RobotBASIC: A STEM-focused Progamming Language

I’ve been talking with John Blankenship on LinkedIn about RobotBASIC, which allows students to control robots as well as create simulations and video games. Below is a write-up about the language and site, as well as links for more information.

RobotBASIC was developed by two retired college professors to motivate students to learn science, engineering, math, etc. It is the language we wish we had when we were teaching.

RobotBASIC is FREE for schools, teachers, AND students, and it is one of the most powerful educational programming languages available – it has nearly 900 commands and functions and it can control REAL robots in addition to the integrated robot simulator so it can easily be used by HS or college students.

This is NOT a demo or crippled version. RobotBASIC is TRULY free. There are no purchasing costs, no site licenses, no upgrade fees – EVER! We wrote RobotBASIC because we care about education and we give it away because we believe students NEED more exposure to engineering and programming BEFORE they go to college. And, they need exposure that is exciting and motivational so they will WANT to learn – they need RobotBASIC.

In addition to standard BASIC syntax, RobotBASIC also includes legacy-style commands that make it possible to teach some fundamental programming principles to even 5th graders (I have done this personally). You cannot believe how excited young students get when they do something where they feel THEY are in control (program the simulated robot). If simple programming concepts like this are introduced early, students will view programming as a natural tool by the time they get to HS.

RobotBASIC is also a great stepping-stone to college level courses because it also allows a variety of C-style syntax which makes it easier for students to transition to more cryptic languages like C and Java.

RobotBASIC is not built around other systems – rather it is its own COMPLETE system. One of the major advantages of RobotBASIC is its integrates robot simulator that allows ALL students to have their own PERSONAL robot to program, even at home to do homework. The 2D simulation, seems simple at first, but it has far more sensors that even the most expensive educational robots.

When a school is ready to move past simulation, RobotBASIC offers a fully-assembled REAL robot that has nearly all of the sensors as the simulation (perimeter sensors, compass, beacon detector, line sensors, and battery monitoring). This means that AFTER a student gets their program working with the simulation they can IMMEDIATELY control the real robot with the same program, making the real robot perform the same tasks. This system means that schools only have to buy one robot because students get to develop and debug their programs on the simulator. Remember, a real robot is NOT required. Many schools will be happy teaching robotics using ONLY the simulation, which is totally FREE.

We have eight introductory project-based lessons available as PDF downloads available on our EDUCATIONAL MATERIAL page at Many science and math teachers have never had a programming class, so the lessons are designed to allow students to progress with minimal supervision. RobotBASIC has an extensive built-in HELP system and there are many low-cost books available for those that need a more personal approach.

If you visit, near the top of the home page you will see some links to YouTube videos that show you how easy RobotBASIC is to use. There is also a link to an interview with me recently published by Circuit Cellar Magazine. Below all that, is a summary of the language’s major features.

If I can be of any help or provide you with more information, please let me know.

John Blankenship
Vero Beach, FL

A book is also in the works to provide classroom topics and assignments for science and math courses based on the programming language. This is an exciting gamification effort desperately needed in STEM fields. Outstanding effort by all.



Crowdfunding for Research on Educational Computer Games

I’ve looked at the crowdfunding of games before, and I’ve highlighted some interesting educational games via Twitter (this one in particular) that are going through the Kickstarter process.

Now an effort to study the lasting effects of educational games is starting up on, led by Jane Hornickel of Data Sense LLC. She seeks $3,400 to study the lasting benefits of educational videogames in students with learning difficulties.

Educational computer games can help students make big gains in school, particularly those who have learning difficulties. But it’s unclear how long these benefits last after finishing the games. I will look at test scores for children up to two years after they play educational computer games to see if children maintain their gains.

Crowdfunding for scientific purposes is an interesting phenomenon. Stay tuned to see if Dr. Hornickel successfully raises the needed funds.


Top 10 Nobel Prize Games, 2014

Back in 2009, I wrote about’s educational gaming simulation center. These are “games and simulations, based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements.”

Their Top 10 most visited educational games have changed some over the years, so here is an updated list:

1. The Blood Typing Game
2. The DNA – the Double Helix Game
3. The Immune System Game
4. The Control of the Cell Cycle Game
5. The Pavlov’s Dog Game
6. The Electrocardiogram Game
7. The Transistor
8. The Diabetic Dog Game
9. The Split Brain Experiments Game
10. The Lord of the Flies Game



Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age, CELDA 2014 will be held in Porto, Portugal October 25-27. Below is the Call for Papers.

The CELDA 2014 conference aims to address the main issues concerned with evolving learning processes and supporting pedagogies and applications in the digital age. There have been advances in both cognitive psychology and computing that have affected the educational arena. The convergence of these two disciplines is increasing at a fast pace and affecting academia and professional practice in many ways.

Paradigms such as just-in-time learning, constructivism, student-centered learning and collaborative approaches have emerged and are being supported by technological advancements such as simulations, virtual reality and multi-agents systems. These developments have created both opportunities and areas of serious concerns.

This conference aims to cover both technological as well as pedagogical issues related to these developments. Main tracks have been identified (see below). However innovative contributions that do not easily fit into these areas will also be considered as long as they are directly related to the overall theme of the conference – cognition and exploratory learning in the digital age.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to the following areas:

- Acquisition of expertise
- Assessing progress of learning in complex domains
- Assessment of exploratory learning approaches
- Assessment of exploratory technologies
- Cognition in education
- Collaborative learning
- Educational psychology
- Exploratory technologies (such as simulations, VR, i-TV and so on)
- Just-in-time and Learning-on-Demand
- Learner Communities and Peer-Support
- Learning Communities & Web Service Technologies
- Pedagogical Issues Related with Learning Objects
- Learning Paradigms in Academia
- Learning Paradigms in Corporate Sector
- Life-long Learning
- Student-Centered Learning
- Technology and mental models
- Technology, learning and expertise
- Virtual University

The Conference will be composed of several types of contributions:

  • Full Papers – These include mainly accomplished research results and have 8 pages at the maximum (5,000 words).
  • Short Papers – These include fresh concepts, preliminary research results but may also contain work-in-progress reports. These have 4 pages at maximum (2500 words).
  • Reflection Papers – These might review recent research literature pertaining to a particular problem or approach, indicate what the findings suggest, and/or provide a suggestion – with rationale and justification – for a different approach or perspective on that problem. Reflection papers might also analyze general trends or discuss important issues pertaining to learning and instruction in the digital age. These have two pages at maximum (1500 words). Authors will be asked to display their work in poster format and will take part in panel session.

All submissions will go through a double-blind refereeing process with at least two international experts.

The proceedings of the conference will be published in the form of a book with ISBN and CD-ROM. Selected Papers will be published to a Special Issue of a Journal.

This is a blind peer-reviewed conference.

Important Dates

- Submission Deadline (2nd call): 7 July 2014
- Notification to Authors (2nd call): 31 July 2014
- Final Camera-Ready Submission and Early Registration (1st call): until 23 June 2014
- Late Registration (1st call): after 23 June 2014
- Conference: 25-27 October 2014

More information can be found here.


Play a Board or Card Game with Your Kids

It’s summer time again and that means time to plan out some family activities. Might I suggest spending time playing some board or card games with your kids. It really doesn’t need to be summer to play games with your kids, though. All of these are great activities year round.

Playing games as a family is an activity providing several benefits. First, these games can be activities shared by the whole family. Many summer activities are enjoyed in isolation, but a good board or card game can involve everybody. Second, many social skills can be taught to kids of all ages through gaming. These include but are not limited to learning how to take turns, learning how to strategize to defeat opponents, and learning cooperation skills including diplomacy and negotiation. Additionally, board and card games offer controlled opportunities to teach your kids how to be gracious in both winning and losing.

With that in mind, here are some choices for family board and card games, arranged by appropriate age groups. All of these are available on Amazon, and I’ve provided links. Full disclosure: if you buy one of the games after clicking over to Amazon, I receive a small percentage of the sale. The proceeds are used to maintain this site.


Pre-K & Kindergarten

Candyland has been around a long time. This was the first game my parents bought me, back in the day, and like many others it was a nostalgic choice to purchase for my own kids. I don’t remember a whole lot about playing the actual game, but what I do remember from playing it in Kindergarten was the joy of engaging in an activity with my parents. Game play is very simple, involving the drawing of colored cards which allows players to advance to the next square of the same color. No reading is required. The benefits of playing Candyland include introducing children to rules based systems, and the concept of turn-taking.

Chutes and Ladders
Another classic, Chutes and Ladders also requires no reading to play, and is great for ages three and up. One thing it also excels at is introducing young children to big numbers, as players from the first square to the hundredth.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It
My kids love Richard Scarry’s books with Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and all the supporting cast of characters.. Much like the Where’s Waldo series (link), there is a ton of detail to discover in the Busytown books. This board game continues the tradition of the books, and involves many find and discover activities. It’s very interactive for children; the six foot game board can be stretched out on the floor.


1st through 6th Grades

Brain Quest Smart Game
The first player to spell out SMART wins. The neat thing about this challenge game is questions on the cards are offered at different grade levels. Categories include Reading, Math, Science, Art, and The World. It’s a quick and fun game, and the kids might learn something, too.

Ticket to Ride
I can’t say enough good things about this excellent board game that serves as a great introductory strategy game. Players collect train cards and claim railroad routes to cities in North America. Multiple miniature train cars, cards and “tickets” help make this an excellent board game, well worth the money. There are several Ticket to Ride variations, and some players prefer Ticket to Ride: Europe.


Middle School & Up

Apples to Apples
This great “word comparison” party game is perfect for families. Players are dealt cards with nouns which are matched to an adjective card. The combinations can be quite amusing. This game has become something of a phenomenon, winning awards and finding its way into several households. It’s even spawned some imitators. It certainly belongs in your family game collection.

Wit’s End
In some ways, Wit’s End might remind you of Trivial Pursuit, but the differences are appealing. Besides correctly answering trivia questions while moving across the board, players are presented with brain teasers and other intellectual challenges. It’s also a good game to play with teams.


High School & Up

Risk is the classic strategy world domination game. The rules are simple: attack neighboring territory with numerical advantages and hope the dice are kind. I have this listed under high school in part because I spent many hours playing it in high school. However, I have introduced it to kids as young as 6, playing a simplified version. Beware that younger kids may not have the attention span needed to play a full game.

Axis & Allies Revised Edition
Axis & Allies is like Risk on steroids. Plan a whole Saturday or even a weekend to play a full game. Rules take some time to learn if it’s your first time. The original version had some flaws which the revised edition address. It’s a great board game.

Heroscape Marvel Game Set
Heroscape is like Chess on steroids. Multiple game pieces including soldiers, dragons, etc. have differing capabilities and fight it out on a hexagon game board that can be assembled in seemingly infinite variations. Unfortunately, the game is no longer being produced. But, you can still find it on Amazon and elsewhere. I picked up the Marvel game set because my kids are big fans of the super heroes and villians, and playing with the pieces brings added fun. The Marvel game set is stand alone, or can be incorporated with other Heroscape sets if you decide to buy them later.

This is a phenomenally popular deck building card game. Each player starts with the same 10 cards, but buys different ones in turn, hoping for an advantage. Games can be played in about half an hour or so, with two to four players.

The Settlers of Catan
Some diehard board gamers who’ve played for years have moved on to newer titles, but this remains a most excellent introduction to German strategy games. It’s one of the most commercially successful board games ever. Terrain hexes and resource cards allow for differing game play. It’s a lot of fun, and should be in every game closet.


Finally, if all these games seem intimidating, especially some of the newer ones, or those you have never heard of before, consider a good old classic combo set of Chess, Checkers, Nine Men Morris, and Tic-Tac-Toe. The set reaches all age groups, and the games are timeless.

Parents, remember that time spent with your kids is precious, and time spent playing games with your kids is time well spent.


IMMERSION 2014 Early Registration Ends May 23

IMMERSION 2014 early registration closes Friday, May 23.

Sponsored by Disney and Target, IMMERSION 2014 features speakers and exhibits by Disney Animation Studios, the Smithsonian Institution, Google, Microsoft, Stratasys, Oculus, Oracle, Bitcoin and more. Speakers, exhibitors and registration details are online at

Building on the success of the previous 8 years of Immersive Education (iED) Summits, the world’s leading experts in immersion convene June 6-8 in Los Angeles California for IMMERSION 2014. Hosted by The Getty Center and Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and the Western USA Chapter of the Immersive Education Initiative (iED West), IMMERSION 2014 is open to the global academic and business communities, the general public, and experts in immersion and immersive technologies.


2014 Serious Play Conference July 21-24

Here’s the press release for the upcoming Serious Play Conference:

Sessions for university faculty, school administrators and teachers working to improve student engagement though games-based learning will be featured at the fourth annual Serious Play Conference at the University of Southern California (USC), Tuesday-Thursday, July 21 – 24.

Conference highlights will include teachers already using games as well as game developers, publishers, consultants, analysts and faculty talking about their experiences with games in the classroom, games for home use and teaching students to design their own games.

K-12 teachers sharing their experiences will include:

* Marianne Malmstrom, Elisabeth Morrow School, discussing how students have used a virtual world to help their younger schoolmates adjust to middle school
* Peggy Sheehy, Ramapo Central, exploring why games engage us and how we can harness that engagement for K-12 learning
* Alice Keeler, Cal State Fresno, showing how to use Google Apps in the classroom

Educational software creators discussing their work:

* Justin Leites, Amplify, offering tips on how to improve the quality and quantity of voluntary, outside-the-classroom learning
* John Krajewski, Strange Loop, elaborating on the potential of game-based learning
* Ken Spero, Education Leadership Sims, sharing his thoughts on how simulations can help train and support school leaders
* Peter Stidwill, Learning Games Network, sharing best practices based on research on how games have been implemented to date in the K-12 classroom
* Jamie Anunzio-Myers, PBS, on services provided free to early learners over cable networks

University researchers will also present their findings:

* Zoran Popovic, University of Washington, talking about a worldwide math challenge sponsored by DARPA
* Girlie Delacruz, CRESST, explaining how game assessment can be done and how this data is furthering scientific research
* Chris Haskell, Boise State University, addressing how MMORPG mechanics such as leveling, skill-building and immersion in a virtual world can be applied to education

A pre-conference workshop on Monday, July 21 will offer hands-on instruction for teachers new to game-based learning.

For more information, check out the site:


Can a Shooting Simulator Sway Jury Outcomes?

Of all the interesting ways videogame technologies are being applied, the use of a shooting simulator to train grand juries in Texas ranks fairly high.

Police shootings often become controversial. Recently, for instance, an officer in Hearne, Texas shot an armed 93 year old woman. In the Lone Star State when an officer shoots somebody, Texas Rangers typically investigate and the matter goes before a grand jury to decide the officer’s fate. If the shooting is deemed justified, the officer is no billed. If not, a trial ensues.

In Houston and San Antonio, grand juries undergo training before hearing cases involving police shootings. The training involves the use of a simulated firearm, and seeks to emulate some of the difficult choices police have to make when facing armed or potentially armed suspects.

Jurors might face video of an armed bad guy who threatens them with a gun, and choose to fire; clearly a case of justified shooting. Moments later, someone may jump out and surprise them with a cell phone in hand, which could be mistaken for a handgun.

Advocates say the interactive training better prepares jurors to deal with cases involving the use of deadly force. Detractors maintain it preps the jurors to favor law enforcement officers who have fired on civilians. The jury is still out, to coin a phrase, as to whether this type of training will spread to other jurisdictions.


CFP: GALA 2014

The Games and Learning Alliance conference (GALA 2014) will be held July 2-4 in Bucharest Romania.

The Games and Learning Alliance conference (GALA 2014) is an international conference dedicated to the science and application of serious games.

The conference aims at bringing together researchers, developers, practitioners and stakeholders. The goal is to share the state of the art of research and market, analysing the most significant trends and discussing visions on the future of serious games.

The conference also includes an exhibition, where developers can showcase their latest products.

The Serious Games Society is building a scientific community at international level for shaping future research in the field. This community represents a significant blend of industrial and academic professionals committed to the study, development and deployment of serious games as really useful and effective tools to support better teaching, learning, training and assessment.

The deadline for the Call for Papers has been extended to May 9. Please click here for more details.


Latest Research on Violent Videogames

Putting another log on the old fire of violent videogame controversies, Douglas Gentile’s latest study has been released online in JAMA Pediatrics.

As played out in the media, the question always is, Do violent videogames make children violent? For researchers, of course, the question is much more nuanced. For one thing, while measuring “violent” content in videogames is relatively easy, how do you measure “violence” in children? One approach that researchers like Gentile used in the past was to measure something called “violent arousal” in subjects. This is a physiological reaction to stimuli that can be easily measured in subjects. The problem with that approach, when trying to paint violent videogames with a negative brush, is that all “violent” media can gin up “violent arousal” in subjects. Physiological results are similar with “violent” music, movies, television shows, literature, etc.

Much more difficult to measure are long term attitudes and actions which may be influenced by videogames or other media. Gentile’s newest study tackles that issue, with a three year longitudinal study of 3,034 students in Singapore. Here is the abstract:

Importance Although several longitudinal studies have demonstrated an effect of violent video game play on later aggressive behavior, little is known about the psychological mediators and moderators of the effect.

Objective To determine whether cognitive and/or emotional variables mediate the effect of violent video game play on aggression and whether the effect is moderated by age, sex, prior aggressiveness, or parental monitoring.

Design, Setting, and Participants Three-year longitudinal panel study. A total of 3034 children and adolescents from 6 primary and 6 secondary schools in Singapore (73% male) were surveyed annually. Children were eligible for inclusion if they attended one of the 12 selected schools, 3 of which were boys’ schools. At the beginning of the study, participants were in third, fourth, seventh, and eighth grades, with a mean (SD) age of 11.2 (2.1) years (range, 8-17 years). Study participation was 99% in year 1.

Main Outcomes and Measures The final outcome measure was aggressive behavior, with aggressive cognitions (normative beliefs about aggression, hostile attribution bias, aggressive fantasizing) and empathy as potential mediators.

Results Longitudinal latent growth curve modeling demonstrated that the effects of violent video game play are mediated primarily by aggressive cognitions. This effect is not moderated by sex, prior aggressiveness, or parental monitoring and is only slightly moderated by age, as younger children had a larger increase in initial aggressive cognition related to initial violent game play at the beginning of the study than older children. Model fit was excellent for all models.

Conclusions and Relevance Given that more than 90% of youths play video games, understanding the psychological mechanisms by which they can influence behaviors is important for parents and pediatricians and for designing interventions to enhance or mitigate the effects.

The study has not generated a ton of reaction in the media so far, maybe because this is a horse that has been beaten so many times, to borrow a phrase. WTOP, a news radio station for the Washington, D.C. area, noted the study is “controversial,” and reporter Paula Wolfson went to the trouble of interviewing Angela Fletcher, with the Children’s National Health Network for some additional opinions on the matter. Wolfson’s report on the study is the best so far, in my opinion.

Bottom line, the issue is too complex to place in a convenient box. Exposure to any kind of “violent” media may cause a person to engage in violence at some point in the future. Or not. But, the research continues.