Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Setting the Stage: Preparing Students for Gamification

My goal for this quarter is gamifying our blended reading groups. Gamification is incredibly motivating for students, and I am already beginning to see the benefits of using Classcraft with my learners. Before beginning though, there were a number of foundational skills and experiences that my students needed in order to find success while learning independently in a blended model.

Online Learning Skills

I remember learning last year that we read online text much differently than we read print text. It stands to reason that students need specific skills to learn independently online. I applied what I learned about creating online content and then taught my students a few specific skills to prepare them for their online learning.

First, I had to teach students the difference between watching videos for entertainment and engaging in video content for learning. It seems obvious, but students need practice engaging with media by pausing, taking notes, making sketches, asking questions, and finding connections.

Second, I’ve helped my students develop visual literacy skills through graphic novels so that they can effectively learn information from visual sources. Third, we have spent quite a bit of time self-assessing our work this year using rubrics and learning progressions. As a result, students have developed a self-awareness of their learning tendencies and self-monitoring skills needed to learn independently online.

Experience with Tools

I have been intentionally been using a variety of technology tools in class this year. From our district learning hub, student blogs, Storybird, Pixton, Blabberize, Google Classroom and Flipgrid, we have been learning and demonstrating our understanding in a variety of different ways. When creating online learning tasks, I mostly use tools my students are familiar with so that they can successfully complete independent tasks.

When introducing each new tool, I encouraged my students to explore a little bit before I modeled using the tool for our learning. I did this to allow students the opportunity to discover new tools, not just “use an app.” I want my students to know how to learn about a technology tool without me directly by their side. That way they have confidence in their tech skills when learning on their own.

Quest Support

I learned last year that it is critical to have students solving their own technical problems. My goal is to teach small groups while students are learning independently online, so I can’t continually provide tech support. This year, I have identified four students who excel at problem solving. These kiddos are able to help their classmates when they run into problems. My quest support students are also available to explain learning tasks when students are struggling, freeing me up to teach guided reading groups.

A Note on Managing Personalized Blended Learning

Part of what makes using Classcraft so great is that students can work at their own pace to complete tasks and objectives. While this is great for my students, it poses a challenge in managing the learning of my 33 students. For that reason, I created our Classcraft board. It serves as our main form of communication for the tasks were are learning.

Student have a magnets with their picture next to their team shield. When they finish a task that I need to check, they move their picture to the scroll. Once I check their work, I move their picture to the treasure chest or book to show that they have moved on to the next task or need to go back, review the feedback I left for them, and try again. This board also helps limit how many tasks students can finish in one week so that my learners are encouraged to complete work well rather than rushing to try to get ahead.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Beginning Gamification with Classcraft

My goal in gamifying our blended learning rotation during reading groups is to increase motivation and engagement when students are working independently. Since students are working on their own, and not in a whole group setting, I was in need of a sophisticated gamification app to both deliver online content and assess student learning. 

While I like the idea of being able to customize game settings to best meet the unique needs of my learners, I really needed an app that is easy to use for a complete novice in the gaming world (that’s me!). Classcraft is a perfect fit. It’s really great, guys! I can easily customize settings for my class, and it has online support via chat, community forums, and all kids of video tutorials. All those resources made it really simple to get things all set up for my class. 

Basic Features

I created accounts for my students and assigned teams in only about 10 minutes. Once that is done, individual students are able to create their own character. Student teams work together to gain points, protect one another from possible negative events, and ultimately, level up in the game. This collaborative aspect of the game provides an extra layer of motivation through peer accountability. As the gamemaster, I can assign students or teams points or damage based on their class behavior, very much like Class Dojo. All this is free for teachers! 

Teachers can view student profiles and add points from
 a computer or smartphone. 

Delivering Lessons and Assessments 

It gets better! What I’m really excited about is quests. I decided to pay for a premium account so that I would have access to this feature. Quests are a series of lessons and tasks that I create for my students. This is how I deliver online lessons and assessments. Each task is accompanied with a story, where I write a narrative of what is happening in our fictional world of the game, and what characters must do to complete the quest and win. 

This map outlines the seven tasks students must finish to complete the quest.

As students work their way through each task, they reveal a new part of the map we are playing through and earn rewards for their character and team. When students earn enough points, they level up, making their character more powerful and acquiring new skills. Students can also use the gold pieces they have earned to get a pet for their character or buy new accessories to make their characters look extra awesome. 

Personalized Learning 

Another great feature for quests is that I can personalize learning for my students. Within each quest, I can create multiple paths for students to reach success. If Student A is completing tasks well, she can continue on the normal path, or even choose a more challenging path. When Student B shows that he has not mastered a skill, I can set up the quest so that he automatically follows a separate path to receive reteaching and extra practice before progressing to new skills. How great is that!? 

After a bit more practice, I plan to start creating quests with these more complex paths to personalize student learning. Here is my first attempt. The yellow path is the most direct route and requires basic mastery of skills. The red detour includes reteaching and remediation activities, while the purple detour challenges students to apply their learning in new ways. 

This map shows multiple learning paths for success. 

Initial Implementation

We have been using Classcraft in our reading groups for about two weeks now and we LOVE it! My students are so engaged and motivated. When students have failed at a task, they have asked to try again so that they can further develop their character. They have even asked if they can "play" Classcraft at home. Wow!! This is winning!

My next goal is to maintain this motivation after the honeymoon phase wears off. I can’t wait to see how my students learn and grow using gamification! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Leveling Up: Gamifying Instruction to Increase Engagement

I told my students that my goal for 2018 is to have fun. I stopped straightening my hair, my husband and I set up a 15 foot trampoline in our family room for our kids (no really, we did that), and I committed to gamifying part of our instructional day. Let the fun begin!

Gamification Basics

I was introduced to the concept of gamification during my graduate course work last semester. Gamification is a fancy term that basically means using game design principles in a non-gaming context. It can be as straightforward as transforming learning activities into games or a more subtle application of game design principles to learning tasks. Game design principles include concepts like cooperation, competition, point scoring, genuine challenges, and character development.

Gamifying your classroom can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. Some teachers choose to make their own game for their classroom in order to customize features including backstory, characters, rules, and objectives. At the same time there are many user-friendly apps that you may already use in your classroom:

  • Kahoot A quizzing app allowing students to compete against classmates when answering questions.
  • Quizizz A quizzing app that can be teacher or student paced.
  • Class Dojo An app focused on building positive classroom community through teacher feedback.

Student Benefits

Playing games is part of our culture, and students can be highly motivated by game-based learning opportunities. Honestly, not of all my students are motivated by the grades they earn, but most are willing to spend hours working to beat a challenging level in their favorite video game. Pairing student motivation related to game playing along with learning tasks has the potential to increase student engagement.

Like with coding, failure in gaming does not usually result in immediate frustration like we so often see when our students are given a challenging educational task. In gaming, failure is an opportunity to gain immediate feedback on a mistake and try again. This type of growth mindset goes a long way in helping students develop perseverance and problem solving skills. If incorporating game design into learning tasks helps my students view challenging academic tasks in this way, then I’m all for it!

My Goal

My goal for this grading period is gamifying the blended learning portion of my reading groups.

I use a blended learning model for my guided reading groups because I want to maximize student learning when they are working independently. Last year, I created online lessons for students to complete independently. When we met face to face, I would provide instruction to further their progress based on their achievement so far. We experienced so many benefits of blended learning, and I found that my students were highly motivated to complete their online lessons at first because it was something new for them. There were also excited to have the responsibility of working independently on their Chromebooks. Unfortunately, when the initial excitement wore off, some students tended to stall out, and they lost interest in making progress.

My answer to that problem is using gamification to prolong student motivation and engagement while working independently. I’m looking forward to trying this with my students, and I’ll be sharing our experience in the coming weeks!

If you’re interested in learning more about gamification, watch this interview with gamification guru James Paul Gee. He makes some great points about teaching to meet the needs of today’s students.