theMolisticView

A new journey in education

How I used XNA Game Studio in the classroom Part 1

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The last term was an extremely busy time, the last 9 weeks of year 9 IST was no different. I was originally planning to have the class start on Lego NXT Robotics having purchased 3 kits in late term 3 however there was a delivery issue with the battery charger for the kits. So I had a choice to make, move on with the basics of Lego robotics or try something else. At around the same time in which I was making my this decision I visited the Microsoft Channel 9 Coding4fun website. Released earlier in the year was Script TD, a simple tower defense game for Windows Phone 7. Script TD is a simple tower defense game which uses XML as the format to easily change gameplay and based on an open source, perfect for IST.

ScriptTD Home screen

So if you have been following along this year, you would already realise that developing for Windows Phone requires Vista or Windows 7 based computers. My school has yet to come into this decade re operating systems being stuck on XP. Luckily for my students I have 4 laptops for them to use running Windows 7 along with all the typical designer software. Other then needing Windows 7 (who really still uses Vista?) there are no other required pieces of hardware, you can do all the work in the phone emulator with no need for a phone. I have 2 HTC HD7 Windows Phones so I chose to go a little further.

To complicate things a little further, I was asked to head my schools participation in the DEC’s Google Apps trial. A little unprepared for this I chose to throw Google Apps into the mix for term also. My immediate use for Google Apps with this project would be the collaborative abilities of docs and the ease of use of Google Sites so each of the 4 groups in the class could have a site designed specifically around their tower defense game.

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December 22nd, 2011 at 2:11 am

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

Strange week of OS installs

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This week I had several operating system installs under my belt. The last and most notable of these was OS X Lion from Apple. However the first was my second attempt to play with Google’s ChromeOS.

Google officially released it’s ChromeOS and ChromeBooks back in on the 15th of June this year. They had announced ChromeOs last year at Google iO (the Google developers conference). As with Chrome the browser ChromeOS is open source and released to the public as Chromium and ChromiumOS, you can find both of them here http://www.chromium.org/ Both of these Chromium options are the nightly builds on which Google feeds the Google Chrome Browser and the ChromeBooks ChromeOS.

A month or 2 after Google iO last year there were a couple of ChromiumOS builds floating around the net that could be booted from USB giving early lookers a chance to see what it was Google was doing. All you needed was a computer running a version of Linux and you could play. At the time I did have a play but never really did much with it.

With the official release of the ChromeBook we in Australia missed out, none are for sale. So I decided to have another crack at ChromeOS. After some quick searching I found this article on Life Hacker which takes you through the steps of running a ChromiumOS build.

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July 23rd, 2011 at 12:07 am

PBL in Metalwork… continued

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Well today was the first real lesson this term of year 10 Metalwork, the class I started my PBL journey with last term. So time for a progress report.

I have set every group up with a folder containing all examples, project outline and other useful resources. Every student has their own folder with the project outline and KWL sheets for every lesson. They are expected to complete these every lesson and hand the folders back in so as to achieve weekly XP on top of the finished project XP.

To date each of the groups of around 8 students have had 2 to 3 in the group who have lead and collected all the information they need to make their final project. Unfortunately the other 5 or so students per group have not been so diligent in their work. This in a normal class would be a problem, though for this group of young men it is actually an improvement. I can have them engaged for close to 30 minutes which is 30 minutes longer then it has been previously. Along with this extra engagement, there has been an extreme reduction in whole class disturbances which previously were a real issue.

There are 2 boy’s who are loner’s, nerds if you will. They have no want to be in Metalwork, it was what was left available to them on subject selection night. I have to connect with these boy’s who sit quietly and work through improving their Minecraft worlds having finished the minimum work required. So today I quickly asked around those in the know on Minecraft to see if they could build a Blacksmith’s workshop inside their Minecraft worlds. It turns out they can, so in 2 weeks time that is what I will charge them with for their project.

Now no videos have been developed or produced, though 2 groups actually started looking at which camera to use for their project. So many would say it hasn’t worked, I would say progress is slow, many small milestones have been met and there are many more to come.  This class of disturbed boy’s from the western suburbs needs more time, time they don’t have. They have not been taught to learn, they have been taught to follow this, produce that and this your mark A, B, C, D, E. They just need more time.

I should reaffirm that I only have this class for one period out of their allocated four per two week cycle. I have zero control or influence over what happens in the weeks between. This also makes this particular lesson tougher.

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May 17th, 2011 at 4:44 am