Hacked: Syria’s Electronic Armies (Web) – Al Jazeera English created this web game (designed for mobile), based on People & Power, a documentary about Syrian hackers. Every hack in the game is based on a real hack that took place! Video.

That Dragon, Cancer (iOS) – The award-winning game about a father’s experience with his young son’s battle with brain cancer has come to Apple devices. Video.


Hadi PartoviChanging the World vs. Making Money – Code.org’s Hadi Partovi spoke at the University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering department in 2014 about the possibilities of computer science and the opportunity to use it to address national and global challenges.

Bloxels: Blueberry Popsicle Monster! – In Block Party #1, hosts Joey and Danny talk about how Bloxels works and engage in a speed round building creative characters.

MINECON 2016 Minecraft Add-Ons – The developers of Minecraft speak on a panel at MINECON about their plans for plugins and add-ons.

Kano: How to make a camera – A walkthrough of the new Kano camera kit: building it and experimenting with project ideas.

VR Zero Demos – Can you do virtual reality on a Raspberry Pi 3? In Python? As it turns out, you can! This demo has fairly simple graphics, and a low frame rate, but it does work! More info here.


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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