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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Assessments: Why Do We Test?

October 30, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

I've noticed a lot of discussion about testing recently. It seems like every day there is a story in the news about parents opting out of standardized assessments, school districts grappling with new test types, or analysts discussing test performance issues. With all of this talk, the true purpose of assessment is often obscured. 

So why do we test?  What is the point of assessment?

We like the definition provided in GlassLab’s recent publication on assessment, which states: 

Assessment is designing situations in which to obtain evidence about aspects of what students know and can do. 

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Video Games and STEM: Engaging Girls through Innovative Play

October 24, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

“You’re going to stink at this, Danielle. You’re not good at science or math, remember?”I wasn’t supposed to hear this whispered insult, but I did.

It was a gray morning, and I was visiting an all-girls charter school in the heart of the city of Rochester. I had just introduced our Martha Madison physical science video games to the class.

The mere mention of the word science created an instant buzz, and it wasn’t a positive one.

The girls in this eighth-grade class, all age 13, and all from low-income households, had already shown me in earlier surveys that they were losing faith in their own abilities. Most indicated that they not only performed poorly in math and science, but actively disliked both subjects. 

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ROC the Future: Improving Student Outcomes Is Not Impossible

October 16, 2015 | Anne Snyder

At today’s State of Our Children Address, provided by the ROC the Future initiative and hosted by the Rochester Business Journal, we were reminded of a sobering statistic: of the Rochester graduates who enrolled in a local college this past year, only 18% were deemed college-ready in both math and science.

Here at Second Avenue Learning, we are observing a growing demand for remedial reading, math, and science education support for students who are just entering college. As a result, we are exploring digital solutions that can provide mobile, flexible remediation in areas that are critical for college success. This is important and exciting work, but the need for this type of product is sobering.

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4 Things Necessary for Motivation in Education

October 16, 2015 | Victoria Van Voorhis & Anne Snyder, Ph.D.

Just because you’re motivated to do something doesn’t mean you have to like it.

This was one of many gems that Dr. Bror Saxberg offered his audience in yesterday’s CIRCL webinar, and it has important implications for any of us who care about education. Drawing upon decades of empirical research in cognitive science and psychology, Dr. Saxberg, currently the Chief Learning Officer at Kaplan, Inc., reminded us that in order to feel motivated, we need to have four things in place.

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Serious Play Recognizes Second Avenue Learning with Games Award; CEO to Speak at Conference

July 15, 2015 | Annie


Rochester, NY – Second Avenue Learning has received a Bronze Award from the International Serious Play Competition for its Martha Madison physical science game suite. The competition recognizes outstanding game titles that deliver high quality engagement and learning opportunities for students, and is held in conjunction with the annual Serious Play Conference at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Martha Madison games support middle school science instruction through videogame style problem-based learning. Each game introduces key science content through collaborative play, while also offering students the opportunity to build their own game levels using science and engineering principles. The games have been shown to be particularly effective with girls as well as students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

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Second Avenue Software Awarded a National Science Foundation Phase IIB SBIR Grant

July 01, 2015 | Annie

Grant will support development of the Martha Madison Serious Game Suite for Physical Science


Rochester, NY – A leader in the design and development of serious games for education, Second Avenue Learning is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of a prestigious Phase IIB Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This grant award will further the development and expansion of Martha Madison, a classroom-tested serious game suite designed to support middle school physical science instruction.

“We are delighted to receive this award from the National Science Foundation, which will support our ongoing efforts to reimagine what it means to teach, learn, and play,” said Victoria Van Voorhis, founder and CEO of Second Avenue Learning. “As a scalable and research-based solution to the persistent issue of poor STEM performance and interest among students in the United States, particularly in economically disadvantaged settings, Martha Madison has the potential to significantly improve learning and achievement in science. We are honored to apply this award toward this important mission.”

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MAGIC at RIT hosts Disney's Paul Hildebrandt

April 16, 2015 | Bob Jeffery

Second Avenue was delighted to attend Tuesday’s MAGIC at RIT Speaker Series featuring Disney’s Paul Hildebrandt speaking about technology used in the making of animated films. There was a good turnout with a mix of RIT students and professionals from local development studios. Hildebrandt gave us an exciting peek into what the Disney process looks like and how the technology developed by him and his team helps from behind the scenes to make it all possible.

Lucky for us, Disney is now sharing their technological innovation with the world! They have posted Open Source Software at and various papers and talks at . More videos on their tech can be found on Disney’s YouTube channel here: . As Second Avenue continues to design and develop customized learning experiences, we will use this as a great resource and inspiration.

We’d like to thank Paul Hildebrandt for speaking and MAGIC at RIT for hosting. We also look forward to more in the MAGIC Speaker Series!

-Bob Jeffery

Bob is Lead Artist at Second Avenue Learning and an entertainment games industry veteran, having completed appealing art and animations in various apps, games, and prototypes for companies such as Activision, EA and Sony. Bob earned his BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and is now applying his nearly 20 years of experience to creating serious games at Second Avenue.

Paul Hildebrandt has been a Senior Engineer with Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) since 1996. Hildebrandt leads the team responsible for developing the digital asset manager, media player, dailies review system with a mobile interface, and other related tools. Among the Disney animated films that he has contributed to are the Oscar® winning hit Frozen and Oscar®-nominated box office hits, "Wreck-It Ralph," "Tangled," "Bolt," "Treasure Planet," and "Dinosaur." He is WDAS' evangelist for PyCon and other Python sponsorships.

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