Category Archives: Uncategorized

Now on Teachers Pay Teachers – us!

nowontpt-01Yes, it’s true. Right here.

Why? Impact, respect, and revenue. Given that lots of people use Teachers Pay Teachers, having our games and lessons on the site means that they’ll get more eyes and more use. That use part is important, as our central goal is always effective positive impact. With a little luck, eyes and use will translate into respect, respect will translate into revenue, and we’ll take another step forward towards financial sustainability (sustainability also being an important ingredient for effective positive impact).

What’s up? Right now, just Fire Tag, which is up for free. Teachers Pay Teachers requires every seller to post at least one free item, and that’s fine by us, as we’d always planned to leave Fire Tag in the public domain. In the next few weeks, we’ll be finishing a major revision of the Systems and Ecosystems lesson plans. When that’s done, we’ll post it to TpT as well, but as a pay-what-you-want product, in keeping with our commitment to equity.

Published: Fire Tag v1.03

firetag_promo_plusplusBased on feedback from IndieCade players and from friendly teacher-collaborators, we’ve made some modest improvements to Fire Tag, and published v1.03 (here).

For the detail oriented, the changelog:

  • Deleted rule #8. Rain/water no longer has any effect on Fire. During play, rainstorms often want to pour water on fire to somehow slow it down, and that does make intuitive sense, but allowing this interaction muddied the ideas within the simulation, making it harder for players to discover the core messages about fire and landscapes. So, Rule #8 is out.
  • Hats now have uniform shape. When each role had a hat of a different shape, it sure looked fun. However, the relatively complex shapes were slow to cut. When cutting by hand, it took a lot of twisting and turning, and when cutting by laser, you had to reset the machine for each different hat type. This was all a big pain in the rear for whoever had the job of doing prep for the game. To make the game more accessible, we’ve simplified the hat shapes, and use the same shape for each hat. Game prep should now be much faster.
  • Hats now have more distinctive colors and designs. The new, simpler shapes made us feel a little sad. So, to make sure that each role had a distinctly different looking hat, we took some time to update the hat-art, and give them more distinctive colors and textures.
  • Revised all the words. In the rules/lessons document, we rewrote the text to be more clear and concise. We then added a bunch of small notes to help future GM’s avoid some potential pitfalls in both gameplay and in post-game discussions.

@ Playcrafting Los Angeles

Mindful Mammoth will be showing games at the Playcrafting Los Angeles Inaugural Expo.This Saturday, we’ll be sharing The Puzzle of Life and Fire and Flora at the Playcrafting Los Angeles Inaugural Expo.

We’ve never done one of these things before, so I’m not sure what to expect. Apparently, it’s aiming to be a fun gaming free-for-all based around the work of local indie developers. Visitors buy a ticket (as to a carnival) then have a good time playing games – with free pizza for everyone!

It seems to be a sizable thing in New York, San Francisco, and Boston – but this will be its first time in Los Angeles. If you’re around this weekend, you should come by! You can find tickets on EventBrite here. Tickets are cheap, but you can use discount code PlayLA to get 50% off.

Photos from IndieCade 2016

So, IndieCade happened! We ran Fire Tag for several hours on both Friday and Saturday, and had over 100 people come to play and learn! We took some photos. The best are below:




To add snaz and class to our IndieCade exhibition of Fire Tag, we decided to up the quality of our hats. With the help of some friends, and the good folks at The Build Shop, we now have 100+ top-quality Fire Tag hats – enough that all of our Saturday players should be able to go home with a hat!

Fire Tag Expanded!

goingtoindiecade_plusplusLast week, IndieCade festival organizers invited us to run additional games of Fire Tag on the Friday morning of IndieCade to help inform and inspire a visiting group of about a hundred 8th-10th graders. Of course, we said yes! After working out a few small issues of time and materials, we’re now confirmed for Friday morning. This will be a great opportunity to promote the understanding and appreciation of science, nature, and life through play!

Fire Tag is coming to IndieCade ’16!

goingtoindiecade-01For the second time in two years – which is twice in a row – one of our games has been chosen as an official selection for IndieCade! This means that Fire Tag, our live-action game/simulation of California fire ecology, will be featured at this year’s IndieCade!

Fire Tag is one of nine games that will be featured in the Big Games part of the festival. Our timeslot is on Saturday October 15, 11AM – 1:30 PM. A game of Fire Tag generally takes 20-30 minutes, so we’ll aim to run five games across that timeslot, every half-hour on the 0’s and 30’s.

This is again a big honor, and a great opportunity.  We’ll get serious face time with both publishers and with the public, helping us to improve our visibility. More importantly, IndieCade will be a great opportunity to advance our mission – to promote the understanding and appreciation of science, nature, and life – by sharing Fire Tag with the world!


A Sunday @ SAMO: Photos and Lessons

A week ago Sunday, I brought The Puzzle of Life to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (a.k.a. SAMO). The end result was fun, smiles, and several useful lessons learned. On my end, there were three useful take-home messages:

1) That The Puzzle of Life is a great outreach tool. I knew this, but confirmation is always nice.

2) Permanent Crayola markers aren’t actually that permanent. This is an unwelcome surprise when you’re trying to help kids create fun and lasting take-home science-art.

3) Marketing is (almost) everything. This is a very, very harsh truth. It hurts every time I’m reminded of it, but that hurt is a useful discomfort.

A little more detail:

SmilingColoringbookArtistThe morning program took place at the Satwiwa Native American Cultural Center in the western end of SAMO (map). We had three participants: two kids and one adult. After a quick intro, I offered them each a choice of three challenges: coloring in our Yellowstone Coloringbook (here), searching out solutions to The Puzzle, or crafting brand-new Puzzle pieces to tell the story of Otters, Urchins, and Hidden Forests (here).

One young person chose the coloring book, worked on it for a while with some success, then headed out for a walk with her father. Kudos to them both for their adventurous spirit!

HappyStorycrafterThe other young person chose the storycrafting. He very thoughtfully followed the instructions in our guide, created the necessary storytelling-pieces, then told the story twice: once to me, and once to the rangers. Which was awesome!

Watching him work, I noticed that the ink from his markers was beading up on the surface of the blank Puzzle pieces. We set them aside, but even after 20 min of drying time, the marker colors would wipe right off the pieces. There was no way that his artwork would survive a trip home in a pocket or a bag. I felt terrible, and apologized to him for this. He replied, “No problem, I can always remake them at home.” With those words, he proved himself to be far more even-keeled than I. Wow.

BrittanyPuzzling02His mother chose to work with The Puzzle. She rather quickly and easily found the first solution, so I offered her the silver-level pieces, and challenged her to find a more difficult solution. This was indeed a challenging challenge, but with a little help, she was successful in that too.

Later in the afternoon, I moved east to the King Gillette Ranch Visitor center, smack-dab in the center of SAMO. On the way over, I stopped at the craft store to find some better markers. Experiments showed that Sharpie markers had wonderfully bright colors, and had ink that stuck quickly and tightly to the surface of our blank Puzzle pieces. The Sharpie markers were also three times the price of the Crayola ones. While the price was unfortunate, the Sharpies were obviously necessary, so I traded in my Crayolas for Sharpies.

TimNRazsa01Arriving at KGR, I found that the outside temperature was well over 100 °F, so the rangers and I decided to hold the afternoon program inside the Visitor Center. We setup in their media room – tables, chairs, markers, and Puzzles. To our small, sad surprise, when 2:30 rolled around, the VC was empty. So we sat down to talk.

About a month ago, SAMO switched to a new calendar system. They ditched their printed quarterly magazine, and moved to an all-online format. This new system has two calendars. The first was easy-to find, but unattractive, and missing most of the events from the past month (including the two Puzzle events). The second calendar was beautiful and complete, but hidden, and only roughly in chronological order. As the rangers and I talked, some visitors walked in, asked about getting a paper copy of the now-extinct Outdoors, and walked out sad.

Clearly, this new calendar system contributed to our disappointingly small attendance. Clearly, continuing resource shortages at the NPS are causing harm to everyone. The people at the NPS are generally highly-skilled, but skill only takes you so far. At some point, when the workload gets too far beyond the reasonable, important things fall through the cracks – things like this calendar system migration. And everyone suffers.

Of course, part of it was my fault too. Ranger Razsa and I reviewed some of the many events that she’d hosted over the past six months. What made them successful? What drew in visitors? We concluded that my small Puzzle even blurb was only adequate. With a different picture and a different title, we might have been able to catch more people.

The punchline was then that marketing matters. The Puzzle of Life is a great outreach tool, as are the Santa Monica Mountains themselves. However, to get people to engage with these ideas and these places, you first have to get people in the door. That first step is marketing, and it’s a problem for everyone in education and outreach – myself, the NPS … everyone.

Storycrafting 101

StorycrafterGuide01_Kelp_2016.08.08_v1.00-01Now available on the maker’s portion of our website – The Puzzle of Life Storycrafter’s Guide #1: Urchins, Otters, and Hidden Forests! Two of the most effective (and fun) outreach tools are storytelling and construction. This storycrafter’s guide combines the two. With step-by-step illustrations, this guide shows how to craft four new types of Puzzle pieces, and shows how to use those pieces to tell the terrifying true story of Urchins, Otters, and Hidden Forests! Pdf here.

Over time, we plan to slowly expand this series, publishing guides for true stories of science, nature, and life! Our current plans include stories about New Zealand Mudsnails, the history and development of cities, the possible zombie apocalypse, and more!

@ SAMO on August 14!

Excerpted from the SAMOFund event calendar.

Excerpted from the SAMOFund event calendar.

Two weeks from today, on Sunday August 14, we are partnering with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to host two outreach programs based on The Puzzle of Life. All are welcome, so gather your friends and family, then come and join us!

Our official event blurb:

Want to learn about nature, have some fun, and exercise your artistic skills? Then come and join us for some serious fun. We’ll start by getting hands-on with The Puzzle of Life, a beautiful tool for learning about the structure and function of ecosystems. Can you solve The Puzzle of Life? Next, we’ll show you how to use the Puzzle to tell true stories about real-world ecosystems. Lastly, and most importantly, we’ll give you the opportunity to create your own version of the Puzzle, one that you can take home and use to tell your own stories of science, nature, and life!

In the morning, from 10:00AM – 11:30 AM, we’ll be sharing this program in Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center at Rancho Sierra Vista (map), in the western end of the park. Later that afternoon, we’ll share that same program at the King Gillette Visitor Center (map), 2:30PM to 4:00 PM, for folks in the other end of the park.

Hope to see you there!