The Power is Yours!

One of my favorite shows to watch as a kid was Captain Planet.  If you’ve never seen it, let me break it down.  There were five kids from different continents who each found a ring with a power over an environmental(ish) factor.

When the kids met up, they found that they could randomly point their rings somewhere and yell out a random word.  Sing the song with me now.  “Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart!” Magically, this random blue guy with green hair would pop up and save the world against some random polluting bad guy.  (Side note: there is a hilarious, although NSFW, parody on Funny or Die featuring Don Cheadle.)  When he was done, he would randomly disappear back into the rings, while saying, “the power is yours!”

The power is yours.  Indeed.

I’m a huge conspiracy theorist, especially when it comes to cartoons.  For example, I’m fully convinced that Pinky was the genius, and The Brain was insane, and that is a conversation that I’m prepared to have if we ever meet face-to-face.  I digress.

Anyway, I think that what Captain Planet was trying to say to the kids, once you read between the lines, is that they didn’t really need him at all.  They had the power to save the world, as do all of us, the kids watching at home.  The kids who have now grown up.  (Psssst…you and me.)

We are educators.  We not only have the power to change the world, we ARE changing the world, whether we realize it or not.  That being said, we tend to have a lot more power than we even realize.  It took me a while to grasp this, but in the age of social media, we can move mountains.

I don’t know how many educators are on Twitter.  I’ve heard two million, six million, eight million, a few hundred thousand…it depends on who you ask.  For the sake of argument, let’s lowball it and say half a million (totally inventing that number…I’m sure it’s way more than that).

Generally I don’t care about numbers of followers, because it’s honestly stupid. #sorrynotsorry.  Twitter shouldn’t be a popularity contest; it should be about creating meaningful connections so that we get better as educators.  However, today I will entertain the discussion, again, for the sake of argument.  After all, if we are trying to move educational mountains, we cannot do it by ourselves…so the ideal would be to have a high number of high-quality connections (i.e. collaborators).

Let’s say you get 1% of all educators on Twitter on board with your idea.  Even with my fictional lowballed numbers, that is still 5,000 educators.  Get 1/10 of that, and that is 500 people in your corner, helping you to move this mountain.  Get it?

The power is yours.

Moment of honesty: I facepalm every time someone on Twitter asks me to start something brand new on their behalf.  No.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when people ask me to be involved in what they’re doing, ask me to amplify (as long as they are not spamming me), or even give feedback/suggest improvements to something that I’m doing.  It frustrates me to no end though, whenever someone has a great idea and tries to hand it over to me because they think I have some kind of power that they don’t.  That’s ridiculous.

THE POWER IS YOURS DAGNABBIT!!!!  So stop it!

What is the difference between a teacher and a teacher leader?  It’s not a title.  Not some secret ceremony with your admin involving a sword and holy water.  A teacher leader does.  That’s all.  Be like Nike and just do it!  If you see a need, and are smart enough to find the solution, just do it.  Don’t ask me (or anyone else for that matter), because all I will say is, “do it yourself…let me know if I can help.”  Just save yourself the lecture 🙂

Featured image source: http://i.vimeocdn.com/video/417592894_1280x720.jpg

#EduMatch Bingo at #CUERockstar

Hey peeps! Long time no see 🙂

When I began this post, I was at #CueRockstar…however, it’s now the next day and I’m in Colorado.  Cue Rockstar was AWESOME!  I was faculty from June 21-23rd, and have learned so much through facilitating sessions.  My first session was about flipped/blended instruction, and the participants created fantastic products in a very short time.  I’ve encouraged them to tweet them out using the #CUERockstar hashtag, so maybe you may see them 🙂

The second day was about gamification.  I have presented on the topic multiple times, but usually it was to people who were new to intermediate level gamifiers.  Occasionally, there have been some advanced participants, but I have never been in a situation with so many in one place.  I loved it, because I learned new tricks from some of the rockstars in the room.  There were many things I hadn’t considered, and they gave me great food for thought by sharing what they were doing.  It was truly a collaborative learning space, and felt somewhat like an edcamp.

Yesterday was session three.  Since the format of CUE Rockstar is totally different than other conferences, and workshops are supposed to be hands-on, I wanted to tweak my usual “What is EduMatch?” presentation.  While this one is designed to be a discussion, and runs on audience participation, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new: #EduMatchBingo.  I drew on influences from several cool things that I’ve been playing with, such as Mystery Hangouts and BreakoutEDU.

The idea came together last week when I was chatting with the #EduMatch crew on Voxer, preparing for a different session. I don’t know exactly where the inspiration came from, but as soon as I opened my mouth, a plan began to form.  The idea appealed to me so much that I decided to beta test it in the safe space at CUE Rockstar.  Here’s what we did:

 

Pre-Session

  1. I set up a Google Form where people from around the world (hosts) could sign up and answer a few basic questions, including their availability, preferred platform, and personal/professional facts about themselves.  (I wanted them to share some personal information because part of the mission of #EduMatch is building relationships.  This is important if we are to learn from and with each other.)
  2. Given their responses, I assigned them to different platforms for the morning and afternoon sessions (plus a third date next week).  I organized this on a separate sheet (Template Here)
  3. On a third sheet, I organized their responses into different lines.  It also served as a cheat sheet for the hosts to see their responses in an easy way, in order to make sure they gave all their answers.
  4. I found this Bingo Template from Alice Keeler that saved my life.  The directions are on the sheet.  I created and downloaded about 15 random bingo boards and put them into a Google Folder.
  5. The morning of, I placed all of the hosts into a Voxer group and communicated with them, reconfirming everyone’s availability and answering any questions when they arose.

Thank you to the following hosts, who had signed up at the time of this writing:

Beta Testing Round 1

At CUE Rockstar, the faculty members shred, or promo, their sessions at the beginning of each day. During the shred, I admitted my nerves and beginner’s mindset, saying that we were going to try something brand new for the first time, which could either be an epic win, or an epic need-to-overhaul (thanks Tammy Neil for changing my mindset regarding the word FAIL).

The first session ended up being both!  I was so thankful to see my new buddy Nishantha who came to play.  He was the sole participant, so we ended up competing head-to head to test for bugs.  There were many, so I noted them as we played.  Spoiler alert: he won!  A few ideas from session one:

  1. Add a slide that provides an overview of how to connect to the game boards through Google Drive.
  2. For platforms with sound and/or video (i.e. Google Hangout/Voxer), only play from one device.  Encourage participants to join the main #EduMatch Voxer group.
  3. Google Hangouts was the easiest platform to play, because it was synchronous.  Voxer was second, probably because of the speed of voice.  The text-based platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) were a little clunky.

Nishantha also offered other good suggestions, such as pre-surveying the participants and getting matches based on their interests; as well as having people sign up to be hosts after playing the game.

Beta Test Round 2

With this new information on hand, I went back to the Voxer group to rally the hosts.  I created a PM Voxer group, and changed strategy a bit.  For example, I linked a slide to the #EduMatch Google Plus and Facebook groups, and asked the hosts to tweet to the hashtag #EduMatchBingo.  In addition, hosts frontloaded the text based platforms with their clues ahead of time.  The roles were more fluid and free-flowing, with anyone being encouraged to post their clues in advance on any/all platforms, but not to post all the answers in one place.  In addition, all hosts were invited to participate in the Voxer/Google Hangout conversation.

For the second round, we had three players: Linda, Judy, and Jed.  The second round was much smoother than the first, and we improvised small changes along the way.  For example:

  • One of the hosts asked how cryptic the clues should be.  In the morning, we had not covered this point.  In the afternoon round, we experimented with having them give their answers verbatim.  This made the game go by very quickly.  Ideally, the responses will be a little vague, but not too challenging.
  • Each participant could ask one question to the hosts on Voxer and Google Hangouts.  I passed them my phone, they introduced themselves, and asked their question.
  • At the end, we had an open dialogue on Google Hangouts, and participants were encouraged to join their new connections in our #EduMatch Voxer group.

There were many duplicate answers on the Bingo cards, which came as a result of having  six hosts per session.  As we continue to play and expand our database, there will be less duplicates, and the game will be more challenging to win.

Next Steps

Thank you to all of the players and hosts from Beta Test Day One.  Whenever we get #EduMatch swag printed, you all will get a special gift 🙂  After running through both sessions and debriefing, some of the following ideas emerged:

  • Continue running the game to refine the model.  Although we have most of the bugs out, Day One was played in small groups, with tech-savvy, connected participants.  Other factors for consideration may emerge later. For example, future players may not be on the social networks that we utilized, or know how to access their Google Drive.
  • In addition, the current model works well in small group settings.  For each round, I made only 15 bingo cards. However, I do intend to use this tool in other avenues, such as keynotes, edcamps, and featured speaker sessions in the near future.  At such sessions, there can be dozens to hundreds of people in one space.
  • One idea to address the first two bullet points is to do team bingo, as one of the participants suggested.
  • DocHub was a good tool to annotate on a PDF, however there may be another, easier solution.
  • A last idea is to create an app that will be able to do all of this in one place.  Since I have limited coding experience, I may have to do some edumatching to myself, in order to find someone who can help.  Perhaps other tools that are already out can work.

Thanks again to everyone for participating in this experiment.  I am looking forward to seeing it grow and develop, and would love to hear any feedback on how to make this better.

Don’t Be the Best, Be YOUR Best #BoredEduChat

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.  It’s also been a while since I’ve done #BoredEduChat.  It emerged one day as I was…well, bored…and there were a few that we’ve done since then.  One in particular has stood out as my favorite.  I’ve always been meaning to flesh it out in a blog post.  Here goes.  This one is from September 25, 2014.  I’d love your thoughts.

That was the list from 2014.  (This year’s list)

(Now up to 108 billion.)

New figure: 9.25925926e-7.  My math may have been off.

What I should have said was multiply that by 1000.  New figure: 0.00092592592.  In other words, the “Top 100,000” who have ever lived have comprised approximately that percentage of the population.

Don’t seek to be the best, seek to do your best.  I was listening to Lewis Howes’s The School Of Greatness, and one of the guests, I believe Grant Cardone, said that greatness means a narrow the gap between one’s potential and what s/he actually does.  By this definition, we can all be great.

My good friend Sara Brooks expanded upon my “Connecting the Dots” metaphor, and said that while we are each just like a pixel on a TV Screen, we are HD together.  I dug that.  Actions live on way longer than we do.  Our legacy is built when we work together to improve the world.

Let’s work together to make the world a better place.

The Personal Benefits of Having a #PLN (#EduMatch Tweet and Talk 2)

Most of us who have been connected for a while already know the professional benefits of having a PLN: we become better teachers, we share ideas, we discover new opportunities, we better prepare our students by encouraging them to connect, etc.  The list goes on and on.  Tonight, in our second #EduMatch Tweet and Talk, we discuss another topic: how being connected has changed us as people.

When we truly connect, it goes far beyond typing out 140 character blurbs or using some strange Nextel-ish app to talk to strangers all day.  This seems to be the impression that people have of “being connected,” and may explain why they are hesitant to join in.  What I wish I could tell them is that being connected has made me not just a better teacher, it’s made me a better person.

I’ve alluded to my experiences growing up in previous blog posts.  TL;DR: I grew up in a community where I was one of few people who looked like me, and have had some experiences that left a negative mark.  I’ve always been kind of a loner, and isolating myself became my main defense mechanism.

It was easier this way.  When you shut people out, they can’t hurt you.  But I have recently learned that when you shut people out, YOU are hurting you.

Being connected has allowed me to see that there are more kind, loving people in the world than just my family, friends, and a few scattered people here and there.  Over the past two years, I have met some amazing people, who have changed my outlook.  Of course, we are a far cry from utopia, but there is a lot of positivity out there if we are open to receiving it.

As a result, I have become more empathetic, but I am still a work in progress (as we all are).  The more people I meet, the more I see the good in others…the more I see how much we can learn from each other…the more I see how we can help each other.

This is why I choose to connect.  This is why I am so passionate about encouraging others to do the same.

Yes, it is important for us all to share our stories as educators.  We can all grow professionally, hearing about what worked (or didn’t work) for others instructionally, and building upon that shared knowledge.  We can collaborate, innovate, and spread our passion.  But what we don’t always discuss is how these personal take-aways can be just as important.  Many thanks to my #PLN for making me a better “teechur,” as well as a better human being.

If you are free, please join us tonight (June 7) for our Tweet and Talk on this topic at 6 PM EST (Live Google Hangout on Air) with #EduMatch Twitter backchannel.  The Twitter chat will be storified, and the panel discussion will be available as an iTunes podcast.

Edu Match: Not a Dating Site

On Friday night, I was bored.  It was one of those rare days when I was home with nothing to do.  Well, I had plenty to do, but I didn’t feel like doing it.  That would have gone against everything that Friday night stood for.

Anyway, my mind started to wander as I was sitting on the couch, playing on my phone.  All of a sudden, I had a #showergem moment.  FYI, in case you’re wondering, here’s the definition of a #showergem.

Showergems

In other words, a #showergem is when your brain is on pause, and all of a sudden, you have an awesome idea.  Here are a few previous #showergems:

  • With seven billion people in the world, we are each only a dot.  But what a beautiful picture we make when we start to connect.
  • Being a connected educator is like using augmented reality on our profession.
  • Relationships are the most important things there are.
  • Everyone has their own version of the truth.  Why should you put anyone else’s above yours?  Don’t worry so much about what other people think of you.
  • Your mama’s so stupid, she stuck her head in the washer because it said, “Permanent Press.”

As I’m sure you can infer, the last one was from when I was in fifth grade.

Anyway, one common theme of my #showergems tends to deal with helping educators connect and collaborate.  This is the focus of most of the things that I choose to do in my free time.

I was sitting on my couch, playing on Voxer, chatting with one of my #eduhomies (new hashtag that I’m totally Columbusing, btw), telling her how she and my cousin would hit it off.  Not in a dating way, but they would have so much to talk about, since they geek out over the same things.

Ironically, I had been joking around with another #eduhomie about how we should team up and make a “Teachers Date Teachers” website.  Well, the #eduhomie was joking.  I was half-serious.  Kidding!  Maybe.  Totally.  Anyway.

So back to the story.  I made a remark in my vox to my #eduhomie that I pride myself in being an educational matchmaker.  Long story short, @edu_match was born.

In my research, I saw there was an #edmatch, but that was about fundraising.  There were a few @edumatch accounts, but none of them appeared to be what I had in mind.  So, I jumped in feet first, just adding the underscore to make it unique.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 7.40.54 AM

It was very silly, and I decided to keep it very Sarah.  Those of you who know me know exactly what I mean.  I was dead serious about fully exploring the potential, but I wasn’t going to do it if I wasn’t entertaining myself in the process.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 7.43.31 AM

Side note: even though I’m pretty Google-savvy, this was the first time I ever used Google Draw for anything.  I was not shy about admitting how horrible the logo is, but honestly, I don’t know if I’ll change it.  It sets a tone for how informal and fun this experiment is.  In addition, people love to tell me how horrible the logo is, and this is great!  Especially because it’s usually followed by, but the idea is awesome.

Personally, I’m more inclined to click on something that catches my attention, good or bad, and see exactly what it is.  I could, possibly, have the same effect with an awesome logo, but this experiment is still in its infancy, and I didn’t want to drop a ton of money on something that I wasn’t sure would work.

Similarly, people tend to think it is a “Teachers Date Teachers” project.  LOLOLOL.  I welcome the confusion, because that gives me the opportunity to clarify it.  In my experience, people are more engaged when they are trying to understand something, than if you try to cold-sell an idea.  Confusing people can be good, so I really play up the, “it’s not a dating site” factor.  The follow-up question is usually, “then, what is it?”

So glad you asked.

According to the website (s/o to the #eduhomie for the suggestion),

“we use the power of social media in order to help foster collaboration and connections among educators around the globe.

Each day, we have an #edtech Person of the Day, and tweet out several bits of information that they have supplied. You don’t need to do anything, and there is nothing to lose.”

“We” sounds better than “I.” But truly, it is “we.”  I treat this with the EdCamp mentality.  My job is to facilitate these connections, but it’s all driven by the people who sign up, and who participate.

Yesterday, we had our first #edtech Person of the Day.  I asked him how it was going midway through the day.  Much to my surprise, he said that he had a bunch of new followers.  I was so happy to hear that, but it inspired me to change the sign-up form a little.  I added a place for the Person of the Day to write a discussion question to ask the Twitterverse.  Although follows are good, engagement is better!

As of this morning, we have 10 people signed up to be featured.  Wow!!!  This is great.

I’m learning as I go along…for example, today, I have scheduled the tweets to promote our second Person of the Day.  This helps me tweet at odd hours of the night being in EST, but our friends on the Eastern Hemisphere are wide awake.  Maybe there is a script or something so that I can automate it 100%.  That would be awesome.  Also, I’m trying to figure out what happens if/when this gets huge.  It would kind of suck to sign up and have to wait for weeks or months before you are “on deck.”  Maybe eventually we will have multiple People of the Day.  Hmmmm.

Tl;dr version: If you have a crazy idea, jump in and do it.

If you have any suggestions, comments, or feedback, please share below.  Thanks!

Day 9 – Fumble Recovery

Last Friday, I assigned a collaborative assignment to be completed in class by my students via Google Classroom.  None of them finished it, so I assigned it for homework.  None of them finished it then, either.

Today in class, we had an honest discussion about why the work wasn’t done.  I told them that it was a no-blame situation, and that we would brainstorm ways to make things run more smoothly in the future.

Students provided the following reasons, among others:

  1. They are not used to the technology.
  2. They are not used to working in groups.
  3. It was hard having group homework on a weekend.

They were totally right.  It is still the beginning of the year, and I have completely uprooted my previous practice of having them work solo.  And to be quite honest, it really wasn’t fair of me to assign group work on a weekend, particularly at the beginning of the year.  If I were in the class, I probably definitely would have dropped the ball, too.  

So, I told them that we all learned something, and that we would cut each other some slack this first time.  I gave them an extra day to work on the assignment in class with no penalty, and said that I’d try not to assign weekend homework (especially group work) anymore.  

Third Period took the assignment very seriously.  Every now and then, I had to tell a few people to focus, but for the most part, they were extremely diligent.  One student even discovered the sharing feature on Google Drive to help them work faster, and more efficiently.  At that moment, she became the hero of the class.

Fourth Period, since there are more students, there was a little more confusion.  Most of them got the work done, but I noticed that one of the groups was very slow to start.  I had to constantly come by their table to cue them to begin.  They claimed they had it under control, but by the end, they were panicked and rushing like I knew they would be.  One member volunteered to come up for lunch and finish the assignment.  This raised a red flag to me.  I asked if anyone else was coming with him, but he volunteered to come up alone.

When he came up, he was very loyal to his team.  I asked him if he was doing all the work (which I could tell that he was).  He told me that other group members had contributed; however, I had witnessed them being off-task.  He wasn’t able to finish the entire assignment during lunch time.  

I went to the students’ Fifth Period class and had a quick conversation in the hall with the captain, and told him that everyone on his team needs to pull their own weight.  I asked him to reinforce that to the squad, and gave him a heads up about this awesome grading system that I learned about this weekend.  In it, group members self-assess for the most fair result.  I think I’ll create a Google Form to help facilitate this process.  If anybody has a script, that would work even better.  Can you even do scripts on forms?  #PLN, I may need backup 😀

In the meantime, fumble…recovered!!!

Day 8 – Genius Hour for MEEEEEE

Today I had my own 20% time. This year, I’m teaching half of the school day, and the other half, I serve kind of as an Instructional Coach for tech integration in our building.  I’ve structured it so that Monday-Thursday, I am at my colleagues’ disposal.  My buddy Dr. Will gave me the fantastic idea to use SimplyBook.Me to help me keep my sanity…er, I mean to schedule professional learning sessions.

Fridays are my days.  Oh, I’m a poet and don’t even know it.  But anyway, I am claiming this one day of the week to handle everything that I want to do.  I have three hours of professional learning with…myself lol.

Today, my project was to fix all of the laptops in the mobile lab that could be saved, in order to use them with my classes.  Prior to that, we had issues with some error message popping up.  It said something along the lines of, “no logon servers are available,” or some infuriating garbage similar to that.  I was able to save all but two by hardwiring them to the school Internet, logging on, then shutting down.

Third and fourth periods were cool.  The kids were a little amped, I’m guessing because it’s Friday.  Also, there were some major changes to the leaderboard since yesterday.  Two players hit 50 points today.  I’m going to need to slow up on giving out points, or make items in The Item Shop a little more expensive.  Good thing they have a lot of options, or things could get chaotic.

One major takeaway that I learned from ELA class today is to save all of the high-energy fun stuff for the end of class.  I allowed them to play each other’s Zondle games right after our warm-up with Edmodo’s Snapshot.

I’ll come back to Zondle in a second, but I just have to say that two of my kids are now meeting last week’s standard (8.RI.10), which I threw back in the mix just for fun.  Last week, not a single solitary kid scored “meets standard.”  The funny thing is that 8.RI.10 was only in the curriculum once last week, and the students are supposed to hit that mastery level at the end of the year.  I think all of the Actively Learn warm-ups are helping.  We also did 8.RI.1, which we did work on this week, although not much.  Five students have hit the mastery level there.  I’m expecting better next week.

As for Zondle, the students were so hype to play each other’s games.  I was walking around, looking over shoulders, and I found some of the games were on things like cell division.  Ha!  Not exactly what I was going for, but I’m glad it’s academic.  Next week, I will be very clear with them that they should be using academic vocabulary words while in my class.

We then used Google Classroom and the online textbook for a group classwork assignment.  Both periods ran out of time, so I assigned the rest as homework.  We are going to have to work on the collaborative teamwork thing.  It will go more smoothly as the year goes on.

For sixth period, Technology, we played Kahoot to review digital citizenship.  This was a final activity, before I give them my blessing and set them loose on their gamified journey in Tech class.  Speaking of that, I will work on the challenge board this weekend.

Kahoot, for those of you who don’t know, is a website that is very similar to bar trivia, but it’s educational.  That’s probably the best way I can describe it.  Thanks to my buddy Carla‘s awesome idea, we used Kahoot as a way to educate parents on new tech developments in our county, including GAFE and BYOD, yesterday at BTSN.  The parents had a great time, and this planted the seed for today’s activity with the students.

By the way, the seventh graders totally called me out today on not giving them their Xbox party last year.  D’oh!

Day 6 (Edited) – I Don’t Need a Nap Anymore

Okay, so today was day six of school. I am currently “voice-typing” this into my iPhone, if that’s even a phrase. Today would be the day that I would totally lose in my blogging challenge, but thank goodness for voice recognition.

I am “writing” this as I drive home in my car. It has been a very long and grueling day. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day, but it was still very long, and I am still very tired.

In class today, we first worked on Actively Learn to help us with informational text. Afterwards we read about the different characteristics of genres in our online textbook. Then, we worked on a collaborative Google Doc about said characteristics of different genres. Third period did incredibly well. I was very proud of them. Fourth, well, they got a little carried away, and someone deleted everything after we were done. But it’s okay, we’re still learning Google Drive.

Then, we discussed the reading log that we’re going to use for the 25 Book Challenge this year. I found it from a template on Google Drive that I tweaked to fit the needs of my class. Now with the new upgrade, it should be so much easier to make the forms look awesome.

Afterwards, we talked about The Item Shop. The kids oohed and aahed over different perks they could purchase with their spendable points. My third mod got to see Sphero, the remote control ball that I bought for absolutely no conceivable reason. At least now I get to justify it to myself. Fourth period ran out of time.

In technology class at the end of the day, I decided to take my seventh graders to the cafeteria for an in-school field trip. There, we talked about the soundboard. This is partially because I need a new army to replace my A/V gurus who graduated from the school two years ago.  Last year, I did it mostly by myself.  It’s better for everyone if the students learn how to operate it.

These kids were particularly into the lesson, because they’re really big into music, something that we share in common. They were so hype over learning about EQ, as well as basic operation of the board. We had a good time, then we went to the gym for dismissal.

Today was cool, but I need a nap.

(Edit)  Ok, I don’t know if this is the new thing with me, but it seems like as soon as the school day is over, I’m wiped out.  Then, once I get home, I suddenly have this second wind as I am planning the next day’s lesson.  Very strange.

Anyway, this is the results of the planning for tomorrow.  I was planning to do an academic vocabulary lesson with the students, but I refused to make it dry.  Never will they copy words from a dictionary in my class.  No siree, Bob.

I was thinking about buying a vocabulary subscription for my classes in Edmodo, until I saw the price tag.  It was $50 per group, for a grand total of $100.  While it did come highly recommended, I can’t won’t spend that much for an app we will only be using sporadically.

Next, I took to the web with a vengeance to find a *free* app that I could use with my students.  I read many reviews and settled on Quizlet.  Prior to doing so, I had used Voxer to ask my teacher buddies from the GEG DC Metro Area about their experiences with the $50 app.  They echoed that it was a great product, but they also shared a free website called Zondle.  Big shout out to Rafranz and Jake for steering me in that direction.  What it allows you to do is create games based on any subject.  Jake and Rafranz both shared that they allowed the students to create their own vocabulary games.  #doublewin!!!

I called an audible and saved Quizlet as a plan B. We are so going to use Zondle tomorrow.  I was initially going to let students choose their own words, but I think I’ll hold their hand a little and assign words to various squads this first time.  Eventually, I’m thinking of using the TextHelp Study Skills Read and Write add-on.

In the curriculum, we are supposed to do level 3 words for grades 6-8, but I’m also going to throw in level 4 words for grades 9-12.  Being overprepared never hurts. These kids can take it…they’ve been flying through passages for grades 9-10 without even knowing it.  But I’ll never tell 😀

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 🙂

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.