Throwback: Reflection on Gamification

Photo courtesy of jimsheaffer

Now – July 30, 2014

Hey, guys!  We recently started up the DC Metro Area Google Educator Group, which is an awesome community of learning on Google.  It’s open to the public, and anyone can join.  It’s a little old place where we can get together…GEG, baby! Kidding. This is a content-rich and super-fun group for educators to learn together and collaborate.

We have only been around for a little over a week, but we are off to a very strong start.  Every so often, we will have a challenge that we will encourage our members to do.  The challenge for the first week is all about gamification.  Since we have gamified the group to increase member engagement, the topic just lent itself to being our first area of exploration.

Here is the introductory video, describing the mission of our group and our first challenge:

In addition to our Google Community, we have a very active Voxer group to accompany our GEG.  At the time of this writing, it has 26 members, currently discussing all aspects of gamification.  Participants range in experience from novices to game-masters, and everywhere in between.  We are having a blast learning from each other.

For every challenge, I will attempt (keyword: attempt) to reflect on what we are doing through a blog post.  This time, I am totally going to cheat, and recycle a post that I wrote during the beginning of last year.  Just so I set a good example for my students, and not to plagiarize myself, I am borrowing this from here.  

Wow, those old posts are super-embarrassing now (lol), but I’ll leave them up to document how much becoming “connected” has changed me, even on a personal level. I’ll also throw in a couple of other examples of my experiences with gamification.

Let’s take a journey back in time.

Then – October 17, 2014

Well, look at me…I’m on a roll.  Two days in a row, blogging!  That has got to be some kind of record.  Now, now, don’t get spoiled (or scared, depending on your opinion of the blog so far)…I’m usually not very good at keeping to a writing schedule.  But let’s savor life’s small victories, shall we?

Now onto today’s topic at hand: gamification.  As many of you know, I teach middle school English and technology as my 9-5 (and 5-9…I have no life [see Unplugged 2 for more on how having a life sucks]).  Enough with the parentheticals.

We are officially two months into the school year, and it has gone pretty well.  As for my English classes, I’ve been throwing a lot at them, and they’ve been throwing it right back at me since Day One.  We keep each other on our toes.  Technology on the other hand…

…nah, it’s still awesome.

Let me explain.  I’m not some educational narcissist who goes around all day patting myself on the back, muttering, “good job, Sarah.”  No, it’s not eeeeven like that.  I wish you could have been a fly on the wall the first couple weeks of my fifth period (Tech) class.  Well, actually, no, because I’d probably spray you with Raid.

I Got 99 Problems, But a Glitch Ain’t One

This group of students that I have now, they are my babies.  I’ve been working with them going on six years.  Now, they are in eighth grade.  The first two weeks of school, they had an acute case of “Big Fish, Little Pond” syndrome.  You know, how high school seniors are…but without the additional four years of maturity.  Dun dun dun.

It didn’t really help things that technology is classified under electives.  Historically, some students have taken this to mean, “Easy A.”  And really, who could blame them?  The way I’d been teaching it in previous years, it was pretty much showing kids stuff they already knew.  I thought I was really doing something, and I guess I was (for maybe, a third grader…), but it was really basic and not very challenging.  Microsoft Word, blah blah blah, internet searching skills, yadda yadda yadda, BORING!!!!

So this year, these SAME kids who have taken pretty much the SAME course for the fiftieth time, came in expecting the SAME thing.  There were some behavioral issues…I’m not going to lie.  But, little did they know that I had a secret weapon in my back pocket.

One word: gamification.  *GASP*

Leveling Up

What is gamification, you may ask?  I’m so glad you did.  I’m no expert, but what gamification means in my class is that we apply gaming concepts to learning.  Remember all those hours you used to waste, playing Donkey Kong Country?  You know, the one with Kong and his annoying sidekick Diddy, who would always get in the way when you were trying to jump on bad guys’ heads?  Well, I do.  We used to play that game for hours on end, when we should have been doing our homework.  Shame on us.

That was about twenty years ago for me, but really, nothing has changed.  I mean, everything has changed, but nothing has really changed.  Sigh.  YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!!!!

The fact remains that kids still love games.  Luckily for me, I went to this amazing PD session over the summer offered through my county (shoutout to #pgtech, whut whut) that taught us how to gamify our instruction.  Here’s how it works.

This is How We Do It

There are certain things common to most popular video games.  You usually have levels.  You usually have points.  You usually have strategy guides.  You usually have some Big Bad to defeat at the end.  What gamifying instruction does, in a nutshell, is applies what kids love about games, to get them excited about learning.  Well, except for the Big Bad.  Let’s call it a Big Good…that helps you pass the levels…and gives you grades and stuff…ah, nevermind.  This extended metaphor just isn’t working out the way it sounded in my head.

Anyway…back to the subject.  Just like in a video game, everybody starts off at the beginning level.  In my class, I call it the “Tutorial Stage.”  Here, I have placed several basic assignments that all students must complete before they are allowed to move onto the fun stuff.  They earn points for each assignment, and level up every time they hit a certain point threshold.  I chose the arbitrary number of 2100 points, because every major assignment is worth 700 points.  So, if they complete each assignment perfectly, they only have to do three at each level.

In each progressive level, the assignments get harder and harder, building on skills that the students learned in previous stages.  However, the higher level assignments tend to be more fun.  Students are allowed to go back, but not allowed to skip ahead…just like a video game!

Each assignment has a specified number of players.  Some are solo missions, and some are multiplayer.  Just like a video game!

Each stage has multiple missions.  Of these missions, students can pick what interests them, as long as they reach the 2100 point threshold.  These missions are usually new skills that the student isn’t as familiar with, such as coding and video production.  As stated earlier, there are strategy guides and walkthroughs for most missions…get this…video tutorials.  Just like a video game!

This post is getting really long and my eyes are starting to shut, so I’m going to go ahead and post it now.  If you would like to see an example of gamification in action, feel free to visit our class site.

I’m always telling my students to end their writing with a proper conclusion, so I should follow my own advice, no matter how sleepy I am lol.  We are nearing the end of the first quarter, and the inaugural run of the gamification of Tech.  I am so impressed by everything the students have done so far.  I can’t say that they’ve turned a 180 in terms of behavior, but it’s definitely north of 150.

I’m sure that there will soon come a time when students are regularly teaching me new things about technology.  That’s how I’ll know that I’ve done right by them.  Already, they are turning in projects that are way better than my crappy examples.  Gamification is rooted in inquiry and PBL, and helps to address the multiple intelligences.  There’s some teacher-talk for you academic types.  Ok, that was the Nyquil talking, so don’t blame me.  Nighty night.

Last thing: I’m so grateful to have learned about this concept from my fellow educators.  Thanks so much for sharing 🙂 🙂 🙂

Then – January 11, 2014

Mid-point video clarifying how to gamify.

 

Then – June 30, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.14.23 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.14.36 PM

Mind. Blown.

Looking Ahead

I’m still growing on my journey to gamification. It’s a work in progress.  I want to thank all of the members of my PLN for all of your great feedback, inspiration, and advice.

This coming school year, I really want to gamify my English class, too.  We had a gamified boot camp to prepare for the standardized testing, but I really want to roll it out for the full year like I did with tech.  

One thing that came up in the Voxer chat that I want to try is putting them into teams/guilds.  Another is letting them buy things with their points. There was a distinction made that it’s best to have them purchase special privileges and the like, not necessarily to reward them with parties.

Also, I am thinking of ways to marry my love of flipping with gamification, even more.  Stay tuned…something big is coming (hopefully) lol.

Come join in the learning fun and grow with us in our Google Educator Group.  Although we are based in the DC Metro Area, we welcome educators from everywhere.  Feel also free to spread the word.  We hope to see you there.

 

Gone Fishin’: Reflection on Social Media

Disclaimer: This post is going in a very different direction than usual. Not everyone will agree, and that is totally okay.  However, I wanted needed to chip in with my own two cents.

First of all, let me say that my PLN absolutely ROCKS!!!    

I have been having a blast over the past year, while learning alongside great teachers all over the world.  The collaborations have been excellent.  I am also thankful for the times when we have had those courageous conversations, for these are the moments when I get to re-examine my thinking.  We all need to be exposed to different perspectives in order to see situations from many angles.  It is in this spirit that I write this blog post.  

Please keep in mind that I am dissecting ideas, and not attacking individuals.  For this reason, I will not mention any names or specific blog posts, except for those that have inspired me in a positive way.  The views below are my own, and I am not speaking one else’s behalf.  With that being said, let’s begin.

The Fish

Rafranz Davis  wrote a phenomenal blog post this past weekend, which got my gears turning.  I told her that I loved it so much, that I could “blog about [her] blog.”  At the time, I was joking, but later that week, I saw some very different posts being spread so virally that now I’m dead serious.

Rafranz is totally right.  There is a weird Twitter dynamic in the world of educational technology.  Some of my other friends and PLN members have mentioned it, too, such as Elle Deyamport and Angela Watson.  They both utilized a metaphor that I really like, being fish in a pond.

To continue the extended metaphor, our networks would be the pond, and we educators are all the fish, splashing around.  I, personally, am thrilled to be a fish in the pond, swimming in this good salt water…or fresh water…whichever is in a pond.  Obviously, I’m not a science teacher.

There are all different kinds of fish in our pond.  I like to consider myself an exotic, quirky fish, if there is such a thing.  Maybe a little red one, swimming in the blue water…a Haitian fish.

Anyway, back to the point.  There are guppies.  There are goldfish. There are dolphins (I know there are no dolphins in ponds…humor me, people).  That’s what makes our pond so great! Fish come in all different varieties.  In all honesty, the size of the fish (i.e. how “known” you are) really doesn’t matter.  You’re a fish.  You’re already a rockstar.  But since fish size is a reality in the lovely world of educational technology (and most other fields), I’m not going to ignore the elephant in the room.

To loosely paraphrase Angela, sometimes you may be a guppy in one pond and a dolphin in another.  There is nothing wrong with being a little fish, a medium fish, or a big fish.  We are what we are, let’s face it.  It’s all good in the hood…er, the pond…however, lately, I’ve been reading some things that have made me go, “hmmm???”

There is no need for me to “call anyone out,” or for any rachet behavior of any kind.  This is not Worldstar Hip Hop, thus I will not mention anyone specifically.  The point is to address a certain way of thinking that goes far beyond a few blog posts.  Many people seem to share this philosophy, so I wanted to chime in and offer some food for thought.  Fish food, if you will.

We can agree, we can agree to disagree…it’s all good baby, baby.  I have love for my educators either way.  With that being said…

Here We Go!!!

Twitter is a social medium.  Let me slow that down and bring it back one more time…social…medium.  Those two terms would lead us to believe that it is a tool for collaboration, oui?  Twitter and other social media have brought me out of teaching in isolation and into 20-freaking-14, allowing me to collaborate with, and bounce ideas off, educators all around the world.  In other words, using social media has put me into a new pond.

(BTW, here are some ideas to get you going if you want to rock social media for collaboration.)

The way I approach Twitter (and other SM) is that I am here to learn.  I am here to share.  I am here to grow…with you.  However, lately I’ve seen a few blog posts, with the writers sharing their criteria for following back.  I totally respect that everyone has their own methods.  Yours may be different from mine, and that is A-OK.

However, I’ve been seeing one recurring word that doesn’t sit quite right with me.  This word is, “impress.”  A lot of times, people say they won’t follow back if they’re not impressed. I’m baffled.  I’ve heard this term enough over the past week that I would be remiss if I didn’t address it.

What, pray tell, are the criteria for “impressive?”  If I have less than 1000 followers, am I not impressive?  If I don’t have 50 million accolades listed on my bio, am I not impressive?

Personally, I’m impressed simply by the fact that you’re on Twitter, trying to better yourself for your students. The last time I checked, we were all fish.  Do we not have fins to swim?  Do we not have gills to breathe (ok, science teachers, I know…just work with me)?  And since we are in a magical pond where fish can change species, did we not all start out as guppies?  

Don’t get me wrong…I have criteria, too, for when I will follow back.  Obviously, you can’t follow every single person who follows you, or your timeline will be complete junk.  I made that mistake on my first Twitter account. But, what is junk?  To me, the voice of a fellow fish will never be junk.  Junk is that spammy stuff that pollutes our beautiful pond.

***(Random sidenote: Dolphins can learn from guppies as much as guppies can learn from dolphins.  I’ve met some great dolphins who know this, and some great guppies who had the confidence to insist upon both listening and being heard.)***

Here are my criteria for following back, in a nutshell:

  1. Are they clearly involved in education?  (If yes, follow back.)

It’s that simple.  Every now and then, someone flies under my radar, but that is an oversight.  I apologize profusely to anyone whom I may have missed.  That being said, every educator fish is welcome in my pond.  The more, the merrier.

To reiterate, I’m not attacking individuals, just dissecting ideas here.  I’ve heard the argument that people’s streams will get diluted by info they don’t want, etc.  Again, I believe that everyone has a voice and something valuable to bring to the table.  In addition, you never know what guppy is going to become your “personal dolphin” someday, i.e. have a great impact in your life.  I cannot begin to tell you all how many seemingly random strangers I have connected with online, who have come to play a major role in my life.

However, I do understand that there are certain people you want to connect with more closely, which is hard to do when you follow hundreds or thousands of people.  That, my friends, is the beauty of Twitter lists.  I just created one with about 100 of my personal dolphins…close friends in my PLN with whom I want to stay tightly connected.  I set this list to private, and I check it frequently.  It’s the best of both worlds.  I can now have that ever-growing pond, while still having that VIF (Very Important Fish) feed.  Ok, I’ll stop with the fishy metaphors now.

Nobody has to use my methods.  Who am I to tell you who/how to follow?  However, as a friendly fellow fish (I totally lied about stopping with the metaphors), I wanted to share what works for me.

Conclusion

Student voice is a concept that has been gaining ground in terms of best practices for instruction.  In my district, teachers cannot be evaluated as “distinguished,” unless they give every student the opportunity to be heard.  To me, this is phenomenal!  Why are we not treating each other with the same respect?  We need to start knocking down these walls, and shattering glass ceilings.

I’m not going to mince words.  Like I said, I am all for collaboration, and will continue to actively pursue and facilitate those connections.  I have love for all fish, regardless of size, but I personally do not have any interest in “impressing” anyone.  There are plenty of other fish in the sea, willing to work together for the sake of all our students.

Guppies.  Goldfish.  Dolphins.  Who knew that we fish could make so much noise?  The funny thing is that Twitter is just a tool!  It really isn’t that deep…at least it shouldn’t be.  We are here to listen.  We are here to share.  We are here to do right by our students.  Make your own pond, and fill it with all kinds of fish.  Don’t forget your personal dolphins 😉

Some awesome quotes to leave you with:

I’m proud that I can inspire someone but what makes what we do even more amazing is that we are also constantly being inspired by others. – Rafranz Davis

We need to continue venturing into other ponds and making connections so that every fish can feel welcome wherever they go. – Angela Watson

I was glad to take the plunge because below the surface I was able to find my school of fish. Now I feel I can take my next adventure out to sea, and this time, I don’t have to do it alone.  – Elle Deyamport

What is your $0.02?  Chime in below in the comments.

Five PBL Hacks for Educators

I don’t remember much from high school, but I will never forget chorus.  I spent so much time in the choir room that I could have received mail there.

Every year, we would put on a big production, where we’d cover songs from musicals, decades, or movie soundtracks.  Senior year, one song we did was “What a Feeling” from Flashdance.  One day in rehearsal, my teacher, Mr. Johnson, told us, “those lyrics are so true. (dramatic voice) If there’s one thing you need to remember in life, it’s to take your passion and make it happen.

At the time, being 17, I laughed it off, thinking it was the corniest thing that I had ever heard.  However, it always stuck in the back of my head.  Now, *cough cough* years later, I finally get it.

What is PBL?

If you’re hip to the current best practices of teaching, you know that PBL means many things to different people:

  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Project-Based Learning (edit: a rockstar member of my PLN just enlightened me about terminology regarding PBL.  Read her blog post here.)
  • Passion-Based Learning

I heard the third definition more recently, and I think I like that one the best.  For the purposes of this post, let’s stick with that, shall we?

As educators, part of our duty is to model life-long learning, and what better way to do that than to become living examples of PBL for our students?  Take your passion, and make it happen.  Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

My PBL Journey

Last year, at approximately this time, I received an email that would change my life.  I’m not going to tell you about it just yet; that would ruin the suspense.  Muhahahahaha.

For the months leading up to summer 2013, I had begun my journey to connectivity, creating a Twitter account exclusively (well, almost) for #edtech stuff, participating in chats, and getting to know other educators via social media.

One day, I saw a “Call for Presenters” come through my Twitter feed, for a conference called Edscape.  On a whim, I filled out a Google Form to present on flipped instruction.  We had tried it the last few weeks of school and it had worked well for us.  However, I wasn’t quite comfortable with the idea of leading a session on it.

I was also very uneasy about the traveling aspect, knowing darn well that I lived in the DC area, and this conference was all the way in New Jersey.  I had presented a couple of times at conferences in my area, but this was different. This was traveling.  I had no idea what I would do, on the off-chance that my session would be accepted.

Surprise!

Well, guess what?  It was.  (For those of you playing along at home, the acceptance letter was the life-altering email that I alluded to before.)  A little punk voice in my head kept screaming, “OMG, what do we do now?!?”  Thanks to the unwavering support of my family, I decided to go for it.  My parents made the six hour drive with me.

Once I arrived, I was so happy that I actually took the plunge.  I learned so much and made some amazing connections.  For the first time, I met members of my PLN face-to-face.  One person would serve as a super-mentor and we’d present together at ISTE in a matter of months.  Another would inspire me to found (find?) our county’s first ever edcamp.

Photo credit:: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4070/4719560086_dc1a41cf1b_z.jpg

Looking back, my Edscape experience was like walking to the edge of a huge diving board.  Once I dove in, I was no longer afraid…I have presented approximately 15 times in 10 months, in six states and two countries, and twice online to international audiences.  I have learned so much from others, and made lifelong friends, but I could never have done so without activating my PBL.

Here are a few takeaways that I’ve encountered.

The Hacks

    1. Step outside of your comfort zone.  Well, duh.  Sometimes you are going to have to yell at that little punk voice in your head.  I personally enjoy, “break yo’self foo!”  However, feel free to use whatever terminology you choose.  Another case in point: some of you may have seen my free interactive tutorials.  If not, I have attached the link for your viewing pleasure (insert shameless self-promo here).  Well, I had this idea a couple of years ago, but was too afraid to start.  “Ooh, nobody will watch! We’re wasting our time,” the little stupid voice said.  Well, so what?  When I finally got around to it last December, I was having so much fun that I didn’t care if nobody watched. (Spoiler: some folks did, which opened even more doors.)
    2. Bet on yourself.  If you want to live your dreams, you’re going to need to invest in yourself.  It could be money for conferences, transportation, etc.  It could be the time that you invest in building your brand.  Just be prepared to foot the bill, because nothing in this world comes for free, sweetheart.  (I hope you read that in a Humphrey Bogart voice.)  BUT, the joy that you get from chasing your passion will be more than worth it.
        • Use all of the free avenues available to you (i.e. Twitter chats, conferences on The Future of Education, Google Hangouts, etc…be creative!)
        • Organize your time wisely! (I <3 Kanban Flow, a Chrome extension.)
    3. Make lists. If you’re one of those people who is always flooded with thoughts, you may be struck with a great idea, only to lose it minutes later.  This is why lists can come in handy.  I like to use Evernote because it can sync across multiple devices.  Check this old post for more tips.
    4. Be an innovator.  Allow me to be dead honest for a moment.  A lot of the time, I get more credit than I deserve.  I did not invent any of the topics on which I present (maybe in the future, I’ll invent something.  Who knows?).  Most of the praise I get comes from being an innovator/early adopter.
      Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/45/DiffusionOfInnovation.png

      I was first introduced to this chart during an educational technology class I took a couple semesters ago.  You can apply it to technology, but really, it goes along with most concepts.  Example: I happened to be in the right place at the right time when I heard about flipping, and was able to share my experiences with others.  If this infographic is correct, you can see how the practice has grown. Here’s how to be an innovator:

      • Stay connected to the latest developments in your field.  Do this by learning everything you can about your passion.  Go to conferences, connect on Twitter, etc.
      • If you see a strategy that may work for you, try it.  The worst that can happen is that you learn from your mistakes.
      • If the strategy pays off, don’t do it in isolation…tell others about it so that they can reap the benefits as well.  It’s not bragging; sharing is caring.  To that point:
    5. Never walk alone.  Just like the grown-ups in your life told you when you were little, always have a buddy.  As a matter of fact, get as many good buddies as you can!  Build up that PLN.  It’s a learning party, people!  As I keep saying, I love Twitter…it’s totally changed my life.  You never know what allies you will find.
      • Use social media to your advantage.
      • Go to conferences.  Find tips here if you’re a little shy.

 

Conclusion

PBL…it’s not just for students.  Just remember to stay true to your passion.  You may see results, and you may not.  Either way is fine…it’s all about feeding your soul and doing what makes you happy.

Do it for the vine YOU!!!

(Thanks, Mr. Johnson.)

 

What’s your passion?  Chime in here.

 

 

 

#lifehack: Four Ways that Tech Can Help You Reach Fitness Goals

(Featured image courtesy of colonnade.)

Hey guys!  Ordinarily, I do #edtech  tutorials, but this one is a little different. We all have a lot to do, and it’s often a struggle to find time to take care of ourselves.  In this interactive session, I’ll share with you my journey thus far.  Surprisingly, it incorporates many of the best practices of technology integration, LOL!

Topics include: building a support group (#PLN), motivation (#gamification), accountability (#blogging), and fitness apps (#flipped instruction).  Guess I’m not so different from my students after all 🙂

Oh, and by the way, this isn’t just for “teechurs,” it can benefit anyone trying to keep it tight in 2014 😀