Real-Team Strategy

Did you know that “team” stands for “together everyone achieves more”?

It doesn’t really. I got that from some cheesy motivational poster that I used to have in my classroom. Though it’s honestly not a terrible way to portray the advantages of teamwork in a school setting.

For anyone who has tried the ClassRealm paper version you know how difficult it can be to keep up with all of the moving parts. XP, levels, achievements, attendance, homework and more all add to the load. It can certainly be overwhelming, especially to a new teacher.

So here’s a little secret, a real life cheat code (put down that Game Genie): ENLIST YOUR STUDENTS. It sounds like a  no brainer, sure, but many teacher don’t even think to put their students in charge of tasks they normally handle themselves.

I’m not asking you to have students submit grades or assign detentions. Just give them easy jobs that make your workload a little lighter.

“Billy, you’re in charge of attendance. Please mark those absent on this sheet.”

“Ashley, you’re in charge of XP. Whenever I tell you to add some points to a students please do so.”

And so on. Students love this. I promise you they do. The key here is not to assign duties, but to offer them up. Who wants to do this potentially mind numbing task? You’d be surprised at the number of hands that will go up.

Students (unbelievably) love responsibility, just not the kind that is thrust upon them. Homework and schoolwork is a chore because you tell them it must be done. A volunteer job in the classroom is shot at something new, something they may (and usually do) enjoy. Most students know the joys of helping others and will go out of their way to make sure their job is done well.

So the next time you feel like the amount of work you have to do is insurmountable don’t forget that you have an army of small helpful creatures at your disposure. Treat them with respect and kindness and they will crawl over each other to lend you a hand.

Counting Coins: Token Economies at Work

forpressrelease-4coins

Here’s a list of some of the more popular games that I’ve had the pleasure of playing: Mario 64, Baldur’s Gate, Warcraft 3, Dokapon Kingdom, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The genre of these games range from action role playing games to real time strategies to family fun games to fantasy adventures. And what do they all have in common? Gold (some blue and red coins too, if we’re talking about Mario 64). Why, as players in these games, are we drawn to gold? By design, the game has us collect gold so that we can spend it for weapons, potions, equipment, and other advantages that help us ultimately beat the game.

But you don’t need gold for this concept to apply. Most games have a store system where players can spend all of that hard-won currency, which we’ll refer to as tokens. This store system principle is in so many games and in ways that you might not expect. When you level up in Diablo III, you’re spending that experience you’ve earned in the same way to level up your character the way that you want to, constantly giving the player options to fine-tune his or her strategy to beat the game.

maxresdefaultSo what does this mean for teachers? It means that you can hand out tokens to reinforce good behavior, improvement from one test to the next, or for completing classwork or homework neatly and timely. Ormrod (2011) defines a token economy as a technique to allow students to “purchase” a variety of other reinforcers (p. 303). The options of reinforcers are completely under the teacher’s control. I have encountered several cheap, effective reinforcers that your students may appreciate more than you might think. Here’s a list to get your own shop started:

1. Small snacks: crackers, candy, you name it (as long as the kid isn’t allergic)

2. Large snacks: brownies, sandwiches

3. Allowance to listen to music during individual assignments/testing

4. Terrific Kid Card: Send the student home with a card he can show his parent/guardian listing his achievements in the class.

These are just a few examples. While implementing a token economy is valuable to manage behavior, its real worth is found in the soft skills that it helps students develop. Two of the major soft skills it helps are accountability and self-regulation. Students can learn accountability through being responsible for tracking their own tokens (or even keeping track of cheap, physical tokens you give them) until they have enough to purchase whatever reinforcers you have on sale.

Second, implementing an economy like this teaches self-regulation, or “the control and monitoring of our own behavior” (Ormrod, 2011, p. 342). The Store you have in place is only open on the students’ time-when they’ve met the expectations you’ve already established for class. This means that you could simply require students to finish their work or act a certain way for the opportunity to spend the tokens they’ve earned during the year. This practice can teach students to pay attention to their own progress during class and time management, because they will want to accomplish their work within the time given and the quality you expect in order to buy reinforcers from your Store.

These are just a few examples of how token economies can work in a classroom. I invite all teachers interested in implementing this technique to use these ideas for tokens and reinforcers, come up with their own, or combine them with their own students and see the effect it has in the classroom.

 

Ormrod, J. E. (2011). Educational psychology: Developing learners. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Learning Strategies: It’s Super Effective!

Another thing that games teach us is to use the right technique, element, tool, weapon, or strategy for the job. In Pokemon, why do we use water-type techniques against fire-type pokemon and avoid using them on grass-type pokemon? Because it’s super effective! This same kind of mentality can and should be applied inside of the classroom.hqdefault

Students are encouraged almost every day by their teachers to study right or to study harder; however, many students may still lack the correct study skills to succeed in a specific classroom where a specific teacher is trying to teach to a specific standard or objective. Often enough, these learning skills can be more practical and transferrable than the actual content.

Learning skills can be divided into different categories. Ormrod (2011) divides them into overt and covert learning strategies. She defines overt learning strategies as strategies that are “readily apparent” and observable by the teacher and covert learning strategies as “only mental activity” and thus not directly observable like overt learning strategies. Many times, these strategies overlap to assist one another in teaching students. For example, a strategy that Dr. Ormrod suggests to improve writing is creating summaries while one of her covert strategies is to regularly monitor one’s own learning.

I recently did an experiment for a project in one of my classrooms, dividing my classmates into three separate groups while an expert performed a simple kata (a set of specific, chronological motions in a martial arts style). I instructed each group to use a different learning strategy-taking notes on what they saw, summarizing what they saw, or actively shadowing what they saw. The groups were immediately given time to practice for two minutes before demonstrating what they learned to the classroom, and the vast majority practiced by moving their physical bodies in an attempt to reproduce our expert’s maneuvers. These college students were practiced in adopting the most appropriate or effective learning strategy and using it to accomplish their goal (reproducing the martial arts motions).

Imagine the difficulty that they would have had if their practice time had been limited to only reviewing their notes or summaries while the physically practicing group could continue to use the strategy found to be most effective.

Students have developed varying strategies through their academic careers before stepping into each teacher’s classroom, and they are limited by the strategies that they currently have and their ability to distinguish between effective versus ineffective strategies. As teachers, it’s important to recognize that our students don’t walk around with strategy guides in their back pockets with the best way to tackle every new concept, assignment, project, or test that we throw at them. Therefore, it’s important to understand what they do bring to the table and what techniques we bring to the table to help them be super effective in our classroom and classrooms that follow.

Shiny Badges

The world seems to fall in and out of love with the concept of badges in education at an astonishing rate. One minute they’re claiming they represent something tangible that showcases hard work and dedication. The next they claim that it cheapens the process of learning. “Why strive for a badge when you can strive for knowledge?” they scream. 

I’ll tell you why. Because many students don’t make that connection between learning and knowledge. As crazy as that sounds. Learning is what you do at school, and for most students school is a chore. They’re there because they have to be or because their friends are present. Learning is hard and knowledge is nice, but it’s not something that is easily presentable to your peers or parents. You can know loads about a certain subject and be completely in the dark about another. Sometimes kids just need that little piece of flair to enhance their confidence and show others what they know.

It’s like the sticker on a test. Or a test on a fridge. It’s proof. Proof that you learned and proof that you’re proud of it. Most students won’t display a test or a sticker or a badge because they think it’s really cool looking, it’s because they want others to take notice. Look at my accomplishment! Isn’t it great? I’m proud of myself.

Sure, it’s blatantly extrinsic to promote kindness and hard work with badges, levels and experience points, but these are the things students like. Learning to learn is a very hard concept to wrap your head around when you are at a young age. I didn’t want to learn chemical symbols, I wanted to learn how to beat that darn Water Temple. Why? Because it’s fun to succeed and even more fun to show others that you made it. Everyone likes rewards and pay offs. Lots of people love their jobs, but that doesn’t mean they would keep working them if you stopped paying them. As much as humans hate to admit it, we love shiny badges. We love the things that motivate us.

Badges are great for another reason. They may be extrinsic, but they lead to intrinsic thinking. Children may start their quest to learn because there is a reward on the line, but as they mature they realize that knowledge is a reward. The ultimate reward. Getting students to learn, in fact getting ANYONE to learn, by using incentives should not be frowned upon. Hold your badges up with pride and say, “Look at what I did, world. Look at what I know.”

Game Over: Do You Wish To Continue?

mario-game-overIn a previous post, Ben discussed the role that motivation plays in both video games and in the classroom. I was hoping to investigate that more now, through the lens of classroom climate and setting your students up to still succeed even after failure.

Many factors can feed a child’s potential to fail to participate in the learning process, one of which is a fear of failure. I refer to the fear of failing students experience under the pressures to meet the expectations placed on them by their parents, their teachers, their peers, and themselves. Often enough, this fear creates something called a performance-avoidance goal in a student. Performance-avoidance goals motivate children to do exactly what it sounds like-to avoid performing due to a fear that they will embarrass themselves by answering a question incorrectly or will appear inferior in front of their peers for attempting.

This is just one type of student achievement goal in educational psychology. Two other types of goals for students that contrast include performance-approach goals and mastery goals. Performance-approach goals act the opposite of performance-avoidance goals. These students know that they know the answer, they raise their hands with it prepared, and deliver it to receive a reward, often times in the form of praise from the teacher or self-satisfaction. The other, mastery goals, motivate students to not only provide the correct answers, but to actually grow from the challenge of addressing difficult problems, including those problems challenging enough to leave the student with a very real possibility of failure.

While students driven by performance-approach goals and even performance-avoidance goals can still have healthy academic experiences and learn well in the classroom, our students should always be encouraged to adopt the mindset of mastery. This is one beautiful effect of the ClassRealm experience system. In video games, experience is awarded to indicate improvement, not just performance in the game. And by using experience, our characters can become stronger, faster, smarter, and more successful later in the game. Sure, I could import my level 100 Charizard from my Fire Red to my Leaf Green, breeze through collecting badges, and defeat the Elite Four, but it wouldn’t give me nearly the same satisfaction as working hard to level up a whole new team to fight tooth and nail down Victory Road, getting even better after every battle.

gameover_continueVideo games don’t just give us opportunities to fail, but encourage us to with an extremely simple concept: the checkpoint. When you face the final boss and lose your last hit point, does the video game explode, taking every last bit of time and effort you’ve poured into it with it? Some may delete your save file, but nine out of ten video games ask you a simple question, sometimes displayed in a single word: “Continue?” Then, suddenly you’re back at your last checkpoint ready to grind, get better, and retry until you can return the favor for every time that boss has knocked you down into the dirt. The goal of every class, ClassRealm or traditional, is to instill an orientation toward mastery goals in our students—to improve for them, not to perform for us.

I thought that this would be a prudent subject to tackle as the first post on the ClassRealm blog that I make and the first one published here in almost a year. I’ve read through Ben’s blog posts after I read an article on Gamification and found my way to ClassRealm. I think that it’s time to hit the switch and retry from the last checkpoint. If we expect our kids in the class to do it, we should make the effort to model it ourselves.

 

Ormrod, J. E. (2011). Educational psychology: Developing learners. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

A Challenger Appears! Meet Kurt

Hello ClassRealm friends and followers!profilepic_beach

My name is Kurt Wright and I am the new kid on the block around the Realm. I will be starting to post regular entries about Education and Gaming and how the two don’t really have to be all that different if done correctly.

I discovered ClassRealm when one of my current teachers in Education Psychology included a link on Gamification of the classroom, which turned out to be Ben’s Explanation of ClassRealm at Kotaku. This article piqued my interest in ClassRealm, but finding the blog and reading through the posts got me hooked. From the basic application of positive reinforcement to allowing students to create fictional characters to represent them in the classroom, Ben had me sold on ClassRealm before I even contacted him and begged to get involved.

But before I ask you to trust me and my thoughts and opinions about gaming and education, maybe you’d like to know a little more about me!

My educational background is the backbone of my opinions on gaming and learning. I received my Bachelor’s of Arts in English before currently returning to school to pursue my Masters of Science in Education. Currently, I am in my first semester of graduate school, when the students are still focused on learning theory before applying theory to the internship year, which I will be beginning this Fall.

My interest in gaming extends to video games, board games, and roleplaying games. I believe that there are merits including reinforcement techniques, critical thinking practice, and creative exploration in each of these types of gaming. I have a strong nostalgia for old RPGs like Legend of the Dragoon and Chrono Cross, but my interests most recently focus on board games. When I talk about board games, I am not referring to many that people may recognize, such as Monopoly, Chess, or Shoots and Ladders. While these games have their merits, some more obscure (for the average American) games include Carcassonne, Pandemic, and The Forbidden Island. These games practice critical thinking and team building skills transferrable to more situations than just the classroom.

I plan to synthesize the information I glean from my college classrooms and additional readings with my experience with video, board, and roleplaying games to discuss gaming in terms of educational psychology and vice versa. I look forward to publishing my first official post (not counting this one) in just a couple of days!

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.