Gotta Be In It To Win It

lightgrenadeWe always encourage our students to take a risk, but when is the last time you took a risk for them? With them?

As I’ve started to revolutionize my classroom, I’ve had to take a lot of risks. I’ve had to put myself out there in ways that I never thought I would because I realize now the things I want to do and have in my classroom will likely never be given to me; I have to the risk and go out and get them!

Sometimes the risks don’t work out, but when they do it’s so worth it.

If you remember, my students started a crowd-funding campaign to change their learning environment. Well, it’s time for an update:

We faced obstacle after obstacle to get the campaign off the ground both online and in my district.

After clearing a lot of hurdles, I got the go-ahead. Unfortunately, the time I had spent getting approval pushed the fundraiser into the summer. As those summer days ticked by, it became apparent my kids and I were going to fall far short of our goal. It seemed we would only raise $400 of our $6500 goal. An Epic Fail… until I got an e-mail.

A few weeks before the fundraiser ended, KI Furniture and Corbett Inc. sent me an e-mail letting me know they were so impressed with my students and what they had done, they wanted to partner with us on some projects and donate furniture to my classroom! Well the furniture arrived last week along with a few surprises for my kids.

KI and Corbett Inc. not only sent amazing desks, but bought my kids from last year, the ones who started the fundraiser, pizza and sent a camera crew to interview them for part of a larger national marketing campaign!

The chairs are amazing and have already changed business as usual in my class, which I will address another day, but the look on my students faces when they walked into my room to their hard-earned furniture, camera crews, and pizza was priceless. The pride they felt when they saw that they had still met their goal despite nothing going as we originally planned and taking way longer than we thought made me proud. Not because they were successful, but because they learned important lessons they won’t find in a textbook; lessons like perseverance, adapting, and change taking time. One student summed it up best when he laid eyes on the furniture, “I though we failed. I guess we didn’t.”

 

The crowdfunding campaign was a huge risk, but smaller risks can be just as meaningful. A quality, young director, Micheal D. Stern, produced a fantastic version of Poe’s Berenice that I wanted to show my class. The problem was I didn’t know Stern and had read that the short film was only available to film festivals. I tracked Stern down via Twitter where my students and I asked him if he would be kind enough to let us screen his film. He couldn’t have been nicer and more excited to send us a copy which arrived digitally a couple hours later. The film was great and kids were happy to have played a part in getting the resource for our class.

I’ll be taking another risk at the end of the month. My students and I have been invited to Tech & Learning’s Tech forum in New York. They heard about our Be About It project and student-run news program, Bengal Buzz, and invited us to come present on these passion projects. Even though we haven’t presented yet, this has already been such a positive experience that I put in to do it again at ISTE!

These risks fall outside the curriculum and my job duties, but are so valuable and rewarding I couldn’t imagine not taking them. Even when we fail miserably, we can still take something away from it and grow.

Takeaways are important. I like to find or have a takeaway in everything I do, so here are today’s takeaways:

1. Show don’t tell. When you want to take a risk, don’t go and ask for permission empty handed. Try to complete part of the project before you ask for permission. When I went to convince stakeholders that crowdfunding was legit, my students had already made the video. I was able to show everyone that we were taking it seriously and that the kids were emotionally invested in it. Had I gone empty handed, it would have been much easier to say no.

2. Always make your pitch student-centered. Talk about the benefits and lessons your students will learn, even if things don’t work out, first and often. Knowing they would be depriving students of a valuable learning experience is often enough to get the people in charge to say yes.

3. Recruit your parents. Before I take a risk or ask those in charge for permission, I get parents on board. Often, your students will do this for you. They’ll get excited about your big idea and run home and tell their parents about it, but making that positive contact home about something your excited to do with or for your students, even if it doesn’t work out, builds better relationships. It’s all about relationships.

4. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s still the best book ever.

Success is contagious. When you and your students have your first victory, it is the best feeling in the world. When other students, parents, teachers, community members hear about your success they will want to be a part of it or want to try their own version of it (Disclaimer: Haters Gonna Hate). Take a risk with and for your kids. You will be pleasantly surprised!

 

Until Next Time,

GLHF

It’s Time For Mastery Learning

lightgrenadeOnce upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t pass my drivers test. I wasn’t good at parallel parking to begin with, but as I waited for my instructor to pick me up I realized that I had been practicing on the wrong side of the road. I had been approaching the parking spot from the north when I should have been approaching it from the south. To be successful, I would have to mirror everything I’d trained myself to do and would only have two shots to get it right. Outlook not so good.

Once upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t do well on the SATs because I never took a strategy class, nor studied in any meaningful way. To add to the stress, my parents couldn’t afford to pay for college, so I needed to do well on the SATs to get a scholarship. Do poorly and I’d have to go to community college and live at home; not something I wanted.

Once upon a time, I was terrified that I wouldn’t pass my Praxis exam. I’ve never been a good test taker and to add to the stress I’d been offered a full-time teaching job contingent on passing the exam. If I failed, at best, they’d give my position away and I would have to sub for a year.

In these instances, one common thought helped me with the stress. “If I don’t do well, I can always take it again. It’s not the end of the world.”

It’s funny how that works. Drivers test, SATs, ACTs, Praxis, Bar exam, GREs, Civil Service test, the list of tests that you can retake until you are happy with your score is long. The one place you can’t retake things until you’re happy with your grade? School.

How much sense does that make? The place where you are supposed to learn the information and skills that are going to make you a productive member of society punishes you for not getting something right the first time fast enough. If you don’t understand something the first time, you are left behind, clueless, because the class has to move on whether you are ready or not. Time compounds this problem, especially in Math and Science, because how can you understand the next lesson when it builds on the first lesson you didn’t understand?

I believe my struggling students, especially the ones who have shut down or act out, do so because they have fallen so far behind it becomes impossible in their mind to catch up, so they give up.

You never learn, you fail the test.

You never learn, you fail the test.

You never learn, you fail the test.

You give up.

I’m sick of it.

Especially because this goes against everything we know about learning. We know doing reps, repeating the same action over and over again, create neural pathways in the brain which allow you to do things better and faster the more you practice. Meaning, failure is a big part of learning and if you want to, given enough time, you can learn anything.

I wanted to create a classroom where anyone who wanted an A could earn an A. I played with the idea last year and fell in love, so this year its become practice in my classroom: I created a self-directed, self-paced Mastery learning system.

To pull off this type of learning, to give each student the time and attention they need, you’re going to need a learning management system (LMS) to help blend your classroom.

We need to be teaching in blended classrooms. Why? Let’s take a step back because I need you to get it; I need you to get edtech. If you’re giving the same worksheet on an iPad that you use to give on paper, you don’t get it. You need to get that edtech evens the playing field. With edtech we can deliver a personalized learning experience for every kid in a way that used to be impossible. Above all else, edtech is about differentiation and the most important differentiator is time. In a student-centered, blended classroom there is way more time for everyone.

I teach on an alternating block. On the daily, my ninety-minute class usually goes something like this:

Kids come in and complete the Do Now which consists of the SAT question of the day and a journal (anticipatory set) while I take attendance and settle them in.

Next, I go over the Do Now and spend no more than 20 minutes on direct instruction or review using Pear Deck to help keep engagement up.

Finally, I release students into the wild to go work on their Level on Schoology.

Level is my gamified word for unit. I put all quests (work), all readings, everything online into Schoology. So yes, I’m still in the classroom, but they are learning online without me.

Putting everything online for students to learn, even though I’m in class with them, frees me up to move about the room to check-in with struggling students and build relationships. It gives every student the ability to move at their own pace and direction. Some students choose to watch videos in school and do the writing at home. Others choose to watch videos at home and do the writing in school, so I can help them. Many students, especially my struggling students, choose to do all their work in school because they know it won’t get done at home. Ultimately, they are learning how they learn best and directing themselves accordingly.

A level opens and locks on a certain date. In between those dates my kids can turn in the work anytime they want and resubmit work as much as they want until they are happy with their grade. When the level locks, students can still complete the work if they are willing to spend class currency. Self-directed, self-paced Mastery learning is enough to talk about on its own, so I won’t be talking about how it fits into my Gamified system. I just wanted to mention that part to stave off the “You’re still leaving them behind” hate mail. Trust me, kids can still complete work after a level locks.

Having a LMS like Schoology makes grading and re-grading a breeze. A lot of the work is self-grading and the work that I need to grade trickles in rather than everything being due all at once. Grading things as they come in allows me to give students near-instant feedback that is important to their learning and I’m rarely overwhelmed with grading now. Schoology also has a “compare versions” feature which allows you to see what changes have been made since students last submitted the assignment.

The feature that really makes Mastery learning possible is Schoology’s Student Completion rules. Completion rules allows me to create checkpoints throughout a unit for students to meet and I can check in on their progress with the click of a button. If I see a student is struggling or behind, I can check in with them immediately. Here’s what my latest student Completion Rules looks like:

studentcompletion

Currently, I’m scaffolding my Mastery levels around Bloom’s Taxonomy. There is room for improvement, as I’m still learning what works best, and I haven’t been able to find many resources on the subject, so, like learning, this is a trial and error process.

Here’s how I generally scaffold my Mastery levels:

Essential Questions and Overview – Every level starts off with essential questions I expect students to be able to answer by the end of the level, an overview of the work they must complete, and why the work they are doing is important to their lives.

Knowledge – This is usually a reading and/or flipped video that explains the very basics of what I’d like them to learn. They can watch or read the content as many times as they want, whenever they want, until they get it.

Understanding – I follow-up knowledge with a short, multiple choice assessment for understanding. They may take this assessment as many times as they want until they are happy with their grade. Thanks to Schoology’s Student Completion rules they cannot move forward in the level until they score an 80 or better on this assessment. A great new feature that I use in the Understanding section is Schoolgy’s Question Bank. I usually create 20+ questions, from which 5 are drawn and given at random to every student. That means every kid has a different assessment and if they retake it, they are never getting the same quiz twice. Because of this, students really have to show an understanding of what they know. They can’t just brute force the same assessment with the same questions over and over again. They now have to really Master the content before they can move forward.

Application – Next, I come up with fun ways for students to use their new knowledge. In the student-centered classroom, kids making and showing what they know is the name of the game. So, application is always a solo quest, meaning students work by themselves, and involves them making something. I’ve had students make infographics, Tweets as a character, screencasts, flipped videos, models, posters, board games, etc.. Any kind of fun, formative assessment will work for application.

Analysis – In my English classroom, analysis is some type of writing. Whether they analyze current events, craft an essay, or participate in Thunderdome (my version of a Socratic Seminar) students have to do research and answer tough questions. They have to begin to understand the why of what they’re learning.

Creation/Synthesis – This is where I will assign students a bigger group project with a more focused lens on something that really interested them in a level. They might have to make a documentary, reenactment, or something else digital often having to do with essential questions or the why from the analysis portion of the level.

Evaluation – I end my levels with a self-evaluation and thoughtful response on the essential questions. Since many of my levels set out to challenge their preconceived notions, I also like to ask how students thoughts and opinions have changed since the beginning of the level.

My students’ current Level is scaffolded like so:

  • Essential Questions
  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Application
  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis/Creativity (Group)
  • Self-Evaluation
  • Free Play

So, don’t be afraid to put multiple scaffolds of the same type in there and, to put the Level into a temporal context, I expect this level to be done in about two weeks. Here’s what it looks like in Schoology:

2014-09-29_16-00-56

If you adopt a Mastery classroom prepare for the following issues to come up:

Prepare an anchor for your students who move through a level faster than others. Free Play is an anchor activity where students get a chance to do something awesome in an attempt to show me what they learned. They can work with whoever they want, as long as they are done with the Level as well. I suggest five or six Free Plays, like make a working Native American weapon out of materials of your choosing or create a reality TV show featuring the Natives and Columbus where they hash out their differences, or students can come with their own idea for a Free Play. Free Plays cannot hurt their grade, only help it. A Free Play is also the only way to get an A in my class. If they do all the other work in a level perfectly, they’d only have a 92 (we’re on an 8 points grading scale). Why is it the only way to get an A?

Prepare for  some of your top students, their parents, and administrators not to get Mastery learning. An administrator asked me, “If everyone gets an A, don’t A’s become meaningless?” I’ve had similar questions, “If everyone can redo the work until they’re happy with their grade, what’s the point of trying hard the first time?” I’m still not sure how I feel about questions like those. I can see it from both sides. If a kid takes three weeks, doing the work over and over again, to get an A is it fair that the kid who completes the work right the first time, in half the time, also gets an A? It seems that some people can only have, if they feel like others have not. So, I compromised. Students who don’t complete a Free Play while the Level is open are not eligible for an A. I have no idea if this is the right decision or even good practice; I’m struggling and experimenting. Deep down, I want every kid to learn. If they are willing to put in the work, why don’t they deserve to get an A? Until we have perfectly tracked classes, schools tracked by ability, or fully personalized learning for every kid, this is the best system I can currently come up with.

Prepare for your low-performing students and their parents to love you. You are giving their kid the chance they need to be successful. I had a mom cry on back-to-school night when I told her this class just may be the first A her kid ever earns in school.

Prepare for homework issues to all but disappear. We know that some students do well in class and then fall apart when the work has to be done at home. If a student works hard all Level, all of the work can be completed in class during normal business hours.

Prepare to deal with kids as they learn time management. Most of my kids have no concept of time management. They wait until the last-minute to hand something in, forgoing the ability to redo it, no matter how many times I explain due dates mean due by not due on. It can be incredibly frustrating at times, but it is an invaluable skill that most eventually understand. I rather them learn the skill now rather than in the real-world.

Prepare to stop caring about grades. There is this weird phenomenon I’ve come across where teachers see a kid as a D student and won’t be satisfied unless the D student has a D. This system isn’t for those teachers. If the thought of your worst student getting an A upsets you, don’t try this at home.

Prepare for a few kids to abuse the system. Every system has people who abuse it. From welfare to gambling and everything in between, every system has its flaws and people who take advantage of them. This system is no different. If you are going to judge Mastery learning by the few who game the system and not the many who benefit, Mastery learning will fail to meet your expectations.

Prepare for choice-paralysis. Initially, some kids become paralyzed by the freedom they have in my class. The idea of working when they want and having a say in what they learn and how they learn it will cause some kids to shutdown. They will literally freeze in class, often staring into some unseen void, and leave having accomplished next to nothing. These kids need immediate intervention, so be on the lookout. The good news is, I haven’t had a kid yet that I couldn’t coach up and learn to work independently.

Prepare to hate your lack of technology. My class is BYOD with mediocre WiFi. In an ideal world, I’d be 1-to-1 with devices that kids could take home and I’d have amazing wireless in class. Basically, I wish I had a classroom that I know I’m never going to have. You too will say I wish, I wish, I wish, but I’ve learned my students and I have to make do with what we have. Find a way to be successful, not make excuses, because your students need you right now.

After all this, prepare to have kids who will still fail. Despite being able to redo work until they are happy with their grade, I still have students who fail. They refuse to do work and have no interest in even trying. I can still build relationships with these kids and we get along just fine, but they still choose to fail. I will say these types of kids have dropped to 3 or 4 from the 15-20 I had before Mastery learning, but it still happens and I don’t understand why. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out.

I don’t care about my kids’ grades, I care about their learning. Mastery learning allows me to deliver the time, attention, and relationships students need to be successful. To illustrate, I leave you with this: A few days ago my “low-level” students realized I’d grouped them together in Schoology with my Honors kids.

“Wait,” they said, “we’re doing the same work as Honors kids?”

“Yep.”

“That’s not fair,” they said.

“Why?”

“Because we’re not Honors kids.”

“Says who?”

“…”

“Have you been doing the work?” I asked.

“Yes”

“Successfully?” I asked.

“Yes”

“So if you’re doing Honors work successfully, what does that make you?” I asked.

“Honors Kids?” they said.

“Works for me,” I said.

We need to meet students where they are, not where we wish they were. Mastery learning in a blended classroom with a LMS allows me to do just that. Consider it.

Until next time,

GLHF

P.S. If you teach in a mastery classroom, I’d love to connect and collaborate. I’m so very lonely.

Gamify Your Class Level III: Badges

lightgrenade“Badges ruin students’ intrinsic motivation to learn!” I hear this or a similar intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivational worry every time I talk about Gamification. What people are trying to say is that they are worried about the Overjustification Effect. The Overjustification Effect is a real thing. It does happen. Just not all the time to everyone always like people seem to believe. It’s more a sometimes to some people under certain circumstances kinda thing which you can see in studies like this one, this one, this one, this one, and, most recently, this one. I believe, when used properly and creatively, badges do much more good than harm. I’m not an expert in psychology, but I use badges and they’ve worked wonders for me; I love them. From the people I’ve talked to, things I’ve read, and mostly my personal experience in a gamified classroom here are 10 things you can do to get the most out of badges in your classroom and put the Overjustification fears to bed.

1. Consider a name change. I call my badges Achievements because I like the idea of my kids “achieving” something. Additionally, badges seem to conjure the Boy Scouts while Achievements are better liked and understood by students since most modern video games use the term. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to rename and rebrand the idea of badges to make them your own. I’ve worked with many teachers who don’t call them badges or Achievements. I’ve helped teachers create Merits, Dailies, Crests, Sigils, Banners, and Marks. Consider rebranding badges to better fit your gamified classroom’s theme or narrative.

2. Few of your badges should reward performance. Doing well in class is its own motivation for many Achievers. You’ll notice too, if you reward performance too much a few students will runaway with the game which isn’t fun for anyone. In my classroom, badges are given when a student displays a Heroic Trait or completes a Heroic Deed. I try to reward the whole student with my achievements because, by building up their status, I tend to get more out of them; sometimes the best thing you can do for a kid is build up their self-esteem.

3. Try to make your rewards as concrete as possible. For example, my students get a badge for coming to class, handing in work early, or when the entire class completes a side-quest (homework). Those are obvious and easy to reward. Many teachers struggle because they want to reward students for things like being helpful or kind. Abstract ideas are hard to reward. How much kindness equals badge? Can you really reward every act of kindness you see? When a student believes they are acting kind or helpful or like a leader and the teacher doesn’t notice or see the act the same way as they do it can cause them to stop believing in the fairness of your badge system. Try to make badges as concrete as possible just like in a video game.

4. Badges should be handed out daily, if not immediately. Using Schoology, it takes me seconds to reward a badge. We know that feedback, which is a big part of what a badge should be, need to be handed out as close to the action it acknowledges as possible to be effective. The sooner you reward a badge, the better it is for the kid and they more likely they are to repeat the behavior or action.

5. Students must know why they’ve earned a badge. Another thing I love about Schoology’s badge system is that they have an area for you to write a message on the badge. I use this area to let students know what they did to earn the badge. If a students doesn’t know why they’ve earned a badge, the badge has no meaning.

earlybirdUnity

6. Display badges publicly. My data from the last two years shows ~50% of my sophomores reported checking other students Achievement profiles on Schoology. Kids like to see their achievements and that of their friends. Looking for a low-tech way to display badges or a great system for K-5 students? Buy baseball card holders and print out baseball card sized achievements (playing cards usually work too). Have students put them in three ring binders, on cubbies, or on the wall. When they earn a badge they get to run over and put in the holder! EZPZ. One thing I’m trying to work on this year is a way to announce who has earned what badges. I’m trying to find a way to do this without wasting class time, being annoying, or burning myself out. Hmmmmm.

Profile1

Schoology’s Profile Page

7. Have your badges translate into class currency. In a future update, I will talk about how powerful a class store can be when properly stocked with awesome items (not stuff!) for students to buy. In the meantime, know that having your badges turn into class currency will allow you to create an awesome class store and act as a behavior modification system that rewards positive behavior and ignores negative behavior. The harder the achievement is to earn the more currency it should be worth which means you should…

8. Differentiate your badges. Some badges should be super easy to earn. I give badges to every kid for completing a level (Unit). It doesn’t matter what grade they get on the level it just matters that they finish it. On the other hand, some of my badges are so hard that no one has earned them in two years. You’ll see this a lot in video games. Many games have insane achievements that few will ever get close to earning, but many love to try anyway. Try adding some insane achievements into your gamified classroom and see what happens! If a student doesn’t go the bathroom for a marking period: Bladder of Steel Achievement unlocked!

9. Create group and whole class badges. Rewarding kids when their group and/or class does well is a great way to motivate a student who may not otherwise know what it is like to earn an achievement on their own. Last year, a student wasn’t rewarded for doing homework in my class, but if the whole class did their homework everyone earned the Unity Achievement worth 50ap. My homework submission rate was almost 85% last year. I don’t know what it was before I created the Achievement, but it wasn’t even close to 85%. Additionally, group and class achievements can be used to create positive peer pressure. My school has attendance issues, so I’m rewarding students for coming to class this year. If a kid shows up they get a badge worth 10ap. If everyone in their group shows up they all get 25ap. If everyone in class shows up, everyone gets 50ap. What I’ve been seeing is when a student is absent their teammates and classmates encourage the kid to come to school. I’m hoping the data shows an uptick in attendance with this method and I have to keep an eye on it to make sure it stays positive, but I’m interested to see if this works. It worked with homework last year.

10. Have secret/hidden badges. Just put ??? under your secret badges and watch how quickly kids will try new and crazy things hoping to unlock a badge. This also gives you the chance to create badges of opportunity. I can’t begin to predict some of the things that will happen in my class. Sometimes a kid does something so awesome I have to give him a badge. Since I have secret badges I can pretend they’ve been there all along. I used this last year when a student’s creation went viral (my students always publish to a wider audience) garnering 7,000 views in two days. He was thrilled and I knew I needed to make a big deal about it, so I created the Viral badge and pretended it was always a secret badge. Secret badges are by far my students’ favorite type of badge to (try to) earn.

It is clear that intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation isn’t black and white, but gray. The reality is our best students don’t need badges or even Gamification to be successful. You’re best students will perform well no matter what system you install in your classroom. Gamification helps engage and motivate our at-risk learners especially minorities and males. Badges, in my opinion, are an important part of that engagement and motivation process for these students. Can badges zap a kid’s intrinsic motivation? Absolutely. It happens, but not nearly at the frequency people believe it does. I’m starting my third year using Gamification and I’ve never seen it, but I have seen the power that unlocking an Achievement has on a students self-esteem. Gamification is about bringing the bottom up and badges done well are an important part of that process.

Until Next Time

GLHF

 

*Riddle me this: how can those who oppose badges support a letter-based grading system? Isn’t an A just another type of badge?*

Getting My Game Up!

lightgrenadeA quick weekend update to let you know some of the changes I’m making to my gamified class this year. You can see my gamified class site at Saga City Learning.

Whenever I add new game mechanics to my class I keep two things in mind: the types of kids we teach and what motivates them. In order of most powerful to least powerful, what motivates kids (and everyone, really) is Status, Access, Power, and Stuff.

Status – means to raise the value or esteem of someone.

Access  – is the ability to have something not everyone can have.

Power – is the ability to have say over yourself and others.

Stuff – tangible… stuff.

And below, you will see the four types of learners I think we teach.

Learners

Keeping that in mind, here are the big changes to my gamified classroom this year!

The first mechanic I’ve added raises the Status of students and motivates my Gladiators and Achievers: the All-Time Leaderboard! It was difficult for me to come up with a prize for “winning” my class last year, but I decided an All-Time Leaderboard would be best. I’m going to take the top 10 from each leaderboard and put them on the All-Time Leaderboard to be remembered forever. This will continue year-after-year, so the board will grow to show the best players of all-time. I think this is a cool way for my students to remember my class even after they leave it. It currently uses their Learner Tag, but I may change it to their real names. When I told my winners they were going on an All-Time Leaderboard they loved the idea, so consider making an All-Time Leaderboard the big prize in your gamified classroom.

I want my gamified class to be a more cooperative place where students are happy for each other’s success instead of resenting it. To foster that, I created Perks! Whenever an individual student hits an Epic Milestone, the whole class will reap the benefits. For instance, when the first student earns 10,000xp, the whole class is rewarded with a 10%xp Booster on their next Quest! I think this will help motivate everyone especially my Socializers since Perks! add a benevolent benefit to doing well in class. Some of the Epic Milestones will be visible at the beginning of the year while others will remain hidden. Having hidden Perks! will motivate my explorers to try new and exciting things.

To go along with Perks!, I’ve added Powers! In class, when my students unlock an Achievement they earn Achievements Points (ap). How much ap they have determines their level in the game. I thought it would be fun and motivating to allow students to pick from a pool of powers every 10 levels. Some of the Powers! allow them Access to things they couldn’t do otherwise while some Powers! power-up Items they can buy in the Item Shop. I am eventually going to tier the pools when I have enough Powers! If you have any suggestions for more Powers! I would love to hear them!

I think portfolios are powerful tools for developing and showing growth, so I am going to use them in my class this year. I am going to use siteMaestro to make every kid their own Google Site. These Google Sites will act as a portfolio where I will expect students to push their creations to a larger audience and reflect on their learning. To fit the theme, I’m going to call them Quest Logs. While I know how I am going to make them and what I am going to have students put in them, I am not sure how I am going to grade them. Any suggestions, rubrics, and overall ideas on how portfolios fit into a larger grading scheme would be appreciated!

My school has big-time attendance issues. Just by gamifying my class, I’ve seen a ~20% increase in student attendance. What would happen if I added an attendance Achievement? Let’s find out! Every day a student shows up to class on time, they will receive 10ap. When their entire Guild (group) shows up, they will earn 25ap. If the entire class shows up, all students will earn 50ap. I like this idea for two reasons: 1) kids will get that important quick, positive feedback we know they need and 2) I think linking bonus ap to the attendance of others will add another layer of motivation for kids to show up. To compensate for the increase in ap this year, I’ve quadrupled the prices of Items in the Item Shop.

Speaking of, we have a couple new additions to the aforementioned Item Shop:

Stealth Mode!- Remove the penalty for being less than five minutes late to class (200ap).
*This Item is an automatic purchase. More than five minutes late, see Stowaway!*

Stowaway!- You may enter class even if you don’t have a pass (400ap).
*This Item is an automatic purchase*

You can see these Items are an automatic purchase. I’ve toyed around with the idea of an infraction system and this is what I came up with. If students don’t have the ap to buy the Item, then the suffer the full consequences of their infraction.

The last Item is one I am really excited about:

Raid!- A Raid Party must all buy into the Raid. Once locked in, If all Players earn an “A” on the Quest the Raid Party will earn (x) if all Players do not earn an “A” then (y) (600ap).

I love this idea, as I think it motivates all four types of students, but I am not sure what the reward and penalty should be. If you have any suggestions, again, I would love to hear them!

Finally, since it doesn’t deserve it’s own update, my Leaderboard Sheet and App have been updated to 1.2 and now features a much faster way to keep track of Items purchased in the Item Shop. You can read about why I love my Leaderboards here and see them live here. If you plan on purchasing, do so soon, as the sale ends shortly. Here’s a quick video to show off the new update:

That’s all for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these new additions since they are a work in progress. If you love the ideas, feel free to steal them.

Until Next Time,

GLHF

So It Continues…

Teched Up Teacher

One year ago today, I started this website to document my foray into what I believe the 21st Century Classroom looks like. This overhaul, I said a year ago, included “compliance with common core, heavy emphasis on technology, project/problem based learning, using Google apps for school, blending my classroom with Schoology, student self-pacing, a full Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program,  a flipped classroom, and gamifying my classroom with achievements (badges), leader boards, item shop, and what I believe to be the world’s first ever attempt to turn my students’ work into an Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

There’s a bit more to this story. I wouldn’t say this then, but I am willing to say it now: I wanted to quit teaching. Our broken education system had sucked the life out of me. Whether it was because of politics, administration, tradition, or a number of other things, I was struggling to provide my students with the education they deserved. I decided I would give it one last shot. I would change everything and do things my way. And if it didn’t workout, it clearly wasn’t meant to be; I would quit (or be fired) and find a new career.

One year later and I’m still here. This last year was the best in my teaching career. I loved going to work everyday and I think my kids loved coming to class. Look at some of this data from the end of the year:

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So, what have I learned in a year?

Goals in Review:

These were the goals I set for myself last year:

1. A textbook free classroom
2. A paperless classroom
3. Lecture for no more that twenty minutes
4. Group/self-pacing units
5. Increase competition between student
6. Increase student engagement
7. Give a TED talk at the end of the year

A textbook free and paperless classroom:
While my classroom is mostly paperless and textbook free, I set these goals for the wrong reasons. I wanted a paperless, textbook free classroom because all the cool kids were doing it. What I understand now is, it’s not about being paperless or textbook free, it’s about giving choices. The textbook is good for some things and some students like paper. The more choices I give, the more students I can reach. The more students I reach, the more they will learn.

Lecture for no more than twenty minutes:
I’m happy I set this goal. It forced my class to become student-centered. It forced me to flip my classroom (my way) and try new things like the Be About It project. Both my students and I are happy I took myself out from the front of the class and let them take charge.

Group/self-pacing units
Failed miserably. I didn’t get it. Things will be different this year.

Increase Competition and student engagement.
As outlined here, I leaned on Gamification to increase engagement and competition in my classroom, but, again, it was the focus on being student-centered that had the biggest impact on student engagement.

Give a TED talk:
I was nominated by a couple colleagues and quickly rejected from all TED events. It’s cool. I’m not mad at you, TED.

What about the other aspects of my overhaul?

Technology in the Classroom:

I learned EdTech is another weapon in a teacher’s arsenal used to reach every student as they fight the war on apathy. Technology is not a learning outcome. It started out rough, but I am thrilled with the use of technology in my classroom. My kids did a great job with the tools they had and I’m proud of how EdTech eventually drove learning outcomes. What EdTech made the biggest differences?

Schoology - On the left is MP1 data on the right is last day of school data.

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I’m so glad I went with Schoology as my LMS! I mean, look at those numbers! 100% of my students said Schoology was easy to use and had a positive impact on their learning! 100%! I’m not sure if my kids would be able to pinpoint why it had a positive impact on their learning, but I think it had to do with Schoology’s ability to allow for differentiated instruction. Students’ received different assignments to best meet their needs, but the best part was students didn’t realize they were sometimes doing different work than their peers. They were getting a personalized education!

I also think Schoology helped created a positive learning community. Students were able to contact me or each other at anytime, had an area where they could just hangout, and were grouped into one massive classroom which allowed for more collaboration. We were learning together and it was fun!

If you haven’t heard, Schoology just rolled out some killer updates and have more coming. There’s no doubt that Schoology will be the HQ of my classroom again next year and for many years to come!

Schoology 12

They’re also awesome people!

BYOD - My class went BYOD and used Google Apps for Education for collaborative learning.

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I love BYOD and I’m glad I implemented it. My kids never forgot their devices and treated them with respect because they owned them. Having different devices meant we had to get creative and learn what each device was good at. I also liked how BYOD had students sharing and trading devices to best meet their needs. Diversity is a good thing. If everyone was 1:1, I think that extra level of collaboration and togetherness would be missing. BYOD will be back this year.

GAFE also enhanced this collaboration. We were constantly working together this year and I loved it. I am happy with how students grew in this area over the year. On the left is the first marking period, on the right is the last day of school.

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These graphs are about more than technology. They’re about growth. Students learned a whole new way to learn: together. My favorite part? On the first day of school, 33 students said they were already comfortable with technology. On the last, 17. Meaning many students realized they had more to learn. That is an important realization for them to make. There is always more to learn and it is important to realize we are preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist yet. Being tech savvy is an important skill to possess.

My school wasn’t a GAFE school at the beginning of my quest, so don’t think you have to be in one to use GAFE in your class.

Gamification:

Despite some systemic flaws, I love Gamification and am glad I implemented it the way I did this year. I think it does a great job motivating and engaging students, especially minority males, and I will be rolling it out again for this coming school year with even more features. You can read more about it in my Gamification Data Dump.

My Alternate Reality Game went well, too, but I think I can do better. I want to get more kids playing, longer. Below you can see participation rates. On the left is data from the end of marking period 1 and on the right is data from the last day of school.

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I had kids and then I lost them! I need to explain the ARG better in the beginning and I have developed some new ways to keep students playing throughout the year. I’ve written my new game, N.O.M.A.D, to include less characters who are more interactive. I’d like to have 50% participation rate at the end of the year.

Prediction: I think this will be the year of the Alternate Reality Game. When I started mine, few were talking about ARGs and even less were actually running one. It felt very lonely. Now, I’m seeing a lot of people playing around with the idea in one form or another. I’m also lucky enough to be involved with Pearon’s eLearning team and their “Alternate Reality Learning Experience.” I predict Alternate Reality Games are going to become mainstream in the next couple years. Just wait and see how many teachers are trying to figure out what Ingress is this coming school year.

Surprise of the Year: Twitter

Simply, you need to be on Twitter. I never thought I would get as much out of Twitter as I have.

selfie11 selfie40 selfie9000

I loved showing off the amazing things my students were doing. Both parents and students loved seeing the feed which added to our positive learning environment.

I also used Twitter to develop a PLN of educators to collaborate with. I’ve made some great friends who have helped shape me as an educator. I also used Twitter to ask them for help. Never once was I left hanging. Twitter seems to be a world of talented teachers just waiting to help.

I also reached out to companies, too. Not only was I able to bring a lot of free technology into my classroom, but I found a solid core of companies who took a personal interest in my kids and me. The folks at Backchannel ChatCurriculet, Schoology, Tech & Learning, KI Furniture, Corbett Inc., No Red Ink, and Google Education all played a huge part in making my classroom a better place to learn.

A story that best sums up the power of Twitter: Awesome director Michael D. Stern made a short film version of Poe’s Berenice. It looked amazing, but was brand new and only entered into a couple contests. I reached out to Stern and told him I had a group of high schoolers who just read Berenice and would love to see his version. He responded immediately and, within a few days, I had a copy of Berenice to show my class. In return, my students wrote reviews and offered testimonials as to the quality of this AMAZING film.

Twitter was a pleasant surprise that made me a better teacher, and I encourage every educator to get on it and grow a community of quality teachers to call their own.

Highlight of My Year: Google Teacher Academy

GTA ATL
Google Teacher Academy was amazing. It was one of the top three experiences of my life. I can see why some call it the greatest professional development on the planet. What makes it so special are the people. From the Googlers who hung out with us, to the leaders who facilitated the event, to the members of my cohort, everyone was so awesome and taught me tons. It is an experience I’ll never forget. You can read about some of my cohorts’ experiences here and here.

Things I Noticed This Year:

I love doing PD and speaking at conferences. I don’t know why, but I have a real passion for it. I’ve done close to 50 since my first one in November. I think I may be addicted.

ISTE is insane.

It use to take me an hour to make a five minute flipped video because I was so self-conscious. Now a five minute video takes five minutes! I use to proofread these posts for days. Now just a few times. Why? I’ve gotten over my fear of failure. I still don’t think I’m a great writer, nor the best teacher. The difference is now, I’m OK with that. The room to grow is constant and learning is life long. If I mistakes, I just learn from them and move on. Done is better than perfect. I’ve become much more productive now.

I’ve gotten over my fear of success. I take more risks now than ever before because I believe in myself now. This year, especially Google Teacher Academy, was validation that I’m on the right track. I can’t wait to invent and develop new ways for my students to learn.

I just turned thirty. I am consistently one of the youngest teachers in attendance wherever I go. While it has it’s benefits, like teachers trying to fix me up with their daughters, I can’t believe how many young teachers either don’t know or don’t take advantage of great learning opportunities. Get out their young folk!

The best behavior management is a student-centered lesson.

This Year’s Goals:

1. Full year self-paced, self-directed mastery learning.
2. Implement student portfolios.
3. >50% Participation in N.O.M.A.D. at the end of the year.
4. Keynote a conference
5. Ted Talk

Finally, I’m unveiling my new logo even though it’s a work in progress! Last year it was make learning better for my students or quit. This year it’s make learning better for my students or die trying. I think my new logo captures that:

lightgrenade

Thanks to everyone, everywhere. You made this year one of the best of my life.

Until Next Time,

GLHF

Gamify Your Class Level II: Leaderboards

logoAfter creating a Total Points XP Grading system, the next step in creating a successful Gamified classroom is implementing Leaderboards. By popular demand, I’ve made my leaderboards available for purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers. My leaderboards build on the work of the amazing Mike Matera (@mrmatera), who is someone you should be following if you are into Gamification. Leaderboards fill a necessary niche in a Gamified classroom: leaderboards raise the status of all students and motivate Gladiators and Achievers.

We teach four kinds of kids:

Learners

Briefly, Gladiators are extrinsically motivated students who need a crowd to be engaged. Gladiators are outgoing and full of personality. They are often intense and despise losing. Gladiators enjoy showing off, being the center of attention, and love competition. Achievers, on the other hand, are intrinsically motivated students who love concrete measurements of success. Simply, your Achievers are obsessed with grades, rank, and success. Achievers ARE their grades. Achievers don’t usually talk about their obsession unless prompted, and they often feel nothing they do is ever good enough. Both Gladiators and Achievers love leaderboards!

People are motivated by Status, Access, Power, and Stuff. Achievers and Gladiators love leaderboards because it provides them Status. Status is the social value of someone or something and is the strongest motivator. Gladiators and Achievers enjoy having their social value raised by being on top of a leaderboard because it is a clear-cut, public display of their skill. It provides competition for Gladiators and rank for Achievers. Being the best or winning, even though it confers no physical rewards, is often enough to get Achievers and Gladiators to be more engaged and motivated in the classroom. To see my own personal data on just how strongly Leaderboards can motivate students, check out my Gamification Data Dump.

I provide a place on my leaderboard for Learners Tags.

learnertag

Learner Tags allow you to keep a student’s real name private. One of the things I didn’t expect was students’ using their real name as their Learner Tag. I remember asking one of my kids why they did that. Like a true gladiator he responded, “I want everyone to know who is kicking their ass!”

leaderboardxp

Above, you can see I have a section for the Total Points XP Grading system that turned out to be the most popular feature of my class. If you divide a student’s XP by the Total Points in the red box at the top of the column, you would get their grade. This is why I made Learner Tags. Kids enjoy finding their place on the XP Leaderboard graph:

pvpxp

I polled my students throughout the school year, and many said that even though they were not on the top of the leaderboard they made it their mission to pass someone on the leaderboard or increase their rank. I also have plenty of anecdotes of low-ranking Gladiators taunting their friends who were even lower. People will always find a way to confer Status, even if it’s someone rank 31st teasing their friend who is 40th or just being in the top 10. Finally, someone at a conference pointed out how late the curve comes in this graph and said it was a sign of a successful system. That made me feel good.

Tracking students’ XP is the most basic form of a leaderboard. The XP leaderboards only raise the Status of some students. That is why I put students in Guilds (groups) and pit classes against each other.

leaderboardguildclass

Putting students in Guilds and ranking them by class allows for more students to have their Status raised. The Guild who won the Guild vs. Guild competition were not all in the top 10 on the individual leaderboard, nor was everyone who won the Class vs. Class competition, but they still were able to experience the joy of winning in some fashion.

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My favorite part of my leaderboard is the Level leaderboard:

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The XP leaderboard is based only on grades, but my Level leaderboard takes into account the whole student. Students unlock Achievements in my class by doing amazing things and displaying Heroic Traits; few of my Achievements have anything to do with grades. When a student earns an Achievement, the Achievement has an attached Achievement Point (AP) value. A student’s Level is determined mostly by the amount of AP they have. This AP can in turn be used to buy thing from the Item Shop. The students who sit on top of the Level leaderboard might not be on top of the XP leaderboard, but you better believe they are some of the most helpful, kind, caring kids in my class. I love raising the status of these types of kids because far too often their skill set doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Being a good person is important and the Level leaderboard rewards that! In life, grades only get you so far.

pvplvlWhen people at workshops and conferences bring up the fact that a leaderboard can sometimes demotivate the lowest performing students, I like to point out that my kids can gain Status with my leaderboard not just through performance on the XP leaderboard, but by being part of a Guild, Class, and through the Level leaderboard. A good Gamified class goes beyond a straight performance-based leaderboard. Guild, Class, and Level leaderboards are how you get the most out of every kid. If you buy my leaderboard, and you don’t like the XP leaderboard idea, just hide that section on the Google Sheet!

I won’t bore you with the inner workings of my Leaderboard. If you are into that kind of stuff and want to see the Badge/Achievement system and how the Google Apps Script makes dispersing, tracking, and trading currency a breeze I will provide the Tutorial Video for the Leaderboards and App.

 

 

Setting up the Sheet and App takes about 45 minutes. Don’t be intimidated by the number of sheets or 600 lines of code. It really is easy to set up and once you get how the system works, you’ll fall in love. I will offer this caveat, though. Because of the Script, my Leaderboards are not very flexible. You can’t add extra columns or move things around unless you want to go back and rewrite the code. I am working on an FAQ for advanced users who aren’t afraid to fiddle with code, but, as of now, my leaderboards are very much a “what you see is what you get” product.

So, again, here is a link to the Leaderboards on Teachers Pay Teachers. Here is what the leaderboards look like when you embed them.

If you are serious about gamifying your class you need leaderboards for the Status they confer and the Gladiators and Achievers they motivate and engage. My leaderboards will help you take that next step.

Next time we’ll talk about Achievements!

Until then,

GLHF!

 

 

Postmortem: Gamification Data Dump

game-onI thought I would dump my yearlong Gamification data, side-by-side, and give my thoughts. This is the first side-by-side comparison I’ve done on my data, so let’s do it together!

First, I must apologize. Like an idiot, I accidentally deleted my third marking period data. I can say, though, it showed a general continuation of MP2. A few percentage points growth/decline in either direction. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think losing MP3 data matters too much, but I’m still pissed at myself. I also have to apologize for my Photoshop/WordPress skills. It’s hard to get all these questions side-by-side on WordPress. They don’t want to play nice together. Note: having the Hover Free extension will make reading this a lot easier. It’s one of those must have extensions!

So, that being said, let’s get after it!

I polled my students’ initial reaction to my class being a game on the fist day of school. Here’s what they said:

MP0-0 MP0-01
Here is the first set of questions I asked, spread over four (three) marking periods. Again, I screwed up and deleted MP3!

mp1-10

I added the “prefer xp grading system” question in the 2nd MP. I am happy with the results and it confirms the anecdotal evidence I received from students: the XP grading system and class item shop was their favorite part of class.

Next up:

MP-12

Above, we see a slow decline in the first figure, but I’m happy that most of my students enjoy the leaderboard, as most rate their experience between 7-10. I stopped updating the leaderboard daily because it became too much work. That would explain the move toward checking the leaderboard “when it’s updated.” We see a steady increase in MP1-3 when it comes to the importance of position of leaderboards until the last marking period. Even at it’s worst, 70% of my kids caring about their position on a leaderboard is a big win for me and their grades which, acnecdotally, are seven points higher than my five year average!

Next:

MP-13

Again, as is the trend, we see general growth until fourth marking period. I honestly believe that MP4 scores are lower because I literally took the data on the last day of school after their finals. I really believe my students were just burned out on school in general. Again, I’m happy with the adoption/onboarding principals in the above figures. My “Gladiators” held steady throughout the year in bragging about their leaderboard position. The extra motivation students got from the leaderboard is a huge plus as it cost nothing and didn’t take much extra effort. I would say I spend an hour a week on the leaderboard. An hour time investment for 70% adoption rate, that’s awesome! My homework submission rate was roughly 85% this year. I don’t know what it was last year, but it definitely was 85%. I think the unity provided by the Guild and Class leaderboard made a big difference.

Next:

MP-14

Even at it’s worse, 70% of my kids were motivated by the leaderboard to continue to do better! Such a simple addition to class that made a big difference. We also see growth in the last question, Guild’s position on the leaderboard, until MP4.

Next:

MP-15

Again, we see growth in some areas, but a general slide in others. The numbers still make me happy!

Finally:

MP-16

Now, this is the stuff dreams are made of! I added questions as the year went on, so they don’t line up, but follow my obnoxious guide lines! Across the board, students are learning a lot. I added this question because I had people arguing that students don’t learn in a gamified classroom. Over 70% of my kids would rate my class a 9 or a 10! In MP2, I added a question about coming to school. Anecdotaly, I was noticing students coming in late “just for my class.” We have big-time attendance issues at my school, so am I’m happy to report students not only came to my class, but came 20% more often than to their other classes; they missed my class 20% less than their other classes! I love the next question, about learning in a gamified classroom. I won students over! We see a steady increase between MP2 through MP4, so those reluctant at first, eventually came around!

Overall, I am thrilled with how my gamified classroom went! I think it was an epic win! I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot, which means next year will be even better!

I encourage you to draw your own conclusions and point out things I might have missed. I’m far from a data expert (I teach English!), so any feedback will be valuable. Also, please suggest better questions or better wording to make next year’s data more valuable.

Finally, I have update my gamesite! TwentyTwenty is no more! Forever and always, Saga City Learning will be the home of both my gamified classroom and my classroom Alternate Reality Game! Check it out!

Until next time,

GLHF!

 

IndieGoGo Go!

starIf you haven’t heard, my students’ IndieGoGo campaign has gone live! We are both excited and nervous. It seems we’ve become a test case for the education community. I’ve received a lot of e-mails from teachers who say they are watching and waiting to see how our IndieGoGo campaign goes. If we are successful, it seems many teachers would like to do something similar for their own classroom. If we fail, I suppose we fail alone.

No matter what,  I’m happy with my students’ efforts and stick-to-itiveness. There were many opportunities to tapout, but they did not take them. There were many opportunities to give up, but they kept going. They could have thrown in the towel, but they decided to fight. I’m proud of them.

If you would like to donate to our campaign, that would be awesome. If not, sharing our campaign would be awesome too. Either way, this social experiment has been one of my proudest moments.

Thank you!

Be About It Project: Student Perspective

SunsetLandscape72If there is one thing I hate about high school, it’s the projects. Nothing gets me more annoyed than an assignment sheet filled with directions on how to create your own poster for an Edgar Allan Poe story. For me, it’s much simpler to take an hour long test than partake in a week long project. So when I first got the Be About It project, it was safe to assume that I was wary about it. I mean, a year long project? This teacher must be insane. But as I read on, I learned that this wasn’t your average English class project. We could choose to do anything we have ever wanted and actually do it. I knew my teacher was actually insane at the point. No limitations, no rules, no directions, it was unlike anything I’ve ever been assigned in school. When I realized this, I warmed up to the idea. 

My original goal for the project was to write a novel and send it to a publisher. The only problem being that I am not a novelist and most publishers cost up to $500 to just look at your work. My mom won’t give me money for the movies half the time, let alone a few hundred for a editor to scan over my story. So, I changed up my project. After weighing my options, I decided to write a short story and send it to a free, online publisher. My product was an eight page short story called Sunset. I submitted it to the online publisher, TeenInk, and hoped for the best. Honestly, I didn’t really expect anything fantastic from them. Maybe a participation award at most. But about a week after submitting, I received an email stating that my story had won #1 readers and #1 editor’s choice in their Sci-Fi category! It was insane because someone, who wasn’t my friend, was telling me that my writing was decent. Those awards were a huge confidence boost because it showed me that I am actually good at writing and not just another teenager with a pen. It allowed me to look into the future and see a successful writing career. 

When the project was over, I was actually upset to see it go. In my high school career, I can almost guarantee that I will never have an opportunity like this again. This was far more than just a poster board on Poe’s writing or a display on Holden Caulfield, this was real, hands on, life-experience. It taught me that it’s okay to fail, as long as you get back up afterwards. If I had just accepted that I wasn’t a novelist, Sunset would have never been written. Getting knocked down is the easy part, getting back up is what’s most difficult. This project is something that I won’t throw out at the end of the year, along with all my binders. It’s something that I am going to always remember and grow from. In a year, I won’t remember all the essays I wrote or the tests I took, but I can safely say that I will remember this for years to come. It opened doors to the literary world that would have been shut had I not done this project. They say that the journey there is far more important than the destination. This project proves that.

~Alanis

Alanis is sixteen and awesome. Whether you call it Genius Hour, 20% Time, or make your own version like me, you owe it to your students to try something like this

Until Next Time,

GLHF

Don’t Just Talk About It…

1up6/18/14 – Update: The Asbury Park Press wrote a nice article about the project here! and my one of my students guest-blogged the experience here!

I don’t remember when my friends and I started to say it, but I’m pretty sure it was in high school. It is our go to trash-talk statement, the ultimate challenge. During pick-up football or speedball, in the classroom or at the beach, it didn’t matter. Still to this day, if you are around us long enough you’ll hear someone say it: Don’t just talk about it, be about it!

At some point, this saying became part of my life’s philosophy. I think I like it so much because it really is the ultimate challenge. It’s one thing to say Carpe Diem, but another thing to seize it. It’s one thing to say always do what you are afraid to do, but another thing to do it. It’s one thing to say YOLO, but another thing to… YOLO it. In life, it seems many people are comfortable talking-the-talk, but hesitate when it comes time to walk-the-walk.

I hear this all the time from students: they want to do this, they want to be that, but when I ask them what they are doing to make it happen, too often they shrug. Thus the Be About It project was born.

In the beginning of the year, I told my students they had a yearlong project. What they did for this project was totally up to them. They could do whatever they want, with whoever they want, whenever they want, however they want. The only think I asked them is at the end of the year they got up on stage in front of everybody and give a TED-style presentation about what they did, why they did it, and what they learned. “Chances are there is something you’ve always wanted to do, something your passionate about, so here’s your chance to not just talk about it: Be About It!”

Some of my kids loved the idea, others were paralyzed by choice and hated not being told exactly what to do. I made it worse: so long as they checked in with bi-monthly (video) journals and got up on stage, whether their project was a failure or not, they would get an “A.”

So over the course of a school year, students worked on their project. Last week, in front of a big audience, 72 kids got up on stage and presented 58 Be About It projects. I couldn’t have been more proud of them.

I’ve made a Supercut of many of the presentations. I edited it into one big presentation. I love this Supercut because it shows just how much they learned. Listen to the life lessons and words of wisdom coming out of the mouths of sixteen-year-olds.

Some of my favorite projects:

Three of my girls volunteered over 300 hours and made a documentary about their experience. I was blown away. They volunteered locally and abroad. They went as far as Costa Rica, without parents and cellphones, to serve!

Another student explored her passion: tattooing!

Alyx sent care packages to soldiers serving in Afghanistan, one of whom was her father. We were lucky enough to have Alyx’s father join her on stage to talk about the meals soldier’s eat in Afghanistan and how much care packages mean to our soldiers. Not a dry eye in the house.

After the presentations, for their last BAI journal on Schoology, I hit my kids with a plot twist: That’s it. It’s over and you all did a great job! Now for the Plot Twist: I want you to think about your project, not just today, but over the course of the whole year. I want you to think of success and failure, overcoming adversity, effort, and life lessons. When you’ve reflected on your BAI Project and what you learned, I want you to grade yourself out of a 1000 and explain why you gave yourself that grade. Your grade will be your grade. It will go in the gradebook. I’ve also set it up so you can’t see what anyone else writes until you submit your (video) journal. Have fun! 

Again, I was so proud to see what they wrote. Many lessons were learned.

Whether you call it Genius Hour, 20% Time, or make your own brand like I did, you owe it to your students to let them explore their passions and learn about themselves. Show them that learning is life-long, self-directed, and rarely successful on the first attempt. Chances are your students have something awesome they’ve always wanted to do, we just have to get out of their way.

Until next time,

DJTAI,BAI

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