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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Game Design Exploration 2 - Reflection on Re-Designing Love Letter

This final stage of the project can be the most important, as it requires students to reflect upon what they learned about the lesson topic for your course as well as game design. In it each student Students will complete the document at the link below. 

Do not give students the document until they worked through Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the activity. That means they should have created a game based on the Love Letter game, tested it and played at least one game created by another group before they try to answer the questions. 

If you modified the activity in Parts 1 - 3 of the project, you might have to change the questions in the document to fit what your students experienced. Also, change the references to "the course topic" so they ask about the specific topic students studied in your class.

Through reflection, students should gain deeper insights from the activity. Their responses also provide you with a look at what they've learned about the lesson topic. That can be used to guide followup instruction or class discussion.

The reflection questions in the document come in three parts:
  • The activity itself
  • The game design process
  • The lesson topic and how they connected elements of it to their game theme

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Game Design Exploration 2 - Printing and Testing the Games

This is the third part in a game design exploration based on the game Love Letter*. The activity would work well in any language arts or social studies class.

Be sure to see the previous posts in the series:

In this stage, students will test the games. They might play their own game or just play each other's games. You could even incorporate revisions and further playtesting. It all depends on how much time you want them to spend on this. Details follow below.

Note that this post draws heavily from what I wrote in the playtesting stage of my first game design exploration from last year.

Is everyone ready to proceed?

If a class is working through this design activity, at this point each group of students should have redesigned the Love Letter game to fit the lesson content. At the very least they should have done the following. (All of this is explained in the second post in this series.)
  • Chosen a theme for their game based on the topic studied in class
  • Created a title for their game
  • Written a short introduction about the game
  • Redesigned the cards and changed them on the template found in Part 2 of this series.

Optionally, the groups might have designed additional rules and components for their game.

Making the Cards

In the previous stage of this activity, students revised a template to create new cards based on the Love Letter game. Before they can test the games, they'll need to produce some cards they can actually play with. One way to do that is to print on card stock, but I've found it's easy to see through most card stock I've used over the years.

Whether it's a first draft or a late stage prototype, here's the method I've been using lately. 
  • Buy some card protector sleeves like these, found on Amazon.
  • Put an old playing card or some other game card in them that you won't need. This keeps them stiff enough to shuffle.
  • Print your cards on paper and cut the cards out. (Or for first drafts, you might just write them by hand on slips of paper.)
  • Slide those paper "cards" into the sleeves.
Here's a short video that I created for students that shows how I use this process with early and late stage prototypes.

If the groups added rules for additional cards or components, all of those pieces need to be printed and cut out or gathered as well.

Depending on how much time you want the class to devote to this playtesting experience, groups could make two or more copies of their game so multiple groups could play them at once.

The importance of playtesting and revision - the iterative process in game design

This testing and revision stage of the game design process is essential. It can be fun and rewarding or sometimes very frustrating! It's often the heart of the creation process and it will probably take more time than all other parts combined.

Being so important, students need to see it. With limited class time, though, it is likely you will use it in this activity only provide some exposure to the concepts and a chance to have fun with the designs. Tell students it is important when making any type of game, but remind them to really test and improve their game they'd need to work on it a lot outside of class.

Keeping that in mind, tweak the following outline and resources to fit your needs.

Groups test their own games

Game designers often play their own games first, just to see if the creations even work at all. At this stage, each group should play their game at least once.

After playing, students should discuss these questions:
  • Did the game work as we intended?
  • Did we find anything (good or bad) that we didn't expect?
  • How much do we think other groups will enjoy our game?
  • What changes could we make to improve the game?
Depending on how much time you have for this design exploration, students could rework their cards. Simple changes might be handwritten right on the cards. Significant changes might require students to actually alter the cards in the original Google Drawings they made in Part 2 of this activity.Of course, that would require them to print and cut out more components.

If time doesn't allow a students to make all the changes they want to, remind them that they can improve the game as much as they want on their own.

Groups test a game designed by another group

For this part of the activity, each group will play at least one other group's game. Ideally this will be "blind playtesting", meaning the groups will play the games without additional assistance from the game designers.

The game components should already be created by now. Game introductions and possibly new rules need to be printed (or shared through Google Drive) so groups have everything they need to learn and play the games.

Along with these materials, give each group a copy of this Game Playtesting Sheet. It provides questions for before and after playing the game. 

Additional considerations

  • Give the groups time in class to read and discuss the Game Playtesting Sheets that test groups filled out for their game.
  • Groups could test games from more than one group if possible.
  • Students could take their games home and have other people play them to get more opinions.
  • Have a class discussion (possibly virtually) at the end of this stage so you and the students can look for patterns on what worked best in the games.
  • It would be ideal to get test groups from a class that did not go through the design process themselves. In other words, they would likely be unfamiliar with Love Letter, so the whole experience would be new to them. This requires the designers to put a lot more work into their written rules.
In the next post (and final stage of the activity) students will reflect on their game designs and the design process.

*Love Letter was designed by Seiji Kanai and published by Alderac Entertainment Group. I have permission from the publisher to use their game as I have in this exploration. Please consider supporting them by buying a copy of the game that your students can play as they learn the basic rules.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Game Design Exploration 2 - Adding a New Theme to Love Letter

This is the second part of my game design exploration based on the game Love Letter*. Be sure you and your students are familiar with Part 1 before you work through the activity below.

In this second step, students will add a new theme to the simple, fun game Love Letter. The theme will be based on a topic you are studying in class. This will work best in a language arts or social studies class, but you could definitely use it in other classes too.

In applying the theme, students will discuss people, events and other elements of your course content.

What Is Theme in a Game?

Theme is what the game is about. Not all games have a strong theme, but many popular ones do. The theme of Risk is world conquest. The theme of Monopoly is making money in real estate.

If you're familiar with the original Love Letter, that theme was to deliver a love letter to the Princess.

See Part 2 of my first game design exploration for more examples of theme in games.

Examples of variations on the Love Letter game

Love Letter has been such a popular game across the world that it already has some new themes and other variations based on it. Here are a few you could show students in class. You can click on some of the images on the pages below to see the similarities and differences between versions:

Adding a New Theme to Love Letter

After discussing themes in games and looking at the different versions of Love Letter, it's time for students to add a new theme to the game. The theme will be based on the lesson topic they've studied in class. 

The special Game Design Planning Sheet linked below will guide them through the process. Here are some things to keep in mind before assigning the planning sheet:
  • The students will choose a theme that's related to your topic. The lesson might be about a book they just read, like The Odyssey, or maybe it will be about a historical event like The War of 1812. While they could use those entire topics as the theme, they also could choose a specific part of those topics. For example, they might focus on a climatic scene of the book or a particularly interesting battle of the war.
  • The planning sheet will require them to name each card as something from their theme and to rename the tokens. Though not necessarily required, the sheet also suggests they make other changes to the effects and rules.
  • The document has a link to the components for a very basic template of Love Letter cards. If students click it, they will get a copy of it as a Google Slides file. They can type their changes onto the cards (and they will print them in a later stage of the game).
  • There are optional ideas listed on the second page of the planning sheet for students who want to explore game design further. Use them as appropriate for the age of your students and the needs of this project.

In the next stage, we will look at how to make a playable copy of the new version of Love Letter. We'll also present some options for testing the games in class.

*Love Letter was designed by Seiji Kanai and published by Alderac Entertainment Group. I have permission from the publisher to use their game as I have in this exploration. Please consider supporting them by buying a copy of the game that your students can play as they learn the basic rules.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Game Design Exploration 2 - Love Letter

Several months ago I created a game design exploration that required students to redesign a simple game so it fit a topic they were studying. I'm now working on several Game Design Project Packs that include games of different types.

While most of these Project Packs will use simple games I created myself, this second installment uses a very popular new game called Love Letter. I do have permission from the publisher (Alderac Entertainment Group) to use the game this way.

For this first part of the game design exploration, students would learn how to play Love Letter and they'd play a few rounds.

The General Idea of the Project

You will want to know the overall flow of the activity. You can see my previous exploration as an example, or this short outline should suffice.

  • Students study some topic in class. It could be anything really, but these activities lend themselves to people and events. Language arts and social studies classes are a good fit. Some of this part can happen concurrently with the following stages.
  • Students learn and play a simple game.
  • Using a planning sheet, they will apply a theme and possibly some new rules to that game so it fits the topic they're studying.
  • Depending on how much time you want them to spend on this project, you can follow up with some playtesting and further development.
  • A reflection sheet allows students to think deeply about the course topic and game design in general.
  • Further resources are available for students who want to dig deeper and possibly print a quality copy of their game.

Getting a Copy of the Game

Like all the games in these projects, Love Letter uses few components and it can be played in about 15 - 30 minutes. In fact, the entire game has only 16 cards in it! (It's in a genre of modern games known as micro-games.)

I strongly encourage teachers to buy a copy of the game for students to play. The original Love Letter has spawned several different variations including a Batman and a Hobbit version. All are essentially the same and any would work for this project.  Here's one link to the original version for less than $10. (Just don't mistakenly get one of the more expensive, harder to find early editions of the game.)

I do have a template (linked below) to the basic cards. Students will use that template in Part 2 of this exploration, but it would be possible to play the game by printing that template on card stock.

How to Play

Here is a video I created (with some help from my wife for narration) that shows how to play the game. You could show this in class or just watch it yourself and explain the game to the students. All the rules take less than two minutes to explain.

If you want to read the full rules, here is a PDF from the publisher.

Playing the Game

I recommend for this activity that the students only play the game enough to get the general idea. They don't have to play a full game, as described in the video. A few rounds should be sufficient.

As I mentioned above, I did make this template so students can modify the game in the second part of this activity. If you want to use this to make a very plain (and boring!) version of the game to use in class, you could print it on card stock and cut out the cards. (More information will be given later for ways students can make prototypes of their game without using card stock.)


See the second part of the activity here. In it, students explore underlying concepts and elements of your lesson topic by adding a new theme to Love Letter.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Updated 10 Ways to Show Off the Learning Beyond the Classroom

I first made this list last summer. With another year of experience behind me and changes with the tools I'm happy to share this updated and improved version. New items and information are clearly noted below.

When teachers and students show off the best things they learned, perceptions change and the culture changes. I want to make sure my district is known as a place where important learning happens every day.

But a lot of teachers in my district like hands-on, physical projects. Just how many art exhibits and science fairs can you do a year?

So I compiled this list so even those paintings done with real paint and the science experiment made of food can be shown off to the world.

I made this for the teachers I work with daily, so please keep in mind:
  • It is a tool for awareness, not a how-to guide. Teachers in my district would contact me for one on one help. Since most of you won't have that option, I added links below to many of my Tech Project Packs. They were designed to help teachers quickly incorporate tech into their projects. I wrote about them all on this blog here.
  • Most classrooms in my district use laptops or Chromebooks. I didn't include options for tablets with most of the ideas.

1) Live broadcasts of student presentations - Use The Cube
  • You can broadcast to the internet easily with an iPhone or iPad. 
  • Someone from your school will have to sign up and create an admin account at the site.
  • Share the link to your broadcast with parents or to the community beforehand so anyone can watch live. 
  • The recording can be left online, so people can watch it later if you want.
  • When using live video, be sure you have parent permission to post online and remember not to identify students by first and last name.
  • New information:
    • I actually didn't use The Cube in the past year, since I wasn't involved with any live broadcasts in my district. It appears that service still works as described here, but now the two social media options below might be better.
    • I have used Periscope for some personal projects and I love its simplicity.
    • And of course Facebook Live is a very popular way to go now.

2) Websites and Blogs - A simple site or blog (created by you or the students themselves) is the starting point for sharing all the other types of project presentations listed below.

3) A PDF ebook - Within seconds anything students make in Google Docs or Slides can be turned into a PDF. From there it can be posted on any blog or website so anyone can open or download it like an ebook.
  • With the file open, go to the File menu and select the option to Download as PDF.
  • Once the PDF is downloaded, upload it to Drive again and share it as needed.
  • New information: This tutorial is specifically about making a comic, but it does show the process of downloading a PDF from Google Slides.

4) InfoPics - If he didn’t invent this simple concept, Tony Vincent is the one who named it and he sings its praises. This really is just a process of adding notes or other text to pictures that are related to a topic. 
  • Here's Tony’s blog post about it (with examples).
  • It would be very easy for students to make these and share the images on a website or blog.The pictures could also be shared by a teacher or a parent on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or any other social network.
  • The device you like to use will dictate the tools, but I’d suggest Google Drawings for computers or Chromebooks. is a good tool on many devices if you want to add more effects to your pictures.
  • New information:

5) Infographics
- Students can create infographic images to show facts in a concise, visually appealing way.
  • Finished graphics can be posted on social media or websites and blogs.
  • Piktochart is a great tool for this.
  • Users can log in on Piktochart with their Google accounts.
  • Here’s a good article from Matt Smith with ideas for Piktochart in many subjects.
  • New information:
    • They have added a presentation option to Piktochart. Now with the click of a button the infographic can be used as a more traditional slideshow for live presentations.
    • Here's my Tech Project Pack for infographics.

6) Audio Recordings (podcasts) - Students can create audio recordings and share them online in a variety of ways. These can be completed much faster than a video project. Here are a few details.

7) Virtual books on Flipsnack - This site is a great tool that turns any PDF into a fun virtual book. 
  • Important Note: I found out if students sign in using a Google Apps for Education account it uses the first and last name in the URLs. This is not a good practice. See the link to my new tutorial below about changing the username so it doesn't include student names.
  • I usually create the PDF in Google Slides or Google Docs first, then upload to Flipsnack.
  • Here’s an example I use for a comic assignment.
  • Users can sign into Flipsnack with their Google accounts.
  • Free Flipsnack accounts are limited to three virtual books at a time.
  • New information: Here's an updated video tutorial on turning a Google Slides presentation into a Flipsnack. Be sure to watch the part that shows how to change the username in Flipsnack.

8) Screen Recordings - Think of these as somewhat informal recordings of something the students show on the screen. 
  • These are great for tutorials or presentations.
  • Here’s an example from a teacher who has his students use this method a lot.
  • They’re informal because editing is usually not part of the process. Students need to practice before recording!
  • On a computer with a mic, use Screencast-o-Matic.
  • Final results can be uploaded to Google Drive or YouTube for sharing as necessary.
  • New information: I used to highly recommend the SnagIt Chrome extension for Chromebooks or any computer running the Chrome browser. Unfortunately that will be discontinued. I have heard good things about Nimbus and I have used it a few times. I like it, but don't have a tutorial ready yet.

9) Digital slideshows - These are a series of pictures combined into a video by using an editing program.
  • These are a step up from screen recordings because you can (and should) edit them.
  • Students can add audio. It might be just background music or they can narrate the slideshow.
  • With narration, these become presentations that present themselves.
  • They make a good introduction to video production, but don’t require as much time.
  • New information: Forget everything you read from my blog about previous methods for this! I now recommend Adobe Spark Videos as the best tool by far. See this video tutorial for an example and how-to tips.

10) Videos - Producing a good video is the pinnacle of technology integration in most classes.
  • Good videos require several technology skills and a deep understanding of class content. 
  • There is a huge range of possibilities for complexity. Don’t just tell students they can “make a video”! Know the options and set guidelines that are appropriate for your students.
  • Here are my tips for teachers and students for any video project.
  • New information:
    • I'm in the process up updating some resources for these projects. Honestly, I've found they take a long time and I have been encouraging the digital slideshows over full videos. I will say I now prefer the paid version of WeVideo for the editor. I hope to have more updated information for video projects in the weeks ahead.
    • I did post about two video projects we did this year. One was a team building challenge and the other was designed to introduce students to iMovie on an iPad.