theMolisticView

A new journey in education

Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

How I used XNA Game Studio in the classroom Part 2

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This post is a little late; I was meaning to write it back in the last week of the holidays and this first term has been rather busy with a new head teacher, the rain, new junior classes and new computers to set up in my classroom.

Just to set the scene, I have two stage 5 classes, one is IST (which I had not taught before) and the other is Multimedia.  In my previous post I showed how I have been using XNA Game Studio in IST for Windows Phone 7 game development (see post here).

In multimedia I wanted something more substantial, something that like web design could be used as a means of income or personal benefit. I had been buying books, Evernoting (if that’s the term lol) every blog and article I could find on XNA to help me develop a course which would be easy enough for my students to follow and build on. In term 3 last year I used a section from an online source (which has since disappeared) with my year 11 Multimedia class so they had a base side scrolling game on which to develop from. This however turned out to be a total fail, the students simply did not understand the concepts of game making in a code based environment.

Just to be clear if you were wondering, XNA Game Studio is not a game engine like the Unreal engine or Unity 3D, it is a framework from Microsoft which uses C# as its managed language, Visual Studio as its coding environment and is simply a framework or set of API’s which are used to develop games for the Xbox, Windows and Windows Phone 7 platforms.

I was struggling for a way to in which teach to XNA with meaning and purpose. At close to the same time that Coding4Fun dropped the tower defence game for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s Faculty Resource Centre also dropped some XNA goodness. Now the Microsoft Faculty Resource Centre already had some XNA resources though these were aimed at university level. The new XNA resource was aimed directly at high schools. Game Development with XNA: Semester 1 – Appendix by Pat Yongpradit was what I was trying to come up with. Pat’s resource is developed using an existing Microsoft book written by Rob Miles Learn Programming with XNA (which you can download here or here for free). Pat’s course develops further the concepts found in the book and can be used with both XNA 3.0-3.1 and the newer 4.0.

At this stage sadly I have nothing in which I can show to you of what the students have learned. We started the course in term 4 last year and are only just at part 2 which involves concepts like multiplayer games, sound effects, timing, game design, reading text input from the player, object-orientated programming and two dimensional arrays.

Given how the IT situation is in our schools with software and the filter there have been a few hiccups along the way which have needed work rounds. With my school still being Windows XP at the start, we were using Visual Studio 2008 and XNA 3.0-3.1. There are extension sections built into the course to keep the gifted students challenged as well, I have 3-4 students (the class has only 15 students) really trying their hardest to complete these. The course also focuses on using the Xbox gamepad when developing games and somewhat at the expense of the keyboard and mouse. These however can be purchased off eBay fairly cheaply.

As yet Pat has not released the promised Semester 2 course. If the second course does not drop in time I will have the students take what they know and develop a game over two terms for the Xbox.

If you have any ideas on teaching for XNA Game Studio I would love to hear from you and if you would like to start using it with your classes and want some pointers drop us a line

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March 11th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

The click and drag problem

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Something which has been bothering me a lot in recent weeks is what I term the click and drag syndrome.

I currently have two senior multimedia classes, one of which is near the end. Both however have lead to make the following assumption, they cannot produce their own content because they cannot think for themselves. Broad assumption I know, my thoughts on how i reached this conclusion are way to long for a blog post.

I include as much subject material as possibly can be used in the restrictive three terms provided to us in the preliminary year. I do however concentrate on HTML, CSS for building websites, in recent years Flash and this year I have moved in to game making with Microsoft XNA Game Studio.

Now the four technologies listed above are all code intensive and require their user to have knowledge of the basic building blocks. Once you have this basic knowledge you can go forth and produce amazing things, your imagination and own personal knowledge are the only draw backs.

More so this year then last year the students struggle with the basic concepts of the underlying languages. Even when all they have to do is copy out what is provided to them they struggle. The easiest way to make a web page in my classroom is to use Adobe Fireworks. I provide my students with the print outs from the fireworks for der wiki I set up last year which demonstrates how to make a web page or site in this brilliant graphical editor. Only six students in my class could achieve this, the same ones who can write code as turns out.

Late last term we turned early and started on the game making, this was the thing more than any other section of the subject they all wanted to learn. To best start them off I thought some normal Windows programming would be best. Making simple Windows forms a web browser and a weather application, simple small introductory steps to a bigger picture. This is where I got the drag and drop phrase from. When you produce applications using Visual Studio you are presented with a canvas of a Windows application window. You drag and drop the visual elements (UI, user interface) on to the canvas, drag them to where they look best for your users, then you code the behind files as they are known to make the application come to life. The drag and droppers could not do it, simply to hard. They had to think about it, they had to write code from their own knowledge.  As soon as the drag and droppers hit an obstacle they stop as if they have run head on into a wall.

To keep pace I moved them on to XNA and game making, the discussions were excellent, idea generation etc. were all top notch. Again they were guided through the fundamentals shown examples and provided with reusable code (pieces for movement, detecting screen size and algorithms for collision detection). As soon as they had to work it out and produce their own they hit the wall. XNA and most game making software does not have a drag n drop interface. All the work is completed through code, hand writing code which you have to make.

Within a week we were back at the wall, attendance raised its head, work was not handed in and on the syndrome goes. I asked them to provide alternatives, everyone who brought something in brought in a cheesy drag and drop interface where the software did all the work, all the user had to do is drag and drop. I’m sorry but Scratch may be a handy tool to learn with, much like stickman is for animation but you cannot make a HSC assessable product with it.

They are all now 17. Do I have to hold their hand through the HSC?

How did it get this way? I have never taught copy and paste answers, do others? Do other teachers teach only the drag and drop?

I’m bumfuddled to say the least…

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August 6th, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Mobile Phone Application Challenge

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PBL in Metalwork has not been my only foray into Project Based Learning. Now I do not profess that what I have been using is strictly PBL or the Apple version CBL.

So what came after the Metalwork attempt, the mobile phone app challenge. In the last weeks of term 1 this year I introduced this concept to my year 9 IST class. We spent 75 minutes discussing what was expected.

The next lesson they all lined up outside before coming into the room and selecting their chosen mobile platform. There were three platforms for them to choose from: Apple’s iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7.

The 24 students that we started the term with (several students have since left the school), separated perfectly into the three groups. They were all provided with their platforms device so they could start their research. The questions of inquiring minds came thick and fast and we ran out of time in the lesson.

Basically I asked the students to develop a concept of a mobile application from which they would then produce and deploy to a device within a ten week period (turned out to be 11 weeks). The application had to follow the given platforms requirements and be suitable for submission to the platforms appstore. There would be two presentations, one at week five and the final “Keynote” where they would launch their application to the world. This final presentation was to be delivered in-front of the Principal. Each group was also to provide detail information of their progress with lesson by lesson updates on a group posterous account. These updates were intended to be reinforcements of the students individual KWL (What I KNOW, What I WANT to KNOW, What I LEARNED), forms from each lesson. In the final week each student had to present their own one page reflection and working timeline in a spreadsheet.
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August 1st, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Chaplain’s versus Laptops

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The Digital Education Revolution is dead; its death will take place sometime in December 2011 when Kevin Rudd’s original promise is reached and all that will be left is 20 million dollars of support for infrastructure for a two year period. At the same budget reading we heard about a nation wide drive for Chaplains in schools. Where did we as educators go wrong? I have strong memories from 1985 at high school of scripture class as it was called at the time and the issues that caused for those students who did or did not attend. Why is it back and Federal supported and funded at what blatantly appears to be at the cost of future proofing the nation and my retirement?

The death of the revolution will hurt me and teachers who, like me teach Computer Science based subjects. We teach the students how to use the trucks (thanks to Steve Jobs for that gem) that drive the worlds computing. The revolution in NSW brought equity to schools and their students. In NSW the revolution saved me from having to win a fight with my English faculty over spending $20,000 on the full Adobe Creative Suite which I was never going to win. It provided my students with a computer that was not restrained by what is now a 10 year old operating system which is XP, which by the way still has a massive strangle hold on my region which I cannot explain when other regions in NSW already are running the same hardware on Windows 7 and they could take them home and continue to work and learn through complex problems. What makes it even more painful is that this years cohort where the most excited since the revolution began and realised from the start of the limitations of their new learning tool.

These fore mentioned trucks (destop PC’s) have continued funding under T4L and wont be disappearing anytime soon, the only question mark over the T4L is the extra software contracts NSW picked up as part of the revolution and what is their expiry date.

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My first Project Based Learning adventure – Part 4 – Reflection

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Reflection. In all seriousness it is more than likely to early to say this first foray into Project Based Learning was a raging success or even close. However given my experience for the first 9 weeks of this term with this class it was a raging success. Whether that was because they were given something different to the normal research, writing mode or they were actually interested and engaged I cannot say.

Not everyone was fully engaged, this I was expecting; these are hard nuts and they will be harder to crack. Again though there is the however, there was no outright “I’m not doing this”. Instead of having to chase one incident after another around the classroom there were only a handful of times I had to question what a student was doing off task.

I allowed the students to choose their groups given that I set an exact task around a question. This is not true PBL. The groups went closely to what I expected, both the large groups have a god mix of doers and watchers as I call them. One group though thanks to a student who is normally a watcher has collected all the information his group needs about the Milling machine. This student was so pumped at the end of lesson he hung around for nearly half of recess to talk to me further about the project.

The idea of XP, Levelling Up and Prestige struck a cord with these students, many of who play Call of Duty the popular video game. Plus the knowledge that if they participate, contribute and explain what they did each lesson via their KWL they would earn an easy 10XP made sense to them.

I have to keep relating everything I know of this class to five lessons over this first term, only five. Of that five, four were hell one was acceptable.

So yes I am excited, yes I know it can all change next term. If I can catch 12 to 14 students with this change in this class, that will be success. As Dean and Bianca have been explaining to me, it is hard to drop everything and run with PBL and it is also hard to change 10 years of ROTE style teaching to which these students have become acclimatised to.

I am sure I have missed out plenty of information. It has been a very busy couple of days as you can see and so close to holidays I am feeling a little spent tonight.

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April 6th, 2011 at 11:40 am