Monday, August 31, 2015

Google Classroom updates as seen by teacher and students

In preparation for some training, I recorded this video showing what the teacher and student sees in Google Classroom*. It's really easy to adjust to Google's latest updates, but it especially helps to know what the students will see.

I like the changes on the students' side of the Assignment page. Now it's all one page (no more Instructions and Your Work). It also has only one button to Add any attachments now. It's quite streamlined and intuitive.
Here are the main parts of the video by time in case you want to jump to something in particular:
  • Setting up your Class 0:20
  • Adding yourself to a Class as a student 2:15
  • Adding an Assignment to a Class (including information on different types of attachments) 3:09
  • Opening the Assignment and completing it as a student 5:40
  • Accessing and grading the Assignment 9:25
  • How a returned assignment looks to the student 10:38
  • An overview of the other items a teacher can add to the Stream 11:20

*I also updated these tipsheets because of the recent changes:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

4 Tipsheets for Navigating Google Classroom

These four tipsheets are about the most important pages in Google Classroom, each from the teacher's side of things. The most common tasks I'm asked about and the most overlooked options are marked with stars.

I am sharing them as Google Drawings so you can copy and modify them as necessary. You can easily download them as PDFs or image files if necessary.
If these are helpful, you might also be interested in my tipsheet explaining the 3 ways to share assignment attachments in Google Classroom.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tipsheet for the 3 Ways to Share Assignments in Google Classroom

I made this one-page tipsheet for a training session I'm doing next week. (Luckily it had nothing to do with the changes Google rolled out this week. Gotta love surprise updates when preparing training!)

Classroom gives teachers three ways to share documents from Drive. This tipsheet answers a few questions about each method. For example:

  • Which method is best for your particular assignment?
  • If the teacher changes their copy of the document will the changes show up for students?
  • Where do students find the document?
You can find the tipsheet here. Feel free to copy and edit it, but please keep the link to my blog that's included on the bottom of the page.

If you found this post helpful you might also want to see:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

10 Ways Students Can Show Off Their Learning Beyond the Classroom...and PowerPoint is not one of them

Using The Cube to broadcast Geometry presentations
Two newer posts that provide updates to the items below:

This year my mantra is going to be Show off the learning!

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.

I'm a big fan of that final essential stage of project-based learning: Put the final product in front of a larger audience. 

A lot of teachers in my district like hands-on, physical projects and they've struggled ideas for making them public. (How many art exhibits and science fairs can you do a year?) 

I compiled this list so now they have options for even those paintings done with real paint and the science experiment made of food.

Because I made this for the teachers I work with, please keep in mind:
  • It is a tool for awareness, not a how-to guide. Teachers in my district would contact me for more help. I included examples and some links to tutorials or tips below, but all the tools will require further exploration beyond this post.
  • Most classrooms in my district use laptops or Chromebooks. I didn't include options for tablets with most of the ideas.

I've listed these options roughly in order of how much tech is involved on the part of the students.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Be sure students go to their account page at Flipsnack to change their username when they first log in. It only takes a minute.
  • 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.

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.
  • On a Chromebook you can use the SnagIt app.
  • Final results can be uploaded to Google Drive or YouTube for sharing as necessary.

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.
  • I present on a method for making these with any laptop or Chromebook. Here is the resource site include my examples and the process using Google Slides and WeVideo.

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.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Game Design in the Classroom - Part 4 - Developing and Publishing a Game

One of my old design notebooks and some prototypes
This is part 4 of a series. The previous articles are:

In this fourth part I will look at how to develop a promising game idea. I’ll also describe two relatively simple ways to make your games available to more people.

First, two notes:
  • The process below will probably not be a big part of most class projects. I offer it as recommended reading for the students who think they are on to a good idea. This falls in the “for further exploration” category.
  • The tips and questions that follow can apply to games of many types, but my experience is with non-digital games. They were most likely created in a classroom activity, possibly my one-hour game design challenge.

Developing your game idea

My goal here is to help you take your game that a few people (probably you and your friends) have fun with and turn it into something many people will have fun with. Every game is a special case, but here’s a very general series of steps I use and I recommend them to aspiring designers:

  1. Clarify your goals. 
  2. Play it more, with more people.
  3. Identify problems. Based on what you see and hear from the players, what is working and what isn’t? 
  4. Make changes to the game to resolve those problems. 
  5. Go back to step 2 until the game is working as you intend it to.

Steps 2 - 5 form what is often called an iterative process. It’s vitally important for people in many fields. Computer programmers, writers and designers of anything from cars to coffee cups work through it.

Try something, test it, tweak it, test it again and so on until it does what you want. (You might even recognize similarities to the Scientific Method, as scientists will form, test and revise hypotheses in their work.)

Let's look at these steps for development in more detail.

Clarify your goals
Be sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish with your game. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Why are you making this particular game? Maybe it’s a personal challenge or maybe it’s for a particular group of people. Nail down your motivations.
  • Who do you expect will enjoy it? Describe these people. That determines your target audience.
  • What will make those people want to play your game?

Actually write those things down so you can return to them as you continue your work.

Play it more, with more people
At first you need to just be sure the game works at all. Try it with close friends.

Some of us even play our games by ourselves at first. Seriously, who wants to waste their friends’ time with a boring game? We will need their help in the future, so let’s not turn them off too quickly!

This process of playing the game while you’re developing it is called playtesting. It is very important and the people you choose to help you are important too. I could write a book about it, so this is just a brief glance at the process. Here are some important tips:

  • At first it helps to get opinions from people who play a lot of games, even if they’re not in your target audience. They might have to play just to help, not necessarily to have a fun, entertaining experience.
  • Tell your testers what your design goals are. If they’re not in the target audience, they should know that. They have to help you make your game, not necessarily the one they want to play.
  • Observe everyone when they play. Look for what’s making your game fun and what’s frustrating the players.
  • Ask as many questions of your playtesters as you can get away with. Two of my top suggestions are:
  • What were you thinking about or looking forward to as you were waiting for your turn?
  • Would you ever play again and if so, what would you do differently?
  • Remember to treat your playtesters with respect! They might not always be right, but if they played your game at all, you’ve given them the right to express themselves. Whatever their response is to your game, whether you agree with them or not, you can use the advice and the experience to help you become a better game designer.

Identify problems
If you clarified your design goals like I suggested, then you can define “problems” as anything keeping your game from meeting those goals. Make a list of what is working and what isn’t.

This can be the most frustrating part of game design. Ideas usually do not turn out like we expect and it can be hard to accept. Yes, even after months of work you might end up with so many problems that the best decision is to abandon the idea and work on another.

Be honest about the game at this point. Take a hard look at it and call it like you see it.

Also, give this some time. Usually problems look different when you wait a day or two after a playtest session.

And finally, don’t be afraid to change your design goals. You have to be careful with this because doing it too much will keep you from finishing anything. Still, there are times you’ll discover a promising idea that leads you somewhere you couldn’t have imagined at the start. Leave room for that possibility.

Change the game to resolve the problems
Discovering a great fix to a nagging problem with your game is one of the best rewards of the game design process.

It is also hard work and it takes time. Like I said about identifying problems, don’t rush. It is tempting to quickly tack on a new rule to fix a problem, but that’s a good way to end up with a design very few people care to learn. Rule sheets turn into mini-books and players often overlook special cases, resulting in mistakes and bad experiences.

Work hard to find simple solutions! 

Repeat playtesting and making changes until the game is done
As you keep testing it and tweaking it, think of this as bringing a fuzzy image into focus. It’s your rough idea becoming a finely tuned, working design.

Here are some things that generally happen in this process as you bring that dream to reality:

  • Ideally the changes you make will become less and less drastic. In my experience, at first I might make changes to the whole turn structure or I sometimes change the format entirely. My dice game might be reworked into a card game. Then near the end of the process I might just be changing a few numbers on cards.
  • The playtesters you use should change from a few friends to more people you don’t know. In later stages they should mostly be people from your target audience.
  • Your cards, board and other components (usually called a prototype) should improve in appearance and playability. At first the cards might be handwritten, but in later stages they should be made with a graphics program. Give more attention to using icons and making the language extremely clear. When a game is nearly complete you don’t want any part of the components to detract from the play experience.
  • The rules will progress from a list of things you just tell the players to a well written document that contains everything a player would need to know.

Besides just making the game “work”, you’re trying get to a point we call blind playtesting. Here the rules and prototype are so clear that players can figure out the game on their own. If they can’t, the game isn’t done yet.

And that raises a huge design question. When is a game done? 

Ask many designers and you’ll get many answers. Some say it’s when the game is worth what you’re going to sell it for. Others say it’s done when people want to play again right away.

Ultimately I would say it’s done when the game reaches your design goals. You decide. (But just remember anyone else in the target audience will get the final say by playing or not playing what you made!)

One of my games published through The Game Crafter

Taking it to the world

Once you’ve completed a game, you probably want to get it out to your target audience. This involves publishing and promotion. All the options to consider here could turn into my second book!

I’m going to offer only two suggestions for getting games to the masses. Neither of these will make you rich, but they will certainly get you important experience and increase your opportunities.

Both options would be considered self-publishing. It means you're doing it rather than getting someone else (probably a publishing company) to do it for you.

Self-publishing will require you to take on many jobs such as graphic design, writer, PR manager and webmaster. In other words, you’ll learn a lot more than just how to design a game.

Besides these general directions, I’ll also list some resources at the end if you want to do more research.

Print and Play
With this publishing method you’d make a PDF of your rules and components. You’d post it on your own blog or website or maybe you’d upload it to a game site like There, people could download it and decide if they wanted to print it to make their own copy.

You can see some examples of popular print-and-play (PnP) games at this link.

But just making an attractive game and an attractive website or blog to post it on will not get your game played. Plan to promote it.

Look for other people who might play the game and write reviews or comments about it online. Most games take some effort to learn and even to play. In the case of print and play, players also have to through the process of actually making or finding all the components. If a reputable gamer with a following gives your game a positive review it’s more likely others will take the time to do all that.

One last tip--When you ask people to review your game, don’t just send them your link and expect to see a review. Contact them and if they agree to take a look, make a copy for them yourself. Mail it to them and give it some time.
Don’t be a pest, but if you don’t hear anything from them in a couple weeks, it’s fine to politely ask if they have any feedback or plans to post something online.

And the second option for publishing is...

Print On Demand services
Years ago it cost so much to set up the printing for a game that it wasn’t worth it to churn out just a few copies. Designers had to pay for at least 1,000 or more copies if they wanted to see a quality, physical version of it or play it with their families. Taking the step to print a game that way was a huge financial risk. Hopeful designers got a big bill to for the job and many ended up with stacks of unsold games in their garages.

Now there are companies that will print just a single copy of your game and it won’t break the bank. So imagine buying a nice copy of your design for yourself and a few for family and friends. If you think others might pay for it, you can even post a link to the print service from your blog or website. People (probably aunts, uncles and maybe your neighbor) could pay for the game that way and you might even make a little money from it.

This process of printing games only as often as they’re ordered is called print on demand and it offers some great benefits. Just be aware that when you order small numbers of games, each one will still be relatively expensive.

My recommended service for publishing this way is The Game Crafter. I have used their services for several years now and their site and work have greatly improved over time.

It will take some work to turn your graphics into something that works at their site. For example, when I print my prototypes I usually have 9 - 12 cards on a single page of paper. To make my game at the Game Crafter, every one of the cards has to be on a separate high resolution graphic. Imagine how much work it takes to make individual graphics for a deck of 100 cards!

And as I said, it’s not exactly cheap. It will cost more than if you bought a game with the same number and type of components from a game store. And though the quality is good, it's not quite as good as a professionally published game.

I’m happy to pay the price to get an edition of the game myself or to give as gifts.

If you want to sell your for a profit to others, though, remember you have to put an even higher price on it than you paid. That likely will be more than most people will want to pay.

That is, unless you have a great game and you do some excellent promotion.

Just like the print and play process above, promotion is necessary. The Game Crafter even has a page of suggested reviewers you can contact. Here's an example of a review one of them wrote for me a few years ago.

If a reviewer agrees to look at your game, you’ll have to order one from the site and ship it to them. Yes, it's one more expense and there's no guarantee they'll even like the game.

Wrapping Up
I hope this short summary of game development and publishing makes it clear how much work goes into a good game. I also hope it helps you bring your game to others. Finding that something you made can bring joy to people is a satisfying reward worth the effort.

I compiled a short list of other resources for more information on these concepts.

  • How to Make Games - Playtesting -  I created this video a few years ago. You'll see similarities to what I wrote above.
  • Playtesting Forum on BGDF - You can learn from the discussion on this forum and possibly find some playtesters for your game too.
  • Interview with Scott Almes - Here's a great interview with practical advice from a very successful up and coming game designer.
  • Protospiel - Many years ago I helped start this gathering of game designers. It has grown to a larger network around the U.S., so see if anyone is meeting near you.
  • UnPub - This is another convention for game designers.
  • 10,000 Feet to Publishing a Game - Here's a hard look at what one successful publisher says it takes to make your game. He knows what he's talking about, but he's describing a very professional production.
  • An Overview of the Game Design Process - This is an older and more in depth article I wrote about taking a game from concept to reality. A lot has changed when it comes to game publishing since then, but the development ideas still apply.
  • Making What's It to Ya? - This is my story, starting with an idea to making a $10 printing investment to ending up in GAMES Magazine's Games 100 to seeing the game go around the world.

And as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, be sure to look at the other ones in the series:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Game Design in the Classroom - Part 3 - A Game Design Challenge

Years ago I used to organize an annual convention for game designers. At a few of the events I ran a game design challenge where the participants had to make and play a game in an hour.

I realized this could make a great classroom activity, so I modified the original outline we used. (See my notes below about how the original came about.)

Before linking to the worksheet, I want to point out:
  • Part 1 and Part 2 in this series touch on some reasons you might want to use an activity like this.
  • Part 4 is for further exploration. In it I address further development and easy ways to publish the game.
  • The games we designed were non-digital. Digital games are more difficult to complete quickly unless the number of options are very limited.
  • I haven't used this activity in school yet. I intend to, but I'm currently an instructional tech coordinator. One thing I love about this activity is it doesn't use much tech! If I get a chance to try it, I'll add some notes about how it went.
Before you run this activity in class:
  • Have a lot of components ready for students to use in their games. They'll probably need markers, note cards, paper, dice and pawns for sure. I used to bring other interesting, small items I'd find at the dollar store. Chips, rubber balls, small stones, party favors, etc., all can spark fun ideas. You can also gut some old games if you have them at home.
  • Go over the stages of the activity with the students ahead of time so they won't lose time reading details while the clock is ticking.
  • Students should work in groups with three or four per group.
  • Decide what class concept you want the game to include. For example, in math you might want them to include something about factors and multiples. In social studies it might be some aspect of a particular time period. Have them write that on the blank at the top of the worksheet.
  • Decide on the type of game you want them to make. You could give them a choice, but some limited options helps spark creativity and save time. For example, you might want it to be a card game. You could also give them a specific game to tweak, like Crazy 8's or Pig. 
  • You could dictate any of the others choices as well. For example, you might say it has to be about zombies (or can't be about zombies!) or that it must use dice in a particular way.
  • In an ideal world, I'd have them play several short games to expose them to more ideas than what they are already familiar with. That could take days, though!
Click here to see the Game Design Challenge Document. Feel free to copy and modify it as needed. I'll appreciate it if you include a link to my Game Design page on any copies.

The rough flow of the activity is:
  • Create a hook. (5 minutes)
  • Make up the rules. (15 minutes)
  • Create a playable prototype. (15 minutes)
  • Play it. (20 minutes)
  • Initial wrap-up (5 minutes)
I have some ideas for an extended follow-up activity and suggestions for further development of the games, but that will be coming in Part 4.

Notes about the original activity:
In about 2002 I came across a reference to a game design challenge in the rules to James Ernest's game The Big Cheese. A challenge like that was a new idea to me, so I contacted him to get more details. I lost the notes what he sent me, but I used them to develop an outline for the activity we ran at the Protospiel 2003 convention.

I worked with my friend James Droscha that year to tweak the directions and to run the activity. We limited the possible games to card games and we required designers to use genies as the theme. (That idea came from James' wife.)

It was a great icebreaker the first night of the convention. After everyone made a game, we went around the room and talked about each one. It was fascinating to see the ideas and to hear what worked and what didn't.

James and I used the same activity a few more times over the years. I'll mention he also lead one hilarious session where we designed a game by committee. I don't think we ended up with anything playable that time, though.

To update this activity for the classroom I simplified the language. Instead of having the teacher pick a theme like we did previously, I changed it to a class concept. 

I'll update the activity based on feedback, so please let me know what you think!