Saturday, December 31, 2016

We don't need badges, or do we?



When I started my gamification journey, one of the sore spots, if you will, was the awarding of badges. On the one hand, I agree with the ideas in Daniel Pink's Drive and the overjustification effect, and which translates into "Badges ruining intrinsic motivation to learn". On the other hand, I have a gamer son, who keeps going back to specific games in his collection simply because he wants to get that elusive gold badge just so he can show it off in his profile. So which is it?

As I continued to ponder the answer to this question, I participated in a couple of workshops and PD that offered badges that could be "added to my profile". I was surprised by my own drive to complete the activities, not really for the sake of learning, but because I wanted to show off the badges I had. Badges were giving me a sense of accomplishment and encouraged me to persevere, even when I got bored! If badges were doing this for me, why was I being so reluctant to add them to my classroom?

I began exploring different ways that other educators have used badges and came up with two reasons that if addressed would make me re-think the whole badging issue.

First, if I were to include badges, I had to make sure that the badges represented real achievement. One of my concerns with badging is that it can simply become a sticker chart. The idea that everyone gets a badge simply for showing up or participating in an activity takes away the value of the badges. Let's face it if the students know that they will get a badge simply for filling in boxes in an assignment, will they put any effort into making sure that their answers are correct? Probably not. However, if they know that they will only get the badge if they get a high enough score, then they may feel that the badge has some value attached to it. Even better, let's say that they did not get a high score in the badge assignment(s) the first time around. Will knowing that they can re-work the assignment giving them more than one opportunity to earn the badge, motivate them to keep at it, even if they think it is boring or not worth their time? I think it will.

Now, if this is the case, then I knew that I needed to be able to make my own badges. There are several online tools that allow us to do that. ClassbadgesCredly and OpenBadges come to mind. However, I prefer to fully create my own simply using GoogleDraw and clearly explained here by Alice Keeler.

Second, the whole idea of badges for me is that they must be public. Students will want to know, not only if they have the badge, but also who else in the classroom has it. That gamer sense of competition and being able to showcase achievement adds value to the badge. The tools mentioned before for creating the badges, also allow students to log in and view their badges. Now this would require students to create an account and/or log in with accounts that the teacher creates. That, for me, was a no go, and although I toyed with the idea of creating my own system using GoogleSheets, I decided against it (simply due to time constraints), when I came across Flippity.net's Badge Tracker. With a few tweaks, this tool allowed me to import the data of my existing leaderboard, use my own badges and embed it in my webpage for public viewing. All around win!

For now, I have decided on three types of badges:

Leveled Badges: These symbolize achievement in on-going assignments. Students will earn these badges by scoring well on their weekly writings and reading assignments.

Project Badges: These badges represent the skills and knowledge gained in a specific unit of study within the scope of science and engineering curriculum. 

Commitment Badges: These are badges awarded for achievement outside the leveled and project badges. What I envision here is, for example, a "Digital Citizenship" badge or a "Creative Commons" badge. 

So, what do you think about adding badges to your gamified classroom? I would love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Formative Assessment Made Easy


Do you know where your students are? As you walk around the room today, can you state with some which students are ready to move on and which group do you need to pull for re-teaching? You know the answer lies in the use of formative assessments, but with all other things that pop up daily you may feel overwhelmed. If only there was a simple tool that would give you the necessary information...



GoFormative

With a few clicks, GoFormative allows you to create and share simple (and complex) assessments. You can use multiple-choice and true/false quick checks that are self-graded or add short-answer and "show your work" (where students upload images or draw answers). You can even provide feedback to the students as they answer in real-time. No waiting until they have all finished to gather data, allowing you to address minor misconceptions quickly. Best of all, absolutely free.



Flipgrid

This awesome tool allows your students to respond to your questions using video. You simply create a grid (i.e. post a question) and provide the link to your students. Your students can answer using any device they have, without having to create an account. Flipgrid can be used in lieu of traditional exit tickets, and it is much more fun to grade. Not free, but $65/year gives you unlimited questions and answers.


Socrative:

Socrative has been around for a while. This tool allows you to quickly assess your students through quizzes, quick question polls, exit tickets and space races (for those with a competitive edge or in a gamified environment). The tool can grade and provide you with visuals of the results making it easy to identify where each of your students is in their road to mastery.

What other tools do you have in your formative assessment toolkit? I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fines in a Gamified Classroom


Let me start by stating that I have two separate "but equally important" systems in my gamified classroom. The XP  system, which is tied to the students assignments (blog quests, mastery quests and PBL quests). In the XP system students are awarded initial points after submitting their work, and continue to gain XP as revisions are submitted. In true gaming style, one cannot lose XP. After all, once you have an experience you cannot undo it, you can only make it better. The XP system is shared out to students in my public leaderboards.

I also have a school currency system (we call them Patriot Bucks), which is tied to school and classroom behaviors, and stems from my school's PBIS. Students can earn Patriot Bucks at a staff member's discretion for things like picking up trash, participating in class, or basically any show of positive behavior. Students can use their Patriot Bucks to purchase items at the student store or enter them in weekly raffles. It is important to note that Patriot Bucks are a physical item (slips of blue paper, signed or stamped by the staff member who gave it out), and that no one, except for maybe the individual students, keeps track of them. This is what made it so easy to find a new use for them.

It all started a couple of weeks ago as I wrapping up of Back to School unit, which as in most classrooms involves teaching students the expectations, rules and procedures of my classroom. My students had just passed the Acceptable use Policy quiz, and were eager to get their hands on our classroom devices. I had taught/modeled how to take the devices out of the cart and how to put them away. I had explained how it was important that all devices be plugged (with their own plug) in order for all classes to have enough charge for the day, as well as how to make sure that each device was put in the correct slot. I even had students come up one by one and "show" the class just how to do it. Everything was going well until that first eager student picked up a "random" device (i.e. a device that was not assigned to him). The natural consequence for this is that the student would not have access to devices for at least that class period. But, I did not want to do that since that would mean that I would be the one to come up with something related to the activity, but that did not involve technology. The student in question suggested that he write a letter of apology promising to not do it again. It just so happened that I had just had a conversation with a fellow teacher about something she called the "opportunity log", where students write a reflection on a class misbehavior and promise to do better. I had shared with her that in my experience those almost never work. It is a forced apology, akin to a mother telling her children to "apologize to your brother for ____", only to repeat herself the next day and ask for another apology for the same behavior. I shared that with the student, asking him how many times he had apologized to a sibling without really meaning it. He sheepishly smiled, and stated that just that morning he had "apologized" to his sister, but he had no actual plans for "never doing it again".

At that moment, inspiration hit. I told him that in order to get his device he would have to pay a Patriot Buck fine. We agreed that 20 Patriot Bucks would be appropriate. He went back to his seat, carefully counted and came back to me with a proud look. He had just enough! He placed the "fine" on my desk and asked if he could go get his device. I simply thanked him and told him to get to work. The rest of the class exploded in questions about the "fine" system. For some reason they welcomed the addition of fines and saw it as a perfectly acceptable and fair way to overcome infractions. There were many questions about specifics, "What is the fine for not logging out? What about for forgetting to plug a computer?" It was the little things that bugged them as much as me that in their opinion should warrant a fine.

After much discussion, we ended up just having two categories of fines - minor infractions (20 Patriot Bucks) and major infractions (50 Patriot Bucks). Minor infractions include things like not plugging in a device, putting a device in the wrong slot, and taking someone else's device. Major infractions include things like off-task behavior or mishandling of the devices. I left myself some wiggle room, creating a third category that states "Fines for anything not mentioned before can be assigned at my sole discretion".

In a surprising turn of events, something else happened once the fines were in place. Students have begun to help each other avoid fines. Instead of simply walking away from unplugged devices (which of course still happen every once in a while), they take the time to plug them in for each other. I've overheard statements of,  "Dude, stop goofing off, that's a 50 PB fine!" This is already pretty cool, but there is more. A new student who did not have enough Patriot Bucks to pay for putting his device in the wrong slot, and who I was ready to excuse from the fine, saw his classmates (students he had just met), pool Patriot Bucks to pay his fine. No prompting at all, simply a spirit of cooperation and doing right by each other.

So far, this system is working beautifully, and I am wondering if you are using something similar. Do you have any words of wisdom to add? I would love to hear from you.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Web Tools to explore before the summer ends

Summer is coming to an end. As you start getting your teacher hat back on, and dreaming about your "perfect" classroom, you may want to look at some web-tools that could come in handy. Here are my favorite free or low cost summer discoveries:

Write-About: This site allows students to engage in high-interest writing for an authentic audience. Students browse through a collection of ideas, each one paired with an image, and write about them on the site itself. Students can even use the built-in voice recorder! Posts can be shared with the class or made publicly viewable so that registered students and teachers can comment on them. teachers can provide feedback on the writing and moderation tools are included. A yearly classroom plus subscription is around $40.00 USD allowing up to 250 students and unlimited posts. Want a closer look?

iPiccy: Similar, but less complicated than Photoshop, this is an image editing tool that allows users students to apply filters, add effects, crop or resize an image. All online.

EducaPlay: Create your own embeddable activities. From fill in the blanks and interactive maps to video quizzes and sentence jumbles, the possibilities are endless. You can also share activities, collections and search for content created by other teachers.  Free accounts allow you to create groups and see reports (a big bonus for data driven instruction). Watch how easy it is to create an activity in EducaPlay.

PrimaryAccess: A suite of free online tools that allows students and teachers to use primary source documents to complete meaningful and compelling learning activities with digital movies, storyboards, rebus stories and other online tools.


JustapoxJS: This Knight Lab tool allows user to tell stories by comparing two frames, including photos and gifs. Ideal for then/now stories that explain slow changes over time (growth of a city skyline, regrowth of a forest, etc.) or before/after stories that show the impact of single dramatic events (natural disasters, protests, wars, etc.). This is their own example using Google Earth's Images:



If none of these catch your fancy, maybe you will find something interesting in my growing collection:


Mrs. Garcia's Classroom Webtools, by mrsgarciaserrato

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go in the classroom?


As I look around my neighborhood today, I cannot help but notice the bands of kids and teenagers walking around looking at their phones. Yes, Pokemon Go has hit my otherwise quiet street, and I immediately start thinking to a couple of weeks from now, when we get back to the classroom... I know the kids will come back from a summer of hunting Pokemon. I know they will be itching to talk about this or that amazing find. So, how can I harness that enthusiasm? What can I do to transform this "distraction" into some meaningful learning activities? Am I crazy for even thinking about it? Here goes:

Pokemon Go Math:


Pokemon caught are transferred into what is called a Pokedex. Clicking on the Pokedex, you can access data for individual Pokemons, including weight and height (in metric, Yay!) Students could use this information to determine things like, "If you were building a Pokemon dwelling, how many Squirtles would fit in an 64 square meter area?", the area needed to house all the Pokemon in their Pokedex, the height:weight ratio of unevolved to evolved Pokemon, or the ratio of "seen" vs. "capture" - does it vary by type or location? . You can even go as far as having students try to determine whether there is a proportional relationship between type of Pokemon and size.

The game also keeps records of all events in the Journal. The data gathered there could be used to figure out average Pidgey appearances for particular locations or times, or average out the number of Pokeballs given at Pokestops. Taking it one step further, they could also graph their Gym results, which has the added benefit (to the students) of helping them create the "best" team.


Pokemon Go Language Arts:


The game has the interesting feature of allowing users to take augmented reality pictures of "wild" Pokemon and placing them in the scene the camera is facing. Students can use these pictures to develop stories. Prompts could include things like "A day in the life of ...", or "When ____ took over the ____".


Pokemon Go Science: 


As part of a unit on biomes, students could use their knowledge of Pokemon types to develop habitats for specific types. This could also lead to lively discussions about why some Pokemons are more common in different places. What characteristics are shared by Ice Pokemon and the animals that inhabit the Tundra?

A study on the mechanisms of evolution could be followed by having students create scenarios that led to the traits observed in their favorite Pokemon.

On a more ambitious vein, you could have students develop a complete Pokemon utopic city, powered by electric Pokemon!

Pokemon Go Social Studies:


Many Pokestops and Gyms tend to be in historical landmarks.  Students could use these places as a basis for further research into the landmarks, or create virtual fieldtrips and advertisements encouraging others learn about those landmarks and/or visit them in pursuit of "Catching them All".


Any other ideas? I would love to hear all about them.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Chopped - An activity for the first days of school


The first day of school offers up many opportunities for us to define what our student's experience will be like for the remainder of the school year. Many of us spend this wonderful day asking students what name they prefer we use, going over classroom rules and expectations, passing out green sheets and having students look at our carefully crafted syllabus. The adventurous among us might even create a classroom quest to get students familiarized with the layout and having students look for different items, creating a classroom constitution or perhaps playing a round of "Find someone who...". These are all cool, and I guess important, but your students are either "listening" to you drone on, or participating half-heartedly. This year, I invite you to forego these tried and true activities for something more exciting, a Chopped design challenge.

Before the first day of school, prepare identical "baskets" of 3-5 mystery materials. These can include empty water bottles, paper towel tubes, cereal boxes, baggies of pom poms or beads, trinkets from the dollar store, etc. The more the mystery materials "don't go together", the better. You will need one mystery basket for each group of 3-4 students.

On the first day, assign  groups of 3-4 students randomly (using a count-off method or whatever you prefer), and distribute the mystery baskets. Then, in your best Ted Allen voice state:
"Welcome to Chopped. Your challenge - create a useful product from the mystery items hidden in each basket before time runs out. Every one of your mystery items must be used in some way. Also available to you, our maker items. When the bell rings (we have 10 minute bells), you will place your item in the judging table and clean up your space. During our next session you will present your product. Our distinguished judges will critique your work on usefulness and creativity. If your product doesn't cut it, you will lose the privilege of ____ for the remainder of the week ."
The maker items are any materials you have in the classroom. This may include glue, different types of paper and tape, cardboard, foam, etc. The privilege lost can be something like getting to choose seats or listening to music.

The student work time on this first day gives you the perfect opportunity to walk around learning student's names, conduct brief interviews and observing the class' dynamics.

On the second day, I provide students with a rubric to evaluate the products, and have each team present their product. Presentations on the second day allow students to introduce themselves to the class, and set the tone for peer evaluations which they will use for the remainder of the year. They also give you an insight into the students' personalities helping you create teams for future assignments.

As a follow up, you can hold a class discussion (or individual written reflection) centered around questions such as:

  • What worked well/did not work in your group?
  • How were decisions made in your group?
  • How did you organize yourselves?
  • What did you learn about yourself/your team members/your classmates during this activity?
  • If we were to do this again, what would you do the same/differently? Why?


What do you think? Isn't this a much more fun and engaging start of the school year?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beyond the Leaderboard: Self-ranking charts




A couple of days ago, I talked about creating a multiple-class, self-ranking leaderboard. My students love the idea of being able to see where they rank, and compare themselves to one another, creating this competitive gaming environment that often leads them to perform and to keep working, simply to "outrank" one another. As I was updating my class website to include this new board, I started thinking about how to use the leaderboard as more than just a ranking system for the XP. Could I use it to inform students about how they are doing in different categories? Could I show the data in some way that would maintain the integrity of the leaderboard, but focus students' attention on opportunities for improvement as well? And almost as important, is there an easy way to do it; one that would not require much more than inputting values as the students grow? The answer turned out to be YES on all accounts.

Before I show you how, let me share the end products:

"I Need To Do More" chart



This first interactive chart, displays the totals for each XP category. As the year progresses, students can see how much each of the categories has impacted their XP totals. On their own, or with some help, they can decide to go back to assignments they may have missed or where they scored low XP and re-do/re-submit in order to up their total XP for that category. In my case, it could show an Aha moment akin to, "I have not done many of my blogs, if I do them now I can gain all those XP I missed".

"I Need To Do Better" chart



In this other format, the same data is displayed by average XP obtained in each category. When students see the data organized this way, they can quickly see areas where they can focus their efforts, to increase their standings.

The beauty of both of these charts is that they use the same Pivot Table I created for the self-ranking leaderboard, so not only do they update as soon as I input new values, they are also tied to the original ranking. The student order within the chart updates as well as they move up or down on the leaderboard, making it a "one-stop" responsive system that does not create more work for me to maintain or update.

The following video explains how to create the charts, and I am also sharing a template that you can use to draft your own.



Let the games begin!