How can games transform education?

What aspects of games help enhance learning?  Check out this awesome TED talk from Dr. Richard Van Eck.

For additional examples of gamification and game based learning, please consider reviewing my previous blog entries.

Dr. Van Eck feels that games could fundamentally disrupt the core of education. Are there  games that we can use today in our teaching?   Does your organization or company use games to teach?



Reduce your stress level with keeping a plan of awesome

Mind like water

I have the great pleasure of sharing my life with my wife who teaches college Biology.   We have a number of friends who are preparing their final plans for the fall semester.   I have to admit the process of planning and executing a quality class can become overwhelming.  As a designer of software, I have profound respect for all educators.   I believe that we need to celebrate and support our teachers in much more profound ways.

Ok.  Back to feeling overwhelmed by work.

During a brief period in my life, I worked in music ministry, IT, and church communications.   I will always treasure the community our church staff built together.   We, however, were VERY busy at this time.   I struggled to balance all of the needs and demands: organizing binders, planning choir practice, making edits to the church website, meetings, four worship services, planning for retreats, etc.  I was also taking graduate school classes in computer science at UCF.

During this time of life, I discovered “getting things done” (GTD).   For a great summary of “Getting things done” by David Allen, please visit .

I have to admit that I still do not execute this system perfectly.    I, however, find myself using ideas from this system every day.    Here are five reasons why I value GTD:


  • “Mind like water” – David Allen stresses that your mind will induce stress when it’s forced to remember all the stuff that you need to get done.   This stress can become a roadblock to moving your work forward.  Without putting your work into a central system that you can trust, you will feel negative stress.   Consider creating one and only one “todo” system that you trust.
  • It gives me a place to see all my work and find the top 20% – In terms of execution of tasks, I check my GTD system every day.    I am currently using a Google document that I share with my wife.   In a work context, I review and prioritize my major work items every week.     If I have 10 things to do, I am searching for the top 2 items that have the maximum impact.   With my task items collected into a central system, I have more information to decide if I can do more work.    This system helps me say “no” to projects that are not important.
  • The process enables me to revisit old ideas – I am human just like everyone else.   I often bookmark cool blog articles and ideas in my system.   It often delights me to find these old ideas or nuggets of wisdom.
  • It turns my day into a game – I like scoring points in my day.   Do I finish everything on my goal list every day? No.    At the end of my day, I can feel good about my productivity since I have a green “done” icon next to tasks that died that day.  Wahoo!
  • The process pushes me to break work down – It’s in my nature to tackle big problems.   You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.    GTD provides a formal rule for taking big projects and breaking them down into smaller items.   If the item is quick, I try to do it now.   ( I need to be better at this rule. )

In future blog posts, I will try to comment upon the tools I have used.  For now, please check out Scott Hanselman’s great resources and podcast on the topic:

For now, I strongly encourage you to check out GTD by David Allen.   I can honestly say that I use these ideas every day.   Am I stress free? No.   I know that my mental stress level is lower because of David Allen’s work.

How do you keep yourself organized to reduce stress in your family or work?  


How do I level up as a Dad?

 father son

Photo from

 I cherish my mission as a father.   My wife and I have been blessed with two wonderful boys who are going up so quickly.   I often ask God to help me become the best dad that I can be.   In my morning reflection, from, the author talked about the identity of a father:    “A father is committed to his children.”

After reading this article, I felt a desire to find activities that engaged me and my sons.   I hope that I can be more present to my kids by designing our activities to be fun.   As a young dad, it can be hard to keep the attention my four year old and one year old for extended periods of time.

As I boot up my Saturday morning, I am searching for ideas with Peter.  Here’ five “father son friendly” idea sites that we will be checking out:

  1. – I love the content for outdoor activities.
  2. – I want to give a shout out to my awesome sister-in-law, Anne.   She works with an organization dedicated to supporting moms and dads. Check them out!
  3. WhoLetTheDadsOut – Man!  I wish this kind of organization existed in my area.
  4. GeekDad – As we were talking about this blog entry over breakfast, my wife encouraged me to check this out.  Yes.. I am a geek!
  5. Pinterest – Activities for Dads – I feel weird linking to Pinterest.   I hope I can keep my man card.

I am always looking for new ideas and books.   What has inspired you to be a better dad?  What are some of your favorite activities with your kids?


Engaging my students by the mission of clean water


I teach at a small college that typically serves non-traditional students from lower income brackets. I find one of my biggest challenges is to get my students truly engaged in the material. I am competing for their attention in a busy world with many distractions. Many of my students have children and full time jobs. Some are taking care of parents, grandchildren and extended family members. In our noisy, digital world of Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, Youtube, reality TV, a whole host of electronic media are constantly vying for my students’ time and attention.I have to create a course framework that captures their attention and causes them to make an emotional investment in the material. My students need to know WHY they are studying the material.

This summer I am teaching a course in parasitology for upper level biology students. This is a subject matter that I absolutely love. My husband thinks I’m crazy for being so interested in parasites, but I find their lifestyles and the diseases they cause absolutely fascinating. There is so much variety and these organisms have unique adaptations that allow them to live inside the human host. I could go on and on about parasites, unfortunately my students don’t always share my passion. I find that it is important to discuss the biology of parasites within the context of their broader human impact.

What can I do to get my students to connect to this subject? I came across an idea on someone else’s blog and I decided to expand upon it. I designed a class project that includes elements of project based learning, game based learning,and service learning. One theme that is discussed over and over again in any parasitology course is the necessity of clean water and adequate sanitation. Instead of a term paper, I gave my students an assignment to write a blog post on a topic of their choosing related to the broad topic of clean water and sanitation targeted at a general audience. You can find their posts here. To bring about awareness of these important issues and to introduce a spirit of gaming, I am awarding a prize to the post with the most Facebook likes. The winning student will receive a Giant Microbe (pictured below) of their choosing.



Finally, the last component of the assignment is that each student will submit a proposal for a service oriented project that can be executed on our campus. The projects can include awareness campaigns, fundraisers to build wells or buy medicines or campaigns to collect needed supplies. I am leaving the door open so that my students can exercise their creativity. I plan on bringing at least one of the projects to completion over the course of the next school year. I am teaching Microbiology in the Fall so I hope to expand upon this project and see where it takes me.

Do you feel our education system values creativity?

As a musician and software designer, I care about my children and future generations being creative.   I believe creativity fills my life with passion, teaches me to be expressive, and helps me as a problem solver.    Sir Ken Robinson has some thoughtful remarks on how our education system treats creativity.

Do you feel our education system values creativity?


#levelupbc inspires and teaches using community building, crowd sourcing, and games.

LevelUp Book Club

Great recipes start with great ingredients.   The folks at the #levelupbc have served up a dish of awesomeness with the ingredients of passion for teaching, community building, crowd sourcing, and games.

Through this blog, my wife and I want to celebrate people and organizations innovating in education.    As a community of leaders and educators, we need to pay attention to people who are finding new ways to teach.    I personally believe that games can spark innovative thinking.     The #levelupbc has inspired me by using a simple game on twitter to gather insights and resources for teaching games.

For my readers who are not familiar with twitter, hashtags are used in twitter to help organize topics and communities.   As a twitter user, you can search for hashtags to see the “buzz” around the topic.    Make sure to check out the the hash tag for levelupbc.

During my research on game based learning, I stumbled upon their blog.    Matthew Winner and Jennifer LaGarde have created a book club community around gamification.   The gamification community seeks to use ideas from game design to “spice up” the activity of a community.   In a leadership context, I have enjoyed learning about this topic from the book “Gamestorming” , a book applying game mechanics to brain storming and exploration.     This book also has a wonderful wiki for simple games that you can use for business meetings or classes:

Matthew and Jennifer have done an amazing job of using the craft of gamification on twitter.   For more details on their latest challenge, please visit their blog.

How has the #levelupbc community inspired me?

  1. Doing a book club on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook is an amazing way to grow our minds and grow relationships.
  2. I have been blown away by the resources their community has created.   As a student of game design for teaching,  I am looking forward to study the links, stories, videos, and games they have collected.
  3. Diigo and are cool tools for organizing ideas.  I love how they organized the ideas from their twitter community.
  4. Leader boards and authentic thank you’s can be a powerful way to celebrate people from your community.
  5. Matthew and Jennifer are passionate about their craft of library science.   They have shown to me that libraries can re-invent themselves.   Jennifer created an awesome “infographic” showing ways her library is engaging students in the past year.   Very cool!
Matthew and Jennifer… Thank you for the inspiration.   I look forward to learning from your community in the future.

View more documents from Jennifer LaGarde
After looking through the #levelupbc resources, did you find any stories, games, or ideas that inspired you?  Is there an idea that you want to try in your class room or organization?













How can AI improve our organizations, schools, and families?

In computer science, I fell in love with artificial intelligence.   It’s the sort of topic that you see in science fiction that makes you dream about how the world will be different.   While I would love to talk about artificial intelligence more, I feel that I need to talk about another type of AI that has profoundly influenced my thinking.    I believe that we could make positive change in education, our places of business, and our families using appreciative inquiry.  (AI)

Why do I believe appreciative inquiry(AI) is important?

  • In our modern age, I can understand why we tend to focus on problems.   In our news media, how easy is it to find news about people who are making improvements or positive change?   I believe organizations should know their weaknesses.   I, however, believe that we can often let weaknesses dominate the process of making our organizations better.
  • After reading and listening to EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey, I believe that creating positive culture has become the new imperative.   I love the idea that you have to “start with a dream and end in a goal.”
  • Plants and organic systems grow toward light.   I believe human organizations also grow toward “light.”
    (leaders and organizations who make positive change)
How does the process work?

For a brief summary of the process, please visit the appreciative inquiry page on Wikipedia.

In my previous employer CompassKnowledge group, I had the opportunity to see this process in action.

  • Senior leadership team created and documented a shared vision for the organization.
  • A senior leader interviewed me.  During this interview, we talked about moments where I felt I was excited about my life and work.  We talked about the strengths used during those high points in my life.   We also brain stormed ways that my strengths can be used in the work place to create more positive change for our team and customers.
  • This process was repeated for all 200+ employees. (Wow!)
  • Without getting into too much detail, the company aggregated the data from the strengths and opportunities to form a master plan regarding how CompassKnowledge was going to rock distance learning in the future while charging up the team.   The shared vision and dream was enhanced with ideas coming from every single member of the organization, a sample of the students we served, and our customers.
  • Impacts that I treasure: (1)  During this process, I pitched the idea of doing innovation time off  to senior leadership.  This discussion evolved into a few strategic research projects.  (2) I especially loved that we spoke with some of our knowledge partners(customers) and students.  It helped me connect my job with the stories of students getting excited about finishing their degree through one of our programs and the positive impacts it will have for their families.

How can I use this process today?

Put yourself in an environment where you can think for 20 minutes.   I would recommend getting a blank sheet of paper and a pen.   Take the time to answer the following questions.

1 – What are the high points or most celebrated stories in your life?

2 – What was a time that you were excited to jump out of bed and start working
on your project or cause?

3 – What personal strengths do you have from those high points in your life? In general,
what are your personal strengths?

4 – Imagine a world where you are happy and creating positive change in your work daily.
What does that dream job look like?

5 – How can you use the personal strengths from question 3 to create the dream
job that you talked about in question 4?

What insights did you make about yourself?

As we dream about the future of education in five years, how can we use this process to enhance the lives of our teachers and students?


Organization Before Innovation

All of the technology in the world is not going to make me a good teacher. It can help me to become a better teacher. Technology in the hands of a bad teacher can be disastrous. I think that every student can recount a time in the classroom where technology was used poorly. I know I can.  This week, in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, even Bill Gates said that “Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. “ (see the whole interview here ( Be a good teacher first. Use technology to become even better.

I am a relatively new teacher. I just finished up my first year as a full time biology professor at a small, primarily two year, school. I’ve always felt called to teach and I finally feel like I am truly pursuing the vocation I was made for. That does not mean that it has been an easy ride. Most days I feel like I am barely keeping my head above the water. Michael is a wonderful partner in this journey and has been incredibly supportive. He dove head first into the realm of educational technology in an effort to help me become the best teacher I can be. That said, many days I have to reign him in and remind him that my first priority is to make sure that I am building a strong foundation in the classroom first, then as I move forward throughout my career I hope to build in more technology and innovation to enhance my teaching.

My biggest struggle is just to remain organized. I know that students will perform better if I clearly communicate my expectations and present the course material in a logical fashion. I teach relatively large lecture courses and managing all of the assignments/lab reports/exams etc. can be overwhelming. Here are some tools/strategies that I have used to help me stay on top of these things:

  • Email. I know it may seem obvious in this era of electronic communication. Whenever a student approaches me at the end of class with a request that requires action on my part, I ask them to send a quick email to remind me of the discussion. Otherwise I will NEVER remember. Also, when a student emails me, I make it a priority to respond right away before it gets lost in the ether. For me that means that I am often responding to student emails right before I go to bed. That won’t work for everyone, but it seems to work best for me.
  • Electronic homework. For both of the courses I taught this year the textbook came with an optional website subscription that allows the students to complete homework assignments online. Putting the assignments together requires minimal time and the grades are automatically determined. I teach students that are not well prepared for college and have poor study skills. This is one way that I can ensure that they at least crack open the textbook every once in a while.
  • Dropbox. I simply cannot live without it. All of my course materials/gradebooks/etc are stored in my Dropbox account. It doesn’t matter if I’m on a work computer or a home computer, I have access to my files. I don’t have to worry about losing thumb drives and I can just walk into any classroom, log into the website and access all of my lecture materials for a given day.

These are just a few tools that I use to stay on top of things. What are the best tools/strategies that you’ve found to keep organized in the classroom?


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