Double Whammy: Games for Change Conference & Games in Education Summit

This week was the golden opportunity for gamers, gamification, and game developers. Both Games for Change Festival and Games in Education Summit took place in New York the the first week of August.

Games for Change addresses how “how games can impact education, healthcare, research, civics, and social issues. The first two days of the Festival showcases the best and brightest game creators and changemakers with panels and keynotes, demos, networking events, and an expo. On the third day of the Festival, VR for Change Summit explores the positive power of virtual technologies in storytelling, science, and social justice.” The fact that this conference is not just focused on education, broadens one’s understanding of the impact of games across fields and highlights game designers who have created innovative and impacting games. Listening to Jesse Schell from Schell Games and jennifer Javornik of Filament Games discuss what is on the horizon with gaming and virtual reality is inspiring.

Additional gems shared at #G4C17 include ArtsEdge Games presenting a Romeo & Juliet LARP (Live Action Role Play). Students participate in creating a scene from Shakespeare’s play with the aim to “embody characters and explore the choices of several characters and learn what drives each one.” In the Larp, students talk to one another and behave as they think their characters would (students are given role cards with a list of tasks they must achieve during the role play). All the details and directions are available on the ArtsEdge website.

Jessica Hammer, Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and Shoshana Kessocks of Phoenix Outlaw Productions presented games they created about the Holocaust and WWII. Jessica Hammer with Moyra Turkington have a tabletop game in development called Rosenstrasse that require players to make difficult ethical decisions about standing up and defying the Third Reich. Shoshana Kessock’s WarBirds Anthology is a collection of LARPs based on women during World War II. Available through Unruly Designs, these games are valuable for grade 8 and up studying WWII and the Holocaust.

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Tracking Ida is a unique “homebrewed” game similar to a BreakoutEdu. “Tracking Ida is an educational alternate reality game (ARG) inspired by the pioneering investigative journalism of Ida B. Wells in the 1890s. Players uncover Ida B. Wells’ crusade against lynching and use her strategies to investigate police and vigilante killings today. Along the way, they solve puzzles, decode messages through a phonograph, role-play as investigative journalists, interview members of their community, and harness social media to spread awareness. Players explore a trunk sent by Ida B. Wells. The trunk contains the salvaged evidence of Wells’ investigation into Memphis lynchings–what she managed to preserve after her newspaper office was burned down by a lynch mob in 1892. To keep these documents out of her persecutors’ hands, Wells secured them in locked compartments. Players solve puzzles to unlock each compartment in the trunk as they search for the map to her investigative tactics.” This history based game allows students to be explorers and detectives to uncover and interact with American History past. More information is available on the Tracking Ida website.

The learning did not just stop at #G4C17, at the end of the week the 11th Annual Games in Education Symposium (#GiE17) took place at University of Albany. This two day summit was for game developers and educators to learn from each other. Dr. Chris Haskell’s keynote presentation “To Boldly Go: Technology, Captain Kirk, and the Future of Education” took us on a trip into space as members of the Star Trek Crew to realize that “fiction is the playground of possibility” and the impact that science fiction, Star Trek especially, has had on our current technology. He encouraged participants to make their classrooms their own StarShip and take students on a mission to seek out new ideas, work together, work ethically, and reach beyond the stars.

#GiE17 had both presentations and hands on workshops on Makey Makey, Game Design, Raspberry Pi, Boxels, and Minecraft. Presentations from the amazing teacher Peggy Sheehy, shared how she turned her class into a game, Excalibur: Explore, Create, Analyze, Learn, Iterate, Break, Understand, Reflect. John Morelock and Joshua Garcia Sheridan both students at Virginia Tech shared how the Board Game Pandemic is used to teach teamwork in the Engineering School at VT.

The key lesson for teachers at both #G4C17 and #GiE17 was that gamification and gaming is not some fad. Gaming is not the future, it is now. Our students are engrossed in the gaming culture and it is changing the way they think and see learning, teamwork, and the world. Teachers need to meet students where they are at and use gaming as a tool for learning and collaboration. There infinite benefits to gaming. And if Jeopardy is your idea of gaming in the classroom, it’s time to renew your own participation in the current wold of gaming: table top games, video games, role playing games, digital games. Would you rather be an XG or N00b? If your not sure what I am talking about, look it up. Your mission begins here.

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Thinking About Student Thinking

Can “good thinking” be taught?

What do students think?

How can teachers promote critical thinking of text and the world around them?

Educators ponder these questions often. A few recently published books tackle student thinking and give insight.

Books on Student Thinking

Erik Palmer’s Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning (Stenhouse, 2016) focusing on teaching argument and debate. An educational consultant, Palmer uses examples from classroom teachers to highlight and promote teaching reasoning and thinking “that will lead students to the habits of good thinking.” Right in the beginning of his book, Palmer addresses where thinking appears in the Common Core Standards and emphasizes that good thinking is necessary for success in life. Palmer argues that the basis of good thinking is argument. By argument he means “a collection of sentences that have a special relationship with one another, designed to lead us to a conclusion, to prove something.” Palmer makes it clear that argument and persuasion are not the same things. An argument is a group of statements, persuasion is the appeal and rhetoric that sells the argument.

To help students build an argument and explain their thinking, Palmer uses offers these prompts:

How did you get that result?

Give me three reasons to support your position.

What were the premises that led to that conclusion?

What is the author’s argument? What conclusion is offered, and what statements lead us to that conclusion?

Do the statements made really lead us to the conclusion? Is each statement correct?

What is your evidence for that? How does that prove what you are saying?

Throughout the text Palmer uses examples across content areas and illustrates his ideas with classroom practices and “ideas in action.” Additional topics are covered as they apply to building arguments; these include different types of evidence, ethos, pathos, and logos, common persuasion techniques, and rhetorical devices. Palmer argues, “We want our students to think well everyday of their lives, and we want them to be able to critique the thinkings of others. That involves being able to demonstrate good thinking.”

Thus, good thinking is taught. We cannot expect our students to build arguments clearly and articulately in writing or in a debate/discussion without teaching students how to think and reason well.

Kyle Beers and Robert E. Probst’s Disruptive Thinking: Why How We Read Matters (Scholastic, 2017) argue that “we need students who can do more than answer questions; today’s complex world requires that our next generation of leaders be able to raise questions . . . they need to be flexible thinkers who recognize that there will rarely be one correct answer, but instead there will be multiple answers that must be weighed and evaluated.” It is important for students to read a text and understand what is going on in the text. Just as important as what the text says is for the reader to be responsive and react to the text. The premise of their thinking is that students need to be “responsive, responsible, and compassionate readers.” Three big questions for reading that are repeated throughout the book:

  • What surprised me? What did I wonder?
  • What did the author think I already know?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

Beers & Probst state, “The reading experience becomes a catalyst for change in our lives.  . . .The ultimate goal of reading is to become more than we are at the moment; to become better than we are now; to become what we did not even know we wanted to become. . .We want them to realize that reading should involve disruptive thinking, changing their understandings of the world and themselves.”

As a reader, I know when we read a great book it has an impact on me. As a teacher, I want reading to be meaningful to my students as well. Through read alouds, choice reading, focused silent reading during class time and reading workshop I am able to give my students access to books and reading that is meaningful and purposeful.

 

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Power Play Lessons: Popular Television Game Structures & Gameplay

Looking to design a game or remodel a classroom activity into a game. Here are four (4) popular television game shows and their structure play by plays to help plan an adventurous class lesson and activity. Since many of these games include physical challenges and mental challenges think of the activities and content information that you can use to challenge your students, make learning fun and engaging, plus review  and or learn new content information These different game structures can be used as models for classroom game design.

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1. Amazing Race Play By Play

The Race features eleven teams composed of two people.

At the beginning of each leg of the race, each team receives their first clue.

Clue envelopes may mark the place where the teams must go in order to complete tasks. When teams complete certain tasks or arrive at a specific destination, they normally receive a letter-sized tear-away envelope that contains their next clue inside a vertical-fold folder.

Route Information clues instruct the teams where to go next. Such a clue usually provides only the name of the team’s next destination; it is up to the teams to figure out how to get there.

Detour

A Detour presents the team with a decision between two tasks, “each with its own pros and cons.”

Typically, one task is less physically demanding than the other but is tedious or requires some amount of time or thinking to complete, while the other is usually a more physically demanding or frightening option that, depending on the team’s ability, may take less time to complete. The decision about which task to attempt lies solely with the team. Once a team has completed one of the tasks, they are given the clue to their next location. If a team does not complete a Detour, they will get a penalty.

A Roadblock is a task that only one team member may perform. The Roadblock task is performed only by the selected racer while his or her partner waits in a designated area, although the partner is usually able to supply words of encouragement and advice.

A Fast Forward is a task that, once completed, allows the team that completes it to bypass all remaining tasks in the leg and proceed directly to the Pit Stop. The Fast Forward clue is given with another task clue (usually a Roadblock or Detour) and is a separate task from the others. Only one team may complete a Fast Forward in any given leg, and a team may only complete one Fast Forward in the entire Race.

Besides clues, teams may encounter the following that may or may not affect their placements or possibly slow them down:

The Intersection requires each team to pair up with one other team and perform all tasks and make decisions together until further notice.

The Hazard  is a penalty applied to the team who came in last at the starting line task.

http://amazingrace.wikifoundry.com/page/THE+RACE%3A+Rules,+Clues,+and+Structure

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2. Legends of the Hidden Temple Game Show Structure

Legends of the Hidden Temple has been described as “a combination of Jeopardy and Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In each episode, six teams of two contestants began a three-round competition to determine which team earned the right to enter the temple. Each team was identified with a color and an animal, indicated on their uniform shirts: the Red Jaguars, Blue Barracudas, Green Monkeys, Orange Iguanas, Purple Parrots, and Silver Snakes.

Round 1: The Moat (Physical Challenge)

In the first round of the show, the six teams attempted to cross a narrow swimming pool known as “the moat.” All six teams attempted to get both members across according to the rules and push a button on a pedestal to ring a gong. The first four teams to cross the moat and ring their gongs advanced to the second round.

Round 2: The Steps of Knowledge (Mental Challenge)

The four remaining teams stood on the topmost of the four levels of the Steps of Knowledge. “Olmec” began the round by telling the teams the episode’s legend of the featured artifact, which became the theme for the remainder of the episode. The legend centered on an artifact which the winning team searched for in the final round. After finishing, he asked the teams a series of questions to test their memory. Each multiple-choice question had three possible answers. A team attempting to answer signaled by stomping on their step. A team who answered correctly moved down to the next level. The first two teams to answer three questions correctly and reach the bottom level advanced to the next round.

Round 3: The Temple Games (Physical Challenge)

The temple games featured the two remaining teams competing in three physical challenges to earn Pendants of Life which the winning team used in the final round. The team that earned the most number of pendants by the end of three temple games won the right to enter the temple.

Final Round: The Temple Run (Physical Challenge)

In the final round, the winning team took the Pendants of Life the contestants earned into the temple, and attempted to retrieve the episode’s artifact and bring it back out of the temple within a three-minute time limit.

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3. Are you Smarter than a 5th grader game play

In each game, the contestant is asked a series of eleven questions, spanning ten subjects (such as Gym, Spelling or Art) taken from textbooks for first through fifth grade students. Each question is associated with a grade level; there are two questions per grade, from first to fifth. The player can answer the questions in any order, and each correct answer raises their cumulative amount of winnings to the next level. If the player correctly answers the first ten questions, they are given the opportunity to answer a fifth-grade bonus question.

Five fifth graders appear on each show and play along on stage.  The player chooses one to be their “classmate,”who stands at the adjacent podium and is called upon for assistance in choosing a subject; the other four sit at desks off to the side. Each child acts as the classmate for at most two questions (done consecutively), after which another child is picked from those who have not yet played in that game.

Answer-Assistance Options

Contestants have three forms of answer-assistance options (two cheats and a save), each available for use once per game:

  • Peek: The player is shown their classmate’s answer and may choose whether to go along with it or not.
  • Copy: The player is locked into using their classmate’s answer, without being able to see it first. 
  • Save: If the player answers incorrectly but their classmate is correct, they are credited with a correct answer. The save cannot be invoked by the contestant; it is used automatically on the contestant’s first incorrect response.

If the contestant gets an answer wrong, they flunk out, and lose all of their winnings. In addition, they may choose to drop out at any point during the initial 10 questions, which entitles them to leave the game with any winnings they have accumulated to that point.

http://gameshows.wikia.com/wiki/Are_You_Smarter_Than_a_5th_Grader%3F?action=edit&section=2

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4. Survivor Game Play

During both pre- and post-merge parts of the game, the castaways compete in a series of challenges. Tribes are alerted to these upcoming challenges by a message, often in rhyme, delivered to camp by the production team at a basket or box on a nearby tree.

Tribes compete against each other in challenges. These most often are multi-segment obstacle courses that include both physical and mental elements with the tribe that finishes first declared the winner; commonly, these start with tribe members collecting puzzles pieces that are then used to solve a puzzle by other tribe members.

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Integral to Instruction: Assessment

“Assessment should always have more to do with helping students grow than with cataloging their mistakes.” — Carol Tomlinson

Assessment in an integral part of instruction determining whether or not the goals of education are being met. It is used to measure the current knowledge that a student has. It meets many needs for many individuals. Through assessments we continually ask the questions,

Are we teaching what we think we are teaching?

Are students learning what they are suppose to be learning?

Is there a way to teach the subject better, therefore promoting better learning?

Assessment affects decisions about grades, placement, advancement, instructional needs, curriculum, and in some cases, school funding.

Teachers are engaged in assessment every minute they are in the classroom. As teachers, we are always observing, noting, and evaluating. Because assessment in completed integrated into the fabric of curriculum, our evaluations are just as accurate (or not) as the classroom experiences we design for our students. The learning standards and Common Core lead us to give particular kinds of assignments. The key is to offer a variety of assessments, both formative and summative, to help our students show us they are meeting the learning targets.

I am currently in the process of designing a multi genre inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust with a social studies teacher and amazing colleague.

The unit brings social studies and English together in order to promote coteaching and collaboration among these two content areas with a focus on building students literacy skills and historical knowledge.  Combining the new C3 social studies standards and the Common Core literacy standards promotes critical thinking, close reading and students creating their own multigenre text on a specific topic and theme about World War II.

For the final project (and summative assessment) students will create a Multi-genre blog that incorporates five different texts (fiction and nonfiction) grounded in specific historical documents to highlight a common theme prevalent in WWII.

Reading closely and writing narrative, argumentative, and informative/explanatory are core learning targets for 8th grade students as described in the CCLS. There are limitations to each of these writing genres when taught in isolation. Allowing students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical text (primary and secondary sources) in multigenres allows students to see the depth of history and personal accounts. This in turn builds empathy and understanding that history is living and breathing. Allowing students to be researchers and writers enables students to use higher order thinking and comprehension skills while at the same time tap into 21st Century skills as digital citizens and creators. Students will utilize technology for research and writing to produce a blog that presents their understanding and learning of this inquiry unit on WWII and the Holocaust.

Additionally, throughout this four week unit there will also be formative assessments to help teachers gauge students knowledge and understanding about historical events and the writing process. Formative assessments range in “formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.”

Examples of formative assessments for the unit include:

Teacher observations

Student-teacher reading and writing conferences

Weekly Literature Circles Discussions and Reading Notes Presented on Google Slides

Weekly Articles of the Week with Written Short Response Reflections with Actively Learn

Fishbowls, Socratic Seminars, and Class Discussions

Constructive Quizzes

Graphic Organizers

Google Forms

Summaries

Write Arounds

Sketchnotes

Jigsaws

Self Assessments & Reflections

 

 

 

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Good Game Reads: 8 YA Books for MetaGames & Gamers

Video games are their own literary genre driven by narrative and story. As my colleague and friend Katie Egan Cunningham states, “Stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.” Whether you are gamer in search of a good story or books to hook your gamer -students, here are 8 young adult books worth reading that tap into gaming, puzzles, ciphers, quests, and LARPs.

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It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett (Nerdist, 2016) is about two friends who get caught in a LARP (Live Action Role Play) gone wrong. Not long after the adventure begins, the friends find themselves transported from Earth to a world filled with both magic and danger. Suddenly, what Alison expected to be a weekend being geeky turns into a fight for survival against brigands, kobolds, and other nasty characters as the group tries to finish their mission or at least get back home.

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In Click Here to Start by Denis Markell (Delacorte Press, 2016) twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2012) has popped up on many high school summer reading lists and my students would tell you this book does not disappoint. Set in the year 2044, where reality is an ugly place, teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s in the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Steven Spielberg is directing a film version of this book that has a release date of March 2018.

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Laura Ruby’s book new series York: Book One the Shadow Cipher (Walden Pond Press, 2017) takes readers on an exciting treasure hunt through a city’s past to save the future. The protagonists, two twin siblings and their neighbor journey around New York and into the city’s past, both real and fantastical, as they encounter a henchman, delve into the bowels of the Old York Cipherist Society (a group of either learned scholars or paranoid cranks), and try to decide whom they can trust. Along the way, there’s action and peril, including a scene involving a giant mechanical insect that eats dirt and sometimes people; but at key junctures, it’s each child’s individual talents that lead him or her to solve a particular element of the puzzle.

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Looking for more adventure and games? Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books, 2017) mentions the game of life and love throughout this story about a dark carnival organized by the notorious Legend. Protagonist Scarlet and her sister sneak away from their father and their home to attend and play at the Caraval. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

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The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee (Penguin Random House, 2016), my FAVORITE book this year, is exploding with puzzles and adventure. After Sefia’s father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible. This November the next installment is out, The Speaker: Book Two of Sea of Ink and Gold — I cannot wait!!

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Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (First Second Books, 2016) is a graphic novel that explores the history of Tetris and unravels the complex history to dive into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce.

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Another graphic novel, Level Up (First Second Books,2016) by Gene Luen Yang presents a coming of age story of the dilemma of personal goals verses parental approval. More specifically, video games vs. medical school!

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Reflections & Takeaways from #ISTE17

How do you envision technology in your classroom?

How do you utilize technology with your students to promote deeper learning, critical thinking, and creativity?

How do you see technology enhancing your teaching goals?

Technology is transformative. It is more than an instructional tool. Teachers need to decide for themselves the technology tools they should use for instruction to benefit student learning. Today is about understanding the possibilities and gaining more knowledge for teachers to embed technology more fluidly into their daily classroom practices and curriculum.

Where better to help answer these questions, learn from edtech leaders, and be inspired to integrate technology in meaningful and creative ways to support our students as learners and digital citizens than the International Society for Technology Education Conference (#ISTE17).

This year, #ISTE17 was held in San Antonio, Texas with 18,000 attendees and more than 5,000 edtech companies, start ups, and industry leaders (Google, Microsoft, Apple). The conference was jam packed for five days of workshops, panels, key notes, playgrounds, poster sessions, and exhibitors.

Here are five key ideas, themes, and takeaways I found dominating the event:

  1. It’s not about the tech, it’s about meaningful and purposeful teaching and thinking. Author and Edtech leader Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) tweeted, “Tools don’t teach. If you’re looking for a magic bullet look in the mirror.” Students learn best by doing. Many of the tech trends throughout the conference highlighted games, play, and hands on learning. Technology integration must have a clear purpose, tap into standards, have clear goals for the role of technology in enhancing the teaching goals, and be adaptable to meet different learning abilities, subject areas, and grade levels. Technology Integration should have the following components: students are actively engaged in using technology as a tool, students should use technology tools to collaborate with others, students should use technology tools constructively to build rather than simply receive information. Technology should be authentic (to solve real world problems meaningful to them rather than artificial assignments). Lastly, students should use technology tools to set goals, plan activities, monitor progress, and evaluate results rather than simply completing assignments without reflection.
  2. ISTE unveils the new Standards for Educators (and Students). After ten years, ISTE has updated their standards to focus on next generation teaching and learning.  The ISTE Standards for Educators are your road map to helping become empowered learners. These standards deepen practice, promote collaboration with peers, challenge us to rethink traditional approaches and prepare students to drive their own learning. The ISTE standards coincide with Common Core Learning Standards to maximize student success.ISTE Standards for Educators

3. Maker Everything. Makerspace is here to stay and it is only getting bigger. Makerspace is not just tinkering but teachers are using it as a way for students to deepen their understanding of a concept, lesson, and idea. Makerspace does not have to be a stand alone club or activity, many educators shared their integration of maker space across the curriculum.Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 3.48.08 PM

One of the coolest Makerspace ideas I saw at a poster session was shared by Heather Lister and Michelle Griffith of Brannen Elementary in Brazosport ISD. Their poster session was jam packed with maker space ideas, suggested supplies, challenge cards, and project examples. Heather shared a World War II Map of Allied and Axis Powers that could light up with copper sticker tape and LED circuit stickers.

4, Next Generation Learning NOT 21st Century Learning. Let’s eliminate the saying 21st Century Learning. What does that mean, anyway? It is 2017 and we are almost 20 years into the 21st Century. Here are 8 habits of Next Generation Teachers as defined by Andrew Churches. How would you rate yourself?

Adapting the curriculum and the requirements to teach to the curriculum in imaginative ways.

Being visionary and look ideas and envisage how they would use these in their class.

Collaborating to enhance and captivate our learners. We, too, must be collaborators; sharing, contributing, adapting and inventing.

Taking risks, having a vision of what you want and what the technology can achieve, identify the goals and facilitate the learning. Use the strengths of the digital natives to understand and navigate new products, have them teach each other.

Learning and continue to absorb experiences and knowledge to stay current.

Communicating and fluent in tools and technologies that enable communication and collaboration.

Modeling behavior that we expect from our students.

Leading is crucial to the success or failure of any project.

5. Sketchnote It & BookSnap It, Blog It, Podcast It, Vlog It. Because we live in a visually rich digital culture there are so many different ways to share, reflect, and show our understanding and learning. People are sharing through Twitter, Instagram, Podcasts, Blogs, and Videocasts. Sketchnoting and BookSnaps are additional ways to help present learning and thinking. Sylvia Duckworth shared a Sketchnotes for Educators Workshop at a playground session I attended and Tara M. Martin, Booksnaps founder, presented an Ignite Session on Booksnaps for learning. Sketchnoting is a great tool that I have shared with my students to showcase their learning and understanding. In the new school year, I will offer Booksnaps as an option for students to share their reading and thinking about a text. The booksnap below was created by Tara M. Martin.

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Legends of Learning #ISTE17 Rally for Educators

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The following is the speech I presented to the attendees of edgames startup Legends of Learning rally for educators at ISTE.

Thank you to Legends of Learning for hosting the ISTE Rally for Educators and their mission to help teachers make classrooms fun and productive learning environments through research driven curriculum-based games. I am honored to speak with you tonight and to be included among amazing educators, Jahana Hayes and Dallas Dance, and with all of you here at this rally. Tonight is about celebrating teachers and inspiring heroes in all of us.

Too many of our students question what is the purpose of school today? Ask why do I have learn this and how is this going to help me after school and beyond? In a time when students can jump on the internet and Google answers to the questions they have, we, as teachers, need to show young people the relevancy of school and inspire students to help make the world a better place. You are the educational heroes, the teachers who inspire our students to love learning in our content areas, share our passions for science, math, English, history, art, music, technology, and more. And it is not only about disseminating information. Teachers must build relationships with students,  instill compassion and kindness all in a matter of 40 minute periods each day.

If we look closer into our students’ lives, we can learn so much more that can inform our teaching and methods. According to Nielsen, the average U.S. gamer age 13 or older spends 6.3 hours a week playing video games. Now, the Center for Public Education reports that, “students receive 1,000 hours of instructional time per year, depending on the grade level.”  That calculates to 3.3 hours of instructional time a week for ONE subject.The math is obvious, our students are getting twice as much game time as they are learning time. Most of the learning time that students are receiving is traditional in the sense that teachers are teaching at students. Students are the receivers of information whereas in a game, a player is immersed in the game world using problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and quick thinking to win the game and level up.

So, what if we harness our students’ strengths as gamers and game players to help teach our content area and tap into the elements of gamification to help develop problem solvers, readers, and critical thinkers? This can be an Epic Win for both teachers and students.  

Four years ago I was introduced to gamification as a classroom methodology while attending a local Edcamp. I admit that I am a Scrabble nerd, enjoy Jeopardy from time to time. I cannot resist a game of Pac Man and I love playing Dance Revolution with my daughter. Video gaming was not my strength or passion years prior. But the heart of gaming, the theory of gaming elements, and my interests are piqued.  

Gamification is an approach to learning that connects meaningful gaming with content objectives to re-engage students and boost learning.  Gamification is about transforming the classroom environment and literacy instruction into a game. It requires creativity, collaboration, and play. There are numerous ways to bring games and game playing into the classroom to promote learning and deepen student understanding. Whether teachers are looking to bring in some aspect of gaming into their class or use a game platform across the curriculum, you can bring in elements of gamification to enhance learning and student engagement, tap into the Common Core and meet ISTE Standards.

When my students are playing video games, they are using many skills – facts and information are tools to solve problems in context. Failure is a source of feedback and learning, collaboration is necessary, and learning and assessment are tightly integrated.  Gamification is not worksheets for points. Effective games are customized to different learners and students are encouraged to take risks and seek alternative solutions. In classrooms today, it’s not only about learning content material, students must experience and build the necessary skills to be creators, innovators, and problem solvers in order to develop critical thinking and improve academic achievement.

In my own classroom, gamification has helped me to engage many of my students, build collaboration and teamwork, and boost their literacy skills.  All year long, my students must uncover the mysteries and powers in the Books we read. Students might earn badges for completing different tasks or collect points during an adventure quest to show their learning and thinking about a text. The goal is for students to LOOK CLOSER and CRITICALLY at their world and the information that we are bombarded with visually and in print. There are puzzles, quests, and challenges with each unit. Students must unlock the secrets hidden in text and go on scavenger hunts and Amazing Races to show their understanding and knowledge. There are side quests to differentiate learning, boss battles, badges, and mysteries that help unlock the legends, themes, and pertinent information.  The game is always evolving in my class with treasure, experience points (XP), and gold points to be amassed. 10,000 experience points offers “Enhanced Vision,” a power and privilege that allows students who have leveled up to 10,000 XP or more to preview the final exam before the actual exam. In the past two years a dozen students have achieved this feat and their names top our leaderboard as reminders to new players that this win is achievable.

Ava, a student in my classroom this past school year told me that gaming in our 8th grade English class was a fun learning alternative which has made her a stronger English student. She went on to tell me striving for game points throughout the school year strengthened her work ethic and improved her writing and reading skills, which overall improved her grade. As a teacher, gamification has allowed me to coach students to be successful readers, writers, and critical thinkers. My students learn by doing, collaboration, and quest based adventures. Gamification fits across all content areas, not my classroom alone.

If we are going to energize our students, we need to embrace technology with teaching methods that inspire and encourage our students to be motivated to learn, collaborate, and face obstacles in a positive way. Approaching learning as a quest or a mission can inspire adventure, collaboration, and results in a better learning experience and learning environment. This is because gamification and game based learning

  • Captures (and retains) learners’ attention.
  • Challenges them.
  • Engages and entertains them.
  • Teaches them.

Let’s think of Mario, Princess Zelda, and Monopoly as mentor texts to help us, as teachers and educators,  design interactive lessons that immerse students in meaningful learning experiences.

Teachers are game designers who build experiences that allows students to foster meaningful teamwork, take ownership of their learning, and persevere when faced with obstacles. Epic Wins, that is what we want for ALL of our students. Success in school as well as outside of school. By meeting students where they are at, tapping into their gaming strengths and skill sets we can enhance the schooling experience across all content areas and promote Epic Wins for learning and life.

About Legends of Learning

Legends of Learning helps educators make their classrooms fun, engaging, and productive learning environments through research-driven, curriculum-based games. Legends of Learning uses ongoing original research to create an edgame platform filled with an epic range of lessons for stronger subject mastery and classroom engagement. All games are based on state curriculum standards. Don your masks with Legends of Learning.

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Building Wordsmiths: 8 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary is at the heart of the content areas we teach.  Each content has its own vocabulary unique to the understanding of the content material taught.  Some argue most vocabulary learning occurs independently. Most researchers would agree that you improve an individual’s vocabulary knowledge and comprehension through students immersed in a wide variety of reading and writing activities.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words (1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

Vocabulary is intertwined with reading and understanding a text. As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, I want to devise a way of teaching vocabulary in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of a text. 

Here are 8 vocabulary activities to build wordsmiths in my classroom. The ultimate goals of all vocabulary development is for students to become independent word learners.

  1. Prefix Pursuit – All seventh graders in my school learn “SPROOTS”- Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots. Every day the bell ringer or do now requires students learn 3 new Sproots to help students understand the structure of words and give them the tools to deconstruct complex vocabulary words. Create a prefix pursuit and have students collect the definition of the prefix from their classmates. For example, find someone who knows the meaning of “dis.” find a person who can use a “uni” word in a sentence, find someone who know the antonym of “anti,” and find someone who knows two words that begin with “cent.”
  2. Vocabulary Pre-Assessment – How well do I know these words? Post words on the SMARTBoard and have students put them in one of the columns that best describe what students know about each one. Columns can read, “Don’t know at all.” “Have seen or heard but I don’t know the meaning.” “I think I know the meaning.” and “I know the meaning.”
  3. Vocabulary Word Maps & Frayer Models – Graphic organizers are great tools to help students build a word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words in the content area. Graphic organizers can require students to define the word, offer synonyms and antonyms, use the vocabulary word in a sentence, and draw a picture to help visualize the word.
  4. Alphaboxes – The Alphaboxes strategy (Hoyt) help students reflect on what they have read while engaging in vocabulary expansion. Given a grid with all 26 letters of the alphabet, students work together to find words for each box that relate to the reading selection. This activity generates discussion, questioning, and collaboration.
  5. MadLibs – This is a perfect strategy for math, science, and social studies content areas. Students are given a text passage with missing words to fill in, students apply content area vocabulary words to help the passage make sense. Include a  word bank to help students complete an accurate text.
  6. Vocabulary SudoKu – Create a grid so that every row, every column and every 3X3 box contains 9 different vocabulary words. Stack the sudoku boxes for more complexity.
  7. Magic Squares – Create a 3X3 grid for 9 vocabulary words and then write out a definition or explanation for each of the vocabulary words below. Students select from the numbered terms the best answer for each of the terms. If the students got the vocabulary words correct the total sum of the numbers will be the same across each row (horizontally) and down each column (vertically).
  8. Anticipating Content Through Vocabulary – This strategy helps to front load vocabulary in a reading or chapter. Give students a word bank of terms. Based on the words, have students make a prediction how the word will be used in the text. Then, have students write ten sentences that support that prediction. The sentences become a guide for their reading. When students are finished reading the text, students can go back to their prediction sentences and modify them so they are accurate in terms of the content of the reading passage.
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Recording Genius: Using Notebooks & Journals with Genius Hour

The great inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and artists, musicians, and writers maintain journals and notebooks to record their thinking, ideas, and experiments. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once said, ““If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things down worth reading or do things worth reading.”
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Job A1 10-123 Rough Journal

To catalogue students’ genius hour experiences over the course of the school year and semester, students created a Genius Journal recounting their investigation, planning, action, and reflections.

Genius journal could be as creative and artistic as a student chooses with a minimum of five entries that address the following:

Investigating

 

 

Define your genius hour goal based on personal interests

Explain why this project is important to you and something you are passionate about

Identify prior learning and subject specific knowledge relevant to the project.

Demonstrate the research you conducted to collect information, ideas, and knowledge

Planning

Articulate the guiding question for your project

Describe the steps you took to put the project in action

Describe the process and development of the genius project

Demonstrate how you managed your time and resources to bring your project to fruition

Describe where you might have had to change, revise, and revamp your project and why

Learning from the Experts

Interview a person you feel is a genius or can help you with your project, what insight do

they offer regarding carrying out your passions and project

Curate information about your project. What others are doing and have done

Who are the people in this field of study that have insight to share, what keywords have they presented

Taking Action

Demonstrate service and or product as a result of the project

Demonstrate your thinking skills and new understanding as a result of the project

Demonstrate communication and social skills

Reflecting

Evaluate the quality of your service or product

Reflect on how completing the project has extended your knowledge and understanding

Reflect on your own development of life skills and how you benefited from completing

this project

Reflect on whether you will continue your work on your genius project; why or why not

 

The journals would be evaluated on the criteria below:

Criteria
Quantity of Entries
Quality of Journal Entries
Original Illustrations, Diagrams, & Photos
Reflection
Grammar, spelling, mechanics, & punctuation

These reflections and entries would also work well as blog posts for Genius Blogs.

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Field Trip: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

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Learning does not only occur in the classroom. I love taking my students on field trips and experiencing learning beyond the walls of my classroom. When there is an opportunity for students to travel beyond the borders of our city and state to make curricular connections, learning is exponential. This past holiday weekend I went to Washington, DC with fifty eighth graders to see the sites and visit the American Holocaust Memorial Museum, Newseum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African America History and Culture.

The eighth grade humanities curriculum begins with Reconstruction and then moves through American History ending as close to the Vietnam War as possible. The books read in English Language Arts coincide with the themes and time periods students explore in order to make connections and critically analyze choices made throughout history.

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The Smithsonian NMAAHC is an amazing museum with  powerful artifacts and stories depicting African American History from Slavery until today. There were shackles that were used on slaves on display, parts of slave ships, and along the walls of this exhibit the numbers of slaves that originated on a particular ship, it’s origin, and the number of survivors from the travels. There were painting of slave ships, a slave cabin, and even American bonds that depicted slave images on the bills.

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The museum states that the main messages of this exhibit include:

  • Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
  • African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
  • African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.

Walking through the History Galleries (I suggest you visit these floors first), there are artifacts like a Tuskegee Airplane, a segregated rail car, Emmitt Till Memorial, and hundreds of photographs, testimonies on displays that highlight the decades and movements of civil rights, and beyond.

Since many of my students read Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, the artifacts like photographs of the Little Rock 9 during desegregation and a sign from a segregated bus station in Birmingham, Alabama were reminders of what Melba, and  others, experienced during her high school years at Central High School.

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The museum has over 37,000 artifacts from history that help show and tell American history and celebrate African American contributions. The upstairs galleries highlight the artists, writers, musicians, actors, politicians, and military heroes. The music contributions are tremendous and you will see Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac, RUN DMC’s Adidas’ sneakers, and clothing worn by Michael Jackson and countless others. This exhibit rivals the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are learning opportunities for educators, one day workshops and a summer week long institute on race and identity. The museum states, “Our programs and resources are designed to ignite critical thinking skills and creativity, to generate self-pride and inspire life-long learning for diverse audiences.” To find out more about the professional learning events you can visit their website.

There is so much to see and reflect on. We did not spend enough time there and I cannot wait to go back. Attending an educator’s workshop is also on my list of things to do. As the museum states, “Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled.  Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’.  Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.”

 

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