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Feb 25 15

Class Trek Mid Season Finale

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communique

In this mid-season finale to our ongoing Star Trek class story an incredible secret is revealed.

17.AwaitingRepairs
The QR code is clickable. It has been awhile since the last part of our story, which was like a finale in itself. The place I put the QR code went pretty much unnoticed for about three weeks! I couldn’t think of how to make the story interactive so this is all reading the story instead of choosing anything. I did add a poll to this one to see who kids thought might be causing some trouble and the votes were split pretty evenly between all the choices! I also added some questions in the end to learn a little bit about space travel, or at least what would be involved.

I’m not sure where to go next. I know what happens next in the story but I’m learning towards ending it quickly because it’s hard to find time to write and I have a lot on my plate right now. We’ll see. I do have another story started but don’t know if I have enough to make through to the end of the year.

Star Trek Choose Your Own Adventure Class Story
The Story Continues…
Next Episode
Following an Energy Trail
Rule Out the Klingons?
Away Team

Feb 24 15

1st Quarter WoW Complete #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez

wow_logo_velke-1This all started as a 6th grade Exploratory class offered to all 6th graders for one quarter at a time.

Students got off to a great start last quarter, the first time this class was offered to 6th grade students.

As students began the class they agreed to our class charter, thought and wrote about bravery and cowardice, they contemplated their digital footprints, they practiced typing, they researched different World of Warcraft races and classes, they thought about their hero’s journey and some even wrote stories about their hero (here’s one 6th grader’s hero story and here’s another one in progress), and they did all this work during the formal, more traditional learning parts of the class. In World of Warcraft, as in many adventure stories, there is a “good” side and a “bad” side. But in World of Warcraft players can play their hero for the “good” side or the “bad” side making those labels of good or bad subjective, depending on which side you play! So students spent the last two weeks of the quarter trying out the other side, the enemy of the Alliance, the Horde! The journey of a hero is fraught with obstacles and the nemesis fights hard to defeat the hero. Part of this course was to end by learning the story of our enemy from their side to get a more complete picture of that world.

Here’s a glimpse into a day of playing brand new characters from the Horde (looks a lot like the beginning of the course!):

Overall the course was a huge success and I’m expecting nothing less from the remaining two 6th grade classes for the current quarter and for the last quarter of the school year. They will enjoy the class, live an adventure with their classmates during the school day, and learn many things in the process. I mean seriously, who says learning can’t be fun?! And let’s not forget the value of play (these are 6th graders after all!).

Sixth graders are typically 11 to 12 years old and the ESRB rating for World of Warcraft is T for Teen because of, “Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence.” Knowing this I was not dissuaded from bringing it into a school setting for a few reasons.
1st – I played World of Warcraft as both my kids were growing up. They watched me and the game honestly didn’t seem that bad to me considering there are really bad games out there. They both wanted to try World of Warcraft so by age 9 or 10 I let them each try out a few characters on my account. It wasn’t bad at all. There didn’t seem to be much blood, especially at the early levels, I warned my kids to stay away from rude or crass players and most players were really kind and very helpful, my kids didn’t buy alcohol in the taverns so that was never an issue, and the suggestive themes could easily be avoided and overlooked by enjoying the game. Some of the characters dance more suggestively than the others and that is one thing that is unavoidable because kids really do enjoy watching their avatars dance. It’s funny and each race has different dance moves.
2nd – I got the idea to use World of Warcraft in school from teachers who created the curriculum and have been playing it with their own students! And their students have been younger than mine.
3rd – I know, as a teacher and a father, that the best way to teach kids right from wrong, how to deal with inappropriate players or people in general, and how to avoid inappropriate situations is by letting practice all of those things. I want my own kids, and also my students, to learn by doing. And if they make a mistake, mess up, or witness something inappropriate I want them to talk to me about it and maybe even discuss it with the whole class.

This wasn’t my first time using World of Warcraft in school. I tried using it for a Science lesson with my 8th graders last year and although it wasn’t the best game to teach the Science lesson it was a highly engaging activity for my 8th graders.

So here is some feedback I got from my 1st quarter WoW students:
WoWPlayHow
Kids were able to choose more than one choice above but a majority played in small groups with their classmates and completed quests. A small contingent spent a majority of their time exploring the world of Azeroth with their character. This group seemed to take a long time to finish their pre-game work so there were no kids who reached level 20 (the maximum level for the free, trial version of World of Warcraft). I did have a handful of kids reach levels 13 to 16 so I used one of my paid account characters to take them into a low level dungeon. It was fun and more of a challenge than just questing (they died a lot!).

 

WoWAllianceOrHorde
Most of the kids enjoyed playing both sides, the Alliance and the Horde, equally. The rest were split between one side or the other. I thought that was pretty nice.

 

WoWClassAgain
Out of 27 kids only five said they would not take this course again. Seventeen said yes, they would take the course again. Of the eight that chose other, two said maybe, one said idk (I don’t know) and five said definitely or for sure. So a majority enjoyed the course enough to take it again but frankly, I thought the numbers would be higher. Eight out of 27 kids either saying no, maybe or idk was quite a shocker to me. We’ll see how my other two classes enjoy this course.

 

WoWHowWell
Not everyone did well in this class. I had two kids out of the 27 who never completed all the required work to actually play the game. One was plagued by absences and never got caught up in nine weeks and the other gave up trying and I noticed her spending a lot of time watching her friends play (she did admit that she enjoyed watching her friends play and still enjoyed the class – go figure!). Others didn’t get very many non-game assignments done and some didn’t feel that they were very successful playing the game because they didn’t level up fast enough (meaning not as fast as others in the class).

 

WoWOverall

Overall more than 76% of students had a positive experience (some of the kids who rated the class a 5 or 6 were actually rating the class from the previous quarter and the World of Warcraft class together and really weren’t rating the World of Warcraft class that low) and learned something. The main reason kids rated their impression at 9 or 10 out of 10 was how much fun they had playing World of Warcraft. Some said it was great being able to play a game during school and that they looked forward to coming to 4th period. Aw.

Just about everyone improved their typing speed by practicing some typing every week using Typing.Com. Other skills that kids reported practicing or learning in class included:
cooperation
problem-solving
imagination
focus
patience
goal-setting
hand-eye coordination
thinking skills
literature
think before you speak
friendship
balance
teamwork
diligence
responsibility
self-control
research
“not much I just had to use my brain”

:)

Feb 23 15

1st Quarter WoW #gbl

by Alfonso Gonzalez


The above brief snippet is very representative of a typical day in the computer lab last quarter (technically the 2nd quarter of the school year but the 1st quarter for our WoWinSchools class). I had 27 sixth graders in that class, the students from my 1st period Science class.

Using parts of the WoWinSchools curriculum, modified for a much shorter class – nine weeks, students began the class with a few assignments dealing with the themes of the course before they could play the actual game. The idea was that students prepared themselves for their adventure before starting the adventure by thinking and sharing their ideas about things such as heroism. Students shared their ideas on our class discussion forum. Students also researched the World of Warcraft game before playing it. They visited different websites to learn about their favorite game races, such as the Night Elves, Gnomes, and Dwarves, and their favorite game classes, such as Druids, Mages, Warriors, and Warlocks. Instead of reading a World of Warcraft story and following along with the author’s journey of the hero, kids in this class became the hero as they controlled the journey of their World of Warcraft character. (BTW, this is something kids who engage in role-playing games do all the time.)

This class is not only a highly engaging way for students to participate and discuss the journey of a hero but also a great way for students to practice other valuable skills. Game-Based Learning, the art of using games to learn do more than impart knowledge onto kids. Games, especially immersive games with massive virtual words full of background story, also provide students opportunities to gain other skills. While playing the game World of Warcraft students were able to do the following:

  • Figure out how to play the game, how to move and use their skills as well as how to interact with the game characters (aka Non-Player Characters or NPC’s), and get around (the world of Azeroth is huge!).
  • Decide what their character would do at every step including how their character dealt with challenges, obstacles, and quests. Kids can go anywhere so it is actually quite easy to get lost! I’ve had kids ask me for help getting back to their starting location. :)
  • As they choose quests they are provided some back story to understand why they were being asked to do the tasks by the NPC’s, and even if they skimmed or only read part of the quest back story they were still getting a sense of the greater story, or stories, that is the game.
  • Leveling up. By completing quests students earn experience points or XP, which helps them level up. Students could level up by killing things and exploring but it’s much slower that way. Leveling up increases their character’s stats so they fight better. Higher levels bring increasing rewards making leveling up quite enticing. It’s one way games are so motivating.
  • Decide which armor or weapons to choose when they completed a quest. Often different armor or weapons are offered and only a certain type will benefit the player’s class. For example, a mage can only wear cloth armor so if they choose mail armor they can’t wear it. To make things more complex a mage player can choose mail armor if they want to sell it because more often than not mail armor will sell for more money than cloth armor!
  • Managing money! All player characters start out with no money. As they complete quests and kill things they get money. One hundred copper becomes one silver and one hundred silver become one gold. With money kids can buy better gear and weapons and at level 20 they can buy a mount to travel faster.
  • Problem solve whenever they got stuck, lost, or just plain completing a difficult quest.
  • Cooperate and communicate with those playing in the same starting zones. This took the form of helping each other especially when one found something needed or completed a quest first. Kids helped each other get around, find quest givers, complete quests, and find their way back home.
  • Discovering new places. Some kids were quite happy exploring and finding new things, creatures, and places.
  • Play in an online world with other real, live players who could be anywhere in the world. Digital citizenship and digital footprints are discussion items that students are tasked with thinking about and reflecting on. I remind students that they are playing this game in school and are therefore representing their school. When they play at home they represent themselves and even though the characters on the screen are virtual they are played by real people.

The above list are the things I observed kids doing while playing the game. Not only are kids engaged in truly student-centered activities but which skills that I’ve written about (also this one) do you think kids are practicing from the list above?

Games are more than just mindless activities that are a waste of time. Games can and do help students practice many necessary and important skills and I am honored to be able to provide my 6th graders with a chance to see how games can be used in an academic setting.

This is how it all started.

Jan 2 15

Skills Learned in School

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After writing about the 21st Century C’s I added the Caring C to the list of skills I had put together. I also found some other skills to add to it. It seems to me that Caring fits better with life skills than the four C’s. If we can help students practice the following skills then we are doing our job preparing them for whatever they have coming. With so much content to teach and so much knowledge it’s the skills that are important and they are valid for any content area.

Skills

 

I changed the wordle on my Powtoon slideshow. I also made the slideshow into a Powtoon video embedded below. The only part that didn’t transfer to the video are the Youtube videos I put in the slideshow.

Here’s the first video in the slideshow that didn’t make it onto the above Powtoon video (I selected these videos to impress upon students the need for tech skills):

Here’s the second video:

Here’s the third video:

Dec 29 14

The C’s Revisited

by Alfonso Gonzalez
RightToolsvsSkills

Click on image to see it.

After reading Bill Ferriter’s post NEW SLIDE: SKILLS MATTER MORE THAN TOOLS I began to reflect on the skills my students are gaining as they work and learn in my Science classes. Students have access to technology in my classroom just as they have access to pencil, paper and textbooks in other classes. The tech is just a tool we use. Sometimes I get questions about why I integrate so much tech. I usually answer with reasons why the tech makes our work and learning better such as it’s convenient, it’s effective, it allows for differentiation and individualization, and the tech allows us to go paperless as much as possible. But now I see that the tech also makes it possible for kids to practice using The C’s of the 21st Century as well as gaining other important skills they will need in life.

As I wrote on The C’s of the 21st Century, if we consider Connecting, Communicating, and Collaborating as being in the same vein, or as really just one C, then I have come to conclude that these are the four C’s of the 21st Century (as opposed to the 3 R’s of the previous centuries):
21stCenturyCs

As I reflected further on Bill’s post I have come to see that there are other skills that we all need to get and keep jobs. I’ve put together this list to share with my students:
employable_skills

After putting together the two images above I remembered a twitter conversation I had back in April where Dico Krommenhoek reminded us of a very important C that I keep forgetting.

So I added this image to remember the skill that brings all the aforementioned skills together.
CaringEmpathy

I put together this Powtoon slideshow to share these ideas with my students when we get back together in 2015.

Dec 27 14

Holding Students Accountable

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved - Polly Hutchinson

Some Rights Reserved – Polly Hutchinson

As if in response to my Relationships or Taskmaster post, the Smart Classroom Management blog published the following post called Are You Afraid to Hold Students Accountable? It’s definitely worth a read as they make a valid point. According to Smart Classroom Management following your classroom management plan is the best way to hold students accountable and that by following your plan can you effectively build rapport with your students.

My thoughts on this are rambled so I don’t know if any of this will make sense but here it goes. Personally, I don’t make a big deal about my classroom management plan so at first glance it looks as if I don’t even have one. That is a clear no, no according to Smart Classroom Management. Our school has systems in place to give kids options when they are making it difficult for the other students in class to learn. We have what we call a solutions room where kids can reflect on their behavior or even work where there are fewer distractions. I try to use that room sparingly and only send kids there when they ask or when they do not stop bothering others. Sometimes I send kids there to work when they aren’t working in class. It can be difficult to work in class when there are so many people around to socialize with or goof around with. Kids who end up needing to use the solutions room for behaviors that impact other students then get assigned lunch detention. We communicate with parents when that happens so they can help their children make better choices in school. I also use Classdojo to communicate student behavior with parents weekly. That’s the closest thing I have to a classroom management plan.

So the way I see it is that there are two different ways of dealing with student behavior in a classroom (well, at least two that deal with the topic of this post, my earlier post, and the Smart Classroom Management post). Either you follow a management plan regardless of the circumstances or you deal with student behaviors as they come up. After reading Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene I see the value of having conversations with students and trying to deal with the issue that has led to the behavior. (Read more by Joe Bower about using Dr. Greene’s method of Collaborative Problem Solving). It should matter whether a student is misbehaving because they struggle with school work, they are having problems at home, they got into a fight with a friend, they are really excited about something, they ate too much sugar or drank coffee, or they are bored with the work they have to do. I think each situation can warrant a different response from me.

I am not the type of teacher who will follow a management plan to the letter. Never have been. My first few years of teaching I was shown Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline and used that method to craft my management plan. What I found is that I didn’t always stick to the plan because some situations warranted different responses. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of building rapport with my students over the past 23 years even though I don’t follow a clearly set classroom management plan. Times when my system has failed can be attributed to students who probably would’ve responded better had I stuck to clearly defined management plan, but I can’t be sure.

So even though I got an answer to my original question I’m still not satisfied. I’m not satisfied because it wasn’t the answer I wanted. Clearly I wanted to hear that building relationships is more important than holding students accountable and that dealing with behavior problems on an individual basis will work just fine. I wanted to hear that I shouldn’t sweat whether or not kids are on task or working all the time but whether they are enjoying their time in school, enjoying their peers, and enjoying their teachers. The answer I got was that by having fixed, clear boundaries, which I can have by having and faithfully following a classroom management plan, I can hold students accountable all the time and therefore be able to build relationships even better. I still say that my way will work. And, for better or for worse, it’s the way that I naturally flow. In order for me to change and become a classroom-management-plan-following-teacher I would need to work at it and consciously change my habits over and over again until it stuck. It can be done but I don’t really want to do that.

So even though I will hold kids accountable. Even though I will try different methods to help them work and learn. Even though I will send them to the solutions room or give some feedback home via Classdojo. Even though I do talk and try to make a case for getting work done class or for not goofing around to get students to reconsider their actions. Even though I stress safety as the reason for our classroom routines and procedures, especially during labs. There’s a part of me that values relationships over sticking to a plan because when I think back to the teachers I had in school the ones I remember aren’t the ones who stuck to a classroom management plan and held me accountable, they are the ones who took the time to get to me know me in some way.

Dec 12 14

Away Team

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communique

Here’s the next installment in the continuing Voyage of the Starship Equinox (the QR code is clickable):
IceStation

Star Trek Choose Your Own Adventure Class Story
The Story Continues…
Next Episode
Following an Energy Trail
Rule Out the Klingons?

Class Trek Mid-Season Finale

Dec 12 14

Hour of Code Week #HourofCode

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

This week I had all my 6th grade classes try their hand at coding and programming using the great Hour of Code resources. I could have just pointed kids to the part of the Hour Code website with all the tutorials but I decided to make myself an account and add all my 80 students from my three classes.

Had I just let students loose on the tutorials they could have taken it from there. A computer lab or even using our old 1st Gen iPads, iPad 2s, netbooks, laptops and old iMacs would have worked fine. It took a little more preparation on my part to manage all my students’ accounts but I think it was worth it. Here’s their educator resources.

Since I already have all their names on a CSV file, I just copied and pasted whole class lists to my Code.Org teacher account. Then I printed and cut out card sized account links and passwords for each student. They went to the link for their class, clicked on their name from a list with everyone’s name and put in their secret words to log in (I did that because I didn’t want to have to use student emails, which would have made accounts for students where they got to choose their own passwords).

Through my teacher dashboard I can manage all the student accounts and see their progress so I can tell how well they enjoyed their coding practice and exploration. I did a bunch of the tutorials myself and they were fun. It seemed a lot like Scratch, the way you setup the code to move characters around. You also have a choice at the end of each puzzle to see the actual javascript code, which I thought was way cool. Kids were having fun, they were practicing coding, and problem-solving and learning about providing specific directions to get their characters to where they wanted. Every student who has tried their hand at the coding activities has liked it, been engaged and enjoying it!

[Added this after the first draft of this post.] With regards to the teacher dashboard and the student accounts I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong but lately students have been complaining that they do the puzzles and their account does not show them as being done. I check on my dashboard and there also it doesn’t show as done. I have a test student account that I’m using, I always create myself a test student account so I can use it as a student will, and I’m having the same issue of completed puzzles not showing as completed. That has been a disappointment because that’s why I setup the accounts in the first place! My backup plan has been to see the students certificates of completion. They get that after completing a set of puzzles for the different tutorials. There are tutorials for all age levels it seems. I tried one that was too easy and the kids pointed out that it was an 8 year old plus tutorial. :)

All in all, Hour of Code week this year, my first, was a great experience and fun for us. :)

Dec 11 14

Relationships or Taskmaster

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

I struggle with this every, single year. The balance between being a taskmaster and building relationships with students. One way to think of classroom management, according to Lee Canter (Assertive Discipline) is that dealing with kids is like working with your bank account. Building relationships with kids can be seen as depositing money into your bank account. When you need to redirect a kid, or ask a kid to do something he or she doesn’t want to do, or if you need to have a negative interaction, you are making a withdrawal from your bank account. With most kids we can redirect and still have a positive balance, especially if the relationships are positive to begin with you will always have plenty in the bank to draw from if you ever need it. As long as there is a balance in your back account, the interaction with the student will work and remain a positive relationship. Funny thing (funny, no, that doesn’t really fit but I can’t think of a better way of starting this sentence) is that the ones that have the most money to draw from are the ones that you rarely need to make a withdrawal!

Some Rights Reserved

Some Rights Reserved

But what about those kids who need more redirection? You have to be careful because making a withdrawal when you have no money in your bank account leads to trouble. For these kids you need to make withdrawals more often and they have the least money in their accounts. The idea here is to build relationships with these kids too so that you have enough money to draw from when you need to redirect or ask them to do things they’d rather not do. The trick is knowing how much to deposit and whether or not it’s there when you need to withdraw it. Once you’re in a negative balance either the student will not comply with your requests or your relationship will be damaged. Making more deposits may become more difficult if you let your balance go into the negative too often.

I find my interactions with students to be positive for the most part. Sure there are times when I redirect if I feel kids are socializing too much or doing things that are not appropriate for a Science classroom full of young people. For the most part, those redirections work just fine. I have money in the accounts to draw from. With some students the redirection becomes a balancing act. How do I know when I’ve tried to withdraw too much? In other words, how much can I ask of a student, how much can I prod and ask for work or different, more appropriate behavior for our space and time before he or she has had enough? That is the balancing act that happens for teachers all the time. We ask a student to get back on task, to stop throwing the ball in class, to stop annoying her teammates, to clean up her mess, etc and if she doesn’t we might ask what’s wrong or why not or we might just ask her to change her behavior again. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve withdrawn just enough and the student changes her behavior and may even get back to work and learn something. Sometimes I will withdraw too much and the student shuts down or gets angry.

Right on the spot we try to deposit some funds into that bank account! How can I help? What can I do? What’s wrong? I try to see how I can help the student. Always the balancing act of how much can I ask of my students before I reach the limit and have withdrawn just enough. It’s much easier to build relationships, or make deposits. I listen as my students tell me about their day. I tell them about my day. We just chat sometimes and laugh together and genuinely enjoy each other. At that point I walk away and check in with other students. But eventually I have to come back and notice that no work is getting done or that some behavior really isn’t appropriate for our time and space. Then what? Do I withdraw what I just deposited?

So I wonder everyday, during every class, how much do I build relationships and how much do I keep my students on task? It’s a balancing act and sometimes I withdraw just the right amount, and some days I try to withdraw too much. Then I have to make sure to deposit some money before I make my next withdrawal.

How much do you build relationships versus keep kids on task? And do the new standards and high stakes tests make you feel guilty when you do spend time building relationships?

Dec 10 14

Navigating Systems for Students

by Alfonso Gonzalez

This past May and just recently in November I was fortunate to be able to present a session at two wonderful leadership conferences for newly certified National Board Certified Teachers or NBCTs. Washington state’s Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession or CSTP invited me to show some of the ways that I was sharing what was going on in my classroom to help those who make policy for education, but don’t work directly with kids, understand what goes on in a classroom. I also shared ways that I have been able to get funding for my students to do Science.

The title chosen for my presentation was Navigating the Systems of STEM. It took a while for that to grow on me and now I think it’s a pretty good title for what I shared. The only part that isn’t quite so accurate is the STEM part because the ideas I share can be used by anyone, in any subject area and/or grade level. So really the STEM should be SHTEAM (adding Humanities and the Arts).

Here’s the presentation I created with links and resources I shared:

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