Dichotomy in the Classroom: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 3)

I started this series earlier last year, examining how video games have become one of our culture’s favourite types of text. But this series is not just about video games. It’s about how the benefits of games can crossover into education. This series stems from my fascination with how people learn vast sets of rules and garner a variety of skills when they are engaged in games and play. So, how do we use games and play for learning?


Dramatis Personae

EK – Edna Krabappel. Jaded teacher from the Simpson’s.

BRS – Brent Schmidt, yours truly.

***

EK: Why would we want to infuse gaming in the classroom? Kids play too much video games.

BRS: Gaming doesn’t mean video games. Many teachers over the years have used games to help their students learn, or use game elements to increase engagement.

EK: “Game elements?”

BRS: Game elements are things like: mystery, narrative, conflict, chance, scores, strategy, uncertainty, aesthetics, competition, progress, emotion, and collaboration.

EK: Still don’t get it. How can we possible play video games in class? That’s not educational.

BRS: That’s not what’s being suggested here, although playing a video game have been used to teach.  Think of it like this: how can we design our teaching and instruction in a way where lessons are more “playable” using the elements listed above.

EK: “Playable?”

BRS: Playable means a lesson, unit, or project is inviting. It means, it should pique a student’s curiosity . It means that play becomes the way to learn and practice skills. It also means that it’s done collaboratively.

EK: Whoa, whoa, whoa, there buddy! You can’t do all that!

BRS: Yes, you can! You just need to practice what it looks like in a classroom. You start with a setting, students have characters, there’s a problem, and the students need to learn and use the curricular stuff .

EK: Okay, so what do we call this? What’s the acronym? EdGaming? Gamification? Game-based learning? EGGGBL?

BRS: Something my colleagues and I have used is something called a “Classroom Story“. It’s not about acronyms or a detailed methodology.  It’s having an approach using those game elements.

EK: What about other methods? Like Project-Based Learning, or Writer’s Workshop, and Lit Circles? And what about technology?

BRS: All are still totally viable! A Classroom Story is using a creative narrative and game elements to drive the class forward. Teachers can still integrate their own strengths, styles, projects, and personality!

EK: You just said “Classroom Story” again, and before you were talking about video games! What are you trying to pull here!

BRS: I’m just trying to connect some dots because sometimes there’s a disconnect between our culture and education system. I’m trying to incorporate the ancient practices of storytelling and game-playing, with modern technology, to create a positive, creative learning environment. All those principles packaged together became something called a Classroom Story.

EK: This confuses me now and I don’t want to do it.

BRS: If you try and don’t like it, or it doesn’t mesh with what you’re trying to do, I get it. This isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a solution to education’s woes, but many teachers have found it increase student engagement, quality of writing, creative output, and classroom cohesion.

EK: I’ve seen a bunch of stuff online about using badges, achievements, and level-ups. Is that gaming in a classroom?

BRS: Some will say yes, but I don’t believe it is. Just because there’s an electronic achievement with a little badge, packaged like a game, does not make it gaming. Remember learning about the “Types of Players“? Achievements and badges are just re-packaged grades, and there’s only one kind of “player” that goes for that; achievers. We need to teach to the “Explorers”, “Socializers”, and “Killers”, too. And I feel that the Classroom Story does that.

EK: Why do I need to do a song and dance for the students? Why can’t they just sit in rows, read the assigned texts, and do the work? Kids are lazy these days!

BRS: The human brain learns and retains information better when it is engaged. When there is purpose and joy. When students are working and playing in proximity and community. This is why we need to teach students differently.

EK: Well, I’ll just add more tech. And YouTube. Kids love tech and YouTube.

BRS:  ಠ⌣ಠ

Doodle Battle: Fight for the Whiteboard

As with most things in our classroom, it started with a story.

In our Classroom Story, “Carta Marina”, we had a portion called Dungeon Dash where students’ characters were navigating a dungeon looking for monsters, loot, and keys. One group encountered a Slime, the most basic, weak, and ubiquitous of the Fantasy Role-Playing Game enemies/monsters.

Below is the first page of a comic about the events one group experienced…and the advent of JERRY the Slime.
page-1-faith-bang-crash-dungeon-dashfullsizerender

Then, one October day, Jerry found a spot on our whiteboard (he didn’t start with the Santa hat). I’ve always let students draw and doodle on a certain part of our whiteboard, but one day in December, Mr.Wichenko (teaching candidate), noticed the students started taking liberalities with the space given.  Their doodles were encroaching on our valuable whiteboard space so he asks, “when do I start erasing stuff and taking our spot back?”

I figured it was time to take it back to the students. What is the nemesis of slime?

SALT

photo-2016-12-20-12-41-12-pm

photo-2016-12-20-12-41-08-pm

photo-2016-12-20-12-41-19-pm

Salt throwers. Army of salt men. Puddles of slime. Saltinerator. THE DOODLE BATTLE WAS ON.

We had a couple rules though. 1. No erasing other peoples stuff. 2. Doodles had to somehow relate to the battle.

Here’s my quick-notes on why this experience was awesome.

  • students planning and working together
  • student and staff interaction
  • drawing!
  • students laughing
  • teachers laughing
  • making something
  • seeing all the little things appear on the whiteboard from class to class
  • seeing how the drawings would evolve and interact

Personally, my favourite part was when I drew a spy amongst the slimes. It was just a bunch of salt people in a suit.

Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 1.06.50 PM.png

When the students eventually found it amongst the other doodles, they quickly acted.

photo-2016-12-21-9-26-25-am

And then sent their own unit into deep cover.

photo-2016-12-21-9-30-26-am

Over the course of a week the whiteboard became a living art installation in the room, constantly changing and expanding. We had our fun, and on the last day before Winter Break, the doodlers all got together and erased everything…except Jerry.

Oh, and here was our “finished product”.

photo-2016-12-21-2-32-30-pm

 

 

Drawing Once Again!

I used to draw. Then I was a recovering drawer. And after participating in Inktober, I realized I am a drawer once again.

Inktober was an initiative started by artist Jake Parker. The challenge is to do a pen and ink drawing every day for the month of October and is meant to “to improve my inking skills and develop positive drawing habits”. It certainly did that for me. I don’t want this to be long, so here’s my notes:

  • roughly 30 minutes a day. some days much more, some days less, or none.
  • definitely felt like I got better. steadier hand, smoother lines, better understanding of composition, shadows, textures, perspectives, and more.
  • sometimes I would copy a picture, sometime I would make up an original.
  • some drawings felt very deliberate and others we more like doodles.
  • I learned about different pens and techniques.
  • brush pens are fun.
  • I will be visiting Artist’s Emporium soon to purchase more pens that I would like to add to my kit.

I will continue to draw, doodle, copy, and colour. It feels good to put stuff on paper and look back on it.  I love keeping notebooks, so drawing is just another cool thing I can add to them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

A Schmidty Way to Assess Learning

This is an example me being neurotic about a term:

I’m not a fan of the term “hacking” and the way we apply it to things. Life-hacks, kitchen-hacks, education-hacks, etc. I understand the context it’s being used in.  It’s meant as a shortcut, or time-saving tip. The word hack originally means to cut something with rough or heavy blows. The term was more popularized with computer hacking; the exploiting of a weakness in a system.

Hacking is ungraceful. Exploitation is unfair.

I like how Reddit calls these so-called life hacks, Life Pro Tips (LPT). So let’s just say this is one of my Education Pro Tips (EPT). I think I’m going to start that hashtag. #educationprotips


Thus begins my take on how to assess and grade students in a way that I believe to be fair, consistent, and understandable.

I know I just wrote a post against grading.  That post was my about larger belief of how an education system that focuses on content acquisition and “teaching to the test” is sucking the meaning out of grades, and worse, the fun out of learning.

The presentation below is my rationale and method for making observations, gathering data, and reporting student learning based their skills, not scores. I am fortunate to teach in Manitoba, Canada, where there is not a focus of specific content. Rather, skills are the focus of the curriculum and reporting of English Language Arts.

This may not work for you given your circumstances, or maybe you have a good thing going. I just want to share it because I, and some others, have found it useful.

Grades Aren’t Helping Anyone, Anymore

Fun Prank

Work hard + good school grades = university degree = good job = good life

This long-held cultural belief is starting to unravel at the seams. Why? Countless Millenials have completed the first half of the equation, but the second half doesn’t compute. Many end up with a boatload of debt, living in their parent’s basements if they’re lucky. This generation no longer believes the system works in their favour. They don’t see a tangible reward for their toil, where once upon a time it was the promise of a good job and career. Grades are an inflated currency; you can get them, but they have lost their buying power.

The equation has changed. I think it looks more like this:

Find something to be passionate about + do it = Happiness

You can say what you want about Millenials and Generation Z (same old ‘kids these days’ stuff), but the pursuit of social status is not as high a priority as it once was. There’s no longer a magical “it” crowd that you have to make it into. If you’re happy living on $20,000 a year, doing what you love, that’s a win. Happiness is the new rich.

Despite (sub)consciously knowing all this, students still have to go to school, and with a growing feeling of disenfranchisement, most of them just want to get through it. The path of least resistance becomes so tempting… Choosing a project: what’s the easiest one? Choosing a book: which is shortest? Writing: is this enough? Drawing: do I have to colour it? Presentations: how long?

All these say: “how fast can I get it done?”

This is but a challenge. Teachers, secret agents of subversion, are fighting against the oppressive system of grades and standardized tests. Oh, we might be playing nice with the system, but we’ve still found a way to bring joy to students, care for them, and mentor them. We plan, observe, learn, and execute all sorts of lessons, activities, and projects. Teachers coach and operate special interest clubs. We work crazy hours in the interest of engaging our students, trying to get them to see the value in learning. We’re trying to break through that malaise that seems to be enveloping our students; wake them to their possibilities.

The students are not the problem. The system needs updating. We need to help guide kids to their passions. Make them excited to learn something they want to. Assigning numbers, checking off boxes, focusing on content “acquisition”, and working because of extrinsic motivators is a quick way to extinguish curiosity, drive, and joy.

I believe in assessment, evaluation, conferencing, and sharing work. I just don’t believe in the way we input numerical values for a student’s learning.

Want to see an excellent example of how all this stuff I’m talking about comes together? PLEASE watch the documentary Most Likely to Succeed

I know what I’m saying here is not original or new, but I want to add my voice and opinion to the conversation.

The world is rocketing towards automation. Robots and computers will take a vast amount of jobs, and we’ll be left with a population that doesn’t need “work” to justify wages (universal basic income). To prepare for this world, education in the 21st century needs to evolve to help develop well-rounded humans: socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Grades aren’t helping anyone, anymore.


Bonus

Can we please stop comparing international test scores. Using test scores to compare education systems internationally is ludicrous.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Classroom Story Experiment

Hello anybody and everybody. This is a post dedicated to my SXSWedu PanelPicker proposal.


Over the years I’ve shared a lot about what my classes do with something called the Classroom Story. Here are some documents myself and Gregory Chomichuk have created to help explain, kickstart, or demonstrate what the Classroom Story is about.

Enjoy! And please ask any questions in the comments!

 

Okay, So What Does a Classroom Story Look Like? by Brent R Schmidt (with some photos provided by GMB Chomichuk)

Classroom Story sxswEDU slides by Brent R Schmidt

A Great Success blog post by Brent R Schmidt

In My Version tips for Classroom Story by GMB Chomichuk

Classroom Story information handout by GMB Chomichuk

 

Book Review: Syllabus

This book is a creative, funny, and beautiful notebook/memoir in which author and cartoonist Lynda Barry reflects on her time teaching college students to keep a composition notebook:

a place to practice a physical activity – in this case writing and drawing by hand – with a certain state of mind. This practice can result in what I’ve come to consider a wonderful side effect: a visual or written image we can call ‘a work of art’, although a work of art is not what I’m after…I’m after what Marilyn Frasca called “being present and seeing what’s there.”

I loved it. There’s the review. This is what it looks like. Go buy and read it.

Syllabus

Mini Take-aways

  • crayons teach patience
  • short-cuts are often a short-cut to Dragsville
  • we don’t need reasons to make art
  • doodles, lines, and colours are fine
  • copying and colouring are fine
  • we tell ourselves at a young age that we can’t draw
  • being overly concerned with expectation and objective can take the natural pace away from things

Medium Take-aways

  • composition books for collecting, doodling, writing
  • lots of cool “diary” formats
  • need more drawing, it’s a deep part of being human
  • writing needs to be shared. personal yet building community
  • get creative with lesson handouts and delivery!

Big Take-aways

  • Take notes. Notice things. Slow down more often.
  • Worrying about the worth of your writing or drawing and its value to others BEFORE it exists can keep us immobilized forever. We must write or draw it to demonstrate anything.
  • What is art for? Art is not for anything. Art is the ultimate goal. It saves our souls.

 

Here are some of the notes I took while reading.