Where it all began....

I started blogging in 2003 to share my lesson plans with other teachers. I'm still posting regularly!

Jenkins talks about myspace and the future of learning and teaching.

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

pdf here (192 KB PDF)

From the article:

Q: What suggestions do you have for parents or other adults eager to learn more about MySpace and to understand what’s going on with it, kids and political reactions?


1. Communication with your daughter or son is key. Build a trusting relationship through dialogue. It is important to talk with them about your concerns; it is even more important to listen to what they have to say about their online experiences and why these sites are such an important part of their interactions with their peers. You need to recognize that some unfamiliar experiences look scarier from the outside than they are. Take time to understand what you are seeing and what it means to participants.

2. Create an account to understand how the site works, but not to stalk your kids. They need room to explore, but if you are familiar with the media and technology that they consume, you can provide valuable guidance and suggestions. Surveillance, while possible, damages a trusting parent/child relationship.

3. Ask your kids how they choose to represent themselves and why. Use MySpace as a resource to start a conversation about contemporary fashion, ideals, and media images.

4. Talk about private/ public issues with your kids. Help them to understand the consequences of making certain information publicly accessible. Get them to think through all of the possible audiences who might come into contact with their online information. Teens often imagine MySpace as a youth-only world. It isn’t and they need to consider what the consequences would be if their grandparents, their teachers, admissions officers or a future employer read what they said about themselves. Helping your children learn how to negotiate such public environments is a great educational opportunity.

5. Talk through what kids should do if they receive unwanted attention online or if they find themselves the victims of cyberbullying. A growing number of sites provide useful information about how to confront such problems, including Net Family News , NetSmartz and SafeTeens. The Safety Tips section of MySpace also provides information for both parents and teens, including MySpace policies.

Wiki’s and education?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Wiki’s have been around for a while, but I never really “got it” until a friend asked me to contribute to a wiki.

After a few weeks of using the wiki (and starting one of my own), I’ve some thoughts on wiki’s and of course wikipedia.  For the curious, I’ve written a short entry about problems associated with verifying information and wiki’s.

Wiki’s are great for inter-organizational knoweldgebase stuff

Mr. Smith’s 5th grade wiki is organized topically (math, science, social studies, art, etc).  Kids can easily contribute to the wiki, look up information, and properly cite information they have posted. 

A computer teacher might create a wiki detailing all the different ways the schools are using technology to support learning.  With categories, teachers can browse “math” or “fourth grade”.

A science teacher might create a wiki for their eighth grade students arranged topically - genetics, biology, geology, etc… Students would add to the wiki as they learn about different things.

Keep in mind wiki’s are good at organization multiple sources of knowledge.  If more than one person isn’t helping, it might not be worth using a wiki. 

Wiki’s aren’t great for discussions and single-point-of-organization stuff

You may be have better luck with blogs if you are one person posting classroom notes, homework assignments, etc.

You will be better served to use discussion board software if your objective is to facilitate an online discussion (with threads, topics, forums, moderators, etc)

You would do well to use an image gallery tool (like flickr) to post many images and pictures.

I think it’s easy to think of wiki’s as helpful if more than 2 or 3 people need to organize their knowledge about something.  Using this definition, a classroom full of kids could really benefit, yes?

Wiki’s are good assessment tools

When students can “make their own encyclopedia” it serves as a powerful and potentially positive learning tool.  Topics can be covered in minute detail, and when finished, small segments of work are more easily seen as part of a broad whole.  You might be writing about the cell wall, but when you put it all together, Nucleus, cytoplasm, DNA, RNA, etc, you can see how your contribution “fits”. 

Wiki’s are easy to manage

Keeping track of recent changes is easy with wiki’s, and students can easily peer-edit their stuff. It is trivial to see differences in pages, to see exactly what was changed when. 

Setting up a wiki requires a small amount of knowledge (PHP and mySQL). 

Malicious users (cyber-bullies) can be stopped with IP blocking, and you can configure wiki’s to only be edited by signed-in users (which is very easy).

If you are behind a NAT (most schools are) you can configure your wiki to be only accessed from inside your school network! 


Out of the Office!

Posted by Bill in Personal on Saturday, May 13, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Hi all!

I’ll be out of the office from May 14th to May 25th.  Off to Poland to get married!

I’ll be back on Friday the 25th



Getting to Z: Part 6 - Final

Posted by Bill in Games in education on Thursday, May 11, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5.

We have finished, and here is the after action report:

The Good Stuff

Three of the five boys demonstrated working knowledge of the Z axis.  They were involved in engaging an opponent in three-dimensional space.  This opponent was moving, and they were moving as well.  They coordinated helm and science information to effectively position themselves in 3D space.  They demonstrated an understanding of yaw and pitch.

The other 2 boys did not demonstrate knowledge of the Z axis. They could not articulate how to best approach another ship, or demonstrate relative position using pencils as ships. They were, however, utterly engaged with this process. They would quickly type ‘sr’ (which generates a sensor report), loudly report if they saw anything.  The also repaired damage, and scanned for damage on the other ship.  Despite not “getting it” they continued to actively participate.

The activity was an outstanding success in terms of engagement and motivation.  The boys came as early as they could, and I often had to ask them two and three times to leave when class was finished. 

The textual nature of this activity should not be underestimated.  Everything was in text (see a space battle for an example.)The level of engagement was really quite remarkable, especially considering some of the boys were quite reluctant towards school-related activities related to reading.  They read and demonstrated comprehension very rapidly.

The administrators of the MUSH we used (Paradox) were fantastic.  After dealing with some potential safety issues (all the players were minors, after all), they were encouraging, enthusiastic, and supporting.  Paradox is a great MUSH which always welcomes new players.  Feel free to give them a look.

The Not-Good Stuff

Our biggest problem revolved around time. Field trips, band concerts, snow days, and other school-demands taxed out short time together.  Next time, I plan on arranging meetings after school, twice a week for about a month.

“What does a Klingon look like?”  I made an assumption they would be able to access the Star Trek mythos.  They could not. Next time, we’ll watch a couple of Star Trek movies together and maybe review some Star Trek websites.

Formalized pre and post testing. I didn’t do this, as I wanted to “sneak the learning in”.  While creating a good environment for play, I would have had stronger statistics as evidence.  As it stands, next time, we’ll do a formal assessment piece.


This was a tremendous activity, generating positive energy in a rarely-used milleau in education. The educational potential was clear and evident.  It would be fascinating to explore other text based worlds, with different themes for the kids. 

This activity highlighted the following characteristics of games in education:

1) Tremendous motivation and engagement
2) Failure is not an obstacle to learning; in fact, it encourages learning
3) Learning happens in the context of play, fun, and engagement. Students are intrinsically motivated to learn
4) Graphics, sound and “jazz” are not supremely important - it’s the essence of the game which matters
5) Suspension of time, place, and identity support learning and play

Inform 7 released! Interactive fiction

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Games in education on Sunday, May 07, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

I’m a long time fan of text-based games and text based gaming.  So it is with great delight I found a new version of Inform has been released!!!!


Posted by Bill in Personal on Saturday, May 06, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

I have accepted a position at Hunter College Campus Schools in New York City.  I will be working as an instructional designer, helping teachers effectively use technology in their classrooms. Hunter College campus school teaches intellectually gifted students, grades K through 12. 

I must be quite frank; I do not know how this bodes for my use of games in the classroom.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to encourage teachers to use games in their classroom.  If I’m not so lucky, I won’t. I have every intention of continuing my work to use COTS games in the classroom.  In fact, with this population of students I suspect it may be even more interesting. 

Why move? You may ask.  I had a comfortable, secure job on a beautiful island.  My employers afforded every possible freedom to try new teaching techniques, and explore different pedagogies.  My school disctrict is well funded, we were never for want of anything major.

The thing of it is, my career goal is to be a district technology coordinator for a large size educational community.  As much as I love games in education and support the direction the movement is going, I simply cannot ignore the opportunity for living and working in New York City…it’s going to be great for my long term plans.

From May 14th to May 25th I’ll be in Poland getting married, and then the third weekend in June (the 17th) I’ll be moving to the city; during this time I expect my blogging will become quite quiet.

I simply cannot thank the wonderful readers who frequent this blog enough! Your insightful comments and ideas prove consistently wonderful. 

Very warmly yours,

Bill MacKenty, M.Ed.

The beautiful aha

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Wednesday, May 03, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

As previously discussed here I appreciate the “integration opportunity” when a staff members ask for technical help.  Such was the occasion yesterday, when one of our younger teachers came in to sign up for the lab and ask a tech question.

Our conversation quickly turned to blogging.  She posts great sites for her kids on her blog which is part of our school website. The trouble is, it is difficult to share these sites in an easy way.

Enter del.icio.us

For those who don’t know, del.icio.us is a great way to share and tag your favorite websites (see my delicious feed here). As an added bonus, delicious has an RSS feed - so we can subscribe to a teachers feed. All your links are available from any computer connected to the network, and we can aggregate educational links. 

Stand for sensible Immigration Reform

Posted by Bill in on Monday, May 01, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Hey gang.

I generally stay away from personal, and politcial issues, but this one hits close to home. 

I just wanted to take a minute and ask you to think about the immigration reform day today.  As you may know, there is a general strike planned to support sensible immigration reform.

Dagmara (my wife) is Polish.  Many of her friends and their friends come to the states during the summer to make some extra money and support our seasonal economy. 

I respectfully ask that you show solidarity today by refraining from buying anything.  I know it’s kind of a big thing to ask, but putting a bunch of cops and sending all the illegal immigrants home isn’t going to fix anything - we need sensible immigration reform, so these people can come to America and work, make a better life for themselves, and help our economy.  It truly is a win-win situation. 

If the Republican Right get’s their way, we won’t enjoy these seasonal workers.  We won’t be able to help people make a truly better life for themselves.  We won’t be able to support our seasonal economy. 

Aren’t we more than this reasonless, reactionary,fear-based thinking?  Isn’t the United States better than this?



If it’s all online, what am I going to teach?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Saturday, April 29, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

When I was presenting in New York, a person nervously asked “if I put everything online, what am I going to teach?”

Heh. Good question.

What would I teach if I didn’t have to teach basic facts or concepts?  What would my classroom look like if my students had already reviewed my lecture notes or the lesson?  If they had already listened to podcasts, reviewed the class wiki, and read the notes from previous classes?  What would my teaching look like?

I’d say I would be doing what I love; challenging kids to really think.  If we understood the basics of the civil right movement, we could begin to debate the similarities and differences between civil rights of the 60’s and the illegal immigration movement today.  Students would be able to engage in a higher-level discourse. Classtime would be spent communicating rather than lecturing. Students would come into the class already knowing basic facts and concepts.

The prospect for many teachers is positively terrifying.  Giving up control, giving up power, and becoming a facilitator.  At a recent talk by Hall Davidson, he stated that attendance rates dropped in basic and survey-level courses. 

This question, I think, moves the very heart of adopting new technologies in the classroom; teachers are afraid of change, afraid of change, afraid of change.

As my friend Walter McKenzie is apt to say “you have to let go of the old ways”.

Subversive technology integration

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Friday, April 28, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

I’ll fix your printer and tell you about new technology.

This falls under the “whatever it takes” school of technology integration.  Teachers are often strapped for time, poorly trained for technology, and often struggle to understand how technology can work.

So when we are called into a classroom to fix an annoying technology problem, we have a temporary open door.  The teacher is focused and energized on technology.  Despite the feelings might be negative, once we have fixed the problem, we have an opportunity to introduce a new idea.

Without belaboring the point, this is also why IT IS SO IMPORTANT YOUR TECH SUPPORT PEOPLE ARE NICE.  Teachers often seek the “teachable moment” As instructional technology coordinators, we need to also find the “teachable moments” for our teachers.  When teachers encounter a mean-spirited technical support person (or a very lazy one), it does nothing but hinder, hamper, impede, and obstruct successful use of technology in your school.

Evidence, evidence!

Posted by Bill in Games in education on Tuesday, April 25, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

David McDivitt has some very interesting initial statistics from his world history class.

David is a results-focused educator, and his voice is valuable in the games in education space.

State of the blogosphere

Posted by Bill in Blogging on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Leave it to good ole technorati  to come up with some fantastic statistics for their regular state of the blogosphere!

From the post…

# Technorati now tracks over 35.3 Million blogs
# The blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 months
# It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago
# On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day
# 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created
# Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour


Posted by Bill in Personal on Monday, April 17, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Hi folks!

On holiday for the next week, so posts might be few and far between. 



meta-analysis shows games work

Posted by Bill in Games in education on Thursday, April 13, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Courtesy of the Serious Games mailing list this interesting study looks at some promising evidence for the roles of games and learning.  From the abstract…

“Empirical findings from 43 studies concerning learning, costs of learning, and transfer of learning from computer games and game-like simulations are reviewed and discussed. These findings suggest that games and simulations can improve cognitive processes and that motivation and immersion are factors in these improvements. The findings suggest positive transfer to real life tasks when the tasks required by games and simulations are similar. Cost arguments for simulations can be strengthened by the addition of game-like qualities to simulations. Limits to the generality of these conclusions, issues in research on games and simulations, and suggestions for further research are discussed.”

Richard Bartle on Games and Learning

Posted by Bill in Games in education on Monday, April 10, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

For those of you who don’t know Richard Bartle, I suggest you read his exceptional book, Designing Virtual Worlds.  It’s a well-earmarked favorite of mine.  Richard wrote one of the first text-based multiplayer games on the internet, MUD. 

Richard recently posted a blog entry about Games and Learning. Although he comments on “educational games” (which he seems to frown upon), he makes some good points about how games work in learning.

Richard says “Games work by teaching incidentally, that is by missing the point;”.  This is exactly what I see.  When kids play Age of Mythology, they are not memorizing Greek, Egyptian, and Norse gods. But if they know about the gods they will be more successful.  If you were playing a scenario based in the ocean, would you pray to Hades or Poseidon?  In order to be successful in a game, you need to master the skills in the game necessary to win.  I think this has also been called “stealth learning”. 

This is a central idea to COTS games in education;  kids have a great time, and learn as they are playing.  So it’s not a “direct instruction” thing - it’s an “incidental learning” thing.  And with good instructional design (when a teacher reflects with children about the lessons learned) games become a particularly potent learning tool.

Thanks Richard!

Why dual booting Apple computers are a big deal in games in education

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Games in education on Wednesday, April 05, 2006 (9 years ago) Permalink

Apple has just announced boot camp, a simple dual booting utility for inte-based Macs.

As a public educator, with a school filled with Apple computers, this is very encouraging news. 

No longer are we stuck in a world of Apple OR Windows.  Now we have a fantastic opportunity to use the incredible tools which come with OS X (iLife , iTunes and all the beautiful OS X software) and the great games available on Windows.  Simply fantastic. 

This is great news.  OS X is reallly quite superior in so many ways - ease of use, available software, unix roots, iLife, etc…. However, the one area OS X has been lacking is mainstream games.  Now with dual booting, there is really no reason not to buy a Macintosh.  I would love to use Muzzy Lane’s great game Making History but alas, no luck on OS X.

With OS X’s windows-friendly Server managing the two platforms is a cinch…kids can even access their documents on a shared resource!  It’s great news for education folks who are looking for the best of both worlds! 

The only drawback?  OS X users /will/ need to be very careful of the virii and spyware on Windows boxes now!!!!

Edit: Raph Koster asks: are Mac Games going to die?  I say: probably.

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I'm the director of technology at the American School of Warsaw. I support the effective use of technology in schools and classrooms. I am also keen on the role of games in education. More than you ever wanted to know about Bill

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