I was somehow thinking most students would be level 10, 11, or 12 already and we’d all be arranging to meet near a big town or city to begin classifying living things. Yeah, that ain’t happening. I don’t even know if we’ll get there by next week! So six class periods and all we’ve done is play World of Warcraft (WoW). A majority of students have been really enjoying getting to play WoW during class time. If you take the game playing at face value there is a lot of thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and cooperation going on. There is plenty of research on game playing like this on the brain and it’s very positive. Just watch a kid play a game like WoW and you’ll see.
So even though we haven’t gotten to the Science yet I’m still expecting the Science part to be great and for kids to get a good understanding of what it will take to classify and organize living things. I’m really excited to see how the different teams will go about it. I bet structure and function will come into play, segueing nicely into the NGSS Structure and Function standard this project will be addressing.
Day 6 went smoothly. No tech problems aside from another case of WoW crashing, the fatal exception error 132, which was easily fixed by having the student move to a different computer. Thank goodness my classes are small enough that we have extra computers! Kids in both classes still needed my help today but not as many or as much as Day 5 in the afternoon class. Some kids are leveling up slowly, slower than the rest of their peers, so we’ll see how I decide when to start the class WoW meeting to split up into groups to begin classification.
We’ll see how far we get next week, the week before our Winter Break. As it stands now, it’s looking like we’ll need to play some more after Winter Break. I’m sure kids won’t mind.
My morning class went much more smoothly today. I had a talk with the student whose account lost characters and reviewed the need to not delete characters. I’m not sure he deleted the characters. As I played on two different computers today but the time I went to the second computer World of Warcraft started me on a server where I had no characters so it looked, at first glance, as though my characters were deleted! When I went back to Sisters of Elune my two characters (morning class, Horde, and afternoon class, Alliance) were there. Whew! When I looked at the student who was on a server with no characters, he was on Sisters of Elune but I didn’t check to see if his character was on another server. As I recall just now students were having problems starting characters on the correct server. I need to check into this some more before I figure out what the problem is.
My morning class played rather well together. Kids were helping each other out and they didn’t need me much so I was able to play a little leveling up my Undead Priest to level 6 (which means I got the Shield spell for those of you familiar with WoW!). My afternoon class needed help but several students kept asking me for help. I was actually quite amazed that students aren’t figuring this game out for themselves. Some of the things they needed help with were issues that an experienced player would know so I was quite helpful. Some of the issues I thought were more of the “look around and try different things to figure it out” variety. Either way many of the issues could have been dealt with by asking peers instead of me. I mean, it felt good being needed but I was hoping for more cooperation like with my morning class. Some kids in the afternoon were helping each other and they didn’t need me at all. I’m curious to see if this improves.
In terms of standards, since the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) don’t have a standard for classifying living things I had to look beyond that. Why do students need to practice classifying living things, or even what benefit will they get by engaging in this activity besides just having fun playing WoW? My plan is to connect their experiences classifying living things in the simulated world to how to scientists actually classify living things on Earth to lead them to our study of Structure and Function. The NGSS has a standard for the study of Structure and Function, specifically:
Structure and Function
Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the relationships among its parts, therefore complex natural structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function. (MS-LS1-2)
But I also found technology standards that apply to the work we’re doing by playing WoW. Looking at the ISTE tech standards I came across the following:
ISTE Standards Profile (pdf file by grade band):
The following experiences with technology and digital resources are examples of learning activities in which students might engage during Grades 6–8 (ages 11–14):
1. Describe and illustrate a content-related concept or process using a model, simulation, or concept-mapping software. (Connected to the following standards – 1. Creativity and Innovation and 2. Communication and Collaboration)
From the ISTE Standards (pdf file)
1. Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
a. Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
b. Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
c. Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
d. Identify trends and forecast possibilities
2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
a. Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
b. Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
c. Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures
d. Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems
I think those fit pretty well.
I expected today to go smoothly. Not so much. Four kids in my morning class needed their password reset due to account being accessed elsewhere. I don’t know what else could cause that so I reminded kids why I ask that they only play the Science accounts during Science class. Battle.Net was down so it took all period to get all four kids playing and the last one barely got any playing time.
If that weren’t enough two, maybe three computers, including one I played on, kept getting an error 132 fatal exception when entering the WoW world with our characters. There is a lot online about that error and it looks like drivers, sound cards, video cards or who knows what sorts of issues. Updating Windows might help. Oh great. Luckily, we have more computers than students so we’ll manage (quick, temp fix). One student was fine starting a new character because switching to another computer didn’t work! Another student was fine switching to a new computer though so I don’t know what’s going on. On one computer the error crashed Windows and it restarted a bunch of times!
By my afternoon class things went more smoothly but one kid lost his character. I need to follow up with possible character deleting from the morning class. It happened on an account used by a student with autism so I just need to explain. I still think it was better for me to create 30 accounts that two classes share, especially since one account can make seven characters per server, instead of making 55+ accounts where each student had his or her own individual account. Works better for me and I want students to know these are shared and not their own to do with as they please. We’re having fun but we’re doing this to practice some Science not JUST to play. The play is a great side benefit.
Hopefully tomorrow will go better.
I wanted to try out making an infographic while at the same time taking some of last year’s Speak Up Survey data and making it a little easier to use for our district tech committee. I used Piktochart and made the following infographic just using the teacher data. There is so much data and even though I took only some of the items the graphic is still very long and wordy. How else can do this?
I came across this blog post this morning by Mark Barnes, author of ROLE Reversal and a valuable member of my PLN: Teachers still struggle with rules and consequences. I have been running my classes as Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE) after reading Mark’s book and having twitter discussions with him and reading his blogs. Now I don’t consider myself old. I’m 46 and I work with some over 60 year olds who are in better shape and sprier than me so I know I ain’t old. But on some things I’m slow to change, a little stuck in my ways. Maybe that’s why a ROLE classroom is feeling different to me. I thought I would be able to make the few new additions to my teaching to embrace ROLE and all would be fine. All is fine but I’m uncomfortable at times, which I guess could be a good thing. I wrote in an earlier blog post that a workshop setting where students can choose from different activities/assignments and work at their own pace (autonomy) was strange for me.
I’ve been so used to moving all my students along to get to different parts of my curriculum that this has been quite a shift. And I don’t have a set-in-stone curriculum or pace guides. I have full autonomy myself on what I use to help my students learn Science. In 6th grade I do have an STC/MS Science kit, Energy, Machines, and Motion, and in 8th grade I have a FOSS kids, Diversity of Learning, but I use them as needed and depending on the group of students I have. Still it’s weird when I’m trying to get the class to do a lab that some have moved past the concepts of the lab, some are ready for it, some are not quite there yet, and some are nowhere near ready for it. Yet I need to run the lab with the whole class or have an equipment/class-management nightmare. And tests. I don’t tests often but when I have an assessment and some students take it. Then the rest trickle in over weeks, it’s weird. I offered an assessment over a month ago and still haven’t had all students take it. I still plan to go over it and maybe it’s good to go over it as a review. We’ll see. Still feels weird.
But Mark’s blog post this morning was on Rules and Consequences. That one is a hard one. Here’ s the comment I left on his blog:
Mark, this is one that I still struggle with. Not because I need to set up rules with kids but because I still do end up giving consequences. I stopped spending the first days of school discussing rules and norms years ago. Kids get enough of that in other classes (maybe if I had one, self-contained class I’d do something different). I start on day one by jumping in to an activity with students. Gives me a good feel for the class. I learned to do that after having students complain on end of the year surveys that I talked too much at the beginning of the year. My incessant talking on day one bothered them all the way to day 180!
Yet still, when behaviors that detract from a safe environment conducive to learning, or behaviors that just aren’t learning focused, occur I talk with the students involved to figure out what to do. I typically use a collaborative problem solving style where I let the student talk and I listen then I ask the student what he or she can do differently to work and learn. I have different activities for them to learn Science and tech is integrated throughout so I have a pretty good handle on that. And yet still I get disruptions to learning, rudeness, and lack of engagement.
When talking with students and asking them to problem solve doesn’t work I revert to traditional consequences. The rest of the class is looking to me to keep them safe, keep them learning, and provide some sense of fairness in an unfair world. Sure, consequences look different for different kids but it still falls on me to keep the learning happening in my classes. So even though not all kids get similar consequences, depending on their needs and situation, I still dole out the consequences to bring peace to my classes. This year we have a group of 8th graders who do not respond to my or other teacher’s methods. So for a few kids I do use traditional consequences. I send them out of class, I keep records of their behaviors, and I explain to them that I expect improvement and tell them what we need in our classroom for learning to occur. This group is known as the top of the RTI (Response to Intervention) pyramid. That 5 to 10% for which my system, nor any other system, works. So for most of my students I don’t need to dole out consequences. That did need to be said.
I don’t see any ways around this when collaborative problem solving doesn’t work because they either won’t talk, won’t problem solve or won’t stick to their solutions. In the end I will do what works for my class as a whole and sometimes that means that I can’t indulge the needs of those who will not contribute to a healthy class environment.
I will do whatever is needed with each class of students I have before me. Now I don’t think consequences is taboo even though much talk on twitter and on blogs I read make it seem like we’re ineffective teachers if we can’t engage our students or it’s our shortcomings as teachers if our students are bored. I disagree. I will do all I can but in the end it’s up to each individual child to either engage and contribute appropriately to our classroom environment or disrupt. And I understand that given the choice socializing with peers is much more engaging that reading Science or even doing Science. I get it. Sometimes disruptions are based on emotional/mental needs or issues that aren’t met outside of the classroom and this is a safe enough place to release pent up frustrations. I still have to worry about everyone in my room and provide a safe learning environment, physically, emotionally, and mentally. And that’s when I start to give consequences. I keep hearing kids will be kids. So I don’t know if I’ll ever have a classroom free of consequences. Free of rules? Maybe. I think I have that now. All I expect from everyone is respect (for each other and for me – mutually).
What is the allure of gaming? In thinking about this I wondered what things I could do instead of playing games. When the weather is nice (and it’s not dark by 4:30pm – Pacific Northwest short days) I could be doing outdoor things. Being outdoors and exercising beats out gaming so there needs to be a balance for sure. We can’t have our kids playing games and not getting any exercise or interacting with nature or the real world. For fall and winter at least I have a treadmill (I’m from Miami, FL so 30 degree weather is more than my body can handle and since losing weight I am cold a lot). My kids don’t use the treadmill but both of them have PE at school so I’m counting on the school to provide opportunities for physical activity.
So what other indoor activities could I do when it’s dark and cold outside way before I even get home? I could watch TV. I could watch a movie. I could listen to music or the radio. I could read a book. All of those are passive in that I’m just a spectator waiting for the story to unfold by eagerly watching/listening or by turning the page. A game, on the other hand, puts me in charge of the story. I’m not just waiting to see what happens to the protagonist, I get to BE the protagonist. I can change the protagonist’s fate by how I play the game. That is so much more engaging and exciting to me. I think that is also highly motivating and engaging for kids. They get to be in control, something they seek more and more as they get older.
Games more than ever now have a cooperative component. It’s so easy for a kid to get online and start a game where they can interact and play with kids from anywhere in the world. When I first played games online I was, and pretty much still am, very shy. I mostly play on my own rather than walk up to a strange avatar and ask for help. When my own kids play online they are very comfortable interacting with others (which is why we need to monitor!). There’s a strong social aspect added to the interactive/being-in-control aspect.
This is the allure of gaming.
Every 8th grader in both classes has figured the game out to the point that they are all playing and don’t really need me anymore. Kids playing the same race characters are helping each other so they are experiencing successes. So I was able to start a character in each class! There are some perks to being the teacher. My second period class is playing Horde so I started an Undead Priest. My 4th period class is playing Alliance so I started a Human Priest. I’m not that familiar with those so I’m learning right along with my students.
Students are beginning to reach levels 6 and 7, so they are getting close to 10. By around level 10 we can all leave our starting zones and all meet in one place! Now I have to figure out where to have everyone meet and how to get them all there. Once we all meet I will have them form small teams. Then I plan to somehow divide the area into zones where small teams will go to start collecting living things to figure out how best to classify/organize them. Our next computer lab day is Monday. We’ll see how far 8th graders get!
That gives me some time to figure out where to meet, how to get everyone there, and how to divide up the map. Any ideas?
With the help and support of a member of our middle and high school Science PLC, Maren Johnson, I invited one of my state’s congressmen, WA State Representative Steve Tharinger, to visit my Science classes to co-teach with me and see what’s going on in Washington’s schools. And he took me up on it and visited two of my 6th grade Science classes today (here’s the article that ran in one of our local newspapers)! I’m copying the email I sent to the representative below in case you’re interested in inviting a legislator to come co-teach in your class (I highly recommend it). What a great experience!
I guess it helps to have a legislator who is willing to take time from their busy schedule to come to your school and be willing to work with kids but you won’t know if you have that until you try. I wasted no time when I saw Representative Tharinger walking towards my room, I shook his hand, greeted him and started to tell him what my 6th graders were working on. He wasn’t even phased by that and proceeded to enter my room as students were busy working on the first of a three part sliding friction lab. Representative Tharinger was a natural, he walked around from group to group asking great questions and getting a sense for what kids were learning.
In WA state we have teachers who work tirelessly, like Maren Johnson, to help our legislators understand the issues facing public schools and the reason we ask for the things we need to educate our students and prepare them to have successful and happy lives. In WA state teachers are adapting to a new evaluation system all while having to incorporate new standards into our curricula. For me it’s the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) but I’m also having to help students become proficient with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) since reading and writing is essential in all content areas. There’s so much to do and so little time! So I really appreciate it when a legislator takes the time to come and see what we’re doing and asks me questions. It’s a blessing to have people in Olympia who are going to make decisions that will best help our kids.
Here’s a copy of the email I sent Representative Tharinger:
Dear Representative Tharinger,
I’m a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) at Chimacum Middle School (CMS) in the Chimacum School District and one of your constituents in the 24th legislative district. I am currently teaching 6th and 8th grade Science in my 17th year here at CMS and altogether I’ve been a teacher for 23 years. I’m writing to invite you to spend all or part of day in my classroom and school sometime this fall.
There are so many changes coming to P-12 public education – including the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – that will dramatically change teaching and learning. I’d like to share with you what I’m doing to strengthen my teaching practice, have you work with my students to see how they are meeting new standards and have you share with students and my colleagues about your legislative leadership and K-12 education issues ahead in the 2014 legislative session.
I hope you’ll consider spending time with us at Chimacum Middle School this fall. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like me to work with your scheduler to arrange a visit. Thank you for your leadership on our behalf in Olympia.
Alfonso (Al) Gonzalez
National Board Certified Teacher
Middle School Science Teacher
Chimacum Middle School
91 West Valley Road
PO Box 278
Chimacum, WA 98325
Twitter – @educatoral
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed” – Albert Einstein
I took a quick moment to get a snippet of the Representative talking with students. It’s short but gives a good idea of what a great time we had. Thank you, Representative! (I apologize for holding the camera the wrong way.)
Today went much more smoothly. Kids were able to sign in to their accounts much quicker, everyone made sure they were on the Sisters of Elune server or realm, and questing began! Most kids got to about level 3 with some experienced players getting beyond that (especially if they got to play some yesterday and most of the period today – approximately 50 minutes today).
We did run into another snag that perplexed me. Some kids, about two in each class yesterday and again today kept having their game disconnect. Checked the Internet connection and the computer was working fine. Had some kids try a different computer and they kept getting disconnected from the game! Now that was weird because everyone else was playing just fine.
Then by the time the second class was playing we noticed something, those accounts that were getting disconnected were the same accounts for both parties! Disconnecting was happening when one kid would forget his or her number and use an account that was already in play! So of course disconnected kept happening because I told kids, “just keep logging in when you get disconnected so you can play.” lol It’s so cool solving these kinds of problems!
So even though I thought kids would be fine remembering their ONE number to access their accounts it didn’t happen. So I got help writing down which student was assigned which number because I was asking kids and not doing very well at remembering what each one said! Duh, right?
Now I have kids come into my classroom two days a week during lunch to play Minecraft (just for fun) and it gets pretty loud. I was expecting something like that, kids yelling across the room, “help me with this quest!” “Where do I find fel moss?” To my surprise I did hear those types of requests but it was so quiet. In both classes! It was such a relaxed, fully 100% engaged, helpful atmosphere. I found it refreshing. Here’s a peak at what it was like during both classes:
I had both 8th grade classes decide on whether they wanted to play for the Alliance or for the Horde by straight majority rule. My 2nd period class is playing Horde and my 4th period class is playing Alliance! Pretty cool and provides an opportunity to have them share their experiences.
Then I gave students some time to choose a character race and the class for their character. I used this resource I got from Peggy Sheehy to have students decide which class to play since not all WoW races can play all the classes.
Once students decided on a character I had them pick a name for their character, then I shared the usernames and passwords for the accounts we would use. Basically the emails and passwords are similar, making it easier for me to create them, and each student got a different number (the only difference). I asked students to sit together by race (which sounded worse than it really was because I meant WoW race!). Since the free starter edition doesn’t allow in-game type chatting students need to talk to each other when they need help. There was a lot of verbal helping going in the computer lab!
In the computer we had just enough time to start a new character and some even got to try a quest or two. Students enjoyed choosing races and classes and customizing their characters. Some spent the whole time doing just that. There were a couple of snags. Some found it confusing to get to the correct server or realm and it took them a couple of tries and starting a character at least twice. I think tomorrow we should get that all figured out.
The other snag came from a built in security feature that if you log in to play WoW on different computers your account gets locked until you prove it’s you and not some hacker! Really good if you are getting hacked but an inconvenience if there’s a student using an account that I tested at home! I had to reset two passwords. Not bad for day 1.
Science wasn’t very scientific today, unless you count experimenting with figuring out how to play WoW, but it was rather fun.