Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gamification is not Capitulation

Greetings World-

I know it's been several days since I spoke my mind, but I was on vacation and enjoying the summer weather.  But now it's time to get back to sharing my thoughts.  Today's topic:  Gamification.  If that's a new term to you (which it still sorta is to me), here's the wikipedia entry:


Or if you feel like some light reading, Amazon has this book for $2.99 on the Kindle:

I'm currently working on two books:

I've kept an eye on Twitter recently and noticed that there is some opposition to this idea of turning learning into more of a game-like experience.  Using the mechanics of something children understand to teach them makes sense.  I've blogged about my ideas using experience points and leveling in the past and so I will stick to my guns in believing in this idea.  

I think to some this idea of rewarding students for their work in these ways reveals the timeless differences in pedagogical thought.  For  example, remnants of an "Old Guard" may not have the desire to implement something like gamification or game theory into their classrooms.  They also may not have the experience or background with modern  video games that would allow them to be comfortable with such an idea.  

For others, rewarding students for "doing what they are supposed to be doing" is just against their principles.  These teachers usually use phrases such as "when I was in school" or "when I was a kid" or "I wasn't taught to teach like that."

Others will misuse this type of thinking.  Gamification isn't really an excuse to play Call of Duty instead of talking about World War II.  It's using the concepts that make up the basis of the video gaming experience in the classroom.

This is not "giving in" to students.  This is not lowering expectations.  To me, it's actually raising them.  The days of drill and kill, strict discipline, doing homework because the student is supposed to, paying attention because the student is supposed to, and not having to worry about engagement are gone.  They've gone the way of the 3.5 inch floppy, chalk boards, and the card catalog.  

I equate my limited by growing concept of gamification to teaching diverse students.  Students learning to speak English would suffer if taught only in English.  What if we taught students with visual impairments how to read only by pointing at letters?  What if we taught students with learning disabilities exactly like every other student, with no modifications?  We think outside the box, we innovate, and we modify the content and/or the experience for students who need it in order to achieve.

That's all gamification is... just on a bigger scale.

Video gaming requires a set of skills.  That may be a stretch to some but is.  Problem solving, planning ahead, and critical thinking can play a part in some (not all) games.  Additionally, there is a tangible reward, a recognition of the achievements made.  Gamifiying your classroom to provide incentives like this creates overt competition, and may actually lead to better results.  

But the bottom line is making the classroom into something more readily understood and digested by students is a good idea.  It's like tapping into a special dialect of the kid language, the kid experience.  While it may not be for everyone, gamification is for me.  

But that's because I speak that language.  I'm 27 going on about 15.

More to come on this topic down the road.  I should get a badge for this post...  because it makes me happy and would cost absolutely nothing.  That's another thing.  Create these badges or awards digitally... and they're FREE.  

Kid-friendly and budget-friendly...  I hope a superintendent reads this, and then hires me.  I'm 6 months from being able to be a technology director with my administrative certificate :)

Now if we could only gamify grading...

I'm out.

Mr. J.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why Part of Me Chooses to Still Reside in Middle School

Greetings Universe-

A pretty solid Twitter chat got the ball rolling on this one.  Hats off to #bcedchat as its maiden voyage was a success.  I should have smashed a bottle of champagne over my computer or something.  Props to @MsVictoriaOlson and @brynmw for getting the ball rolling.  Continue standing on guard for thee and and educating for all thy sons and so on.  Well done.

Anyways, in the back channels of tonight's chat, another idea surfaced.  Old Twitter friend @logan_ashlee and new Twitter friend @webby37 took part in an epic, epic, sci-fi reference dropping session that led to laughter.  It's almost 2 am, and honestly I still am getting a kick out of it.

And then someone, not me, realized that once again this type of discussion was entertaining.  So why not be productive with it.  What if as we discussed education, we spun it our way?  In this case, the nerd, pop-culture, high-tech, social media way.  Why not a #punedchat?  Why not a #refedchat?  Why not an #eduivoque (thesaurus'ed "pun")?  How about a #doubleedutendre?  But I digress, enough butchering of the English language.

If you don't think that being funny in your classroom is a huge advantage, then you are sorely mistaken.  Everyone has their own style and their own personality, but being funny is a way to connect with your kids.  And if you don't think that is important either, don't ever teach middle school.

I am a sarcastic, quick-thinking, pop-culture referencing human being.  Thankfully it plays in my classroom.  And that is why part of me stays in middle school.  It never left.  I share interests with 12-year olds.  They're into the fact that I love sports, video games, dodgeball, movies, stand-up comedy, and TV.  I also can't stand boy bands, which divides the house but leads to lots of jokes at the expense of Justin Beiber, One Direction, and my swooning female students who are just captivated with them.

Teasing doesn't work for everyone, but humor does.  You can't laugh too much.  It does make learning difficult at times, but when someone remembers what you said in class because of that really crazy thing you said before, during, or after, it's worth it.

So I look forward to the opportunity to try out my brand of me on my Twitter pals.  I'm just going to act like I do in a staff meeting:  borderline obnoxious, rarely quiet, yet surprisingly collaborative.  Take the good with the bad and just roll with it :)

But here's a few things that I have learned about making people laugh at my school:

1.  It starts with you.  I make fun of me more than anyone else.  There's a lot to make fun of.  Just realize your turn is coming too.  Share the love, but start at home.

2.  Know who you can give a hard time to.  I have some kids that I know are solid when it comes to playing along with my antics.  Others will stare me to death.

3.  Make cool things lame and lame things cool.  It gets a reaction.  For example, I rip on all those little teeny-boppers my kids talk about.  But then I make Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton seem awesome.  Plus we reenact it.

4.  Look crazy, but stay in control.  Anytime something doesn't work in my class, I've yelled at it.  I've thrown things at it.  Then I blame it on a kid.

5.  Use students in examples or as examples.  Demonstrate concepts using analogies and explanations with the kids in them.  Presidential succession is a lot more fun when I talk about how one crazy student killed another who was pretending to be President.

6.  Use their words to make your points.  I'm often talked about fascism as "nationalism on steroids."  I may have mentioned how the Hessians were "tipsy" at Trenton during the Revolution.  Harry S. Truman's middle name... It's just "S."  So when you tell the kids that his friends called him "Harry S.", you can't miss.

7.  Exaggerate.  Make conversations so much more than they are.  I make so many empty threats it's insane. Kids know I'm not going to throw them out a window or staple them to a bulletin board, but saying it is so much more fun than saying "please be quiet all the time."  They think it's goofy, and they listen more and pay attention to see what is going to happen when someone doesn't.  Not a perfect plan for everyone, but hey, works for me.

8.  Stay connected.  My kids talk to me through email and on Edmodo.  That's a great starter platform.  You get to think out being funny if you choose to be.

9.  Find colleagues that you can have a give-and-take with.  One of my colleagues will come into my room from time to time and I act like it is the biggest disruption in the history of education.  Then I will do it for her.  We also go into each other's rooms and critique what's going on just for the fun of it.  The old social studies vs. math routine works well.  I make fun of math as "something a machine can do" and she will tease social studies as "just stuff dead people did."  It's funny, the kids eat it up, and it also gives us a chance to explain why learning what we are teaching actually is worthwhile.

10.  References.  Last but not least, references.  Anytime that a reference to something kids understand can be made to what you are teaching is awesome.  Especially if it is funny.  A phrase, a song, a movie, a TV show, fashion, etc. can all be used to be funny.  Someone will get the reference, and if they don't get it, I usually go on a tirade of a tangent to explain it.

I remember one time I made a reference about how airplanes during WWI and airplanes today would be like comparing an Atari to an Xbox 360.  Then most of them were lost, because they didn't know Atari.  That was an immediate "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" moment from me.  I went on my tangent and we had to youtube Pong real quick.  I pretend to be angry, they think I'm nuts and laugh, and they can all tell you what they did in class today.  Guess what kid... you just learned something.

And if all else fails in your attempts, go back to #1.  Make fun of yourself for trying to be funny and failing and you'll probably end up being funny.

We can't all be the @sjunkins of the world with a quip locked and loaded at every moment, but we can all make a kid laugh.  That part of me stays in middle school, because if learning isn't funny, it's not fun to me.

And with that, I'm out.

Mr. J.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Plan! I Just Had to Write This All Down

Ok, so it's been a week.  Sorta on hiatus from blogging and Twitter a midst union negotiations, intern hours, grad school, and the occasional bit of shuteye.  But tonight I wanted to get some thoughts on paper... digital paper that is.  If only trees were followers...  sigh.

 I'm loved outdoors.

So I was thinking, I need to put together my plan for next year.  I talked with my admin about it yesterday and got the green light for most of the things I wanted to do.  Big win.  So I decided I better articulate it somewhere so I can execute it.  So here it goes:

First and foremost, I am flipping my classroom.  Instructional videos will be recorded for the unit that we are in ahead of time.  Students may choose to watch them in class or outside of class, depending on preference and access at home.  Students will be given a series of assignments for the unit, again all ahead of time.  Projects will be assigned every 9 weeks, staggered between 7th and 8th grade.  Projects will go up until midterm of the quarter or start at midterm until the end of the quarter.

Students will be divided into reading groups (more in a second) and project groups.  Students will choose their own project groups and will design a logo and create a team name.  This will be their company (military) so to speak for the year.

Students will be asked to take notes on the videos in something similar to a Cornell note style.  This way they can summarize the videos and indicate what questions they have.  On Edmodo they will take an assessment over each  video using a randomly generated set of questions.  

Students will also have reading assignments to complete.  These assignments will be differentiated using data taken from the MAP test.  This way certain skills can be keyed in on.  These assignments will most likely be more response-based to incorporate our newly designed routine writing techniques.  

For each assignment, the total points will be recorded.  Points will also convert into experience points, or XP.  This will be used in the leveling system that I have blogged about previously.  Students who level up will receive certain perks throughout the year.

For students who finish ahead of time, the "bounty board" will be used.  This will be a place for extra assignments to boost grades and boost XP.  This is not extra credit, because accepting a bounty from the board will then require the student to finish the assignment in the allotted time.  If members of the same project group finish early, they could utilize class time to work on their 9-weeks project.
For students who are struggling with content, there will be time set aside during class to meet with me for reinforcement.  I will require their notes to be completed on a video lesson prior to asking for the reinforcement.  These mini-lessons can then clear up misunderstandings with students and focus them on the key points they may not have totally understood.  It will also free up computers for students because we cannot all use them at once.  I may try to use my Bamboo Capture and SMART Board in these lessons to record mini-lessons to add to my video library.

At the beginning of class I will try to answer individual questions, which will hopefully lead up to the mini-lesson I just mentioned.  After the mini-lesson I will go back to individual questions or work on tech issues that may arise.

Students will also be competing for several title belts that I have created.  Highest grades will have the honor of wearing the belt and bragging it off in class.  I love friendly gloating.

For students who finish everything, they may use the student contract form I developed to help me and my video-making process.  They may be allowed to create a student-made flipped video to add into future lessons.

Lastly, my classroom will be broken up into sectors instead of rows of desks.  Certain things go on in each sector.  It will make expectations clear and managing my class simpler.  In a perfect world, I will have about 20 different things going on at once.

Fingers crossed that this works!

Until next time,

Mr. J.