I’ve never been intrinsically motivated to exercise. We talk a lot about instilling an intrinsic desire to learn in our students. Extrinsic motivators like candy, class money, certificates, prizes, badges, points, grades, any incentives are seen as counter-productive to fostering intrinsic motivation. I see that. I’ve read some of Alfie Kohn’s work and I totally agree with a lot of what he writes and what he’s discovered through his research.
Yet, on the other hand, I can’t expect all people to be intrinsically motivated in all things. When I went gradeless to remove the punishing and rewarding extrinsic motivations of grades I found that many of my students still weren’t motivated to learn Science or to work in my classes everyday. Whether learning and working in Science class is necessary for everyone or not is a whole ‘nother issue that I won’t go into here. Now I think about this stuff a lot. I’ve written about extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.
After removing all extrinsic motivators from my classes and finding that students weren’t engaging I thought of adding some extrinsic motivators. Not the same ones I used before because I have issues with how things like grades, stickers, candy, class money, lottery tickets, toys, gold stars and awards work and what they do to us. But being a gamer and getting very engaged by playing computer games, I mean literally being absorbed into those worlds, I looked into using gaming motivators such as experience points, leveling up, and badges or achievements. I’ve written about using those things before as I worked out whether or not to use them:
I know that of the 120 to 140 6th and 8th graders I work with every year, year after year, not all of them are intrinsically motivated by school learning, school in particular, my classes, technology, or Science. I see that every year. I have to explain how the things we do will help and why they should do them. Some things are because they are fun or will provide them with necessary skills but other things I have to say that they will need to know about it for high school or because their parents want them to do well in school. The point is that I’m working at motivating my students to do the things they need to do in my classes all the time. If the students don’t choose to do the tasks we’re doing in class then I have to find extrinsic motivations to sell them on what I’m offering. We do it all the time.
A couple of years ago I weighed 215lbs. I knew I was fat but since I wasn’t what I termed, “Biggest Loser,” fat I thought I was fine. I had started living a sedentary lifestyle after a back injury I suffered in my 20′s. Frankly, being sedentary didn’t hurt my back. And for years I didn’t even need my chiropractor! Then we bought a Wii and I got Wii Fit and Wii Biggest Loser. The Wii informed me that I was obese. What?!? No way! Yes way. At 215lbs I was just into obesity. I was at a BMI of 31.7 and over 30 is obese.
So I began to work out and with the Wii and having someone motivate me (yes, a virtual trainer on the Wii Fit and a virtual Bob on the Wii Biggest Loser) and it being a game I was motivated to workout! I lost 15lbs in a few months. I got cocky and added weights and that took out my back again. I went back to my chiropractor and started the healing process. Enough inertia set in and I didn’t get back to working out for a while. Luckily, I kept my weight around 200 or so lbs and didn’t go back up but I was still overweight (BMI of 29.5, which is very overweight – normal weight range is from 18.5 to 24.9).
Then I found a handy little app called Zombies, Run! I had right on my phone a game. In the game the zombie apocalypse has happened and I’m a runner in a small settlement. Runners are sent out on missions to get needed supplies. Back at the base there is a radio operator using cameras setup around the base to guide through zombie infested country and back to base safely. For me that game is a story that I listen to. After each segment music from my playlist runs but the revolutionary part is that I am moving while listening to the story and playing the game! You can even set it up to have zombies chase at random intervals. When you hear that zombies are close you have to pick up your pace by 20% for anywhere from 30s to a minute or they catch you. The more you run and the more missions you complete the more supplies and materials your game character collects that you can use to build up your home town base! If you get caught by zombies during a zombie chase you don’t die but you drop supplies and that is a pain. So collecting supplies to build up your base is yet another great reason besides the story to keep running (and to keep from getting caught by zombies). You don’t want to ignore your virtual home base, do you? I couldn’t run when I started playing the game so I walked. Soon I was motivated to try the Zombies Run 5K app (still part of the story but a totally different app and format) and that one actually got me running! Now I run and I enjoy it. Something I never did before. Ever.
So did the game get me to become intrinsically motivated to run? Something I always hated to do? It sure seems so. I learned something about myself. Data not only motivates me but also helps me stay healthy. When I lost the first 15lbs I was missing the eating part. I still ate without a care and without counting calories. I was afraid to give up food. So I got an UP Band. Wearing the UP bracelet allows me to track my movement all day, showing me how many calories I burn, while also allowing me to track everything I eat, showing me how many calories I’m consuming. I found that by keeping my calories consumed less than my calories burned I lost weight! And by running I could burn enough calories to eat all the foods I love to eat as long as I cut down. That’s another change in lifestyle I could never manage to do before, cut down how much I eat. I chose to cut down how much I eat instead of cutting out certain foods, like fatty foods and sugary sweets, because I felt I could be successful that way and it worked!
The above image shows a screenshot of my UP Band app where I can keep track of calories burned and calories consumed (among many other things). I started by cutting down my intake to around 1800 cals/day, less if I could manage it, but since reaching my target weight I can consume around 2,000 cals/day. Pretty cool. As long as I burned more than I consumed the weight dropped. I lost 45 more pounds and have kept that weight off for the past 20 weeks! I now weigh 156lbs (BMI of 23, well within the normal range!). I never dreamed I could lose that much weight much less maintain it. And just like that first season of the Biggest Loser (for those of you who saw it) I am no longer taking blood pressure or cholesterol medication! My blood pressure and cholesterol are both normal after years of taking medications for it! My eating habits aren’t the best but I’ll tackle that one later because for now, as long as keep my calories around 2,000/day I am maintaining my target weight. Sure, I’ve suffered setbacks such as a nagging and recurring calf strain that I’m currently in physical therapy for but none of that is changing all I’ve gained, or lost so to speak. I’ve already run two 5K’s (both zombie 5K’s) and plan to run many more.
Checking my data daily such as weight, calories consumed, calories burned, a graph such as the one above, has been highly motivating to me. Still is! And I still run using the Zombies, Run app game because it is so much fun. I can truly say that gaming saved my life. Because of this I see that using experience points, leveling, and badges is not really a bad thing. So I will use gaming motivators even though grades, stickers, candy, class money, lottery tickets, toys, gold stars and awards don’t feel right to me. Is there a difference? I’d like to think so. Either way I know that gaming can be used for good.
Last year I attempted to gamify my Science courses. My reason for wanting to gamfiy my courses was to increase student engagement. I wanted to see more students working and learning Science. I started by using gaming language, such as calling assignments quests and calling independent work soloing, for example, and by offering students badges for completing certain quests. That first attempt at gamification did not go anywhere near as well as I had expected or hoped. If anything it was quite a failure and nothing really changed in my classes. You see, I had already gone gradeless as a means of fostering intrinsic motivation in my students by doing away with carrots and sticks. What I got was a decrease in pressure on my students but maybe too much so. They had such little pressure to get good grades in Science that many of them did very little work! When given the choice to learn Science for learning sake or to learn and do cool stuff versus enjoying other pleasures such as socializing in class, many students chose the latter more often than not.
After reading ROLE (Results-Only Learning Environment) Reversal by Mark Barnes I found some possible reasons that my gamification attempt failed to engage many of my students. I had eliminated grades in favor of more specific feedback and I gave students time to work and learn by lecturing (talking) less but didn’t give students enough choice. In terms of what motivates people, choice, autonomy, and mastery, I’m not sure that I was giving students enough autonomy. With autonomy it’s tough because while some kids may need more a hands off approach to do fine other kids will need a lot more support. Mark’s book gave me a way to make my classes more student-centered to engage all my students. Mark ran his classes much like workshops and that idea appealed to me. Now how to do it.
The methods and ideals in ROLE Reversal are very much in line with gamification. So when I gave 3D GameLab (3DGL) a try this past summer I found the tool I needed to create a ROLE (Results-Only Learning Environment) and a gamified classroom at the same time! And boy I was surely not disappointed! 3DGL has provided what I needed to make my assignments into quests. The Learning Management System (LMS) style of 3DGL organizes all my content and manages when students get experience points (XP) for completing/mastering tasks and content, when they level up based on how much XP they have, and when they get badges for learning the different Science topics. Once I input all my assignments into 3DGL it does all the work (with little tweaks here and there). It has been amazing. The other great feature is that students can complete the assignments (quests) not only at their own pace but in any order they want! That was the choice component that I was missing before.
From the above interface I see all the assignments (quests) that students have submitted. Before a student can get XP or badges they have to show mastery. When they have shown a successfully completed assignment I choose approve and the student gets the XP and their assignment (quest) goes into their Completed slot. If a student needs feedback I type it on the dialog box at the bottom of the above photo. With many students I carry on conversations via this interface! I’ve conversed with more students on a daily basis than ever before. As a matter of fact, I’ve been approving and returning assignments with feedback so much that I haven’t had much time to blog here! I even check 3DGL for assignments after school at home and on weekends for real 24/7 learning! With 3DGL I give more pointed feedback than I ever have before. See when I walk around checking in with students I spend a good amount of time talking to them about non-Science stuff. We are connecting, really just socializing. This is important but through 3DGL I am able to give students feedback on their work and I’m giving more feedback than ever. Why? Because some students don’t feel comfortable asking for help, especially around their peers and 3DGL gives them the ability to get feedback without their peers even noticing!
When I give a student feedback and return an assignment (quest) it goes into their In Progress slot with a “needs attention” message. The student then knows that he or she needs to check the assignment (quest) to see what else needs to be done to get it fully approve and get credit for it. As has been said about gamification, it’s unlike traditional grading in that students don’t start with 100%, A+, and then lose points and chip away at it every time they make a mistake (a system I think is totally bogus and keeps our students from taking risks!). Instead, in a gamified classroom students start with zero points, level 1, and every time they successfully complete quests they earn XP (I really like calling it experience points because they get points for experience either doing something or learning new content).
So what I’m finding is kids working on Science a lot more! Sure I still have kids that don’t get much done in class, and even a few who do very little if anything in class, but I have seen more kids engaged. If anything using 3DGL assignments don’t go away just because the rest of the class has moved on! So now those kids who need very little guidance from me get to move at light speed. They actually keep me on my toes and sometimes I’m even creating new assignments to keep them challenged (and they do them for the XP and to level up!). The students who need more time have more time and if they are stuck I can work with them one-on-one or in small groups that need remediation. These are really good things and I have to keep reminding myself about how good this is. What I struggle with is that kids are working on assignments at their own pace and in any order they want. It is so new to me because I’ve never been able to offer it before that I don’t quite know how to handle it. For example, when I give a test or an assessment some do it right away. Some take a little longer and some put it off until they are ready! It makes it difficult to go over test responses! Luckily I don’t give tests often but this working at different paces also mucks up labs. I need to do labs with the whole class and when we do a lab some kids are past it, others are ready, while some are not there yet. I mean, it works but it’s weird you know.
I’ve also found what types of tasks kids are choosing. Knowing kids I’d expect them to go for the easiest tasks and I think I’m seeing that. But here’s something cool that has happened. I’ve been having my students blog for the past ten years. One part of blogging that has been a complete challenge is to get kids to leave comments on each other’s blogs and to leave decent comments at that. Enter 3DGL. Now commenting has become a quest worth XP. I have kids doing the comments quests at record numbers and the majority of them are leaving incredible comments! I finally got something I’ve craved for the past ten years! The down side? Yes, there is one. See, since expecting kids to be intrinsically motivated to do and learn Science, use technology, and comment didn’t work I switched to giving XP and badges. Extrinsic motivators. And they work. As expected. Which means that if something I want isn’t a quest then it probably won’t get done. So now I have kids commenting on each other’s blogs like crazy but if I want them to read keep going I have to make it a quest! Some of the kids are actually responding to the comments they are getting but I’m betting that if I make it a quest to do so more kids will actually do it.
Truth be told I like it better this way. I felt so guilty when I’d wait for kids to be intrinsically motivated to learn and do Science and for the majority it didn’t really happen. Now I may be providing extrinsic motivation but at least they are learning and doing Science plus other skills I was hoping students would learn. Is this bad? I don’t think so. In my next blog post I will share a real life experience of how gaming motivated me to change my life for the better.
And for parents, 3DGL is better than my standards-based progress reports. I hate to say it but it almost seemed like no one was making use of my Easy Grade Pro Standards-Based Progress Reports. Kids ignored them and parents politely pretended they were okay. Those parents who were more upfront told me they wanted to know what their child was missing and if their child was getting work done. With 3DGL I can do that. I made this webpage for parents to show them how they can check on their child’s progress by having their child log into their 3DGL accounts at home: 3DGL for parents.
I’ve been using 3D GameLab (3DGL) to gamify my classes. It has been great! 3DGL was exactly what I needed to successfully gamify my classes after failing at my first attempts. I’ll be sharing more about how great it’s been in future posts. This post is to celebrate something I’ve been wanting to do forever and am finally doing: getting to use an actual commercial off-the-shelf (Cots) game with my Science classes! The game kids will be playing during Science is World of Warcraft (WoW), a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). So with 3DGL I’ve successfully gamified my courses and by using WoW I am also making use of Game-Based Learning (gbl)! Thanks to pioneers in this field Lucas Gillispie and Peggy Sheehy I have been inspired to bring WoW to my school. I began by running my ideas by my principal and getting his blessing before having gone any further. Once I got the go ahead I had to figure out how to bring game that costs money and has a monthly subscription fee to my school with no funds! For our purposes I decided to use the free starter edition version of WoW. It is limited in what students can do but for the activity I had in mind it would do. I created 30 email accounts that my students will be using so that it all goes through me (instead of letting students use their own accounts if they have them). I want to keep the school game playing separate from home game playing.
Here’s what I emailed and shared with parents of my 8th grade Life Science students just today to prepare kids to start playing on Monday, Dec 2:
Hello 8th grade Families!
My two 8th grade classes will be doing something a little out of the ordinary in Science for a bunch of days in December. We are going to go to the computer lab and students will be asked to play a commercial game called World of Warcraft. I wanted to let you know about this so you know why I am asking 8th graders to do this. Since I’ve been gamifying my classes (see my blog for more info on this http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/gamification/) I’ve also looked for opportunities to incorporate Game-Based Learning (different from gamification) and World of Warcraft offers a unique opportunity. Yes, there will some playing of the actual game but there’s a reason and it leads to Science learning (so if your child does not like playing computer games just tell him or her to suffer through it until we get to the Science parts). Of my 120 students 84% consider themselves gamers and 50% of my students play games a lot. I can tap into that motivation to get more learning in my classes and that is my goal with this.
World of Warcraft has a very elaborate virtual world full of make believe plants and animals. That offers us a chance to work with plants and animals not found in our world so kids are not held back by their preconceived notions of how our world works. Kids come to school with preconceived notions of how things work, especially with regards to Science, and using virtual worlds and simulations allows for real discovery. Once kids play the game for a little while, reaching a level where we can all explore our environments safely, kids will begin classifying the living things in that virtual world. The goals is to determine a method for classification and then compare that to how scientists have been classifying living things here on our world. This will aid us in our work to determine how structure leads to function, specifically addressing this Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS):
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)
So yes, it will be fun but will also lead to some great Scientific discovery. Learning new things is not always fun in school but if I can make some of our learning fun, I will. So if your child says he or she is playing games in school, this one time he or she is certainly correct. I hope that is okay with you. We won’t be doing this all the time or even a lot, and we will only play World of Warcraft in Science nine times that we will go to the computer lab in December so it will be a short excursion. Depending on how well this goes there may other games that we play in class to aid our Science exploration but they will not be World of Warcraft. I play World of Warcraft and my children have both played it. If you are considering letting your child play it at home be aware that it is pricey (and that includes a $16 monthly fee!), plus I would recommend monitoring your child’s play time because people from all over the world play it too.
When we play in class we will observe the following rules:
-Only use the class Science accounts.
-Use the class accounts only at school to create ONE character.
-Do not access the class accounts on Battle.net! (If you or your child doesn’t know what this means, that is good. Don’t worry about it.)
-We will play the game until levels 10-12, after that we will begin the Scientific Classification assignment.
-We need to showcase what we learned.
-When we play the game, play appropriately for school (you are not playing at home).
-As always, game playing in Science is only allowed when it is a QUEST.
-We will work together in groups.
-There will be people on the World of Warcraft and regardless of what they do or say, we will be polite and respectful. We will model good, online behavior. (I will help monitor student online behavior here at school, with student help as we work on this together.)
As with everything I do I will trust my students to behave responsibly. As long as they do so then we can continue to have fun things like this Science.
In the end your child will have experiences in researching, presenting, creating, experimenting/doing labs, handling living things, and dissecting while using technology to do all of the above. I hope by offering as much as I can that all my students will have an opportunity to expand their Science knowledge.
Here’s how I presented this to students (includes the assignment): http://goo.gl/xO8Jnf
Above WoW logo: Blizzard Entertainment® hereby grants you a personal, non-exclusive, non-transferable and non- assignable license to use and display, for home, noncommercial and personal use only, one copy of any material and/or software that you may download from this site, including, but not limited to, any files, codes, audio or images incorporated in or generated by the software (collectively the “Downloaded Content”) provided, however, that you must include or maintain all copyright and other notices contained or associated with such Downloaded Content.
I’ve been using the terms gamification and game-based learning (gbl) interchangeably. It wasn’t until the Reform Symposium 4 that Shelly Terrell made a comment that brought to my attention the difference between the two.
Now I’m still new at all this stuff but here’s what my new understanding is regarding gamification and gbl. Gamification is when you take an existing course and add gaming elements to it such as giving experience points (XP) instead of just points, using XP to have students level up instead of using grades, giving badges for topics or content learned, etc. It’s the same course with the same activities, projects, lessons but it is delivered like a video or computer game. Gaming terminology is used as well as gaming techniques and strategies.
Now gbl is using existing games to learn content. For example, using the game called Spore, where the player creates a creature from a single cell and gives different adaptations to make it survive, to teach students about adaptations and evolution in Science.
Pretty simple and yet I never thought of it before. And now that I know there’s a difference between the two not only can I use the terms correctly, I can also say that I have used both strategies with my students.
I’ve written a post about Talk Moves, called Teacher Moves actually, mostly with regards to Math teaching. Talk Moves, refer to graphic, is actually a set of techniques that can benefit class discussions in any content or grade level, making it an awesome thing to know.
I wanted to write down more Talk Moves than the ones presented in the graphic because I have a list of some really cool moves.
A Structure for Whole Class Discussion
Three Main Parts of a Productive Classroom Discussion:
- Elicit/share ideas as many as possible.
- Give students a sense of ownership of the discussion.
Comparing and Evaluating Ideas:
- Students encouraged to talk about ideas mentioned.
- Teacher begins to think more about content of the discussion but open-ended discourse still encouraged.
Focusing the Range of Ideas:
- Teacher narrows focus by asking students to look at one particular idea.
- Teacher actively concerned about content issues and takes more control of discussion.
Whole Class Talk
Guidelines for Whole-Class Talk:
Explain: “This is my solution/strategy…” “I think _____ is saying that _____.”
- Explain your thinking and show your thinking.
- Rephrase what another student said.
Agree with Reason: “I agree because…”
- Agree with another student and describe your reason for agreeing.
- Agree with another student and provide an alternate explanation.
Disagree with Reason: “I disagree because…”
- Disagree with another student and explain or show how your thinking/solution(s) differs.
Build On: “I would like to build on that idea…”
- Build on the thinking of another student through explanation, example, or demonstration.
Go Beyond: “This makes me think about…” “Another way to think about this is…”
- Extend the ideas of other students by generalizing or linking the idea to another concept.
The Five Practices
Clarify the Content Goals!
- Predicting – What ideas do you think students will have?
- Monitoring – What ideas are emerging? (While they work.)
- Selecting – Which student ideas to use with whole class?
- Sequencing – In what order to use students’ ideas?
- Connecting – What talk moves or other questions can help students compare and connect important ideas?
Discourse Moves (Talk Moves)
- Probing – questions or prompts to get students to make public more of their thinking.
- Re-Voicing – teacher repeats or paraphrases what a student has said in order to achieve instructional goal.
- Pressing – teacher does not allow students to offer shortcut responses, unsupported claims.
- Putting an Idea “on hold” – when topics are entered into the discussion that are off-topic, or are better addressed later on, teachers politely put on hold the introduced idea.
- Using Wait Time – teacher allows adequate wait time following a question (10 sec) depending on type of question.
- Asking Students to Respond to Someone Else’s Reasoning – teacher asks to restate or apply their reasoning to someone else’s.
Talk Formats (Lower Risk)
Individual (lowest risk)
- Clarify my own ideas before hearing others.- Articulate my ideas in written words, drawings.
- Teacher monitors written ideas in the room; may clarify the task and encourage students.
Pairs (low risk)
- Try out my ideas with one other person.
- Practice articulating my ideas in spoken words.
- Hear another’s ideas in relation to mine.
- Teacher monitors written or spoken ideas; may encourage participation or probe students’ thinking; may ask permission to share the pair’s ideas with whole class.
Talk Formats (Higher Risk)
Small Group (medium risk)
- Share and hear ideas from several people.
- Do something with the ideas – sort, organize, compare, prepare for whole-class sharing, etc.
- Equity – are all useful ideas being shared?
- Teacher monitors written and spoken ideas; may probe students’ thinking; may encourage or ask permission for group to share with whole class.
Whole Class (high risk)
- Spread ideas to all students in the room.
- Pair or groups present ideas to whole class.
- Teacher uses talk moves to orchestrate discourse; visual tools help represent and work with various ideas.
The above talk moves reproduced from the Olympic Math and Science Partnership (OMSP).
On September 24 we took a four hour bus drive from Chimacum, WA to Randle, WA with 65 excited 6th graders, 11 eager high school counselors and eight experienced staff. At Randle we took a turn into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Nestled in that grand expanse of nature lies a little camp. Cispus it’s named, after the tribe that used to inhabit the region.
We spent three days and three nights, having breakfast then getting back on the buses on the fourth day for the four hour trek back home, enjoying the camp and the great learning experiences offered there. Here are some highlights of the learning experiences of Camp Cispus that 6th graders put together years ago.
The learning center has some hikes that we can get to just by walking a short way after leaving our bunkhouses. There are also some nice rooms that we use for evening activities. One of the best features, IMHO, though is the fabulous low ropes challenge course set in the woods with about 40 incredible elements. That is a highlight of the trip for many of our kids. We find the problem-solving and team building that goes on via those challenges so important that many of us 6th grade classroom teachers are certified to facilitate groups in the challenge course so we get to take our own kids in there.
Another fantastic opportunity we take advantage of is Mt Saint Helens. From the Cispus Learning Center Spirit Lake, Meta Lake, and Windy Ridge are only about an hour’s bus drive away. And it’s worth it. Mind you, in the Pacific Northwest you’ll get a completely cloudy day one day and a gorgeous, sunny day the next but even on a cloudy when you can’t see any sign that there’s a giant crater in the distance it’s still a wonderously fun trip. Spirit and Meta Lakes are beautiful and with all the signs of life when the day is cloudy it’s hard to believe that anything happened there.
We are very fortunate to continue providing wonderful outdoor learning opportunities for our students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years of their stay with us. It’s expensive but well worth the money.
The 2013 Reform Symposium free, international e-conference weekend has come to an end. If you missed any of the wonderful presentations they are recorded here! Connected educators month is still going on, October, so hopefully some of the great presentations or keynotes got you excited about connecting with others to learn and grow.
I shared my short journey into Gamification and here’s the recording. I’m embedding my Google Presentation below with the links to the resources I shared (and here’s a link in case you can’t view the embedded presentation):
What a great weekend to be, or become, a connected educator and engage in some great learning!
The Reform Symposium free international e-conference (RSCON for short and this year it’s RSCON4) is back! It’s scheduled to take place the weekend of Oct 11, 12, and 13! And it’s happening at the best time for such a conference, Connected Educators Month!
If you visit the Connected Educators website and find it confusing try reading these blog posts to help you make sense of it all:
What is a Connected Educator from Education Week
Do We Really Need Connected Educators by Tom Whitby, retired Teacher and Adjunct Professor
I always attend the awesome sessions at RSCON and this year it’s no different. With over 100 sessions to choose from there is something for everyboday! This year I also get to be a presenter! I had the pleasure of presenting at the 2011 RSCON and I get to do it again! I feel so fortunate to get this opportunity again. Saturday, Oct 12, at 12noon PDT (UTC -7) I will be presenting about my adventures into the world of gamification! I’m excited to share what I’ve been learning and the resources I found.
Here’s a cool blurb from RSCON about this year’s free international e-conference (I love writing free and international):
Teachers now have access to free quality professional development via current online technologies. Experience this live with thousands of educators from around the globe by attending the 4th annual Reform Symposium Online Conference, RSCON, which takes place October 11th to 13th in conjunction with Connected Educator Month. Attend this free online conference from anywhere that has Internet access.
View the schedule online here. Look forward to being inspired by the following:
3 Panel discussions featuring Dr. Alec Couros, Ozge Karaoglu, Nicholas Provenzano, Jackie Gerstein, Steven Anderson, Silvia Tolisano, Joe Dale, Tom Whitby, Pam Moran, Lisa Dabbs, Erin Klein, and Tom Murray.
100+ sessions. Topics include genius hour, the flipped classroom, global projects, mobile learning, game based learning, web 2.0 tools, integrating iPads, e-portfolios, and more. The activities meet Common Core objectives and cover all subjects and age groups.
Nominate an educator to receive an EdInspire Award. Takes 5 minutes.
Keynotes include Angela Maiers (US), Mark Moran (US), Steve Wheeler (UK), Chuck Sandy (Japan), Rafael Parente (Brazil), John Spencer (US), Chris Lehmann (US), Sue Waters (Australia), Jose Vilson (US), Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto (Japan), Mark Barnes (US), Josh Stumpenhorst (US), Nicky Hockly (Sp), German Doin (Argentina), and 13 year-old humanitarian Mallory Fundora (founder of Project Yesu)
Download the flier and program.
So hopefully I’ll see some of you there either as a fellow attendee or at my presentation. Have fun and stay (or get) connected!
Or better yet, how we SHOULD learn Math!
[This is part of a series of posts I'm writing as I reflect on another online course I'm taking this summer, Stanford University's EDUC115N How to Learn Math. Sure, I'm a Science teacher but I have taught Math so I'm familiar with Math instruction. Besides, we do use Math in Science so it's not like I don't do any Math with my students and my NB certification is an early adolescent generalist, which means I'm an integrationist at heart.]
I’ve put together all the posts I wrote inspired by the above course so that I can keep track of them all:
Math for All
Pendulum Swing or The Answer?
More Math Learning Quotes
How to Learn Algebra
More on Math
[This is part of a series of posts I'm writing as I reflect on another online course I'm taking this summer, Stanford University's EDUC115N How to Learn Math. Sure, I'm a Science teacher but I have taught Math so I'm familiar with Math instruction. Besides, we do use Math in Science so it's not like I don't do any Math with my students and my NB certification is an early adolescent generalist, which means I'm an integrationist at heart.]
Here are my final quotes and some notes from the last session of the course.
Quoted from Dr. Boaler:
“I was in a high school geometry class recently in California, in a great school with lots of great teachers and ideas. But, as the teacher tried to get students to reproduce the exact accurate words on the next line of the proof, I just wondered at how the students could make sense of this in terms of their lives outside the classroom where very little depends on the precise adjustment of a single word. Of course, precise wording is important in mathematics, but it seems high school geometry classes are about little else. And they’re far from that exciting mode of time and space and geometry in action that Sebastian and Sophie [two people Dr. Boaler interviews for the course] described. And for Sophie the fact that her geometry class was so removed from the world was the reason she felt forced to both suspend reality and disengage from maths. This reminds me of a great quote by a sociologist and newspaper writer, Hilary Rose, who recalls that as a young child she loved to explore patterns and numbers and shapes. But her sense of mathematical wonder ended in school. And this is what she said:”
‘Thinking about it, it was those so called practical problems that irritated me the most. It was obvious to me that many of the questions simply indicated that the questioner did not know enough about the craft skills involved in real world solutions. Lawn rollers being pulled up slopes, wallpapering rooms by calculating square feet and inches, these were tedious and as far as that highly practical child could see, stupid. I knew that the price I paid was to lose my sense of confidence that school maths and everyday maths were part of one world.‘
“I haven’t talked in this course much about the difference between questions that really are in the world and involve the world, and are great. And those that I would call pseudo context such as those that are used in most word problems. Where people are meant to read the words but not really engage with them as though they are real. And they fill maths textbooks. But I have a paper written just on that which is in the references and a chapter of my book. And Dan Meyers’ website has hosted a discussion around these pseudo-context problems, as well as how to redesign tasks and modelling tasks using multimedia. So these links are all good resources for those.”
“So I think its important to reflect on the geometry of time, space, light, film making and so much more. And to replace the artificial unreal world of geometry classes with one that’s all about life. So that’s my thought about geometry’s role in transforming students’ maths experiences for the better. I know we would need a whole course to work out how to do that and we, you need a lot of time to work on how to do that. The same is true for algebra and for the number work but, as this course is about, hopefully, sparking ideas and empowering you to make those changes, hopefully these are helpful. And here’s another idea or really, a research finding, to really provide students with maths that represents the world. We shouldn’t be separating algebra and geometry. This is really a conversation for the US viewers, because the US is the only country I know of that does this. Maybe there are others, but in the US, students take a year of algebra, then a year of geometry when they forget most of
the algebra. Then a year of advanced Algebra that spends a big time in that course going back over the algebra from the first course. I found it hard when I first moved to the US to even know where some important and really good topics and problems would fit between, with within these artificial distinctions. And the distinctions certainly don’t represent the world. Two studies have been conducted recently with large numbers of students, and one study by Degross and colleagues, they studies 2,161 students. Half of them went to the traditional US approach of algebra, geometry and half of them went through an approach where the subjects were taught together that they’re starting to call the international approach in the U.S. In a second study James Tar and colleagues studied 3,258 students also in the traditional approach and the international approach. In both studies the students working with the integrated curriculum of the international approach scored significantly higher on every achievement measure that was given to them.”
Small changes to a classroom make a difference
by KRM (a student in the course reflecting on the discussion forum)
“Students learned how to select and sort information. They read carefully and decided what previous knowledge was applicable to the new situation. The math they had done in class was not compartmentalized and the teacher did not demonstrate how to do the problem first. They probably did problems that were multi-step, multi-concept and had little scaffolding.
If you want to make small steps in a traditional classroom, here are a few suggestions:
1. Ask the question first. It can be a question you already have, and it does not have to be a great open ended question. Do this right from the beginning of the year so it sets the “tone.” You will get complaints at first that you are not “teaching” but the students adjust. Find a problem that has more than one way to do it. Don’t show them what to do, just let them work and ask questions. Hopefully you will get more than one solution to discuss with the class. For example- Give the students 3 ordered pairs and ask if they are all on the same line. It can be done by graphing, comparing slopes, writing the equation a line through 2 points and showing the third point is on it, or using distances. If a student finds one method quickly, challenge him to find another.
2. Don’t label or tell the students the “topic” of a problem before you do the problem. This takes away the necessity of thinking about what skill to use. AFTER you have finished the problem ask the students how they think the problem should be labeled. What was the key idea? What skills did they need?
3. Take the scaffolding out of the problem and let the students figure out what they need to do. Let them decide on their own process. Sometimes you will be surprised; they find methods better than yours. Have the students work in groups and you can walk around to answer questions and give hints if necessary. When the class is done, the students can generalize the thought process or procedure for the solution.
4. If you review, don’t go in any order or have labels on the problems. Mix everything together so the students have to think and figure out what concepts apply.
5. When I test, I always make sure there are a couple of problems that require concepts from previous units. If there is concept from an earlier unit that caused difficulty, revisit it during class and include it on the next test. If a student thinks he is never going to be asked about a topic again, he will not remediate. There needs to be incentive to correct mistakes and have a growth mindset, especially with older students.
6. This is a new idea that I am going to try this year. Every unit has a couple of quizzes before the test. The quizzes are really formative, not summative, assessment. If a student does poorly, comes for help, corrects his errors and discusses his thinking with me, I will allow him to “drop” the quiz if he requests to do so. This makes the test have a bigger impact on his grade but it is also incentive to understand the material before the test. If a student can do well on a test, why must a poor quiz grade detract from his achievement?”
New quote about a study with very interesting results:
“But also in two sets of school students that I wanted to tell you about. So, in the UK I studied students in two schools over three years, who were taught math completely differently. So, I collected a lot of data on their learning experiences and their achievement, including the results of the national exam in England. One school taught traditionally: watch me demonstrate methods and then practice them. The other taught an inquiry approach to maths. Both sets of students started in three years at the same levels. Now, I’m not going to go through the study, but there’s a book on it and also papers that are downloadable from my website, but I will say a few things. At the school I called Phoenix Park, they were taught in heterogeneous groups, and they were given big problems to solve. If they needed some mathematical method they didn’t know to solve the problem, they were taught it within the problem. They were constantly challenged to ask questions, take problems in their own directions, and be curious about maths. The students left that school not only better problem solvers, but they also did better on the traditional national exam. In the other school that I called Amber Hill, they were taught the standard method through demonstration and practice. But the students were bored by maths and they didn’t understand most of the methods they were taught. As an example of this, in their national exam, which I was able to go and analyze, there was a question on simultaneous equations or systems of equation as they’re called in the U.S. At Phoenix Park they weren’t taught that method. But in the exam, twice as many Phoenix Park students got that question right. Only 26% of the Amber Hill students solved the problem. The rest of them used a confused and jumbled version of the procedure. So, they tried to use it, but not successfully. The Phoenix Park students were much more successful by looking at the situation and the numbers and making sense of it.”
Here’s what students said when interviewed by Dr. Boaler:
“So, these interview quotes will give you a sense of how students who weren’t taught through standard questions and didn’t practice on the questions for three years, like those in the traditional school, ended up doing better on the national exam. So, this is Adrian, from Phoenix Park, just reflecting on the exams when he said,”
‘I tend to go into them anyway just thinking that I can do them. Yeah, there wasn’t any time I though well
this is this, this is this. I just worked it out from the knowledge that I had.‘
“Contrast that with these two students from Amber Hill, a traditional school who practiced endlessly on these questions. And they said very illuminating things to me in an interview. One of them said,”
‘It’s stupid really, because when you’re in the lesson, when you’re doing work, even when it’s hard, you get the odd one or two wrong, but most of them you get right. And you think well when I go into the exam I’m going to get most of them right because you get all your chapters right, but you don’t.‘
“And this boy who was very interesting also said,”
‘You can get a trigger, when she says like simultaneous equations and graphs, graphically. When they say that and, you know, it pushes that trigger, tells you what to do.‘
“And I asked him, what happens in the exam when you haven’t got that? And he said,”
What do those 3 responses from the students tell you about why the PP students did well on the national exam and the AH students did not?
My reflection: It was the growth mindset, the inquiry approach, and the natural curiosity and confidence the PP students had that made the test nothing to worry about. While the AH students had been taught rigidly so that the test was something to fear and if something on the test wasn’t exactly as they had learned it they had no skill set to handle the problem solving they needed to do. It’s obvious that the didactic contract is robbing children of the ability to problem solve and making them dependent on what we teach them and how we teach them, with the triggers we teach them.
So here’s what Dr. Boaler has to say about those who aren’t sure about teaching Math with an inquiry approach:
“Some people argue that open inquiry approaches are only for high achieving students or students from more wealthy homes. But most of the Phoenix Park students lived on a housing estate, I think like a project in the US, that the police even wouldn’t go onto at night. And they came to the school mathematically weak and significantly below the national average in their maths achievement. They left the school significantly above the national average. The students at Phoenix Park, even though they learned through open problems, still learned standard mathematical methods, but they learned them through an inquiring relationship, which meant they learned how to use them. And this stayed with them into their work lives. And this stayed with them into their work lives. When I caught up with both sets of students as young adults from about 24, I found that the Phoenix Park students were in more professional jobs that were higher on the social class scale, even though they were living in a much poorer area of the country. Their inquiry relationship had clearly stayed with them and insured their success.”
Sebastian Thrun in an interview with Dr. Boaler (I really liked what he had to say):
“Someone told me once that, if you are K through 12 teacher and you’re teaching kids in maths. Something like 65% of the jobs that your kids will take haven’t even been invented yet. So it’s really hard to prepare kids. And obviously we live within an utterly outdated curriculum. The curriculum goes back to any number of years. And for various bureaucratic reasons, we are just unable to change even the most basic things. And we also try to force every student into the same schemes if they’re all like robots and have to learn at the same speed. Which is, specifically for math, is really a problem because math is such a beautiful thing if you give people the time that they need. Some are very fast, some are very slow. You can get pretty much every kid there. For me the critical thing in math is actually not applying formulas, that’s like the least interesting component. The most interesting thing is, think like a mathematician. And thinking like a mathematician is a very intuitive thing. It’s the skill that you can look at a problem, and make an assessment when a number’s involved, when a quantity’s involved. It’s the skill of making a baking recipe, understand how to scale it up to more people. It’s the skill, how to pack a truck. When you want to move somewhere, and how the moving distance affects the size of truck you’re going to rent and the way you pack it, turns out. If you move short distance, you pack it different if you move long distances. And these skills in daily life, really, really good mathematicians to me have really insightful answers for those skills. It’s the skill of thinking first principles. Most of us think by analogy as Elon Musk tends to say. But if you say, okay, the problem is solved this way over here. It has to be solved exactly the same way over here. With an understanding that there’s assumptions behind it. It’s a skill of being able to say, well, does it have to be this way? What are the assumptions? In my own work right now in education we make this assumption that we teach all of the students at the same speed. And it has a huge impact on learning. What if you just let that go instead and you can teach students at their own speed? What if, what would be the outcome, and how could we, structure the material differently? It’s the skill of logical thinking of saying, okay if that’s the case, maybe the following assumptions are also wrong. Maybe the teacher doesn’t have to be in front the entertaining the kids. Maybe the teacher can be interacting with the kids on their own turf, and then really be relentless about digging in and seeing if he can find a better mode. Again, I think what we teach in math is pretty irrelevant. It’s the skills that kids pick up, how to look at life, and the ability to apply those things to real life situations. I think any particular formula is probably uninteresting, but the ability to think abstractly. And math to me is just a training course to be a citizen, how to think in the world. In a world of numbers of people, of relationships, of time, of space and so on. So we can get people, kids, that feeling of how to deal with these things and empower them and take away the fear everywhere. And that’s irrespective of the job description, again no job has, most jobs have not been invented yet that teachers teach kids on.”
If nothing thus far has convinced teachers of Math to change the way they teach, if they teach with a mostly traditional approach, to a more inquiry, growth mindset approach the very idea that we have to prepare kids for jobs that don’t yet exist should at least make us question how we can do that using approaches that are centuries old!
Here’s an article by Dr. Boaler with ideas for parents on helping their kids with Math.
Here’s a one-page summary Dr. Boaler put together for us about this course.
And here’s a link to Dr. Boaler’s website.