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.
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.
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.
I have to say I am still finding that the TLLP on gamification and game based learning is expanding my knowledge and experience as a teacher and I appreciate that. Having said that, I have been thinking lately about the old expression about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Having been a teacher for over 25 years I have the perspective to see that teaching has seen a lot of changes over the years. It seems that we, as educators, go from one approach to another based on theories and findings of various people, (always based on numerous studies and papers) that tell us how children learn and how we should teach them. How many times have I seen thick binders be delivered to schools backed up by hours of inservice time and changes in curriculum only to see them replaced a few years later by something else. The old binders are forgotten and put away or discarded because all of our time is to be spent implementing the latest changes. I once heard a speaker say that we must change. That anyone who does not change is doing a disservice to the students. This brings me back to the square peg in the round hole analogy. Let’s think about some basic facts: children are not robots, they are human beings. Each child is an individual. Yes, all these theories and methods have their merit but if you just go back to basic teaching strategy and know your students, know their learning styles then you should be able to use any method to teach them. I believe gamification and game based learning is a great tool to use in the classroom, but it should not be the only one. If a student wants to use books, then let them. Yes, as society and technology changes books may become obsolete but let’s not forget that just because we are currently thinking that if a child doesn’t use a podcast, video, online source, electronic game or some other sort of tool that we are failing as educators. What happened to good old fashioned board games as an option? Some people get so involved in making sure they are “cutting edge” educators that they lose sight of the basics. Know your students and how they learn. Do whatever it takes to make them comfortable in their learning. We are educators not educaterers, catering to the intellectuals and, sometimes economically driven market, out there. We need to keep the real purpose of our jobs in mind. This is just my opinion.
We sat down today for a very productive session and firmed up how we were going to award our badges for the gamification and game based learning. I finally got a good idea of how this is going to look and I realized how this was going to make teaching math and science so much better for the students and myself. The students are going to have a crystal clear idea of how they can earn their badges and at the same time get their marks. I will have a great tool for assessment. Thanks to Tim Kivell from twenty-first century fluencies and to my team members Adele and Derek. Thanks also to Greg Holohan for his input and work on the day. It really is a team effort and although I can’t bring much to the table the other team members are willing to include me and do more than their fair share of the work. Next challenge is to make a presentation to the parents on our open house night. It is uncertain how this is going to be received by our parents and we have to be ready to sell the idea to those who think that their children should not be playing games on the computer at school. I hope that they can see that what we are doing is basically the future of education, perhaps not exactly as we envision it, but using technology to learn, share and present ideas is the future.
Recently I had the opportunity to look more closely at finding apps and sites that focus on gamifying subjects and game based learning. What I found made me think of three ancient Chinese engineers sitting on a hilltop saying to each other: Okay, so we’ve been told to build this wall. We know how to build it but there are so many different building materials at our disposal where do we start and what is the best thing to use? The task is great but the sheer number of possible apps and sites that could be useful is even greater. I guess we have to keep our criteria in mind as we look, try, read reviews and just generally browse the web. We are focused on junior (grade 5) ELL and struggling students. A lot of trial and error will inevitably happen I’m sure but eventually I am confident we will succeed. My hope is that, in the end, our work will be a resource for other teachers as well as an effective way for our target groups to learn.
Yes. Here I am finally doing my first bit of blog going…ever. The first week of school is over and I am beginning to get an idea of how my class looks. It is always wonderful to watch a new class come together. Everyone is nervous and excited at the same time. I am starting the year with the students in. groups of their own choosing with the proviso that I can move students if they are not working to their full ability.
I have been teaching for over 25 years now and it never ceases to astound me how much has changed and yet how much has not changed in the teaching world. Games have always been a big part of student learning for me. Now the games are much more sophisticated and based on electronic sources and the Internet. The basic idea is the same. Children want to have fun. Whether they are playing checkers on a board or using the latest app for checkers on their phone they still want to have fun.
It is with great interest that I approach this new adventure in my career. I enter it with eyes wide open. I am very fortunate that I have two excellent teachers who do have an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm for our TLLP project.
So,here we go,one side Alice I’m coming through!