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Oct 20 14

Am I a Hypocrite?

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some rights reserved by Will Lion

Some rights reserved by Will Lion

Sometimes I feel like hypocrite when I denounce extrinsic rewards. I’ve been vocal at my school about my discomfort rewarding students for things they should be doing. Things that many of them do anyways. We even abolished our monthly awards ceremonies and student of the month award ceremonies last year. But now we have become a PBIS school. Both our new principal and new counselor are leading us in rewarding students for doing the right things. We have adopted the Peace4Kids curriculum to teach kids all sorts of wonderful traits. We are teaching them about traits such as responsibility, perseverance, and cooperation and we are supposed to encourage such traits by giving students a slip of paper with the corresponding trait they are showing. There will be regular drawings of those who turn in their trait slips so they can win cool prizes such as a pizza party.

Some of the staff in my school feel that this is good and will help students learn and/or practice the traits we are teaching them. They also feel that rewarding kids will acknowledge them for having the Peace4Kids traits. I don’t know though. Reading any of Alfie Kohn’s works makes me wonder if rewarding good behavior is the right way to go. Dan Pink shows that if we offer incentives for basic, simple tasks then rewards work as they should. You get more of what you are rewarding. Are behaviors simple or complex?

Personally, rewarding kids for doing the right thing makes me very uncomfortable. It is because of that discomfort that I don’t hand out those slips of reward paper. I want to keep from embarrassing kids therefore making them think twice before doing the right thing again or making kids want or look for rewards the next time they are thinking of doing the right thing or having kids wonder why I don’t notice when they do the right thing and then feel, “why bother?” All these things happen when we reward kids. Here’s a conversation – see comments, too – at John Spencer’s blog of what to do when you don’t give rewards but your school does. It’s worth reading if you’re in the same boat or even if you’re not.

But now that I’ve been using gamification as a strategy to engage kids in their learning of Science I seem to be rewarding them for doing their work and completing assignments. I use a gamification LMS called 3D GameLab to keep track of experience points and badges that my students are earning. Before using 3D GameLab I had gone completely gradeless in an effort to remove all extrinsic rewards from my classroom and my students’ learning. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Our kids are too well trained. In 24 years of teaching I have found for certain that nothing I do will fit all my students all of the time so I now work towards helping and benefiting as many of my students as I can for as much of the school year as I can.

When my students get experience points it’s for completing an assignment successfully. If they do not complete it successfully they get the assignment back with written feedback from me as to what they can do to resubmit it so that it will be approved. So they get points for work they actually get done. The badges are tied to groups of assignments so I feel that those are also earned. Experience points and badges serve as evidence of work done and lessons learned. Is that any different from handing out slips of paper for seeing students show responsibility? Am I a hypocrite for denouncing the giving extrinsic rewards when I give out experience points and badges to my own students?

Oct 1 14

Behavior Self-Assessment

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After having students make three promises to help us have a safe, happy and fun classroom I made a google form so they could assess how well they’ve kept their promises on a weekly basis.

So far many students have taken the assessment two or three times since we drafted the promises. I compared their results with the data I’ve collected from Classdojo and I see that my two early morning classes are doing much better than my after lunch (technically still morning) class. Makes sense. But their self-assessment shows that my period 2 class is actually doing the best.

Here’s my 1st period class (starts at 7:45am!):

I promise be kind to everyone and be friends with everyone. Cooperate with my teammates by doing your fair share of the work and by not doing all the work.


I promise to speak when it’s my turn and try to keep it quiet. This means that I will stop, look and listen when a speaker is talking.


I promise to ask before I leave the room and walk calmly (remember to be aware of those around you to be safe).


And here’s my period 1 observations.


I promise to be respectful and kind  to everybody and to try my best. I will be respectful of people’s things, space and our classroom, which will include throwing my gum in the trash.


I promise to be quiet and when it’s okay to talk, talk quietly so the noise level is low. This includes listening when people are talking.


I promise to promise to walk slowly and remember to be aware of those around you to be safe.


My period 2 observations. Very positive!


I promise to act friendly towards each other. Be respectful and try to stop bullying if you see it.


I promise to pay attention and be on task. Politely remind those who are talking or just not listening.


I promise to walk calmly and remember to be aware of those around you to be safe.


Here are my observations. A lot more disruptions and talking when it’s least appropriate to talk.

We’ll see how this continues now that we’re back from our week-long trip to Camp Cispus.

Sep 30 14

Mt Saint Helens

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Here’s a presentation I put together for students for our Mt Saint Helens study after our fantastic trip last week to Camp Cispus (we are very fortunate to get to take our entire 6th grade class to a camp for four days every year)! I added some brief notes explaining what each slide is showing:

Sep 30 14

Sharing is a Good Thing

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I came across this post by George Couros, 4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind. He gives some great ideas to the reasons people give. I have to admit that I’ve heard those reasons when I tell people how wonderful blogging is to me.

In his post George shares this video I’ve seen before. It’s a great video to watch if you’re considering starting your own blog and sharing whatever is on your mind. Watch the video because you never know when your thoughts can become someone else’s inspiration.

Sep 29 14

The Story Continues…

by Alfonso Gonzalez


Here’s the presentation that started the Voyages of the Starship Equinox. The Equinox is a Starfleet Science vessel that will propel me and my students on a voyage of the imagination as we learn Science this year.

And here’s the latest installment:

Sep 26 14

Help Following Directions!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Readers, I need your help, advice or let me know if this happens elsewhere. I recently wrote about my dilemma with either talking too much or letting students work independently to the point where they struggle.

I have this preliminary assignment to get my students blogging. Students can access the assignment with written directions using their 3D GameLab accounts. I also show them how to use their blog as a whole class instruction. Many students get it and successfully complete the assignment but many do not.

My question is how can I get more, or all, of my students to complete this assignment correctly? If I already show them myself, give then written directions in case they missed or forgot what I showed them, and include a video of me showing them what I already showed them, then what else can I do and why aren’t all students getting it??

Here’s an old video of me showing them how to set up and customize their blog plus start their first blog assignment called 7 Random Facts. On the video I start from our class Moodle and now they use 3D GameLab but it’s still pretty much the same directions.

Here are the written directions on their 3D GameLab accounts:

When you are done watching the video log in to your Class Blogmeister account. Choose your colors to make it your own then complete your 7 Random Facts blog assignment.

Choose complete when you finish this quest and put the link to your 7 Random Facts blog to show that you did it.

And here’s a shorter video (I know, my videos and instructions tend to be too long) showing students how to copy and paste the correct link on 3D GameLab to successfully complete the quest and get the XP.

So maybe I need to redo my videos so they’re more up to date. I also struggle with giving maybe too many directions at once? So how should I scaffold this? Should I give shorter instructions, let them do, then give another set of shorter instructions?

I’ve experienced this with other assignments and part of me is wondering if kids are both missing parts of the directly taught instructions and not reading the written instructions carefully. I keep reminding kids to read written instructions carefully and ask me questions if they are still confused. I don’t get many questions so I think my written directions are clear.

Someday I just might figure this out.

Sep 23 14

Tech via SAMR

by Alfonso Gonzalez

We kicked off the new school year with a tech training for the whole district. Here’s the Prezi we used for our kick-off tech training:

As we train our district staff this year to implement our new Tech Plan, we are making use of the SAMR model (resources included in the above Prezi) to help teachers use technology to transform their teaching. We also have this collaborative document I started years ago with examples of 21st Century Teaching/Learning models.

This year we are going to run a tech levy to make our plan come alive. I’m especially excited because when we pass that levy the middle school can implement our 1:1 plan! I can’t wait and I’m really excited to work with everyone to bring our district into the 21st Century.

Sep 21 14

Live Action Role Play #gamification

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Balsavor-Some rights reserved.

Balsavor-Some rights reserved.

This year I’m adding a new element to my gamified courses. I’m developing a fully gamified course based on the Science I’ve been teaching for years. The goal is to add a level of fun and engagement to Science both for those who love gaming, gamers, and for those maybe aren’t intrinsically motivated to learn Science (yet). For those who love Science and don’t like gaming or aren’t gamers, they can still learn and love Science! I’m working at making my course accessible to ALL my students.

Last year I improved my gamified Science courses by using an awesome learning management system (LMS) for gamification called 3D GameLab3D GameLab really streamlined some of the elements of a gamified course for me so that students can enjoy things like gaining XP (experience points) while making my life easier so that I can keep track of what my students are doing and learning. And on top of all that I was also able to give each student individualized feedback on any or all of the assignments they submit for me to review.

So this year I’m adding a storyline to the “game” that is 6th grade Science. I chose Star Trek as the theme for the story because I’m a trekkie/trekker. I was going back and forth between Star Trek and Star Wars because they’re both so cool and fun but Star Trek won out because it’s more Sciencie and Techie than Star Wars and fits my physical science curriculum better. Here’s how I introduced it to my students:

I got the idea for this at NCCE 2014 from Jeff Crews and Dean Phillips from Beyond the Chalk. By using Google Docs with parts of the main story and linking those bits of story to QR codes kids can immerse themselves in the story.

As I place new QR codes somewhere in the room kids will bring up the next installation of the story! Sometimes it will introduce characters, sometimes it will give information or specs on the starships in the story, sometimes it will be part of the story to read, and sometimes it will be part of the story with choices as to what happens next (choose your own adventure)!

I was worried about coming up with the story so I read some Star Trek novels this summer and am totally using those stories instead of having to create my own!

While introducing this new aspect of our gamified classes a student asked me if this was like a Live Action Role Play (LARP). I hadn’t thought of that but totally loved it and said, YES!” I thought it was more of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) and it is kind of like both, isn’t it?

Here is the presentation from the above video in case you want a closer look at how I’m starting:

Sep 20 14

More Direct Instruction

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Teddy Rised-Some Rights Reserved

Teddy Rised-Some Rights Reserved

I started this year off pretty well. I had some activities for students to work on such as the Marshmallow Challenge on the first week of school so I wouldn’t be talking too much or going over our rules and procedures right from the start.

For the last few years I’ve tried to talk less and have students get right to learning and working. I did that after getting feedback from students that I talked too much at the beginning of the year. I found that a lot of students floundered without more direct instruction so I tried to balance that this year with more direct instruction. I think I’ve done too much because for the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking a lot. I’ve already heard that from a few students.

Part of the reason I’ve been giving so much direct instruction, besides to provide more guidance and support for all the new things students are learning in my classes, is that this 6th grade group has been very well behaved. They have a pretty strong work ethic and a strong sense of how to behave in a classroom full of people. Sure they have times when they talk while I’m instructing, where they are off task, and where they are less than kind to each other like any group of students. But overall they feel remorseful and work to do better the next time more so than other groups of students. It’s a phenomenon that exists when there is a majority of kids that kow how to behave in a classroom versus groups where the majority of students tend to misbehave. The class climate is determined by this majority and when more students pay attention to instruction and value helpful classroom behavior then the overall effect is quite positive. This group has so far made it easy for me to talk at them so I’ve tried to be really engaging and use visuals when I present and instruct.

My plan is to front load a lot of what I expect of them and as we move on with our school year I’ll talk less and less. My goal is for students to know my expectations clearly so they know how to be successful and have a positive learning environment. I also want to show them how to use the technology to learn and how to show me what they’re learning in different ways so they all have an opportunity to thrive.

There’s so much I want to do with them and I tend to be impatient by jumping in before kids are ready. This year I don’t want to make that mistake again so I am forcing myself to go slow. Having 80 minute periods instead of 50 minute periods has helped a lot.

We do have our four day camping trip to Camp Cispus next week and that might set up back in terms of all we’ve done in class so far, but our trip is also a great way for kids to bond together and practice teamwork while doing some fantastic outdoor learning.

When we return from our trip I will do some talking again to remind students of our expectations and what we need to be successful. In order to create an environment where students can learn at their own pace and share their learning in exciting ways we did an activity to develop Class Promises by Bill Ferriter. I really enjoyed that activity (thanks, Bill!) because the idea was to generate three promises for me and for students to have a safe, happy and fun classroom!

I am excited with our class promises and I start every class by reminding students to practice keeping their promises so we can have a safe, happy and fun classroom. Here’s what each class came up with:

Period 1

Period 2

Period 3

I’m so excited about this school year and after my experience last year I really needed this. :)

Sep 11 14

ClassDojo or Classcraft #gamification

by Alfonso Gonzalez

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So far I’ve only been using ClassDojo and Classcraft for a few days but I’m liking them both. I’ve been wanting to try ClassDojo for a while now and this year I finally took the plunge (I also have to admit that this is the first year I’m using Remind as well instead of using Facebook Groups like I did last year because I didn’t get very many parents joining my Facebook Groups and so far I’ve got more than half of my parents signing up for Remind). I decided to use ClassDojo with my three 6th grade Science classes and my decision was partly based on being able to use something that both complimented 3D GameLab and didn’t create too much more work in addition to 3D GameLab.

ClassDojo can be used pretty much daily because it’s very quick and easy to use. If the whole class does something well you can select all and give them all the same feedback, which helps. I told students that I would give them feedback on their behavior using ClassDojo a few times a week and not everyday because that way they never know for sure when I’ll be providing them feedback. Besides, I don’t think they will need feedback for every little thing they do. In the beginning, as they are learning our routines, I plan to use it more often and as they get better I’ll provide less feedback, maybe once or twice a week unless more is warranted. As with any reward-like system tapering off or weaning them off is the long-term goal so they begin to internalize the behaviors and rely on my feedback less and less.

The reason I referred to ClassDojo as a reward-like system is because the feedback comes first and foremost in the form of positive, green points for the good behaviors we want and negative, red points for the behaviors we don’t want. They can practice some math if they get positive and negative points. My main concern was that students would focus on the points and not read the actual feedback. Luckily, I’ve heard students mention the actual feedback and not just the points while I’ve also heard some just check to see if they’re totally or mostly positive. One reason I finally decided to try ClassDojo is because I read on a blog that you can edit the feedback narratives and add your own! The presets are pretty good but I added a little more detail after observing my students and seeing what they need like this:
Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.16.35 PM

Same with the behaviors that need work:
Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.16.44 PM

It cuts off when you write too much but parents and kids can see the whole feedback when they mouse over their pie chart:
Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 7.52.24 PM

So far I only have slightly more than half of all my 6th graders’ parents signed up but I’m going to keep encouraging because the parents who are checking it are loving it. They get more feedback about their child’s behavior than I’ve ever been able to give. For me that has been invaluable because they’ll know so much about how their child is behaving in Science when we finally meet for a parent-teacher-student conference! We’ll be able to focus on academics and the learning of Science!

ClassDojo uses cute monster avatars that the kids can customize and they get points, which are the game mechanics that make providing behavior information gamified. So far I’m really liking it.

I thought Classcraft was going to be similar to ClassDojo in that it was a gamified system for providing kids points to let them know how they are doing in my course. It looked very cool with more video game-like avatars and the use of powers with experience points, action points, hit points and power points so I was very motivated to try it out. So this year I started using it with my 6th grade exploratory class, which is basically my 1st period class coming back to me 4th period for the Peace4Kids curriculum.

The first thing I learned is that Classcraft is not like ClassDojo. Classcraft doesn’t do as good a job at letting kids know how they are doing in my course because there is so much else going on. It does provide them feedback if they gain or lose points but what it does really well is it turns your course into a game. Really. 3D GameLab does that too but not in quite the same way as Classcraft. Classcraft provides students an avatar that is either a Mage, a Healer, or a Warrior. Depending on which character class they choose they benefit their group in different ways so Classcraft really encourages teamwork and cooperation.

Here’s a typical team. Kids are encouraged to balance their teams because as things happen in class, such as random events from Classcraft that I, as the teacher and Gamemaster, chooses or from making poor choices by being off task or bothering others that causes them to lose hit points (get to zero and you’re dead). As players take damage (by making poor choices or from bad luck) Warriors use protection powers to take the damage for a teammate because they take less damage than the other character classes. Then Healers step in and heal those who are low on hit points. Using those powers cost action points and Mages are key because their powers restore action points to their teammates.

Lots of fun and very motivating. The kids and I are loving it. And the coolest part is that kids get points and feedback by doing their classwork (much like 3D GameLab). It takes a little bit of time at the start of class to pick a random event. Then kids react to it if teammates need healing or action points. After that class runs normally. I can go around and give feedback by choosing a behavior much like ClassDojo and give kids XP (experience points) or deduct HP (hit points or life) but so far I’ve been doing that after class. There is also a discussion forum where I can share information with the class.

Classcraft is free with a paid version available with features kids love such as being able to earn coins to customize their characters and train pets. They also have a freemium option where kids get coins and it’s still free but at home the students can ask their parents to spend real money, up to $5, on the class coins. I offered the class that option but we agreed to not spend real money because it wasn’t equitable for those with money to have well equipped characters next to those who are just doing all their work (sorry Classcraft!). I know Classcraft, as a valuable resource, needs money to keep the service going but I can’t send kids home asking their parents to spend money at the same time I don’t want to deny kids something they love. It’s quite the quandary.

The class that is using Classcraft is enjoying it so much that I’m considering adding it to my Science classes. That would mean that kids and I would have to juggle a 3D GameLab account, a ClassDojo account, a Classcraft account, a blog account, and a class discussion forum account all the while learning and doing Science! I think it’s all worth it. I’ll be reflecting here on how it all goes.

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