Make your kids hate chores even more with HighScore House!

HighScore House is an online startup that offers to ‘gamify’ your children’s chores. They do chores. They get points (‘stars’). They spend those points on rewards (‘eat ice cream for breakfast’, ‘play video games for 30 mins’). I could just leave it at that, but my bloody-mindedness compels me to point out several disturbing things here.

First off, the obvious. Extrinsic motivation (like the clear ‘reward’ structure created here) does not help me to ‘love chores’, as HighScore House suggests. It makes me love rewards, and tells me that chores are obviously horrible detestable things whose only redeemable feature is the reward I will get for doing them. Two problems with this are ‘hedonic acclimation’ that tells us I will need ever greater rewards to motivate me (as Slash wrote, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it, so the little got more and more”) and the fact that this type of extrinsic motivation actually extinguishes behaviour when it is removed – so when I finally move out of home and no one gives me an ice cream for cleaning my room, well, that’s the end of room cleaning!

Secondly, I can’t decide whether I am more concerned with the way it reinforces parental power (instead of imbuing children with a sense of responsibility), or the way it almost releives them of having to take responsibility for their own power by allowing them to defer to ‘the system’. “Sorry, little Johnny, no desert for you – computer says no.”

Thirdly, the team behind HighScore House compare their effort to Zynga games (Farmville and the like). Emulating Zynga is definitely a success strategy, but there seems to be a missing piece in how the brilliantly manipulative mechanics of Zynga games translates to HighScore House. Zynga have never been foolish enough to include ‘real world’ activity in their games, they have succeeded through;

  • play based on small tasks that build incremental addiction
  • managing the repetition to play to create habitual behaviour
  • enabling the creation of ‘owned spaces’ that players then give emotional value
  • massively leveraging social networks for propagation and normalisation

Sadly, HighScore House does none of this – their invocation of Zynga appears to be lip service only.

Okay, so the thing is set up by four guys who look like their mum probably still does their washing. And it’s not like they’re an established outfit receiving huge accolades and support. But they have been funded by VCs, which could be taken as a concerning (by utterly unsurprising) sign of the times. On a more positive note, perhaps it speaks to how much opportunity there is in the space for people who actually do it well. We shall see.

Sorry guys, ChoreWars and Farmville both do it better, and HighScore House is not a beautiful melding of the two.

Welcome to WordPress

So, regular readers (yes, I jest) may notice some changes around the place. Over the past week I have been (somewhat tediously) moving my various personal blogs from TypePad into WordPress. This has been a long time coming as I have always been a TypePad fan. In the end, the need to create Exemplar content in WordPress just seemed to make it the obvious thing to do. At the same time, it seemed a good opportunity to integrate the various sparse blogs I have been maintaining into one reasonably healthy one.

Here then, in one easy-to-read volume (and categorised for your clicking pleasure) are…

  • (my personal stuff)
  • (my professional stuff)
  • The Adventures of a Mild Mannered Ad Man in the Land of MTeach, Primary (a journal of my teaching degree)
  • various academic posts over the years, including papers I have written and chapters of the thesis-that-never-was
  • and the beginnings of ‘Evidence Based Dad’, a blog I really did think would have been wonderful, had I found the time

Thanks for reading. Stick around for more stuff to come!

Are you looking for Exemplar Learning?

If you happened to be in the audience this afternoon and are looking for – my apologies. Unfortunately the site is still ‘under construction’.

To make up for the disappointment, why not visit our Exemplar Learning Facebook page, make friends, and that way you’ll be the first to know when we have a proper site up.

Thanks for listening!

– brett

Motivation in Education – after Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive’

After reading Drive by Daniel Pink, I thought it would be worth making some observations about his thoughts on motivation – particularly since he explicitly applies them to education in a short section late in the book (p.174-184).

In essence, Pink has written an excellent book about new thinking on human motivation. He is what my supervisor Gillian would have refered to as a ‘populist synthesiser’. What he does is takes a whole slew of research and theory, and packages it up nice and neatly for non-specialists. Its a term I don’t use in a negative fashion – I think writers like Pink (as well as Po Bronson, Steven Levitt and others) play an important role in mainstreaming learnings that would otherwise remain the domain of academic specialists.

In short, Pink has some recommendations for educators, based on the observation that intrinsic motivation is a powerful force – and that autonomy, mastery and purpose play important roles in creating intrinsic motivation. His recommendations are essentially;

  • give meaningful homework (re. autonomy, mastery and purpose)
  • set aside time to tackle projects that the children decide on
  • have students produce their own report cards
  • don’t link doing chores to receiving pocket money
  • offer praise for effort, in private, when deserved
  • provide the larger context for work being done
  • have students teach other students

I have to say, all that sounds pretty sensible and reasonable to me. Nothing there was a surprise – and I guess I wonder how much of a surprise it would be to most people… and hence perhaps how utterly out of touch I am!

Pink also suggests looking at unschooling, Sudbury, Big Picture Learning, the Tinkering School, Puget Sound, and Montessori. I’m intrigued at the reference to Montessori rather than Reggio Emilia, and wonder if that’s an awareness thing.

One thing that did strike me was a comment in one of the early recommendations, about creating projects driven by student interest (and we are really talking about student-directed learning and project learning… nothing particularly break through!) He suggests we “[s]et aside an entire school day… and ask kids to come up with a problem to solve or a project to tackle.” (p. 176) A day? An entire day? Is that really how bad things are in schools?! One can only hope not in all schools.


Life of George: LEGO + iPhone App = a weekend’s worth of geeky fun

This weekend I spent an undisclosed number of hours playing Life of George, LEGO’s foray into iPhone-enhanced gaming. The premise is simple: buy the boxed set of 144 coloured bricks, then download a free app that presents objects which you build out of bricks within the allotted time. Fast, accurate construction is rewarded with points that are calculated when you use the iPhone to capture an image of your work.

The game is pleasingly distracting – on the difficult setting it kept me engaged long enough to complete the twelve levels. The context is straightfroward – George is a a typical office worker (think Dilber but better travelled), who takes photos to chronicle his adventures. Each page of his photo album constitutes a level, and challenges you to construct ten LEGO objects from George’s photographs. Complete each level and unlock the next (or play two player, taking turns to build as quickly as you can).

Life of George demonstrates the potential of mobile devices to ‘close the loop’ with physical toys, games and equipment. Having the device set the tasks and assess the performance while the blocks provide the means of actual ‘play’ uses both parts of the system to their best advantage, creating a seamess hybrid real/virtual experience. Having said that, where the game falls down is in the broader ‘gameplay’ – the premise of building George’s photos is simple, but not particularly engaging. The gameplay does not actually advance George’s life at all – the player has no impact on the ‘story’. To make matters worse, after twelve levels the heroic adventurer is rewarded with a screen that simply says ‘more levels coming soon’. In the age of Donkey Kong that would have been acceptable, we expect a little more narrative resolution these days.

Arriving around the same time as Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, Life of George starts to show us how mainstream the ‘real virtuality’ of play will become – particularly when we leverage existing play platforms like LEGO and well established digital platforms like the iPhone. In the near future will see a lot more of this, specifically I think that we can soon expect…

  • Something for the kids. George is targetted at… well guys like George (which I am guessing is how LEGO understand their older geek audience). It’s 14+ not for difficulty but because seven years olds might not see the relevance of building a martini from the office party, or a copy of Munch’s Scream.
  • The Life of Citizen Cane. Even if the gameplay is limited, we should be able to be more immersed in a story. The Final Fantasy franchise has finely honed the craft of gluing very limited gameplay together with long, meaningful cut-scenes – surely LEGO can learn a little from that.
  • Making a real difference. The really exciting part will be when the play activity (building objects with bricks) actually integrates with the storyline in a meaningful way. You want to get over to the other side of the river? Biuld a bridge. You want to woo the beautiful maiden? Build a rose. As our actions become more meaningful within a narrative, and as that narrative becomes one that we feel we have a stake in… well, I know I’ll be rushing out to by the next installment.

The Difficulty with being a Generalist Dilettante

A while back, it suddenly occurred to me that it's been quite some time since I gave my CV a good thorough update. Not that I need to do so for any reason (relax guys, promise…), but it has becoming an increasingly confusing thing to try and do over the years. In some ways I envy people who have stayed with one role, one employer, or just one career – surely it makes one's existence so much easier to articulate.

For my own amusement more than anything, I sat down to try and write the most succinct resume I could. I'm sure I have forgotten things…



Andersen Consulting (Accenture)

  • Consultant (Developer, Team Leader)
  • Senior Consultant (Business Analyst)

Harlequin Talent

  • Director (Partner)

APL Digital

  • Developer
  • Producer
  • Senior Producer
  • Executive Producer
  • Director of Special Projects

Beyond Interactive

  • Director of Strategy

Digital Strategist

  • Director (Owner)


  • Executive Producer
  • Director of Strategy
  • Creative Director

Naked Communications

  • Communications Director
  • Digital Evangelist
  • Brand Strategy Director
  • Director of Technology and Innovation



  • Bachelor of Science (Computer Science & Psychology) – University of NSW
  • Master of Communication (Public Communication) – UTS
  • PhD (New Media & Cultural Studies) – University of NSW (discontinued)
  • Master of Teaching (Primary) – University of Sydney (in progress)



  • Tutor, UTS – Public Communications
  • Course Convenor, Center for Continuing Education – Email Marketing
  • Course Convenor, AdSchool – Digital Creative



  • TEDxYouth@ Sydney Conference, Executive Producer
  • Primary Teachers' Network, Founding Committee Member



  • 'Building an Electronic Repertoire of Contention', Social Movement Studies
  • 'On the Production of Creative Subjectivity', Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Digital Interactive Media in Entertainment and Arts (DIMEA)
  • 'Digital Technologies of Connection :Modelling Individual and Societal Impact', Proceedings of the 2004 Annual Conference of The Australian Sociological Association (TASA)


I look forward to discovering what it looks like in another ten years!

Naked Director of Technology & Innovation (getting back to my /roots)

Well, it's been an awfully long time since I've posted here hasn't it?! And that's probably because I've been concentrating on other things – mostly brand strategy, studying teaching, or this little guy. And all that has been just swell. However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit there is still a geek firmly buried in my psyche who likes the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into emerging tech.

It's that inner geek that was particularly excited to start transitioning into a new role here at Naked, as Director of Technology and Innovation. While we are still working through exactly what that looks like, I'm thrilled to be able to focus more energy on bringing innovation, emerging technology, and world-class geek-partners to Naked – and to letting the world know about the great work we are doing.

Watch this space!

The relevance of Freire’s ‘critical transitivity’ to primary education in Australia

Freire Reading Paolo Freire ('Education for Critical Consciousness') for the first time, I was keen to see what relevance a Brazilian political agitator would have on contemporary Australian children’s education. ‘Education as the Practice of Freedom’ is a piece that explains and documents Freire’s project to address poor adult literacy in Brazil pre- the 1964 military coup. It is both a fascinating background on the cultural challenges Brazil faced (and continues to face) as a nation, as well as a discussion of an innovative literacy program.

At the core of the literacy program was its politicisation. In a nation undergoing the upheavals of early democracy, where literacy was a prerequisite to vote, any literacy program would necessarily be political. Freire made his doubly so by situating contemporary culture and politics at the centre of his program and using engagement with these issues as a driver to build literacy skills. Not dissimilar to the advocates of ‘quality children’s literature’, he believed that literacy was best achieved when grounded in content that was of interest and importance to the learner – and what better than the politics of the nation.

In discussing the history of Brazil, Freire identifies the need for people to become engaged with their environment (he is speaking politically for the most part, but the lesson can be broader), rather than passive ‘objects’ on which the environment acts. As ‘subjects’ with agency whose consciousness is ‘transitive’ (), he identifies two distinct options. The first is ‘naïve transitivity’, where we engage with the world, but is simplistic ways, without argument and discussion, following established patterns unquestioningly. The second is ‘critical transitivity’, a state of consciousness which is “characterized by depth in the interpretation of problems; by the substitution of causal principles for magical explanations; by the testing of one’s ‘findings’ and by openness to revision; by the attempt to avoid distortion when perceiving problems and to avoid preconceived notions when analysing them; by refusing to transfer responsibility; by rejecting passive positions; by soundness of argumentation; by the practice of dialogue rather than polemics; by receptivity to the new for reasons beyond mere novelty and by good sense not to reject the old just because it is old” (p.14)

What parent, teacher, or concerned citizen could argue against critical transitivity as a meaningful outcome for primary education – both as a civics objective, and far beyond. A way of engaging that “is characteristic of authentically democratic regimes and corresponds to highly permeable, interrogative, restless and dialogic forms of life” (p. 14).

Freire strived to create “a literacy program which would be an introduction to the democratization of culture, a program with men (sic) as its Subjects rather than as patient recipients, a program which itself would be an act of creation, capable of releasing other creative acts, one in which students would develop the impatience and vivacity which characterize search and invention.” (p. 39) Well, I have to say, if it sounded suitable for illiterate Brazilian farm workers in the 1950s, it sound equally relevant for early primary to me! “Acquiring language does not involve memorizing sentences, words, or syllables – lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe – but rather an attitude of creation and recreation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context.” (p. 43)

Obviously, the challenge facing Freire was dramatically different from that facing a primary school teacher in Australia today. For one thing, working with adults who have developed oral literacy over many years  is not the same as primary students who are still building oral skills. Additionally, the highly phonetic nature of Portugese made it a more straightforward educational challenge. Having said that, his technique of contextualising literacy activity on a broader cultural context, and operating in facilitated ‘culture circles’ (abandoning the idea of ‘schools’ as too traditionally passive) offer valuable inspiration. Also worth considering is his comment on the difficulty of finding and preparing people who would deliver his culturally rich and empowering curriculum. “Teaching the purely technical aspects of the procedure is not difficult; the difficulty lies rather in the creation of a new attitude – that of dialogue, so absent in our own education and upbringing.” (p. 45) Suddenly Brazil doesn’t seem so far away after all.


Kids who play in the bush have greater environmental awareness (duh)

"Our study indicates that participating in wild nature activities before age 11 is a particularly potent pathway toward shaping both environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood," says environmental psychologist Nancy Wells of Cornell University as the result of a 2000 subject research effort.

Not like it's surprising, but nice to have it empirically supported – get young'uns out into the bush and they see the big picture later on. Importantly, the activities that achieve this outcome are not mandated, organised things (like Scouts), but more 'free-play' in nature. Read more…