Monthly Archives: February 2013

Creating My Interactive Websites

website design

Merely “gamifying” my classes wasn’t ambitious enough for me I guess. I also wanted to try and give my students something of a video game experience in hopes that it would motivate them further. I drew upon my personal experiences playing video games with my children and interactive websites I had seen other teachers create (via connections I’d made through Edmodo) as my main sources of inspiration. It was definitely a daunting task to say the least and it kept me up late many nights, but I had fun and the resulting sites have been met with continued excitement by my students – which has continued to motivate me further.

If you’re interested in learning how to go about creating an interactive site to support your own curriculum, here are a few videos I’ve made that walk you through my thought and design processes (NOTE: These are my first attempts at creating screencasts and they were limited to fifteen minutes each, which was definitely a challenge)…

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

A “tour” of Flipside

If you have any other questions about how I made the sites, please feel free to leave me your questions in a comment. These sites are still very much works in progress and will be modified periodically as my curriculum changes to support the Common Core State Standards in the coming months.

Next: Introducing “Gamification” and the interactive websites (flipped classroom) model to parents and school administration…

Planning for Gamification

diy_gamificationIt may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it really doesn’t have to be that tough. The key is to not bite off more than you can chew. Use what you’re already comfortable and familiar with. You can always modify it later on if you need to. Then take baby steps if you have to. I chose to use my summer break to start reinventing my classes. That way I had plenty of time to think it through as much as I could. You can never plan for everything so only plan a little at a time.

The first decision I needed to make about gamification was to determine the type of scoring method I was going to use. Like me, you may have to use your school district’s A/F grading expectations (that fit the standard, top-down, success/failure model) and still be able to incorporate a year-long XP (Experience Points) leveling-up model at the same time. I decided to take the easy way out and make each assignment count the same amount for both: the assignment would receive a percentage score for the gradebook and also receive the same amount of XP for the class “game”. That way, I would still be meeting my district’s expectations, parents and students would both continue to have the same understanding about grade performance, and the XP could be continually added up all year long. Win-win. The challenge for me was to find a way to manage both. Here’s how I modified my grade sheets:

Grade Sheet Pic

At the top of each assignment column I write how many XP the assignment is worth. Every week or so I create a column labeled “XP” where I calculate and record all the XP each student has earned since the last time I added them up. The amount of XP is entered into a Google Doc Spreadsheet I created (I’ve found that it’s much easier to share the link once, allowing future changes to show up automatically using the same link, instead of uploading or re-linking a new document every time an update is made to the spreadsheet). Once entered, the scores are sorted by the highest XP and voila, we have a Leaderboard.

In addition to XP, in order to make the Leaderboard and gamification really take off with the students, I decided that I needed to consider level and reward systems. In addition to individual rewards, I also liked the idea of building in class rewards to support each class’ community of learners. Edmodo’s badge component was already available to me and I had “stolen” many level badges from some of the teachers I’d connected with. I could see some of my students valuing the badges (some a little too much), but I knew it wouldn’t be enough motivation for everyone. Once again, I went back to Edmodo and put the question out to my students: “What types of class rewards would you want to earn if your entire class was the first to get everyone to a level before the other classes?” Their responses were very creative. After considering and evaluating their responses for options that I could realistically follow-through with without much effort and that wouldn’t require very much money (if any), I created a chart that I posted to my class “game” website (I’ll be getting into the notion of creating a game site in a future post).

I work in additional game rewards through the use of “Tokens” and extra credit “Mini Games”. To make things simple for this non-math teacher, students receive one token for each 10XP they earn (100XP = 10 tokens). Students can choose to earn extra credit (extra XP and points added to their end of term grade) by completing online educational games that support the course content and benchmark standards, taking Accelerated Reader book quizzes, etc. Generally, extra credit options are worth 25XP and 2.5 extra credit points are added to their class grade point average. After a while, I had to modify the amount of XP that students could earn when several students began focusing more on turning in gobs of extra credit instead of the standards-based assignment tasks for actual grades. Now, the first (3) are worth 25XP each, the next (3) are worth 10XP each, and any after that are only worth 1XP each. I had students trying to submit 20 or more extra credit options right before Progress Reports or Report Cards as a mad rush to bring their grade up, which I obviously had a philosophical issue with.

I also created a virtual “Item Shop” where students could spend their tokens.

Item Shop

I really like the idea of giving students more choices, which hopefully would encourage them to put forth more quality work while at the same time demonstrating that I value their commitments to their other classes, families, and extra curricular activities. Let’s face it, we all struggle juggling everything all the time! I’d used Homework Passes for many years and I thought this would easily offer them the choice component. Some students realized quickly that, in order to earn enough tokens to purchase a Homework Pass, they would have to do work well enough to earn the tokens. They weren’t getting them for free! I still have to occasionally remind them about using them if I start hearing them moan about all the work they have in other classes or about tournaments and family gatherings coming up over a weekend. I still find myself reminding them that they need to purchase a Homework Pass before an assignment is due, not the day or day after and that they cannot be used for Quizzes, Tests, or Projects. It’s become popular to use for their Weekly Reading Log when they find that they haven’t read the required hours one week or have too much work to read the required time.

Before I came up with the list of items, I created a poll on Edmodo to survey students’ favorite snacks and candy (there are several free online poll-generating sites, like Easy Polls, if you’re not familiar with or have access to Edmodo). With student input in hand, I purchased one or two large cases of individual snack bags and candy at a local wholesale market. I struggled with how to price the items in order to encourage students to make wise choices. The price for candy and snacks was originally the same price as the Homework Passes, but that changed quickly. Students were required to message me any purchases they’d like to make from the Item Shop through Edmodo. By the end of the first day that the snacks were available for purchase, the shop was totally sold out of candy! No one had purchased Homework Passes like I had hoped. What was wrong with this picture?! Duh – they’re 11 and 12 year olds! A couple of students had surprised me, and purchased lunch passes. While they were eating lunch with me, I asked them if they’d mind giving me their input and suggestions for making modifications to the Item Shop list. They suggested making the snacks more expensive than the Homework Passes and, if I wanted to give them more options for academic motivation, add Task Extension Passes and Task Re-Do options to the list. What a great marketing idea! It was brilliant! I am happy to report that the purchase of snacks has dramatically decreased and the purchase of Homework Passes (which I now limit to one a week because of abuse by a few students) has risen. Maybe students are now evaluating their purchases more wisely, which is what I was aiming for from the start.

NEXT: Creating “The Game” site to support my curriculum and the gamified class structure (changing the structure of my instruction = inStructural)


Penny Arcade Presents: Gamifying Education

This was the first video I watched about “Gamifying Education”. I was so excited that I immediately showed it to my own children (ages 11 & 12) to see what they thought about the concept.  They said they wished that ALL their teachers would do that to their classrooms! I was convinced too. And so it began…

The first thing I decided to do was to watch more videos about gamification.  Penny Arcade has some others that are good too, but I wanted to see what the cutting-edge technology gurus were saying about it.  Here are links to some other amazing discussions on the topic of gaming and education. I highly recommend them as a first step toward wrapping your head around the idea:

Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world (TED Talk)

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world (TED Talk)

G.A.T. Innovative Learning Model (YouTube)

Game Based Learning Education Gamification (Edmodocon 2011 Presentation)

Playing to Learn (Prezi Presentation by Maria Anderson 2012)

There are many different websites that have excellent resources for learning about gamification, game design, and games-based learning. Here is a Wiki that constantly adds more and more resources:

Gamification Wiki

If you are really obsessed, like I am, here are some online courses (some are free) that you can participate in – I learned A TON!!

Gamification Coursera

3D Gamelab

Game-Based Learning MOOC

Also consider looking in iTunesU, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and other media areas for gamification topics. You’ll be surprised how much is out there!

This is also an amazing (and relatively inexpensive) resource created by Mr.Daley that I continue to refer to, especially during my beginning stages of gamification:

Education Gamification Survival Kit (TeachersPayTeachers)

Next: Setting up my classroom and curriculum for “the game”…

My Classes BEFORE Gamification


Before I’d even heard about “gamification”, I enjoyed incorporating technology into my classes.  My school district has subscribed to Gaggle for several years and when it first became available, I jumped on board. I loved how I could create groups, post assignments online, students could collaborate and had access to a version of Microsoft Office software.  Gaggle has a lot of features that were helpful to a teacher, however it was very complicated in the beginning and the district required teachers to go through training before they would be given access.

The district also developed an electronic portfolio (eFolio) initiative that , through training, allowed teachers to use various forms of technology to teach students how to implement the district’s four strategic objectives: Goal Setting, Enthusiasm for Learning, Democratic Process, and Global Outreach. In addition to scanners, digital cameras, iPods, and video cameras, schools with eFolio teachers were also provided with additional MacBooks.  Gaggle became a tool eFolio teachers could also use to support students’ documentation of their self-reflections using technology.  The initiative and resources fit into my teaching philosophy so it didn’t take long for me to take advantage of the eFolio training and resources. After the district’s implementation of a demanding core curriculum (purchased through Kaplan) and frustrating software glitches, many secondary eFolio teachers decided eFolio was too much to maintain and backed out. I found myself in the position of being the only eFolio teacher left at my school. I managed to find a way to continue to work eFolio into the new curriculum  for a few days between units.  In doing so, I gained sole access to an entire cart of 18 MacBooks. The sacrifice was well worth the reward!  Technology was easily infused into my classes from that point on.

My “teacher” website began evolving at about the same time. I discovered the iWeb software application available on my school-issued MacBook. The themes and page formats made it easy to learn and adapt the platform to meet my needs.  The second year into my iWeb, colleagues started coming to me for help setting up their iWeb sites and my administration asked me to facilitate a beginner’s iWeb inservice for the faculty. As in most school districts, parent-teacher communication was gaining more emphasis and I began considering ways to better use my website to support student and parent communication.  iWeb’s platform made it easy for me to upload photos of my whiteboard every day (complete with the weekly assignment calendar and daily lesson notes which students should have recorded in their notebooks).  The idea was that, if students were absent or assignments were missing, parents and students could always find out the details they needed from my website.  This became very helpful during parent conferences or when responding to parent emails – all I had to say was “It’s on my website”. Over time, documents became embedded and links to online resources were linked directly from the daily web pages on my site to further support the details of daily instruction. Before long, parents, colleagues, and my administration began noticing the value the way my website design offered parents and students easy access to course-related information.

I’m very fortunate to teach at a school located in a relatively affluent area of our community. Other than spotty access to internet and cellphone towers in the eastern, rural area of our school’s attendance zone, most students have access to computers and internet at home. Generally speaking, middle school students (on average) also make up a growing group of video-gamers. When I began teaching a course for our gifted student population, it had already been established that Fridays would continue to almost always be spent as an “Exploration Day”, which translates into a form of “Game Day”. It supports a theory that gifted students need the opportunity to have one class period a week where they can do “whatever they need to do for themselves” in order to help manage stress.  It’s also about allowing for individual student choice. They can choose to work on a project or homework for another class, play chess or other board games, socialize, play educational computer games, etc. When I took over this course I brought in my oldest son’s old Nintendo 64 game system as an additional option for “Exploration Day”.  Surprise (?), it became a huge hit in class every Friday! Discussions during free time began to turn toward topics related to which game systems they had at home and their favorite games to play on them.  It reminded me of when I used to play Super Nintendo games with my oldest son when he was young. I guess I filed these experiences away for later reference. I had no idea at the time how these instructional choices would ultimately influence and ease my transition into the world of “education gamification”.

From the desk of Mr. Walters

How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction


How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

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How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

Educational Gaming Commons

How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

First the Classroom, Then the World

How I've Created My "Game" Sites & Prepare My Classes For Their "inStructural" Transformation = Altering the Structure of Instruction

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