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.