Category: Related Sites

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 RobotBASIC.org. 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 www.robotbasic.org, 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
www.RobotBASIC.org

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.

 

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Shambles.net Offers Gaming Research Links

Shambles, an educational support site for international school communities in Southeast Asia (“although it seems that lots of schools worldwide are now finding Shambles a useful resource .. which is brilliant”), has a nifty resource for those interested in gaming research on the web. Their page, Games: Research, has a lengthy list of sites, blogs, and papers devoted to the topic. This one is well worth bookmarking.

Addictive Group Play Might Make Johnny an Angry Boy

I found a nice site devoted to research on videogames from the psychology side. A lot of academic research on videogames seems to be deriving from psychology profs lately. Wai Yen Tang is a student who decided to start the VG Researcher – Psychology blog in “an attempt to bridge the gap between gamers and VG researchers in psychology. Another pertinent reason is that I’m simply tired of reading short and somewhat inaccurate news report on VG research (angers me a lot) and makes me want to read the article directly and write on it.”

I couldn’t agree more! As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the media can put an entirely different spin on stories than what researchers published. VG Researcher is filled with several interesting entries, each devoted to a different paper. Several caught my eye, including this one:

Eastin, M. S. (2007). The influence of competitive and cooperative group game play on state hostility. Human Communication Research, 33 (4), 450-466.

Tang notes that Dr. Eastin took a novel approach to aggression research in videogames, finding higher levels of hostility measured among players who teamed together. I look forward to reading this one, as soon as I make it over to the university library. Alas, it’s not available freely online.

Also, this paper examined hostility in the context of “addiction”:

Grüsser, S.M., Thalemann, R., & Griffiths, M.D. (2007) Excessive computer game playing: Evidence for addiction and aggression? Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 1o, 2, 290-292.

Griffiths, Tang notes, is renowned for addiction research in the field of psychology. The study was an online survey of over 7,000 players, and noted that those meeting the researchers’ definition of addiction (11.9%) reported higher levels of aggression, “But regression analysis demonstrated that gaming addiction accounts for 1.8% for being responsible for aggression.” Tang concludes the connection between addiction and aggression seems tenuous.

Give Tang’s site a visit. I’ve added VG Researcher to the Blogroll.

Learning Family Values While Killing Monsters

Robin Torres posted an article on teaching family values to children over at WoWInsider.com, a Joystiq site. It may seem somewhat incongruent to non-gamers, but Torres makes a good case for the idea of instilling positive attitudes in children while playing popular MMOPRGs like World of Warcraft.

Torres warns against the potential negatives that may occur when children spend hours on end in these gigantic virtual worlds unsupervised. But, she insists that with proper parental supervision, valuable life lessons can be imparted to the youngsters.

Children go to school to get educated, but they are supposed to learn their values at home. I believe that playing WoW with your children can be a great way to instill them with some very basic yet important values.

Torres relates a story of playing in EverQuest back in the day with an 8-10 year old boy she never met in RL:

His typing was good and his spelling wasn’t too bad (I’ve seen much worse in adults) and there was no leetspeak. He didn’t volunteer any other personal information about himself — though he did say that while he was sometimes allowed to play by himself, he often played with his father. He showed me his most cherished (virtual) possession: the sword (not too uber) that he had acquired when hunting with his dad. Over a few months, we often hunted together. Sure, I couldn’t say naughty stuff in front of him, but I never felt like I was babysitting.

This is the kind of good family fun Torres feels is highly beneficial for kids. And really, her bigger point is it doesn’t matter where family time occurs, whether playing together in a virtual world or going on a trail ride. It’s the together part that truly matters.

But the virtual aspect of playing together in World of Warcraft will surely raise eyebrows. Even so, Torres states that with good parental supervision the following characteristics can be instilled in children while playing in WoW: manners, respect, computer skills, following instructions, teamwork, achievement, independence, problem solving, self esteem, and preparedness. I have to say, she has a point.

References:
Torres, R. (2007, October 8). Azeroth interrupted: Using WoW to teach children values. WoW Insider. [Online]. Available: http://www.wowinsider.com/2007/10/08/
azeroth-interrupted-using-wow-to-teach-children-values/

The Day the Big Sites Came Calling

Normally, I’m the one scanning through major videogame discussion sites such as Gamasutra and Kotaku, looking for material related to educational videogames. This week, the opposite occurred, and it has been most interesting.

It all started when Simon Carless over at GameSetWatch.com mentioned my post on teaching ESL through MMORPGs. I started seeing traffic right away from Carless’ link, and noted GameSetWatch is in Technorati’s Top 10,000 blogs. (GameSetWatch is run by the same folks that bring us Gamasutra, one of the uber-gaming discussion sites. Carliss serves as editor for both).

In due course, Maggie Greene over at Kotaku read Carliss’ post, then read John Water’s article in THE Journal regarding ESL in MMORPGs, and blogged about it here. Carliss also linked to my original post on the article, and traffic has been coming in ever since.

What is most interesting are the posts to Greene’s article from English speaking players who picked up some Japanese or other languages through playing off-shore MMOPRGs.

All told, it was a nice week for the blog…

Handheld Learning Conference, 2007

With all the talk recently surrounding the educational uses of handheld gaming platforms such as the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, it makes sense that practitioners have banded together to form a conference on the topic. Andy Pulman blogs about the Handheld Learning Conference and Exhibition, 2007, that is taking place next week in London. A press release that Andy references gives more details.

Here’s a couple of key paragraphs in that press release from the Nintendo folks:

David Yarnton, General Manager, Nintendo UK says:
“The Handheld Learning Conference and Exhibition brings together so many thought-leaders it is natural that Nintendo gets involved with this important educational conference. As the biggest supplier of handheld entertainment, Nintendo is already driving learning across all age groups with its products, in particular the Touch Generations series, including Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain? and Big Brain Academy. So we’re delighted to play our part, furthering the developing role of handheld devices in learning.”

Graham Brown-Martin, Managing Director, Handheld Learning, says:
“The majority of gaming devices – and particularly those by Nintendo – all feature local and wide area networking capabilities, which are exploited by its software titles to enable positive social interaction and networks. Whilst the world has been focussing on the $100 laptop Nintendo had already developed one in the form of the Nintendo DS.”

Ouch. I think the OLPC people might be asking: Where is the keyboard for the DS? Anyways, that’s an argument for another day. Additional details on the conference are available at the conference’s official website.

On a side note, despite our noting the increased discussion surrounding the educational uses of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP in Japan, Gaming Today informs us that both products have been banned from use on Japanese airlines. Fortunately, other airlines have not followed suit. My oldest will be glad to hear this, flying back from New England later this week, loaded down with several books and both mini consoles to fight the boredom and wait out potential delays.

Pop.Cosmo: Constance Steinkuehler’s New Blog on VWs

Constance Steinkuehler, over at U. Wisconsin, is shepherding a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to explore the pedagogical potentials within virtual worlds. Consequently, Steinkuehler and colleagues have begun a blog called pop.cosmo. Contributing authors to the blog include David Simkins and Sean Duncan.

In explaining the name, Steinkuehler notes that pop cosmopolitan refers to, “the ways that virtual worlds are becoming novel contexts for the development of new forms of civic engagement in a global, networked world.”  

The blog will serve as a platform for the research team to discuss ongoing research as well as transfer information regarding after school projects and other related goings-on. In a post on Terra Nova, Steinkuehler elaborates on the research team’s raison d’être:

… we empirically investigate key literacy practices that constitute successful MMO gameplay (such as scientific literacy, computational literacy, and reciprocal apprenticeship) & how those literacy practices connect up with life and learning beyond the virtual worlds themselves. Then, based on this understanding, we develop after school instructional programs that leverage MMOs to get kids involved in what we see as core 21st century skills (that are often under-emphasized in classrooms).

It looks like an interesting blog, and those interested in ongoing research of virtual worlds in education should stop by to take a look.

Elderly Turn to Videogames to Stay Mentally Fit

The Washington Post had a nice article recently about octogenarians using video games in order to keep their minds fit. A “brain health movement” is sweeping retirement communities nationwide, according to the article. Leslie Walker wrote that Nintendo’s Brain Age and other mentally strenuous video games have joined Bingo, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles as mechanisms to promote brain fitness in the aging and elderly.

Other video games offered by retirement communities to their citizens include one called Brain Fitness, and the virtual bowling game on the Nintendo Wii.

Brain fitness in general is booming, thanks in part to America’s aging population:

In fact, baby boomers may be the biggest catalyst of the brain-fitness boom. They started turning 60, and the nation’s over-65 population will double between 2000 and 2030 — from 35 million to 72 million people. That forecast has triggered an entrepreneurial rush to supply them with anti-aging products.

Next, Walker plugs a couple of related blogs, including SharpBrains.com, with whom I’ve recently traded links:

A growing body of research suggests that mental activity in middle age and earlier can help later in life. As a result, Web sites such as HappyNeuron.com are springing up to offer online games to people of all ages, while blogs like SharpBrains.com provide commentary on the fledgling industry.

Finally, Andrew Carle over at George Mason gets a nice quote:

“No technology trend in fitness has gotten more media attention than cognition training,” said Andrew Carle, a George Mason University professor who studies brain-training products. “What’s driving it is the jump we are seeing in Alzheimer’s, which is an age-related disease.”

References:
Walker, L. (2007, September 12). Keep your brain power up. The Washington Post, pp. HE09. [Online]. Retrieved September 22, 2007 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/
2007/09/10/AR2007091001879.html