Monday, December 8, 2014

Computer Science Education Week 2014

December 8-14 is Computer Science Education Week. As a result there is a slew of sites offering up many incentives and activities for the classroom. Here's the list of things that we have found thus far. If you know of any sites that we missed, feel free to add it in our comments! I've updated this list to add some new resources.

National Center for Women & Information Technology - 7 Resources for 7 days

Blockly Maze - This fun game offers 10 levels for students to go through to help them understand loops.

Brain Pop - All of their Computer Science videos are free this week.

Code.Org / - This is your one stop home for Hour of Code

Khan Academy - KA has created an entire course for students and coaches just for this week.

Looking Glass - Animated stories, computational thinking and more.

Light Bot - This site boasts programming made kid-friendly

ScratchEd - This simple programming language offers tutorials and is easy for students 4 - 12 to pick up on.

Tynker - This is very similar to Scratch, in that it offers a very visual means of introducing programming.

What are you doing this week to celebrate and learn? Please share it with us!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Techtoberfest 2014

This last week I had the opportunity to speak at Techtoberfest at the Tooele County Schools in Stansbury, Utah. It was an excellent opportunity to share my experiences with a gamified classroom with other educators. The teachers at Tooele County Schools had a ton of questions and I only regret that we did not have enough time.

I originally planned to present 2 sections of an introduction to gamification and one of an advanced/working session. Unfortunately there was a mix up and the 3rd session was a combination of both new and repeat teachers. But that's okay! We were still able to get through a lot of content. If you still have questions about gamification or need help getting started, feel free to contact me:


Here are some of the resources from my presentations and notes:


Increasing Student Achievement with Gamification
Gamification 201

Introduction to Gamification
Gamificiation 201

3D Game Lab
Class Realm
Class Craft
Class Dojo

Make your games:
Gamestar Mechanic


White Paper: Understanding quest-based learning Chris Haskell Ed.D

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gamification Poster Child

Today was my first time presenting for Professional Development outside of my district. I decided to present about a topic that is near and dear to my heart and my passion: Gamification. I have had a gamified classroom for 2 years and it has completely changed my life, the way that I teach and the way that I think about education. So I prepared my notes, and my presentation, and showed up early so that I would be good to go. I brought my laptop, ipad and a chromebook. No this is not device overload. In fact, I needed another device but I'll get to that.

I power on my laptop, hook it up to the projector provided, and there's no image. Reset the laptop, try to connect with Windows key + Shift +P. Nothing worked. I am not sure if it is Windows 8 or perhaps a hardware issue with the VGA port, I'll figure that out when I'm home. My plan was to connect my laptop then use splashtop streamer on my iPad which allows me to walk around and not be "tied" to the projector which is something that drives me crazy.

But I digress. I was able to borrow another laptop and the day was saved with Google Drive. And then we were off. We started out by playing a couple of games, with the participants leveling up and earning rewards (sure it was just a candy bar but we have to start somewhere).  There was so much more that I wanted to say about gamification, how the process works, how I started, and how 3D Game Lab has changed my life. The time went SO fast, and I wish that I had had more time.

I felt SO good when I was done because I got to see people make the connection between the process and student success which is what we're after. It was a great way to start my day. I also got to meet another fellow 3D Game Lab player Murray which was super cool to put a name with a face and a face with a gamertag.

I am looking forward to tweaking and planning my groups for next year and seeing where the game takes us.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Getting Started with Gamification

Before getting started with gamification, it is important to fully understand what gamification is. This short video on gamification introduces some of the basic concepts:

I’ll go over some of the basic concepts of gamification and how I have implemented them in the past and how I am implementing them now.

I started with gamification after a few years of using either a blended or flipped model for my classes. I have taught 7th grade Math, 8th grade Earth Science, and I currently teach technology and robotics/engineering to grades 6 through 8. All of my current classes have been gamified.

Note: Gamification requires a lot of front loading of content and components prior to implementation. You can always choose to start with one or two components (questing, xp and levels.) and build from there.

Gamification components:
Quests - Think of these like assignments. Students choose which quest they want to complete and complete it. They vary in length and format just like a traditional assignment. Students like to feel like they have accomplished something every day, which is why I try to break up larger tasks into smaller quests that build on each other. Think of it like creating a newspaper. You don’t go out and create the entire thing in one sitting. You start with one section, then within that section, you have one article, then another and so on. It is important to include collaboration with peers in quests, don’t think of everything as “solo” content.

Badges - These are mini awards that are given for completing either a group of quests, a unit, or can be used to show mastery of a concept or standard. For example, if a student has mastered using Google Docs, they might receive a “Documentor” badge which shows this.

Awards -  In a traditional school setting, especially elementary, teachers are really good at giving awards. We put stickers or stamps on a paper that was good that says “Great Job!”. Awards in gamification are very similar and can be earned for just about anything. Was a student helping another student without asking? Give them the “Helping Hands” award. Did a student improve greatly on a skill or concept from pretest to posttest? Give them a “Star Award”.

Achievements- One of my favorite gamification components is achievements. They help motivate students who are competitive as well as those who are completionists. Achievements can be things like “Earn 1000 XP”. “Reach level 10.” “Complete 10 quests in 10 days.”

XP and Levels - At the core of gamification is XP and levels. Experience Points, or XP is awarded for completing quests (assignments), badges, awards, and achievements, and is used to help the students level up. In games we start out as weak level 1 characters who have no powers and no knowledge of the world around them. When gamifying your class, students start out at level 1. It’s really up to you how many levels will be available to your students. I do 100xp for every level and currently have 25 levels in my class.

Rewards -  One of the greatest motivational factors for students is rewards. This is also true of gamification. I incorporate in-class rewards. For example, when a student reaches level 5 they may choose where they sit (until they can no longer be productive there or until there is a new seating chart). Other rewards that I incorporate are: Listening to their own music in class, a day of ipad games or activities, P.A.T. (Preferred Activity Time), 15 minutes of social time with peers, Chance Cards (think Monopoly but the rewards are all for school).

Winning - In a traditional school setting an “A” is the highest great that can be earned. In gamification, we are focused more on mastery of concepts. It may take student A 1 quarter to “Win” the class and it may take student B 2 quarters. This is fine. You have to define a winning condition, just like a game, when does it end. For my current classes Winning is defined by 2000 xp. What does this mean? It means that the student has mastered 90% or more of the available concepts for the class.

Changing the way you think about things
In games, when you fail it is not the end of the game. When your character dies or you don’t beat the level it is not the end. For me at least, it is the same way with gamification. When a student does not complete an assignment to mastery, which for most of my assignments is 85-100% complete, they can do it again without any punitive recourse. That is to say, just because it took Student A more tries to complete something than it did Student B, they can both receive full credit.

This means that late work is out the window, as is docking “points” for things being late. This takes a lot of the pressure off of students who would normally be able to complete the work but it takes them a little longer to get it done.

History: I started out gamifying my class after stumbling upon a blog post on Class Realm through an article about the creator and the site. The one thing that I did not like was the idea of gamification being used for “extra work.” I wanted to use for the actual work that the students were using. I downloaded all the Class Realm documents and modified them to work for my class. I started out using a paper based model and Class Dojo.

Students created avatars or “characters” on Class Dojo, they then kept a character sheet in their binders that tracked their levels, XP, badges, awards and achievements. I created leaderboards and posted them in the classroom for each period. These were updated daily and were a great motivator for the students.

Initially my students had what we called a “choice tracker” for each unit (this one is from a unit on Earthquakes). Because one of the important components of gamification is choice, I had to start somewhere. I knew what I wanted the students to learn but it was left up to them how they learned it and how they were assessed. Because students learn in a variety of ways, it is important to incorporate many different ways of teaching/learning to ensure that you are getting every student.

So what exactly did this look like? This was in an 8th grade Earth Science class with 4 computers, and 9 ipads, occasionally I could check out the iPad cart when it wasn’t being used by other teachers. Students would receive a unit tracker and be assigned due dates.

On the unit tracker there were 3 Tracks which offered options for them to learn the material. It also included an assessment option and a completion choice (enrichment, more help/clarification/work ahead).  Both parents and students would sign off on the choices so that all parties knew what the student would be doing.

Each track item is worth the same about of XP so that when a student finished the unit they had earned all of the XP for that unit. XP would be tracked (painstakingly) using Class Dojo (they only let you add 1 point at a time). Additionally students kept track of their levels on their Character sheets and I had a master sheet for each class.

With the leaderboards, achievements and levels, students worked furiously through material. I remember students emailing things at all hours of the day and night trying to get things turned in so that the next day they would have their points and could move up on the leaderboards.

I am using 3d Game Lab, which is a one stop solution that incorporates all of these features. The big changes between last year and this year is that I was able to go 1:1. With being a 1:1 classroom and having 3D Game Lab, my entire class is 100% gamified, from classroom management to student work, to grades, everything. We have class leaderboards, a genius board on the class website and a physical one in the class room which allows students to collaborate and ask for help when they need it. Students set and meet SMART goals each semester. Students created their avatars on Class Dojo but that is the only component of Class Dojo that is really being used. There are tons of other avatar generators out there.

I spent the summer frontloading 80% of the content for my courses into 3DGL. The majority of the quests are original quests that I designed to meet the standards that I am responsible for. In addition there were others created on the fly and some cloned from the Quest Armory which has over 20,000 quests in a variety of subjects created by teachers from all around the world.
The number one compliment that I get when others enter my classroom is that my students are always working. They know exactly what is expected of them, what their options are and how to succeed. With gamification I have all of the tools that I need to both manage and teach my courses. I have written another blog post about how Gamification Changed Everything for the better in my classroom.

Getting Started:
  1. What will you gamify? Your class? A section of your class (if elementary).
  2. Which elements will you incorporate first?
  3. Which method of tracking everything will you use? (Edmodo, class website, 3D game Lab, spreadsheets, Class RealmClassCraft?)
  4. Create badges.
  5. Create Achievements
  6. Create awards or consider in class rewards.
  7. Get started.
Remember that you should always reflect upon your practices and ensure that you are teaching the standards and that your gamification should not hinder education but support it.

I'd love to here comments or questions so feel free to post them and I'd love to help anyone set up their own gamified class further.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Engineers Week

Traditionally, National Engineers Week is the third Thursday of February, which means it is just around the corner! So let's get planning! Here are some resources to help you get started:

Discover e - Home of Engineers Week Resource Page - Simply check the box for Engineers Week and you'll be good to go!

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) - E Week toolkit. Not sure where to start? The ACSE has published a series of tips to help people get started with E Week.
 iSTEM - Idaho Science Technology Engineering and Math. This initiative offers professional development throughout the state of Idaho. Teachers have submitted hundreds of STEM lesson plans, ideas and resources which can be found here.

Science NetLinks celebrates Engineers Week with lesson plans and ideas for each grade k-12. These lessons are a great starting point. They have everything from building a better pencil box to getting started with a rocket launch.
Siemens STEM blog checks in with educators allowing them to share their ideas and plans for Engineers Week.

Engineer Girls - 50 Years of Engineering in Society. Engineer Girls is offering several contents which happen to coincide with Engineers Week. This is a great opportunity for girls to get excited about engineering and perhaps win up to $25,000.

Does your school celebrate Engineers Week? What are you planning? Share it with us!