Save the World While You Learn to Code: Dystopia 2153

Who doesn’t love a good dystopian graphic novel? I know I sure do. Give me an online one that also teaches coding and you just made my day. Dystopia 2153, is exactly that. A web-based graphic novel where you solve coding puzzles as you move through the story. Dystopia 2153 was created by TEACH Magazine. I explored the free version – Chapter one of Episode One.

In the Not Too Distant Future

Dystopia 2153 is set in the year 2153 after our world has fallen and is now run by tyrannical robots. The story focuses on orphans making a daring escape from Rathouse Orphanage.

Chapter 1 of Dystopia 2153 - Our world is broken.
Chapter 1 of Dystopia 2153 – Our world is broken.

You begin by reading the graphic novel, which is dark and beautifully illustrated. I also like the ambient music that helps you get into the story. As you flip through the pages you learn about humanity’s downfall and the rise of the machines we created. Then fast forward to Lance. Orphaned from the fall and living in Rathouse Orphanage with others like him.

An Advanced challenge from Chapter 1.
An Advanced challenge from Chapter 1.

Lance works in the garbage dump. For your first set of challenges, you use basic coding skills to help him take the shortcut through the halls to the dump. For the challenges, you use Blocky code to move Lance through the mazes. Your robotic squirrel friend, Chiclet, gives you hints and help along the way.

There are 10 challenges in the first set. They start with simple move codes and progress to include loops and variables. It took me a minute to solve the 10th level.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed the free chapter. The story is intriguing, the artwork is wonderful, and the challenges were, well, challenging. Dystopia 2153 is intended for middle school students. I think that is a fitting age.

I like the mix of story and puzzles that progressively get harder as you move through the story. The narrative gives purpose to the puzzle challenges. You are not just doing puzzles to learn how to code, you are solving the puzzles to advance the narrative. They are connected to the plot points of the story. I feel that increases students motivation to advance.

Currently, there are two episodes available with a third on the way. You can preview the first chapter of Episode one for free by creating an account. To continue reading and playing, you can purchase the home edition, which includes Episode 1, 2, and 3 for $24.99. The price of a new hardcover book. For teachers, you can purchase a classroom edition, which gives you one-year access to all three episodes for 30 students, for $124.99. It also includes additional classroom resources. However, it looks like, as I am writing this, they are running a sale. Home edition is now $12.49 and Classroom edition is $49.99. Go to their pricing page for more information and get yours at this great price! You can even purchase hard copies of Episode one if you prefer an IRL version. Buy that on Amazon.

In the Classroom

Along with teaching students to code, based on the first chapter, there are a lot of other STEAM concepts you can pull out of the story. Such as robotics, AI, and automation, the ethics of technology, environmental issues, politics, and the future of our planet. You could build other activities around the story in addition to having your students learn to code within the story. You could also use it to build their visual literacy skills as they analyze the story visuals.

Dystopia 2153 is a very interesting way to engage students in storytelling and coding. The story seems like it is a good one and the coding puzzles are pretty cool. Go to the website, create a free account and read chapter one for yourself. Like me, you will want to get the rest, just because you want to know how the story ends.


Create Interactive AR Story and Game Experiences with Metaverse Studio

If you are a fan of augmented reality games and stories but never thought you would be able to create one of your very own, then you will enjoy Metaverse Studio.

Metaverse Overview

Metaverse Studio is a free online development tool for creating interactive mobile experiences. You can create interactive stories, games, scavenger hunts and more. The premise seems complicated but, thanks to an intuitive storyboard and an amazing library of tutorials, creating a customized experience is easier than you think.

What is an Experience?

Screenshot of some Metaverse Experiences
Screenshot of some Metaverse Experiences

Before you start creating your own experiences it might be useful to download the mobile app and play some of the experiences created by others. An experience can be an interactive VR tour, where 360 images are combined with user response screens to create an interactive VR field trip. Or, an experience could be an augmented reality quiz, digital breakout, or interactive story. Each experience is a mini mobile game created by members of the community.

There are a bunch of experiences in the library. It reminds me of all of the other user created libraries out there like Kahoot!, Quizizz, etc. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are ridiculous. All are interesting was to use VR/AR/MR technology.

What excites me about this tool is the possibilities of what you and your students can create using the storyboard.

Metaverse Storyboard

The Metaverse storyboard is where all the creative magic happens. The storyboard is a web-based tool for creating experiences. When you peek behind the curtain of a Metaverse experience, it looks like a concept map or a flow chart. Look at the image below. It might help.

Metaverse Storyboard
The storyboard of my first experience. Buttons connect to different the scenes that make up my experience.

The storyboard is where you lay out the framework of your experience, format your scenes, add media and interactive features. My first experience, which you can gaze on above, was a simple choose your own adventure story where you help the unicorn find their cat. You can see the first scene where the unicorn asks for your help. Choose the “No.” button and the game ends with a picture of a sad cat. Say “Yes.” and your spirit panda helps its new unicorn friend find his cat in a strange Back to the Future 360 world. The experience ends with a happy cat. Each of the scenes with gray backgrounds are actually augmented reality scenes.

Key Features

My simple little experience is nothing compared to the sophisticated experiences you can create with Metaverse. In addition to standard scenes, you can add interactive modules and input blocks. It is fairly easy to go from simple two scene experiences to AR scavenger hunts. I’m going to be honest, I need a lot more training on the more complicated blocks and modules before I can use them effectively. Luckily, there is a comprehensive tutorial channel on YouTube. You can watch videos on how to add polls, selfie features, and use some of the code blocks to add inventory management, probability events, leaderboards, and more.  As I said, for a tool that looks simple on the surface, you can create some complicated experiences.

What I like most about this tool is that you can get started right away and create simple experiences, however, you will not outgrow this tool quickly. There are lots of things you can do as your skill increases. As the website says – you can create amazing things! Go give it a try!


Inspiring Stories: Breaking Boundaries in Science from Filament Games

Inspiring kids to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is a large part of what I do on a daily basis. Now, thanks to Filament Games, we have a beautiful new VR experience to add to our toolbox – Breaking Boundaries in Science.

The Experience

Filament Games is known for their high quality, fun, educational games. Breaking Boundaries in Science is no exception. Created for Samsung VR and Oculus Go, Breaking Boundaries lets you or your students explore the working spaces of three groundbreaking female scientists: Jane Goodall, Grace Hopper, and Marie Curie. When you first enter the experience, you are standing in a great hall in front of portraits of the great women. Selecting a portrait sends you to a beautifully detailed virtual recreation of their workspaces. Once you are in these spaces, you can move through and explore these amazing spaces. In the space, you can select items and hear, in the scientist’s voice, a bit about their own story as it related to the item. Cool fun fact – Jane Goodall herself voiced her vignette. It is incredible to hear about her work from her.

A Screenshot of the scientists from the Breaking Boundaries website.

The gameplay experience is open exploration. The developers at Filament call it a form of non-linear storytelling, told through objects that held personal meaning to the scientists. It is almost like an unstructured Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. Using this strategy, Breaking Boundaries tells a multi-faceted story about the scientific breakthroughs that made these women pioneers in their field and, more importantly, an intimate portrait of who these women were as people.

My Experience

My colleague and I had the opportunity to play Breaking Boundaries back in late August at the Filament Games offices. The experience was impressive. I had to sit while my colleague played first. I sat with anticipation while she oohed and aahed over what she saw in-world.  I was a bit impatient for her to finish so I could have my turn. If you are using it with your students, be prepared for a few impatient cries of “Is it my turn yet?”

When I (finally) got to play, I could see what she was oohing and aahing about. The detail in-world was gorgeous. From the stars in the sky and bugs on the ground in Jane Goodall’s camp to the sparking equipment and dusty chalkboards of Grace Hopper’s office. Marie Curie’s lab ceiling even leaked when it rained. It was inspiring to hear their stories in their own voices. (The voice actors for Hopper and Curie were spot on.)

I didn’t get to experience it, but my colleague selected the right things to get Marie Curie herself to appear! I wanted to keep trying but, we couldn’t stay there forever.

Classroom Uses

If you have a Samsung VR or Oculus Go, I highly recommend this VR experience. It is a free download. There are lots of ways you can use this in the classroom. Full disclosure – my office at NIU worked with Filament to write the accompanying activity guide. So – check it out for ideas on using this in the classroom. You can access the resources here.  It was a lot of fun to think about all the ways to use this with students.


While we were at Filament, we had the opportunity to sit down with Dan Norton, the Cheif Creative Officer of Filament and Ethan Cayko, the producer of Breaking Boundaries. We picked their brain about all kinds of things. Everything from designing educational video games, career paths in the gaming industry, and their own paths to get them to where they are today. It was a fascinating interview with two fascinating people.

STEM Read Podcast!
STEM Read Podcast!

You can listen to our interview with them and author Jennifer L. Holm on Episode 12: Games, Goldfish, and Greatness.

I hope you and your students enjoy Breaking Boundaries in Science as much as I did!

Friday Five: Five Board Games for Your Classroom

Friday Five: Five games for your classroom.

Earlier this week I spent a fantastic day with teachers talking about Gamification, STEM Read, and Games in the classroom! It was a fun day. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to spend the day playing games with a bunch of fun teachers. The only thing that would have made it better would have been some adult beverages. Am I right? New PD idea!!!

Anyway. I digress. Let’s talk games!

Board Games
Our game stack.

Before we started to play we talked a bit about gamification and how to incorporate game elements into the learning environment. You know, things like leaderboards, avatars (not the bending kind), point systems, rewards, themes, etc. All the things that make games fun. There are many ways to use game elements and strategies to engage students in learning. That is a whole blog post in itself. (Read more about Gamification from ISTE – 5 ways to gamify your classroom)

Today, we want to talk board games! There are sooo many to chose from. The list can be a bit overwhelming. Once you find a new game, then you have to learn how to play it. for me, that is my biggest problem. I call it Game Launch Anxiety – the fear of learning how to play a new game. So, the second half of our gaming session let us all get our hands on some games and conquer our fears together.  It was tons of fun.

We had a whole stack of fun games but here are five that are super fun and easy to connect to your classroom.

Five Games for the Classroom

  1. Bring Your Own Book – This is a “game of borrowed phrases.” Each player brings a book of their choosing. A card is drawn and the prompt asks for a phrase, such as “Something you would find in a teenager’s diary.” All the players search their books for a phrase that fits and hilarity ensues. This game is easy to learn and fun to play. I’ve even used this one to spice up teacher PD. Instead of books, we bring lesson plans. Gameplay takes about 15 minutes give or take. I think it would even be fun to play in a foreign language class. First, they find their phrase and then they have to say it in a different language.
  2. Snake Oil – Get your powers of persuasion ready for this fast-paced pitch-o-rama card game! In Snake Oil, you do your best to sell a crazy product to a specific customer.  To start the game, one player selects a customer card. All the other players select two word cards from their hand to create a crazy product. Then they sell, sell, sell! How would you sell a Lava Boat to a Rockstar or some Hug Butter to Newlyweds? The best part, each “salesperson” can pitch over each other. Let the pitch battle begin! The one who drew the customer cards chooses their favorite product and the player with the most product cards wins! This is a great game for building speaking and listening skills, creative storytelling, and persuasive or argumentative reasoning skills. Snake Oil is technically out of print so it might be harder to find but worth the hunt. 
  3. Codenames – Two teams compete to see who can contact all of their agents first using their secrete codenames. But, beware the Assasin! We played the picture version, which I loved! The cards with the codenames (or codename pictures) are placed in a grid on the table. One person from each team provides one-word clues to help their team figure out which codenames belong to their agents. This game seems easy enough but it really makes you think. This game is a good way to stretch those vocabulary skills and think about synonyms. Also, it helps students look for connections or ways to group words or ideas. It is very easy to learn and there are tons of combinations for infinite play.
  4. Doctor Panic – I did not personally play this one but we heard the commotion it caused from across the room. You and your team are doctors and you have a patient to save and communication and collaboration are key. The game lasts only 12 minutes and those 12 minutes are intense. Watch out, if your patient goes into cardiac arrest, one person has to revive them with the whoopie cushion. Yes. The whoopie cushion. This is a hilarious way to build collaboration and communication skills. Great way to start talking about medical careers too. If the sounds of laughter that were coming from our play team are any indication, this one is a riot!
  5. First Martians – This game is beautiful. However, I will confess, this is one of those that gave me Game Launch Anxiety. In First Martians, you have to survive life on the harsh red planet. It is described as an immersive experience where players play through different challenging campaigns to survive on Mars. It looks like there are several different options for how to play. I’ll admit, it looks very interesting but it has a steep learning curve. It has high reviews on Board Game Geek so it might be worth the time investment to learn how to play. If you are doing a Mars unit or reading The Martian by Andy Weir, this might be the perfect game for you. I’m going to add this one to my list of games I need to learn.

More Resources

This was such a short list. How does one only pick five when there are so many great games out there. I could go on and on. Do you have games to share? Or, do you have gamification resources and tools that you use? Share them on my Games Padlet! Leave a rating or comment too.

Made with Padlet

Share the gaming love!! I’d love to hear about how you use games in the classroom. Post in the comments.

I don’t think I said “fun” enough in this post. Fun. Fun! Fun!!

If you want to learn more about our Gamification and Games in the Classroom session, follow the link to our slide deck – 


30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 24 Classcraft

Day 24: Classcraft

Learning is an adventure. As educators, we want all of our learners to have an adventure that is truly epic. All seasoned adventurers know that success greatly depends on having the right gear in your inventory. Classcraft is definitely one of those tools you should not leave behind as you and your learners embark on your quest. If you have not yet heard of Classcraft, then you must have spent the past few years living in the Misty Mountains of Isolation. Classcraft is an online platform that helps you gamify your classroom and engage your learners in their learning adventure. Why gamification? Read their informative article to learn more about the theory behind the design. Why Gamification Article.Classcraft Demo class class list

With Classcraft, your students take on the role of Warrior, Healer, or Mage and work together in teams to increase their stats through quests, random events, boss battles (formative assessments), assignments, and IRL challenges and behaviors. Learners can customize their avatars and earn gear as they collaborate with their teams to learn in your classroom. Classcraft lets you, the teacher and game master, control the game by setting up game rules and custom attributes for each character and designing engaging learning quests. You can even invite parents along for the adventure. They can follow along or play an active role in the classroom by awarding points at home.

Classcraft has a free version and a subscription-based version for $8/month or $1500 per year per district. The free version has enough features for you to gamify classroom management and get your students working together in teams. The subscription-based version, however, adds a whole new dimension to your classroom. With your subscription, you can access Classcraft’s newest features. Such as:

Send your learners on a learning quest with custom interactive learning maps. They face new tasks as they move through the map.
  • Unlimted gear for your students.
  • Gamify your curriculum with custom quests and boss battles.
  • Monitor student achievement with learning analytics.

The district version adds additional administrative resources and dashboards to help you manage district-level initiatives and set up district-wide game rules.

Normally, I go for the free version of the tools. I’m just kind of cheap that way. However, if you want to redesign your classroom into a choose-your-own learning adventure for your students, the paid version has some amazing elements. See the pricing comparison here for a list of all the free and paid features. $1500 a year for a district is not too bad. Also, the Classcraft team has info on how to crowdfund your subscription.

For all you novice game masters out there, Classcraft has developed an extensive knowledge center where you can find support resoruces such as tutorial videos, professional development opportunities, and a teacher forum so you can connect with other game masters. Additional resources on the site include a downloadable guide on bullying prevention and a PBIS Handbook.

I love the fantasy-themed environment the Classcraft team has developed. (Granted, this is coming from a girl who has had a long time crush on a certain honorable Drow with an astral panther companion.) However, the fantasy theme might not be everyone’s cup of mead. I would love to see if there are other platforms out there with a more sci-fi Starcrafty theme or some other genre. In short, the Classcraft team has created an excellent immersive platform to help you level up your classroom. Register for your free account and get your game on today!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 15 Quizizz

Day 15: Quizizz

Quizizz is a free online quiz tool perfect for classroom assessments, games, and more. There are so many online, game-based assessment tools out there. Kahoot!, Socarative, Quizlet, to name a few. Each one has their own pros and cons that set them apart. Quizizz and Kahoot! are my two go-to tools. We’ll talk about Kahoot! in a separate post.

Quizizz just launched some new updates and I really like them. Their newly designed website is clean and easy to use. Great updates.

Using Quizizz is easy. Log-in with your Google account or use any email to get started. Search for public quizzes created by the community or start from scratch and create your own custom quiz. There are tons of pre-made quizzes to choose from. Use them as is or edit them to add your own questions.

Search for Quizzes
The new Quizizz website. Clean and easy to use.

Here are a few of my favorite features from the new Quizizz.

  • Search for public quizzes using keywords or the new subject buttons.
  • Easy to create custom quizzes.
  • Create your own mems or choose an available meme set, to display for right and wrong answers (These are super cute! Because, you know, memes!)
  • Share your quizzes or keep them private.
  • Organize your quizzes into collections.
  • No student log-ins are needed to play, just a code.
  • Play the quiz live or assign it to homework.
  • Works on multiple devices and platforms.
  • Shuffle questions and answers when you play.
  • View reports on student performance. See class average, performance per question, and individual performance.
  • Email individual reports to parents.
  • Download data into Excel for further analysis.
One of my custom memes.

As mentioned above, one of my favorite features is the custom meme designer. After students answer a question they receive feedback (correct or incorrect) as a meme. You can use the pre-designed memes or create your own set with your own images. What a great way to personalize the quiz for your class. Take a picture of each student cheering and frowning. Use these as your own custom memes. So much fun!

I’ve also used Quizizz for a live trivia game during an open house. It is a fun way to engage adults, too. They are just as competitive as kids.

Quizizz can make formative assessments easy to create and share and super fun to take! It is an excellent tool for gathering usable data on student understanding or, just play for fun!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 14 Tabletop Audio

Day 14: Tabletop Audio

Nothing sets the right mood quite like the right music, or just the right mix of war drums, blade scrapes, feet scuffles and battle cries. If you are looking for the perfect sound backdrop for your next adventure, look no further than Tabletop Audio.

Tabletop Audio is an award-winning online catalog of ambient sounds and background music for any genre from sci-fi and fantasy to modern or horror. Tabletop Audio has over 100 tracks to choose from. Each track is exactly 10 minutes of unrepeating music and ambient noises that can help you create an auditory immersive environment. You can play one track at a time straight from the site, set up a playlist for a longer set, or download your favorite track to use offline. All tracks are advertisement free and licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Which is awesome!

Tabletop Audio
Sci-Fi tracks from TableTop Audio

I had not visited Tabletop Audio for a while (so little time for adventure these days, sigh) so imagine my surprise when I discovered a hidden treasure trove of new features, namely, SoundPad. SoundPad lets you be the adventure DJ and mix sounds to create the perfect ambient for your quest. SoundPad lets you select a scene, (Tavern, The Dungeon, Starship, Future City, etc.) and gives you a set of 30 or more sounds that fit that scene. For example, if you select The Dungeon, you can mix together some drips, bubbles, and rumbles to set you an edge. Even set off a trap or two. Finish things off with a growl and a roar. You can record your SoundPad scene or broadcast it live. If you broadcast it, anyone with the link can listen live as you spin up the perfect mix. Not sure what location you’re heading to? With the custom SoundPad option, you can mix and match sounds from any of the 12 audio sets. You are in control of your own auditory destiny. Sounds can play continuously or add just the perfect scream and just the right time.

Be a Dungeon DJ

Like the tracks on Tabletop Audio, the sounds on SoundPad are free to use and are advertisement free. However, they are not meant to be downloaded or used outside of the Tabletop Audio web-environment. Even so, they are a fantastic way to enhance your gameplay or live storytelling.

Tabletop Audio and SoundPad are not just for gamers. There are several ways this site could be used in the classroom. You can use the tracks in the background while you read aloud. Give the classroom an adventure or cosmic feel while students work on projects. Or, my favorite, let your students mix up the perfect audio setting for their own storytelling or performances. Have them change up their audio choices to see how it impacts the tone of their story. The tracks also make great writing prompts. Play a track such as a Lively Cafe or an Abandon Amusement Park and have your students write what they hear. Build a story around the sounds and music. It could be an excellent exercise in using descriptive vocabulary and details. Create some flash fiction and have them write as you use SoundPad to mix up a soundscape.

So, whether you are a seasoned gamer who wants to take their gameplay to the next level, a novice LARPer looking for the sound of an ice spell, or a classroom teacher who wants to transport their students to an abandoned lunar outpost, Tabletop Audio/SoundPad has everything you need.

You know, I think I might even start using this during meetings. I’ve always wanted to have a meeting on a SteamPunk Airship…

Head over to Tabletop Audio and check them out. If you like what you hear, show them some love through their Patreon or buy a t-shirt. For the latest news and info, check out their blog.


30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 11 Awesome Table

Day 11: Awesome Table

While working on a project for work this week, I was on the hunt for a way to take data from a Google spreadsheet and display it in a dynamic leaderboard. I know that I could have just spiffed up my Google Sheet, but I was looking for something more dramatic. My other problem was that it needed to be easy to set up and update without a lot of coding. It has been a long time since I have coded from scratch and I did not have the time or patience to teach myself on the fly. A colleague came to my rescue and suggested I try the Web app Awesome Table. So I did. I was rather pleased with the results.

Awesome Table integrates with Google Drive and links to a Google Sheet for the data source. To make the sheet compatible, you might need to tweak the format. The sheet headers must follow the given format (no special characters) and you must include a blank row under your header row. This row is reserved for parameters and filters. It sounds a bit complicated but if you follow the clearly written support documentation, it should be no problem to set up. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was.

I was able to create an interactive leaderboard from an existing spreadsheet in about five minutes. It even updates if my source data changes.

Leaderboard sorted by Brag Totals.

My leaderboard is not really pretty but if you are more tech-savvy than I, you can create an HTML template and Custom CSS to pretty it up. I might shake the rust off of my HTML skills and see if I can make my leaderboard a bit more dramatic.

Awesome Table has other templates for visualizing your data. From creating custom maps, photo slideshows, and data dashboards to visually pleasing announcements, product lists, and people directories. I have not played with these templates but if they are as easy as the leaderboard then I’m excited to give it a try.  I’m intrigued by the photo slideshows and custom maps.

Screenshot of some of the available templates.

I can also take this leaderboard (or any of the Awesome Table views) and embed it in a Google Site or other website. I used the new Google Sites and the app integrated nicely. As I mentioned before, the support documentation is fairly good. It was easy to follow and answered most of my questions. It looks like there is also an active G+ support community.

I know that I have just scratched the surface of what this app can do. I’m adding this to my “Explore Deeper” list. Definitely, one to check out if you want to take your data tables from “Blah.” to “Whoa!” or if you want to gamify your classroom with custom leaderboards. I’d also like to see what a data dashboard might look like. Oh, did I mention it’s free? Yea. That’s 50 bonus points right there.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 7 Ruby Rei

Day 7: Ruby Rei

Ruby – Character image from Ruby Rei Press Kit

Learning a new language is hard. At least for me. So I’m always interested in new strategies for learning and teaching language. Ruby Rei is a new mobile app by Wibbu designed to build student’s language skills through a beautiful adventure game.

I downloaded Ruby Rei on my Android device and played the first two levels. The goal is to guide Ruby Rei as she tries to find her robot friend Moli who has crashed on a strange planet. As you explore the world on your quest, you encounter different challenges. The game dialog is in the language you are trying to learn. For me, I selected Spanish. As Ruby and other characters spoke, a dialog box appeared with the text. I heard and saw the dialog in Spanish. By clicking on each phrase, I could translate the text into English. In addition to the dialog boxes, there were times where I had to record or type phrases. I really like the multi-modal language interaction.

Screenshot of Ruby speaking to Gulla.

To move Ruby through the strange planet, I tapped the screen and she moved. The gameplay was fairly simple and easy to follow. There are not a lot of instructions to get you started, however, there are just-in-time hints to help you along.

The first two levels were good and I would be interested in continuing. The first two levels are free. You can download the full game (18 levels) for $2.99, which is not bad.

The website has some information on how to use Ruby Rei in the classroom and in a district. According to the game website, there are additional standards-aligned teacher resources. Districts can purchase a site license that allows the district to distribute the game through their learning management system (LMS). Read more about a district license here.  It was not clear how much a site license would cost a district.

I did not see any way to explore the teacher resources so I cannot speak to the quality of the materials. I did like how Wibbu provided a white paper on the research that supports game-based learning. It is clear that the developers were not just focused on creating a good game but also on sound pedagogy. It was a nice blend of research-based learning strategies, good gameplay, and high-quality graphics. You don’t always find all three in an educational game.

Overall, Ruby Rei is an interesting approach to game-based language learning and worth a look.




30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 5 Twine

Day 5: Twine

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic lately.  Blame it on my binge watching of Stranger Things 2 and The Goldbergs. Or maybe it is the fact that my kids are growing up becoming young adults. That leaves me longing for the simple times of being a kid in the 80s. Whatever it is, I’m missing my hot pink parachute pants, zig-zagged-permed big hair, and spending hours losing myself in worlds inhabited with invaders from space or dragons and heroes. Good times. Good times.

Like many 80s kids, I was a huge fan of Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books. The idea that I was in control of the fate of a character was thrilling. I would read and reread these books over and over again to see what new adventures I could discover. I also played a lot of video games. Not only the eye-candy classics like Yars’ Revenge and Adventure, I was also into the text-based games like Zork. Through the gameplay, I was writing the story. It had the excitement of a video game with the control of a CYOA novel. It was awesome.

So, image my delight when my buddy and fantastic educator, Mike Jones (@StemNinja) introduced me to Twine, a branching story creation tool. Rejoice!

Twine is an open-source tool for creating interactive fiction. It makes developing your own CYOA story surprisingly simple. Let me rephrase that. Writing a piece of interactive fiction is HARD. Writing a linear story is hard. Writing one that branches through multiple forks and endings is really hard. It takes a lot of planning and mapping. Twine gives you the technology tools you need to organize and produce your story.

Before you get started, read the support material available online. I repeat. Read the support material!! The Twine Wiki is amazing! There seems to be a very supportive Twine community out there. The user guide on the Wiki walks you through creating your first story in simple steps. It also provides essential information on where your stories are saved and how to make sure you don’t lose them when you clear your browsing history.  This is definitely not a time to skip the directions. Take the time to read the how-to. It will save you time and frustration.

To use Twine, you can either download it or use the web-based version. I used the web-based version to create my first story. When you open Twine and create your story, you are presented with a blank grid that looks similar to any graphic organizer tool. The first time I wrote a CYOA story I used PostIt notes on a wall. This is like a digital PostIt wall.

Twine Start Screen
Twine Start Screen

You build your story by adding passages. At the end of each passage, you enter your choices. This builds your story map. The mapping process should work for both the plotters and pantsers out there. It makes it super simple to visualize your story and see all the branches.

The map of my first story. Easy to follow and see the flow.

Check the flow of your story along the way with the Play button at the bottom. This makes the magic happen and launches your adventure.

Passage 1
Passage 1. Do you open the door or walk away?
Advanced options for story creation.

For more advanced creators, you can even edit your story using JavaScript. If you publish it to a file you get a copy you can launch from your computer and play in your browser.  There are some other features you can access using the arrow on the lower left corner of your story map.

This is a fun tool. Not only for us adults who long for our 80s innocence but also for our students who are just now discovering the joys of interactive fiction. It is an excellent way to build not only their writing skills but also their critical thinking skills and creativity.

Twine looks intimidating at first. Not so much the usability of the tool but rather the fact that you are staring at a blank page with no guidance on where to go next. You have this world of infinite choices staring back at you. All you have to do is double-click and start your adventure.

So, which do you choose? Will you open the door, or walk away?