Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Stories of Learning with Portal 2

Since its launch in June 2012, Valve’s free initiative Teach With Portals has brought Puzzle Maker to over 2,500 teachers nationwide, it aims to help teachers use the game Portal 2 to engage students in learning STEM. If you miss some part of the news, here is an introduction about “Teach With Portals”. By converting its level-building software, Hammer Editor, into a much easier to use interface called Puzzle Maker, Valve has made it possible for anyone to design challenging Portal rooms. Teachers can sign up for the ‘Steam for Schools‘ beta program, which offers a limited version of the popular Steam gaming platform that hosts the free version of Portal 2 and the Puzzle Maker.

Cameron Pittman, a high school teacher teaching Physics and Chemistry in LEAD Academy, has created a blog “Physics With Portals”  to share his journey into teaching Physics with Portals. Why teach with Portals? He wrote:

Physics classrooms are behind the times. At school, kids use 1990s technology (if they use technology at all) but then go home and play ultra realistic games. [Sidenote: if you clicked on the first link in this sentence, you found PhET, run by CU Boulder, which I actually use all the time. I don’t mean to bash PhET at all because it’s actually awesome and shows some great examples of physics simulators. They’re perfect in many cases for their ease and utility in the classroom. But there’s a big difference between them and modern games.] There’s a huge disconnect between what kids are exposed to and used to in terms of technology and what we give them in school. It’s no wonder that students are falling behind in science.

But we can adapt….

physics with portals

David Hunter, a middle school English teacher in Bellevue, WA, inspires his students to perform literary analysis using video games. Check out his 7th grade Literary Analysis lesson plan.

Lisa Castaneda is a math teacher of grades 5-8 in Washington State. These 2  lesson plans focused on geometry and statistics are from her :

Geometry Scavenger Hunt has 4th and 5th graders finding, placing and describing objects to demonstrate their understanding of geometry.

Forget Aperture, this is MY test chamber shows 6th grade students how statistics can be used to answer questions about gameplay and game design.

Scott Hawley, PhD, is a professor of physics at Belmont University, where he leads their Society of Physics Students.  The group recently outlined the Physics of Portal 2, using the game to demonstrate a variety of physics principles. Scott’s written up two great lesson plans for high school students about Portal “Bouncing” and Oscillations and Simple Harmonic Motion and Hooke’s Law. Scott’s lessons show students how to compare and contrast oscillation behavior as it adheres to the game world’s laws of physics versus those of our own.

Lisa Castaneda is a teacher from Washington State, Geoff is a 24 year-old web and game developer. Lisa and Geoff got to talking and brainstormed a lesson plan where students use geometric reasoning skills to “fix” Portal 2 Puzzle Maker levels that aren’t quite playable as-is. Students must work within various constraints to recreate, then modify the design of these levels so a player can successfully reach the exit. There are multiple paths to success, allowing for creativity and discovery. Here’s their take on engaging Eighth Graders in mathematical practices and geometric principles with The Broken Rooms.

Valve Portals 2

Several teams from Sammamish High School as part of the Starting Strong summer program took on the challenge of creating lesson plans for 8th and 9th graders that used the Portal 2 Puzzle Maker. Projects ranged from teaching velocity and geometry to atomic models. Over a six day period, the students designed a plan for teaching their concept, used the Puzzle Maker to produce a lesson or series of lessons, tested and collected data from their lesson, and created a presentation of their findings and what they learned…

You can read these stories on the blog of Teach With Portals, and the interesting ways to use Portal 2 will probably go on and on. Why Portal 2? Its physics simulator is powerful, accessible, free and easily modifiable. In other words, it’s perfect for the classroom. (detailed explanation is here)


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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