September 25 2015 edition

Thanks to Amy Jo Kim, Russell Shilling, and Meghan Ventura for contributions to this issue! Please forward us your news and favorites to the contact information shown at the bottom.

The Climate Game Jam is coming October 2-4 to a site near you! Participants in the jam will create prototypes that allow players to learn about climate change through science-based experiences.

Games for Impact

Samsung Gear VROculus VR held its second annual developer conference last week, highlighting the latest updates to its platform. Samsung announced that later this year it will ship a $99 Gear VR headset that uses its latest phones for the main display. John Carmack talked about his work bringing Minecraft to the platform, and Anna Sweet detailed “Oculus Platform”, an Xbox Live-style hub for Oculus VR titles.

We’ve been staring at a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that seems to indicate that students who use computers frequently at school do more poorly than those who don’t. OECD director Schleicher suggests that using new technology with old techniques is ineffective, and current practices do not take advantage of the opportunities of 1-to-1 computing.

Ars Technica thoughtfully explored the research around tablets for toddlers, wondering if screen time is truly a problem for youngsters. Some current research is realizing a distinction between passive screen time and interactive screen time that may help overcome the “video deficiency” effect.

GamesAndLearning interviewed Jane McGonigal about her new book, SuperBetter. The book emphasizes how games are “a model for how to become the best version of ourselves.” Video.

The Library of Congress announced $1 million in grants to three organizations building civics apps for the classroom. Game developer Muzzy Lane landed funding for its “KidCitizen” project for K-5 students.

Toca Boca logoToca Boca celebrated the 100 millionth download of some of its apps. Wow! Unfamiliar with Toca Boca? The apps are a bit difficult to describe, but quite engaging! EdSurge’s Brady Fukumoto explored.

Have you played Plague Inc yet? In this popular mobile game you take the role of an infectious disease and aim to eliminate the entire human race. In 2013, developer James Vaughan visited the CDC to talk about the game and how it may be used as a tool to teach the public about outbreaks.

Fact Dash is a popular non-digital math game played daily at J.E. Johnson Elementary in Mississippi. The game combines movement, math problems, and a monthly recognition ceremony to get kids excited about math! Be sure to watch the fun video with this article.

New Scientist explored games that are society simulators, beginning with Strange Loop Games’ upcoming game Eco, and riffing on political simulations such as Fate of the World and Democracy 3.

Coding and Making

Australia Technologies mapAustralia is considering adding a “Technologies” learning area to its national curriculum, including both design thinking and computational thinking. The curriculum will include visual programming beginning in Year 3, and use of general-purpose programming languages in Year 7. Mashable article. Video. announced the results of an evaluation of its program June 2014 through June 2015, and the final report is worthwhile reading. The non-profit has reached 6 million students during the past year!

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki commented on the importance of getting computer science into schools this past week at the Salesforce conference, and particularly the need for attracting more women into tech (on a panel along with successful entrepreneur Jessica Alba, with somewhat tone-deaf questions.)

A panel at TechCrunch Disrupt highlighted women working to solve tech’s gender disparity challenges, including Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou, Joyus CEO Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, and OneLogin engineer Isis Anchalee Wenger.

NPR looked into informal computer science education tools for youngsters, discussing The Foos with creator Grant Hosford of codeSpark, as well as other games, toys, and robots with Marina Umaschi Bers from Tufts University. Kodable, Tynker, Scratch Jr, Kibo, Sphero, Ollie, and Dash and Dot all make an appearance in this short piece.

Grant Smith moved from Silicon Valley to the Arizona Teaching Fellows program, where he began teaching coding skills in a high poverty south Phoenix school. Shortly thereafter Grant was invited to work with Avondale School District to bring his successful coding program to their nine K-8 schools. Check out his impressive curriculum guide, and then watch this introductory video about the program.

Bee-BotChildren at 160 Singapore pre-schools will get a suite of innovative technology toys and robots to play with in the new S$1.5M PlayMaker program from Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority.

LittleBits, maker of DIY electronic building block kits, is launching a suite of four LittleBits Education products. The LittleBits 1:1 kit plus STEAM PD program is designed to help integrate STEAM instruction into the classroom.

Muzzy Lane, a software developer that focuses on game-based learning, is launching game authoring tools for educators. The Muzzy Lane Author platform will enable educators to create their own games more easily, helping them assess what students have learned.

Robo Wunderkind is a startup building new programmable Lego-like bricks that help teach kids computer programming. The smart cubes can be used to build simple robots, like Lego Mindstorms.

Verizon launched the fourth year of its Innovative App Challenge, a competition encouraging students to design smartphone apps that tackle social issues. Partners include the MIT Center for Mobile Learning.

Research from the University of Washington points to three promising strategies for improving gender diversity in computer science: creating a more welcoming physical environment, showing diverse role models, and changing media stories to break the stereotypes. Great stuff.

Lastly, take a photo tour of the Living Computer Museum and last weekend’s Seattle Retro Game Expo!


Oscar's Trash LaunchSesame Street Games (web) – I found Oscar’s Trash Launch this week and wound up playing all sorts of cute Sesame Street educational games on their site. They’re for kids, but you’ll enjoy them too! Video.

Khan Academy (Android) – The official Khan Academy app is now available on Android! Check out their massive collection of educational videos. Did I mention that they have computer science? TWiT Video.

Get Peanutized (web) – As part of the marketing for The Peanuts Movie, you can turn yourself into a Peanuts character and share on your social network. Try to make the weirdest one that you can! Video.

SPL-T (iOS) – A sparse art style hides the complexity of this puzzle game about splitting the screen up into smaller and smaller pieces. From the maker of Year Walk and The Sailor’s Dream. Video.

AZZL (iOS) – This cute animation puzzle game looks silly and simple. It is definitely silly! Video.


Satya Nadella at SalesforceSatya Nadella announces $75M CS education investment – We mentioned this huge investment last week; check out Microsoft’s CEO discussing the importance of investing into K-12 computer science education at the Salesforce conference.

Sense of Presence: What Is Virtual Reality? – Epic Games (Unreal Engine) is creating a series of documentary videos focused on virtual reality. This first video discusses the sense of presence.

Introducing Oculus Medium – Can virtual reality help bridge the gap from digital to physical? Oculus Medium is a sculpting tool built for artists that utilizes the Oculus Touch hand controllers.

Jim Gee Principles on Gaming – It’s an oldie but a goodie. James Paul Gee (from 2013) talks about thirteen principles that games use to keep people engaged and encourage learning.

Honda: The Making of “Paper” – A behind-the-scenes video on the making of Honda’s latest ad. Why is that interesting? The original ad is two minutes of papercraft detailing the history of the company.

Japan Visual Diaries – It’s difficult to express what it’s like to experience an unfamiliar culture. This beautiful playlist of 12 15-second videos does a wonderful job of celebrating a trip to Japan.


SIEGE – Southern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo. Atlanta, GA. October 9-11.

GamesBeat – Game industry leadership/business conference. Redwood City, CA. October 12-13.

Sandbox West – Exploring the landscape of interconnected play. Los Angeles, CA. October 12-13.

Grace Hopper Conference – A celebration of women in computing. Houston, TX. October 14-16.

IEEE Games Entertainment Media – How games transform edu and culture. Toronto, ON. October 14-16.

IndieCade 2015 – Largest celebration of independent games in the U.S. Los Angeles, CA. October 22-25.

GameCity Festival – Exploring and celebrating the art of videogames. Nottingham, UK. October 22-31.

Mozilla Festival – Forging the future of the web. London, UK. November 6-8.

Practice – High-quality game design conference for pro designers. New York, NY. November 13-15.


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