Today the US Partners in Learning team announced the Finalists for the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum. There are a lot of great projects in that list and I do urge you to not only look though them but share them with other educators you may know who are open to interesting and creative ways to teach with technology. What I have done below is to capture the descriptions of the computer science related entries. Several of them involve Kinect sensors and having students create educational games for younger students. Others involve Kodu as part of a multi disciplinary effort to teach several things in innovative ways. These tend to involve younger students but the use of them in some cases to extend the classroom beyond its four walls is particularly cool. BTW Kinect and Xbox plays an important role in several of the entries that I didn’t copy over for this post. Teachers are finding it very helpful with special needs students. Anywhere you can grab an edge it is worth trying. So take a look at the 10 samples below and then visit Finalists for the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum to read about the rest.

Daphne Bradford & Jacqueline Lopez, Crenshaw High School (Los Angeles)

Project: Gaming for STEM & Health

In an effort to engage students in biology, students were tasked with designing a simple Xbox Kinect Game to educate kids, parents and K-12 school districts about the importance of healthy eating and exercise to help fight the global childhood obesity epidemic and Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, often called non-insulin dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90% - 95% of the 21 million people with diabetes. The game illustrates what happens when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and glucose (sugar) can't get into the body's cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, the body's cells are not able to function properly. The project included student-led game development for the Kinect using the Kinect SDK, Visual Studio, Silverlight, in addition to Microsoft Office tools in the planning and development process.

James Bell & Denise Spence, Dunbar High School (Fort Meyers)

Project: Kinect-the-Dots Motion Capture for 3D Character Animation

Students in Dunbar High Schools Academy for Game Design and Programming Excellence are creating complex video games that enable the educator to teach a variety of higher order thinking skills, such as, strategic thinking, interpretive analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and project execution. This project’s innovation is how the use of Xbox Kinect has helped students to connect the dots with respect to how to bridge the gap between real-life movement and computer generated movement. As a unique and innovative part of the program, the students are able to utilize the Kinect system to solve the problem of creating 3D real time character animation without the major complexities involved in time lining the events. Students enrolled in the program have the opportunity to earn industry certifications such as Microsoft Office Specialist: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, Autodesk Certified Associate: 3DS Max, and Adobe Certified Associate: Photoshop and Flash.

Rodrigo Anadon, Penn High School (Mishawaka)

Project: STEM Gaming Challenge

By using video game development to tackle a problem in STEM, secondary students generate software that is fun, engaging, and educational using software development tools. Students have the option of using Visual Studio, Visual Basic, C++, C# (with the XNA Framework), or a different programming environment to generate a video game that can be incorporated in classes of STEM or other disciplines to engage students in learning. Student-lead teams of four allow for the challenge to incorporate competition, collaboration, and computation among students. Each team consists of a team leader, lead programmer, lead digital artist, and lead audio engineer. Each role must be filled by each student. At the end of the program development cycle, teams will present their STEM game to the class and present their experience in the process.

Brenda Green, Cabin John Middle School (Potomac)

Project: Hide and Seek--Kodu Style!

Middle school students develop and demonstrate programming skills using Kodu to create a unique hide and seek game. Collaborative problem-solving is encouraged to brainstorm ideas, with remote teamwork enabled by Skype. Each student is challenged to fully exploit the software, using keyboard or XBox controller, to fashion a dynamic environment of land and/or water bodies with various Kodu objects and bots. Critical thinking will be required to include elements that allow players to locate and collect items that appear randomly and move to hide behind objects. Points are awarded for collecting objects and subtracted for contacting obstacles within a given time. The project provides sufficient flexibly to engage both the novice and the advanced gamer. Students will document results using Word, PowerPoint or Movie Maker. Success is measured by increased learning performance and includes understanding of mathematical logic, stepwise planning, teamwork, and creative strategies.

Jenifer Conard, Springboro High School (Lebanon)

Project: Going Green at the Grocery

This project provides a solution to achieving paper-less checkout at the grocery. In our partnership with Kroger, we learned about inventory control and point of sale systems. Our intention was to create a mobile application that would be attached to a cart and used as a POS while the customer was shopping. The business process would be stream-lined to allow the customer a "check-out" as they go and the payment and verification would be done by store management at the conclusion of the customer's shopping experience. Students used Microsoft Visual Studio, SQL Server, Access and more to create the application.

Pamela Volakis, West Allegheny High School (Imperial)

Project: Shapes, Letters, and Numbers; XNA Games for the next generation

As enrollment in computer science classes declined this project introduced a new approach to teaching traditional programming concepts combining critical thinking, creativity and business thinking. Prompted by student use of computer gaming, this concept was incorporated into the computer science curriculum. Students worked directly with Preschool and Life Skills teachers to join forces by creating games to teach preschool and life skills students specific skills through student-developed games. Programming students observed and worked with students as “customers” in the preschool and life skills classes. Collaborating increased student communication skills and enabled students to design games meaningful for the preschoolers and other students using Visual Studio, XNA Game Studio and Xbox 360.

Joli Barker, Slaughter Elementary (McKinney)

Project: XBOX 360: the iConnect Project

Using Kodu gaming, gaming vernacular and concepts, 2nd grade students utilized ePals, Edmodo, Skype, and Microsoft Office, PhotoStory, Skype, and Xbox 360 to participate in a global literary book study and multimedia festival. The class connected with over 8 classrooms across the world who read the Magic Tree House books with us and participated in creating multimedia reports and Kodu games to extend and express their learning. When the book series took us to a new country, the classroom from which the book was set "hosted" the Q&A for that book via Skype. The overall result was an extraordinary literary experience that transcended reading comprehension into a cultural study and a global connection that far surpassed the original goal.

Michael Braun, Rainer Beach High School (Seattle)

Project: Exploration of Computer Science on Smartphones

In collaboration with Rainier Beach High School, Southshore Middle School, Seattle Public Schools, and Microsoft TEALS, our class is designed to teach students app programming. By using Windows Phones and the Windows Phone SDK students learn how to create apps for a phone with TouchDevelop. There are no separate PCs in this course. Students develop scripts to perform various tasks similar to regular apps. Students use TouchDevelop to install, run, edit, and publish scripts.

Caleb Gentry, Sequim Middle School (Sequim)

Project: 3D Game Design with Kodu

Using Microsoft Kodu to enable 3D video game design with middle school students has created an increased interest in game design and programming, especially in girls. Combining scientific information (e.g., types of volcanoes) and through their use of design and programming skills they create a STEM-themed game they can showcase while generating interest in computer programming.

Kathy Wright, Eastlake High School (Sammamish)

Project: .Net Gadgeteer - Controlling the Flow

Using the .Net Gadgeteer modules and Microsoft's C# programming language, students learn and practice critical thinking skills to create a solution to a real-world engineering problem: how to safely manage traffic flow through a busy high school parking lot. Students research and identify situations where colored lights are used to stop and start traffic such as crosswalks, bridge toll booths, air fields and road ramps for merging cars. Students select an engineering focus (traffic entry/exit speed, improving pedestrian safety or reducing the carbon footprint of stopped idling engines) and build a working model using the Gadgeteer LED modules. Students have had no prior programming experience or use of the Gadgeteer modules.