Introduction to Programming: LightBot

Before students come to Quantum Victoria and do some robotics work, some understanding of basic programming concepts is beneficial. Attached are two pre-visit activities that teachers can use with their students based around the game LightBot.

Also find some brief teacher notes as a Google Doc.

*These are draft documents. Feedback welcome!



Out of Our Minds

“Our ideas can enslave or liberate us. Some people never do make the transition and remain resident in the old world view; their ideological comfort zone.” – Sir Ken

Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative is a book that, for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed. Sir Ken gives a very broad overview of a changing world, a broken education system, shares anecdotes that sometimes relate to the points that he is trying to make and gives the reader a general framework for being a creative leader.

He defines common misconceptions about creativity; namely that ‘creativity’ as it is currently understood actually consists of:

  • Imagination – the source of creativity. The ability to bring to mind things that are not present in our senses.
  • Creativity – the process of having original ideas. Creativity is applied Imagination.
  • Innovation – the process of putting new ideas into practice. Innovation is applied Creativity.

Sir Ken asks us to challenge the many things that we take for granted,

“Like the medieval astronomer we continue to believe in the assumptions of mass education, despite all the evidence that the system is failing so many people within it.” – Sir Ken

and speaks about cultural aversions to change and why resistance to change is only natural.

After attending the Creative Innovation 2011 conference recently, I now know that many of the speakers where actually directly quoting this book as the book – and this is what is worrying me.

In 1780, Jacques Rousseau published Emile, in which he argued for a new approach to education that was based on play, games, pleasure and personal interests. For the next 200+ years their have been many who have argued for a more playful and creative education system, those such as Froebel, Montessori, Steiner, OrffDewey and Kohn, and yet despite their efforts, they have gone largely ignored. But in the fast-changing world of the 21st century, every business, government official and education leader wants a quick dose of creativity and innovation and will pay whatever it takes to say they have done the latest ‘Sir Ken’ workshop, and this in turn ticks the necessary innovation box. But can you actually ‘teach’ creativity? Granted, a framework can be introduced to encourage ‘creative’ thinking and a ‘creative’ culture and work environment (think Google), but in an age of the quick-fix workshop, how many of these organizations are willing to invest in long-term strategies to really drive systemic change toward a more creative and innovative environment?

Take the time to read this review of Out of Our Minds on Amazon – Is Creativity the New Snake Oil?

Is Creativity the New Snake Oil?

Portal 2 Game Modding Student Activity

The second of many Portal 2 student activities that I will be posting. 


Thinking for Our Future

The Creative Innovation conference finished on Friday with an incredible program of speakers on the day including Ray Kurzweil, Edward Debono, Rufus Black, Paddy Miller, Brendan Boyle & Tan Le

From an education perspective, the conference was a great chance to meet and network with people from business, industry, philanthropy and to talk to many successful entrepreneurs. Kurzweil stated in his talk that, “most people in developed countries are doing jobs that did not exist when they were born.” and this was clearly supported with some of the job titles of the people that I met throughout the conference – titles such as, Innovation Architect, Chief Fulfiller of Needs, Life Coach, Inventiologist, Changemaker, Bubbleologist, Bubbleosopher, Chief Ideas Officer, Thinking Strategist etc.

Education is too insular – we need to get out more and see what is happening in the world, to meet people with different backgrounds and interests, to see what is happening in business and industry – this allows for cross-sector collaboration and pollination. Many of the people I met are very eager to work with people in education, but just need an entry point. 

My immediate actions:

The purchase of an emotiv EPOC headset (with the SDK) to see how Quantum Victoria can use brain-machine interface and neuro-technology to re-energize interest in science among secondary school students.

Research Brendan Boyle’s d.School at Stanford University. Brendan was a real class-act and very generous with his time. He spoke at length about the principles of design thinking and the importance of play. The philosophy of making play part of the process to increase creativity and innovation was supported by the idea that play should involve 1.Role Play 2. The Encouragement of Ridiculous – the ebb and flow of ideas 3. Thinking with your hands. He shared many fun examples of students using design thinking in whimsical ways.

The Institute of Design at Stanford have made available all their material on design thinking and creative processes available for anyone to use – definitely something to investigate further.

And finally, Paddy Miller blew me away with his work on creating an ecosystem for innovation – definitely check out his book the Innovation Architect when it becomes available.

A Different Type of School

I stand here today… to apologize.

Our education system is failing your children – which means that as a teacher, I am failing your children. I am failing to prepare them to be creative thinkers, innovators and entrepreneurs – due to an educational system steeped in tradition, nostalgia and old ideas.

Well, its time for a new tradition. Its time to rewrite the rules of education – to imagine a school with no timetables, with industry partners and one where technology is not only necessary but ubiquitous. A school where lifelong learning is modeled every single day, where children follow individual interests and passions and where they are invited to see the world in a playful way.

Its time our education system adapted to todays student, rather than having students adapt to it.

It’s time to lead a major paradigm shift that changes the face of education forever.

It’s our time – together, lets build a different kind of school and show the world what’s possible.

This was my one minute talk at Creative Innovation 2011. I think it missed the mark.

I received plenty of interest about what I am currently doing and ways business and industry can support Quantum Victoria, but the ‘big picture’ idea that I was trying to pitch, I think was lost on the audience. A majority of it is most certainly my own fault for not appreciating the backgrounds of those in the audience, but perhaps it is also a case of people not thinking big enough. There has been much talk about education at this conference, especially from those not involved in education, with most over-simplifying the concept of reform – aside from Stephen Heppell, everyone outside of the field has an ‘easy’ solution – and this is the problem. Everyone has a vested interest in education, and becasue they have spent varying amounts of time in places of education, everyone claims a level of expertise. There was not enough talk about the purpose of education and indeed the relevance, especially at the tertiary level, in a world with ubiquitous access to information and people – the dialogue, for the most part, still centred around ‘the old way’ of doing things.

And this is the conundrum. At the Creative Innovation conference, where you find some of the most successful and creative people in business,  industry and entrepreneurship – how do we elevate the dialogue around schools, and shift old mindsets? Because if it can’t be done here, I’m thinking we are going to struggle.

Many people and education departments site instances of ‘innovative’ practice in some schools, but they have missed the fundamental premise of education reform – radically different, better kinds of schools.

Super-connected world – Marvel or Myth?

The other deep conversation that I had the pleasure of sitting in on yesterday at Creative Innovation was “Super-connected world – Marvel or Myth?” with Ray Kurzweil, Daniel Dennett & Tan Le.

According to Ray Kurzweil, in the 21st Century we won’t experience one hundred years of progress—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). We are fast-approaching a radically different future in which we merge with our machines, overcome our mortality to live indefinitely, and become billions of times more intelligent. Ray spoke about his Law of Accelerating Returns, and having just finished his book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, I was fascinated to hear the dialogue between Dennett, who seems to be almost a technological pessimist (philosophy whilst interesting, can sometimes be used as an excuse for procrastination whilst contemplating the intricacies of whatever you have thought about doing…), and Kurzweil, a man who has 19 honorary doctorates and a unwavering belief in his vision of the future.

The dialogue and debate was fascinating. Whether you believe Kurzweil’s prediction that in the year 2029 we will have computers that support human level intelligence, a moment in time he coins the technological singularity – the claims can not be dismissed outright. Tan Le showed that Kurzweil’s predictions are indeed plausible, by talking at length about her company emotiv, a company doing cutting-edge research into brain-machine interfaces. For anyone who thinks that Ray Kurzweil’s predictions are not within the realms of possibility, consider the emotiv EPOC (combined with the SDK) headset, based on the latest developments in neurotechnology, that allows you to control a computer with your thoughts alone – and it costs less than $300! 

If I was to be critical of this deep conversation, it would be only in the fact that the brilliant Tan Le almost got drowned out of the conversation between two men using their intellects in a battle of ego and wit. When Tan did get a chance to speak it was with knowledge and passion. Catch the recording of her TEDGlobal talk in 2010.

When brain-machine interfaces become mainstream, we might ask: What is the difference between a human brain enhanced a million fold by technology opposed to a unenhanced brain? The moral and ethical implication of human-machine hybrids was discussed at length with identity, consciousness and what it means to be a human all brought into question.

Is this the death of education & the dawn of learning?

“You can’t be too ambitious with your expectations of children” – Stephen Heppell

“Play is part of the process – play isn’t for recess and then you get back to work.” -Brendan Boyle

I am currently attending the Creative Innovation conference and had the pleasure of sitting in on a Deep Conversation with Professor Stephen Heppell, Associate Professor Brendan Boyle and the Chancellor of LaTrobe University, Professor Adrienne Clark.

Stephen Heppell is perhaps Europe’s leading online education expert, the CEO of and is one of the global leaders in learning space design. The conversational style of Heppell is enchanting, fusing personal anecdotes with humour – he kicked things off by sharing a story of when he was an undergraduate with his wife, when they first met Edward DeBono. This story was a reflection on the change he has witnessed since he was in University to the present day. To get a first-class honors degree in Stephen’s time, you had to produce a surprising, astonishing paper – now to get a first-class honors degree you have to produce the least surprising paper – for me, this touched on a number of issues such as academic inflation or the worth of a post-graduate degree, especially in education, peer review, open access versus pay-walls and the constant nature of accelerating change – but that is another post in itself.

Reflecting on projects he has been part of in education over the last twenty years or so, Heppell can’t remember one that he was scared of – and he definitely didn’t stop because of roadblocks.  In fact he stated, “If the bureaucracy try to stop you, it is likely to succeed.” Many early projects that Heppell was involved with were funded not by education, but by industries. I, personally, would like to see more of this. Many high-profile bloggers and leading educationalists would argue that this is a bad thing, but I don’t think so. If schools and education systems around the world are facing budget cuts, where does the funding come from? – granted this does lead into the privatization debate…

Heppell’s main points:

  • Have high expectations of students. 
  • Why does their have to be an age when you are supposed to be able to do something? Why should age be such a factor in education? 
  • Where is the research that says kids learn best when kids are grouped according to age? 
  • The madness of ringing a bell and expecting all kids to be hungry at the same time is absurd – timetabling needs radical rethinking. 
  • Kids, no matter what age or background, are capable of amazing things. 
  • Allow kids to take their shoes off (Seriously – A great deal of research has led Heppell to believe that young boys store their testosterone in their shoes) 
  • Instill a sense of play in your learning community 

A story was shared about a group of bankers in a pub on the Thames on their hands and knees playing with some concrete materials that Stephen had bought with him – a sense of inherent playfulness is part of what it means to be human.

Play, has long been identified as an integral part of childhood development but many educators and parents differentiate between a time for play and a time for learning without seeing the vital connection between the two. Too often, proponents of a more playful environment are shot down by traditionalists that argue that for learning to be rigorous; it should be something that is akin to a chore. Something that is hard work – Dean Groom would tell them to get over it – learning can and should be fun and enjoyable. The moment you invite children to see the world in a playful way, it connects pleasurable emotions to learning, and this is what the back to basics movement should be all about.

Universities and education departments move too slowly – Heppell states, “it’s a pedagogical Egypt out there” – the things we know work well, we can’t make policies for. But it doesn’t matter, the real change is happening in the classrooms.

Brendan Boyle was also super-impressive in talking about design thinking. Brendan is a Partner at IDEO; co-author of The Klutz Book of Inventions; has invented & licensed more than 150 consumer products; Associate Professor at Stanford University’s d. School and Board Member National Institute for Play.

Brendan spoke at length about the importance of multi-disciplinary teams and discovering your creative confidence. In supporting the notion of multi-disciplinary teams, Brendan stated that “I shaped people don’t play well with others. T shaped people have both breadth and depth.” To me, this was the highlight, because if you think about it a majority of important discoveries now and in the future, will be made in the interstices between disciplines – we have almost gone full circle from the great polymath’s of Newton and Da Vinci, to very specific specialization, and now back to the importance of having a breadth of cross-disciplinary knowledge.

Brendan also spoke about the idea of reverse mentoring – having students be a teacher’s mentor – a big shift in mindset for many.

A great start to the conference.

*UpdateA graphic view of the Deep Conversation

Minecraft ‘Inception’ Trailer

Hauppauge HDPVR

Currently running a Hauppauge HDPVR through it’s paces with the sole intent of recording console game play. The HDPVR records video from a video game console or cable TV or satellite set top box. The recordings are made onto a computers hard drive in a compressed H.264 format. It uses component video, S-video or composite video (but not HDMI), and will record at resolutions from 480i to 1080i, at data rates from 1Mbit/s to 13.5Mbit/s. Setup is very simple:


Recording video is very simple too – have your TV switched to PC, load Arcsoft Total Media (that comes with the HDPVR), click capture, switch your TV back to Component and play whatever game you have in your console. Once you have captured enough video, turn the TV back to PC, click stop capture and video will be saved to your hard drive. Using a PS3, the file format output is .M2TS which is a H.264 format that will load directly into your video editing software or to Youtube. This is my first recording. 

The quality isn’t spectacular – it was recorded at 5Mbit/s at 720 x 480. This 20 second video comes out at 17.9 Mb. The computer I have connected at the moment is an Intel i3 3.3Ghz, 4GB of RAM with onboard graphics. I think this is currently the issue – I will test it again by connecting to my AlienWare M14x to see if I can get an increase in quality.

Computer Games & Learning

Computer Games & Learning Handbook – FutureLab

Aimed at teachers and those interested in using games with an educational intent, this handbook aims to provide some useful anchoring points for educators to make sense of the area and to develop practical approaches to the use of computer games as a medium for learning.

Be interested to hear what people think of this handbook.