Put the Power of the Pundits in Your Classroom or Your Living Room

February 01, 2016 | Victoria Van Voorhis

Recenly the Iowa caucus, the first test of electability for many of the presidential candidates, was held.  Like many voters, we at Second Avenue are thinking about the 2016 election and following it closely.  Here are some of the questions we found ourselves asking: 

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Creating Future Rock Stars: Inclusion, STEM, and Games

December 31, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

Women, a little while ago, I found myself feeling a bit like a high-schooler who has just spied a favorite lead singer at a concert…except instead of a concert I was in the executive offices of the White House. During our meeting on educational technology, I thought I caught a glimpse of someone really incredible in the hallway just outside the door.

“Was that Megan Smith?! She is a rock star!!!!!” I whispered. Indeed it was. The Chief Technology Officer of the United States and previous VP of Google was right in the hallway, waiting to talk to our group about inclusion as well as game-based assessment. I was over the moon – this remarkable woman has helped transform the world of technology, while also supporting the inclusion of women in minorities in both education and the workplace.

This topic, inclusion, was one of the themes of her discussion with our group. Referencing Grace Hopper, one of the first American computer scientists and inventor of the first programming compiler, Ms. Smith reminded us of the great potential talent in STEM among our women, and minority groups. She asked us to focus our efforts on repairing the wide representation gap between these groups and majority groups in the STEM fields. The under-representation problem has persisted for far too long, and Ms. Smith suggested that educational games and access to low-cost maker technology such as Raspberry Pi offer partial solutions to this complex problem.

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2015 Congressional App Challenge - Computer Science & STEM

December 23, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

On a recent Saturday morning, local participants were invited to the Student Innovation Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where Representative Louise Slaughter introduced this year’s Annual Congressional App Challenge. In its second year, the App Challenge invites high school students across the nation to submit their designs for original mobile and computer applications.  

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Ed Games Expo

December 17, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

The ED Games Expo - A game night extravaganza!

Second Avenue was delighted to participate in this year’s ED Games Expo, sponsored by 1776 and the Entertainment Software Association! After all, everyone loves a good “game night” from time to time, right? (In our office, when we finish our writing, designing, coding, and testing for the day, many of us play Super Mash Brothers, a vintage game like Street Fighter, or even old school board games – they help us think about our own designs). The ED Games Expo was like a game night extravaganza, with attendees not only playing games, but also meeting the developers.

This year’s event featured 30 developers, funded by Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation and four other Federal agencies. The Expo also showcased commercial learning games developers, including Minecraft EDU, Ubisoft, and PBS Kids ScratchJr.

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The Big "Duh!" in Education: Game-based Assessment

December 15, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

When the Deputy Assistant to the President for Education walks into the room, followed shortly by the United States Chief Technology Officer, you know the conversation is about to get really interesting.

Game-Based Assessment (GBA)

Of course, in our case, the conversation was already interesting. Sitting in the beautiful and historically remarkable Indian Treaty Room at the White House complex, we were part of an incredible discussion on a relatively new development in education; game-based assessment. Our program officer and a champion of serious and learning games, Dr. Ed Metz, led the charge by bringing together representatives from educational technology and serious games companies throughout the country. 

The White House is interested in exploring game-based assessment as part our country’s testing solutions of the future.

Together with our colleagues in the field of game-based learning, we explored the challenges and opportunities offered by measuring learning, not through paper and pencil or computer-based tests, but by asking students to play games. Like so many of the others in the room, we believe that games have the potential to offer both teaching and learning opportunities, as well as the ability to provide deep and comprehensive evidence of teaching and learning. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the door has been opened for other types of assessment, including game-based assessments (GBA).

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Play is part of design thinking!

December 07, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis

Our team is in the process of designing the next several units of game-based curriculum for our Martha Madison series, which we are continuing to develop with support from the National Science Foundation. For those of you who haven’t yet met Martha, she is a plucky meerkat scientist who invites middle school students to learn about science through problem solving adventures.  

As part of our design process we often play with science concepts ourselves.  It isn’t uncommon to see sketches on white boards, paper cut-outs and bits of lab equipment all around our office, not to mention the growing pile of magnetic toys in our development lab.  Since we think about play and want our students to be really immersed in science, we decided that it was time for a field trip to spark our design thinking!  

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More Than Just a Dream: How Real Teachers Use Game-Based Assessment Every Day

December 07, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

In a brilliant discussion of the use of games as assessment tools, Rebecca Rufo-Tepper outlined several creative ways that real teachers, right now, are already using games in their classroom. In every discipline, and sometimes across disciplines, teachers are examining student learning through their gameplay. How do they do it?

Because few serious and educational games are designed specifically as assessments, teachers often assess "outside" the game. For example, a world history teacher may ask students to play Civilization V and then write an essay comparing the alternative history experienced in the game with actual history. In this case, the essay assessment happens after the gameplay, but the game forms the context of the assessment experience.

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Video Games in School!  So Cool!

November 13, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis

“This is so cool, video games in school!”

We have just wrapped up a day in a 8th grade science classroom at Barker Road Middle School, where about 100 students playtested our Martha Madison physics game on Newton’s Laws. The mere presence of Xbox game controllers brought forth smiles and shouts from nearly every student who walked into the room.

It is always so exciting to watch students playtest our games, especially in their own classrooms with their peers. First reactions tell us a great deal about whether we are on track with aesthetics and game mechanics. “Aww, this is so cute, the animals are adorable,” said one student, indicating that our character designs and color palettes are on target for this age group.

Once students became immersed in the game, and began playing with force diagrams and Newton’s Laws, the enthusiasm was palpable. “Oh my gosh, this is a free body diagram platformer game!” “Wow, this is challenging. I actually have to think.” The use of science specialist language started to emerge by the second or third levels of the game: “Yes! We overcame air resistance and friction!” and “How can we beat the effects of gravity?” We saw other indicators of student learning at the end of the sessions when Mrs. O’Dea asked students about concepts explored in the game; even students who had no previous formal exposure to this content were able to answer the questions accurately.

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5 Reasons Why Game-based Assessment is the Hottest New Trend in Education

November 13, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

Game based-assessment, or GBA, has been receiving a great deal of attention in both gaming and education circles. Unlike the tests that give students sweaty palms and sleepless nights, game-based assessments provide a fun new way of effectively examining learning. Based on our research and experience designing game-based assessments, we have found 5 core reasons why the next generation of students will be taking their tests with game controls instead of pencils.            


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Formative, Summative, Standardized? A Guide to Assessment Types

November 06, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

The word assessment has its origins in the Latin verb, assidere, which means "to sit with."  Ideally, this is exactly what an educational assessment does - it sits alongside a student as he or she learns, and gathers useful information about that learning. 

There are many forms of assessment, and they can be categorized according to when they are given and how they are used. It can get a bit confusing, so here we will break down several common assessment types found in today's classrooms: 

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