Learning Out Loud: Playing with Arduino

It is summer and it is a perfect time to try out some new things.  The Arduino is a platform that I have brought into the classroom to help engage students who were interested in digging deeper into circuitry and electronics.  This past year I was inspired by my Grade 9 students who fearlessly took on the challenge to use the Arduino to support their science projects.  This summer I wanted to revisit this platform for myself and reflect on this learning experience.  Here are some of my initial thoughts.

Learning was driven by the need to overcome failure…

Even with the construction of simple circuits, the drive to have them work in the face of failure was critical in my motivation to learn more about circuitry and coding.  All of a sudden, I found myself tinkering with components and even reading through code in an attempt to make sense of the programming language.

Problem solving at its best…

The approach that I used to troubleshoot this project really reminded me of the scientific method.  There were certain aspects of the project that I identified as being potential areas to investigate.  The resulting “bug” or error in my project could have been the result of a faulty or missing connection.  An error in the code or even a defective component could have also resulted in this non-functional project.  Ultimately, each of these areas became a variable that I would explore individually in an attempt to systematically identify and correct the error.

What next?

At the conclusion of this project I could not help but think about what else I could change or build.  After tinkering with the code, I started playing around with different values and variables.  What if I changed a number here or a value there?  What other sensors could I use instead of the ultrasonic sensor?  How could this apply to devices or objects that are around us in our daily lives?

I get it.  I get this now.  Building, failing, tinkering and persevering.  It felt like learning to me.

K. Takahashi

Elements of Gamification: Connection to Content

While out in Vancouver I came across two contrasting examples of gamification. One example illustrated the power to engage and educate while the other example arguably served to engage the participant. As I look to create a gamified learning experience, the end goal is to engage and teach rather than to simply entertain. The connection and integration of learning goals will be critical as I design my gamified learning experience for teachers.

Example 1: Efficient Forms of Transportation – Telus Science World

Whenever visiting Vancouver with the kids, a popular stop for us is Telus Science World. Located in the beautiful False Creek area of downtown Vancouver, it offers a great assortment of displays and activities for kids and adults alike. I highly recommend it!

The Gaming Element

Roll the ball and advance your character down the track by scoring more energy efficient methods of transportation.
Roll the ball and advance your character down the track by scoring more energy efficient methods of transportation.

One particular display offers a hands-on, competitive game to illustrate different methods of transportation and uses a common midway, derby game to promote energy efficient ways of moving around a city. Up to 5 participants compete against each other in a race where they each advance their character or avatar along the board by scoring points in this bowling-type game. More points are earned by sinking the ball in holes that are attached to more efficient methods of transportation. The more points earned results in your character advancing quickly across the board compared to a player who is scoring less energy efficient modes of transportation. Scoring a car as a mode of transportation will earn you 1 step forward, public transit will earn you 2 steps forward and biking will award you 5 steps forward. The contestant who is able to move their character across the finish line first wins the race and competition.

The Connection to Content and Learning

The element of competition and the simple rules of gameplay make this a popular and engaging exhibit for kids (and adults) of all ages. The graphics and theme of this game attempt to generate a greater awareness of energy efficient modes of transportation. Unfortunately in this particular example, I feel as though the content takes a backseat to the game. When I asked my kids about efficient modes of travelling around the city, they were unable to tell me why biking to work was a more energy efficient way of transportation compared to commuting with a vehicle. Assuming that the learning goal for this activity was to have players understand energy efficient modes of transportation, the design of the game failed to effectively connect to the content.  For me, this is an outcome that I want to avoid in my support of teachers and students. If I am to illustrate the power of gamification in supporting learning, then I need to ensure that my gaming elements do more than simply entertain my audience.

Example 2: Driving Behaviour and Mileage – 2013 Toyota Rav4

The dash mounted LCD panel displays both historical and real-time data on your fuel economy.
The dash mounted LCD panel displays both historical and real-time data on your fuel economy.

I had a chance to use a 2013 Toyota Rav4 while travelling around the Greater Vancouver area and I became engrossed in a built-in feature that serves to inform the driver on their fuel economy in real time. Using the LCD display mounted in the dash, drivers (and passengers) can quickly see their overall fuel economy (l/100km) for a trip, follow a minute-by-minute break down of their fuel economy  over the last 15 minutes of driving as well as check their current, real-time fuel economy statistic that will literally change based upon the action on the accelerator and the resulting engine revolutions. In essence, this instant feedback and data on your fuel economy and driving habits gamified the driving experience. I admittedly referred to these statistics several times and became engrossed in how my use of the accelerator impacted the fuel economy. Basically, it became a game of trying to better my fuel economy over my previous trip.

The Connection to Content and Learning

This feedback feature helped inform and encourage driving habits that maximize fuel economy. In this particular implementation, gaming elements and content were intimately connected. Since the content or learning goal was to identify and establish fuel efficient driving practices, the use of both collected and real-time data on fuel consumption served to gamify the driving experience. In a way, trying to determine accelerator habits in order to improve one’s fuel economy was the game itself.

This experience illustrated a critical concept for me and my understanding of gamification. The learning was based in the gamified experience where in this particular instance the participant discovers firsthand how driving habits impact fuel consumption and perhaps more importantly, serves to potentially impact how we drive in the long term. The learning was active and facilitated through the gaming mechanisms displayed in the dash of the car.

What this means for me and my project

Content and Context:

If I hope to have teachers learn more about this All-in-One computer (see my proposal to gamify a teacher research) and how it can be used effectively to promote collaborative learning then:

– the gaming elements need to facilitate the learning on the HP All-in-One itself
– there needs to be an element of instant feedback
– there needs to be an element of discovery and play

Next Steps:

–  I will need to spend some time with the hardware (HP All-in-One) and software (Windows 8) and determine the specific concepts and content that I want to address and cover with teachers.
– I need to find or create a system or platform that I can use and customize in order to provide instant feedback to the teacher who is navigating my resources on the HP All-in-One. My early research on a potential platform seems to be pointing me towards Google docs and perhaps Google+.
– Determine a task or set of tasks (that is accomplished through using the HP All-in-One) that allows for and promotes discovery and play. A lot of research surrounding gamification identify the concept of appropriate challenge and/or problem solving in effective gaming (Byl, 2012; Deterding, 2011; Kapp, 2012; McGonigal, 2011). Based on that, I would imagine that creative tasks or challenges that reflect activities in the classroom would be of greater interest to the teacher.



Byl, P. (2012, November 25). Can digital natives level-up in a gamified curriculum? Retrieved May 15, 2013, from Ascilite: http://www.ascilite2012.org/images/custom/de_byl,_penny_-_can_digital.pdf

Deterding, S. (2011, January 24). Meaningful play: Getting gamification right. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from Google Tech Talks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZGCPap7GkY

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken; Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: The Penguin Press.

My Gamification Attempt: The HP 8300 Elite

Here it is.

This is it.

As part of my learning action plan for my CSU course (EMT501), I want to research and apply the concept of gamification in my work as a Learning Technologies Coordinator. My proposal initially indicated that I would attempt to gamify a technology workshop or resource that I would facilitate or use in supporting the professional development of teachers. The actual subject or piece of technology was to be determined at a later date once I had a better idea on the topics and resources that I would be supporting in the fall of 2013.

Well that time has come and I have decided to gamify the support and training surrounding the release of a new piece of PC hardware that will soon be available to our schools for purchase. It is the HP 8300 Elite All-In-One Personal Computer (PC)!

What? Why?

I chose this particular technology because of the circumstances surrounding its upcoming availability for schools around our district.

– All schools will have a chance to get hands-on time with this PC

– This particular PC is the first touchscreen PC available to schools and classrooms

– This is the first PC that comes in an All-In-One form factor

– This PC will be the first to usher in the Windows 8 platform into our schools

Needless to say, the new features in both hardware and software will require supporting teachers and students in its use to support learning. More specifically, this is the opportunity for us to begin rethinking how schools envision the use of PCs in the school. We want to move forward from the commonly held concept that the personal computer is simply a one-to-one, media consumption device. With a large touchscreen that can handle up to 10 points of touch and an operating system that is designed for a touch interface, the All-In-One presents the opportunity to create a centre of learning where groups of students can collaborate and create together. This concept echoes the research and work of Sugata Mitra surrounding his concept of the Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE).

OK, Now What?

Early in these stages of planning, I am still unsure as to what this gamified learning experience will look like. I am beginning to work through Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken and I must admit I am left with more questions than answers. I am struggling with the definition and difference between the terms “game” and “gamification”. In trying to envision a gamified learning experience, I am trying to move beyond simply offering badges or rewards to help motivate teachers to engage in the professional development surrounding the HP 8300 Elite All-In-One computer. In trying to implement McGonigal’s gaming concepts of challenge and feedback (McGonigal, 2011), I am concerned in having gaming mechanisms that may serve to distract rather than enhance the learning environment. Is this an indication that I am still in need of more research and information or am I simply getting cold feet?

K. Takahashi



McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken; Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: The Penguin Press.

Mitra, S. (2010, September 7). TEDTalks. Retrieved August 17, 2013, from YouTube: http://youtu.be/dk60sYrU2RU

Reflecting on my Reflective Practice – Making the Implicit Explicit

As I write this reflective blog post, I sit in an airport awaiting my flight. With technology, having the ability to quickly document my thoughts and feelings as they occur may be a critical piece in allowing me to capture my reflective practice as it happens.
As I write this reflective blog post, I sit in an airport awaiting my flight. With technology, having the ability to quickly document my thoughts and feelings as they occur may be a critical piece in allowing me to capture my reflective practice as it happens.

Over the next year I will be completing a series of online courses through Charles Sturt University. During this time of course work I will be engaging in reflective journalling and with my personal interest in technology, I want to be able to draw upon a number applications and platforms that may help facilitate a deeper and more consistent practice of reflection. The practicality and integrity of these electronic methods will also be reflected upon as I try to determine the most effective way for me to journal my reflections.

In general I do not schedule in times for personal, professional reflection. For me, I find that moments of reflection are spontaneous often fuelled by an event or experience that either challenges my current beliefs, contradicts my expectations or yields surprising or unexpected results. Currently, my process of reflection is not formalized in any way as I do not subscribe to a particular format or timeline. Up until now documentation has been in the form of an occasional brief note to myself, a blog post or tweet. Many times my own reflections remain to be a process where my thoughts are never really articulated in writing and/or documented for future reference.

Having said that, I do not believe that I am new to the practice of reflection. My process may be less formal without the consistent use of an organizer and platform for documentation but I have come to truly appreciate the improvements that reflective practice has provided me as I improve my work as a teacher and educational leader. However as I try to stretch my own development to be more explicit in my reflective practice, I do stand to engage in self reflection that is more focussed, influential and pervasive. Investing in a record of reflection over the course of the next year will provide me the opportunity to see where I have come and hopefully the improvements and learnings I have encountered.