Here’s a copy of a letter I just wrote and emailed to my legislators regarding their upcoming vote on ESSB 5748, which would tie our student’s standardized test scores to our teacher evaluation.
We can hold students accountable and track and report their learning without standardized testing. We can graduate students from high school without standardized testing. We need to trust teachers as the caring, capable professionals they are. Teachers know how to assess their students. Teachers can record student learning and help students assess their own learning by using formative assessments and portfolios.
Schools have students lead their own conferences so they take responsibility for their learning. In student-led conferences the student shares work that he or she chose to show the growth made that year. In order to do that kids need to self assess their collected works and draw conclusions about their learning. Often their education is personalized to motivate and engage them. People are more motivated to learn when doing work that is meaningful and better yet if it’s work they are passionate about.
As we personalize learning experiences for our children and have them assess their progress by collecting samples that demonstrate learning and skills how can we continue to standardize testing? It makes little sense. Taking time away from meaningful learning experiences and projects and group work to have kids take tests that don’t resemble anything they will have to do after they graduate high school or college is a true waste of time. The skills employers rank the highest in their new employees do not include, “testing well.”
What is also incomprehensible is tying the results of one shot, one time, standardized test scores to teacher evaluation. Evaluate us on how well we plan learning experiences, on how well we motivate our students, on how well we prepare our students, and on how well we connect with our students to make their education experience relevant and effective. I teach science to 6th graders in a middle school. I should not be evaluated by how well they score on a math test or an English test. They don’t even have a science test until they are in 8th grade! And that doesn’t even take into account the obvious problems with one shot tests, such as lack of sleep, lack of food, having a bad day, doesn’t test well, can’t speak English, has an IEP, and the list goes on.
Anyway you look at it turning standardized tests into high stakes instruments for students and teachers causes instruction to be narrow and focus on the test, takes the joy out of learning and teaching, and does a disservice to our children and our future. Do not vote to tie test scores to teacher evaluation.
The above video shows an example of how my 6th graders are playing World of Warcraft during the WoWinSchools course I am teaching this year.
Slowly, especially in light of much research being done on the subject, people are starting to see that video games are not bad. They do not make kids violent and they are not a waste of time (well, anything done to excess can have negative consequences but when played in balance with other activities games are not a waste of time). Games can lead some kids to exciting career choices but even for those who play games just for fun there are many benefits. A lot of learning goes on when people play video games and the brain is very active during game play compared to a more passive activity such as watching television.
Many games are being designed specifically for education. That type of Game-Based Learning (GBL) is obvious. The less obvious type of GBL is using Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) games, such as World of Warcraft or Minecraft. COTS games were designed to sell, make money, and engage people in the game so they play and play and play. An added benefit of such games is their use in schools. COTS games are often more fun and exciting, and also better designed, than many educational games. Therefore, COTS games are very motivating for kids to play.
The level of focus, persistence, and engagement of kids playing COTS games is amazing and that is something teachers and parents want to see of our kids in school. For me to be able to bring a game that is so widely played and enjoyed to my school has been a positive experience. I have seen the two classes of 6th graders who have been participating in my WoWinSchools course thus far show exihilaration and exuberance at being able play such as game in school. They’ve been so excited that none of them have balked or complained at the work they’ve been required to do in order to play the game. It has been quite delightful and more than refreshing. Even kids who do not consider themselves gamers have enjoyed playing World of Warcraft and have rated the course quite highly. I am gathering data on my second class currently.
Being able to offer kids a chance to engage in GBL is wonderful and a worthwhile way to engage our kids in learning at school. Check out my Diigo Collection on GBL for more information and links to educational games.
Once in a while we take a break from questing in World of Warcraft, from questing in 3D GameLab, and from practicing our keyboarding skills and we just meet up in a big, virtual city to get together and dance.
These are some of my 1st WoWinSchools class 6th graders meeting up in Stormwind to take a screencast of our group dancing.
I got an email from a student asking me if she could interview me for an essay she was writing for her English 102 class about video games in the classroom. After answering her questions I asked her if I could share my responses here and she said yes. Here’s what I wrote for her interview (this is why I love blogging, being able to connect with people and maybe even help out!):
I don’t mind doing this interview over email. It’s easier for me to do it this way and I get to think about my answers.
Do you think that video games can teach students better than a traditional classroom? why?
I think video games can be used as one way of teaching. Video games are superior to the type of learning that goes on in a regular classroom in many ways even though video games should not replace all classroom learning. I just wanted to be clear about that. Video gaming in the classroom should be one more tool for learning, not the only tool. First of all, video games create the perfect balance between challenging a player without frustrating the player to the point where he or she wants to quit. The way games do that is by learning from how the player plays the game. First of all video games include in-game tutorials often so that any player can learn how to play the game from level 1 without having to read a manual. Even when you play a board game you need to read the rules, in a video game you learn the rules by playing! If you can’t attack friendly troops you won’t be able to no matter how hard you try. As the player learns and levels up, every level becomes harder but not so hard that the player can’t figure out a way to beat it or that game won’t sell. Games also provide instant feedback that is near impossible for one teacher with 24 to 30 students. Students as players are constantly being informed as to how they are doing, what is working and what isn’t. Finally, games have built in rewards to keep players playing and interested in learning more and more to “beat” the game. For the reasons mentioned above video games are every engaging and motivating explaining why people of all ages will play games for hours and hours, day after day. I would love to see that kind of engagement and motivation in my classes! That being said, there aren’t enough high quality games for all the things kids need to learn in school. And even if there were, there are many things that kids need learn that should not involve computers and games.
How do video games help you to teach your students, and do you think they allow you to teach better lessons compared to a non-gaming classroom?
Here’s where I will make a distinction between playing video games to learn, Game-Based Learning vs using gaming techniques to make learning more like a game, Gamification. I am using both ways to motivate my students in different classes. So although there are video games that help my students learn different things a teacher can gamify his or her classroom and make it game-like without actually bringing in any games for kids to play. For those classes where teachers do bring in video games, the video games do all the things I mentioned above such as giving the students immediate and constant feedback, teaches the player how to play the game, increases the challenge so the game doesn’t get too easy while not being so difficult that the player gets frustrated and quits, provides incentives to either explore or level up either by experience points, badges, achievements, or better weapons and gear, and provides enough enjoyment that the player is motivated to play over and over again. Considering all those ways that games teach, they do allow a teacher to have better lessons that will work with all their students. Learning history, for example, from a history book isn’t as engaging as watching a movie. But even watching a movie isn’t as engaging as playing Civilization IV. Reading a book doesn’t really help kids understand what it was like during that time period or in that country. Watching a movie does a much better job of showing what it might have been like during a different time period and in different countries. Playing a game such as Civilization IV can help students think like people had to think during a different time period and see the consequences of their decisions. Total War also does that by allowing players to command troops during different battles throughout history.
What kind of games do you use to teach, and what lessons can be taught using those games?
Personally I have taught using gamification more than using games. So my class runs like a video game with experience points, leveling up, and earning badges for learning different concepts. In Science I have had students play the Simple Physics game to practice building different structures and testing them. I tried using Spore to teach evolution, which was a great game for that but it took too long to play and get the creature to evolve so I stopped using it. This year I have gotten to use World of Warcraft to have students learn about the journey of a hero. Using World of Warcraft in school takes the place of reading a book, although the course does include reading The Hobbit, to have students improve their reading and writing skills by analyzing their character, his or her journey, and writing about that journey. It’s a highly engaging course and kids love it. They don’t feel like they are doing school yet they are all learning and gaining practice in many skills such as connecting, collaborating, communicating, reading, writing, discussing, and blogging. The kids get completely immersed in a virtual world just as if we were reading a book but instead of reading what happens to the hero they are in charge of choosing what happens to the hero.
Feel free to ask me any follow up questions if they come up.
At the publication of this blog post I turn 48 years of age. What makes this age cool for me is that it marks exactly half my life spent educating youth in grades 4 through 8. I started teaching 4th and 5th grade in South Central Los Angeles in 1991. I was 24 years old.
This is my 24th year teaching so that makes it exactly half my life thus far spent teaching. I thought that was pretty cool.
Of course, if you take into account that before I started teaching I had spent most of my first 24 years on Earth as a student either in Pre-K through 12 grade or in college then I’ve been in schools most of my life! Aside from odd jobs here and there to make money I haven’t really done anything else but education. Does that make me an expert?
In this mid-season finale to our ongoing Star Trek class story an incredible secret is revealed.
The QR code is clickable. It has been awhile since the last part of our story, which was like a finale in itself. The place I put the QR code went pretty much unnoticed for about three weeks! I couldn’t think of how to make the story interactive so this is all reading the story instead of choosing anything. I did add a poll to this one to see who kids thought might be causing some trouble and the votes were split pretty evenly between all the choices! I also added some questions in the end to learn a little bit about space travel, or at least what would be involved.
I’m not sure where to go next. I know what happens next in the story but I’m learning towards ending it quickly because it’s hard to find time to write and I have a lot on my plate right now. We’ll see. I do have another story started but don’t know if I have enough to make through to the end of the year.
This all started as a 6th grade Exploratory class offered to all 6th graders for one quarter at a time.
Students got off to a great start last quarter, the first time this class was offered to 6th grade students.
As students began the class they agreed to our class charter, thought and wrote about bravery and cowardice, they contemplated their digital footprints, they practiced typing, they researched different World of Warcraft races and classes, they thought about their hero’s journey and some even wrote stories about their hero (here’s one 6th grader’s hero story and here’s another one in progress), and they did all this work during the formal, more traditional learning parts of the class. In World of Warcraft, as in many adventure stories, there is a “good” side and a “bad” side. But in World of Warcraft players can play their hero for the “good” side or the “bad” side making those labels of good or bad subjective, depending on which side you play! So students spent the last two weeks of the quarter trying out the other side, the enemy of the Alliance, the Horde! The journey of a hero is fraught with obstacles and the nemesis fights hard to defeat the hero. Part of this course was to end by learning the story of our enemy from their side to get a more complete picture of that world.
Here’s a glimpse into a day of playing brand new characters from the Horde (looks a lot like the beginning of the course!):
Overall the course was a huge success and I’m expecting nothing less from the remaining two 6th grade classes for the current quarter and for the last quarter of the school year. They will enjoy the class, live an adventure with their classmates during the school day, and learn many things in the process. I mean seriously, who says learning can’t be fun?! And let’s not forget the value of play (these are 6th graders after all!).
Sixth graders are typically 11 to 12 years old and the ESRB rating for World of Warcraft is T for Teen because of, “Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence.” Knowing this I was not dissuaded from bringing it into a school setting for a few reasons.
1st – I played World of Warcraft as both my kids were growing up. They watched me and the game honestly didn’t seem that bad to me considering there are really bad games out there. They both wanted to try World of Warcraft so by age 9 or 10 I let them each try out a few characters on my account. It wasn’t bad at all. There didn’t seem to be much blood, especially at the early levels, I warned my kids to stay away from rude or crass players and most players were really kind and very helpful, my kids didn’t buy alcohol in the taverns so that was never an issue, and the suggestive themes could easily be avoided and overlooked by enjoying the game. Some of the characters dance more suggestively than the others and that is one thing that is unavoidable because kids really do enjoy watching their avatars dance. It’s funny and each race has different dance moves.
2nd – I got the idea to use World of Warcraft in school from teachers who created the curriculum and have been playing it with their own students! And their students have been younger than mine.
3rd – I know, as a teacher and a father, that the best way to teach kids right from wrong, how to deal with inappropriate players or people in general, and how to avoid inappropriate situations is by letting practice all of those things. I want my own kids, and also my students, to learn by doing. And if they make a mistake, mess up, or witness something inappropriate I want them to talk to me about it and maybe even discuss it with the whole class.
This wasn’t my first time using World of Warcraft in school. I tried using it for a Science lesson with my 8th graders last year and although it wasn’t the best game to teach the Science lesson it was a highly engaging activity for my 8th graders.
So here is some feedback I got from my 1st quarter WoW students:
Kids were able to choose more than one choice above but a majority played in small groups with their classmates and completed quests. A small contingent spent a majority of their time exploring the world of Azeroth with their character. This group seemed to take a long time to finish their pre-game work so there were no kids who reached level 20 (the maximum level for the free, trial version of World of Warcraft). I did have a handful of kids reach levels 13 to 16 so I used one of my paid account characters to take them into a low level dungeon. It was fun and more of a challenge than just questing (they died a lot!).
Out of 27 kids only five said they would not take this course again. Seventeen said yes, they would take the course again. Of the eight that chose other, two said maybe, one said idk (I don’t know) and five said definitely or for sure. So a majority enjoyed the course enough to take it again but frankly, I thought the numbers would be higher. Eight out of 27 kids either saying no, maybe or idk was quite a shocker to me. We’ll see how my other two classes enjoy this course.
Not everyone did well in this class. I had two kids out of the 27 who never completed all the required work to actually play the game. One was plagued by absences and never got caught up in nine weeks and the other gave up trying and I noticed her spending a lot of time watching her friends play (she did admit that she enjoyed watching her friends play and still enjoyed the class – go figure!). Others didn’t get very many non-game assignments done and some didn’t feel that they were very successful playing the game because they didn’t level up fast enough (meaning not as fast as others in the class).
Overall more than 76% of students had a positive experience (some of the kids who rated the class a 5 or 6 were actually rating the class from the previous quarter and the World of Warcraft class together and really weren’t rating the World of Warcraft class that low) and learned something. The main reason kids rated their impression at 9 or 10 out of 10 was how much fun they had playing World of Warcraft. Some said it was great being able to play a game during school and that they looked forward to coming to 4th period. Aw.
Just about everyone improved their typing speed by practicing some typing every week using Typing.Com. Other skills that kids reported practicing or learning in class included:
think before you speak
“not much I just had to use my brain”
The above brief snippet is very representative of a typical day in the computer lab last quarter (technically the 2nd quarter of the school year but the 1st quarter for our WoWinSchools class). I had 27 sixth graders in that class, the students from my 1st period Science class.
Using parts of the WoWinSchools curriculum, modified for a much shorter class – nine weeks, students began the class with a few assignments dealing with the themes of the course before they could play the actual game. The idea was that students prepared themselves for their adventure before starting the adventure by thinking and sharing their ideas about things such as heroism. Students shared their ideas on our class discussion forum. Students also researched the World of Warcraft game before playing it. They visited different websites to learn about their favorite game races, such as the Night Elves, Gnomes, and Dwarves, and their favorite game classes, such as Druids, Mages, Warriors, and Warlocks. Instead of reading a World of Warcraft story and following along with the author’s journey of the hero, kids in this class became the hero as they controlled the journey of their World of Warcraft character. (BTW, this is something kids who engage in role-playing games do all the time.)
This class is not only a highly engaging way for students to participate and discuss the journey of a hero but also a great way for students to practice other valuable skills. Game-Based Learning, the art of using games to learn do more than impart knowledge onto kids. Games, especially immersive games with massive virtual words full of background story, also provide students opportunities to gain other skills. While playing the game World of Warcraft students were able to do the following:
- Figure out how to play the game, how to move and use their skills as well as how to interact with the game characters (aka Non-Player Characters or NPC’s), and get around (the world of Azeroth is huge!).
- Decide what their character would do at every step including how their character dealt with challenges, obstacles, and quests. Kids can go anywhere so it is actually quite easy to get lost! I’ve had kids ask me for help getting back to their starting location.
- As they choose quests they are provided some back story to understand why they were being asked to do the tasks by the NPC’s, and even if they skimmed or only read part of the quest back story they were still getting a sense of the greater story, or stories, that is the game.
- Leveling up. By completing quests students earn experience points or XP, which helps them level up. Students could level up by killing things and exploring but it’s much slower that way. Leveling up increases their character’s stats so they fight better. Higher levels bring increasing rewards making leveling up quite enticing. It’s one way games are so motivating.
- Decide which armor or weapons to choose when they completed a quest. Often different armor or weapons are offered and only a certain type will benefit the player’s class. For example, a mage can only wear cloth armor so if they choose mail armor they can’t wear it. To make things more complex a mage player can choose mail armor if they want to sell it because more often than not mail armor will sell for more money than cloth armor!
- Managing money! All player characters start out with no money. As they complete quests and kill things they get money. One hundred copper becomes one silver and one hundred silver become one gold. With money kids can buy better gear and weapons and at level 20 they can buy a mount to travel faster.
- Problem solve whenever they got stuck, lost, or just plain completing a difficult quest.
- Cooperate and communicate with those playing in the same starting zones. This took the form of helping each other especially when one found something needed or completed a quest first. Kids helped each other get around, find quest givers, complete quests, and find their way back home.
- Discovering new places. Some kids were quite happy exploring and finding new things, creatures, and places.
- Play in an online world with other real, live players who could be anywhere in the world. Digital citizenship and digital footprints are discussion items that students are tasked with thinking about and reflecting on. I remind students that they are playing this game in school and are therefore representing their school. When they play at home they represent themselves and even though the characters on the screen are virtual they are played by real people.
The above list are the things I observed kids doing while playing the game. Not only are kids engaged in truly student-centered activities but which skills that I’ve written about (also this one) do you think kids are practicing from the list above?
Games are more than just mindless activities that are a waste of time. Games can and do help students practice many necessary and important skills and I am honored to be able to provide my 6th graders with a chance to see how games can be used in an academic setting.
After writing about the 21st Century C’s I added the Caring C to the list of skills I had put together. I also found some other skills to add to it. It seems to me that Caring fits better with life skills than the four C’s. If we can help students practice the following skills then we are doing our job preparing them for whatever they have coming. With so much content to teach and so much knowledge it’s the skills that are important and they are valid for any content area.
I changed the wordle on my Powtoon slideshow. I also made the slideshow into a Powtoon video embedded below. The only part that didn’t transfer to the video are the Youtube videos I put in the slideshow.
Here’s the first video in the slideshow that didn’t make it onto the above Powtoon video (I selected these videos to impress upon students the need for tech skills):
Here’s the second video:
Here’s the third video: