The News

LEGO Universe open to more beta testers

LEGO is creating LEGO Universe, a massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, which is being advertised as the ultimate LEGO play experience.   During development and testing of the game, it is being opened up for periods of time for beta testing - that means early access before the game is available to the public! 

Follow the link below to see if you can become a beta tester.  If chosen, you could become one of the first LEGO minifigures to play and build in the first Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) for LEGO fans!

Link to the LEGO Universe website

Be sure to check back here for news updates on when it will be released and more information as we review it.


National Robotics Week

The first annual National Robotics Week is April 10-18, 2010.

The purpose of National Robotics Week is to:

  • Celebrate the US as a leader in robotics technology development
  • Educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society, both now and in the future
  • Advocate for increased funding for robotics technology research and development
  • Inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related fields

Why is robotics important?

  • Robotics technology is a growing industry which creates high-tech jobs in the US
  • Robotics technologies are helping to improve healthcare, national defense, homeland security, energy, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, agriculture, education, consumer goods, and many other sectors
  • Robotics provides an exciting, hands-on way for students to learn Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Dennis Hong: My seven species of robot

At TEDxNASA, Dennis Hong introduces seven award-winnning, all-terrain robots -- like the humanoid, soccer-playing DARwIn and the cliff-gripping CLIMBeR -- all built by his team at RoMeLa, Virginia Tech. Watch to the end to hear the five creative secrets to his lab's incredible technical success.

Click here to watch the interview.


5 Teaching Tips for Professors — From Video Games

from The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2010, p. A15

Learning is no game on today's college campuses. It's serious work that many students dread. Yet when those same students play video games like World of Warcraft, they happily spend hours on difficult tasks, and actually learn quite a bit in the process.

Granted, what those gamers learn is how to cast spells and fell dragons, which hardly counts toward a college degree. But Constance Steinkuehler argues that there's a good model of teaching in those popular amusements.

Ms. Steinkuehler, an assistant professor of educational communication and technology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, studies video gamers. In one recent case study, she noted how players in a chat room had used complex mathematics to argue for a certain plan of attack against some unruly beast.

"People were actually—no kidding—gathering data on things like the game monster's behavior, putting it in an Excel spreadsheet, and building little mathematical models to try to beat the monster," she told me recently. The game teaches complex problem solving and collaborative learning, Ms. Steinkuehler argues.

She is certainly not the first scholar to go down that road. But she is part of what I would argue is a new, more nuanced view of the possibilities of games in higher education. It is a view that contains specific lessons about what works and what does not.

Call it the third level of video games inside the ivory tower.

Level 1 could be called the Edutainment Years. The earliest educational video games leaned far more toward entertainment than education. Many people who spent hours as kids playing The Oregon Trail or Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego? now have no recollection of the factoids taught by the games.

The second level brought the label Serious Games, with scholars designing their own video games about the weightiest of topics and social issues. Award-winning titles include Darfur Is Dying, and Global Conflicts: Palestine.

The problem is that many of the games aren't much fun. That was the complaint of Will Wright, designer of the best-selling Sims games, when I sat down with him last summer to talk about the state of educational games. "Because they're serious subjects," he said, "there's a tendency to treat them too seriously—to say, Let's not be too playful or flippant about this." And isn't fun what makes games attractive to students in the first place?

Hence the need to advance to Level 3, which could be called Smart Gaming. Part of Smart Gaming is recognizing that games are often not the best tools in an educational setting, but when they are, they should carefully balance substance and sport.

At that level, it's possible to deconstruct video games, looking for takeaways that professors can try in their own teaching, whether or not they ever pick up a joystick or click "play."

Here are five lessons I gleaned from recent talks with several leading researchers involved in education and gaming: 

read the entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why STEM is important

STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are education topics critical to keeping America competitive in our global economy.  Using robotics in school or enrichment programs has been shown to increase children's interest in STEM topics; once they become intersted, these students want to learn - not because they have to, but because it's fun!

Illinois has issued a status report on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education and states Illinois’ future success in the global marketplace is linked directly to our educational system.  The report measures how Illinois is doing on key indicators of economic competitiveness in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.  Keeping Illinois Competitive identifies five challenges:

1.Academic achievement in the STEM subjects does not prepare all students for college success or living-wage jobs.
2.Curricula are not aligned to 21st century knowledge and skills.
3.Many math and science teachers lack qualifications in their subject areas.
4.Investment in research and retaining STEM professionals has declined.
5.All citizens and workers need stronger skills in the STEM subjects.

Read more about STEM in Illinois.

STEM Education Coalition
The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U. S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM related programs.

The STEM Education Coalition is composed of advocates from over 1,000 diverse groups representing all sectors of the technological workforce – from knowledge workers, to educators, to scientists, engineers, and technicians. The participating organizations of the STEM Education Coalition are dedicated to ensuring quality STEM education at all levels.
Read more about the STEM Education Coalition


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