Guest Post: The Advantages of a Gamer Teacher

The following post is by Will Peacock, a history teacher and gamer from southern England who instructs students from ages 11 to 18. He is a friend from the Kotaku TAY Blog. You can find more of his observations on gaming and teaching on his Tumblr, and if you’d like to get in touch with him you can find/follow him on Twitter.

The Advantages of a Gamer Teacher

Teaching is a profession which can blend into your personal time. In my life, video gaming has become something that is scheduled; pencilled in amongst lesson plans and marking. I’ve not given up on gaming though. Not only because I enjoy it, but because gaming has actually been a benefit to my career. This is why I think being a gamer can have a very positive impact on any teacher:

The Advantages of a Gamer-Teacher

1) You get to be the Cool Teacher

I am not a cool person. I’m okay with that. In fact, I wear my lack of coolness like a badge of honour, which in itself is a decidedly un-cool thing to do. From the beginning of school to the end of university I was content in the knowledge that the cool kids were not inviting me to their place to… do whatever the cool kids do…

The Advantages of a Gamer-Teacher

That’s not what my students think. To the vast number of students that play video games, I am one of the ‘Cool Teachers’ (I realise that doesn’t sound very cool in itself). The very fact that I can even talk about games like Modern Warfare and Minecraft gives a major boost to my reputation. The most often asked gaming question I am asked is “do you have a PS3 or an Xbox?” and when I respond with “both” the amazed reaction is priceless.

Now, of course, I’m nowhere near vanity to suggest that being liked by students is necessary. Some of the best teachers are good at what they do because they are strict and unlikeable. For someone like myself that lacks the experience, conviction and – to some extent – the age that can pull off a serious but respectable approach, the coolness gaming imbues any teacher with is certainly beneficial. Behaviour within class can be greatly improved when the students are on your side, and the resulting friendliness and approachable nature of students around school can have a wonderful impact on your day.

Then again, to the non-gaming students, I am still massively un-cool. That probably goes without saying.

2) You find new ways to teach

In a previous post I described how I have used a reference to a video game in lessons. In future posts I imagine I will explain a few more of these in-lesson tangents. Not every student will have played the game in question, or understand the reference; the aim is to get the students to explain their understanding to each other. I’ll use the most recent way video games have hopped into my teaching, mainly because it wasn’t even my idea. It happened by chance, and was suggested by a quick-thinking student:

During a lesson on World War Two (the outcome of Pearl Harbour, to be specific) the word ‘morale’ appeared. This is one of those words that students don’t understand at first glance, or confuse the definition with the word ‘moral’. In the past when students have asked what morale means, I’ve explained it to them with various different examples. When the word pops up again, some of the students can recall the definition. One or two will still struggle.

This year though, a student raised their hand and instead of the usual “what does morale mean?” I was presented with a very different question: “Is ‘morale’ of soldiers like the ‘morale’ in FIFA 13?”

The Advantages of a Gamer-Teacher

A dozen curious eyes flicked up from workbooks. Intrigued, I answered their question with more questions. I asked them what morale was in FIFA 13, what affected a player’s morale, and what difference it made to the team. Students who had played the game leapt to contribute, explaining what the term meant in terms that every student could appreciate. Not only did they begin to understand the concept in depth, but it lead into a great little discussion relevant to the topic. We discussed how morale would have been affected by the incident at Pearl Harbour, what impact the following declaration of war would have had on Americans, and how the morale of Allied soldiers in Europe would have been affected by America’s increased support.

The best thing about using references to video games is that the students can speak on subjects they already understand, and use what they already know to help them and those around them learn more.

3) You boost their confidence

The way in which someone responds to school life, their lessons and to their teachers is a big part of education. Many students lack confidence for various reasons. Reluctance to speak in front of the class; aversion to challenging tasks for fear of making mistakes; asking the teacher for more help… these are all issues that can hamper a student’s enjoyment of school. Many students who argue that ‘school is boooooring’ do so because they don’t feel that they can engage with the work, or they are afraid that they will make silly mistakes.

As a teacher, part of your responsibility is to foster a good atmosphere in the classroom, and a positive rapport with each class, that promotes a desire to learn and succeed. This is a big challenge for all teachers. Gamer-teachers have a real advantage here. Your love of games helps build that confidence.

The Advantages of a Gamer-Teacher

I remember the moment I first hint to any class that I am a gamer. The thought process is almost visible across their faces. Our teacher plays video games? A grown-up plays games like we do? Suddenly you are no longer the Autonomous Teacher-Bot 2000 that is stored in the cupboard overnight, but an actual human. Not only that, but a human that shares their interests. If students feel that they can talk to you outside of lessons about things that matter to them, it’s so much easier for them to talk to you in the classroom about the work they are doing. Even the shy, reserved, most insular characters will contribute in lessons, because there’s trust there. Even the non-gaming students will grow in confidence, because you’re now someone that clearly everyone else in the class can talk to, so why can’t they.

4) You can catch them out when they are off-topic or absent

You will at some point have been in public when a group of people next to you begin talking about a topic you know well. You know what they are talking about instantly because of key words and phrases. This happens when teaching. When students are working in groups, it’s sometimes difficult to know that all students are talking about the task in hand. It’s very easy for cheeky members of the class to proclaim that they “were talking about the work, honest we were!” without being able to catch them out. As a gamer you can pick out which conversations in a large group are about the work and which are about Pokemon or Titanfall.

The Advantages of a Gamer-Teacher

Your awareness of gaming culture can also benefit you when it comes to new game releases. All students (and teachers) feel ill sometimes, we all have sick days eventually. However, sometimes student sick days seem to happen on the same specific day, and those students seem all better the next day. It’s sometimes hard to say for definite whether student sickness is genuine, but as a gamer you can be aware of reasons why students might be off.

Teacher: where is Little Timmy today?

Little Timmy’s Friends: He’s sick sir. He’s got a migraine.

Teacher: Is that because he was up all night queuing for Black Ops 3?

[Little Timmy's friends fail to look puzzled by the question.]

5) You get to know who you are teaching

Sometimes simply having the conversation about games with students can tell you a lot about them. How many hours they spend gaming reveals whether their excuse for not handing in homework is genuine. The types of games that students enjoy can reveal whether that student will prefer visual lessons or something more active. As a history teacher myself, I like to know who has played video games that are relevant to a topic we are studying.

On one particular occasion, a conversation with one of my sixth form classes (17-18 year old students) revealed something quite surprising about the group I was teaching. After the end of a lesson the conversation turned to video games, and it became apparent that every female student in the class was a big fan of action games (particularly zombie games like Left 4 Dead), whilst the male students were either non-gamers or preferred more puzzle/platformer games.

The Advantages of a Gamer-Teacher

Because of this conversation, I subsequently began to notice that this mentality was reflected in what interested each half of the group in lessons: the female students were more interested in the gorier, conflict-based (and stereotypically ‘male’) parts of the topics we were studying, whilst the male students preferred the more subtle political goings-on within history, and had no preference for the violent features. Understanding the student’s gaming interests led me to tailor several lessons differently because of the demographic, as well as leading me to reflect on what ‘boys and girls’ typically find interesting in History lessons.

Your Thoughts?

Can you think of other ways that being a gamer is an advantage for a teacher? Does your chosen career get a boost in some way from your gaming hobby? If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, did this post give you confidence that you’ll still be able to continue gaming?

It’s Pi Day! Let’s Celebrate

What day is it? Why it’s 3/14… Pi Day!

The magic day when Pi Claus manifests from your calculator and… wait, I think I made that part up. Pi Day is just a goofy math holiday that I love to celebrate every year with my class. Obviously it’s not something I made up, but there are plenty of fun activities to do with your students or children.

Even if you’re in  lower grade, it’s not to hard to get students involved in some good ol’ pi fun.

Pi Pies and Other Baked Goods

Do you like pie? How about cake? Well, now you have a reason to eat even more of it then you normally would during a Friday math class. Ask your students to bring in any circular baked goods and then let them measure the tasty delights. Circumference is the easiest, and you can add in area if you want to give them a nice challenge. Kids too young? Give’em calculators! Kids too old? Make them convert to various metric units and the like. Oh and did I mention you and your students get to eat the the treats? Because you totally do.

Pi Digit Paper Chain 

Here’s a simple one and kids of all ages seem to enjoy it. First round up ten stacks of paper, each in a different color. Above each stack of paper put a post-it note with a digit (0-9). Each color represents a different digit (if you didn’t catch that). Using a ruler, pencil and scissors your students can cut a strip from the paper they need. Hand your students a list of pi digits and have them see how many chain loops they can make in a certain amount of time. I always have one class compete against the other to see who can make the longest chain. It’s also a nice decoration for future Pi Day celebrations.

Pi Reciting Contest

I like to give my students the first hundred digits of pi a few days before Pi Day just in case they want to get serious about this one. Otherwise you can just give your students a set time limit and see who can get the furtherest in front of the class from memory. My students love the competition aspect and this year I may even have a student hit 200 digits!

There are many other wonderful Pi Day activities, but these three take the… pie. At least in my book they do. If you’d like to know more about Pi Day or ways to celebrate it you should head over to it’s official website. Have some Pi DAy traditions of your own? Leave them in the comments below!

Peacocking

Since the the weather out side is still frightful, my class (as well as the rest of the 6th grade) have been participating in “indoor recess”. It’s a mad house to say the least. During this time there is one girl who always comes to my room and talks to me about Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a life sim game for the 3DS that features animal neighbors. I’ve put hundreds of hours into the Animal Crossing series and this particular girl loves to ask me questions about the game or simply bend my ear about fish she’s caught or fossils she’s uncovered.

Today she was telling me about a spring festival that was going on in her town. This festival is also the arrival of…

This fellow, known as Pavé.

The student showed me her 3DS screen and said, “Have you seen this peacock guy before?”

I confirmed that I had and asked her what she thought of him.

She leaned in close and whispered, “Well, at first I thought he was a girl. Because he’s kind of dressed like a girl…

“He does have on some interesting clothing,” I agreed.

“Well, I wanted to know why he looked so funny,” she said, “So I went online and looked up stuff about boy peacocks and it turns out they’re the only one who are all crazy and colorful. They do it to attract girl peacocks! Isn’t that crazy?”

Isn’t it great that this game (which is packed full of great dialogue for reading practice by the way) peaked this young lady’s interest to the point of research? Just goes to show that you never know where students will find inspiration.

Now. Let’s all dance!

ClassRealm Complications: Multiplayer Madness

Complication – Too Many Students or Classes

There’s nothing quite like playing a wonderful multiplayer title with your best buddies. More players usually means more fun, but sometimes there’s just not enough controllers to go around. I mean you’re already using that one with the wonky control stick, you know the one.

This year my everyday teaching schedule has changed quite a bit, and it has wreaked havoc on my students’ traditional ClassRealm experience. Unlike previous years, my first two math classes have students coming in from different homerooms, which means I really only see all my homeroom students for two periods a day (sometimes only one). It’s exceptionally hard to dole out experience points and achievements when you have so many kids coming in and out of your room all day long, especially when most of them aren’t even part of your ClassRealm crew.

Now I would love to give every student who walks through my door the full ClassRealm treatment, but it’s out of the question when it comes to the paper system I have in place. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of my 30 homeroom students, let alone the 40+ other kids I’m working with on a daily basis. This just goes to show how hard it might be to run multiple ClassRealm paper systems at once, say in a high school setting where you have different students almost every period. What’s a teacher to do?

Solution

The best answer is a simple-to-use online system that can be managed via tablet, phone or computer desktop. It seems while this multi-student and multi-class complication may be an issue on paper it would most certainly be more feasible if it was managed using the power of the internets and modern technology. It’s too bad no one is planning on building one for ClassRealm. What? We are? Well then. This could very well become a complication of the past. Here’s hoping.

 

Games Worth Playing: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Hello ClassRealm fans, and welcome to our second installment of Games Worth Playing. The series where we tell you about one game (educational or not) that’s worth your time. Today we’re focusing on a title and a series near and dear to my heart…

Much like every Legend of Zelda title to date, the player  takes control of the green-clad, sword wielding hero known as Link. Now there are very few direct sequels in The Legend of Zelda series, so chances are the Link you’re controlling is not that same one you’ve used to save the princess before. In this case the game puts you back in the same world from the 1991 classic A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo, though the game is set six generations in the future.

You probably don’t care about that do you? Well, the REAL reason to play A Link Between Worlds (ALBW) is because of its puzzles, adventure elements aaaaaaaaand it’s focus on reading. In fact this is one of the first titles in which Nintendo has actually added a little note about literacy on the back of the game box.

As you can see I noticed this a while back. The ability to read certainly makes ALBW a much more enjoyable adventure. You will most certainly get lost and meet an unfortunate end if you cannot decipher all the text that pops up through out the game. Anyone who is learning to read may have a hard time getting through all the signs and character dialogue, but those with a basic grasp should be fine. While kids may love reading books they’ll probably think you’re insane if you ask them to play a video game to practice their reading.

Along with all this lovely reading come some absolutely fantastic puzzles which are always good mental stimulation no matter your age. The game as a whole is a sprawling epic that will take even veterans some time to complete in whole. It’s hard to go wrong when it comes to The Legend of Zelda series, and ALBW is no exception. Anyone with a 3DS/2DS should experience it’s grandeur, young or old.

Name: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

System(s): 3DS and 2DS

Price: $40.00 (eShop price)

Made By: Nintendo

Games Worth Playing – Slice Fractions

Did you know that ClassRealm is based on aspects of video games? Of course you did.

Well in honor of our video game roots we’re going to be sharing some educational and traditional games we think you and your students should be playing. First up – Slice Fractions!

Let me just start off by pointing out that this game features a hat-collecting woolly mammoth and a volcano with the face of a cat. If that doesn’t sell you on the game alone, I’m not sure what will. But wait, there’s more! Not only is Slice Fractions adorable and quirky, it actually teaches (and reteaches) you fractions. Can you believe it?

By slicing sections of ice and lava you can eliminate the on-screen obstacles and help your mammoth on his journey to… go do what ever it is that mammoths do.  The game starts out with simple shapes and doesn’t even include any numbers, but eventually things jump up a notch and you’re slicing fractions all over the gosh darn place.

There are currently 60 levels, and unfortunately they go by rather quickly when you get immersed in the game. But worry not, because I’ve been told there are more levels on the way! *Whew*

If you have a student/son/daughter/niece/nephew/really smart dog who is struggling with understanding fractions I would highly highly recommend this title. Or if you just want a fun little educational puzzle game all for yourself. It teaches you while you learn!

Name: Slice Fractions

System(s): Phone and Tablet (iOS and Googleplay)

Price: $2.99

Made By: Ululab

ClassRealm Tech Tips – Twitter

While ClassRealm news is a little slow at the moment I figured I would take this time to blog about other educational aspects I use in my classroom, as well as great video games that you and your students should be playing (both educational and traditional alike).

Today we’re going to talk about Twitter! What is it? Why is it a thing? How in the world could I possibly use it for educational purposes?

Well I’m here to tell you a few ways I like to use it.

Twitter is a form of social media that forces users to convey their thoughts in 140 characters or less. That’s characters, NOT words. Make sure you don’t get that mixed up!

Twitter is a fantastic form of communication between teachers and students, as well as teachers and parents. Let me start off by saying that I do not recommend you “tweet at” any students or parents during school hours. It’s not the best idea, because well it takes only  few seconds, it’s evidence that you’re not currently teaching or paying attention to your class.

What should you tweet to students and parents? 

1. Homework

2. School updates (2 hour delay!)

3. Classroom activities (Look at our science lab!)

Keep in mind that you should never use a students full names, show any assignment/test scores or post anything that would be considered inappropriate at school. The best part about having a classroom Twitter account? Parents and students don’t have to have a Twitter account to check your feed! They can simply find it in there web browser and pull up all the info you’ve provided.

Here’s an example of my one of my classroom Tweets.

It’s simple, concise and it helps students and parents quickly check the homework situation from home or even their phone. I tweet my spelling words every Monday and I know my parents (and sometimes students) really appreciate it. If you feel so inclined you can even tweet out ClassRealm updates! Heck, you could make a twitter account just for your ClassRealm info. Who doesn’t want to hear about vampires and yetis gaining experience points?

The second way to utilize Twitter is simply to use its format to help students understand the concept of summarizing. Some students have a really tough time breaking down what certain passages or chapters are all about and making them “tweet” a summary can really help. Simply hand them template with 140 small boxes and tell them they need to sum up the main points in a “tweet”. It will be evident very quickly if they are or are not grasping the key aspects of their reading. If you’re not happy with their summary simply make them do it again. It’s only 140 characters after all, right?

Have any other Twitter tips or ideas for teachers? Leave them below!

“Cool” Factor

Ice to see you again, ClassRealm fans.

That’s right, I said it. But terrible Mr. Freeze puns aside, welcome back to the official ClassRealm Blog.

Today I’d like to discus a teacher topic that is near and dear to my heart – being “cool”. Now the reason “cool” is in quotes is because I’m speaking from a student’s perspective. If you run around telling people you’re cool, chances are you’re not. Or you’re the Fonz. But can being “cool” ruin a students view of you as an authority figure?

Recently I mentioned that my students thought I was “cool” to another teacher (on the web) and they retorted that being cool in a students eyes isn’t the way to go. In the other teachers opinion students can’t respect an adult who they think is a radical dude. Their yearning to goof around and get off topic around these types of adults is too strong.

I completely disagree. Many teachers find it strange that I talk to my students often about subjects like gaming and cartoons, but in my mind this connection is one of the best relationships a mentor can have with their pupil. The teacher who yells a lot and doesn’t get your jokes or the teacher who can talk in depth with you about what he built in Minecraft last night – which one are you more likely to really listen to? If students are invested in you as  teacher than everything you tell them is gold. They hang on your every word. They remember concepts because you made them fun and relatable. It’s ok to be a friend to a student. Not all the time, and not in the same way you would with a normal adult, but enough to show them that you understand their world and want to be a part of it.

So go forth teachers. Help those students who don’t think learning can relate to their life. Being “cool” may just be the key.

 

Press Start: Year Three!

Great ghost of Cranky Kong! It’s been far too long since I’ve updated the ClassRealm blog. I’m terribly sorry folks! I’ll be attempting to update every week (or more) from now on.

As usual I’m here to reassure you that ClassRealm is far from dead, quite the contrary in fact. We are currently being looked at by a well known and influential educational company and we’ve never been more excited about the future of our wonderful system. That being said, the paper system is still being used by many and I just started it this week in my own classroom.

Every year I have this horrible fear that students are going to hate the concept. They’re going to groan at the prospect of making up their own character and tracking their stats. “What a drag!” they collectively yell as I weep in the corner.

I’m proud to say that this did NOT happen. The students were very excited to try ClassRealm and they couldn’t wait to start earning XP, levels and achievements. Huzzaw! ClassRealm still works. My favorite quote was from a boy (now a Shadow Yeti) who said, “I like that it only gives you points for being good, but doesn’t take them away for when I mess up.”

I like it too, Mr. Yeti. I like it too.

Here are a few profiles that I found enjoyable.

photo 3 (5) photo 2 (9) photo 1 (10)

As you can see their strengths and weaknesses are both school related and fantasy related. Fireballs and Social Studies forever!

What is Going on with ClassRealm?

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Hey folks! Been a while since I’ve updated the blog (sorry!) and I figured I’d link you to  piece I wrote for Kotaku about the journey to create ClassRealm. Just click here. Hope you enjoy it. Thanks to everyone for the continued support of our idea.