Monday, March 23, 2015

Back to the games

I started this blog talking about video games and their relation to lesson planning. I find it funny and fitting that the last post I write for this class is on the same topic. At the MACUL conference on Friday, I got to listen to Brady Van Maison talk about video games and their relationship to the classroom. He covered an amazing amount of material in just an hour, from gamification to Minecraft in the classroom, even discussing some of the ways in which video game design is like lesson design (just like my post!). What I wanted to focus on was his discussion of what a game actually is and why that’s an important part of why we love to play them.
Mr. Van Maison referred to the four things that make a game a game: a goal (think objectives), rules (limits/challenges on how to meet the goal), feedback, and the promise of achieving that goal. All of these relate to motivation and even if we don’t turn our whole class into a game, we can learn from games by studying these elements. These attributes of a game have a lot to do with both our motivation to play a game or engage in a lesson.
Start with a goal. Very few people want to do something that they don’t get the point of. Games give us a definite goal to work towards. This is pretty translatable to the classroom when we tell our students the objectives they are supposed to be hitting and the reason those objectives matter.
Next come rules. The way in which Mr. Van Maison discussed rules as a challenge to hitting the goal made me think of how I could design assignments that were more interesting even while they were more challenging. Mazes are a great example of how totally arbitrary rules make the challenge more fun and encourages creative problem solving even though it makes a simple task more difficult. I think this kind of thinking could be applied to designing assessments, but I’m still working on specifics. Perhaps some lovely readers have suggestion?
The next element of a game is feedback. Players need to know how close they are to achieving a goal or when they’ve met a goal and are ready for the next one. Like goal-setting, I think the application to the classroom is both obvious but meaningful. How are my students going to know when they’ve reached a goal? Even more importantly, how do they know when they have almost reached a goal? I try to get my students feedback quickly but this is a reminder to focus on getting them feedback when they’re ALMOST THERE to encourage them to hang in just a little longer and meet that goal.
Finally, nobody wants to play an unwinnable game. Video games go from easy to hard levels for a reason. If they started out too hard, players would get discouraged and never push through level 2. This reminded me of the importance of incremental goals in the classroom. Students need that feeling of success on easier tasks before they’re ready to push on to the harder ones. I looked at the quizzes I’ve been giving in class. I think they’re actually harder than the tests. Maybe what I need to do is approach quizzes as mini-bosses: something challenging but beatable to whet the player’s appetite for a bigger goal.

So there are four elements that make a game, how they connect to motivation, and how I can connect those lessons back to the classroom. I think edugames and gamification are important and fascinating but just looking at games on a deeper level can show us something about how humans have fun and challenge themselves. Maybe I should even adjust my motivation for lesson planning. I job is to help students explore history. I need to guide them through the world so that it makes sense and give them the tools and skills they need to explore it for themselves. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Building Something

Kim Garber spoke at the last 504 class about using a program which taught students math by letting them build and test bridges through a simulator. Math is not my subject area but she did talk about how the tech helps her differentiate and motivate students. What struck me most was how her bridge project extended beyond the classroom. Students compete for a scholarship. She also talked about how teachers could link the bridge project with a real problem America faces. Most of all, the bridge project and the coding project she also mentioned allows students to create something.
I thought about whether or not my students build things in my classroom. Yes, they do projects and comics and writing but there’s very little my students will do in my classroom that really matters after my students have graduated. Hopefully they will have learned a lot but I wonder if I allowed them to build something that mattered after they left if they would be more motivated.

I am trying to think about a project that students would feel mattered. What kind of problem could history students solve? One of the problems historians face is the lack of materials on a local level. Every day, as our grandparents’ generation passes away, we lose more history. I had thought about doing an oral history project when I was messing around with Audacity but I was thinking of more in terms of what it could do for students. After hearing Ms. Garber speak, I’m wondering if I should be reframing the project in terms of what students could do for their community. I am definitely going to have to look into seeing what historical societies would want oral histories added to their archives. I think if students see their work being useful to their community, it could add another layer of motivation for them. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Revisiting Pear Deck

A few months ago I taught a lesson using Pear Deck, an app that lets you incorporate real time polls into a slide show. I was doing a concept formation lesson about mercantilism; I explained examples and had students vote on whether or not they thought that the examples qualified as mercantilism through Pear Deck. I then had students discuss why they chose their answers.
There was definitely some difficulty in managing Pear Deck, as the students were unused to the technology. There was also a learning curve for me as I struggled to show student answers without letting them get too off track in their answers. However, they seemed to be interested in the process and with a little more practice, I still think Pear Deck has potential as a teaching tool.
So, I’m thinking about round two. What is Pear Deck really good for and what do I need to do to make sure it works smoothly?
Pear Deck is useful for getting the whole class to respond to a question when you don’t have time for everyone to respond or students aren’t willing to talk in front of the class. It’s particularly useful for quickly surveying students’ opinions and doing comprehension checks.
One idea I have is to imbed mini quizzes into my powerpoint. I’m thinking about the WWII unit I co-planned which centers around the different ideologies which lead to WWII. One good way to do a comprehension check without stopping the class to poll each student individually would be to do a Jeopardy type of project. Give a definition of an ideology then ask students which one they think it is. For example,
            This ideology embraces advocates a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.
 Is it     A) Democracy
            B) Pacifism
            C) Communism
This would allow me to do a quick formative assessment of all the students in a fun, low-stakes way, all without stopping my powerpoint.
In order to keep students from getting distracted, I have two ideas. One is practice, practice, practice. If the routine isn’t new, students are less likely to get distracted by the novelty. The second idea is to have students close the Chromebooks while I’m talking, only opening them up to answer polls then closing them while we start discussion.

I’m not giving up on Pear Deck. I just think is has too much potential to ignore because of one awkward lesson. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


In this next installment of “really cool things I got to play with during EdTech” I will talk about Padlet. Essentially, Padlet is an online bulletin board. It lets you organize pictures, links, documents, videos, and nearly any other kind of file you want to post online. Like Google docs, you can invite others to view or edit your boards. You can also customize it in really snazzy ways so bonus point for visual interest.
In the classroom, this means you can have a survey you want your students to do, an article you want them to read, and a video you want them to want without sending them separate link. They can also collaborate and post stuff of their own if you give them the correct permissions. Apparently, my predecessor at my placement used it to organize a ton of lessons. However, this year my placement school is switching to Google Classroom, which serves many of the same purposes. I’m still exploring all of the differences between the two but here’s my current evaluation:
A lot of this comes down to style. For example, Padlet is its own thing. You can upload your own files of almost any kind. Google Classrooms is part of the Google Drive Family which can be good because it links to stuff like Google Sites. That being said, you can easily link a website on your Padlet. Google Classrooms is inherently structured while Padlet can be very relaxed in format.
Realistically, I will probably be using Google Classrooms later in the year to organize the content for my classes. It’s already part of the school system and it’s easily organized and more formal looking. On the other hand, for my own presentation on a tech program you can use in the classroom, in this case Audacity, we chose to use Padlet to make a group project. Why? Really, because it’s cooler. You can drag and drop even audio files and you can arrange the files in basically any order you want. It just feels more like a fun project than a formal school assignment.

Tech Survey Thoughts

After finishing a survey on the technology available at my teaching placement, I have come to the conclusion that I am really, really lucky. Firstly, the school I’m at has a lot of technological resources, my favorite being the Chromebooks we have in my classroom. However, all the tech in the world doesn’t help if you don’t have teachers and staff who know how to use it. I don’t necessarily mean knowing how to make a website or format a computer (although these skills are important), but knowing how tech can be a real tool rather than a gimmick used twice a year or for testing practice. From what I’ve seen, it takes a very flexible approach to teaching to really make full use of tech. Days we use the Chromebooks in class often don’t look like any other class I’ve been in. For example, Mr. Brater, my mentor, will have students pull up an online lesson plan on Google Classroom, then have each student work at their own pace, filling out surveys, reading articles or watching videos. Students can get a lot of information in a way which may suit them better than lecture. Of course, this is usually followed up the next day with a more traditional looking lecture/discussion session. He also lets students choose from a list of articles or videos and pick one to view and discuss later. This means that the “smart kids” can’t explain all of the reading and makes the students rely on each other (and do their own work).

Filling out the survey made me realize the physical resources we have, everything from video editing software to computer labs, but more than that, I realized the commitment to tech this school must have. My school is pretty middleclass, and not in the kind of school district which you expect to have a lot of tech (another thing that surprised me while filling out the survey). I know that Mr. Brater and Mr. Hughes had to start a campaign to get the Chromebooks. Before the school year started, we had a PD session which focused on using Google Apps. It was…. dry. However, it’s hard to argue its usefulness. I can really see the value in having the staff on the same page so that calendars, lesson plans, goals, surveys, etc. can all be shared easily. This is why I’m lucky, not just because of the physical resources available here, but also the human resources, people who make an effort to bring tech tools into the school in a meaningful way. And who are patient enough to explain to their peers, students teachers and students how to share that Google Doc about a hundred times. (Thanks Rory!)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tech For the Expansion of Audiences

Thursday, I had the pleasure of hearing David Thuene (pronounced Toony, which is kind of awesome) discuss how he uses tech in his classroom, a pleasure which is usually reserved for those attending his panels at teaching conferences. Through the power of the University of Michigan and the awesome abilities of my tech professors, I had him hand delivered to my tech class. Mr. Thuene is not exactly you’re stereotypical techno geek. He’s much more on the touchy-feely, favorite drama teacher side. And this may be exactly what the technology field needs. He doesn’t use tech a as gizmo and he doesn’t emphasize how great technology can be for research or cool projects (although it certainly can be). Rather, what I saw him doing was using technology to connect people and expand students’ audiences.
For example, Mr. Thuene teaches English and came to the very reasonable conclusion that students shouldn’t just be writing for their English teacher. The purpose of writing is usually to reach an audience and students can be pretty limited in their learning potential if they are only writing for a teacher. Mr. Thuene had a variety of solutions for this, ranging from non-tech solutions such as inviting parents in to listen to student read essay out loud, to connecting with other students via webcam. He also had a great idea to have students advocate for a particular charity, then award money to the charity with the most votes, as an alternative to the usual persuasive essays we all had to write in high school.

The talk was full of great ideas, not all of which were directly related to technology, but it made me think about the role of technology in a people-oriented framework. (People-oriented frameworks are not my forte).  I’ve usually thought of technology as a tool for research or organization. I love the internet because it gives me literally millions of articles about whatever I need to know about. I remember listening to professors with horror as they told me about the bad old days when you had to look up paper copies of journals. However, I haven’t spent much time thinking about how amazing it was to sit in Japanese class and talk to students in Hiroshima. How fundamentally powerful connecting with people in a different country or a different school district could be. Tech gives us the ability to connect in ways that were simply unfeasible a few decades ago. Since we are supposed to be preparing students for life in a global age, helping them connect with and understand people outside of their communities is becoming more and more important. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Steali, I mean borrowing other ideas

                One of the cool things about education is it is one of the only fields where colleagues actively encourage you to borrow their ideas. After all, we want all students, not just our own, succeed. The internet has really improved the flow of ideas as more teachers start “edublogging”. I looked at some of bloggers my professors recommended and found this gem:
The writer, Silvia Tolisano, has been pondering the idea of documenting for learning. She is talking about documenting such as a blog, diary, scrapbook, video, annotated notes, mind maps, etc.  Basically, making record of an event or a thought process is documenting. She argues that documenting for learning, that is intentionally documenting in order to reflect or aid learning, could:
Serve a metacognitive purpose
Be a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
Be a component of reflective practice
Help makers take ownership of one’s learning
Be a memory aid
Curate a project
Be a tool for professional development

This is a simple but great idea with a lot of possibilities. I would like to add another purpose; we could use this process to teach students that history is a process, not a jumble proven facts to be memorized. For example, we could have students make a scrapbook page about their last year in school. Students will have to choose how they want to represent that year. Will they include all good things? Do they focus on their friends or on a hobby? They automatically have to select what they think was important about that period. Just like historians and document makers of the past. I think this could be used to start a conversation on how history is made. And that’s the beauty of the education blogger community. We can read each other’s ideas and add to and adapt them for our own work. And then share it from there so someone else can add to what we’ve made.