Many Are Called, But Few are Chosen

I vividly remember a class I took several years ago. We constantly did group presentations. Those evenings of sitting there, while group after group talked to the class are permanently drilled into my brain. I can’t recall a single important piece of information, but I remember looking at my watch, eagerly waiting for the time to pass so I could escape from the excruciating pain of boredom. And yet, the time would not pass like it normally does; each second seemed to drag its heels to make the class seem to last far longer than it actually did.

Some time later, it dawned on me that this was exactly what I was doing to my students. In the quest to get students engaged, have them do group work, and to present to others, I was merely having a litany of group presentations. One group after another would go up and present, while the rest of the class would suffer “sit and get,” but from fellow students instead of a teacher.

I then struggled with what to do. If I were to tell the class who was presenting next, then many students would not be engaged during work time. If students completed presentations on their own and then submitted them to me, then they wouldn’t get practice with speaking in front of the class. I also didn’t want to assign worksheets or increase my lecture time. I was at a loss of how to solve this problem.

Eventually, I discovered a solution using Classcraft, my gamification platform.

Rather than have every group go before the class to present, I now use the “Wheel of Destiny” feature of Classcraft to randomly select a student or a group. That student or group will then go up to present or to complete and exercise (for which class time has already been given). If the presentation is good, Experience Points (XP) is awarded. If not, Health Points (HP) is taken away. Because often times these min-presentations are part of classwork and formative assessment, I do not need to formally grade them, and the points suffice. I will only select one to three groups (and require them to be short) to keep the flow of class moving.

As a result, the work time becomes an intense preparation for points, and the performance is a chance to earn points. Because the “Wheel of Destiny” does not repeat student names, every student will be called forth at some point (likely several times throughout the year). Students get the benefit of doing presentations or sharing work publically without having to sit through presentation after presentation.

And they never know where the Wheel of Destiny will land next…


Classcraft is Indispensable to Social Studies

When I was in middle school, I often felt perplexed at why leaders or politicians behaved the way they did. Why couldn’t they just get over their differences and come together? Why wouldn’t they take a risk, especially when it paid off in the end?

I think that my ignorance stemmed from the fact that scenarios are not real to middle school students. They often don’t feel the risks involved; the risks are far too abstract to our students. As a teacher, I have sometimes tried role-playing situations to make them real. Despite these good intentions, I have often found that adolescents rarely take these seriously. There is no need for them to care, so why should they? When the going gets tough, they check out, and the struggle that is necessary for learning disappears.

The role-playing game Classcraft changes this dynamic. Students can gain experience points (XP), which can allow them to eventually level up, and they can lose health points (HP), which can ultimately lead to real consequences for students (like eating on the floor during lunch or cleaning out my closet and bookshelf). I typically use XP and HP as incentives and consequences, but I have recently discovered the tremendous value in using them for role-playing scenarios.

Recently, we were learning about the Revolutionary War. I wanted students to understand the significance of the Battle of Saratoga–that by winning the battle, the Americans showed France that the Colonists just might win the war, which encouraged France to support the Americans. To create a similar situation, I created a Google doc for student groups giving them the choice between two companies. One company had a 25% chance of making it big, while the other had a 50% chance of making it big. Groups had to choose which one to invest in. If the company made it, the groups would earn XP, and if the company didn’t, they would lose HP. The HP loss was much greater for the 25% company, and the XP was comparable for both. Unsurprisingly, most groups went with the 50% company. I then went to a random generation website to see which companies made it and which did not. Most groups that went with the 50% won, while everyone who went with the 25% group lost. I then had my class research the Battle of Saratoga, after which I asked them to connect Saratoga with our class activity.The students immediately recognized that Saratoga increased the odds for American success and provided the incentive for a French alliance. This idea would not have hit home as strongly without Classcraft. Students would not have the incentive to care about the investment; winning or losing wouldn’t have any effect on them, so why would they take it seriously?

Today, the class lesson focused on the failure of the Article of Confederation to pass any bills. I made each group a state and assigned it unique characteristics. Some states did not want a national army, while others did. Some wanted the government to take over the debts, while others were strongly opposed. If a bill passed that went with a state’s interests, that group would gain XP. If a bill passed that went against a state’s interests, that group would lose HP. I also required a super-majority to pass bills, just like the government under the Articles of Confederation. Needless to say, few bills were passed because groups did not want to vote against their own interests (one group that did bite the bullet saw its members lose all HP, thereby earning real consequences). Students didn’t want to lose actual HP, and so they didn’t vote against their own interests. This hit the point home that the Articles of Confederation didn’t work. The end result was ineffective government, which students got to experience firsthand.

Thanks to Classcraft, learning simulation in social studies is now possible, and students will comprehend the motivations of historical figures. Could I ask for anything more?

Do you Kahoot?

Last month, I first heard about a quiz / game website called Kahoot. The way it works is simple: the teacher creates quizzes, and students answer questions on computers or devices. There is a time limit for each question, and students get points for answering them correctly and quickly. The less time it takes to answer correctly, the more points students earn. At the end of the game, students see a list of top-earners.

With many educational tools and strategies, we often wonder if students will like it, or what will happen if we don’t do it absolutely correctly. When I started using Kahoot, I was blown away by how much my students bought into it. They all get very excited and try to earn the most points in the class. (I often award Classcraft XP points to the game’s champion)

I have used it as a formative assessment tool, but I also like to use it if the class has been doing some intensive, quiet work an extended stretch of time, and the kids need a break. It allows them to participate and be excited while also staying focused on class material.

It takes some legwork creating quiz questions, but the site currently has 415,700 free quizzes (by the time you read this, it will probably be higher) that you can easily use with your students.

I delayed using it for the first few weeks, but in retrospect, I wish I had started earlier. What’s stopping you?

Classcraft in the Classroom

This year, I tried many new things. I flipped for the first time. I revamped my ELA teaching. Oh, I’m also a part-time administrator now. I have had plenty on my plate.

I also planned on trying one new thing: gamification. I had heard about a game called Classcraft from Timonious Downing at EdCamp Home over the summer. I was intrigued, but I didn’t quite know how much I wanted to follow through with it. I signed up, and I loaded my students, but after the first few days of school, I considered backing out for the year. I was pretty overwhelmed as it was, and was it really worth it to add one more change to the mix?

I stuck it out, and I am glad I did.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not using Classcraft to its maximum potential. I haven’t really created a good system for when to take away Health Points (HP) and when to reward with Experience Points (XP). My rewards and punishments tend to be a little arbitrary, and I need to find a more consistent system and enter those actions into the preset point systems. I don’t always remember to do what is called an “Event of the Day,” which is a random event generator which can cover everything from everyone earning XP to having a random student sing in front of the class.

That being said, my students LOVE it. They get excited about finding ways to heal in order to gain XP. They are excited about getting coins. (How do they get coins? Don’t ask me!) They get excited to gain XP to level up.

Most importantly, I have been able to use it to develop student learning and engagement in the classroom. If students are off-task on their iPads, I am able to take away HP, and if students are taking a long time transitioning to an assignment, I begin rewarding students who are on-task and who are doing good work. Once I start doing this, the rest of the class gets on-task immediately. Students get excited to earn XP for their entire group, which encourages collaboration. This alone has proven to me how effective it is in the classroom, and why I am very glad to use it as one of my teaching tools.

That being said, I’m looking forward to honing my Classcraft skills and becoming more adept at using it effectively. If I’ve had this much success with barely using it, it must be a good product, and I look forward to further learning it in the months to come.

Summer of Learning

This summer, I did not go to any major conferences. With the sole exception of the Educational Technology Leadership Consortium (ETLC ) Conference on June 12th, and the upcoming EdCamp in San Francisco Bay on August 23rd, I will have attended exactly ZERO professional development sessions this summer. That’s right: none. To further kick things off, I was in desperate need for a break from moderating a weekly Twitter chat, so I have been a little less connected than usual this summer.

Believe me, it wasn’t from a lack of desire. Running my school’s summer program, having a three-month old in the house, and not possessing enough money to fly away on a whim kept me home bound. Ironically, my situation enabled me to learn a lot in preparation for the upcoming year.

Although I only attended one conference, the ETLC, I did learn how incredibly easy it is to set up a Google Site and to embed video lessons and websites directly into the site. Jim Puccetti of De La Salle High School also taught me how students can post their assignments on their own websites and give me the link on my site via Google Forms. Once again, this is extremely easy to do.

I had also started the summer with a vague idea forming in my brain: flipped learning. I purchased and read Flipping 2.0. The revolutionary ideas of Kate Baker and the joint English class of Cheryl Morris and Andrew Thomasson blew me away. I did realize that this could potentially be a major project, so I tried to go through an easy route of curating other people’s videos and putting them on playlists on my YouTube channel. However, it finally dawned on me that I would have to bite the bullet and create videos of my own. I downloaded Camtasia and ambitiously tried to create enough videos for the year. Although I failed in this respect, I did get a great jump start for the year.

I also struggled with the platform for presenting these videos for students. I could easily post a video to YouTube and embed it on my Google Site, but if it went through Blendspace, then all the materials for a unit would be easily accessible for students. This way, I could include other videos and useful websites (that would be optional). There was one problem with Blendspace: I wanted quiz questions to appear during the video, not to ensure compliance (that they watched the videos), but to ensure that the ideas stuck in their brains, and I was not impressed with Blendspace’s quizzing abilities. Somehow, the app EdPuzzle made its way into my brain, I tried it out, and fell in love with it. It is a user-friendly way to add comments and questions to videos.

In addition to flipped learning, I have also considered gamification. EdcampHome (an Edcamp available through Google Hangouts) alerted me to the possibility of using Classcraft as a system to provide incentives for students to perform certain tasks and to work collaboratively. This will be my first foray into gamification.

Although I did not participate in much professional development, I have truly learned a lot. In today’s world, excellent professional development is just a few clicks away.