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.
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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

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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.

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

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And then sent their own unit into deep cover.

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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”.

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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.

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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)_/¯

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.

Breakout!

At a semi-recent PD day, I got the chance to try a Breakout Room scenario thanks to Tara McLauchlan. In a Breakout Room (or escape room), participants are immersed in a narrative that takes place in a single room and requires their escape. Escape is typically achieved by opening a heavily locked box. Elements have been placed about the room that are either clues or distractors. Distractors (red herrings) are meant to throw you off and make you chase your own theories. Solving clues allows you to unlock locks on the breakout box. Once the box is open the players win, if done within the given time limit. Participants are challenged to use their intelligence, reasoning, and teamwork to escape the scenario. So basically all the 6 Cs.

Breakout EDU has now adapted this experience to the classroom (watch the link for a much better description), which is the rendition that I participated in. They have all sorts of pre-made scenarios that teachers (or whoever) can put together and facilitate. You can order a pre-made kit or make your own.

I had been doing a greek myth/ancient hero classroom story with my students for a while and needed a good finale. Creating my own breakout scenario from scratch would be perfect! Tara loaned me the breakout box with all the locks, gizmos, and do-dads, as well as her personal knowledge on the subject. After many hours of creating scenarios, combos, puzzles, media files, and red herrings, the Breakout experience was ready for my students.

 

The pictures above are just a glimpse of the mayhem and fun we had. The whole experience from planning to completion was excellent. At no point did I think this wasn’t worth the time. I will undoubtably do a breakout scenario again, and now I have all sorts of different ideas on how to create more challenging and immersive puzzles, clues, and distractors.

One of my favourite parts was when the students finally unlocked the breakout box…only to discover that there was another locked case inside! HAHA

The reaction upon discovering a locked box within the quintuple-lock box. #classroomstory #breakoutedu

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This experience reminded me of these quotes I read in an Atlantic magazine article a few months ago.

Learn Through Play

Learn With Joy

These quotes sum up not only Breakout EDU, but the fact that we need more gaming in schools. I would classify Breakout EDU as a way to “gamify” the classroom. The content of the puzzles can be created to suit any curriculum and students will attack that content without knowing that they are learning it.

I love seeing cool, relevant stuff like this being adapted to the classroom. I applaud those innovators in education who keep up with the culture.

Mystery Skype Experiment

I’ll try making this a quick one.
My classes and I participated in the Microsoft Education Skype-a-thon by doing two “Mystery Skypes”.

Mystery Skype is basically a global “Marco Polo” guessing game.

Two teachers from anywhere in the world connect on the Skype-a-thon website. Each teacher knows where the other is located; their students, however, do not. The teachers then initiate and help moderate a Skype video call. Students on each side ask questions, collaborate in teams, and problem solve to find out where the other class is from by asking a series of yes/no questions.

It was awesome. My students got into it right away. It was really something to see them work together, be engaged, problem solve, speak, and compete, all while connecting with people from other countries (Chile & USA).

The process of getting a classroom hooked up and prepared with the proper technology was a fair task. Accounts, sign-ins, downloads, wires, more accounts, etc. But it was worth it because it was spontaneous, fun, and my students learned. Then something just came to me; the realization that if I didn’t have the technology skills I do as a teacher, I would never have done this. I don’t mean just using apps, but understanding how different hardware works together.

Knowing how to setup and use technology is a skill all teachers need. It’s not about reinventing the wheel or using technology all the time. Having technology knowledge and skills gives you access to a whole different branch of pedagogical opportunities. Don’t let those opportunity pass you by.