Embodied Learning: Research & Thoughts

Posted: June 4, 2013, filed under: Games, Ideas, Research

Chemistry in the SMALLab. Credit: Ken Howie Photography
Chemistry in the SMALLab. Credit: Ken Howie Photography>

In this post I'll go over two applications of embodied learning. First is SMALLab, a learning environment using motion-capture technology and large scale projections to track movements in space, and second is Science Choreography, a project through Wesleyan University and the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange that combines art, science, and kinesthetic learning to teach science topics. But before getting into all of that, a look at what embodied learning actually means:


The SMALLab website defines embodied learning as "a field that blends the learning sciences and human computer interaction". Science Choreography deals more with the direct translation of a process or concept into movement. In this video, Liz Lerman describes, "when you embody a process you start to realize what you don't understand, and you begin to ask questions because you want to get the movements right." In embodied learning, physical movement is the medium through which we internalize knowledge.

A few learning theories relevant to embodied learning are embodied cognition, differentiated instruction, and social constructivism. Some quick-ish definitions before getting into the examples:

  1. Embodied Cognition is the argument that all aspects of cognition are determined by the body. This includes higher level cognition like reasoning, judgement, and categorization.
  2. Differentiated instruction refers to a teaching philosophy contrary to the "one size fits all" model that many schools go by today. Students are provided avenues for learning and assessment that are effective for all students, regardless of ability.
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Reinventing Board Games

Posted: May 21, 2013, filed under: Games, Research

Dominic Crapuchettes (founder of North Star Games) talks about the renaissance of modern board games. A few main points:

Tablets are making traditional board games obsolete.

Similar to books vs. ebooks: the production process is very expensive compared to buying a game from the App Store, and the convenience of a tablet is certainly desirable.

Game Designers are no longer anonymous.

You won't see the name of the Monopoly's or Scrabble's designer on the box; prior to modern board games, designers were completely anonymous. In this case, designers receive no upside from sales even if the brand is massively successful, and receive no recognition for their work.

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Redirect primary domain to a subfolder using .htaccess

Posted: April 29, 2013, filed under: Tutorials+Tips

I recently switched hosting from Dreamhost to Lithium Hosting – seems like a solid switch so far. Migrating hosts is certainly frustrating especially since Dreamhost uses a proprietary cPanel. A particular issue is that I like to keep all of my domains in subdirectories of public_html. Dreamhost does this automatically, even with your root domain, but I believe that’s not the norm. However, you can make it happen with the following code in pubic_html/.htaccess:

Start your own Show-n-Tell

Posted: April 7, 2013, filed under: Pittsburgh

Every first Friday at Catapult, we do an informal Show-n-Tell where four people or organizations give a 10ish minute presentation about what they do. Sort of like lightning TED talks, it’s a wonderful way to find out about smaller, under-the-radar projects in your community or to hear about larger ones in an informal setting. Here’s how to start one (it’s easy!):

  1. Find a space. A co-working space is perfect because you’ll automatically have a few attendees, but anywhere would work.
  2. Find people. Ask anyone doing something interesting to present. The informality makes it an excellent venue to get feedback on new projects, or to promote an upcoming event. And send emails. I’ve that found about everyone, even higher profile Pittsburghers, are very happy to talk in a smaller setting.
  3. Spread word. We put out a blog post, Facebook event (here’s our most recent), and promote the event on Twitter. You could put much more effort into this part, like making cards or posters to leave in coffee shops.
  4. Buy beer. Obviously this isn’t necessary, but a nice touch.

We also have a visual notetaker at Catapult. It’s very cool to have the walls plastered with records of past presenters. Our current notetaker is the talented Steph Bercht.

January Show-n-Tell, notes by Jonny Goldstein.

January Show-n-Tell, notes by Jonny Goldstein.

Show-n-Tell was started by Jonny Goldstein who has since moved to NY, and I believe has begun one at a co-working space there.

Article: Gamification is Bullshit by Ian Bogost

Posted: April 2, 2013, filed under: Games

In a nutshell:

…gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway. – Ian Bogost

In defense of gamification, from the comments:

Where games are rich and challenging experiences, gamification simply aims to add a layer of behavior-tracking and accomplishment to otherwise dry experiences. – Tony Ventrice

I’m still forming my own opinions on the matter but, in terms of education at least, Gamification seems like a superficial and stop-gap solution. This week I start a Coursera course on Gamification (by Kevin Werbach) – it’ll be interesting to see how my thoughts change throughout the course.

Also see Bogost’s article on Explotationware in Gamasutra.

link via For The Win, 2011 Gamification Symposium

Card Sorting to Brain-cleansing Games

Posted: March 25, 2013, filed under: Games, Ideas, Projects


About Card Sorting

Card sorting is an exercise in user experience design where a group of users sort cards with various words on them into categories. It is often used to determine a website map or to test the language of product, so the cards' words would be things like "Pricing", "Testimonials", or "Tour".

About Brain-cleansing

I recently did something like card sorting with a client, but less structured. The terms on my cards were very random, anywhere from "Beyonce" to "corn" to "Trust". Each of us in the meeting grabbed a handful of cards and spent a few minutes organizing them in any way that made sense.

This gave me the idea to design "Brain-cleansing" games (horrible name, I know). They would be simple exercises that help you break down creative barriers and allow thoughts to flow more freely - a solution for writers block or if you are stuck on a bug in your code. Clear your mind with one or two rounds then return to your work. Here is the first I've come up with (basically lnfnmo):

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Chrome Maze

Posted: March 21, 2013, filed under: Findings

This is incredible, like, really incredible.

Themes from DML 2013

Posted: March 15, 2013, filed under: Research

Had a great weekend at DML 2013: met a ton of excellent people, heard excellent talks, and had some excellent dinners in Chi City. A few resonant themes and takeaways:

Civics are not in crisis, agency is.

It seems like civics are the problem because of widely popularized (and hilarious) media showing ignorance (Jaywalking). The stats actually haven't changed, our expectations have. College degrees are much more prevalent now so we are dealing with a larger pool of people. The problem lies in the fact that this demographic feels that they have no influence in the antiquated legislative system (Ethan Zuckerman).

Chicago is cool.

While this wasn't explicitly stated at the conference, it's certainly true. What a great city, I hope to go back in the near future and have more time to explore.

Green River

Green river for St. Patrick's Day!

Students are expected to be better than perfect.

The average high school GPA of incoming freshman at UC Irvine is 4.1/4.0 (Cathy Davidson).


Badges are all the rage right now, but they aren't necessarily the answer. The danger in badges is that learners will be motivated because of the badge, rather than what they are learning (Barry Joseph, Mitch Resnick).

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Hippo illustration

Posted: March 11, 2013, filed under: Design

I needed to make an anthropomorphic/mentor-like figure for a project and did some experimenting with a hippo. Pretty cute, if I do say so myself.

DML Conference 2013

Posted: March 5, 2013, filed under: Design, Games, Research

In a couple of weeks (March 14-16) I'll be heading to Chicago for the annual Digital Media and Learning Conference organized by the DML Research Hub. The theme this year is "Democratic Futures: Mobilizing Voices, and Remixing Youth Participation".


There has been a longstanding narrative of youth political apathy and disengagement from democratic life. As the currents of social, political, financial, and global change intensify, what is the future of participatory democracy, youth activism, and civic and political education? How are the practices and forms of participatory democracy evolving in the age of social, digital, and mobile media?

So many good talks, and I think a few of my favorites overlap unfortunately. Anyhow, here are some I'm especially looking forward to:

ChicagoQuest Curriculum Design Jam

"In this workshop, players will be taught the different phases of our curriculum design process. They will form small teams to compete against other teams in a guided challenge to design at each of the “levels” of the curriculum design process, both experiencing and designing CQ-style game-like learning."

Seems that I've been mentioning the Quest Schools in every post at this point...

Games, Learning and the Future of Assessment

"The development of game-based assessments to support the learning of domain-based knowledge and skills." Very excited for this one.

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Research on Curriculum Design and Quest to Learn

Posted: March 1, 2013, filed under: Research

Article: Quest to Learn as a Model for Higher Education

Pretty much exactly what I want to do. In this article, Justin W. Marquis goes through a few key features of Q2L and examines how they might be applied to higher ed, particularly the application of design and systems thinking.

Tools: Q Design Packs from Quest to Learn

What a fantastic find! This collection of PDFs include infographics, worksheets, and detailed descriptions of the Q2L learning model and how to implement it. I’ve started working through it for a class idea called “Intro to -isms”.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 9.46.04 AM

Concept: Understanding by Design

A phrase coined by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Wikipedia describes it as:

…a framework for designing curriculum units, performance assessments, and instruction that lead your students to deep understanding of the content you teach,” UbD expands on “six facets of understanding”, which include students being able to explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize, and have self-knowledge about a given topic

This is based on the concept of Backwards Design, or the “designing educational curriculum by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment.”

Video: Do schools kill creativity?

This TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson identifies the fact that we begin our lives as creatives, and are slowly conditioned to suppress our creativity. It’s the archetypical TED talk – super charismatic speaker, very inspiring, and worth a watch:

Some advice for freelancers

Posted: February 9, 2013, filed under: Tutorials+Tips

I've been freelancing full time for about 6 months now and finally feel that I've streamlined my process. I'd like to share a few things that made a huge difference for me:

Find a co-working space.

I rent a desk at CatapultPGH, and have no idea what I would do without it. The community is invaluable, and the coffee fantastic. It's amazing how your self respect and productivity sky rocket when you stop working in your PJs.

Read more at the co-working wiki, and if you can't find a space in your community, start one.

Take an improv class.

The retired Harold team Field Trip, from Steel City Improv Theater
This is easily the best decision I've ever made. Confidence and decisiveness are a huge part of freelancing, and I promise improv will provide you those skills and many more.

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Global Game Jam 2013

Posted: January 28, 2013, filed under: Games, Projects

I participated in the Pittsburgh Global Game jam this past weekend. In a sentence, the GGJ is a worldwide event where teams make a game in under 48 hours according to a predetermined theme – read more here. I was the 2D artist on a team with two fantastic programmers, Jim Newsome and Brian Bogovich, and sound designer Bonnie Bogovich.

The theme this year was an audio clip of a heartbeat. Our interpretation quickly became a little bizarre: the end result turned out to be an 90’s arcade style HTML5 platform game about a guinea pig traveling through a cholesterol clogged artery, defeating and consuming germs along the way! Play Guinea Pig Guinea Pig here. We ended up winning the prize for Best Open Web Game, sponsored by the Mozilla Foundation.

Guinea Pig Guinea Pig

Guinea Pig Guinea Pig ended up winning the prize for Best Open Web Game, sponsored by the Mozilla Foundation.

Tool-wise, we used the JavaScript game library melonJS, the map editor Tiled (very fun!), and most of the graphics creation took place in Adobe Fireworks. To get an idea of how damn cute the thing was, I leave you with the guinea pig sprite: