Gamification

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The first time I heard the term “gamification” used in an educational context my mind cast back to my Super Mario Bros days. I envisaged my own grade 4 primary school classroom kitted with beanbags, huge television screens (well, they were considered to be big back then), 8bit graphics, dim lights, Super Mario Bros game music (do, do, do, dodo, di…do), buttons clicking and chatter discussing how to save Princess Toadstool. I imagined my friends and I being so addicted to school (A.K.A. video gaming) that we’d be begging our teacher to let us stay in at play time or that when the bell would go to signal that the school day was over and we’d wonder where all the time had gone.

When I found out more about gamification in education, I was disappointed, if only for a second, as I realised that the notion is not actually about playing video games…

BUT before you click the back button please read on as gamification in an education setting can be just as great! The approach aims to replicate that addictive feeling you get when playing a video game. It suggests that by creating a game like environment students will be motivated to learn in the same way that they are motivated to play video games. They will be in a state where they are so focussed on achieving a task they forget that they’re learning.

The way in which gamification can influence educative practice is through drawing on or replicating the structure and/or elements in those video games. Elements include having an overall goal to reach or following a narrative structure, players (students) being reinforced and rewarded as they are learning and having a “fun”. Tasks are also broken down into smaller pieces in order to reach a particular outcome and have the appropriate amount of “challenge” for the participant so that they become engrossed in what they are doing. There may also be a social element.

I’ve experimented with making a gamified project called “Popcorn Maths Project”. I used some of the elements from my all-time favourite video game Super Mario Bros. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Super Mario Bros (I am sorry that you had a limited childhood) it is an adventure game where a character named Mario sets out to save a princess named Toadstool from a castle. He has to defeat many creatures, avoid lots of obstacles and gains different powers along the way.

In my “Popcorn Maths Project”, students prepare and make popcorn for their class to eat. There are several steps which they need to take. First, maths skills are used to work out classmates’ popcorn seasoning choices. This is then displayed on a popcorn menu. Secondly, students calculate relevant quantities of each ingredient and complete a recipe that they will use to make the popcorn. Next, students calculate the weight of each quantity before creating a shopping list for their teacher. Finally, students make the popcorn and compare the uncooked and cooked popcorns’ volume and mass. And at the end they get to eat the popcorn!

The following table highlights gaming elements in Super Mario Bros and how I integrated these into my Popcorn Maths Project:

Gamified Element Super Mario Bros Popcorn Maths Project
Narrative/goal To save Princess Toadstool. To make and eat popcorn as a class.
Fun Explore Mushroom Kingdom which is filled with interesting creatures and special things to collect. Create a menu, complete a recipe, write a shopping list and make and eat popcorn.
Tasks broken down Players move through four sublevels in each of the eight worlds to complete the game. Students move through four sections of the popcorn project before completing the project and eating the popcorn.
Reinforcement and rewards received throughout Players reach checkpoints, go through flags to complete levels and receive points and extra lives as they collect coins. Students answer maths questions in order to complete each fun part of the project before repeating the cycle.
Scaffolding Players learn about new tricks or powers in the game slowly and continue building on them as the game progresses. Series of questions scaffold students to find answers that they need to complete each part of the project.
Social connection There is a two player option.

 

Students work together to complete the popcorn menu, cook and eat the popcorn.
Challenges There are new obstacles introduced as the game progresses.

 

There are two versions of the project and some challenge questions that can be allocated to different levels of maths abilities.

So there you have it. My first resource that gamifies teaching and learning. I would love to receive any feedback on this!

Also, I would be interested to know what others think about this approach – do you think “gamification” is a valuable pedagogy?

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

Is a silent classroom a better classroom?

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Educators ask their students to complete tasks in silence for many reasons. Their reasons might include to allow for better concentration, to more easily monitor their students’ productivity, to save time and maybe even for some peace and quiet (I have been known to need some quiet time every now and then).

For an onlooker, a silent classroom can appear to be orderly and hard-working, however I believe (even though I’ve fallen into the trap many times) that silent classrooms can have an impact on the confidence of students and even limit educational outcomes.

I think that dialogue between students is extremely important in order for them to:

  1. a) Understand what is expected from a task.
  2. b) Feel comfortable enough to give a task a go.

The following scenario illustrates how a silent classroom can be detrimental to a student’s learning and confidence:

Miss Mack explains and models a particular task while her students sit on the floor in front of her.

At the end of her instruction Miss Mack asks: “Does everyone understand what to do? Please put your hand up if you are unsure.”

No one puts their hand up. Timmy is sitting up the back of the group of students.

Timmy: What was Miss Mack talking about? I don’t know what to do. Come on Timmy, don’t cry.

Miss Mack: “Please get out your English book and without speaking move straight to your tables.”

Timmy: “Pssst Sarah, What do w…”

Miss Mack: “Did you hear the instruction Timmy? I asked you to move silently.”

Timmy: “But I don’t…”

Miss Mack: “Silently please. You all had the opportunity to ask questions when we were on the floor.”

All of the students move to their tables and begin working silently. Timmy, however, sits at his table silently and stares at a blank page in his book.

Timmy: Maybe she meant that we need to practise writing the alphabet, or was it to write about the alphabet? Awww I don’t know. She’s coming and I haven’t done anything.

Timmy: “Ben, do we write…”

Miss Mack: “You’re too busy talking. Have you started Timmy?”

Timmy: “Waaaaaaaaaa!”

Okay so maybe the above scenario is a little exaggerated but my point is that if Timmy could have spoken to his classmates before commencing the task, or during the time allocated to complete the task, then he would have clarified what he was expected to do and felt more comfortable and confident about completing it.

When you think about it, are adults expected to complete tasks without discussing them with someone? I know that meetings commonly take place in workplaces and there a more than enough discussion boards that university students have access to.

I also know that I frequently ask my family and friends questions about even the most trivial of tasks before undertaking them. Questions like (… and please note that I do like to talk!):

  • Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
  • Should I buy the Finish Powerball Super Charged Quantum Max Lemon Sparkle Dishwasher tablets or the Finish Powerball Turbo Speed Millennium Fresh mint ones?
  • This says “do not microwave” but how else am I going to cook it?
  • Does green or purple better suit my baby’s complexion?

Anyway, I’m not suggesting that classrooms should become places where educators go mad because students are constantly talking about anything and everything. I am suggesting, though, that a little time is given to students to talk to their peers to discuss their interpretation of tasks and to clarify any issues they have as they arise. This is a normal practice that we all engage in on a daily basis after all. Some a little more so than others!

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

What educators REALLY want kids to know before they start school

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Many friends and family members ask me what their kids should know, academically speaking, when starting school. They are under the illusion that their kids need to know the letters of the alphabet, how to count and how to write an essay (I may be exaggerating a little with this one). When I am asked this question I stress that kids don’t need to come to school with much knowledge. I believe that if a student is ready to start school, then they’ll learn.

And in fact, I think that there are actually a number of basic skills that are more important for kids to have a handle on before starting school – skills that are routinely expected by educators, but sometimes overlooked by parents.

Some of the skills educators would like to see children mastering before beginning school are:

  • Going to the toilet by themselves.

And no, I do not just mean sit on the toilet by themselves, I mean (apologies for the blunt detail) do the deed in the toilet, clean themselves, pull their pants up and wash their hands. This is because, educators have all the time in the world to teach concepts, social skills, values and the like, however they just don’t have the resources to individually take students to the toilet. In saying this, sure, accidents happen and that is totally fine. Educators expect them and have no issue cleaning up after one (well, I wouldn’t say that they enjoy it, but accept that it’s part of the job).

  • Packing and zipping up their school bags.

There’s nothing worse than belongings flying everywhere (in particular that spare pair of undies that’s been chucked in) all because it’s too tricky to zip up a bag. I’ve seen students become incredibly frustrated because they’re trying to shove a book into their bag sideways or zip up a bag that’s got a jumper arm caught in between the zipper’s edges. I know it may sound trivial but after a hard day’s work, this can be all too much for a little one. Also, it may sound rough, but helping students with this issue is low on an educator’s priority list at the end of the day. They are more focused on making sure that students have their jumpers on, that they all have any notes that’ve been handed out, and that no one is climbing up the walls or bashing their partner with their backpack (yes, this happens… all to often). Many tears can be saved if kids know how to pack and zip up their bags.

  • Opening a packet.

At recess time, when kids are hungry, educators don’t want a line of 22 students waiting to have their chip packet opened. They would be starving. If kids can open packets themselves then they get to spend more time playing and less time waiting.

  • Working and playing for periods without adult attention.

I know that we all want to give our children our undivided attention… “Oh, yes William, you are very clever. Keep chewing on that toy!”… Sorry, I was just talking to my son. Where was I… It is important for kids to be able to have a certain level of independence. Educators endeavour to give each student as much attention and assistance as possible, however cannot be there for every student in every moment.

  • Putting their belongings away.

“Hello, I’m just looking for (child’s name) hat. Have you seen it?” I’ve been asked this question so many times and cringe at the thought that it may have gone missing. Also, I get embarrassed when parents sort through random jumpers that are sprawled all over the classroom floor. Educators know that they are not responsible for lost items but feel as though they let parents down when something goes missing (Waaaa!) If students can be responsible and put their belongings away then they’ll save time (and worries).

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

6 cringe worthy questions you may have been asked as an educator

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Student’s Question: “Are you having a baby?”

Educator’s Thoughts: No, I’m just fat. I like chocolate, okay… and I’m trying to fall pregnant at the moment but am not having any luck! Waaaa!

Educator’s Response: “No sweet pea, that’s just my belly. It sticks out a little bit doesn’t it.”

Student’s Question: “What happened to your face?”

Educator’s Thoughts: I have zits. It’s really obvious isn’t it! Give me a paper bag.

Educator’s Response:Sometimes people get something called acne, which is when you get pimples all over your face. I happen to have lots of pimples on my face at the moment.”

Student’s Question: “Why don’t you have a partner?”

Educator’s Thoughts: Awwww, I was just dumped, I need to get out more and oh no, I think I’m starting to cry.

Educator’s Response: At this stage I don’t have a partner, but I may or may not have one in the future.

Student’s Question: “So you are having a baby… How will it get out of there?”

Educator’s Thoughts: Ouch!

Educator’s Response: “My Baby will push its way out of my tummy when its ready.”

Student’s Question: “Is God real?”

Educator’s Thoughts: How am I supposed to answer this question???

Educator’s Response: “Some people believe in God and some people don’t. You’ll have to decide what you think.”

Student’s Question: “You’re really old, Miss. Are you, like, 30? How old are you?”

Educator’s Thoughts: What? 30? That’s young! This must be some kind of joke!

What they might say: “Let’s just say that I am the right age to be your teacher.”

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

10 instructions I have given to students that went pear shaped!

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  1. “Please go and stick this note in your school bag, John.” John picks up his glue stick and the note and walks over to his school bag.
  2. “Woah, this activity is a ‘piece of cake’ for you Sarah!” Sarah asks where her piece of cake is.
  3. “I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, Nathan.” Nathan looks at the back of my head and seems puzzled.
  4. “Just letting you all know that I’m feeling a little under the weather today”. Students look up at the sky.
  5. “Keep your eye on the ball, Will” Will lifts up the ball and places it over his eye.
  6. “There is a chair over there, Sam. Just jump on that one”. Crash! “Ouch!” says Sam.
  7. “Come on my gorgeous chickens”. A couple of students make a “Cluck, Cluck” sound.
  8. “I know that you need to do a wee but can you hold on?” Child grabs my arm and then urinates.
  9. “Now that we are standing in pairs, you need to walk in a straight line.” Students walk off in straight lines but in all different directions.
  10. “You should lean on a book while you are writing on the floor so that you don’t poke holes in the paper.” Student props the book comfortably underneath his elbow and continues to struggle to write on a piece of paper that is directly on the carpet.

Credit to Guilherme Jose Drawings for the graphic.

8 ways to foster enjoyment in reading

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  1. Let students choose their own books (Does an adult ever give you a book and tell you that you have to read it? Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than being forced to read a Sci -Fi novel and I’m sure there are genres that make you screw up your face too).
  2. Get your students to spend less time doing activities about books (When I curl up on the couch and read a book I might make myself a cup of tea, but I certainly wouldn’t bring a pen and some paper with me in case I feel like ‘jumbling’ up the words in the book and reordering them).
  3. Encourage students to bring in their own books from home to read (If someone is keen to read something, LET THEM).
  4. Give students more time to actually read (Yes, it is important to teach students reading strategies BUT they need to practise using them too).
  5. Allow your students to ditch a book if they don’t like it (Reading should not feel like a jail sentence – “Read this or else!” Have you ever ditched a book or do you have any half read books tucked away on your bookshelf?)
  6. Let students browse the library (Put away your stopwatch. It can take time to find a book that you want to read).
  7. Talk about your favourite book as a kid and share the story. It’ll put a smile on your students’ faces and model your love of reading (I remember when my teacher read ‘The Witches’ to me… Ahhh yes… they were so ugly…that little boy was so brave…what was his name again? And how could I forget…the Grand High Witch…she gave me the heebie jeebies… Oh, sorry, I just got side tracked by my love of reading ‘The Witches’).
  8. Create a nice environment for reading (Think wine, chocolate… ‘cough’ I mean, bean bags, fresh water and minimal noise).

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

What effect might using the phrase “Mum and Dad” have on students?

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Why is the phrase “mum and dad” still used by educators? Surely we realise that these days many students are not part of a typical nuclear family (and I’m guessing this has always been the case). This may just sound like semantics to some, but I believe using this language at this very influential time in our students’ lives may be negatively impacting on their identities, confidence and sense of belonging.

The reason why this issue is so important to me is because part of my extended family does not consist of your typical mum and dad, two kids, family wagon, dog and cat. And it breaks my heart to think that the child in this non-traditional family is at risk of feeling disconnected from his school community as a result of the language that we use. It leads me to believe that there must be many other families out there that are similar (or should I say dissimilar). I think that we should be more aware of the different family units that our students come from.

In order to try and understand how students might feel about this issue, I attempted to put myself in the shoes of students from differing family units to imagine their response to the following question:

How do you feel when your teacher tells you to “go and ask your mum and dad for permission”?

(Please note that the names and responses I have included below are entirely fictional).

Nathan – Aged 5

Should I have a mum and a dad? I don’t really get it.

Sam – Aged 11

It used to really bother me. My teachers and all my friends know that I have two dads yet my teachers always tell us all to ask our “mums and dads”. One of my dads told me that my teachers don’t realise that what they’re saying upsets me so I’m okay about it now.

Alicia – Aged 8

When my teacher says this to me I remind her that I don’t have a dad. This seems to irritate her though and she says “You know what I mean… Obviously you need to ask your mum.”

Cara – Aged 10

It makes me want to get up and scream at my teachers. Do they not even care? Have they forgotten already? It was only last year. He was the best dad in the world. I don’t want to be reminded every day that he is gone.

Helen – Aged 6

What do you mean ‘How do I feel’? I just ask my mum and dad. I guess, sometimes I feel annoyed when mum and dad don’t let me do stuff. My mum is more likely to say ‘yes’ so sometimes I just ask her.

Through these responses I’ve tried to illustrate how the use of the phrase “mums and dads” may affect children of different ages from different family units.

Nathan’s response highlights that up until now his idea of ‘normal’ is different to what teachers assume is normal. He is beginning to wonder whether he is different.

Alicia wants her teacher to acknowledge that the phrase “mum and dad” does not apply to her family unit.

Sam, on the other hand, has obviously struggled with the phrase but has just come to accept that the language is going to be used.

Cara’s response highlights just how (albeit unintentionally) inconsiderate misusing this kind of language can be.

Helen’s thoughts illustrate that for someone from a ‘typical’ family, the phrase “mum and dad” is so normal that the point of the question can be missed entirely. Her response highlights that it is equally important for students with a mum and a dad to be aware that although their family unit is the most common type of family, others exist and are just as special and ‘normal’. Helen’s response may also help educators who have been brought up in typical family units to see why they have overlooked the complexity of this issue in the past, and upon reflection, how important it is that they do something about it.

I have hoped to illustrate how using the phrase “mum and dad” affects a wide range of students in different ways. While as educators we are now aware enough to know not to address letters to “mums and dads”, I think the critical next step is to stop using this language when speaking to our students.

Given that books and television programs reinforce the idea that everyone has a Mum and Dad (think Peppa Pig, Bananas in Pyjamas, Peter Rabbit, The Simpsons, Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants, Charlie and Lola, Olivia) (point made!) it is up to us as educators to challenge this concept as the norm.

I’m not saying that we should start telling kids to ask their legal guardian or to run through all of the potentially relevant terms every time a student needs to ask their family a question i.e. Mum/Dad/Mum and Dad/Dads/Mums/Aunty/Uncle/Aunty and Uncle/significant adult and the list could go on… rather we could use terms such as “family” or “parents”, or phrases like “people who you live with” to challenge the assumption that everyone has a mum and dad and ensure that all children feel included, regardless of their family type.

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the Graphic.