Sunday, February 2, 2014

Can Gamification Be Used Effectively in Education?

Gamification is being used to sell more shoes and cereal, get workers to participate more fully in company programs, encourage individuals to pursue nutrition and fitness goals, engage people in solving problems like world hunger, and train soldiers.  LinkedIn uses gamification to encourage users to complete more steps in their profile. Khan Academy uses it to reward learners as they progress through lessons.  If you are looking for a tool to engage people, gamification is worth looking at (and trying out).

But what is Gamification, and what application does it have, if any, in the realm of K-12 education?

Gamification involves using principles of game design that make games so engaging, and applying them to non-game situations.  It doesn't mean turning everything into a game, although games are a valid teaching tool.  In education, the goal of using gamification is to improve the engagement of students as they learn the content and skills presented to them in whatever learning platform they are using.  This could mean a wholly face-to-face, traditional classroom setting, or some combination of computer-based and face-to-face learning situation.

Gamification, like anything else, can be an effective tool for engaging learners.  Also, like anything else, it can fall flat on its face.  A tool is just a tool.  Its effectiveness is all in how the tool is used, and the skill of the person or group wielding it. 

As students do more work in a blended or wholly online setting, gamification is bound to get more serious scrutiny.  This is especially true because K-12 students today are so involved in games already.  Appealing to a generation of students who cut their teeth on a tablet or on mom or dad's smart phone requires an openness to adding new tools to the education toolbox.

The following infographic is a good place to start the conversation, and thinking, about effective ways gamification could be used to foster real learning.

Gamification Infographic
Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Moving On...

Amazingly, I haven't made an entry in quite a long time.  Mostly I have been so consumed with work, I have not kept up with this blog.

I have been involved in blended and online learning for about eight years now and am about to embark on a new phase of my journey.  January 22nd I will begin a course in blended learning offered through our REMC.  It will give me a chance to see what's new.  It will also be a good opportunity to network with other educators.

Over the past two years I have explored gamification through a Coursera class, and have continued to be involved in blended and online learning.  This year our school district decided to turn our alternative ed high school into a completely online experience.  I can only say that a little more planning ahead of time would have been a good idea.

I've followed the local news for Michigan and Indiana as online schools have grown exponentially, and have seen some of the problems they have encountered.  They come as no surprise.  Most of the stories have been about public schools who tried to implement online classes.  Gull Lake schools, near Kalamazoo, made the headlines last year when the state took back money the district should have been paid by the state because their contact with students didn't meet the state standard.  Also, in an effort to reach out to local home schoolers, they offered classes that were not available to traditional students in their district.  These things are really minor, though.  I'm sure the school district was able to make changes to satisfy the state, and, frankly, Michigan (and I'll bet lots of other states) has had a hard time keeping up with the amazing growth of online schooling. They often struggle with which policies to put into place to be sure state money isn't being wasted and that programs really result in academic achievement.

Issues that online schools have faced include poor test scores, a population that is very fluid, and meeting state standards for attendance.  Strangely, this is not so different from problems we faced every year in our community ed and alternative high school programs.

On the other hand, there is lots of money to be made in online schooling.  I am sure it is hard to resist the possibility of bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars into a district simply by reaching out to students who have a difficult time in a traditional setting, or to home school families.  In fact, public schools lose money when parents home school. Offering courses online to home school families gives public schools state aid money they lose otherwise.

There has also been an increase in the number of private companies offering online education and collecting money from states for those who enroll in their programs.  It is really kind of a back door voucher system.  Politicians have argued for years about offering vouchers which students could take to any school.  Online schooling has sidestepped the politicians. 

In Michigan, for instance, state aid for a full year of schooling is about $7,000 per child. (There is some difference, with a few districts earning more because they were seen as more needy).  I think it is pretty obvious that schools can bring in quite a lot of money with online programs.  But they have to meet attendance requirements, which include the number of times students log in and direct, two-way communication between the school and the student - such as face-to-face, phone, and email conversations where both the teacher and student are involved.  Gull Lake schools discovered that sending an email out wasn't enough to count for attendance.  There had to be weekly contact and the student had to respond as part of that contact.

Sadly, one result of this trend is that some schools jump in without proper planning and preparation, then flounder around while they try to figure things out.  The worst thing about this is that it is bad for the students.  As much time as schools spend on school improvement, you would think they would realize implementation of an online program requires planning and research.

It is easy to subscribe to an online program, like the Florida Virtual School, Plato, Odyssey, and others. At my school, we have used Novell and Nova Net in the past and currently use OdysseyWare.  Subscribing saves a district all the time and manpower of developing classes themselves. Since the publishers go through the process of becoming approved by the state, local districts also don't have to worry about failing to meet state standards when they subscribe to these products.

Then the school can simply set up a lab and sign students up.  Granted, there are many schools who do more than this, but essentially all they need is a subscription and some computers and, viola! they have an online program.  They easily make up the money they spend on the subscription and for computers and a few staff.  Some districts don't even worry about having certified teachers supervise the learning. Instead, they hire instructional aids or mentors.

On the other hand, there are districts who have created quality online experiences that reach beyond the bound of their own locale to serve students at great distance. I will talk about one of these schools in another blog.  I want to be sure to have space to really share their remarkable story.

So, I haven't written in this blog for a long time, but I have not been idle.  As I move forward, I will record my thoughts here and in my Word Press blog,

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Well, it has almost been a year since I really was doing some serious posting! Yikes!  I found the coolest thing I am going to try with my Digital Storytelling students.  This was born out of the fact that I started the year with NO computers. Zero!  That kind of takes a bite out of the digital part of digital storytelling!

We are three weeks in to the new year and I still don't have the new laptops (despite some very hard work and long hours put in by our tech department).  So, we storyboarded commercials (which we can't make yet), and planned and started on the filming of short horror story scenarios.  I have the help (thankfully) of a former student, Bryon, who is a whiz at film and has the answers to the questions I have been asking for the past 6 years! Yay!

So, this week we made zoetropes.  Not bad, really.  While searching for a pattern or demo or something, I ran across the amazing video posted above.  Wow!  In fact, Walt Noon, the person who made the video, has been quite helpful and willing to answer my questions.  So now I am on a quest to build the high tech zoetrope.  I figure I can give the students a circular base to design on, and we can try them all out one at a time and film them.  This could be really cool!

Now I just have to find a way to be amazing a little while longer while we get our new computers and I build the zoetrope.  Gotta say, I can pull that off every once in a while, but being amazing two days in a row...ahhhh.   Picture deer in the headlights...

I'll update my blog as we go along, so that anyone following will be able to see how it goes!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Okay, this was just too funny. I discovered a site called LiveBinder, which I think is going to solve my problem of iGoogle going away and my Box of Links not working. In fact, it will be a great tool for organizing different content areas, as well as for saving cool stuff I find on the Internet. (No, the book is not real, but it was fun to play with the app).

 One of the links within the tutorials for this site took me to: Page Plugins

I used this site to created the pseudo book cover posted here. 

The site lets you make all sorts of fun things to post on a blog or social network page - for free.  Free is good.  It is really easy, too.  Once you create your banner or whatever, you just copy the embed code onto your site, and voila!

Image taken from
On a more practical note, I found a book on Amazon that I think is really great. It is callde Making Thinking Visible. Co-authored by educators Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, the book shares practical routines that can be used across grade levels to help students think more deeply about the subjects they encounter in class. It comes with a DVD demonstrating the use of these routines in real classrooms across a variety of ages and subjects. I think this book is well worth looking into. It is very practical - which is my favorite thing! The authors don't just pontificate about the benefits of higher level thinking. They show you. The book retails for $29.95.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Updated ACES Presentation for Spring of 21012

After a year of developing the ACES program, we will be visiting our own high school to share with the staff. This will be a great opportunity for us to clarify what it is we are doing over in our building.

All-in-all it has been a successful year. Challenging, yes. Exhausting, yes. But we really laid a good foundation for next year and, I think, proved that there is enough interest to support investing resources into growing and developing the program next year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

School Board Presentation: the ACES program

We have been very busy getting the program started this year. This is a presentation I put together for our school board to explain the ACES program. So far, things have gone really well - though, of course, there are many things we need to develop.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Adobe Youth Voices and Problem Based Learning

Adobe has a set of curricula to help teachers connect with their students through problem based learning and the use of music, print, video, and animation. The site, Adobe Youth Voices, promises to be a great resource for teachers.

In addition to fully developed curricula, the site includes teacher stories centered around lessons educators have learned through embracing this approach.  Gregg Witkin, a teacher from Boynton High School in San Jose, California wrote about the importance of cultivating a connection with students as an essential element to becoming an effecting teacher.  This really jibes with the direction we have been trying to take with our high school students in the ACES program.

Over the past several weeks we have, unfortunately, had our attention drawn away from moving forward with developing a problem/project based approach to learning.  Essential administrative tasks swallowed up a lot of our time.  Now, I am hoping we are going to be able to start developing the problem/project based aspect of the program.

We are using a product - a Photo Story 3 slide show - as a means of allowing my Government students to display their understanding of the Bill of Rights.  This also gave me a chance to introduce as a site for downloadable music they can import into their slide show if they wish.  Students also learned how to create music within the free Photo Story 3 application.  One result of my experience in the Full Sail EMDT masters program has been an increased commitment to honoring the intellectual property of others - and to teaching my students to do the same.

This week I intend, finally, to get them journaling, by way of their blogs.  I will have to accelerate the rest of our course somewhat because of the things that hindered us at the start of the year.  However, I also discovered Blackboard offers a free version of their application online!  I started building an online version of my Government course using their Course Sites.  I was glad to find this, because Blackboard is so widely used, but I had only been able to use Moodle and Schoology up to this point.

At this point I need to make a couple of media assets - tutorials - to help my students through their Photo Story projects.  Then it is the downhill rush to the Christmas break!  Well, they say that a car has to be moving before you can steer it - so I'd say things are good.  We are certainly moving!  Now let's see if we can steer things in the right direction.