The Reflective Educator

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Tag: games

Looking for feedback on this puzzle game

I’m working on a block puzzle game. The objective is to cover the entire puzzle area with blocks of various sizes. So far I’ve got the basic structure up (it will only run in web browsers that support the Canvas HTML element, so Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, and maybe Opera). Scoring for the game depends on what types of blocks are used (you’ll notice those little 1 by 1 squares are worth no points).

I’m looking for feedback on how to improve the puzzles.

Some ideas I’ve had are:

  • Restrict what playing pieces the players can use.
  • Randomize the playing pieces to which the players have access.
  • Allow more access to different kinds of shapes, such as triangles, pentiminoes, heximinoes, etc…



Here is some feedback I’ve received as well from other sources.

  • Change the images that turn into the blocks into pictures of the blocks. @joshgiesbrecht
  • Change from scoring blocks to a par system (like golf) where players get scored on the number of blocks used. @joshgiesbrecht
  • Make the point that one gets a higher score from using larger pieces more obvious. @joshgiesbrecht

Exploring multi-user online text spaces for collaborative game building

(Screenshot from the opening screen of Arctic MUD)

I have a confession to make. When I was in university for my first degree, I spent way too much time playing games, and not as much time as I should have on my studies. One of the games I played was called a multi-user dungeon (or MUD).

When I was asked recently by a colleague to help her find a typing game for her students, I was reminded of my experience playing MUDs. A MUD is a game written entirely in text, and their use predates the Internet itself. You enter the game through a specialized client, and type in commands, and read the results of your commands on the screen. Whole worlds can be created in muds. One of the MUDs I used to play had thousands of rooms players could move through, each of which had a description of the room. These descriptions were important, and because there was information in the room descriptions associated with mini-quests in the game, you had to read them thoroughly, and pay attention to details.

I took a typing course in high school, but none of the typing skills took. The course was incredibly boring, and my memories of it are of typing asdf asdf asdf over and over again. I did not learn typing from the typing course I took, I learned how to type as a result of spending hours and hours playing a MUD in school.

Every command I sent the mud had to be sent via the keyboard. There were no options to click on buttons to make the game work, you had to type. As a result, I had a strong incentive to learn how to type faster, because by typing faster, I made the game go faster. Typing faster gave me more control over the game, and this was amazingly empowering. Typing accurately was important too. The game moved fast, and if I typed something wrong, my character in the game died, or the game just sent back an annoying ‘Hunh?’ when it didn’t understand my command.

The next thing I realized is that the different parts of the mud (called zones) are each stories. When I move my character through the zone, it is like I am moving through a story, and controlling the action and pace of the story. This is part of the reason kids are so excited to play video games today; they have some control over the pace of the story, and the flow of the game. Today’s video games are excellent places for students to explore narratives, but they aren’t text narratives, and it is still important to understand text narratives.

Mud story
(Screenshot from a zone on Arctic MUD called "Forest of Haven", created by Draknor)

The zones in a mud include things called mobs, which are non-player characters controlled by the computer. These mobs can be considered to be bit actors in the stories of a mud, and the players are the main characters. Imagine that instead of just reading about Tom Sawyer and how he tricked the other boys into whitewashing the fence, that you could join him in this mini-quest in the story, and interact with him and the other characters in the book. How would that change how you viewed the book?

I thought that muds could be a way that students could read, access, and see an interpretation of a story, but they could also create interpretations of stories. One of the advantages of muds has always been that the source code for many muds is free to download and modify, and that the resource required to run a mud are fairly minimal. The editing systems for most muds is reasonably archaic, but its not too complicated to create simple effects, certainly well within the reach of most students.

A group of university students created an online interpretation of Dante’s Inferno as an exercise for one of their literature classes. When the mud was active, you could literally walk around the layers of hell as described by Dante. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to have created Dante’s Inferno?

I see some interesting things one could do with a mud, but I need some feedback. Is this just a crazy idea?

Update: I just found out about Moose Crossing, which is a decades old project to do exactly what I am suggesting but with more control given to students than I had originally envisioned. Awesome.

Gamification of education

Here’s an interesting video which was shared with me by @misterlamb today.

While I’m not thrilled about the use of experience points as group awards (external motivator), I do like the idea of incremental improvement rather than requiring students to make large changes in order to improve. I also get the point that the traditional grading system is poorly designed, and that if we must use some sort of grading system, one that expects improvement through "trying again" is a huge improvement over our "you failed, oh well" system. Further, in a system of levelling up, it would be easier to get away from the notion that how old a student is determines what path they should be taking.

There are some questions I do have about implementation of this kind of system.

  • Would students tend to become specialists in this system rather than generalists? Would they think that because they are doing well in x subject that they can forget about y subject? I’m level 55 in math, but only level 3 in writing, but it’s okay because level 55 is really good! Is this something we should worry about, or just part of the further personalization of education?
  • A huge part of any game I’ve played is the competition between the players. Most games are zero sum, in which one player has to do poorly in order for another to do well. Our comparison system of grades is such an example. In order to feel good about your A, there can’t be too many people who get one, hence your gain, is someone else’s loss. In a leveling system, being level 50 feels better when you realize you’ve beaten other people in the race to that stage of the game. I worry that this type of system might foster more competition than it would encourage cooperation. There are some suggestions in the video on how to counteract this, but none of them seems sufficient to me to overcome this effect. How can we encourage greater cooperation in a gamified classroom?
  • What do we do with a child who refuses to play the game? We have this problem already in education, where there are lots of kids who don’t participate in the classroom because they can see they will "lose" at the game, or the rules of the school game aren’t interesting to them.
  • Should we give points for mastery, or for good learning behaviours? Who hands out the points? How do we ensure that kids don’t find ways to get lots of points without really learning (gaming the gamification system)?


Wheel of Fortune Game

My colleague asked me if I could find a Wheel of Fortune game he could use with his 1st grade students. I looked around for a while and found something which sort of worked here. The problem was, the code was kind of broken and needed a lot of repair. However it was the best thing I could find, so I spent a few hours and tidied it up.

You can check out what the Wheel of Fortune game looks like here:

There is a "back-end" where you can add/edit the list of words, but I’m going to keep the location of it secret since my colleague is going to be using the demo version of the game with his class.

If you want to customize it further, you can download my version of the code here (note that you’ll need access to a server which runs PHP and a MYSQL database).


A bunch of Math games

@joe_bower said he was looking for some decent math games online and couldn’t find any. I remembered that I used to make math games all the time so I fired off a bunch of links back. I decided it was worth gathering all those links into one spot. Who knows, maybe some of these old games are useful.

Good for teaching about perspective: Labyrinth

Gives students a feel for how fraction operations work: Fractions operations

Practice operations and solve a number puzzle: Countdown

See how simple rules result in much complexity: John Conway’s Game of Life

Practice factoring numbers & remember prime numbers: Factors!

Just a fun spaceship game (similar to Asteroids): Spaceship game

Useful for recognizing some similar fractions: Horse Races

Really just algebra practice & puzzle solving: Algebra puzzle

More of the same type as practice as above but quadratic algebra: Quadratic algebra puzzle

Look at patterns when moving rings: Towers of Hanoi

Try a variation of the classic logo programming language: Logo Programming