Gamification: Problem Solving in the Fifth Grade Classroom

You might recall that I’ve been working with Rachel Cheafsky to gamify her 5th grade classroom using the technology she has available to her. Well, Rachel has been killin’ it! Last time, she wrote about achievements in the fifth grade classroom. This time, Rachel wanted to check in and write about her latest gamification revelation!  Here’s Rachel:

I am a halfway into my first year using Chris’ gamification system.  It has been fantastic! The best part about it, besides how it has made the climate of my classroom more positive, is that new game mechanics can be brought into the class at any time. For instance, when I run into a problem in my class, I can create a new game mechanic to help build a solution that my kids love. For example, here’s how we helped students learn to better stay on task and self-monitor their volume using Task Master:

Throughout the day, I see two classes with 25 students each. Since gamifying my class, my kids are more motivated and engaged than ever. This is great, but sometimes that motivation and engagement can cause a bit too much excitement: the classroom volume can become way too loud. Additionally, even though students are more engaged, I still have students who need to be refocused and encouraged to complete their Quests (gamification isn’t a silver bullet). I wanted to use gamification to come up with a better, positive way to help kids self-monitor their volume and better stay on task.  

Two weeks ago, I was monitoring my much louder class’ independent work. Students were working hard, on task, and talking at reasonable volume. Everyone was following expectations. It was a perfect! I knew I had to build on this moment and unleash a secret achievement. I stopped my kids and said,  “the class has unlocked a secret achievement!” My kids love to unlock secret achievements because they can earn AP for trying new things and thinking outside the box. I love secret achievements because it lets me use positive reinforcement to solve problems. It’s fun watching students use divergent thinking each day in an effort to discover these secret achievements. I let the kids know how impressed I was with the way the entire class was working. As a class, I asked them what we should call the secret achievement for when the class is working hard and focused. They decided to call it Task Master.

Chris always says that achievements have to be concrete to be fair. You can’t reward a kid for helping because helping isn’t measurable, but you can reward a kid for performing the actions that helping requires. So what does Task Master look like and what is the concrete criteria for it to be earned?

Chris and I had planned the idea for Task Master last month. Task Master is a new event that is played all week and is won by one class every Friday (Chris says: I’ll be talking about events in the second part of The Gamification Guide, which is 75% done!). I created a chart called Task Master and hung it up in the front of the room. One half of the chart is for my first period class’ points and the other half is for my second period class’ points. The first way for the class to win Task Master points is for the secret student to be on task:

Period 2’s secret student was on task!

Before my kids arrive, I put a sticky note on the board, upside down, with a student’s name on it.  At the end of class, I reveal the name on the sticky note and announce if that student was on task based on the criteria the students and I came up with. If they were, they earn their class two Task Master points! The accountability within this achievement is amazing because the students generally don’t want to let each other down. Students try remain on task in case they are the secret student for that particular period.

Let’s not forget about my other problem, volume! This is the other half of the Task Master event. During independent work, I load a volume sensing app Chris made for me on Scratch (Chris says: I remixed and modded an app on Scratch. You can find it here, if you’d like to use it). I plug in a microphone, set the sensitivity, and project the app onto the board. The app monitors the class’ noise level.  When they are too loud and it goes into the red, an alarm sounds.  When the alarm sounds, the opposing class earns one Task Master point. For example, if first period sets off the alarm three times, first period doesn’t lose points, but second period gets three Task Master points. We decided to award the opposing team points because it keeps the game engaging the entire period. If students only earned a point at the end of class for not setting off the alarm, as soon as they set off the sensor, the game wouldn’t matter anymore; there is no longer an incentive to keep their volume down. By giving the opposing team a point when their class it too loud makes Task Master always matter.

I’ve been using Task Master for two weeks and it has already changed my life!  The students are more on task and the volume already has gotten so much better.  They are taking ownership of their own behavior and even monitoring each other in a positive way since they’re all on the same team. The days of stressing over noise seems to be long gone! They are still excited by gamification, but now they are also excited to beat the other class and earn the Task Master achievement, worth 50ap, on Fridays.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

The beauty of achievements in my system is that they can reward kids for displaying heroic traits, completing heroic deeds, push kids out of their comfort zone, and, as in Rachel’s case, act as positive reinforcement for classroom management. Instead of using negative reinforcement, my achievements can be used to reward students each and every time they meet a teachers expectations encouraging the behavior to become habit. For example, like Rachel, I had a problem. I was sick of students doing Slides presentations. How many Slides can one teacher stand?! I pushed kids out of their comfort zone and solved this problem by creating the Outside the Slide achievement. Students could still do a Slide presentation, but if they gave a presentation that didn’t use Slides they earned the Outside the Slide achievement and the AP that comes with it! Soon, students were coming up with new, exciting ways to show me what they’ve learned. Thinking outside the slide became a habit and everyone was happier and more engaged by the new, creative presentations. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of achievements and gamification in your classroom!

Until Next Time,

GLHF

Applying Nudge Theory to the Classroom Part I

slide2If I weren’t an educator, I would want to be a behavioral scientist. I find the field to be fascinating. Knowing what makes people tick and why they do what they do has always interested me. One of my favorite concepts in behavioral science is nudge theory: the idea that instead of forcing people to do something they don’t want to do, we can gently nudge them into making better choices often just by changing the way we present the choices to them.

As I read books, research, and listen to podcasts about nudging, I always try to imagine what the nudges being discussed would look like in a school setting. For example, the research on nudging people toward making healthy eating choices is powerful. Simple things like putting healthier foods closer to the register or putting salad tongs in the salad bar over a spoon/fork grabbing combo increases the purchasing and consumption of healthy foods. Sandwiching unhealthy food choices between healthier choices on a menu leads to more people ordering healthier meals because people tend to focus on the first and last parts of things. Another cool example, a study conducted at an airport in Amsterdam found giving users something to aim at while using the urinals resulted in an “80% reduction in spills and overall greater cleanliness in the toilets.” Why wouldn’t we want all of our schools to be using nudges like this to improve the school experience and help students make better choices? 

I use(d) a bunch of nudges in my classroom and am always on the look out for more. Here are some nudges I’ve used to help my students and I to be the best that we can be.

Achievements – long time readers know I love Gamification. In my Gamification system, I use Achievements to nudge students into doing things I want them to do. For example, a student could unlock the Early Bird Achievement if they hand in their essay early. Students earn the Unity Achievement if everyone completes their Side Quest (homework). I gave out the Iron Bladder Achievement for students who didn’t go to the bathroom for an entire marking period. My favorite Achievement? Students can earn the Outside the Slide Achievement for giving a presentation that doesn’t involve Google Slides. This nudge had students coming up with all kinds of creative presentations they wouldn’t normally try if they weren’t given that little nudge. You can see more of my Achievements here on my old gamification site and in the Gamification Guide.

Audio Comments – not quite sure if this is a nudge, but using audio comments has helped me build better relationships with my students. When a kid gets an assignment back covered in red ink, all they see is how terrible they are, or, worse, use it as evidence to prove that you hate them. Using audio comments instead of red ink lets a student here the intonation, inflection, and positivity in your voice. They can hear you’re rooting for them.  The best and free way to give audio comments right now is Read and Write by Texthelp. It is free for teachers and students don’t have to have it installed to get the audio comments. It’s great.

What I do know is a nudge is the way I give them audio feedback. Using the same theory as the menu example from above, I say something positive, give them constructive criticism, then say something positive again.

Separating Tough Students From Their Audience – schools run on a reputation economy. If you challenge a tough kid in front of his or her peers, they will likely push back because they don’t want to lose social currency. Instead, I try to get a tough student away from their classmates and talk to them one-on-one. Tough kids quickly become more reasonable if you take away their audience.

The Power Of Expectations – teachers talk. Every year I knew which kid to watch out for before they even got to my classroom on the first day of school. When I heard I had a tough kid on my roster, I would stop them at the door on the first day and tell them how excited I was to have them in class. I tell them how highly his or her teachers had spoken about them. I keep this up throughout the year because people, especially kids, will live up to the reputation you give them. I choose to give every kid, even the tough ones, a great reputation to live up. They don’t often disappoint. Every kid needs someone to believe in them.

Positive Points Only – On an assignment, I use to put the amount of points a student got wrong on their paper, -25. Now, I put the amount of points a student got right, +75. A positive nudge like this lets students know they’re not all bad. Further, I’d love to see more teachers and schools adopt the video game inspired method of grading: instead of starting kids at 100 and putting them in a system where failure is the only options, why not mimic a video game and start them at 0. When you start a kid at 0, everything they do makes them more successful. Success breeds success. Instead of grading with negative numbers and starting kids at a 100 and losing points, use positive numbers and start them at a 0 and let them earn points.

Nudging often doesn’t cost a lot of money or take a lot of effort to deploy, but they can yield serious results. I encourage you to take the time to understand how and why people make choices and then find the best way to present these choices to them – learn to nudge. The UK and even our own government are getting into the nudge business. Schools should be too.

Cultivating Accountability and Motivation in the Makerspace

cropped-slide2-1.pngIn the Innovation Lab, our fifth and sixth grade blended learning makerspace, we see students once a week for the entire school year. During the school year we “grade” students based on their use of our design thinking process rather than grading students solely on their final products. Because we’ve blended the Innovation Lab and focus more on the process than the product, students can take as long as they like to finish a project; they can work on something, fail forward, until they are happy with the results. While we think its the best way to run the Innovation Lab, at least until we move away from the weekly format, these factors can make holding students accountable and motivating them to complete a project difficult. With lessons learned from last year, we’ve developed a few tricks to get the most out of our students. Here is how we hold students accountable and motivate them in the Innovation Lab.

Lanyards. Our Innovators physically wear lanyards during Innovation Lab. The lanyards have proven to be the best method for holding kids accountable that we’ve ever come up with. Part 1: when students enter the Lab, they grab their lanyard and an index card. On the front of the index card, students write their challenge statement. The challenge statement, part of the (re)define stage of our design thinking process, is a one sentence declaration of what students are designing, for who, and why. For example, “I’m designing a grocery reminder app for my mom because she always forgets something at the store,” would be an example of a good challenge statement. Once they’ve written their challenge statement on the index card at the beginning of class, they put their lanyard on and get to work.

This is great for students because they have a constant reminder hanging around their neck of what they should be designing. If they decide to change their project, which they have the freedom to do, they must let us know and rewrite a new challenge statement. Writing the challenge statement on the lanyard is great for us because we can review them before students come in. We like to spend a few minutes talking to each student about their project each class and thanks to the lanyards we don’t have to waste time asking students what they are working on, we already know. Instead, we can start the conversation by discussing what phase of our design thinking process they’re on. This saves a precious few seconds per student that adds up by the end of the day.

Part 2: during the last five minutes of class, students take the index card out of their lanyard. On the back, students are expected to write their goal for next week and one thing they learned during Innovation Lab. When students come in the next week, we have them start by reading the goal they wrote last week and (re)defining their challenge statement again. This cycle continues each week. The lanyards help everyone stay focused, organized, and encourages students to work through our design thinking process. This lanyard system is the back bone of accountability in the Innovation Lab.

Digital Portfolios and Digital Evidence. Our students are expected to write an entry in their digital portfolios every three weeks. In each entry, students give a big picture overview, complete with digital evidence, on what they have been doing and learning in the Innovation Lab. The digital evidence piece is important because it requires kids to take pictures and videos of their design thinking process, which makes them more mindful of how they spend their time in class. For example, while a student might want to play Survival rather than design in Minecraft, if they know that screenshots that capture the process of their build are expected in their portfolio soon, they are less likely to lose focus. Digital evidence helps students stay present and focused as they work through a design. The portfolio entries are then used as a jumping-off point for a more focused, interview-style conversation the following week. During the interview, students are asked to make direct connections to the design thinking process as they walk us through their portfolios. All of this adds a layer of urgency to what they are doing.

Time, Date, and Preparedness Limitations. We have a recording studio in the Innovation Lab. As you can imagine, it is a popular destination for many students. To keep things orderly, and to help students move forward in a design, we use limitations on when, where, and how students can use the recording studio. Whether making a podcast or a video, students can’t enter the recording studio without having a script or storyboard. Once they talk us through what they are recording, they have up to twenty minutes in the studio, then the next group goes in. Additionally, whatever they are recording can’t be longer than five minutes. If they have previous recordings that haven’t been edited into a final product, they can’t use the studio. Finally, students can signup for the studio a week in advance. By limiting how long a product can be, how long they can use the studio for, and asking them to have a plan before they can use the Studio, we have been able to get a much better workflow and more finished products than we had last year. By requiring students to have any previous recordings finished before making a new one, and allowing students to sign up a week in advance for the studio, we have added an additional layer of incentives for students to be prepared to make. We use these tactics in places other than the recording studio.

Competition. We were lucky to have Hot Wheels send us a Speedometry Kit and bunch of great video game companies like Paradox Interactive and Mohawk Games gift us some great learning AAA games. Ms. Smith and I make posters to hang on the wall that track some of the design challenges students can tackle in the Lab. Challenges like highest population, happiest population, lowest pollution, longest jump, most loops made, allow competition between classes which have many of our kids running to class to see if they still hold the record. I love gamification, so I try to use these types of game mechanics where I can to motivate students to keep them moving forward.

Entrepreneurship and Narratives. More motivating than competition, narratives are great to insert into the Makerspace. Our narrative invokes pride in ownership and all the lessons and learning that comes with running a business because we’ve brought entrepreneurship to the Innovation Lab. In the Innovation Lab, students can sell their creations on FH Gizmos, our student-run school store. I made the store not only to expose students to entrepreneurship, but to also motivate them to finish more designs. When we talk about FH Gizmos with students, we talk about it as if we are part of a startup. Students who open a store on FH Gizmos are given a stock certificate which entitles them to vote at the share holders meeting; the meeting where we decide how we get to spend the profit we’ve made. Students also earn “commission” on what they sell. They can use the commission to buy things from FH Gizmos. By trying to make the experience of running their FH Gizmos store as authentic as possible, we’ve wrapped the experience in a narrative where students feel like they are part of a real business. Anytime you can add a story, or even better, an authentic narrative to the works students are doing, they’ll be more motivated to participate.

Pushing to a Larger Audience. Pushing student work to a larger audience was something I started doing as an English teacher. My students hated writing essays, but when we started blogging instead, they loved it. Part of the appeal was being able to count likes and views. Students will never work harder than if they know the whole world might see their creations. This is why social media is great in the classroom. I love social media as a tool to build relationships with students. We use social media in the Lab to capture the great things students are making. Students are generally excited to see their efforts pop-up on the Instagram feed. We also push student work to a larger audience through our digital galleries. We show off student work on the Innovation Stations, where anyone can see and hear the great things our kids have made. Students love to know how many views they have, and often start to design, create, and speak to their audience. When I told one of our podcast teams that their podcast had 500+ views, they actually started to talk to their listeners during the podcast and thank them. They even started to call their listeners Squiggly Monsters, taking a page from many celebrities who nickname their fan base. A larger audience through social media and digital galleries have been great for increasing motivation.

Hopefully you found something here you can start using in your class tomorrow!

Until Next Time,

GLHF

 

 

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