Category Archives: Game Based Learning

Posts that include information about how games-based learning is implemented in my classes.

New School Year, New Curriculum, New Game Ideas

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 7.24.30 PM Wow! It’s mid-September already and I finally have time to blog again! The regular, every-day world of Middle School, plus the process of designing a new curriculum AND a new site to go with it has made it challenging to say the least, but I’m pleased to say that the new Flipside (HTML5) framework is complete and Quest 1 has begun!

Ever since taking the Coursera Gamification course last spring, I’ve been considering how to use more game-design elements to support students’ need to be able to go back and access resources from the past to help them better succeed as they move forward.  In video games, players can go back to other areas that they’ve mastered in order to gain more experience and therefore become more successful in new areas.  The same concept works in school too –> When students find new skills difficult, opportunities to go back and spend more time on supporting skills will make the “road ahead” less difficult to master. To accomplish this in Flipside I’ve added a new element I’m calling “Terminals”.

TERMINALS are areas where the student/player is presented with an area where they have three or more choices of direction. Clicking on the red shield takes them back to the very beginning of the Quest area (the beginning of the current curriculum unit).  By choosing the yellow shield, students/players are taken back to the previous Mission (Missions are parts of a Quest and coincides with each week of a curriculum unit).  Selecting to follow the green shield leads the student/player forward to the next Mission in sequence.

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 7.39.38 PMThis is the image of Terminal 1, which is located in Quest 1.

LETS’ GO AHEAD AND ADDRESS COPYRIGHT

The images I use are mostly open-source, generally gained by searching for open-source images that fit a particular need (downloadable images from deviantart.com are also used occasionally). To support copyright laws, I’m in the process of correctly citing the owner and copyright date and link the images to their online source or provide the link at the bottom of the page in a “Credits” area. The image of the character of Link on this page, for example, was cropped from a concept version of the Nintendo game character posted at deviantart.com. There’s great information about this topic at HTML Goodies. This is a very extensive process for a site my size so far, but my idea is to begin correctly posting copyright information as I go along from now on. Since the site is designed to be used with and academically motivate my Middle School students as well as tying to my curriculum, I’m hoping to avoid any copyright issues until I can get it done properly.

NEW CHARACTERS AND NEW MAPS

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 7.40.22 PM In addition to the Terminals, there is also a Terminal Map (pictured left). Considering that this “game” could get pretty complicated depending on the number of weeks/Missions in a given Unit/Quest.  The idea for the new curriculum is to have a total of four units, one per grading term.  If each grading term is nine weeks long and there are a total of four, that would create approximately 36+ different areas, not including Quest intro areas, terminals, hidden item/areas and resource areas such as the Training Room, Item Shop, and Arcade.

I was thinking about how students/players would get from the Home screen to their current place in Flipside when they’re in say Quest 4; Mission 5. Too much clicking unless they have access to a map for each Quest and/or a Terminal Map where they could travel from Terminal to Terminal via a virtual underground transportation system.  A further idea for the Terminal transportation is to use versions of familiar video game characters (like Link) – a different character in each quest or for each Terminal (I haven’t decided which yet). Either way, the map systems would offer students/players more choices for how and where to move around the accessible areas.

New characters are also being introduced to offer specific information about an area or give important directions for using different game elements.  I decided that the character of Katt (introduced on the Home screen of Quest 1 and also currently found in the Quest 1 Map area) would be someone who could help them with basic Quest navigation. The “Blue Fairy” is their general guide and the Flipside “Welcome” hostess also provides students (or anyone visiting the site  for the first time) with general information regarding how to gain access, mute music on the pages,  and to the “trailer” for the story behind Flipside.

CURRICULUM TIE-INS

Other ways I’m attempting to engage and motivate my students into having fun with the curriculum (whether they’re aware of it or not) is to directly reference skills and activities we’re using in the classroom.  For example, in the first Quest/Unit, my advanced Language Arts students are reading the novel The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan and the theme is “a hero’s journey” through mythology.  I’ve chosen images and music for Quest 1 that reflect mythology, mystery, suspense, and even use images directly related to characters referenced in The Lost Hero. Icons located in each Mission area relate directly to the type of resource it is: Slideshare, Wattpad, Quizlet, etc. The icons will also be consistent throughout the “game” to help students find their way  around easier.

Screen shot 2013-09-19 at 8.48.35 PM

So, now I’m off to continue to build Flipside and work with my colleagues to design the curriculum.  The Leaderboard needs to be updated on the Google Spreadsheet and badges awarded on Edmodo.  Look for additional modifications and reflections about incorporating gamification into the new curriculum, with a new group of Middle-Schoolers in the next post…

Migrating from Adobe Flash to HTML5

Flipside ImageThere has been a great deal of debate among techies lately concerning which format is the better choice for website developers: Adobe Flash or HTML5.  In a nutshell, Adobe Flash allows for a lot more animated transitions but requires a lot of storage space and isn’t compatible with most tablet and smart devices without a converter. HTML5 however, is very compatible with devices but lacks the animation capability of Adobe Flash. Fortunately for students and faculty at my Middle School, we’ve just installed a “guest” server and have recently become a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) School. Until this past February, the only devices students had access to in class were school MacBooks and eMacs located in computer labs or shared laptop carts.

Beginning last summer and continuing during the school year, I spent a great deal of time creating my interactive websites (flipsideinteractive.com and giftedcelestia.com) using blank Adobe Flash templates at wix.com . I initially chose the Flash format because I liked the “pop” and fun the flash animations added to the websites while also enhancing student engagement in the gamification process.  However, now that 85% of my students are bringing in their own smart devices with them to class, I was faced with the somewhat difficult decision regarding the future of my interactive sites: Do I keep the Adobe Flash sites that I’d already invested so many hours developing and synchronizing with my curriculum, or should I start creating new sites from scratch in the HTML5 format so they could be more easily accessed at school or at home on a myriad of devices?  Here are a few reasons why I decided to convert to HTML5:

1) Students can access HTML5 sites from any device, anywhere (no excuses).

2) All of the images I’d previously uploaded and used on the Flash sites are still accessible through my Wix account for use with any HTML5 template.

3) My school district is moving away from their previously mandated curriculum and into the national Common Core State Standards next year, so I’ll have to align the sites with a new curriculum and new resources next year anyway.

4) Even though I’d purchased domain names for the Flash sites, I can transfer them with very little effort to my new HTML5 sites.

5) Students can still take screen shots on their mobile devices and submit them as evidence of mastery just as they did with the Adobe Flash sites.

I decided to try my hand at the HTML5 template for my last Language Arts unit of the year (mythology/fairy tales/folktales), so you’ll notice that the new, HTML5 version of “Flipside” is currently the active site linked to flipsideinteractive.com. I’ve also taken advantage of feedback I’ve received from students, colleagues and friends and already changed a few things:

~ New look to the Arcade

~ New, non-animated icons to identify the Training Hut, Arcade, Item Shop, etc.

~ Some areas have limited access and are under construction

~ Since the Voki’s that give directions in the Item Shop, Training Hut, and Arcade require Flash I had to come up with a “work around” –  I recorded them from the Voki website using a screen recorder (Screencast-O-matic) and uploaded them to YouTube. Now I can still share them using the video player on HTML5 website template.

~ The music used by the HTML5 Wix template uses Sound Cloud and I’m still learning how to comfortably adapt that element into the site, so at the time of this post, there are no sound effects on the new site.

I’ll be updating my blog during the summer and am hoping to be able to find time to record some screen casts of my HTML5 site development. As always, if you have any specific questions or feedback, feel free to contact me or leave a comment here.

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)

gaming

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

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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”.

Why blog about this?

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I began transforming my curriculum during the summer of 2012 (well, actually modifying my district’s core curriculum, which was their precursor to the newly mandated national Common Core State Standards). Every summer, in addition to using the time off from teaching to spend more quality time with my family and friends, as always part of “recharging my batteries” also involved reflecting on the past year’s successes and challenges. My first stop in seeking out discussions and resources on new topics in education was my favorite Professional Learning Network – Edmodo.

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I often find myself spending more time perusing the Edmodo publisher communities and professional group wall posts than Facebook. Mainly because the content on Edmodo is much more influential, insightful and thought-provoking than anything posted on other social networking sites. I could go on and on about my love for Edmodo and the amazing professionals I’ve connected with and have learned from all over the world, but instead I’ll suggest you join Edmodo as an educator yourself and discover the amazing platform first hand at http://www.edmodo.com

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