Welcome

Welcome to the award-winning website of Bill MacKenty - where I discuss technology and education! I'm the Director of Technology at the American School of Warsaw, where I support the effective use of technology in schools and classrooms.

Games work in education

I am especially interested in the use of computer games in learning and teaching. I have successfully used games in my classroom to help students learn. Please click here to see what I've written about games in education, and feel free to explore Balanced Gaming, my consulting business that helps parents, schools, and gamers understand how computer games fit into a balanced life.

Educational Technology

Technology strengthens, deepens, and broadens our learning. Want a hint how to successfully integrate technology into learning? It's not about the what, it is about the how. Click here to learn more....

Expression Engine

Expression Engine is a best-of-class content publishing system. I've used Expression Engine to provide powerful and flexible solutions for my school. Built on the Code Igniter PHP framework, it is an excellent tool for schools.

Text Based Games

Text based gaming has been around since the earliest days of computing. Using only text, players enter in another world, and explore, socialize, achieve and impose in the game world. There is no sound, no flashy graphics, simply text. Click here to learn more.

About

I first realized I was a geek in the 6th grade. My 6th grade math teacher put me in front of a Texas Instruments 99A and 4 days later I was teaching the class how to program. I absolutely love hacking around in OS X and Linux. I have worked with kids and helped others my entire life. I love teaching, and watching a kid “get it” really lights me up. I am very interested in effective education, educational theory, assessment, and learning.

From the Blog

Coming together and eating

When I was earning my superintendents license in NYC my supervising administrator instilled a simple truth:  feed your people. This resonated and resonates with me as a highly effective means of creating bonds, trust and connection. We just had Thanksgiving yesterday and I was struck how simple it is; good food, relaxed atmosphere, and people ...just connect... There is quite a bit more to leadership, but feeding people carries with it a physical and metaphorical benefit I really love. 

I think there is a certain vulnerability and assurance when we eat - something so basic - I don't know why food doesn't figure more prominently in our day-to-day meetings.  



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Enjoying the moment

Nothing especially tricky here. We've 14 people coming over for a slightly delayed thanksgiving, and today is the big day!

  1. We spent time to carefully plan what, when and how of the meal prep
  2. We pre-cooked the creamed spinach yesterday
  3. We got some things ordered via caterer (pies and a green salad)
  4.  We've already started setting the table a day prior

Other than that, honestly engaging with "what's the worst thing that could happen" is a fun way to manage anxiety around large meals, and I find myself relaxing through meal preparation and enjoying the process of cooking (and preparing food for people I love). 

A quote from the Joy of Cooking:

We can offer reasoned counsels and repeat the lessons of experience and tradition, but the truth is that if the table is attractive and clean, the food and drink honest and good, the company amiable and interesting, and the host generous and calm, an affair can be a resounding success no matter where the glasses go or who is sitting where. And that is our last word on entertaining. 


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Sabbatical learning - part 1

If a good replacement can be found, I'm approved for sabbatical leave next year. My plan for learning includes: 

  1. Design and construct curriculum to substantially improve student usage of git (a version control system) and the IDE visual studio code
  2. Design and construct curriculum for OOP Python
  3. Design and construct curriculum for advanced Python
  4. Design and construct curriculum using Jupyter notebook
  5. Design and construct curriculum for artificial intelligence / machine learning / advanced topics
  6. Rebuild every learning engagement and assessment in the two year IB computer science course (this is hundreds of learning engagements and 30+ assessments)
  7. Design and construct curriculum for Rust
  8. Design and construct curriculum in node.js, javascript, mongo DB, Linux

I'm already doing some of this stuff, but this sabbatical will help me by granting me the time to invest deeply in learning and reflection. Exciting stuff. 



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Robotics

This weekend, we are immersed in a Lego robotics competition. Students and coaches have come from other international schools to compete in a robotics challenge. The nature of the challenge is to program a robot to perform different manipulative tasks of various difficulties (within 2 minutes and 30 seconds). For example student robots need to push the red section of the windmill.

This will then trigger a different piece to fall, which must be collected for different points. The cool thing about this project is how many different times student-groups can attempt these challenges. It's ultimate design in my opinion, where a student will try / fail / try / fail many different times. This constant cycle of iteration is really at the heart of learning, construction and design - and is just such good stuff. 



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Procedural generation as a teaching approach

The amazing thing about procedural generation is that infinite unique possibilities can be created with little work from humans (ref). I've been interested in procedural for a few years, and would encourage you to take a peek at the following resources to learn about procedural generation: 

  1. This is an excellent introductory article
  2.  Dwarf Fortress (an incredibly complex game that is largely procedurally generated)
  3.  No Man's Sky (this a wiki article describing how procedural generation works)

What is cool about procedural generation is how easy it is to start with procedural generation.  In the example code below, we can get the following output: 

  1. Discovered in the small village of Tr'lor
  2. Hatched in the ocean of Greenest
  3. Born in the small village of Mirkwood

# procedural generator to write a brief history
import random

origin_1 = ["Born", "Hatched", "Invoked", "Discovered"]
origin_2 = ["in the land of", "in the wilds of", "in the forest of", "in the ocean of", "in the small village of", "in the modest hamlet of"]
origin_3 = ["Tr'lor", "Kor'mer", "Kobiyashi", "Greenest", "Mordora", "Gondor'e", "Rivendell", "Mirkwood"]

story_part_1 = random.choice (origin_1) + " " + random.choice(origin_2) + " " + random.choice(origin_3)
print(story_part_1)

I have some students working at high levels of complexity and other students working with more basic levels, as seen above. But for all of them, this is a fun approach to deconstructing a complex system, identifying the patterns within the system, and introducing the correct randomness to the system to make it unique. 

Procedural generation gets us close to modeling and simulation where a student must understand a system in order to create a model of it. In my opinion, modeling and simulation is close to the the very best learning we can get

Procedural generation goes into the stratosphere when students apply machine learning to highly complex systems. 



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update from Poland

Welcome to the occasional update for the academic year 2022 - 2023.  I’ve lived and worked in Warsaw for almost thirteen years and these are my perspectives about current events in Poland. 

We learned yesterday (Tuesday) there was a Russian missile strike in Poland. The village is located less than 10 km from the Polish-Ukrainian border. It is inhabited by about 500 people, 2 people have died.

There is much we don't know but we know the missile was russian-made, and it exploded in Poland. 

According to Polish press, General Waldemar Skrzypczak stated:

It was probably hit by Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons and misaligned, or it was misprogrammed and, as a result of various errors, went where it saw a different target. Or she got lost and flew until she ran out of fuel, the general estimates.

(almost all words in Polish have a gender associated with them, hence the word she)

To say the least, things are a bit tense in this area of the world. IF this is an attack, this would trigger article 5, which states:
 


“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
 

This is essentially Poland asking for formal help from the alliance, and falls under a key NATO idea “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”. Many things to unpack here:

  1.  Russia is losing the war Ukraine. badly
    1.  Russia's military has been pushed back to pre-February 24 borders, and the Ukrainian military has made stunning gains. If you are interested in non-political reading of the war, I cannot recommend understandingwar.com highly enough.
    2. Napoleon famously quipped:  Never interrupt your enemy whilst he is in the midst of making a mistake. Putin is making a doozy
       
  2. …but there's still a war…
    1.  missile attacks continue, and just yesterday there were more attacks on Kiev, and Russia fired over 100 missiles.
    2. Following a pattern in recent weeks of lashing out far from the front after battlefield losses, Russia fired long range strikes at the capital Kiev, where air raid sirens rang out, two explosions were heard and columns of smoke rose into the sky. The mayor of Kiev said Russian missiles hit two residential buildings (ref).
       
  3. Russia made an uncharacteristically rational decisions by retreating from Kherson
    1. Russian military action has been irrational, disorganized and remarkably inept.
    2. The manner in which the Russian military retreated from Kherson was more careful and competent than what they have done in the past
       
  4. Since this conflict began weapons, supplies and help have been pouring into Ukraine from Poland
    1. but the missile hit a grain storage in a tiny village, nowhere near anything of strategic importance
    2. There are also tens of thousands of American (and NATO) troops / equipment / missile defense in Poland
       
  5. Seems to me the last thing Russia wants if to trigger a war with NATO
    1. Considering their stunning failure in Ukraine, a war with NATO would be unimaginably stupid and result in a catastrophic defeat of the Russian military
       
  6. Please understand: nothing unites the Polish people like an attack 
    1. In Poland, as a rule, there is bickering, complaining and division but when the need arises, the Poles unite at remarkable speed and in remarkable solidarity.
       

We simply pay attention, listen carefully, and get on with our lives as best we can. 



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About

I am the director of technology at the American School of Warsaw. I am committed to strengthening, deepening and broadening student learning through technology. I honestly believe HOW we teach is far more important than WHAT we use to teach. I am a technology skeptic and a technology evangelist. I am certified school building leader and school district leader in New York State. I love technology, and hacking around - especially in Linux and OS X. I am a text-based gaming aficionado, and I enjoy smoking a pipe now and again. Please feel free to poke around and learn more about me and my views of educational technology.

I do almost everything there is to do in technology and education. My goal is create the conditions for excellence in education through technology. And I'd like to share what I know with the educators in Poland.

Testimonials

Bill is a true pioneer in educational technology who knows his stuff and who has a knack for explaining that stuff without denegrating or belittling his audience. He taxes the audience's attention, not their education or intellect.

Chuc M....

Conference Notes and Press

Baruch College - 2010

Keynote: The Right Circumstances for Games in Education

Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, New York - August 19 2008
Presentation here (1.8mb PDF file).

Top 10 best ed tech blogs June 2008

M*U*S*H: Online lecture: the advantage of ignorance

Boston Globe: blogging in the classroom

Article here | pdf here (42.5 KB PDF file)

School Library Journal: Games in the classroom

Article here | pdf here (58.8 KB PDF file)

Tech Forum Chicago

eSchool News blog award & roundtable

Games Developer Conference

Hunter College High School: Integrating Technology

2006 Martha's Vineyard Technology Professional Development Day

Introduction to Blogging (4.4 MB PDF file)

2005 MassCUE Annual Technology Conference

This is the blogging presentation in PDF format (about 2.5 MB)
Games in Education (warning, 14 MB file !!!)

Tech Forum New York

Public forum on Video Games, Kids, and Education

Games in Education Conference at E3Expo 2005