Tag Archives: teaching

What Change Can You Make This Year?

I have always tried to do things a little bit differently.  I really don’t want my class to be like every other class.  I want something different and unique, something that would impact the students and leave a positive memory with them.

One of the first “changes” that I made was introducing music as part of the classroom
culture (no one in my school outside of the music folks did this).  I taught math (not music) but I knew that playing music during class could be beneficial.  So in my second year of teaching, I brought the boombox from home, found a Braveheart disc and it was game on.  I have had music playing in my room ever since (and expanded well beyond Braveheart – Spotify is amazing).

Another big change was transforming my teaching model from a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom.  This was difficult, but intentional.  I made this change because I had started to get into some really familiar routines and wanted to do something very different.  Another big change: at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, I gamified my calculus class.  It was a struggle, it was fun, it was exciting, and the days zoomed by soooo fast!

Why did I change to a flipped class?  I thought it had potential!  Why did I gamify?  I thought it would make a big and fun difference!  I didn’t do these things just to do them.  I took intentional risks and left the friendly confines of the familiar for uncharted waters.

I had the opportunity to attend my first ISTE conference in 2013 and was so impressed!  I loved the vibe!  I loved the ideas I was getting from others!  I LOVED this conference!!  This conference really got me thinking about what I am doing in the classroom.  What could I change?  What needed to stay the same?  How could I help students own their learning (even more than in a flipped environment) and be even more brilliant with my practice?  All of these questions…I decided I had to go back and the very next year, my friend and I had a table session!

These ideas from ISTE had me looking around my school, one of the best public high schools in our state (True Story!) and I thought, we could be even more amazing….I dug into educational technology and the ideas from the conferences.  From this point forward life was all about change.  I would talk to any of my colleagues who would listen.  I would stop them in the hall.  Talk to them over the bathroom stalls.  Walk them to class.  Send staff wide emails…

Fast forward to January 2015, I resigned my teaching position to become a full time PhD student at Oklahoma State University.  This was change of the highest magnitude!  It was also very intentional.  One of the biggest reasons that I did this was to put myself into a position to help teachers make changes without being afraid.  I want to help them see that change is not bad, it can be so rewarding!  But it can be so difficult to start.

As I close in on completing course work this December, change is coming for me again.  I took some intentional steps to change my practice and they have led me on a journey I did not anticipate.  What steps of change can you take?  What can you do to improve your practice?  What step can you take today, that will make a positive difference tomorrow?



Gamify Your Class. Here’s Why.

  1. the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.
    “gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun”

If you have been a reader of my blog – you will have noticed that its all over the place these days.  Graduate school has had my brain on a super buzz and given me the opportunity to look at several aspects of education that I had not been able to study previously.  One of those issues is why research is not disseminated in a way that benefits teachers.  My goal with this blog post is to do that with Gamification!  The readings for one of my courses this past week took me right into one of my areas of tremendous interest.  Below is a quick sum up of the research that I read and below that are links to the articles.  Some of this research is older – so I wonder what exactly would change…This is something that I want to look into.  As always, I encourage your input here.  Gamification and learning by video games is something that most people will arch an eyebrow at….

Students are not punished for failing 

Every game you play these days gives you multiple opportunities to do something.  A not uncommon strategy for gamers is to go charging into a new area to see what obstacles are there.  After the location is scouted out, a very well thought out plan is put into play.  Gamers have the opportunity to fail and try again an infinite number of times.

How would this look in your classroom?  I know that there are hard fast deadlines – but if the goal is truly to gauge student learning, shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to show it?  How about not penalizing a student for homework that is turned in late.  Or giving the student an opportunity to retake a quiz/test if they scored below a satisfactory level.

Remember the goal is learning.  Promote this.

Social construction of knowledge

Students are social creatures and games promote socializing.  Look no further than one of the most popular games out there: World of Warcraft.  Not only is it popular – the discussion boards are loaded with socially constructed knowledge about how to improve your character or ideas for moving through difficult parts of the storyline.

How does this look in your class?  Let students work together.  Let them “post” learning on a discussion board (either online or in your classroom) and allow all students to share what they know here.  Promote collaboration.  Promote conversation.  Promote sharing ideas.

Its the whole two heads are better than one mode of thinking.  Sometimes all a student needs is a different point of view.  How often have you had someone else look at your work to make sure it was good?  Do the same thing with your students.

When I flipped my classroom, students worked in groups and I worried about this.  I had had a difficult time getting my groups to be collaborative.  When I stopped lecturing the entire period and put the learning firmly into the students hands, 85% (rough guesswork here) of the conversation became very focused on the math.  Students will be students and conversation will wander, but way more conversation will be on target.

Students should be in a state of flow

Games are designed to be just right.  Like Goldilocks and the porridge, she went for the bowl that was not too hot (hard) or too cold (easy).  When you organize your class in this way, students should be in a state of flow.  Class will be just difficult enough that they keep going and learning, yet not so easy that they do nothing at all.

Gamification can help make this easier to do.  Allow students alternative ways to complete homework.  Give them some choices, ones you can live with, about how they go about learning.  Challenge all of your learners by giving each person in a group a specific strategy to use as part of the lesson.

Learning that is inquiry based tends to help this as well.  When students start to investigate a new topic, all of the students in a group bring different experiences and knowledge.  Those who struggle with a topic will take more risks and share more if they know that they are contributing to the construction of this knowledge.  If they have the opportunity to show off the experiences that they have had that will help them on this problem, their confidence will grow.

Promote questioning here – from every student.  Then have the students work together to solve those problems.  Stay out of the way – provide the necessary nudges.  Learning is messy and that mess will show up right here.

Think about a massive multiplayer online game

Lets revisit the social aspect of school – it could almost be compared to a massive multiplayer online game (mmo).  People from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and experiences go to school.  People from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and experiences participate in mmo’s.  How do we pull all of these people from so many different places in the same direction?

Give them quests.  In mmo’s players can play and explore alone and complete quests as individuals.  They may find some cool loot and have fun.  At some point, those individuals want better loot, which will require more difficult quests, which will require groups of people working together for a shared purpose.

These more complicated quests will require high levels of communication and the shared knowledge of how to go about completing the quest.  Think about homework – this could be the simple individual quest.  It could also require small groups.  Now think about quizzes/projects – these could be the more complicated quests.  The ones that deliver the loot that matters!

Some of the most powerful items that can be earned in games comes into play when battling a “boss” character.  In World of Warcraft some of these fights can last hours and require large groups of participants.  Social.  Common goal.  Intense communication.  Sharing experiences.  Maybe you set a class goal for a test, or maybe you let your students work on that test in groups, or maybe you let the entire class work together on a test….

Loot could be whatever will make your class tick.  I have used some of the following in my classes:

  • homework pass
  • quiz pass
  • opportunity to ask the teacher a specific question on a test
  • 2 students can talk for 5 minutes in the hall during a test
  • students can go back in time and redo any test they choose

Students could “level up”

There are some foundational things that must be covered in every teachers’ classroom.  These are the non-negotiable items that students have to learn.  Think about this for a minute….Games are fun because the gamer can level up, become stronger, purchase better equipment, become more independent – yet still following the story line.

Apply this to your classroom – students can learn the same lesson in a variety of ways.  They can show you what they have learned in a variety of ways.  Let them.

All students start off at the same level.  All students will learn x and turn in y.  As the students successfully learn in your class and successfully show you what they learned, let them level up.  Allow them to choose an alternative way to get the lesson.  Let them be creative in showing you what they have learned.

I allowed students to turn in “homework” by creating videos that would teach other students that specific topic.  Students could blog what they were learning and how they were doing.  Students could teach other students.  They did not all start there, some chose to never go there, but the options were available.


Teachable Moments

Sometimes when we teach, we leave the beaten track of content and discuss relevant topics of interest–sports, politics, or maybe current events. When we can, we prefer to learn something from these discussions, to be more aware, involved, or active.

This week, I shared a personal story with my undergraduate preservice teachers about the recent bomb threats at the Stillwater Middle School and Junior High School. We discussed the situations, my responses as a parent, and what they thought their reactions might be when they’re a parent and as a teacher in their future classrooms. The majority of students stated they would prefer to keep their own children at home after a threat like those here in Stillwater–safety was the prime motivator. The overwhelming response when I asked them what they would do as a teacher was one of adamancy–they want to be in the classroom with their students should anything like these events occur, they want to be the familiar face for their students in a time of crisis. They were focused on their relationships with students…I was very proud of their responses! I asked them to reflect on these events and our discussion–what we can learn from them, how we might react to future events.

What teachable moments have you had recently in your classes? What was the reaction from your students? Drop us a comment below or come by the T.E.C.H. Playground to chat about it!


“Know Thy ‘Selfie'” Using Selfies in the Classroom.

Our students are big fans of selfies–digital self-portraits. Maybe you do, too! Academics have created the Selfies Research Network to study the phenomenon. What about Selfies in the classroom? Johnson,  Maiullo, Trembley, Werner, & Woolsey (2014) note that selfies can facilitate student interaction, enable class bonding, and encourage interactivity between students both in and outside of classroom confines. They have also used Selfies as ice-breakers and experiential-learning opportunities.

In teacher preparation programs, how do we encourage our students to think critically about the selfie as cultural artifact? Mark Marino at USC developed the “Know Thy Selfie” assignment in which students critically examine their own selfies for certain identity characteristics: our race-ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic status and write an essay based on their analysis.

Adeline Koh & Emily Van Duyne adapted the essay assignment into an in-class discussion with eight questions.

Have you done any exercises using selfies in your courses? How might you? Drop us a comment below or come chat with us in the T.E.C.H. Playground!



Facebook in the Classroom

Several faculty members have talked with us about how they’re using Facebook in their courses, both online and face-to-face. They report that students are oftentimes more engaged in Facebook class groups than in Online Classroom discussions.

This article from Faculty Focus highlights ten ways that Facebook has improved a class. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/using-facebook-enrich-online-classroom/

What is your take on using social media apps to engage students? Have you used it, would you be willing to? What opportunities for research could emerge for you by doing so?

Drop by the T.E.C.H. Playground to chat or leave a comment below.


Minecraft in the Classroom

If you’ve spent any time around 6-12 year old students lately, you likely heard them mention Minecraft. It’s been around for several years now but you may not have experienced it. So, what is it?

Minecraft is a game where the player controls a character who will dig (mine) and build (craft) various blocks in a complex 3d world. The graphics are very “blocky”–everything is made of blocks: earth, wood, water, stone, wool, food, etc. A better introduction to the world of Minecraft can be found on this blog: http://minemum.com/what-is-minecraft

Students can learn to code, plan and complete complex tasks, and design their own virtual worlds. Many teachers are using Minecraft in the classroom for assignments; for example, instead of asking fifth graders to write a paper report on the Mayan civilization, how about asking them to craft a Mayan village instead? Minecraft allows them to do just that. This video shows students using Minecraft and teachers talking about how using the program has changed how they teach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgTdmhV-Mxs

From the MinecraftEdu website: http://minecraftedu.com/

MinecraftEdu provides products and services that make it easy for educators to use Minecraft in the classroom. We make a special version of Minecraft specifically for classroom use. It contains many additions to the original game that make it more useful and appropriate in a school setting. We also offer a cloud-based solution for hosting Minecraft classroom servers so students and teachers can connect and play together. We also host a library of lessons and activities that are available for free, and there is a vibrant, active teacher community exploring uses of Minecraft in the classroom. Over 3,000 teachers in 40+ countries have used MinecraftEdu to teach subjects from STEM to Language to History to Art.

The College of Education Professional Education Unit hosted a Minecraft discussion last semester that was well-attended and piqued our preservice teachers’ interest in using the software in their classrooms. Digital citizenship, virtual classrooms, and gamification are all possible with Minecraft. Students love it and spend countless hours ‘crafting.’ How could we leverage their interest?

If you would like to experience Minecraft, come by the T.E.C.H. Playground…we’ll play and learn!


Teaching Strategies

I stumbled across the Faculty Focus blog, a site that highlights articles on effective teaching strategies for the college classroom — both face-to-face and online.

A good quote this week: “Our quest for strategies that better promote learning should be ongoing, but at the same time we need to recognize that a strategy can still be good even if it doesn’t garner the desired learning outcomes every time we use it. A strategy can be well implemented and still not be an effective learning experience for some students. And sometimes students sabotage strategies for reasons that have nothing to do with the teacher.”

What strategies do you find most effective in your classroom? How often do you try new ways of teaching?

Privacy of Student Data

A growing trend in educational technology is protecting student information and data. As big data becomes bigger across P12 and college campuses, how can we best protect students’ privacy? Is this pledge a good start? http://studentprivacypledge.org

This Journal article looks at trends and issues of information security and data privacy facing schools, parents, and students: http://thejournal.com/articles/2015/01/22/6-predictions-on-the-future-of-student-data-privacy.aspx

Schools and teachers are storing more and more data online–student photos, student test results, teacher lesson plan–just for a start. Are we doing this mindfully and securely? This site highlights concerns and steps we can take to help keep students and teachers safe: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/education/

What privacy and security issues do you see with student data moving increasingly online? How are you tackling those challenges?


NASA’s new 3D printer

NASA recently launched a custom-built 3D printer to the International Space Station; the equipment was designed and built by Made in Space and delivered via a SpaceX resupply rocket.

In late November, astronauts aboard the ISS completed their first print–a replacement socket wrench. The wrench was designed here on earth and emailed to ISS.

This new technology could change how we design and plan missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. How could this technology change your field? How could it change your teaching? Come chat with us in the T.E.C.H. Playground about using our 3D printer!



Rural education challenges

How can the College of Education at Oklahoma State University help rural Oklahoma schools grow and hire their own effective teachers?

What does the research say about strategies that work? How does Distance Ed fit in that picture? How role could Alternative Certifications play?