Week 1 Retrospective

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Hello, friends!  I’ve been in high school (part two) for a full week now, and it’s better than I could ever have imagined.  Although it is a whole new ballgame, it takes elements from the two worlds that I’ve been living in for the past few years (middle school and professional learning), and splits them right down the middle.  I’ll keep this short and sweet, because I have to jet, but need to blog.  Here goes.

The Change

The opportunity to go to high school, after seven amazing years in my K-8 came along.  I realized that I had become good at what I did, but if I were to continue to grow, I’d need to try something new.  After making this creepily foreshadowing video nine days before I even knew about the opportunity:

I decided to go for it, with a little nudge from my PLN, as well as my family.

First Week with Staff

When I arrived at the first day back for staff, I was immediately struck by the happy realization that I left one familial environment, only to join another.  This was a huge relief, as I was going through major anxiety the night before, as evidenced by this blog post I wrote to process what was going on (lol…hey, we’re all human).

The entire staff was so welcoming, and I was happy to see many familiar faces: parents of former students, spouses of former co-workers, people who I’d been following on Twitter for years, and folks I had met through county workshops and conferences like ISTE.  I probably knew a good third of the folks there already, so this helped a lot.

My team was also on point.  I learned so much from them in the first few days, and am continuing to learn.  It was from our department chair that I got my first explanation of how 3D printers work, something I’ve wanted to learn forever and a day.  Everyone on the team brings the heat in his or her own way, and I’m so proud to be part of this.

The atmosphere was very high-energy and supportive, but it was still a major change for me.  At one point I started to doubt myself a little bit.  However, our final assembly of the week was all about how important we all are to students, and about moonshot thinking.  After watching an inspirational video and hearing the principal’s speech, I felt renewed and ready for Monday.

Time to Meet the Students

Sunday night, surprisingly I slept like a baby.  I woke up early to work out, which I incorporated into my daily routine before school (we have to be there at 9 a.m.).  I found that it helps me focus, and I’m in an overall better mood.

Monday was Freshman Orientation, and they stayed in each class for about 30 minutes to meet all of their teachers from both days (block scheduling).  In our class, we introduced ourselves, then played a game of Kahoot to go over expectations.  In it, there were questions specific to the course itself, the school culture, and random trivia about me to keep them on their toes.

The day went by fast.  Tuesday was the real first day, with the freshmen and upperclassmen at school.

Day One

Since we are on block scheduling, we have A Days and B Days.  So, this will be a culmination of both days.  I teach three different classes, but the first five days of each class is roughly the same.

Warm-Up

The students did a survey that I whipped up on Google Forms, which included info about their strengths, goals, and an anonymous gamer tag for our leaderboard.  When they were done, they signed up for EverFi Ignition, a free self-paced digital citizenship resource, and began completing the activities.

Class Time

After warm-up, I told students how important storytelling is, and how we each have a story and something to bring to the table.  I challenged them to prepare a presentation of no more than five minutes about themselves to introduce themselves to the class, and modeled what this could look like through an ignite(ish) speech of my own.

Afterwards, we played Kahoot again, because most students were not present on Monday.  Lastly, we went over class expectations.  On the last slide, there was a link to an activity, which we didn’t get to until Day Two.

Day Two

Warm-Up:

On the second day of class, students began the day with their EverFi warm-up, except for those who hadn’t yet completed the survey.  On Friday (B-Day #2), students were invited to vote for their favorite class more from the 3rd period A-Day class.  We have a new class showcased every day, and the public is invited to vote as well.

Class Overview:

I explained the routine to students, that we would reconvene after warm-ups to go over the leaderboard, as well as any relevant announcements.  By this time, I had updated the leaderboard with their pseudonyms and points earned on Day One, so then I told them about the items they could “purchase” with their points in the Swag Shop.

Next, we moved on to the Class Activity for the day, Balloon Cars!  (The site where the activity is described is hyperlinked on the last slide of Day One’s course overview.)  This was a great group work activity where the kids were able to get out of their seats and work together on the design process.

Some groups got it on the first try, and many more had to try and try again. Overall, it was a great learning experience.  I was really touched when groups who had success split off to help their classmates experience the same success.

In some classes, we were able to get started setting up reflective blogs via Blogger (thanks to the EduMatch crew for the sugestion).  In others, we jotted down notes for later blogging.

Homework

I’m not very big on homework, especially in a class pretty much rooted in PBL.  However, I am a huge proponent of flipping.  My school happens to have a 1:1 Chromebook initiative, so this will make flipping easy.  In addition, most students do have cell phones.  I took full advantage of this knowledge to craft my first 360 degree flipped video via my Ricoh Theta camera, to show students what is possible:

FYI, this video may not work properly in some browsers, but I had lots of success on my phone in the YouTube app, as well as on the YouTube site itself, where there is a directional control pad located in the top left of the window.

Reflections

I know I promised to be short and sweet, but I got carried away.  Here are a few take-aways that will drive me into next week:

  1. Find some comfortable shoes.  I’m not feeling heels.
  2. Stick to the model of one reading/writing day and one lab day.  This will help get students ready for the college model.
  3. Implement “Figure It Out” Fridays, where we all get together to…well…figure something out lol.
  4. Get the blogs up and running ASAP, so that students can reflect and comment on each other’s musings.

I’d love to hear what everyone else has going on the first week of school.  Please drop a comment below.  Thanks for reading!

Day Five – (Edited) A Little Less Blah

Today was Day Five. There’s not much to report. We did a diagnostic writing pre-assessment from the county. That’s basically it. Hopefully tomorrow will be more exciting.  By the way, this is one of those short post days I was talking about.

Edit: I’m back.  Ok, I’ll write a little more.  The magic for me happened today when I got home, and I was able to do my videos for the week.  I did two flips, one for all of my students, and a secret one for captains of the squads.  In case you don’t feel like watching them, the first video was a very general recap of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  The second one is a secret mission for all of the captains.

Again, it would probably be smarter of me to keep this hush, hush so that my students don’t find out, but:

  1. I don’t think they read my blog, and
  2. I secretly want them to see the video, so everyone will want to be a captain.

Muhahahahaha.  I think everybody does want to be captain, but this will make it even more desirable.  One of the items that students can “purchase” with their Class Dojo points from The Item Shop is a change of captain, but this is by team consensus.  I think I’ll add an item to immediately grant themselves captain status.  This will cost them dearly, my pretty.  But it’s all good…to loosely paraphrase Chris Aviles, status is the most coveted reward.  Following that, there is access, power, and stuff, respectively.  Being a captain hits three of the four, but from what Chris said, the kids don’t care that much about stuff to begin with.

My first year using Class Dojo, I used a lot of stuff as rewards.  When you hit 100 points, you got a pizza party.  Boom.  It was ok…better than nothing, but it was costing me a bunch of money, and it probably wasn’t the most healthy thing to do.

Last year, I hit on access more.  When you hit 100 points, you got an exclusive invite to a Dance Central Party.  The kids loved this, but we ran out of time and didn’t get to everyone.  I felt horrible about this, because they earned it, but you can only have two players battle at a time.  Once the list started to pile up, it was a lost cause.  I think I’m forgiven.  Anyway, this year, I’m trying to hit all four domains, but focusing mainly on the first three.

I saw just how right Chris was, when I read this blog post this morning.  A student said that being captain, even for a short time, was “the best 60 seconds of this year!”  Wow, that’s pretty deep, even though we’ve only been in school for five days.

I loved the support that she gave to her classmate.  I think this year will be pretty cool.  The eighth graders are a phenomenal, talented group of kids.  They don’t like taking diagnostic writing pre-tests very much, but we will work on that.  We still have 175 days to go.  It’s already going by way too quickly.

Day Four – Leveling Up

In the words of Ice Cube, “today was a good day.”

Feel free to press play, and let the instrumental serve as the soundtrack.  Let me steal a page from my homie The Weird Teacher, and I will kick a funky rhyme.  I can’t wait to hear Sound Gecko read this one aloud.

Today everything went so well

Slept in, still got to work before the school bell

Said hello to my principal and colleagues

Gave a hug to all of my little buddies

My eighth graders grew and now they call me short

But it’s ok, I’ll still school them on the bball court

Did some Snapshot for warm-up, #edmodo

Then we turned around and talked about the Dojo

Fourth period figured out their squads overnight

Looked around the class, there’s no drama in sight

Then we took a look at the leaderboard

We brainstormed some Item Shop rewards

Not from Chicago, no Bull, but he’s the realest

Shout out to my homie Chris Aviles

Used his model and I told him he’s a genius

Check it out on Teachers Pay Teachers

Class time flew by, both periods

No interruptions, so I wasn’t furious

I’m impressed the kids are so curious

Tech class: #digcit, the kids tried to Google us

They had lots of knowledge that they dropped my way

I gotta say, it was an awesome fourth day

Fiki fiki fiki. Take that, Sound Gecko 🙂

Draft Day, The Aftermath

Today was Draft Day in English Language Arts.  We had two different drafts, one in Third Period and one in Fourth, with opposite results.

Third period’s draft was awesome.  Everything went the way that I had envisioned it.  The kids were so hype over the draft, that some even found theme songs and made dances for their teams.  We even “squad[ded] up,” i.e. took team pictures.  They were pretty into it, and we ended that class period on a high.

Fourth period’s was a fail.  Looking back, I’m kind of glad it was.

It wasn’t an epic fail, but it easily could have been.  Still, we have our work cut out for us.  I’m looking forward to it.

What was the difference?

  • Third period: 15 kids.  Fourth period: 22 kids (with one absence).

A difference of six kids may not seem like a lot, but it’s just enough to turn a class with a high level of excitement from easily managed to “OMG!”  One of my strengths is that I know how to hype a crowd.  Calming them down, not so much 🙂  Next time we do something with so much inherent excitement, we need to go big or go home…it would have been easier to take this outside or to the gym, where the kids could spread out, and not have to watch their noise level.

  • Third period: uninterrupted class time.  Fourth period:  interrupted class time.

In third period, I taught straight from 11:15-12:15.  No interruption.  In fourth period, there was a scheduling issue where I had to take time out to handle kids being in the wrong place.  This led me to skip both of the videos that set the tone for The Draft, in the interest of time.  The whole thing felt rushed, and the atmosphere just wasn’t right.

  • Third period: seats were in rows.  Fourth period: seats were in groups.

I share my room with another teacher this year, since we have more staff members on our roster.  My “roommate” is awesome, and she has been very accommodating.  We’ve agreed that we can change the seating arrangement however we want, but to default back to the rows when we switch off.  Fourth period, though, the desks were already in the clusters of six, since that’s how we moved them in third period.  Again, I didn’t explain to the kids why the seats were suddenly different, so they sat with their buddies.  In groups.  Of six.  I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

  • Third period: it was new to me.  Fourth period: it was a little stale.

Ok, I know that I didn’t have the same enthusiasm that I had for The Draft, the second time around.  The difference was probably imperceptible to the students, but I definitely felt it.  I guess it’s human nature.

  • Third period: I kept my cool.  Fourth period: I responded emotionally.

It wasn’t like I cried or anything, but I was definitely losing my temper by the end of class.  I think I was a little hangry.  It was much harder to be patient closer to lunch time.  I made a promise to myself to try not to raise my voice this year, if at all possible.  I really want to model appropriate behavior for the students, and it’s definitely not appropriate to yell.  Of course, we’re human, so I may slip up, but in general, I would rather keep calm as much as possible.

By this time, I’ve probably succeeded in my mission to build tension.  You’re probably wondering what happened during fourth period to make things go a little bonkers.  I would also write about third period, but it rolled out according to plan, which I detailed earlier this morning.  No need to reinvent the wheel.

Fourth period started out great.  Kids went on Edmodo and used No Red Ink.  They loved it.  I was just about to launch The Draft when I was called to my door to direct traffic consisting of about fifteen sixth graders.  When I got back in five minutes later, it took an additional five minutes to repeat what I had just said to introduce Draft Day.  Le sigh.  In our profession, you have to be flexible and able to roll with the punches.  This is an area where I can improve.  I’m a Virgo.  I like order.  I like schedules.  I don’t like disruptions…but such is life.

As I said, everything felt rushed.  We skipped the NBA and WNBA video, which in hindsight, I never should have done.  Those were my hooks.  That’s what the kids subconsciously craved.  They needed to really feel like they were in an NBA draft.

We began the draft, and it went smoothly for a while, until the captains began making secret deals among themselves for draft picks.  When one captain violated the oral agreement, the other captain wasn’t very happy.  Drama.  Scandal.  Trash talk.  It would have been entertaining, had it not been happening in my classroom.

I gave the students a verbal warning about the noise level, doing so in a calm voice.  They didn’t hear me.  I raised my voice about ten decibels, in order to be heard.  They settled down, but it wasn’t long before there was yet another scandal from a secret deal gone wrong.  I sent the students back to their seats.

They finished the draft from the desks, which wasn’t nearly as fun.  Finally, we started to pick team names.  One student asked me if their team could make a trade.  I told them they would have to wait until they earned enough points to do so.  Then another team asked about a trade.  I figured that it may save some pouting, drama, and major unhappiness to let those two teams trade one player each before we actually got started.  Big mistake…I should have stuck to my guns.  All of a sudden everybody wanted to switch.  “It’s only fair.”  Go figure.  I told them they had ten seconds to switch and that we would stick with whatever teams they were in when time was up.

By the time the ten seconds were over, there were four teams: two with six, one with eight, and one kid by himself (we had one absentee).  I told them that they needed to be in teams of five or six, and asked for volunteers to join the team of one.  No one wanted to move, so I started to split up the team of eight myself.  Lots of protesting and adolescent angst ensued.  This, my friends, is when I lost my cool.

In a calm voice (although I was erupting below the surface), I told the students that this obviously wasn’t working, so we would scrap the idea, because we already spent too long on it.  Then, I asked them to line up for lunch.  While they were in the line, I began putting back the desks to get the room ready for my co-worker’s next class.  I needed the time to cool off, and to figure out what our next move would be.  I decided not to give them the bad example of someone giving up at the first sign of failure.  After all, my PLN had taught me to “fail fast.”

A few students left the line to help me straighten up, without being asked.  This lifted my spirits a great deal.  After about two minutes, I addressed the class once again.  I told them that things didn’t really go the way that we had planned, but that we shouldn’t give up.  I asked them how can we make working in groups go more smoothly in the future.  One of my students (who had a few minutes earlier said Draft Day was “stupid”) suggested having more kids per group.  I told her that’s a great idea, and that we will add that as a reward they will be able to buy with their group points.  She smiled a little.

Collectively, we decided that whatever they had done and submitted before, I would honor.  However, they were each invited to send me a list of students with whom they would like to work, and that I would do my best, even though it wouldn’t be 100%.  They thought that was fair.

After reflecting, I think I actually appreciate what happened in Fourth Period today.  Yes, it was a bit messy.  No, it didn’t go according to plan.  However, I learned so much about what works and what doesn’t with my classes.  My students also learned that their opinions are valuable, and I think it was an unexpected bonding moment.  We were able to solve a problem together by collaboration.  I think next time I decide to plan a “best…day…ever!!!” I will also include students in the planning process.

Thanks for reading.  Nacho Mama out.  (P.S. they loved her!)

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.