Interactive map tools for creating deeper place-based learning

Revisiting the possibilities of student-created geographies

Tarrant Institute tool tutoriallsThe rate at which technology changes has reached a dizzying speed, with new tools and platforms emerging constantly. But what hasn’t changed is students’ curiosity about the world and their need to explore their own place in it. Young adolescents in particular, burn with the urge to make and personalize. So what does it look like to tap into that urge as it pertains to physical landscapes?

Yes indeedy, folks, it’s time once again to talk place-based learning and edtech.

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Student-made geology games

Putting a human face on science storytelling

student-made geology gamesLava flows down the halls of Main Street Middle School, in Montpelier, Vermont, and you must choose whether you’ll go with the flow or try to cool off somewhere and become an igneous rock. In another portion of the school, you’re the new kid, getting a tour from one of your peers when a volcano erupts, and you have only your geology wits (and a science teacher with fabulous hair) to save you.

These are middle schoolers building mobile, place-based games with ARIS, taking advantage of the game editor’s powerful new re-design and one science educator’s trust in letting his students demonstrate what and how they learn.

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What does Minecraft look like in a school?

Crafting Pickaxes, swords and social skills

how teachers use MinecraftSince its release in 2009, Minecraft has made its way into 60 million homes worldwide and has become the best-selling PC game of all time. The game can now be played on multiple platforms, including XBox, Playstation, and most smart phones and tablets. There are Youtube videos with literally millions of views of people playing Minecraft while providing their own commentary. Shoppers can now purchase Lego sets, T-shirts, keychains, books, foam pickaxes, costumes, and so much more. For educators, it’s becoming nearly impossible to make it through a day without hearing children talk about Minecraft.

So how can teachers use Minecraft in the classroom?

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2 tools for building hidden object games with students

Tie video game authorship to language learning

2 tools for making hidden object games with studentsLast time we looked at how hidden object games can support language learning, and how to assess students’ work with them. The next logical step, of course (some students might say it’s the first logical step) is to provide students with the tools to build their own games.

Let’s look at 2 tools for building hidden object games with students.

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Using hidden object games to support language learning

Let language-based video games engage students

Using hidden object games to support language learningELL students and others who struggle with reading issues feature an uphill battle for skill mastery that’s compounded by the social stigma and real-world functional problem that language deficits present. While they’re trying to learn from textbooks they’re also missing out on social interactions that a) could otherwise bootstrap their skills and b) put them at higher risk for bullying behavior.

Enter the hidden object game.

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Digital credentials, quests and middle school math

Because 102 years of Girl Scouts can’t be wrong

New this morning on the blog, Harwood Union Middle School math educator Lisa Therrien discusses how she and her students are using the Badgestack platform to use digital badges, quests and differentiation to turn traditional math teaching on its head.

Badgestack is an online tool that’s now available free as a series of WordPress plugins.

Want to try out interactive fiction and games?

Want to try out writing interactive fiction and games with your students? Here are three tools that make it easy to get started.

In order of ease of use: YouTube

"Choose What Happens Next" is a series of videos that focus on digital citizenship choices for students. You navigate them like Choose Your Own Adventure books.

“Choose What Happens Next” is a series of videos that focus on digital citizenship choices for students. You navigate them like Choose Your Own Adventure books.

YouTube’s recently beefed up their suite of online editing tools (including a bank of royalty-free audio clips) and made them simpler to use. By embedding text-based links in video, you can tell an interactive video-based story.

YouTube Pros:

  • editing tools easy to use
  • doesn’t require a ton of writing, so caters to visual storytellers

YouTube Cons:

  • doesn’t require a ton of writing
  • YouTube may be blocked at your school (but that’s a WHOLE other blogpost)


Next up: StoryNexus

StoryNexus made a big splash when it was introduced via the way-too-addictive speculative steampunk game Fallen London. Players navigate through a virtual, text-based world in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure manner, but with choose-a-card activities that interject an element of chance into the proceedings.

Winterstrike is a post-apocalyptic game of chance, built on the StoryNexus platform.

StoryNexus Pros:

  • Easy and compelling to get really into world-building
  • Lots of students already on there with games; peers, feedback, ideas
  • Library of GoogleDocs manuals and crowd-sourced how-to’s
  • Easy to add images and audio to text
  • Lots and lots of writing to do, boosts world-building

StoryNexus Cons:

  • Students need to sign up for accounts
  • Hard to build a game in one class period
  • Lots and lots of writing to do


And then there’s Twine

(“Do it for the Twine! I ain’t gonna do–“)


Ashton Raze's Twine game,"Don't Read the Comments", combining digital citizenship with Twin Peaks references.

Ashton Raze’s Twine game,”Don’t Read the Comments”, combining digital citizenship with Twin Peaks references.

Twine‘s a challenging little piece of software that takes a step closer to computer programming logic while you build your games. It’s a stellar introduction to the concept of global vs. local variables, for instance*.

Twine games are browser-based, which means you can practice your HTML and CSS skills while you sort out what kind of tea the yeti usually drinks. Yes, I made that game**. It was not entirely easy but the things that were complicated didn’t make me tear my hair out. They were fun to figure out, and as a fan of interactive fiction, I enjoy the pace of the finished product.

 Twine Pros:

  • The ability to embed videos, images and audio make this a truly multimedia storytelling platform
  • Lets students bone up on HTML and CSS while they write

Twine Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve than the other two

Here are some lovely related links for you to disappear down the rabbithole of your choice:

Do you:

Let the games… begin!



*If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, get in touch. Let’s get you a seat at this summer’s Code Camp.

**And yes, it’s not finished, because I also have to write many fine blog posts each week, such as this one. You will cope.

Edmunds Middle School is on the airwaves with ARIS


Edmunds Middle School teachers, students and district technologists were on Commissioner’s Corner last night , talking about their experiences designing mobile iOS games with ARIS and the Echo Museum. We’re proud to say we knew them way back when.

If you’re interested in hearing from Laura Botte and Katie Wyndorf about this project, they’ll be at the 7th annual Middle Grades Conference, January 11th at UVM.

ARIS @ Echo

When last we left our trusty Edmunds Explorers, they had just defeated a horde of geometry-loving aliens who’d invaded the school, demanding triangles, circles and trapezoids. After that adventure, the two classes of 6th graders took to the streets of Burlington. Lake Street, to be precise, which led them down to the Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center and the scene of their next big ARIS adventure.


A group of Edmunds 6th graders check out Echo's tidepool exhibit while collecting resources to build their own ARIS video games.

A group of Edmunds 6th graders check out Echo’s tidepool exhibit while collecting resources to build their own ARIS video games.



ARIS stands for Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling, and it’s an open-source platform published by the University of Wisconsin to allow K-12 students to design and create their own place-based games for the iOS mobile platform. Museums across the country are starting to incorporate augmented reality to make visitors’ experiences more in-depth and authentic; where once students might’ve simply read a plaque about the lives of fur traders at the Minnesota Historical Society, now they have a chance to play the role of one, working through some of the challenges and hardships the life presented in order to advance through the tour.

And where Minnesota has fur traders, the Echo Center has frogs.




Meet Vinnie.

Vinnie is a native Vermont bullfrog whose life and habits were drawn directly from Echo Center exhibits by Burlington School District technology information specialists and TIIE to form the short ARIS game “Frogworld”.

Students worked their way through the Frogworld game by gleaning information from plaques in Echo’s Frogworld exhibit. They also documented resources from the Echo Center exhibits for later use in their own games. Echo Center staff also got into the act. Executive director Phelan Fretz used ARIS’ Notebook feature to contribute his own frog to the Frogworld game, then spent lunch taking suggestions from students as to what kinds of behind-the-scenes information Echo could provide to support students’ own ARIS games.


Phelan Fretz, Echo Center director, used ARIS' Notebook feature to add this commentary about one of the frogs in the Frogworld exhibit. Players can leave text, audio, image or video notes for all other players to read.

Phelan Fretz, Echo Center director, used ARIS’ Notebook feature to add this commentary about one of the frogs in the Frogworld exhibit. Players can leave text, audio, image or video notes for all other players to read.


ARIS is one of a number of augmented reality platforms the Echo Center is piloting with local schools.

Edmunds is incorporating ARIS into a yearlong place-based unit examining the Lake Champlain basin through environmental, cultural, historic and opportunity lenses. The Echo Center hopes to make the local 6th graders’ ARIS games available to visitors as part of the museum tour when they’re completed.




(Special thanks to the UVM College of Education and Social Services for their support of this project. )

Best. Game launch. Ever.

lbotteFollowing up on our intro to ARIS with geometry last Friday, this morning the 6th graders from Edmunds Middle School spent some time at the Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center working through “Frogworld”, a demo ARIS game that made use of items at the Echo Center. After they played the game, they spent some time with the rest of the (non-frog) exhibits, collecting ideas for items they could incorporate into their own games.

We’re back at it tomorrow at Echo with another class of 6th graders. More news as it develops.