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 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.

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A Schmidty Way to Assess Learning

This is an example of me being neurotic about a term: hacking.

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 sounds 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.


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


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.


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.

Bartle’s Kids: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 2)

In part 1, I explored ideas relating to the current state of video game culture; the way video games have evolved with the ubiquity of social media and video sharing and how our students participate in this culture.

Here in part two I’m examining: how gamers have personality types, why we should view students as gamers, and why we need to view and approach lesson design like game design.

Years ago, a friend of mine Gregory Chomichuk, introduced me to a great YouTube channel called Extra Credits that explores a variety of concepts related to video game design theory; quality storytelling, engaging game mechanics, appealing aesthetics, difficulty settings, quality level design, the creation process, and even gamifying education are but a few of the topics. The crew at Extra Credits excellently delivers information. Their approach using visuals to reinforce concepts is a major plus. They take challenging topics and make them understandable. It’s great, check it out.

Fast forward to autumn 2015, when the above-mentioned Gregory shows me the video titled “Bartle’s Taxonomy: What Type of Player Are You?” Please watch:

My observations:

I instantly started seeing parallels between the player types*, and myself and my students. The semi-eccentric kid who doodles on everything and marches to the beat of their own drum is the explorer. The eager go-getter who must complete all assignments with a high mark is the achiever. The kid who acts upon their peers through some form of attention seeking or type A behaviour is the killers. The kid(s) who ONLY want to talk and socialize…all the time are the socializers!

*”player type” is not synonymous with learning styles (kinaesthetic, verbal, visual, etc.) “Player type” is  the preferred way with which a player (person) interacts within a particular game or social environment.

I saw these player types in myself, both as a learner and a gamer. I quickly identified myself as an explorer and achiever. I like to go for the game’s (or lesson’s) stated goals, but I like doing it my way, taking the time to go on tangents and explore. These spectrums are flexible. Some people are clearly one player type, while some fall into multiple categories.

I was provoked by the part in the video that talks about the video game environment Bartle researched. How players played games for different reasons,and although there was lots of disagreement, there was not one type of voice that stood out. But neither was there 1000 different voices saying different things. It was uncanny how these massive roleplaying game communities sound a lot like a classroom full of students.

In the book OutliersMalcolm Gladwell examines some the reasons behind success from an interesting angle. Among other things, he cites the 10 000-Hour Rule as one indicator of success. The 10 000-Hour Rule claims that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

“World class expertise”- 10 000 hours. That means practicing something correctly for 2.5 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 15 years.

I teach 12-14 year olds. I doubt more than a handful of them are even close to reading quality text for over 1000 hours (2 hours per week for 10 years). But video games? That number is a lot higher.

The attraction of video games is that they are not a passive experience like TV or film, where the user takes in the content. Video games are an active experience where there is interaction, choice, consequences, achievement, and socialization. Our kids are gamers. It’s pretty safe to say that there is more gaming than book-reading happening, and that means that video games are the primary way in which our students engage with narratives.

Gameplay in games is fun. There are places to explore, people to talk to, and people to act upon, but a good narrative holds a lot of weight in the gaming world. Narrative weaves the details of the worlds, paints content, populates places with characters, and ultimately transports the player into that world. What if we took the same approach to teaching.

Oftentimes I don’t see a difference between how gamers engage in games, and how teachers engage students in learning. Can the player types be catered to in the classroom as they are in games?

On the game side, designers are always incorporating new data and technologies; innovating game design; creating faster consoles, better graphics engines, more responsive gameplay, a more immersive online experience. They are doing all they can to engage their gamers. Teachers have been designing unique projects and units, innovating with new technologies and tools, making classrooms places of inspiration and creation.

The big difference here is how Gaming is a large, international, multi-billion dollar industry. Companies want to make money and they are doing so in spades. They adapt to their market and provide the players what they want. That is the way the corporate system works in this world.

But is the education system listening to what its users want?

The education system has particularly catered to only a portion of the four gaming personalities; Achievers. “Here’s what you need to learn (goal), this is how to show (assignment), here’s your grade (reward).”

*Stop. Do I go on the anti-grade rant now? Wait. Save for a future post. Okay.*

* UPDATE* I did.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have things in our system for Achievers, but we teachers need to help balance the student-ecosystem from the inside.

Let’s get some fun back in our classroom and learning. Let’s Gamify a bit.

‘Til next time.


Down the Rabbit Hole: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 1)

Starting Note

Disclaimer: I’ve been a gamer my whole life. Not just video games though – I play sports, board games, cooperative games, riddles, whatever! I love using my mind and talents in a playful and challenging way. So it’s natural that I’m fascinated by the way gaming has evolved. But how we can use games and gamification in schools to help challenge and engage students in their learning?

In part 1, my intention is to build a foundation about gaming. I’ll explore ideas relating to the current state of video game culture, the way video games have evolved with the ubiquity of social media and video sharing, and how our youth participate in this culture.

So take the plunge with me and participate in the conversation.


Have you heard of the super-celebrities: Miranda Sings, PewDiePie, TheDiamondMinecart, UberHaxorNova, VanossGaming, JennaMarbles or Vegetta777?

If you have, then you’re more internet-savvy than most (including myself, because I had to look most of them up). These are some of the highest-paid, most famous YouTubers with millions upon millions of subscribers. Self-made celebrities who earn a very good living by producing videos on YouTube. As you might guess, many of the top YouTubers – including some in the above list – run comedy channels. But you might have trouble guessing the next most popular genre on YouTube. It’s probably because you have little reason to watch these videos, but due to a burgeoning community, there’s plenty of demand. These other top YouTubers produce videos themselves playing video games. Usually the video is set up picture-in-picture.The main screen showing the gameplay, and the inset, a webcam recording of the gamer.

*needle scratches off record*

Wait. Watching video games is a thing? Why are people doing this?

I’ll point you towards a description provided by Twitch.tv. Twitch.tv is a website that hosts “social videos for gamers” (i.e. where people go to watch others play video games live while interacting with them). It is the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers. Oh, and Amazon purchased it in 2014 for a cool $1 billion. From Twitch’s About Us page:

“People enjoy watching others who are highly skilled or entertaining when it involves a shared interest. Twitch, however, is much more than a viewing experience; it is live social video that relies on audio and chat to enable broadcasters and their audiences to interact about everything from pop culture to life in general as they game.”

Video games have grown over the last 30 years to become a cultural force. Here’s some evidence:

  • The gregarious gamer, PewDiePie, is the top earning YouTuber  in the world with 42 million subscribers and a net-worth estimated at $60 million. After watching some of his videos, it’s hard not to like him. He’s just like a goofy buddy making funny comments while playing a game.
  • Sharing images and video of games has gone mainstream. XboxOne and PS4 have engineered their consoles to easily record, screencast, and share images and video with the touch of a button. It used to be that if you wanted to record and share your video game play you would have purchase and setup expensive hardware. Not anymore.
  • eSports – professional gaming – is rising fast. Huge prizes, agents, coaches, high stakes, sold-out venues. Approximately 71.5 million people watched competitive gaming in 2013, and it has only grown since then. RedBull even has a section of their webpage devoted to eSports.
  • Reddit has a subreddit (r/gaming) that has 9.5 million subscribers and features all sorts of jokes, videos, and comment threads all about games. Note, if you’re not a gamer don’t expect to make much sense of all the memes and jokes.

There’s so much more to say about why and how gaming has become so large, but suffice to say, it’s a different gaming world now than the one you and I grew up in. The old conception was that video games were an expensive novelty gadget for teenage boys who would eventually have to grow up, and invariably separate with said video games, in a drawn out heart wrenching fashion (think Toy Story narrative). That conception no longer exists. The gaming world now belongs to people of any age, any gender, any console/device, all around the world.

I should admit that I did know that recording and sharing video game footage was at least moderately popular. Years ago I started to view videos on YouTube to help me with a notoriously hard game. I wanted to learn more about where to go in the game, where to get certain items, find better ways to beat bosses, or how to access hidden areas.  I thought videos about video games was limited to tips, tricks, and cheats – things to help you play and beat a game. But little did I know that at this time video game social videos were garnering lots of attention.  This whole idea of watching video games for entertainment seemed so foreign to me and I needed to know more. So I turned to some of my in-house experts (students). A couple guys, Ben and Randall, volunteered to talk in front of a camera while we discussed video game culture and why people watch. I shot questions at them and they didn’t flinch; these guys were fantastic with their answers and insights. We did this for about 10 minutes and I felt much more informed. So what did they say? Why watch others game? It came down to

  1. To see someone very skilled perform at a high level.
  2. To be entertained by the gamer’s personality, reactions, and comments.
  3. To learn new things about the games.

Ben and Randall went on to make an acute comparison between gaming and sports. It is great to play sports but the participation doesn’t have to end there. You can watch sports on TV, listen to sports talk radio or podcasts, watch highlights,talk about it with peers, buy merchandise, and follow and support your favourite teams online. All of these same ideas also hold true for video games. It is an experience that ties millions of people together.

I’ll admit, in researching this topic I watched an hour of PewDiePie playing my current favourite game. It wasn’t hours upon hours of him just playing and talking. He split up the main quest into six, 10-minute episodes. I was surprised by how entertaining I found it! He has hilarious responses and commentary (nsfw language), edits his videos very well, and a certain charisma that keeps you watching.  I consistently found myself laughing at his reactions to things that had happened to me in the game. And that was the crux of it. I found it funny because we shared the same experience, he was doing something that I had done. PewDiePie records, edits, brands, packages, and shares his experience to a global audience, and they love it.

But to wrap up, what does this all mean? Why am I spending my time on this topic?

Games engage. Games are collaborative. Games are fun. Games challenge. Games are remembered. Games teach.

Those are words I want to have describe my classroom.

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