My Gamified Syllabus And Thoughts On The First Day Of School

For most in the great state of New Jersey, tomorrow is the first day of school. My classroom is going to look a lot different this year than it has in the past. This year I am realigning my teaching with the Common Core, placing heavy emphasis on technology, transitioning to project/problem based learning, using Google apps for school, and blending my classroom with Schoology. I am implementing a self-paced, mastery learning environment where students can “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD). My classroom will be partially flipped and totally gamified with achievements (badges), leaderboards, an 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) using Transmedia storytelling. Even now that list still intimidates me, but you gotta go big or go home!

On the first day of school, you won’t find any icebreakers in my class. We only have one middle school in our district, so most of my students have been classmates for years. Besides, I rather get to know them in a more genuine way than “Two Truths and a Lie” can provide. It takes time to build relationships. Where I want to spend my time is explaining my syllabus, then immediately getting feedback and pre-assessment data using Google forms for future use. Let’s take a look at that syllabus!

The syllabus is handed out in two parts. This first, more traditional, page of the syllabus is given out first and discussed. It may seem a bit tough, but that is the reputation I have (and want) as a teacher. When the kids are in my classroom they know they are there to work, all ninety minutes of class, from bell to bell. You can always lighten up as the year goes on, but it is a lot harder to get tougher. I tell my kids on the first day of school, “This is a benevolent dictatorship. I’m not your friend. I’m your teacher. It’s my responsibility to make you a better person, and I take my responsibility very seriously.”

Now, don’t take the last paragraph the wrong way; I’m not some monster to be slayed for xp. It’s tough love. I’ve actually been voted funniest teacher in the school the last four years, have very few behavior problems in my class (even when teaching the toughest students), and I think that i’m one of the most popular teachers in the school. Why? It’s funny; students will never admit it, but they want a disciplined classroom. They want structure, order, high standards, and hard work because a teacher who requires those things of their students is a teacher who cares about them. Don’t ever underestimate how important that is. It is the key to classroom management. Kids don’t learn from someone they don’t like or they think doesn’t care about them; relationships matter. This is why I’ve become a believer in the gamification theory of Blissful Productivity. Games and work that allows for mastery, is purposeful, rewarding, and autonomous, makes students happy and lets them know you care.

After my tough love speech, i’ll hand out the second page of my syllabus.

Here I tried to create a brief overview of what to expect in my gamified classroom. I tried to explain it matter-of-factly. I want my students to wonder. I don’t expect them to get it immediately, and I want them to have a lot of questions. In fact, I’m fully prepared for the initial emotional reactions to change: confusion and resistance. It’s one of the things I want to study this year. That’s why on the back of the second page of the syllabus, and periodically throughout the year, there will be a QR code for a Google form. With this form, I want to measure current feelings toward my gamified class and see how that changes over the course of the year. I also want to periodically collect data about their comfort level with technology, the lessons, giving presentations, how prepared they feel for life after high school, how well they think they can write, and how smart they think they are (among other things). This type of emotional intelligence stuff has interested me since I watched Waiting for Superman and learned that, when compared to the rest of the world, American students rank 29th in Science, and 35th in Math, but are 1st in confidence. Crazy!

So, hopefully my syllabus and thoughts on the first day of school will help you out somehow. As always, if you have any questions shoot me an e-mail, post a comment, or drop me a twitter bomb.

Until then,