Global Collaboration vs. Curriculum

I come to the idea of Global Collaboration with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. It’s something I’ve always been interested in but wasn’t able to wrap my head around completely. As my building begins its journey to become an International Baccalaureate school, a program that emphasizes global learning, it’s been on my radar a bit more lately.

Then, my building’s librarian told us about a new website, PenPalSchool, which allowed kids to participate in a project and interact with students around the world. We chose the “World Exploration” project. The kids were thrilled, I was excited to give them an engaging and purposeful way to work on their writing, and it had easy and obvious connections to other content areas.

I quickly realized that this was not a spur of the moment activity if we truly wanted to make use of it.

Once the project started, my kids were put into a group of about 4 other pen pals. For most of these groups, there was one student from another country. Then, each week they were given a topic to focus on: History, Food, Pop Culture, Art and Literature, and Daily Life. Everything sounded like it was going to be a great experience.

The problems arose when I realized there was no way to do this program justice and create the kind of learning that it was capable of when I only have 60 minute class periods and the topics essentially asked for a research project to be completed each week for it to be beneficial. We also discovered inconsistency in how teachers from other schools were expecting their students to use the website.

It has been a somewhat frustrating experience that did not turn out at all how I wanted it to.

Looking, however, at the RWLD, I noticed several ways that I could use Global Collaboration more effectively in the future. The Global Read Aloud, as well as Classroom Bridges, would allow for Global Collaboration projects that would fit better into the existing curriculum that I am expected to follow.

These projects would allow standards and class content to still be taught within the framework of the project. I could focus on standards on writing, or

I look forward to learning more about Global Collaboration and how to fit it into the classroom.

Is this how you game? : An attempt at Gamifying 6th Grade Language Arts

I am not a Gamer. The whole idea of Gamifying the classroom was incredibly difficult for me to conceptualize how it worked. I understood it in theory, and thought it was a great idea, but could not picture how it would work in reality. I especially found this difficult to apply to a 6th grade Language Arts classroom, which is much more subjective than math or science, in terms of linear order and clear answers.

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out all the way, but it’s something I’m excited to  learn more about.

Based on reading and the videos I watched from Michael Matera, I realized that I needed to start small. I wanted to focus on one small piece of my classroom. Maria, my partner, and I, talked about options for what would work and ultimately settled on focusing on vocabulary because the very nature of word study allowed it to be Gamified somewhat naturally.  I have vocabulary set up to operate on a 10 day sequence. Day 1, students are introduced to 10 new words. Day 2, students answer prompts related to the words (what is something that might be submerged?, what is an antonym for obscure?) Days 3-5 students work on a variety of vocabulary assignments that help them get to know the words. These assignments are created by the curriculum my district adopted and I just modify them to meet my needs. Days 6-9, students take a short review quiz each day that asks them to match 5 of the words to definitions, or to fill in a blank in a sentence. Students take one of the words they missed on each of those days and complete something I call “vocabulary images”, which requires them to write their own definition of the word, find an image to represent the word, and explain how the image represents the word. On Friday, students have a vocabulary quiz that I have already been leveling based on Depth of Knowledge, or an attempt at them. Level 1 is matching words to their definitions. Level 2 of the test is writing the definition of words. Level 3 is putting words into blanks in sentences, and Level 4 is writing their own sentences.

Vocabulary is something that has proven to dramatically improve students’ reading comprehension. As a 6th grade team, we have chosen to focus on vocabulary because of how big of a different it makes for students. By gamifying this aspect of my classroom, I am hoping that students will take some ownership of their learning and will encourage others on their teams to do well. Vocabulary is one area that students are often not instrinsically motivated to succeed in – other than wanting to get good grades – so gamifying this process may cause students to take more responsibility for this learning.

Because this process is concrete and more objective than other things in Language Arts classrooms, this seemed like a good place to start, but I had no idea where to take it. Based on few things I read, I started by checking out Class Craft and noticed that it was almost perfect for what I wanted to do. It allows for customization for “behaviors” and “health points” which allowed me to tailor it to match our vocabulary work. I wound up with the following rules for XP points, Health Points, and Sentences – which are consequences if a student loses all of their Health Points.

Because we had just taken a test, it was very easy to give students XP points right away. One of my concerns with this process, especially how I’m approaching it, is because able to use it on a regular basis. Without consistency, students won’t have the same buy-in that they will if it’s present almost daily in the classroom. I have already discovered “The Makus Valley” which is a volume meter, and “Boss Battles” which allow for quick whole-class formative assessments, similar to Kahoot but connected to Class Craft. I also did not originally have the behavior of “complete a vocabulary assignment with 80% accuracy” but added this so that I could more frequently award XP points.

I have only been using Class Craft for two days and can already see that it is engaging to students. Students truly enjoy being able to create a character and are excited by the options they will have as they level up to customize their character. I know that it’s the new, shiny toy, so I know their level of interest may dwindle as the year progresses but I am thrilled by the level of excitement students have already.


Curricular goals: Students will require using  mental processing to be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas.
Standards addressed:
ISTE Standards: 2b. Students engage in positive, safe, legal, and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices
Iowa Core Standards: 21.6-8.TL.6 Essential Concept and/or skill: Understand the underlying structure and application of technology systems.
L.6.6 Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

 

Could Language Arts be Gamified?

I’ve never really considered the Gamification of my classroom. I believe that gaming in the classroom would create more student buy in and would result in higher student engagement in their learning. However, I struggling to wrap my head around how it would work in a Language Arts classroom. Learning how to identify Least Common Multiples seems much easier to gamify than identifying the theme of a text, at least in an organic way. It would be easy to assign points if students get it “right”, but identifying theme doesn’t have one right answer.

As I started reading about the idea of “flow”, as explained by psychology Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi I was better able to see my classroom reflected in those ideas. Flow is something we’ve all experienced when we’re doing work that is truly meaningful to us and that we are fully engaged in and challenged by – something that is just difficult enough to keep our attention. I can imagine students in this state when they are reading a book that they are truly invested in, when they’re writing something they really want to write, or when they’re working on a project that they care about. It was interesting, then, to see how so many of the characteristics of Flow overlapped with the characteristics of gaming: immediate feedback, short and long term goals, a balance between what is difficult and what is known or already mastered. Although this connection makes sense and seems obvious, it isn’t something I had ever really taken time to consider.

Then, listening to an Edutopia interview with James Paul Gee really made me begin thinking about the fact for this sort of learning to take place in schools, the entire environment and culture of traditional education will need to change. Especially when he talks about how gaming is essentially assessment, that gives constant feedback, as well as allowing you to retry over and over until you are successful. The idea that textbooks/ manuals only make sense to us and area only useful to us once we have a reference and a need to learn information from them. It’s with this thought that I considered my TAG students first. If they were able to pass / achieve something without being directly taught, why should they have to sit through the instruction? Why should they have to read the manual? The process of a gamifying a class, in theory, could allow for much better individualization of instruction while still requiring all students to show mastery.

As I explored more and more topics about gamification of the classroom, ideas began to form. Could students find the theme of a story and submit it for a certain number of points, and if they weren’t quite right, I could return it to them with feedback in real time instead of doing an activity as a class, having them turn it in, and me have to grade 118 papers to give back to them in an amount of time that matters? Would it be possible for them to submit it, and if they weren’t quite getting it, be sent to a video or text that gives them more information? Or could they go in search of their own videos about the topic? I am definitely finding myself rethinking the ability to incorporate gaming in my classroom, although I’m still not quite sure how to manage it. Seth Priebatsch’s Ted Talk about the layer of gaming in real life especially helped with this, as many of the aspects he discussed are already part of the school environment (Appointment Dynamic – showing up to class or school on time; Influence and status – honor roll, reward cards, grades). I think the idea of gaming in the classroom reimagines the teacher as not being the center of instruction and allows students to take a little more ownership and invest themselves more in their learning, which is incredibly important in preparing them for 21st century learning.

In Paul Anderson’s Ted Talk entitled “Classroom Game Design”, he not only explains how he managed to Gamify his classroom, but also the challenges he faced when doing so. One thing that stuck out to me was his mentioning that some students stalled out when given instruction in this format. I think this is an important thing to consider, as there is a reason that an adult with a teaching degree is in the room. Could students, at some point, be required to meet with the teacher before they were allowed to try a level again? Could another level be meeting up with a peer for explanation?

Anderson’s Ted Talk also got me considering how to group students for certain levels for pieces of the activity. I liked the mention of “passion communities” from James Paul Gee, but do think that in some situations, intentional grouping is necessary to support and enhance learning. How can we group students to make the learning most effective? Should the groups stay the same throughout the entire course?

Although I definitely agree with Paul Anderson about trying to completely overhaul a classroom during the school year, I am excited to look more into the Gamification resources and consider how I could Gamify more of the elements of my classroom both in the next couple of weeks and throughout the semester.