The results are in…

The last time I blogged it was to speculate about the results of our use of blogging to assess students work on the game Electrocity. After reading many blog posts from the students and listening to discussions after the blogging time was over, it became apparent that, as with most assessments, some students used the new format to really demonstrate an excellent knowledge of forms of energy and the pros and cons to using those forms, and some students did not put in any extra effort to demonstrate learning. All students did blog, and all students demonstrated at least a basic knowledge and some insights into the wise use of energy in our daily lives so I think, at the very least, what we did was successful. As far as being able to say that everyone did better than other forms of communicating their learning I think that this was not the case.

And the winner is…

We have just about wrapped up our unit on Conservation of Energy which, true to our TLLP, revolved mainly around a game called Electrocity. The game proved to be an excellent platform for teaching the students about forms of energy, the pros and cons of using the different sources of energy, and seeing how to balance the need for energy with the wise development of various sources that impact the environment in different ways. After we had been “into” the game we  introduced the fact that each of our classes had a teacher code and that the students could register their finished game and then be scored and compared with others in the classes. I noticed that when the competition factor was introduced the emphasis for some of the students went from learning, to getting the highest score. In my opinion, some students didn’t think so much about what they were doing in relation to energy use but to just finding out what created the highest score. This made me consider the question: If winning the game becomes the focus then does the educational value decrease?  Yes, we told the students that they are being evaluated on the research they do around their towns and the blogging they did about their game play, but is it possible to encourage the competition and still have the students put the majority of their effort into the educational value of the game? I am now in the process of going through all student posts and results of their research. Stay tuned for my exciting conclusion (maybe) to this question.

finding the right fit…part 2

I’ve been blogging quite a bit about my struggles with gamification in my classroom, but that is only half of our TLLP project. The other part is using game-based learning to deliver curriculum.

GBL is a fun way to up the engagement factor in a classroom, but is that enough to justify its use? At the beginning of this journey, I might have said yes because having the opportunity to play games was motivating for my students. If they were learning while playing, then all the better. It’s kind of like sneaking in the learning while they’re distracted by gaming.

Now that we’ve been using GBL in the classroom for 6 months and I’ve immersed myself in research for even longer, I no longer think engagement is enough to justify gaming in the classroom. The “fun factor” is short-lived as the novelty of iPads and apps wears off and I feel like sometimes we don’t get the biggest bang for our pedagogical buck with the games we have chosen. I still see the value of game-based learning, but I’m seeing that the way we’ve been applying it just isn’t enough.

We’ve been creating TLCPs and then trying to fit games into them. That’s been tough. Ontario curriculum is often different from its US counterpart, and many educational games are based on US content. And sometimes–many times–we can’t find games that explicitly teach Ontario curriculum.  So this time around, we found the game first and then planned our TLCP around it. Instead of the game teaching curriculum, we are using the game to explore curriculum. Simple, minute difference with big results.

I see educational games like this:

1. rote learning games–These games use repetition of skills to improve fluency. They might be for math or for learning the alphabet. If you took the educational piece out of it, there wouldn’t be much left. 12. deeper games –These games are stand-alones; that is, without the educational aspect of it, it would still be a great game. Users need to think critically, problem-solve and make decisions that will affect the outcome.  The game can apply to different pieces of the curriculum.


Early in this project, we used all #1 apps. Now we are making a shift to #2. And it feels right. I still see a place for some #1 games (math fact fluency, practicing writing the alphabet for those with fine motor issues, Daily 5 Word Work), but for deep learning, #2 games are the way to go!


finding the right fit

I have been looking over the apps and games available for the Conservation of Energy unit for grade 5 and I have come to the conclusion that when using games or simulations there is a lot of   flexibility required to find that just right fit. I can check the expectations both in Science and in Language and then check whatever resource I am considering and most times I can find something that is appropriate to my learning goals. In most cases I need a combination of resources to be satisfied that I have put together the best opportunity for my students to be successful. I can’t speak for all teachers but I have found that if I want to use something then I can rationalize, bend, convert, adjust and modify it to be able to use it. Sometimes the irrational part of me really wants to use something and I have to be a little creative in my approach. It’s like getting a pair of shoes you want but the only size left is a little tight but you really like them and you persist in wiggling around and trying to convince yourself that the pain you feel in your toes really is quite bearable. Afterwards when you have bought them and taken them home you realize you have to return the shoes because they just won’t work. The point is, I need to be constantly aware of the need to be objective when selecting resources to use.

the road to “congratulations”

Just like every well-prepared educator pre-reads the picture books he uses for read alouds, I consider it my mission to review numeracy software before my students are set to the task of skip counting by 5s, adding 3 digit numbers or dividing fractions. I will admit, in the comfort of this forum, that I have been in awe of a math program on a PC and quickly (think:brilliantly) tried to share it on an interactive white board, only to find that the software was not compatible, in front of 25 nine year olds, 12 minutes before March Break began, just after the red dye party~ the healthy snacks memo sitting on my desk covered in cupcake icing. Lesson learned.

A child can get a wow, fantastic, congratulations, you did it message simply by clicking on all of the cards in the memory game or choosing all of the annoying yellow ducks with numbers until the correct one is picked; sound off please! In other cases a little more work is involved, the question changes or the numbers are different but the child can still demonstrate an understanding of how to use technology without demonstrating an understanding of the concept. I don’t want to name programs because the programs I use are good for a variety of purposes and skill levels. You probably have some in mind.

“Mastery” in math doesn’t seem difficult to attain through many software programs. Some of the programs that track progress will show you that a child can reach mastery level in approximately 20 questions. My experience is that these problems are skill-based and don’t allow for collaboration or higher order thinking.

How are you using math software to support learning? Have you discovered a program that encourages the use of the skills our students will need in the future?

Level Up,
(But only if you’ve earned it)


english language learners and voice recognition software

It’s an exciting time in our careers to have a vast amount of apps at our disposal.  Truth be known, the multitude of apps can be quite overwhelming and it takes time to sort through and find that ‘right’ app tailored to the learner’s needs.  I would say this has been a  challenge but all worth it when that effective app unleashes its power.  Oral language acquisition often arrives sooner than does reading or writing.  For this reason, I wanted to find an effective voice recognition app that could record an ELLs oral English and display their ideas in text form.   Even beyond that, one that could record an ELL’s first language, capturing their thoughts and ideas and then translate and display  in English text.

WordQ for the ipad does this nicely.  It is similar to WordQ on desktop computers in that it has word recognition as students type, but it also has the bonus feature of voice to text.  It is also much more effective than the Dragon Speaking app which can have difficulty recognizing words from students with accents from their first language.  WordQ for the ipad also has more sharing capabilities.  The Google translate app for ipad is also more powerful than the traditional online version with more languages and a powerful voice to text tool.  This Google app also orally translates a student’s first language into English text.  It’s an amazing feature that can unlock our ELL’s ideas in L1, previously blocked by a language barrier.


gamification continues

About a month ago, I blogged about the latest in my gamification journey. After being uncomfortable with attaching public badges to academic achievement, I went another route: make quests based on acquisition of technology competencies. These skills are important to students, so motivating them to develop and refine these skills is worthy and important. With that, I felt better.

After I constructed the quests and badges, I reintroduced the idea to our students. Working through quests is voluntary, so the reaction was mixed, as expected. Some are going to be into it, others not so much. I gave them a period to navigate the quest page and start earning. By the end of the period, my class had earned 84 badges! Now, many of them had already acquired said skills and only had to send me a message proving they had completed the step, but still, the motivation for mastery was there. I would say that 2/3 of my students decided to earn badges that day. An added bonus was that some students spent time constructing their own quests for apps/programs that they had already mastered. I quickly added them to our quest page.

Gamification is meant to motivate and engage, and this seemed to be accomplished. I was pleased. So where am I at now?

A few things are cause for reflection:

1. There have not been many opportunities for my students to share their expertise with others, that is, use their special powers. It’s unfortunate that there hasn’t been much interest from others at our school in having grade 5 students show them how to use the apps. I’m sure it has caused some decrease in engagement.

2. I haven’t been giving time for students to work through the quests. We have been using many of the apps in our quests, so I know our students could be earning badges, but I haven’t given them the opportunity to do so. Should I give them 15 minutes every week to work through quests? Should I be incorporating it more naturally by giving a few minutes after we use  the app so students can record that they’ve completed a step?

3. I wonder if my lack of enthusiasm shows through. I was really excited when I revealed the new quest layout, and many students responded positively. But since I’ve been really thinking critically about gamification, maybe my feelings are affecting the students’ motivation. If I’m not regularly giving students time to earn badges, what am I saying about the importance of doing so? I know that in other cases, my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for a certain topic can affect my students’ enthusiasm. Is this happening now with our gamification project?

I’m not giving up. I’ll set a goal to give some time for quests and see what the response is, then reflect and move forward. I’ll keep you posted.


gamification = gratification ?

I often think so, but does the gratification come at a price?  Some of the apps we have been using are engaging and motivating for our students but the gratification may come all too easy.  With a tap of the screen students can get the right answer or change their wrong answer accordingly, moving on to the next task without a second thought.  They are looking for instant points or a bell, buzzer, song, something to let them know they are doing a good job.  This can be a great motivational and engagement tool but are our students getting rewarded far too easy, with very little effort in some cases?  Should they have to work harder without the bells and buzzers, grind it out as they say to achieve, or have our students come to expect this instant gratification?  Some might say, “no harm in immediate positive feedback”, but could this be giving them a false sense of achievement?

Just some thoughts.


all i really need to know i learned from gaming

Isn’t the hardest part of writing choosing the topic?  This time it was a toss up between this topic and a comparison between winter weather in Southern Ontario and Iqaluit.  Assuming the gaming topic had more content, I chose to quest on (see what I did there.)

In a nod to Robert Fulghum’s  all i really need to know i learned in kindergarten I decided to take a few moments to share some of the things I’ve learned from gaming:

Passwords are like secret codes.

It’s ok to fail.

Nobody gained experience points at a mall.

There will always be another quest.

Don’t spend all your gold in one place.

Sometimes, you just have to run.

Ask a friend for help.

Accept new challenges.

Just pick a spell and play.

Be a healthy avatar.

Take a nap and start again.

Think first.


It’s just a game.

Full disclosure: my experience with gaming is the instructional gaming that my students are using in a K-8 school.  I don’t hide in the basement for days on end playing WOW.  My birds are not angry,  nor do they flap.

What lessons would you add?

Level up,





sharing the passion

Yesterday I was at Nipissing University (Brantford Campus) to present to teacher candidates who will be graduating in April. A great little setup there: a bunch of classroom teachers doing something different in their classrooms, sharing with the future of our profession. I felt fortunate to be a part of it.

I chose to present on both game-based learning and gamification. I know that these ideas can be considered outside-of-the-box, not your typical teaching strategies. And I know that these new teachers are trying to become comfortable with just getting through a teaching day, never mind asking them to consider trying something innovative. They are not at the point of taking risks in their profession, they are conservative and safe. I remember being there, treading water, not even thinking about rocking the boat.

So I went in with low expectations, not looking to convert anyone, but certainly hoping to plant some seeds of interest. The end result? Well, several audience members asked thoughtful and relevant questions about iPad configuration, purchasing apps and equity in technology. A few came up to me afterwards to ask about assessment and using games as reward for finishing early.  Many were having fun playing the games on the iPads I had distributed (immerse them in the idea and they might think further about it’s application!).

And I had one teacher candidate who got it. She approached me after the presentation and was excited. She wished she had this when she was in school because there were math concepts she struggled with, and she thought that having more practice using games for engagement would have helped her tremendously. She said she would be contacting me in the future to learn more.

Does that make a successful presentation? You bet! I was thrilled to be able to affect others, for them to now at least consider that games and gamification can be useful in the classroom.

Here is the link to my Prezi.