Designing School More Like A Game

Breaks are my time of ideas.  I slow down, read, think, take walks, drive my car without the radio on.  Taking that time to recharge and let ideas percolate is so important for me.  Over winter break this year, my favorite WNYC program, On the Media, aired a show around gaming.  Their last piece, The Future of Gaming was an interview with journalist Tom Bissell which aired pieces of the two following videos:

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Last year when I visited Al Doyle at Quest 2 Learn (Q2L), I saw the vision of Katie Salen who wrote Rules of Play and founded Q2L.  Kids using system design theory to learn History, English, Math and Science in a 21st Century way.  Kids creating their own games to teach their peers.

This leads me to Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  I’m only 56% of the way through, but her stories of real games being designed to make the world a better place is compelling.  Not that we have to solve all problems with games, but designing compelling experiences for our students so they are engaged in their learning seems a lot like designing games.

Here’s one example of how I’ve applied McGonigal’s work here at school.  A few weeks ago, I was running an exchange day between boys at my school and girls at one of our sister schools.  The boys and girls were doing some icebreaker activities and one of the activities was starting to get stale and we still had about 10 minutes to go in the period.  I added a new challenge (do the activity standing up instead of sitting down) and it allowed the activity to reengage the students.

I used the understanding that “all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.” (McGonigal, 2011) was important to this process.  A new rule refreshed the game that I described above.

So I’m finding myself more and more interested and engaged in thinking about game design and design challenges as centerpieces of student learning.  Solve big problems, figure out how to change the world, engage people around you. Dan Pink nailed it when he wrote about autonomy, motivation and purpose.  This all seems inter-related in critical ways.

What do you think?  What are your examples of using games to develop better learning environments?

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Scratch Mastery Project

Goal: To use Scratch (a free visual programming language) to program a game or learning experience that someone else can watch and learn from without a person explaining it.

This trimester, we learned the scratch programming language through a mastery project.  We started with a graphic organizer that asked the students the following questions:

  1. Name three activities you enjoy doing?
  2. List one thing from each that was difficult for you to master?
  3. Pick one of those – What are the steps in mastering that task – break them down. 

For a fifth grader, this is not an easy task.  What I was lookingscratch for was for the children to think through the steps to succeed at a specific task that they were good at.  Once they did this organization activity, they moved to scratch and created a program to teach those steps.  Because we use scratch in the lower school we jumped right in with a quick Scratch refresher.  If they had questions, I encouraged the boys to ask their neighbor or read/watch the tutorials at the MIT Scratch Support site.  These include the getting started guide and video tutorials.  More advanced students also downloaded and looked at the code from other scratch programs on the scratch web site

With some coaching and challenging, the boys really took off on this project.  There were lots of sports instructions including throwing a football, juggling a soccer, ball, and shooting a paintball gun.  Other students taught us to play instruments and jump off of snowboard and bicycle ramps.  

Drive, Switch, and Broken Reality

Some themes from this year’s reading:

Autonomy, Motivation, Purpose

Dan Pink’s Drive

The Elephant and the Rider

Heath Brothers, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Tough

Goal, Rules, Feedback, Voluntary Participation = Hard Fun

– Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: What Games Make us Better

Powerful ideas here.  Figuring out how to use them to improve school.  How about you?

How Do You Learn a New Skill on Your Own?

Today is Tech 5 we discussed how to learn new skills on your own. We looked at a completed Excel Spreadsheet that showed the average words per minute on 11/19/2010 and 1/10/2011 for the section.

typing-data

Students came up with the following suggestions to learn something on their own:

  • Search for ‘create a table in excel’ on YouTube
  • Figure it out – Play with the software
  • Click on the help button in Excel

We discussed how it’s often hard to figure out how to do something because you need the vocabulary of the software/program to find what you need to learn to do.

Here is the vocabulary to complete this assignment:

  • Insert a Chart
  • AutoSum: to sup up a row or column
  • Create an equation for the average increase in typing

typing-graph

Many times, having someone show you these skills is the easiest way to learn them, but knowing where to go to figure them out is important as well.

The assignment for next week is to watch the following videos on excel.  We’ll be completing the spreadsheet at the beginning of class.

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How do you learn a new skill?  I like to find experts, but also appreciate finding tutorials online.  I believe that learning is shifting to be a more independent process in this connected world.  An important skill for us to teach our students.

Tech 5 Digital Footprint Lesson

digital-footprintThe goal of this lesson is to give students awareness of what it means to have a digital footprint.

Ask the students, “What  is a digital footprint?” 

Definitions include:

  1. What can be found when you Google yourself.
  2. Data collected by different web sites you visit.
  3. Data recorded by email, social networking, cell phone and video game companies.
  4. Anywhere where you use a username and password.

Digital Footprint on Wikipedia

Pew Internet & American Life Research on Digital Footprints

I then show this video: 

digital-footprint-video

I then ask them to think for a minute about their digital footprint and then lead a short discussion around the following questions:

  • Why would people Google you? 
  • What is your digital reputation?

At this point, I ask them students to take out their footprints (see link above) and list the accounts the have online: websites, social networks,  phones they text with, video games they play online, etc.

Once they have done this for 5 minutes, I have them enter this data into our homework submission site.  This is good data to start conversations about Internet safety in the future. 

How do you teach about Digital Footprints?