stanfield: 2.0

Now that our TLLP project is finished, the big question is this: what have I learned and how do I apply it to my next year of teaching.

First, my learning. For the most part, I see games as engaging for students. Most of the kids really enjoyed playing the educational games that we chose. They were excited and some even played the games at home. It’s always easy to give game-playing as homework :).

We used games at various parts in our teaching. Some games worked really well as inquiry provocations; to get the creative and critical juices flowing, to instigate good wondering. Other games took the place of direct instruction, giving students the basic knowledge needed to further their inquiry. Other games gave students the opportunity to practice skills.  We used games in various subjects: Science, Social Studies, Health, Math and the Arts.

So, with all of this learning, what does my classroom look like this year? Well, pretty much the same, but better. Stanfield 2.0.  I’ve taken the good parts of last year, the games I know work well (and NOT the games that were disappointing) and fit them in to our inquiry-based learning model. And, we are trying out new games! Minecraft Pocket will be making an appearance or two (or three, or four….) and lots more. Keep an eye on this blog for posts and game reviews :).

I wholly believe that games are an integral part of learning. They engage students to obtain background knowledge and further their understanding of important concepts. If they can acquire information while having fun, they become more invested in the topic and are more open to taking risks and furthering their learning through asking deep questions.

Would you rather sit and listen to a teacher talk for half an hour, or would you rather learn that same information through playing a game?


a new year, another attempt at gamification

Last year, I attempted gamification of my classroom on several occasions (see earlier posts). Most of my students didn’t buy in, and I was on the fence on whether it was intrinsic or extrinsic reward, but I’m not one to give up, so I’m trying again this year.

I have a new teaching partner, Jennifer McKenzie, who is open to gamifying our classes, and we started today! A little background information: our Board, HWDSB, is in the midst of the Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, and our schools are infusing technology to support the collaborative inquiry model of learning, to engage and to prepare them for their digital future. In a few weeks, each of our students will be issued an iPad mini that they will be responsible for. A big job for our little guys, but I think they can handle it. Jen and I considered how to ensure that our students will be ready and we came up with a list of how they could show responsibility, caring and independence.

We took our list and turned them into tasks, then took the tasks and turned them into a quest. Once students complete the quest, they become masters and we would know that they have the skills to be responsible for their ipads and any other technology that they would be using through the year.

Each task involves experience points; after achieving 1000 points, they level up. Our goal is that, by the time the iPads are issued, all our students will have completed 7 levels, mastering the necessary skills and feeling good about their accomplishments.

This I know: these grade fives are all gamers and they are all enthusiastic about earning XP, levelling up and being at the top of the leaderboard.  Last year, that was not the case. I have a feeling this will be a more successful year in gamification.

finally…..real game-based learning

Dave’s right…..having students blog about their learning was really effective. Real time documentation of their learning seemed to be much more realistic and doable for them–they didn’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what to write; as soon as they learned something about energy, they blogged what they learned. Simple, not overwhelming to those who don’t like to write.

But there is so much more to tell you about this unit…..

Here Dave shared what we did in our Conservation of Energy unit. It’s worth a look if you teach about renewable/non-renewable energies. The game we used, Electrocity, is a free web-based game that allows students to be mayors of their own cities. Their goal is, like any real mayor, to grow the city and keep the residents happy. Students must ensure citizens have enough electricity by building energy plants. There are many choices: hydroelectric dams, geothermal plants, coal mines, etc. How to decide? It’s built right into the game! Pros and cons are posted within each choice, allowing students to make informed decisions and learn more about each form of energy.

Next steps were having students develop inquiry questions based on whatever energy sources sparked their interest.  Then, they went down their own learning path. Finally, they shared their learning with the rest of the class.

Feedback was that students enjoyed it. They didn’t feel like they were being forced to learn and they liked that the learning was built right into the game. They cheered when it was Electrocity time….how’s that for engagement!

I will definitely use Electrocity again next year.



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.


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