Skip to content
Aug 18 14

Gamification: Where to Begin? #gamification #3dgamelab #gbl #arg

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology - Some Rights Reserved

Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology – Some Rights Reserved

I’ve been getting questions about where to begin if you want to gamify your classes and I thought I’d share some of what has worked for me here.

To begin I just want to say that gamification can happen without spending any money. I think the most important aspect of gamification be a change in how you run your classroom especially the way teachers traditionally grade, assess, and show students how they are doing. Gamification refers to using some form of game mechanics from video games in a non-video game setting. It could mean points, typically experience points or XP, questing (which just a gaming term that means completing assignments), maybe badges and/or achievements to show students what they’ve learned, and maybe things like leaderboards to show students where they stand if you want to make your course competitive.

The biggest difference I see between gamification and traditional grading is that in a gamified setting students start with a zero or they are a level 1 player. As students learn they get points and level up. In a traditional classroom students start with an A and chip away at that A every time they make mistakes. That seems so counter-intuitive. You are learning new things and get penalized every time you make mistakes! What? In a gamified approach students can make all the mistakes they need to learn the material. It’s when they show that they’ve learned something or successfully completed assignments that they get the XP. I really like calling points experience points because it gets the idea across that you have to gain some new knowledge or skills or EXPERIENCE. Kids are encouraged to take risks in a gamified classroom because taking risks gets you points and you level up faster. In a traditional classroom taking risks can cost you points and your overall grade average will drop. Not good for high achieving students!

If anyone is getting started in gamification I highly recommend that you read Lee Sheldon’s book, The Multiplayer Classroom. That book shows many different ways to gamify a course. It really helped me after I floundered trying to do it on my own.

If you have the technology, or rather your students have access to devices or computers, and you find that you could use a learning management system (LMS) to keep track of assignments/quests, points, badges, etc, then I highly recommend using 3D GameLab. Using 3D GameLab made my life so much easier. It has become my one-stop place for keeping track of ALL my students’ learning, assignments, and an excellent way to provide each and every student individualized, narrative feedback when they need it. It does cost money though. I pay for my account myself because for me it’s worth it. Here’s a webpage I put together to explain to parents how they can use 3D GameLab to keep track of what their child is learning in my class.

I have seen and would like to try a free option for gamifying a course and having an LMS type resource, and that is ClassCraft. It looks great and so far it’s free. I’m thinking of trying it out on a new one quarter course I’m teaching in the Fall just to see how kids respond to it.

All the posts I’ve written about gamification can be found here, including all my Diigo Gamification links.

I’m going to add another subsection of gamification, one I’m not so familiar with (not that I’m very familiar with any of this, I am, after all, a beginner with only a few years of trying these things out) which I’m calling Alternate Reality (AR). Here are my AR Diigo Links. Now my Diigo links will also have Augmented Reality links in there, I didn’t think that one through all way when I first started curating all the links, so here are specifically Alternate Reality Game Links. For me and what I’m going to do this year is to add a story element to my gamified course. That is another game mechanic, a story that the game takes place in. I’ll be blogging more about that later as it unfolds and evolves.

Now if after reading the above you are thinking, “but what if I want my kids to play games to learn my content?” Then you’re thinking of the related but different Game-Based Learning (GBL). GBL refers to using games, either educational or commercial off the shelf (COTS) games, in school for learning of the content. There are so many games for different content areas and different grade levels.

I have collected a bunch of links on GBL on Diigo, check them out. And if you are thinking of using games such as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2 with your students you have to check out the WoWinSchools Wiki and if you’re thinking about using Minecraft check out the Minecraft Wiki.

Using games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) or Guild Wars 2 (GW2) allows students to work together in these alternate realms to complete cognitively demanding tasks. The amount of research kids do outside of these games to better play the games rivals anything they do in school! That level of engagement is what those of us who are looking to GBL want. Games such as WoW and GW2 are known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and the name says it all. Those are whole worlds complete with very rich and complex story lines. I see it as having my students take control of the main character in the story instead of merely reading about the main character. It’s the reason so many of us are drawn to gaming, because we get to be in charge and control the destiny of our characters!

Minecraft has some aspects of MMORPGs but instead of being massive and instead of being a role playing game, Minecraft is more of what is being called a sandbox game. It is truly a universe where the player can create or do anything he or she can imagine. As for a teacher, we can build any world for our students to play in and learn whatever we have to teach. See also Minecraft.edu for information on school accounts at a reduced price. Here are more Minecraft Links I’ve curated on Diigo.

Aug 14 14

Getting Ready for School!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

BackToSchoolI will start off by saying that I have been having an enjoyable summer. Even after spraining both my ankles and being laid out (sprained one and healed it enough to go to the WA state Zombie Run where I sprained the other one on a night run – at least I made it through the day run!), I’ve had a nice summer with my family.

I started off with that because I feel like I’ve been preparing for the start of the new year quite a lot so far and I’ve barely scratched the surface!

  1. I started by reading a Star Trek novel and a graphic novel series to get ideas to add a story-line to my gamified Science course. I was not willing to undertake writing my own story but taking an already made story was doable! I’ve made it so that students will get parts of the story whenever they see new QR codes suddenly appear around the classroom. Some of them will be a choose your adventure type while others will be continuation story line. I worked on that for quite some time after reading the books.
  2. Then I had to complete two grant reports for the two grants I got last year.
  3. July 14 – 17 I attended an awesome BER conference on a Train the Trainer Differentiation to Meet the Common Core. Now the teacher I went with and I will be training the rest of our staff on what we learned during that conference. We are starting with a 3-hr session on Wednesday, August 26!
  4. After that I took and completed an online course on Standards-Based Grading and Formative Assessment from Marzano Labs.
  5. July 30 and 31 I participated in a bunch of awesome Gamification webinars! Good stuff.
  6. Then I worked on making sure the WoWinSchool curriculum was ready and that I could follow along for the 6th grade exploratory class I’ll be teaching 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarter. I got the course on 3D GameLab from Lucas Gillespie and Peggy Sheehy, legends in the WoW and Minecraft in schools arena, and I just can’t wait until 2nd quarter to start working on it! :)
  7. I put together a presentation yesterday for our August 14 tech planning session. Our district tech committee is putting together an all district staff tech training for the last week of August to start off the new year and kick off our new three year Tech Plan.
  8. Today I just finished putting together a Cispus slideshow for our Cispus Orientation sessions when parents come to register their kids on Thursday, August 28.

The above tasks seem to consume quite a bit of my time and attention. Thanks goodness I had fun working on all of the above! I usually do a lot of prep over summer and catching up on reading but this summer I feel like I’ve done more than usual. And I still the following left to do:

  1. Have to make the Camp Cispus schedule and make sure the roads to Mt Saint Helens will be open when we’re there.
  2. Attend a Peace4Kids training on Monday, August 18, because I’ll be teaching that to 6th graders for the 1st quarter of the year for the first time ever. We’ll also be using the Peace4Kids curriculum with our advisory classes.
  3. Attend a summer institute for some awesome classes on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 19 and 20.
  4. We will have our building and district staff days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, August 25 – 27 (where I’ll be co-leading the district tech training and our building differentiation training).
  5. Attend a Standards-Based Grading (SBG) meeting to prepare for our SBG pilot (I’m one of the four teachers this who will be piloting SBG for our building).
  6. Prepare our professional development plan and begin training our staff for our new PD model this this year (soon I’ll be able to write about the grant we got to do that).
  7. Find time to read The Restorative Practices Handbook and Restorative Circles in School in preparation for our PBIS initiative.
  8. And I still have to start preparing for my classes and reorganizing some of the 3D GameLab quests that didn’t quite work out last year! That in itself will take some time.
  9. The prep for the start of school, Sept 2, includes prepping the new Peace4Kids course. I would like to either use 3D GameLab or try out ClassCraft and see how that one works.

Yeah, I think I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew. I’ll just do what I can and try not to stress. At least with two sprained ankles I can’t go off running so I can sit and get some of the above work done. But then again, I can’t go running and release the stress!

Image licensed under Public Domain.
Aug 11 14

One Road or Many Paths

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I’ve been drawn to the song Am I Wrong? by Nico & Vinz. If you haven’t heard it check it out (here’s the link in case the video doesn’t play):

I thought it had to do with true love until I watched Vinz and Nico explain what the song is all about (here’s the link in case the video doesn’t play):

Turns out this song really explains something we as educators face every time we work with our students. We teach kids who, like Vinz and Nico, have a dream, a vision of what their future is going to be whether that means being a movie or tv star, a famous musician or singer, a major league, NBA, or NFL sports player, a doctor or anything else kids can dream of. We also have kids who change their mind but at any point in their lives have a dream of what they want to do with their lives. We also have kids who don’t know what they want to do, yet.

Do we teach each of the above groups differently? Imagine those kids in your classroom like Nico and Vinz. I teach Science. They may have determined that they don’t need Science. Their experience in my Science class will be very different from kids who want to be scientists or doctors or something where they are interested in Science and realize that they need to learn it to achieve their dreams. The kids who don’t know that they want to do might be convinced to learn Science because they either may need it in the future OR by trying it out they might just find that ONE thing they want to do! Maybe. More than likely it’s what most teachers know, we need to make the learning experience relevant, interesting, fun, exciting so that kids will want to engage with and learn it.

That’s how I approach whatever I teach: try it, you might like it. :)

But I keep thinking of Nico and Vinz (well, the students I’ve had who like them have a dream and a vision). From the song Vinz says:

Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay?
Am I wrong for saying that I choose another way?

I ain’t tryna do what everybody else doing
Just cause everybody doing what they all do
If one thing I know, I’ll fall but I’ll grow
I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home

And Nico quotes himself in the above video:

Walk your walk and don’t look back, always do what you decide
Don’t let them control your life, that’s just how I feel
Fight for yours and don’t let go, don’t let them compare you, no
Don’t worry, you’re not alone, that’s just how we feel

Now both these talented young men made their dreams come true and it’s a pleasure to behold. I like how Nico tells those who feel like he feels, “don’t worry, you’re not alone.” That’s pretty awesome. I’ve heard teachers worry because the reality is that compared to the number of people who go into certain industries, like the music industry, very few actually make it. Even with shows like American Idol, which gives newcomers a shot at making their dreams come true, thousands audition and only a dozen or so get enough air time to be discovered. At least discovered big time.

I bolded the part where Vinz says, “I’ll fall but I’ll grow.” He knew that even if he failed at his dreams he would grow. He knew that failure is nothing but a learning experience. Such a Growth Mindset! Isn’t that what we want of kids? So do we encourage kids to follow their dreams even if that means not engaging with our curricula? I see the whole Fedex Day, Passion Day, 20% Time, Genius Hour trend to be teachers finding ways to let kids explore their dreams. Their visions. The way I see it even if you don’t, “make it big,” there’s a lot to say for living your dream.

Not all of us know right off the bat what we want to do in life. And some of us think one thing and then find our true path. I fell into education quite by accident. Going into college I wanted to be a veterinarian. I struggled with the courses needed for pre-vet but luckily for me I was able to teach the new incoming students at my martial arts club when I reached a high enough belt. I fell in love with teaching. When I switched gears after a few years of failure and struggle I experienced success! Everything changed for me because of that experience teaching white belts. I never even saw that coming and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

So some of us find our dream early on and we stay true to that one path. For Nico & Vinz it was music. Maybe along their path Science, Math, and other subjects weren’t as necessary (maybe, I certainly don’t know but I do know that I’ve students who felt they really didn’t need Science so they really didn’t do much in my class). So even if kids like Nico & Vinz don’t engage in our classes they can still be very successful. Even if they don’t make it big like Nico & Vinz if they get to play music everyday and make people smile and enjoy themselves, they are still successful. Then there are those kids who may change their minds because of something we do in our classes! Or maybe we can just help them enjoy learning our subjects.Whatever their future holds there will be multiple paths to get them there and our subject might be one of those paths. We as educators expose kids to our curricula just in case they’ll need it or that it will help them do whatever they will end up doing.

As Nico & Vinz say, “If you tell I’m wrong… I don’t wanna be right.” That’s just how I feel too.

Aug 2 14

Apple and Google Changing Education

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Google Apple Education
Source: TopDegreesOnline.org

I didn’t know what to think about the above infographic. I was thinking it was strange how Google and Apple are making changes to education and not the those in the trenches, namely teachers and students. But that seems to be the way it is for education, those with the most money and influence are the ones who are determining where education is going and educators are just going along for the ride. Maybe but maybe not because it’s up to educators and students what services they use and continue to use. So while Google and Apple have their visions of what education should be and could be those of us who are educating students day in and day out do have the last word by the services we choose to use or not use.

Jul 27 14

Grading to Inform

by Alfonso Gonzalez

There’s a lot of discussion around grading and specifically how traditional grading falls short of informing how well students are doing in a class. Letter grades and percentages do not inform students and their parents as to how well they are learning the material. That one final letter or final percentage includes way too much information to be of any real value. And it’s further complicated when behavior is included in that grade not too mention how many teachers still give extra points for kids who bring all their supplies or kids who bring in something that has nothing to do with what they are learning. Those final grades are very convenient, especially for busy parents who don’t have time to read over lengthy narratives but they fall short of what we’d like them to actually do, which is tell what our students are learning and what they have yet to learn.

Typically we wonder about grading when taking into account the following different types of students:
Student A who doesn’t do any work, acts out in class yet can pass tests or shows the he or she can meet standard.

Compared to:
Student B who does all the work, is cooperative in class and even helpful to other students but doesn’t do well on tests or even more doesn’t show that he or she can meet standard. This is more than just a student who doesn’t test well, this student truly needs more time to understand the topics/concepts being studied.

In a traditional grading class both Student A and B might average out to a C final grade. And if that doesn’t seem right, or fair, to the teacher then Student A can get a C- and student can get a C+. A fudge in the final grade to account for the difference in behaviors and attitude and work ethic. Maybe the fudging even goes so far as to give Student A a D+ and Student B a B-! That may seem more fair but is it valid?

The conversation with parents for Student A focuses on the student’s potential because he or she can meet standard but isn’t completing work. Student A isn’t behaving in an appropriate manner for school or in a manner to be successful in school.

While the conversation with Student B’s parents focuses on how hard he or she works, how much he or she tries and what a great person and/or student he or she is but how he or she isn’t meeting standard. The conversation then will need to gravitate to how this student can learn the material.

Both Student A and B need very different interventions and shouldn’t be getting the same letter grade imho but often in traditional grading they will end up with the same grade. On paper they look very similar, average as they say, but in fact they are very different.

Now what about those who say that Student A is rare and there just aren’t that many of them? Then let’s take into account Student C. Now this student, like Student A, doesn’t do work, maybe acts out and also does poorly on tests or doesn’t standard. Only by giving that student extra credit or inflating anything he or she does turn in can that student get a D or a C- if the teacher doesn’t want to fail the student. Typically that student will get an F. For Student C and those like him or her that F will always be a punishment, a reminder that they just can’t succeed in school.

Now let’s look at Students A, B and C in a Standards-Based Graded (SBG) class.

Using a 4-point scale where a 0 means incomplete, no evidence of meeting standard (not a zero in the same way zeroes are used in traditional grading classes so this zero will not be averaged in any way, it just means that the teacher needs more evidence and when the teacher gets more evidence the student will be able to meet standard just like everyone else), a 1 means that even with help the student does not show understanding, a 2 means that the student has a basic understanding of the concept, a 3 means that the child has met standard or shows understanding of the concept, and a 4 means that the child exceeds the standard, which can mean being able to show understanding independently, consistently, and/or is able to teach it to others.

Student A will have a 1 for behavior and a 3 or 4 for the academic concepts.

Student B will have a 4 for behavior and a 1 or a 2 for each academic concept that he or she doesn’t quite get.

Student C will have a 1 for behavior and a 1 or a 2 for each academic concept.

An SBG progress report seems more valid and more informative to me. As the teacher I know what interventions are needed for those students and I can communicate that more easily to their parents.

And let’s not forget students that have been considered average students in traditional classes, or C students (but unlike Students A or B because they do some of their work and they show understanding of some of their concepts), they might get 2’s on their behavior and 2’s or 3’s on specific academic concepts.

Alone those 1’s, 2’s and 3’s provide some information but when they are attached to what are called proficiency scales showing exactly what skills, knowledge, ideas, etc. the student needs to show or learn to meet standard then they become tools students, parents and teachers can use to improve. Proficiency Scales, much like rubrics, provide specific information as to what is needed to learn the material. Those scales can be used by the teacher to provide targeted and individualized feedback to students so they can tell if they are getting the concepts or not. As I wrote in an earlier blog post I would share theses proficiency scales with students only after they’ve had a chance to explore and learn without fear of getting low scores (in other words, the work they do while learning provide me with formative assessment that I wouldn’t necessarily score but that can inform my instruction and my justification of a future score – I won’t say final because I feel students should able to improve if they want to).

With the SBG parents and students can see what they need to work on if they want to improve and it’s much more informative than one letter grade or percentage that combines behavior, and who knows what else, with academic progress.

In the end we as teachers want the data we gather, whether it’s observation, formative assessments, or anything else we get from our students, to help us see whether it is the behavior causing the academic problems or whether it is the academic problems causing the behavior problems. Either way, our interventions have to be different depending on what our students need. I can use SBG more efficiently to tailor interventions to my student’s individual needs.

Jul 26 14

Proficiency Scales vs Rubrics

by Alfonso Gonzalez

In the Marzano Research Laboratory online course I’m taking on Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading a distinction was made between Rubrics and what are known as Proficiency Scales. I have to admit that I’m having a difficult time understanding the difference between the two. Honestly, they both seem like rubrics to me!

This blog post written by the Science_Goddess helps:
Proficiency Scales: The Next Frontier

I searched for proficiency scales vs rubrics and found this Prezi by Kathy Verschoor too:

I’m getting it, slowly, but I need to see more examples so I looked at some proficiency scales and some rubrics on the topic of the water cycle to see if I could maybe see the difference. Here are some rubrics I found online when I searched for water cycle rubrics:
4202836 59321088 Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 9.29.09 PM

Here is a proficiency scale that someone, I’m so sorry but I don’t remember where I got this from, made using Marzano’s proficiency scale outline using the WA State Science Standard for the water cycle.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 9.20.06 PM

They are quite different and frankly, for scoring a student’s understanding of the water cycle I find the proficiency scale much more helpful. The rubric seems like an all purpose, project guide. I might share a rubric with students way before I share the proficiency scales with them, as I’ve written about before.

Jul 21 14

The Inaccuracy of Tests

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Sebastian Bergmann Some Rights Reserved

Sebastian Bergmann Some Rights Reserved

I’m taking an online course, Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading, from the Marzano Research Laboratory, and it’s reinforcing what I’ve believed about how subjective it is to grade and score kids on their learning. As teachers we strive to assess our students’ learning as accurately as possible. The truth is that an A in my class is not the same as an A in someone else’s class. I’m not even certain that a, “Meets this Standard,” in my class is the same as, “Meets this Standard,” in a similar class. Letter grades or standards-based grades are snapshots of a complicated process and change all the time. That being said I do prefer standards-based grading for many reasons as long as the “grading” period doesn’t happen often. I’d much rather give my students feedback most of the time to help them learn than cloud that feedback with letters or numbers that reduce their learning.

Here’s a great example from the formative assessment course I’m taking:

Let’s take this one type of test -
Questions 1-10 are basic, simple recall questions, probably multiple choice or fill in the blank, about content that was explicitly taught.

Questions 11-14 are more complex questions, probably short answer, still about content that was explicitly taught.

Questions 15-16 are complex questions, probably short answer, that ask students to apply what they learned. Content was NOT explicitly taught.

So let’s say the same exact test is given to students in three different classes, a common assessment. I took the test and got all of the first 10 questions correct, I got half of the second set of questions correct and I got none of the last two questions correct.

Take into account this scenario of my test being scored in each of the three different classes:
In class 1 the teacher weighs the first set of questions, 1-10 at 20%, the second set of questions, 11-14 at 20%, and the third set of questions, 15-16 at 40%.

So in class 1 I got 20% + 10% + 0% = 30%, I got an F.

In class 2 the teacher weighs the first set of questions, 1-10 at 60%, the second set of questions, 11-14 at 30%, and the third set of questions, 15-16 at 10%.

So in class 2 with the same test getting the same questions correct I got 60% + 15% + 0% = 75%, I got a C.

In class 3 the teacher weighs the first set of questions, 1-10 at 80%, the second set of questions, 11-14 at 20%, and the third set of questions, 15-16 at 0% because that teacher feels he or she cannot hold students accountable for content he or she did NOT explicitly teach.

So in class 3 I got 80% + 10% = 90%, I got an A-!

How can I take the same test and depending on the class, or specifically depending on the way the questions types are weighted, get anywhere from an F to an A-?!

“There’s measurement error in any test no matter how well we design them, there’s going to be measurement error. Let me give you an example. One of the readability analyses, there’s a lot of different ones you can use to find out what’s the readability level on any kind of a passage. One of those in particular has a 1.5, what would be considered a year and a half measurement error. What if I’m a First Grade teacher, I want that readability to be spot on, don’t I? So if I happen to see that it says 2.0, that’s the readability, 2.0, and let’s pretend that it only has one measurement error, one grade level span at measurement error, that means that 2.0 could be as low as First Grade, could be as high as Third Grade. That’s what we call measurement error. There’s error inherent in every kind of measurement, which is why you don’t want to base big decisions only on a couple of assessments, and certainly not only on just one assessment, you want to use multiple pieces of evidence.”
Marzano Research Laboratory Vice President Dr. Tammy Heflebower, from Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading course.

We need to figure out what we want out of our assessments. If it’s to help students learn then feedback is the probably the best way to go. If it’s to report to students and their families what they have learned, or what they’ve shown that they have learned, then using rubrics and student self-assessment with teacher input (standards-based grading) is useful. If you’re stuck having to reduce student learning to letter grades then try having conversations with students as to what their, “final grade,” should be. Usually what ends up happening here is some elaborate math to convert standards-based grades to letter grades or percentages. It sucks that we have to do that just because that’s the way it’s been done.

Jul 20 14

Sharing Learning Expectations

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After retweeting this Science Teacher’s blog post on Twitter about sharing standards with Science students I had this conversation with David Grossman:

Sharing Learning Expectations is one of the strategies of formative assessment or assessment for learning (AfL) and I’ve often questioned that particular strategy in a Science, or inquiry based, classroom. I’m not saying keep students in the dark but rather, as I tweeted to David above, give students a chance to discover a learning target for themselves then share the learning expectation or learning target with them instead of giving it away. The chance to discover something for themselves is something I don’t want to take away from my students.

Here’s an example of Middle School Life Science NGSS:

LS1A: Structure and Function
All living things are made up of cells, which is the smallest unit that can be said to be alive. An organism may consist of one single cell (unicellular) or many different numbers and types of cells (multicellular). (MS-LS1-1)

Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell. (MS-LS1-2)

In multicellular organisms, the body is a system of multiple interacting subsystems. These subsystems are groups of cells that work together to form tissues and organs that are specialized for particular body functions. (MS-LS1-3)

The above standards are very similar to the WA State standards that I used before the NGSS came out:

Life Science (6-8 LS1A): All organisms are composed of cells, which carry on the many functions needed to sustain life.

Life Science (6-8 LS1B): One-celled organisms must contain parts to carry out all life functions.

Life Science (6-8 LS1C): Multicellular organisms have specialized cells that perform different functions. These cells join together to form tissues that give organs their structure and enable the organs to perform specialized functions within organ systems.

Life Science (6-8 LS1D): Both plant and animal cells must carry on life functions, so they have parts in common, such as nuclei, cytoplasm, cell membranes, and mitochondria. But plants have specialized cell parts, such as chloroplasts and cell walls, because they are producers and do not move.

If I start by sharing those standards with students they will see that living things are made up of cells. A harmless bit of knowledge but after years of starting my 8th grade Life Science course with the question, “what is living,” I’ve noticed that living things being made of cells is one of the characteristics that students don’t think about as being a specific characteristic of being a living thing.

We spend time discussing what it takes to be considered a living thing. We look at microscopic organisms as well as use our prior knowledge of multicellular organisms. Different classes have come up with different numbers of characteristics of living things, such as living things need to consume food to rebuild and for energy, living things need water, living things respond to stimuli or move with a purpose, etc. Figuring out that all living things are made up of cells is something that we usually figure out later in the process. That discovery helps students understand why the cell is the basic unit of living things, which is a rather abstract notion.

It is at this point that I feel confident sharing the standards as the goal for their learning. Considering that all the learning we’ve done up to this point, learning that has been fraught with errors, learning that has been excellent formative information to guide my instruction, makes it unnecessary for rubrics or for formal assessment. I wouldn’t score anything done during this time because I will NOT penalize students for what they haven’t learned yet or for what they are in the process of figuring out and discovering.

Once they’ve discovered it and learned it, then the teacher can craft a more summative assessment based on the learning target/standard using a rubric of some sort. David’s idea is also an excellent one, have students write their own learning target which the teacher can then compare to his or her learning target.

So sometimes it’s best to share learning expectations after some learning has occurred and NOT at the onset of new learning experiences.

Jun 18 14

#GBL with WoW

by Alfonso Gonzalez

World of Warcraft I’ve been reflecting on my first attempt at using a commercial off the shelf (CoTS) game in class for student learning, in this case World of Warcraft (WoW). I took a risk and tried to use the power of WoW to leverage some Science learning, in this case classification of living things. There are many ways students could practice classifying living things, from collecting samples at home, in the woods, or around campus, to collecting photos via image searches. My idea was to have students use fantastic creatures not found on Earth to get them to really think about how to categorize different living things. I still think the idea is a good one and yet it bombed.

Before I get to the way using WoW to have students classify living things did not work I will first share the ways playing WoW in class worked splendidly.

  • My 8th graders, who throughout this past school year did not engage 100% with anything I offered them (not even dissections!) were 100% completely engaged in playing WoW.
  • Not only were they engaged in playing their character and either getting the character around its virtual world exploring or completing quests and leveling up, many of them did complete many quests and leveled their character up quite successfully.
  • They were actively problem solving the whole time they were playing, whether that was completing quests or figuring out how to get around and explore their surroundings (or even just figuring out how to control their character).
  • While engaged playing their individual characters students were communicating with each other in the computer lab helping each other. Students would ask for help and help was given either by verbally giving ideas of what to do or, for those who’s characters were near other characters, coming over to lend a helping hand.
  • Students grouped themselves when they could and worked on quests together.
  • Students talked about the game outside of class and looked forward to the days when we would be in the lab playing again.
  • There were times when everyone was in the moment, what in gaming is called flow, focused on their game and talking that was going on was not distracting to the whole group.
  • There were times when obstacles were overcome and joyful exclamations were heard, what in gaming is called fiero.
  • I was in the game as well so I participated with my students as an equal and we enjoyed each other’s company as well as helped each other.

Overall, it was a very positive experience and the level of collaboration, communication, and learning was higher than the whole rest of the year. A seeming success, except that my course is a Science course, specifically a Life Science or Biology course.

In terms of the Science very few of my 8th graders went on to complete the classification project. They played the game and then after we played our final day in the lab many did other things instead of working on the project. So if I evaluate the effectiveness of this project from a purely scientific point of view, did students learn about classifying living things, it wasn’t very effective.

Tegan Ashleigh Larter wrote a fabulous follow-up blog post where she compares using WoW to teach classification of living things vs Minecraft. One of my 8th graders also follow-up on Tegan’s post by listing his 10 reasons why Minecraft would be better than WoW (great reasons!).

Next year I won’t be teaching 8th grade Life Science and even if were I wouldn’t use WoW in that way again. I would try Minecraft though. That being said I did get approval from my principal to teach a separate 6th grade class using WoW for literacy! That’s the way WoW in School was originally used, successfully I might add, so I’m very excited about getting to do that for kids.

Here’s looking to next year and using WoW again!

Here’s the process:
WoW in Science (My use of World of Warcraft in Science class!)
Day 1 WoW in Science (Our first day playing WoW in Science class!)
Day 2 WoW in Science
Day 3 WoW in Science
Day 4 WoW in Science
Day 5 WoW in Science
Day 6 WoW in Science
Days 7, 8, and 9 WoW in Science
Days 10, 11, 12, 13 WoW in Science

Jun 5 14

Alone in the Middle

by Alfonso Gonzalez

The week of May 19th six of the ten middle school teachers from my school went to Camp David Jr with our 8th grade students for an Olympic Odyssey outdoor learning experience. It was a fantastic week!

Part of our outdoor experience is some hiking. There are some incredibly beautiful places to hike in WA State and we had the best weather I’ve ever seen the week we were there. We had some shorter hikes to get to Second Beach and to view Tatoosh Island from Cape Flattery but we also had a couple of longer hikes. Ozette Beach makes a triangle for a roughly nine and half mile hike. We also hiked the Spruce Railroad Trail along Lake Crescent on Monday to give kids a fun way to get to camp (a misunderstanding where kids thought it was a four mile hike got them rather upset after hiking six and a half miles and getting picked up by our buses so we wouldn’t be too late getting to camp).

We got to hike about 20 miles total that week. I noticed something in those hikes that made me think about the kind of educator I am. There were parts of the hikes where the trails were pretty narrow and since staying on the trail is important for protecting the natural habitat passing was discouraged. When the trails widened or when hiking on the beach the faster hikers led the way and the rest of the hikers settled into their comfortable paces from the middle to the end. I often found myself alone in the middle.

It was quite nice to have the time to hike and reflect and enjoy the scenery, which got me to thinking. Why was I alone in the middle? Where did everyone go? There were high school counselors, 8th graders and sometimes even teachers who were going just fast enough that I didn’t want to keep up with them (or just plain couldn’t!). I was going at my pace and pretty soon I’d look ahead and couldn’t see anyone.

Those who were with me and were walking more slowly than me eventually fell behind so that when I turned to look back, I couldn’t see anyone. That made me think about my teaching career. For most of my 23 years of teaching grades 4 through 8 I’ve often found myself alone in the middle.

I’ve never been quick enough to try the newest and latest thing first. By the time I was making webpages using HTML and having my students do the same, many others had been there and had been doing that. But no one in my school was. By the time I was having students blog many others had already been doing that. But no one in my school was. You get the picture. I was the first, and often only, teacher in my school to do things but not the first by a long shot when I’d widen my search.

It became very apparent when I started using Twitter and connecting with other educators that I was somewhere in the middle, and alone. There are so many teachers doing things way before I do, yet I’m still way ahead of the teachers I work with. I’m not fast enough to keep up with the super fast adopters but I’m still an early adopter because I do jump on faster than many others.

While enjoying my solitary hike it occurred to me that being in the middle like this is actually pretty good. I get to learn from the earlier adopters and those ahead of me. Then I can take all that experience, my own and that of those who are ahead of me, and use it to help those behind me. Being alone in the middle can be pretty cool.

Here’s a pedometer screenshot of the Ozette hike:
10257558_10202406644389831_200138110074619890_o

Here’s the Ozette hike without the mile markers:
10365537_10202406644429832_3982337045038060498_o

Here’s the Cape Flattery hike:
966249_10202406644909844_8086098563510110649_o

At the end of the Cape Flattery hike we get to see Tatoosh Island:
10428399_10202406644829842_5443721926050500740_o

And here’s the lovely 6.5mile (not 4, no) hike around Lake Crescent that almost got us to camp (only 3miles shy of reaching Camp David Jr.):
10257843_10202406644549835_234039241710659256_o

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...