Vacation Vibes!

With most schools out, and many states opened up after a year of pandemic lockdown, I’ve been seeing a lot of pictures on social media of people enjoying vacations, especially outdoors. We were fortunate enough to visit Colorado in early May and spent some time in The Garden of the Gods and Rocky Mountain National Park. After that break, I wrote about our fabulous visit to part makerspace/part game store, PlayForge, in Littleton, Colorado. While we were there, we purchased a couple of things, and one of them was National Parks Scrabble. My daughter and I are Scrabble fiends, and we were curious to see how this could converge with our adoration of National Parks. I did not expect how much we would enjoy the game! It includes cards that name different national parks (many that I had never heard of!) and a little bit about each one. The fun part is that you can use the cards to do previously prohibited actions in Scrabble, such as spell a word backwards or make any tile on your rack into a blank. It really makes the game far less predictable, and way more fun. If you are anywhere near Littleton, Colorado, head over to PlayForge and get this game. (Also, check out their Maker Camps!) If you are not near PlayForge, find an independent store near you to see if they carry it. As a last resort, you can get it online, but do your best to support an indie store if you can.

Think you know something about the United States National Parks? Try this quiz to see how much you really know!

While we’re talking about vacations, remember the Virtual Vacation website I mentioned back in March? I focused on the City Guesser game (btw, Esther Park has a free template you can use for this game — go to this link and look for the “Travel Around the World” template), but there are several other virtual vacation activities on there, including VidEarth, where you can click on a blue dot anywhere in the world and watch a video that was uploaded, and my personal favorite, Virtual Window, where you can get a “window” view of places.

For some ways to enjoy the great outdoors while learning, scroll down a bit on this page for the 4-Week Summer Camp Guide from Nature Lab. It includes hands-on activities for families. While you’re outside, encourage children to take amazing nature photos with these tips from National Geographic. Or, adapt some of these ideas from their Planet Possible Challenge.

No matter what you decide to do during vacation, don’t forget this wonderful message from Kid President way back in 2015!

Rocky Mountain National Park, May, 2021

Make Code Arcade Beginner Skillmap

The Arcade Beginner Skillmap is a new resource from Microsoft’s Make Code which is perfect for students who want to learn how to design their own video games. It is free, and includes step-by-step tutorials for using block coding to make greeting cards, clicker, and collector games – all within your browser. I don’t have a minimum age suggestion, but would recommend that users have basic reading skills to help them through the tutorials. Once completing the beginner skillmap, burgeoning young game designers may want to work on one of the other skillmaps on the arcade, make their own project from scratch, or take advantage of one of the other tutorials. Then, keep their momentum going by showing them the hundreds of Hour of Code tutorials available on code.org.

Get in the Game

The If/Then Collection is all about featuring women in STEM. If you teach or you’re a parent, I highly recommend doing a deep dive into all of the materials offered on this site, including profiles of female scientists in various fields like sports and entertainment, videos, posters, and toolkits. I saw the “Get in the Game” resources, and wanted to share them since I mentioned the Game Design Contest from Google Play yesterday. According to the site, “Get in the Game is an “unplugged” activity–exploring concept usually associated with programming and computer science without the use of a computer.  The Tech Interactive Museum in San Jose presents six activity videos featuring AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador Dr. Siobahn Day Grady where students design their own board games and learn how Dr. Grady applies computational thinking skills as a computer scientist researching autonomous vehicles.” Although this activity focuses on designing a board game, it would be a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in the Google Play contest, or who are just looking for engaging activities during the next couple of months.

Interested in the idea of using Design Thinking in your classroom, but not quite sure how to do it? I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). You can find info on how to join us here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Be a Game Changer!

Do you have students (or children) who are 13-18 years of age, live in the United States or Canada (except Quebec, sorry!), and who have great ideas for video games? If so, they have until July 31, 2021, to enter Google Play’s “Change the Game” Design Contest. They do not have to know how to code in order to enter, as you can see from the online form. Judges will be looking at entries as they are submitted to select 100 people to participate in an online workshop where they will learn how to make real games, and receive a certificate and Chromebook if they complete the course. You can get more information and some guiding questions to inspire participants here.

And, don’t forget, I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). If you missed my blog post giving you the scoop on this event, you can read all about it here.

Photo by Garrett Morrow on Pexels.com

Spintronics

Way back in 2017, I blogged about a new project I had backed on Kickstarter called Turing Tumble. The game is a mechanical version of a computer, and includes a book with stories and challenges that slowly scaffold the working parts of computers. My students and I liked it so much that I reviewed it on the blog and recommended for my Gifts for the Gifted list in 2018.

Paul Boswell, inventor of Turing Tumble, has a new venture on Kickstarter. The project is called Spintronics, and it is designed to help children (and adults) to learn how electronics work by building mechanical circuits. Like Turing Tumble, Spintronics includes a book of stories and challenges. Without having to risk hot soldering irons or engage in complicated mathematical equations, students can learn the basics and vocabulary of electronics as they build, experiment, and play.

I literally received the e-mail announcing the beginning of the Kickstarter today, and Spintronics is already fully funded – more than 5 times over! So, the good news is that you should be able to receive a kit if you back it. The downside is that you will need to wait until January, 2022, to start playing the game. However, as I learned with Turing Tumble, it is sure to be worth the wait!

PlayForge

My family and I recently took a trip to Colorado. On our way to our VRBO in Colorado Springs, we stopped in the lovely town of Littleton. Walking down Main Street, we saw many fun shops and boutiques, but it was a Monday and several were closed. I was drawn to one sign, “PlayForge,” and peeked in the windows to see a darkened shop that seemed to sell board games. Disappointed the store wasn’t open, I continued walking down the street, but I kept glancing back.

The next morning, I was doing my daily scan of my Twitter feed, and couldn’t believe the second Tweet that I read was about PlayForge. (Knowing the far reach of social media these days, I suppose I should not have been surprised.) The Tweet was from one of the owners, Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer), and I realized I was going to have to return to Littleton to visit this amazing space. PlayForge had only recently opened, and it seems my initial attraction to the spot was more intuitive than I had realized.

You see, Jesse Stommel is an educator. He and his husband opened PlayForge as a retail store, but also a makerspace. With their adorable 4-year-old daughter, Hazel, as inspiration, they created a game store where children are welcome, and they will eventually be offering classes on game design where kids and families can make products using the store’s 3d printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutter, and other tools.

At PlayForge, you can find games for all ages, a classroom area with tables and a giant digital screen, and a room with accordion doors that can open out to the sidewalk so making can happen for everyone to see. Families will absolutely adore this unique business. Jesse, co-author of An Urgency of Teachers, and an experienced educator, is committed to helping children to love playing and making games.

So, yes, we made it back to Littleton on a day the store was open, and I got to meet the family and get a tour. We bought a couple of games that I thought I might be able to fit in my suitcase, and Hazel the Store Manager took a break from her jigsaw puzzle to scan them for us at the checkout.

If you live in Littleton, you should treat yourself by visiting PlayForge at 2420 W Main St. in Old Town Littleton, CO. You can find store hours and contact info here. You can also follow them on Twitter @PlayForgeGames. You can also listen to an 8-minute interview with Jesse and @reddy2go about the store here.

If you live in San Antonio… hey we need a place like this! I don’t have any money to invest, but I would be a great consultant and maker space teacher!