Saturday, April 14, 2012

Failure Is Not An Option: It's Imperative.

This is a journal entry as part of my participation in the 3D GameLab Teacher Camp.

Prompt: How might a teacher apply even ONE characteristic of games and game environments (choice, progress bars, etc.)  to a typical unit or module of instruction?

Failure Is Not An Option: It's Imperative. 

Of all the various characteristic of gaming, I think the attitude towards failure is not only the easiest one to change, but will have the greatest effect on student performance. Think about the current classroom environment that is so focused on having correct answers that even teachers are cheating on standardized tests for students. There is no learning in knowing the answers: the learning comes with the attempts to find the answers. Let's pretend that the current educational environment will allow us to change this focus on "the right answer."

The classroom needs to become a place to fail, not to succeed. For games, the challenge of discovering the answer is why we play: why we fight that fight over and over, try that race again and again, or keep doing that puzzle until we've solved it. Imagine an environment where we marvel at the attempts, not the final grade. Teachers become tools for learning, not dictators and police officers.

I've written about this before, but in theatre, the very nature of rehearsal is failure: you try things, some work and some don't. You go back and attempt to discover more things that work... celebrating your successes, sure, but using the failures as food for more attempts. I'm pretty sure if we turned the classroom into rehearsal for "performance" on the standards, we'd be taking a step in the right direction.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Too Late to Educate?

This is a journal entry as part of my participation in the 3D GameLab Teacher Camp. This particular quest had me watch the following video and reflect in a blog post.

Too Late to Educate?

Watching David Perry's TED Talk helped me define a feeling that has been growing in my gut for about three years. If you haven't seen it and have 20 minutes, here it is:

To give you a little context, I'm 41 years old but have a couple of things going against me:
  1. I'm a theatre artist. With degrees in Drama and Theatre Directing, I've been accustomed to the term "play" being a part of the fabric of my work and life. Communication is my forte, collaboration and performance-based assessment my norms.
  2. I'm a high school teacher. There's a passage in Frank McCourt's book Teacher Man: A Memoir (that I'm going to paraphrase until I can listen to the whole thing and grab the actual quote) about how after you teach high schoolers for a while, you become one of them... you're sort of trapped in their thinking and world of communication. I've always loved and identified with that idea and I think it's helped me get through times when my "adult" friends don't understand why I'm not thinking about the world in the same way they do.
  3. I hold three positions at the same school: Theatre Arts Director, Technology Coordinator, and Media/Tech Academy Director. I know, I know: "Just put down 'Teacher' and you'll feel better." Hardly.
What's happened lately is that despite my being "ahead of the curve" with regards to educational technology (and I'm reminded regularly: recently a national foundation asked to use my template from a popular Web 2.0 tool to help out their other members), I've been hit with bouts of melancholy with regards to my work. Nevermind that change happens so slowly in public education, nevermind that money and access DO have everything to do with it regardless of how innovative you are, and nevermind that we are moving forward despite all the challenges: 

We're too late.

That's not despair; I'm not that good a writer. It's just reality. My evidence? Anecdotal. Limited to my experience. But nonetheless relevant.

My acting classes are a hotbed of experimentation... of the technological kind. I try everything. How is it relevant? It's all communication, baby. I poll my students about things like what device they'd want to check out of the library instead of textbooks. Taking photos of things and tagging them properly is regular practice. Next month my acting students are going to make apps that collect information on their favorite performer so they'll no longer have to "Google" Justin Bieber and can learn a new medium of demonstration.


The problem is that I'm just trying. These kids are going to miss out. The seniors are going to be gone in two months and some will step backwards into a lecture hall where they won't excel either. When they say "Aw, that sounds cool! Why couldn't MY classes be like that?!?" as I explain how I'm going to work in these tools and techniques for next year's academy (at least as best I can given what I'm given), it breaks my heart.

Problem is, even the kids who do get to have "classes like that" will be behind the curve. Technology changes/grows/moves/progresses so fast that education will never be in front of it. We move too slowly, for various reasons that aren't all bad. Sure you have "Amazing Online School" here and "Smarten Up Through Gaming School" there, but as hard as I... we? ...we work, there will always be huge groups of kids that we miss. As sad as that sounds, the key is this: The fact that it's too late is the reason to keep going, not a reason to stop. I just have to keep telling myself that.

Spring break is almost over. Time for this teacher to get back to learning.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

No Such Thing as a Very Long Engagement

Bear with me...

A couple of years ago I started to use PollEverywhere in my classes, allowing the students to text in responses to questions, thoughts on topics we were covering, etc. It worked beautifully! Students were engaged like never before, I was getting instant feedback that I could use (and did) to tweak lessons in an effort to ensure maximum learning, etc. It was amazing.

For three weeks.

After a few days, participation waned. It got to the point where I'd have to say, "C'mon everyone: let's get out those cell phones!" knowing full well the vat of irony I was swimming in.

It turns out that everything has a shelf life. For today's students, you can't have engagement without change. I bring this up here because I sort of had the same thing happen with my 3D GameLab experience. I'm sure if you checked my time in the system on Monday, you'd think I was off work. On the contrary, I was doing many of the first quests on the projector in front of my classes to demonstrate the new environment I was exploring. I was thrilled with the system and my mind was abuzz with ideas for adapting lessons into quests. Over the last three days, I've been online significantly less. There were a couple of factors contributing to this (workload, week before Spring Break, large grant to finish writing), but it made me think of my PollEverywhere epiphany.

I'm now thinking about use of the 3D GameLab system itself and how it's definitely another tool rather than a complete learning environment. This sounds like a no-brainer in hindsight, but an important point nonetheless.

What are your thoughts? Can you see students coming into this environment for all of your classroom work over the course of a semester or year without becoming as jaded to the technology as with anything else? Can we make our quests engaging enough to avoid drops in level of participation? Maybe there's a balance that we'll have to discover with each class that participates...

I'd be interested to see the results of student feedback after a few weeks in the GameLab...

This is a re-post of my journal entry as part of the 3D GameLab Teacher Camp. There are some great comments in the forum where it's originally posted, but unfortunately I can't transfer them here.

"Cool! It's a game? ...So it's NOT a game?"

This is a re-post of my journal entry as part of the 3D GameLab Teacher Camp. There are some great comments in the forum where it's originally posted, but unfortunately I can't transfer them here.

This is a reflection on something that happened last Monday when I started exploring 3dGameLab in front of my students. Their first reaction was positive: they were fascinated by the gamer aspects of the environment. The question was: "So it's a game?"

When I started doing some of the quests, the general attitude changed to "So it's not a game," with the appropriate air of let-down that teachers know as the doorway to disinterest.

This got me thinking less about the GameLab environment and more about my own assignments. Do the potential quests I have in mind match the potential established by the online environment? Will my students be disappointed to find "just another journal-entry quest?" (Don't get me wrong, I personally love being XP-Paid to write a journal because I never take the time to otherwise.)

Those of you that have been using this with students: have you had to step up your assignment "game" or is this just the result of my demonstrating the platform on a projector and students not actually being in the system yet?

The Game's Afoot...

So I'm doing some professional development on quest based learning and gamification and one of the recurring quests is to journal. I'll probably cross-post a lot of them here. Hope you find them interesting!