April 30

A Blast From The Past

This post started my journey through the process of gamification.  A few years later, as I begin to reevaluate this path, and take it to the next level through the work on my PhD, it seems like a good time to review it.

Finding Your Groove

A few things happen when you have twenty years of teaching under your belt.  You realize you have shoes older than most of the kids you are teaching and therefore you can relax a little.  Having only been on the planet for  eleven or twelve years, I commonly tell my students they have not earned the right to roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders yet.  It’s ironic that this sense of calm comes toward the late afternoon of one’s career.  I am getting ahead of myself, let’s call it a late lunch.  A relaxing, late lunch with iced tea on a sunny veranda.  That’s better. That’s where I am, sunning myself on a veranda drinking tea while I faintly hear my name being called over and over again. As we all know middle school students have no social boundaries and proceed to call your name as many times as they possibly can until they have your full, undivided attention.

And here I am faced with the challenges of the middle school student.  Their bodies are changing literally in front of your eyes.  Pants become shorter, voices change, all in one class period.  Boys cry. Girls cry. We all cry.  Through all of this we have to grab their attention, keep it, and assure their parents that none of us are going crazy.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

While attending a professional development and looking for possible solutions, a colleague asked the question, “How do I get them to be interested in the boring stuff?  All they want to do is talk about Minecraft.”  My response to her was quick and easy.  Why wasn’t she using Minecraft to her advantage?  Why not use what the kids loved?  In education we all learn not to fight the wave but to roll with it.  And then I realized I needed to take my own advice.  Enter Sid Meier’s Civilization V. After playing the game for over a week, nonstop, I decided to incorporate it into my social studies class that predominantly focused on ancient history. By a stroke of luck, the day I had planned  to show the game to the students and begin discussing it, there were tech glitches.  The only time I can truly say I was happy that the tech did not work. We decided instead to form teams, essentially our own city-states, define roles for each member and discuss the ideal land on which to settle.  The discussion was wonderful and inspiring.

That night I created the basis for what has become an elaborate game that has been going on for five weeks now.   This endeavor has plunged me into researching game theory and gamification in the classroom.  This journey is a careful balance between curriculum and game play, between too easy and too hard. This is the story of my journey.  Stay tuned!

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April 25

Is It Okay To Play In The Classroom?

 

Why are we taught that school is all business and no fun?  Why do we have to be serious to learn?  Where did this idea come from?  We didn’t have a methods class on the seriousness of school.  Perhaps it was the endless testing and threats of termination that have scared all of us into the idea that the only way to teach is the classic row by row, lecture and note scenario.  We all survived it.  Why can’t they, right?  Let me state that again.  We all survived it.  School should never be something we survive.  It should not be something we can’t wait to leave.  School can be so much and its our job to make it everything it possibly can be.

In the myriad of today’s regulations, testing, and teacher evaluation, how do we go about having the courage to do this?  A better question is how do we not have the courage to do this?  We work with our students daily and see their lights slowly but surely go out as we continue to teach them in ways they are unable to learn.  As adults we see the urgency and do not understand why the students are apathetic. Meeting after meeting, the comments are always the same:

“I don’t understand why they can’t do it.”

“Am I supposed to do it for them?”

“What else can I possibly do?”

“They just don’t care.  That’s not my problem.”

“They are not going to do it.  They are lazy.”

Something we have to remember as educators is that these are essentially children, no matter the grade you teach.  We are the professionals.  The ones with training. If a student is not mastering the content it is our fault. Trust me, I have caught a lot of heat about that last statement.  It’s how I feel.  I chose this career path and not because I wanted the summer off.  I should have the skill set to help any struggling student. Every student has a hook.  Finding it is often like locating a treasure.

Students can be hooked by passion and play.  If they know you are passionate about your job and your content, it becomes contagious.  They want to know why on earth you love it so much.  They start to explore the content themselves and find information to share with you.  The students know what your subject means to you and they take it seriously.

Play is so important for the classroom.  Students learn best when they are actively involved in an activity.  Personally my heart is drawn to simulations.  My fondest moments as a child were of me and my friends playing make belief in the woods or on an old boat.  Transporting ourselves to another world and playing out elaborate scenes.  Why can’t we do that in the classroom?  Why can’t we recreate ancient Mesopotamia and let the students live in a city-state?  Why can’t we create a full size space shuttle in our room and let them be astronauts?  The sky is the limit and nothing can stop us.  Nothing should stop us.  Our students are depending on us to make their experiences memorable.  I always say that our kids deserve amazing memories. I plan to give them just that.

Be a Pirate!

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April 23

Bringing Gamification To Your Classroom

Gamification has changed how I teach.  It’s a game-changer so to speak. There are many ways to bring gamification to your classroom.  Deciding to start small is often a good choice but don’t be afraid to throw yourself into a game whole heartedly.

After presenting to a group of teachers recently, the overwhelming feeling involved a sense of reluctancy.  “I’m not a gamer.  There’s no way I can bring games to my classroom.” Being a professional gamer is not a prerequisite to bringing gamification to your classroom. I had played a few video games in my time.  I’m not sure however, that my high score on Galaga in the late 80s would be helpful in this situation. Regardless, the idea is to create a meaningful learning experience for your students.  Classroom learning need not always be text book/worksheet driven.  Personally, if my room never sees a worksheet again it will be too soon. Gamification allows for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, powerful situations that will allow the students to acquire the content and have it stick with them.

When my journey began a few things needed to change about my classroom.  I needed to give some of the control over to the students, and why not?  This is their education.  They needed to be in the driver seat, making choices and interacting with the game.  Once I let this go, my students became fully engaged. An engaged classroom is messy and loud.  It is full of collaboration and discovery.  It is a powerful environment to experience.  The clock moves swiftly and the days pass quickly.

How to begin?  Start small with a well known game.  I started with a garden sized Jenga game. Be forewarned, it is quite large and makes quite a sound when it comes crashing down.  The sound the kids will make however, is much louder.  Taking time to color the end of the pieces makes the game much more versatile.  We were working on a unit review.  Using a set of twenty multiple choice questions the students pulled pieces.  The color on the end of the piece was matched with a set of questions.  The students then decided which question they wanted to complete.  If we completed the entire question set without the tower tumbling, the entire class received extra credit on the unit test. The reaction of the students was nothing short of amazing.  Their level of engagement was incredible.  It was all I needed to start adding more.

As a teacher of ancient history, it is often difficult for students to understand the concepts related to the ancient world. Sid Meier’s Civilization immediately came to mind.  After purchasing the game on a rainy weekend and essentially playing for hours on end, I knew there was something to pulling my students into a simulation.  Monday morning I put the students into pre-history hunting and gathering groups and asked them to choose where they would settle on an oversized game board I created.  The discussions in their groups were phenomenal.  The geography skills they had just learned were resurfacing in their engaging conversations.  The class period flew by and the energy was contagious.

This began the process of my first game.  Each week I would outline the ideas I wanted my students to master by the end of the week.  After this, I would look at the game mechanics that would allow them to acquire that information.  Students need to move and interact with the curriculum.  They need to experience it instead of observe it from afar.  Week by week I added more to the game.  The students are an essential and incredibly valuable resource.  They feel very powerful when they add to the game.  They were often called my beta testers and carried this title with pride.

Bringing gamification to my classroom is a no-brainer.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it worth it? Yes. Kids deserve the best we can give them. Their engagement is the payoff.  There is nothing like it.

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June 13

Bringing Gamification to Your Classroom

Gamification has changed how I teach.  It’s a game-changer so to speak. There are many ways to bring gamification to your classroom.  Deciding to start small is often a good choice but don’t be afraid to throw yourself into a game whole heartedly.

After presenting to a group of teachers recently, the overwhelming feeling involved a sense of reluctancy.  “I’m not a gamer.  There’s no way I can bring games to my classroom.” Being a professional gamer is not a prerequisite to bringing gamification to your classroom. I had played a few video games in my time.  I’m not sure however, that my high score on Galaga in the late 80s would be helpful in this situation. Regardless, the idea is to create a meaningful learning experience for your students.  Classroom learning need not always be text book/worksheet driven.  Personally, if my room never sees a worksheet again it will be too soon. Gamification allows for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, powerful situations that will allow the students to acquire the content and have it stick with them.

When my journey began a few things needed to change about my classroom.  I needed to give some of the control over to the students, and why not?  This is their education.  They needed to be in the driver seat, making choices and interacting with the game.  Once I let this go, my students became fully engaged. An engaged classroom is messy and loud.  It is full of collaboration and discovery.  It is a powerful environment to experience.  The clock moves swiftly and the days pass quickly.

How to begin?  Start small with a well known game.  I started with a garden sized Jenga game. Be forewarned, it is quite large and makes quite a sound when it comes crashing down.  The sound the kids will make however, is much louder.  Taking time to color the end of the pieces makes the game much more versatile.  We were working on a unit review.  Using a set of twenty multiple choice questions the students pulled pieces.  The color on the end of the piece was matched with a set of questions.  The students then decided which question they wanted to complete.  If we completed the entire question set without the tower tumbling, the entire class received extra credit on the unit test. The reaction of the students was nothing short of amazing.  Their level of engagement was incredible.  It was all I needed to start adding more.

As a teacher of ancient history, it is often difficult for students to understand the concepts related to the ancient world. Sid Meier’s Civilization immediately came to mind.  After purchasing the game on a rainy weekend and essentially playing for hours on end, I knew there was something to pulling my students into a simulation.  Monday morning I put the students into pre-history hunting and gathering groups and asked them to choose where they would settle on an oversized game board I created.  The discussions in their groups were phenomenal.  The geography skills they had just learned were resurfacing in their engaging conversations.  The class period flew by and the energy was contagious.

This began the process of my first game.  Each week I would outline the ideas I wanted my students to master by the end of the week.  After this, I would look at the game mechanics that would allow them to acquire that information.  Students need to move and interact with the curriculum.  They need to experience it instead of observe it from afar.  Week by week I added more to the game.  The students are an essential and incredibly valuable resource.  They feel very powerful when they add to the game.  They were often called my beta testers and carried this title with pride.

Bringing gamification to my classroom is a no-brainer.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it worth it? Yes. Kids deserve the best we can give them.  Their engagement is the payoff.  There is nothing like it.

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March 30

Resources for Gamifying Your Classroom

I am in planning mode.  All my tools have been gathered.  Markers, paper, books, computer, and a large block of time are all at my disposal.  I may have mentioned in a earlier post that I am the Monica Gellar of organization. Give me a label maker and a few file folders and I can conquer the world.  Let’s get down to business. Where to start when building a game-based learning unit? Hands down the best resource around is Michael Matera’s Explore Like a Pirate. The book is well worth the investment and filled with wonderful ideas!  Where to go from here? I have gathered a few resources to help in the planning process:

  1. Gamifying Education by Extra Credits: These guys have created a visual guide to gamification in the classroom. Packed with insightful reasons for using games and filled with useful examples, this is certainly the best place to start.
  2. Edutopia is just about the best resource around for anything current.  This wonderful site has an entire section devoted to Game Based Learning.
  3. Why Gamify in the Classroom? Let’s face it, for some it will be a hard sell.  Is it more than just playing in the classroom?
  4. Edsurge.com offers a little more information into the whys and hows of gamification.
  5. Where would be without An Ultimate Guide to Gamification?  Edudemic does a great job of pulling this guide together.
  6. Personally, I had a difficult time with XP and how to level up.  This article was tremendously helpful in planning.
  7. Badges can also be a difficult  obstacle to overcome.  This article was helpful.
  8. The Institute of Play offers a few packs to help in the design process as well.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list of resources related to gamification, it is certainly a list that was very helpful in my personal planning.  Please add links in the comments if you know of a resource that would be helpful in this arena.  Best of luck in your planning!

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March 23

Simulating a Civilization

“Oh it’s about to get real!” This was a quote from a student as they walked into my class yesterday and saw the new game board on my cleared off desk.  The plastic men were crumpled into a pile as if they had already done battle and the plastic trees stood tall in the vast wilderness of the board.  A pile of odd looking die lie in the center of the board (eight sided), their multiple colors shimmering like jewels under the fluorescent lights. Admittedly, I love games so this scene would be very pleasing to me but it seemed to capture the curiosity of all my students. Even the ones too cool to take a second look.

I call my students the beta testers.  It is far better than guinea pigs.  The year started with a broader simulation where they pulled cards for either a merchant, artisan, solder, or king.  They formed city-states by making sure each group had at least one of each.  They settled into their new homes (tables) and began thinking about where they would like to settle on the map (I have attached it). The students knew they needed food, water, and natural protection.  All of these things were offered on the map with some areas being prized more than others.  Each city-state needed to choose a square to call their home.  We played Kahoot to rank the groups for choice using questions about ancient river valley civilizations.

While this worked out pretty well, glitches in the game caused a fair bit of discussion and a little reinvention.  Enter the game board.  Using our map, I sent it to Staples and they printed it out as a banner.  I needed game pieces.  I wanted something interactive, something more than simple markers.  I spent some time on Amazon looking at different figures when I came across small plastic cavemen.  Perfect for a game where we are showing hunters and gatherers settling into a river civilization.

I really wanted the students to be able to roam into the geographic area and find the spot they wanted to settle in and then form groups. I placed students in groups, assigned a “guy” with a number on his foot, to each student and began the game.  Groups came up one at a time, about five students in a group.  While they were waiting, they had a set of task cards and a long term project to work on.  Students placed their marker in the lower right hand corner as if they were moving into the region from the south.  They each rolled a die and moved the number of spaces shown.  If they landed on an octagon with orange, red, blue, or green, they picked a card from the appropriate stack.  The cards are nourishment, rule changes, hazards, and actions.  Each student uses a game card for the day to track their moves and summarize their day.  The goal for the first day was to obtain food and water. As the students worked to get to food and water, it was interesting to see their choices and how they dealt with situations presented by the cards.  Close to the end of the class, students had separated enough to form groups.  To end the class, I placed the students in groups according to where they had moved to get their food.  This was their new city-state and the land where they are going to settle.

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March 17

Reading Strategies for the Gamified Classroom

Lately, I have been hanging around Twitter talking to anyone and everyone about gamification in the classroom. The results have been phenomenal. A powerfully creative group meets on Wednesday evenings at 8:00 pm EST to discuss Explore Like a Pirate (#XPLAP). This book by Michael Matera is a must for anyone wishing to start this process in their classroom or anyone who has already begun the process.  This past week we discussed game mechanics. This can certainly be a daunting process but I would like to share with you one of the strategies that made one of the mundane tasks in my classroom much more exciting.

Reading nonfiction articles is often painful for students.  Reading about a dystopian world is one thing but reading about an ancient world is quite another. I wanted the students excited about reading and uncovering the content, digesting it for the first time.  How could I get them as excited to read as they were to play our game?

Enter Farming for Facts.  Students are given a title of an article.  They are then given fifteen minutes to research the topic using their chrome books.  During this time they can write down as many facts as they can that they believe will be in the article.  The next step is to meet in their groups and decide what is important enough to be planted in our “field” (the whiteboard).  Each group gets a row to plant the facts they think will be in the articles.  Once all facts are accounted for, the next step is to tend to the field.  As a group we decide what to keep and what to “weed”.  This is a great time to put in sweeping gestures and movement to get them involved.  We came up with a movement for letting it grow and letting it die.  The majority rules.  Any fact that should be weeded is erased from the board.  They are very careful about this selection due to more points being added if every fact on the board is correct and found in the article.

Finally, we read the passage together.  The first time I did this I was blown away by the reaction of the students. They were anxiously awaiting each sentence as I read the article out loud.  When a fact was found in the article cheers could be heard in the groups!  The students held on until the last sentence to see how many of their facts would be included.  We then reviewed the board and identified which were found (a great recap of the reading).

Why are they interested? My game has food points.  Due to this being about farming, the students were awarded food points for facts that were left on the board after the reading. Again, if all facts were included, extra points were awarded to all groups.

Its great to see kids excited about reading the articles.  They love to research the topic and come up with what they believe will be in the reading.  I wish I had this years ago.  I have attached a page that I often use for farming.  Hope it helps!

FarmingForFacts

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March 5

Engaging Assessment

Admittedly, I have a problem with assessment.  Luckily, my school is going through formative assessment training right now.  Knowing this is one of my weaknesses, “FIP Fridays” have been well worth the time.  This week mineral formation was the topic of the assessment.  As educators, in this time of multiple timed assessments, we are almost coerced to believe that an assessment must be paper/pencil or if the technology allows, the digital version of this.

Assessment is about understanding where the student is on their learning voyage and then using that information to propel your instruction.  This is a concept that seems as if it would be common sense but for me, I am just starting to embrace the full ramification of what you can do with this data and all that assessment can be.

Enter this week’s assessment  on mineral formation. Starting with the traditional paper/pencil test (in digital form on schoology), the grades were okay, not impressive.  Part 2 of the assessment involved a two stage process.  The students described the three different ways in which minerals can form and then created models of each.  They could choose to make models in one of two ways, with actual LEGO sets that sit on their desk daily or an amazing site from Google. Build with Chrome is a powerful FREE site that allows you to construct anything with LEGO on a basic building plate.  Students can change the colors, change the bricks, the possibilities are endless.  Students were equally divided choosing the LEGO sets and Build.  The results were amazing.  There was a quiet hum throughout the room as they went about their work.  Their understanding of the concept was spot on.  I should also point out that this was a quest for the Science game were are currently involved in playing.  It was a great Friday in the Middle!

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February 28

Finding Your Groove

A few things happen when you have twenty years of teaching under your belt.  You realize you have shoes older than most of the kids you are teaching and therefore you can relax a little.  Having only been on the planet for  eleven or twelve years, I commonly tell my students they have not earned the right to roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders yet.  It’s ironic that this sense of calm comes toward the late afternoon of one’s career.  I am getting ahead of myself, let’s call it a late lunch.  A relaxing, late lunch with iced tea on a sunny veranda.  That’s better. That’s where I am, sunning myself on a veranda drinking tea while I faintly hear my name being called over and over again. As we all know middle school students have no social boundaries and proceed to call your name as many times as they possibly can until they have your full, undivided attention.

And here I am faced with the challenges of the middle school student.  Their bodies are changing literally in front of your eyes.  Pants become shorter, voices change, all in one class period.  Boys cry. Girls cry. We all cry.  Through all of this we have to grab their attention, keep it, and assure their parents that none of us are going crazy.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

While attending a professional development and looking for possible solutions, a colleague asked the question, “How do I get them to be interested in the boring stuff?  All they want to do is talk about Minecraft.”  My response to her was quick and easy.  Why wasn’t she using Minecraft to her advantage?  Why not use what the kids loved?  In education we all learn not to fight the wave but to roll with it.  And then I realized I needed to take my own advice.  Enter Sid Meier’s Civilization V. After playing the game for over a week, nonstop, I decided to incorporate it into my social studies class that predominantly focused on ancient history. By a stroke of luck, the day I had planned  to show the game to the students and begin discussing it, there were tech glitches.  The only time I can truly say I was happy that the tech did not work. We decided instead to form teams, essentially our own city-states, define roles for each member and discuss the ideal land on which to settle.  The discussion was wonderful and inspiring.

That night I created the basis for what has become an elaborate game that has been going on for five weeks now.   This endeavor has plunged me into researching game theory and gamification in the classroom.  This journey is a careful balance between curriculum and game play, between too easy and too hard. This is the story of my journey.  Stay tuned!

Category: Gamification | Comments Off on Finding Your Groove