SPQR @ GWMS

I’m teaching Social Studies again this year. Grade 8 Social Studies. My curriculum is…world history. Pretty much none of it is off the table. As a fan of history, this is great.

I started the year by running a Classroom Story where students create and run their own city-states/islands. We learned about some of the terminology we’d use for the year and the students constructed their islands based on the general learning outcomes of the curriculum. Power and authority; the land, people and places; historical connections; economics and resources; identity, culture, and community; and global interdependence. The student-made city-states interacted, had truces, fought pirates, studied new technologies, and explored new lands.

I had been listening to Dan Carlin’s “Death Throes of the Republic” podcast series (for a second time) and was sure I could make some fun of Roman subject matter. So, I did a bunch of research. Lots of podcasts and books, particularly Isaac Asimov’s “Roman Republic” and the aforementioned Dan Carlin Podcast.  I decided that history need not be learned nor taught, linearly, so I jumped to straight to Rome *gasp*.  

Playing With Content

I started a new Classroom Story by assigning famous Roman figures to the students as roles. Marcus Crassus, Pompey, Cleopatra, Agripina, Octavian, and so on. Twenty-five different figures. Students eagerly research this new, mysterious person they were assigned. To continue our information frontloading, we watched and took notes on some Roman videos on BrainPop.com. Now that we had learned some terminology, people, places, and events, we were ready to play with the content.

The class acted like the ruling class, the patricians and senators, and confronted some of the Roman Republic’s issues and historical events. With this power they defended Rome from Hannibal (even though the Romans weren’t nice to the Carthaginians either); engaged in foreign campaigns of conquest to enrich ourselves; and defended Rome from the northern invasion of the Cimbri and Teutons. All the while the students monitored the balance of food, slaves, wealth, and plebian happiness.

Then came the civil wars, Sulla’s Civil War, and the class turned upon itself in a vicious game of political chess. Optimates vs Populares. We played our own version of the dinner game Werewolf to simulate the danger and suspicions that were prevalent during the time, but also to have fun and make some facts stick. Then, we finished things off by learning about Julius Caesar. We looked at his rise to power, investigated his death, and saw the transformation of Rome from a Republic to an Empire.

The Big Idea

Ever since I saw the documentary Most Likely to Succeed, which featured the amazing teacher and student work from High Tech High, I fell in love with the idea of publicly displaying student work. I don’t mean putting work on the bulletin board outside the room, I mean creating work that is intended to be seen by others. Since we are studying history, I figured that we could make our own mini-museum with exhibitions based on Ancient Rome. We would invite friends, family, and community members to come see our creations and what learned. When I presented the idea to students I saw them give me a bit of the look that said, “are you sure we can do this?” I told them that I was confident we could do it and assured them we would be fine if we made sure our exhibits had the same purpose: to be engaging AND informative. We set the date for December 19th, giving us about a month to complete our exhibits.

Process

Students got to work putting ideas onto paper and into action. Some ideas took off right away, some ideas were abandoned, and some ideas required careful developing and crafting.

Overall though, the classes (815 and 816) put together a healthy list of exhibits proposals. We had everything covered: traditional informative displays (which were done beautifully), an interactive Colosseum built in Minecraft, a Rome quiz made in Scratch, a Roman gods reality TV show, three escape rooms based on Roman content, digital sketched artwork, and much more. Topics covered things as general as an overview of the Republic and Empire. Other exhibits examined specific topics like women and children, Sulla’s Civil War, Roman beauty standards, mythology, and Julius Caesar and his death. Further, there was plenty of students at the ready to be hosts for the night. They were responsible for welcoming guests, ushering people to the different rooms, explaining the ideas behind the exhibits, and generally helping things run smoothly.

Throughout this, I was there to make suggestions, proofread, give feedback and ideas, hunt supplies, vet resources, circulate the classroom, conference with students, and encourage. The week leading up to the event we shared some previews on social media of what we were making. Students had already made sure friends and family had the date marked. We were set.

The Big Night

The exhibition was on a Wednesday. The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday leading up were crazy with prepwork. The students were equally excited and scared. Admin was totally on board, supportive, and ready to help. The day of, they went out and bought a bunch of great food for us to serve to guests and it really helped the experience. Students stayed after school to help move furniture, setup escape rooms, decorate the halls, and put up the finishing touches. Of the 50-something students, only 5 were unable to attend the exhibition. And of those, most had prior commitments.

The students were ready to stand behind their work.

Instead of having you read more text, examine the following photos taken the day of by two students, Jelsie and Yesenia. The photos capture the final preparation for the exhibition and the event itself.

Reflection

The exhibition evening went amazing. The students really took the process seriously. Once all setup was done and we awaited the first guests, that’s when the students looked proud. That’s when they realized they did it.

The night of, students were great. They stood by their exhibits, educated guests, and delivered on our mission; make an engaging and informative evening. I could visibly see students either relishing in their success standing proudly beside their work as guests circulated, asked questions, and gave compliments. On the other side, not all students were proud of their work. Some students noticed their shortcomings.

Plenty of supportive parents, friends, and family came and had a huge amount of fun. They were amazed by the sheer amount, and quality, of content the students created.

I still feel like we missed out on the “public” aspect by not attracting more community members (but this could also be due to the fact it was days before Christmas in a cold Winnipeg December). If I were to do this again I would make a more concerted effort to reach local media outlets and Winnipeg celebrities.

As a teacher, it was awesome to see kids researching and asking questions. That was the process I wanted. For students to research, confer, and then form ideas. Because of this process, the final products were very solid in terms of overall presentation. Writing conventions and organization were on point. Visuals were crisp and well laid out. Art was done with care. During the event, the creations on computers were active and a source of a lot of laughs. It was validating to see so many “top performers”. This project had a high percentage of exceptional pieces of student work.

Overall 10/10.

Might do again ūüėČ

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

I started this series earlier last year (Part 1 & Part 2), 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 used game elements to increase engagement.

EK: “Game elements?”

BRS: Game elements are things like: mystery, narrative, conflict, chance, scores, strategy, uncertainty, aesthetic appeal, competition, progress, emotional involvement, 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 video games 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 part of the way we 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 to progress.

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

BRS: A term my colleagues and I have used is¬† “Classroom Story“. It’s not about acronyms, a detailed methodology, or cookie cutter lessons. ¬†It’s having an approach using narrative and game elements to drive the students to learn and create.

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 be part of a grander conversation about culture and education. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between popular culture and education system. I’m trying to incorporate the ancient practices of storytelling and game-playing, with modern technology and pedgogical methods to create a positive, creative learning environment. All those principles packaged together became something called a Classroom Story.¬†

EK: This confuses me and now 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‚Äôs woes, but many teachers have found it increase student engagement, the 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: ¬†ŗ≤†‚Ć£ŗ≤†

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

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 Outliers, Malcolm 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.