Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Indiana Digital Learning Month 2017

It's hard to believe it's already March and Digital Learning Month has ended! We want to take a moment to thank all of the educators who took time out of their busy schedules to share their digital learning stories during Digital Learning Month. We hope you all took away a little gem that you are able to use in your school or classroom and include in your own digital learning story.

If you are looking for more resources and opportunities for professional development, here are some things that the Office of eLearning has to offer:
  • Did you know that there will be 22 professional development opportunities around our state this summer as part of the 2017 Summer of eLearning? You don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to participate in high-quality learning. 
  • Find lots of digital citizenship resources.
  • If you are already working with a student tech team or are interested in starting one, connect with others in the Hoosier Student Digital Leaders network. 
  • Indiana educators and students can access NBC Learn resources for free.
  • Learn about Indiana's efforts in digital content curation.
  • We’re on social media! You can find us on your favorite platform. Get news from our office and connect to other educators around the state. 
  • Three times each year the Office of eLearning hosts an online book club in the eLearning Book Club Blog. Participate in this professional book discussion when it is convenient for you, whether that’s at school after your students leave for the day or late at night when your house is quiet. 
  •  At least once a month we host webinars in the eLearning Lab where you can learn about digital tools and online resources.
What else does the Office of eLearning have to offer? Visit our website and find out! We'll see you back here in the blog for Indiana Digital Learning Month 2018 next February!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How I Use NBC Learn to Complement 7th Grade Language Arts Lessons in My Non-1:1 Classroom

Our last blog post of Digital Learning Month comes from Melanie S. Beaver, 7th Grade English Teacher at West Vigo Middle School, Vigo County School Corporation.

As a middle school language arts teacher, it is critical that the content is relevant, accessible to all learners, and infused with any resources I can find that will make learning last. I hit a gold mine on all three levels when I discovered NBC Learn a few summers ago at a Summer of eLearning conference called PV TRANSFORM at South Vermillion Middle School. Cyndi Harrison, a session presenter from NBC Learn, spoke about ways to integrate video for multiple content areas into 1:1 classroom environments. Although I do not teach in a 1:1 school, I attended the session anyway, because we do have a shared computer lab and a shared classroom set of iPads. I found out right away that all I needed was my desktop computer and a projector, and NBC Learn was rolling in my 7th grade language arts classroom. Cyndi, a former classroom teacher herself, explained the many layers of resources available in NBC Learn, and honestly—as much as I use it, I know I have only scratched the surface.

I was thrilled to learn that this was not some strings-attached program or expensive technology package that I had to convince my principal to buy for our school. NBC Learn has been made available to all teachers, students, and parents in the state of Indiana by the Indiana DOE Office of eLearning. FREE! All I needed to do was sign in!

NBC Learn maintains a database of nearly 20,000 (and growing!) news stories sorted by subject area, and/or theme. For nearly any story we are reading in literature, I can find a news clip related to the time period or content. That became especially poignant when we were reading Code Talker, a historical fiction novel by Joseph Bruchac about the Navajo soldiers’ unbreakable code during World War II. I thought I might check NBC Learn for any news coverage of the Navajo and the important role they played during the war. I was thrilled to find several pieces of news coverage related to the Navajo code talkers. One featured a few of these surviving heroes being recognized by the President of the United States, since their mission was deemed highly classified for so many years. My students were in awe. Another clip (pictured below) covered the death of the last surviving code talker, Chester Nez. My students were broken-hearted. Pairing these videos and the resources that accompany them with the novel we read in class brought a deeper meaning to our classroom discussions.

Since I will probably use these videos again, I can save them to the Playlists tab. For each video, I can print a transcript, academic standards, share it with someone via email or to a social media site, and by clicking print I can see the MLA/APA citations for each video if needed.

I have used NBC Learn for my Shakespeare unit, poetry unit, and for teaching my students about historical or current events such as 9/11, the Civil Rights Movement, the election, and STEM fields. There are news stories related to language lessons I teach that my students have enjoyed watching such as “Decline of Grammar” and “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.” After grammar lessons, we have watched the clips called “Common Errors in English Usage.” It is critical that I keep my students engaged the entire time we are together, also known as teaching bell-to-bell. If the lesson has ended early, these clips make great discussion starters to keep the lesson’s conversation going.

I cannot use the excuse of not being a 1:1 classroom as the reason I’m not bringing technology into my classroom. My students are 21st century learners, and we need to be teaching them using 21st century resources. I can incorporate all the resources from NBC Learn using my desktop computer and projector. When available, students can conduct their own topic searches in our shared computer lab or using our shared set of iPads. All that matters is that we are embracing the technology resources that are available to us, without fear or resistance.

Oh! And by the way….just in case I felt alone using NBC Learn, I might click on the Toolkit Tab, and then click on How Others Are Using NBC Learn. I can see that teachers from all subject areas and grade levels are using this great resource to complement their classroom resources and bring their curriculum to life just like I am. There is also a troubleshooting tab and a tab for getting started. I stay in contact with Zach Levine, our contact at NBC Learn. Every time I have needed his help navigating NBC Learn, he has replied to my email right away. As fancy as tech tools can be, nothing beats the personal touch from someone who supports you as you are integrating it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Global Learning in YOUR Classroom

Today's blog post comes from Jill Woerner, Global Learning & World Languages Specialist at the Indiana Department of Education.


Global Learning is not this extra “thing” that teachers do in their classroom. It’s a perspective with which they approach their classroom. Our students are part of a society that is becoming increasing more global and diverse each and every day. As educators, whether we have been a traveler or not, we have things to offer to students with our life experience. I hope the Q & A in this blog post will help you on your global journey. IDOE is here to help and has created a new resource for you, too, that is listed at the end of the post!

I encourage you to watch this video to get started. These kids and teachers share a lot in just a few minutes about why global education is an important part of their learning.

 

How does “Global Learning” affect me? I teach _____________. 


Regardless of what you use to fill in the blank above, Global Learning can and should be part of your curriculum. Whether you are considering ISTE Standard #2c, “Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures,” or your local district’s mission statement that indicates that you’re preparing students for the world, the 21st Century or their next steps, global learning should be part of your classroom.

So, what is global learning exactly? 


Global learning is not a new standard or something extra to squeeze in to your lessons. Global learning is the idea that you are teaching that same unit or topic through a different lens…One that involves global thinking and/or cultural competency. For example, say you teach math and one of your standards involves working with percentages, sales, and discounts. You can reframe your story problems by using pictures from sale signs in another country instead of what is in your textbook or what is in their local supermarket. The culture that is embedded in a single photo from a grocery store in another country is immeasurable.

Here’s a sample photo from China. Students will probably recognize the “Dove” brand of chocolates so there’s a known element. What they may not notice is that the price and discount correlates to being 88% ON instead of 12% OFF. In our culture, we put the amount that people are going to save, but in China they list the percentage based upon how much the patrons will pay. Also, we tend to round the numbers to a multiple of 5 in the U.S. however in China, 8 is a lucky number.

This same photo can be used to talk about currency conversion because students may notice that one bag of Dove chocolates is listed as costing 13.50 ¥ (Yuan) and they won’t necessarily know what the equivalent is in U.S. dollars to compare where they should buy their next bag of chocolates.

Where do I find pictures and resources like these?


Great question! Pinterest and Google Images are fantastic resources for finding pictures that others have taken and shared. You can also ask anyone you know that travels and have them take some for you while they are gone. Your students may have photos of things that would be helpful with your lessons and they would have the background cultural knowledge to accompany it. Exchange students, parents with international backgrounds, and even people you have met at the bank, the doctor’s office, etc. are usually very happy to help as they WANT to share their story and their culture and are just waiting for your invitation to help. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can plan a trip or exchange for yourself and/or your students. Seeing these types of things in person is a positive life-changing experience for all involved. Here’s a Symbaloo with links about student exchange programs and scholarships along with programs and scholarships for teachers.

Are there other resources out there to help me with this? I’ve never been abroad and this seems a bit daunting!


Absolutely! First and foremost, your IDOE content area specialists in the College and Career Readiness division along with the Career and Technical Education division have created a comprehensive document with examples in their contents and resources as well. Click here to start your Global Journey with IDOE. Additionally, IDOE has “internationalized” the Indiana Academic Standards for you in easy to print and access booklets online. Visit our digital resources here for global learning. Each of these booklets, provides a smattering of the Indiana Academic Standards that you teach every day with ideas on how to integrate internationalized content. We recognize not everyone has been abroad, but we understand the importance of integrating global thinking and cultural competence into each and every lesson!

Beyond what IDOE has curated for you, there are also a number of amazing resources from the Asia Society and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. The Asia Society shares a plethora of videos, project ideas and resource documents to help you get started and learn more. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning does a nice job of showing teachers at each grade level what global concepts and information are developmentally appropriate in their Teacher Guide.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Using SketchUp with 3D Printing

Today's blogger, Brian Bobbitt, is a high school engineering teacher at North High School in Evansville, Indiana. Brian has experience working with 3D printing and engineering across the K-12 realm of education. Brian has led many other educators in developing STEM programs and creating Maker Spaces. In December of 2016, Brian published his first book, 3D Printing Made Simple for Education. The book can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/j4uwla3.


Often I am asked about how to get students and schools involved and engaged in 3D printing. I see many educators throughout the year at different conferences when I present 3D printing. Throughout the different conferences I present at I am most often asked, “How can I afford a 3D printer for my students?” I believe it would be better to ask this question, “Why do I need a 3D printer for my students?’

Educators are aware that kids like to create. Honestly, that’s what brought my attention to 3D printing several years ago. When I first started 3D printing, I thought about how I could actually integrate state standards and 3D printing. I began taking a look at all of the depth of knowledge charts. It wasn’t long before I realized how much high level thinking adding a 3D printer could do for us. I quickly learned that we create, construct, apply knowledge, problem solve, connect, and design as a result of this new technological marvel.

However, I soon realized that a 3D printer was a tool and not a solution. The 3D printer is simply a machine that can create a physical model. The 3D printer is not an idea generator or a problem solver without a person being the driving force. As a result, one of the first things I want students to know is a design process. A way to solve problems becomes increasingly important for students – even after they leave my class. I also subscribe to the philosophy that less is more. Therefore, there must be a process simple enough for students to remember, apply, and adapt. Typically, I would use something like this:
  1. Listen and ask questions about the problem
  2. Define and state the problem
  3. Research
  4. Sketch possibilities
  5. Choose an idea
  6. Develop a prototype
  7. Submit to client for feedback
  8. Make necessary adjustments
  9. Market and present the solution
A 3D printer really doesn’t fit into the design process until step 6, which is where we are developing a prototype. However, it is also during this step that we take ideas and sketches into a more formal CAD program. One program I recommend for those running Maker Spaces and working with younger children is SketchUp. I usually recommend SketchUp because it’s free and the learning curve isn’t too steep. Additionally, I’ve found that once students begin using it, they want to show everyone. SketchUp can be used at home on most computers. There is even an online version located at: https://my.sketchup.com/app.

Generally, when I teach SketchUp, the first step is to get all of our screens looking alike. I have students select all of the same toolbars. They can do this by clicking on “View”, and then “Toolbars”. I have them put check marks by “Large Tool Set,” “Standard,” and “Views.” These 3 items will allow them to do every basic feature. Along with more advanced functions later.

I like to teach the basic processes first, and then move into more advanced functions. I would most likely lead off with showing students how to create a 2D rectangle or circle. The next step would be to show students how to make it 3D using the Push/Pull tool. Next, we would spend some time working with navigational commands such as rotate, pan, and zoom. The navigational commands allow us to better see our designs and add more elements.

Once students are familiar with the setup and are able to draw a 2D shape and push/pull it into a 3D shape I would move onto multiple projections or extrusions. A multiple projection or extrusion is when we have more than 1 shape in 3D format. The first picture below is a single extrusion of a simple rectangular cube. The second picture shows a multiple extrusion.

It is important to let students “play” a bit with multiple extrusions so they can gain more experience. Not only that, but students learn to use the rotate, zoom, and pan buttons more naturally as they need these to look at the different views.

The next thing I do with students, is try and show some relevance. We begin creating a house. This helps students see how SketchUp can be used to create everyday objects. The house also provides students a chance to further practice all the tools we’ve used thus far. A good friend of mine once called this concept, “Jedi Mind Tricks.” That is, have students do the work without the realization they are learning a new skill.

Once students have the house complete we move onto more advanced skills such as the follow me command. I’ll start by creating a simple tube. For my younger students I tell them we are going to design a tubular slide. Below is a screenshot of a student who has created a ring using the follow me command.

As students become more comfortable with SketchUp, I begin to open more doors in the design world. Next, I would have a discussion and demonstrate design constraints. To summarize constraints quickly, these are rules/guidelines that must be followed within the design. For example, a design constraint might be that the student generated idea or component has to be able to rotate 360°. Another example might be for the object to have a charging port or USB interface. These examples are more useful for the younger inventor. As students become more proficient, I will eventually provide specific constraints. For instance, the overall design must fit within a 3” cube.

To further drive the concept of design constraints, I will have the students develop their own. I usually pick something else we will be doing further down the road in class. I’ve had students choose to develop vehicles, robots, houses, castles, desktop organizers, etc. The one that gets the most attention is usually a robot. Below is a screenshot of some design constraints that a group of 3rd - 5th graders developed during one of our summer creativity camps.

As one can see, there are several things that need to happen in order to fully understand taking an idea from a concept to a reality. SketchUp is one of many tools available to help students generate and create ideas. Furthermore, before SketchUp or any other design program is used, it is imperative to establish some sort of design process. After all, our job as educators is to create a life-long learner capable of developing solutions and solving any problem they encounter.

For more information, please feel free to contact me using brian.bobbitt@evsck12.com. I am always looking to collaborate with other teachers as well as other classrooms. My main mission is to create outstanding students along with growing areas of STEM education for all students.

**SketchUp is free for all, but the SketchUpPro Statewide K-12 License Grant gives public schools in Indiana the opportunity to receive SketchUp Pro for free for use in classrooms and labs. Go to http://www.doe.in.gov/elearning/sketchup-pro-grant for more information.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

For Whom Are We Really Introducing New Tools?

Happy Digital Learning Day! Be sure to share what digital learning looks like in your classroom on Twitter using the hashtags #INeLearn and #DLDay. 

Today our blog post comes from Efila Jzar-Simpson, Spanish and English as a new language teacher at Ben Davis University High School.

When I first thought about writing this, I was going to introduce a new tool that was pretty cool but not much different than those I have used before. As I was drafting a student came in just to lurk about my classroom and we began to speak. I asked what they thought of the new tool I introduced earlier in the week and they said it was fine but that they missed some of the old ones that I had used before. They asked me why I keep using “new stuff” all the time. I said, I get bored don’t you? The response was, not really. EPIPHANY! I was taken aback and began to reflect upon the student's statement. I thought about best practices. I reflected upon the reason for the introduction of so many new tools. I questioned for whom I was introducing new tools.

As teachers who may teach the same subjects every day, all day, it can become monotonous for US to use the same tool again and again, period after period, semester after semester. We have to realize that our students change from period to period, semester to semester and THEY have not had the “privilege” of repeated use of the tool. Often I think, as teachers, we find new tools and are energized and introduce them to the students before our students have mastered the previous ones because WE are bored of using the same tool. So, with that in mind I revisited my repertoire of tools and pulled out one that was a fan favorite and began to think of new ways to re-incorporate it into my classroom.

This tool is VOKI. Voki is an amazing tool that lets students create a customizable avatar of themselves that can speak. Voki is great tool for those who teach in a blended or online environment where it is necessary to assess or gauge the oratory abilities of the student. I first began to use Voki for students who had documented and/or well noted cases of social anxiety to give them a chance and a voice in the class. I was a great! They came alive virtually and were able to show me what they have hidden inside. It even surprised some of their peers and some, even began to come out of their shells.
http://www.voki.com/

Voki is basically a talking head that also responds acknowledging and tracking the movement of the mouse. Students are able to use various computer generated voices with text to speech, in many languages and genders, or they may use a microphone to record their own voices or even call in and record their own voices. One of the things the students enjoy most is customizing their avatar, some even change it every class (which, incidentally, can give a glimpse into their current mindset). Voki is a great warm-up activity -- “change your avatar and greet the class” -- or just have them answer a simple question. They will change their Avatar and answer. This provides a quick check for understanding and a glimpse into them in a quick fun activity.


I revisited my once generic use of this tool and I have begun to use it in a variety of ways. I require each student to create their own avatar and monthly I assign a speaking assignment that they have to turn in via Voki classroom. I have noticed I receive longer responses with significantly better quality from their work.

With this social media connected generation of students, I am finding that meeting students in their world and gradually bringing them into this one has been quite effective. Now, when they are asked to speak in class they are less reluctant to do so.

I have begun posting an Avatar that poses a question to the class in our LMS (learning management system) and requiring each of them to respond and once they all have responded, I will embed four or five student responses and require that each student respond to one of their peers.

I have also used this outside of my language classrooms as well. I’ve used it to begin discussions in a class designed to teach seniors topics related to diversity and college culture. The Voki presents the controversial or ethical dilemma and then they are to discuss the matter either on an anonymous chat like Backchannelchat.com or live. The students say that they don’t feel as pressured to respond, because they don’t feel as if they will offend the speaker. They feel more at ease to speak their true minds.

Students enjoy the use of this tool and it is easy to use. It is also nice to use Voki to send them instructions for projects or even just a more personal kudo.

I have revived this tool for more prolific use in my classroom and I have also revived a well learned lesson; if it isn’t broken, don't fix it. However, that does not mean I can’t explore for improvements! Although our electronic repertoire of tools is ever increasing and there are some really cool  things that can excite us, we must not lose sight of for whom the tool should be exciting.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Engaging Our School Community Through Think and Make Workshops

Today's blogger is Leslie Preddy, Library Media Specialist (aka School Librarian) at Perry Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis. Perry Meridian Middle School is 1:1 utilizing Chromebooks and has a library makerspace. You can find Leslie on Twitter, Symbaloo, and Pinterest. 


I often embrace new opportunities and say yes, especially if it means new possibilities for my students and community. Just such a moment arose with the awarding of a Library Services and Technology Act grant through the Indiana State Library. Public and school libraries are eligible for these grant funds, and I received a grant to expand our school’s library programming and makerspace to develop and pilot Community Think & Make Family Workshops. 

During the evening workshop, families participate together, joining a community expert who shares his experiences and models skills. The guided community workshops provide students and families an opportunity to develop interests and skills; bonding through common learning experiences. Families apply what is learned into doing with the assistance of local mentors. Mentors could be clubs, older students, hobbyists, or committee members. For example, the Family and Consumer Science students were group leaders during our Cooking Think and Make. Through the workshops our students gained confidence, became inspired, independent, and developed new interests.

Perry Township Schools embrace the importance of community within the school. The school and school library are critical to a young person's school success, sense of well-being, and their commitment and engagement within the community. Families need opportunities to positively engage with the school through authentic learning experiences together. Integral to learning is sharing experiences, problems, solutions, and helping others. Due to the importance of our school places on meeting the ever-changing needs of our school community, we began hosting a series of successful STEAM workshops. We find this fun to coordinate, easy to replicate, and will take just a few steps to understand how to incorporate our successful Community Think and Make Family Workshops into your school engagement plan.

So what did we do? Nearly every month of the school year we hosted a two hour evening workshop for families on a specific STEAM topic. The year included workshops on flight, photography, cooking, picture book publishing, coding, gaming and game design, and comics. Workshops have been so well-received, we are already discussing plans for next years’ topics.

What do you need to get started? A committee chair and a committee of staff volunteers. Some of the initial planning for the year is most effective with a meeting, but once it gets off the ground, email and other virtual means of communication work great for the tweaks and fine-tuning while respecting people’s time. The chair will take the brunt of the responsibility for the planning, program development, registration, budget, and coordinating with the community experts and mentors. Committee members are a vital sounding board, copy editors, locate viable topic experts within the community, and give of their time to attend and help during the workshops.

The Basics

  • Students attend with at least one significant adult, or the whole family, for a tangible learning experience together.
  • This is an opportunity to expand interests and for families to engage in unfamiliar technology, equipment, and tools, or to use familiar technology, equipment, and tools in a new way.
  • Leading up to the evening, work with the community expert and committee to develop the evening's agenda, custom to fit the specific skills and expertise of the guest, the topic, and the interests of the community. 

Planning

  • Create a registration flyer to promote the event. If registration is open too late for our community, we couldn’t gather the momentum needed, but it was also difficult for our families to plan too far out so too much promotion time negatively impacted registration as well. We learned to promote and advertise two weeks out. Convert the flyer into a jpg and promote through the school’s social media channels, school newsletters, website, email notifications, and other modes of communication.
  • Allow for online registration, but we also let our families call, email, or personal note as not all our families have easy access to Internet at home. If we get an off-line registration, I enter it into the Responses Google Sheet to keep registration accurate. Keep the registration simple, like this template we duplicate, update, and publish for each workshop.
  • Prepare a Google Slides template. This helps guide all those who might be collaboratively planning the evening to dig in and add their own personal touches. We like using this as it helps all of us with the thinking for the evening. It is also a tool to coordinate pacing. In this way, all our committee and community volunteers can follow where we are during the evening and what’s to come next. For example, this is our workshop plan for our photography think & make. Sample Google Slides tempate
  • Work as a team to develop a take home resource guide. Your school librarian will be an asset as a local expert in OER (Open Educational Resources) curation. School librarians call a collection of resources a Pathfinder. It is a tool for the learner to find his own path to learning more about a topic after the workshop experience.
  • Have the next workshop flyer ready to pass out at the conclusion of the workshop. This allows attending families, excited by the evening’s experience, to register early for the next workshop.
  • Send an email for the upcoming workshop to committee members and registered families a day or two before the event. To protect privacy, send the email to yourself and BCC everyone else into the reminder. Example: 
General Outline for the evening:
We frontload the evening with the community expert introducing his experiences, how he became interested in the field, what he does, and how he does it. The rest of the evening is broken into chunks of learning to keep the evening at a fast and interesting pace. There will be about three 15-25 minute blocks. Each block includes learning a guiding or simple principle related to the topic followed by making and doing with that knowledge.

5:45 - School committee & mentors arrive
6:00-6:15 Community Expert arrives, practices with presentation tools, displays personal artifact
Committee arranges library tables, Smartboards, the theme’s library materials display, attendee learning packets with Pathfinder, prize drawing materials, bottles of water
6:15-6:30: Review/train committee, mentor volunteers
6:30-6:35: Greet attendees entering, prize drawing registration
6:35-6:40: Librarian: welcome & introduce guests
6:40-7:10: (20-30 minutes) Community Expert:Introduction and topic overview
7:10-7:20: Mentors: Activities Introduction
7:20-7:40: Think & Make rotation #1
7:40-8:00: Think & Make rotation #2
8:00-8:20: Think & Make rotation #3
8:20-8:30: Librarian: Thanks to participants, handout Pathfinder, overview of library materials display and checkout available at end of workshop
Community Expert (if in attendance) & Mentors: Q&A
Librarian: Next Think & Make announced, Prize Drawing (optional)
After the event, be sure to send a thank you and reminders to all who registered to attend, the committee, the community expert, and local mentors.

Tips to success

  • Use Google Drive to share and collaborate. Prepare a Google Folder for all to be able to share documents, contribute, and engage in the planning.
  • For attendance, think in wedding terms. Plan for everyone to show, just in case, but realistically expect your attendance to be 70% of those who registered.
  • Plan your first event with a community member you know well so that she is comfortable being the person with whom you might make mistakes as you learn how to host a successful workshop for your community. For that reason, we selected for our first topic Flight. We knew a former school librarian who is now a pilot and Youth Education Coordinator for the local Experimental Aircraft Association.
  • Utilize kick-start opportunities. If looking for activities for the evening, adapt pre-exisiting resources and lessons to your workshop needs. We purchased the 4-H National Youth Science Day Drone Discovery kits for our Flight workshop. This kit was incredibly helpful as we were just figuring out how to develop our program and it was a relief to have a starting point and be able to adapt the kit to our program needs. We had so much fun, we will consider upcoming 4-H National Youth Science Day themes for future workshops. (4-H newsletter sign-up)
  • Not much money? Think of topics that can be done with little or no money. For example, Cooking will be expensive due to the perishables needed. Conversely, by using the school technology, Coding could be no cost. Or coding could be very little cost added if you incorporate a coding unplugged into the think & make rotation.
  • Have flexible expectations for your community expert. Let the community expert engage in the manner he is comfortable. This could be an informative presentation, modeling a complex task, or leading the think and make sessions. Some of ours wanted to come in, do their thirty minutes and leave. Others wanted to do their field expert opening presentation and to stay throughout and engage, but not be responsible for leading any of the activities. Still others wanted to be engaged the whole time and were an active, integral part of the whole evening. It helps to work out what level of engagement he is comfortable with when meeting face-to-face.
  • Be date flexible. We tried at first to set it to a specific day of each month, but quickly learned from our mistake. The community expert is donating time and efforts, so work the event around his schedule and the school’s seasonal activities schedule.
  • The preliminary invitation and scheduling with the community expert can be done virtually, but meet with your community expert in person once they are confirmed. Meeting face-to-face will make them feel more appreciated and comfortable, and it provides an opportunity to get a better feel for her role for the evening. Share with her the general outline for the evening, the promotional flyer to approve, and copies of sample slide shows and handouts from a previous event as a guide to discussion and planning.

It was not possible to include every nuance in this blog, but hopefully enough to get your school inspired and start your own Community Think and Make Family workshops. I hope you enjoy the experiences, the learning, the community, the family engagement, as much as we do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Gaming in English Class

Glenn Seland is the English Department Chair at Fishers High School (a BYOD 1:1 school) He teaches AP Literature and Composition, IB Theory of Knowledge, Literature of Science Fiction, and IU Dual Credit courses W131 and L202.


I am not a gamer. In truth, I probably annoy the few real gamers I have known, because I want to explore the environments and every detail the creators of the game have developed. Gaming has largely been dead to me for the better part of a decade as I have raised a family, moved from Long Island, and worked as a department chairperson in my school. Life has been BUSY.

Then, my brother-in-law stayed with us for a while and with him, gaming returned. He introduced me to a game called Destiny. This is a massive, online, set in space, first-person shooter. I am not big on shooter games, but before long, I found myself immersed in the game – complete with headsets and all.

The game was, in every sense, addictive. It kept pulling me in to go deeper - explore more, achieve more. Soon I found myself questioning what was it that motivated me to keep returning to a game that never ends? While it probably varies from individual to individual, overall, I was able to identify a few key ideas: achievements and badges, open-choice worlds, and the ability to keep replaying until a mission objective is achieved.

Then my inquiry took a new direction: what if I set up a novel unit that mimicked these concepts? How might that increase student motivation? The game was afoot! I locked myself in my room and charted, mapped, and wondered how this idea could transfer into a reality in my classroom. I soon discovered there were already educators on this path, but the professional website that was most in-line with my ideal was somewhat costly. Instead, I decided to use materials already available to me or freeware.

I wanted to combine multiple intelligence learning, performance badges, inquiry-based projects, and mastery learning in one comprehensive unit. But it had to feel like a game. It needed characters, abilities, challenges, and quests. The idea of switching out tests and quizzes for quests was powerful – it unlocked a new level of teaching for me. It reshaped how I thought about our activities…and undid some of the “teachering” in me. I was freer to approach standards and tasks with a different frame, and it helped me to approach the unit as a designer or developer.

I chose a shorter novel as my game subject, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and then gave it a bit of a steampunk theme. With the help of my PS4, I introduced students to a few games that demonstrated the framework I was going to be using for this unit. Students who had never participated before jumped at the chance to play a video game in front of their peers. Then we jumped into the unit. It began with having the students establish a character for themselves and take a multiple intelligence test (figure 1) to help shape the projects they would eventually create.

Figure 1 Sample Multiple Intelligence quiz
The characters were meant to shape the types of projects and activities they could choose from as well as help to make it feel like a game (figure 2). I created character types like Time Travelers, Freelancers, Architects, Artisans, and Cyberpunks. Each “class” of student had different quests to choose from that fit their learning interests. Each quest had a name and a point value. Quests could be submitted and resubmitted until a student earned a mastery score. A mastery score would earn a student a badge of completion, which they could display and accumulate. Badges served two functions, one to indicate successful completion of a quest, but could also be awarded to students for things not usually recognized, like class leadership or teamwork. These badges also transferred into extra credit points at the end of a grading period. The more badges, the more extra credit.
Figure 2 Sample character page in OneNote

I particularly enjoyed creating badges for the students as it allowed for a good deal of creativity and the chance to recognize student achievement. There are numerous badge creating apps and sites to choose from, and I used several. Badges were also given titles like The Clone, or Big Idea (figure 3). The content/quest badges were directly linked to IDOE standards. I used the website Forallrubrics.com to create and house the badges. This site also allowed me to create and track mastery learning rubrics for my students’ grades.
Figure 3 Sample Quest with associated badges

The mastery learning rubric always provided feedback to students as to what they needed to do to get the score they wanted. It didn’t serve to assess what was wrong per se. This allowed students to resubmit and try again without the fear of failure. My students appreciated this tone within a rubric and activity.
Figure 4 Sample mastery rubric

After much of this initial introduction and setup, the class pretty much became a workshop for the novel where students created projects to reveal their learning focus and inquiry into the novel. Once the students caught it, it took off! I had students creating amazing projects. For example, one student identified through her MI test that she learned well through physical, natural, outdoor kinds of activities. She created a poster of all the flowers that appear in the novel and their symbolic meanings and impact on the scenes they appeared in. Other students created dances or modern art that revealed motivations and conflict within the main characters. Some of my bakers created symbolism cakes and presented them to the class. Another student used physics to calculate the amount of force used within a specific scene.
Figure 5 Sample student badges and achievements

It was actually difficult to keep up with the student work! It flew in faster than I expected. These inquiry projects, based on multiple intelligence data, and assessed with a mastery system, were creative, engaging, and insight-filled.

Of course there are things I learned along the way, like more specific guidelines for the learners who need more direction, and more refined pacing of deadlines and reflection activities. The level of freedom I offered was liberating for most of the students, but some needed more guidance or boundaries to move forward – baby steps! Even so, for a first run - or a beta - it was powerful and motivated my students beyond what I had hoped. Their increased enthusiasm was the end game, but it has also motivated me to refine and advance my design for the next level – a semester-long game.

Sites used:

Forallrubrics.com to house badges and mastery rubrics.
Openbadges.me to create badges.
Literacynet.org for the multiple intelligence test.