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Applied Learning … Just do it!

If you have read many of my other posts you will be aware of my passion for games in the classroom. I am on a mission to put the fun back into learning. This year I am involved in teaching the VCAL Literacy strand and it seemed a perfect opportunity to use game based learning.

Reading and writing for practical purposes? Games are a no-brainer. We started each lesson by playing a game for 10-15 minutes. Quite often the board games we played were not familiar to the students and so they needed to read and interpret the instructions in order to play (i.e. reading). After each game we wrote about the experience. In their own words students recorded the rules, the aim of the game, suggestions for improvement (i.e. writing).  We didn’t just explore board games: we played card games and computer games, classics like pacman and social justice games like 3rd world farmer.

Lots of discussion later, combined with some grids and graphic organisers (comparing and contrasting) and a little bit of research (i.e. reading for knowledge) and we were in a position to write an article for the newsletter about why people play games (i.e. writing for knowledge). I think my students surprised themselves with how easily they were able to reach the recommended word limits. 300-500 words sounds like an epic novel to students who have come to believe they are ‘dumb’ or ‘can’t write’ … but actually wasn’t that hard when we started to put together the bits and pieces from our grids and graphic organisers.

Then I set them the challenge to create their own game and write the instructions. Some took to this eagerly … a pair worked together to make a variation of Monopoly called ‘Chopperly” … yes, you guessed it, based on the life and times of Chopper Read (but I didn’t have to nag them to do the research). Another student used their work placement experiences in a pre-school to create an educational game to teach basic spelling words. All seemed to be going well. Lots of fun, laughter and challenge as we trialled aspects of the games and tested the instructions they were writing.

However, two students seemed a little overwhelmed with the ‘choose anything option’. I had to rethink … this is applied learning … how can I get them to DO something that will help them to see how it works?

Light bulb moment!

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line_o_1In one of my op-shop ferreting moments I had found a game that I had never heard of and never played. I was sure the students would never have seen it either. So I removed the instructions and handed them the box. They had to figure out how to set up the board and how to play the game. In essence, they had to create their own game.

We have even turned spelling tests in to a game. We choose 9 letters from the Scrabble bag and write them on the board. Students then have 10 minutes to make as many 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 letter words as they can. Points are awarded for the different word lengths.

The aim is two-fold: (1) beat your own personal best for a pick of the lolly tub (2) beat the teacher to win a chocolate frog. (I should point out here that I have been given the handicap of only having 2 minutes to make my words!). We can explore spelling strategies and patterns depending on the letter combinations each week.

My next challenge is to find a ‘hands on’ approach to reading, writing and oracy for public debate … I have an idea based on socratic seminars and a tug-of-war game I saw on pinterest!

The Games People Play … part II …

DSC_0025So … the 2015 school year is upon us. Like most teachers I have spent part of the Summer “Holidays” reflecting on last year and planning for this year. I have blogged about games in the classroom many times and last year I was reminded on an almost weekly basis about why we should be using games more often.

Initially I used games as a reward in my classroom … part of my behaviour management plan. However, as I observed my students last year I became aware that the types of games (mostly old-fashioned card and board games) were not familiar to most of my high school students. They do play games … on computers and electronic devices … usually against the computer or unseen opponents … it is a solitary rather than social experience. The experience of playing in real-time, in real life, with your opponent across the table from you, was not a common experience.

My Professional Goals last year focussed on the Personal and Social Capabilities of the National Curriculum. My weekly games sessions ticked the boxes particularly in terms of self management and social awareness. I watched as students learnt how to negotiate teams, rules and even which games to play. They managed their emotions (to varying degrees) as they won, lost, cheated / bent rules. As they played different games (and even invented their own) they learnt to play / interact with all class members. They set goals about improvement – for example, achieving new high scores each week. Playing games was a real life experiment in how your decisions influence the reactions of others and potentially change relationships.

Some students even wanted to know where I bought the games so they could play them with their family at home!

This is the most valuable homework I could ever hope that my students do. Parents have told me they often feel unable to help their high school-ers with homework … so don’t, play a game with them instead! Challenge their thinking, help with decision-making, show them how to manage emotions. You might even find that some of the relationships (or at least the tolerance) between siblings improves.

As an English teacher, I tended to restrict the games to language based games (scrabble, boggle slam, up words, scattergories, pictionary, charades) or strategy/thinking games (logic puzzles, chess, guess who), however, on reflection, I am going to increase the choices this year. All games require the same personal and social capabilities: negotiation; communication; self-control of behaviour and emotions; social awareness about the skills, abilities, values, opinions and attitudes of classmates.

The unwritten side effect is, of course, the fun the students have! One of my Year 11s told me she ‘lived for Thursday, games day!” She accepted that she had to get through the rest of the week and do all the reading/research/essay writing/etc, but it was bearable because she looked forward to Thursday.

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What games will you play in your classroom this year?

The Right Tool?

I bought an iPad just before Christmas. Our school has been toying with the idea of using tablets /iPads in our yr 7 program – like most schools we already have a 1:1 program. I decided to take mine on my family holiday in an effort to give it a good test drive and duly loaded it with a variety of apps, ebooks, music and pod/vodcasts.

Today a friend asked me the hot question: Which is better, then, the iPad or a laptop?

I had to pause to consider my answer.

I like both and I believe both have their place.

I like the ease with which my iPad travels: it’s light, the same size as a book and I can hold it easily in one hand.  I was quite impressed with the quality of photos and videos I took on my holiday … playback is great on the device itself although some quality was lost when it was edited in to footage taken with a video camera.  I love the touch screen technology and how easy this makes using most of my favourite apps (more about those later).

However, I am a little annoyed withthe typing pad (as a touch typist I find it too small to use properly, although I get that the thumb-typing-text-generation probably don’t feel the same way). I do still find publishing easier using the office suite … yes, I know google.docs, etc can be an alternative, but therein lies another problem.  The assumption that everyone has easy access to the internet!  So, my laptop lets me publish things with familiar programs,  my laptop has a DVD drive which I still find very handy and I don’t tend to put my laptop down and forget where I put it!

I actually think that we ‘need’ both tools in our education toolkit … half a dozen netbooks and half a dozen tablets would be enough for flexibility in my classroom (26 students). In my discussion with my friend I suggested maybe one of each device per family would be a good compromise … at the moment many families end up with multiple laptops as their children enter various 1:1 programs. The practicalities of having the right tool for the job at the time you are doing it are not easily solved … but realistically the families I work with cannot afford to buy an iPad and a laptop for each child.

Before I forget … some of those apps?

Evernote … so many uses … notes at PD sessions, pictures of students’ work, notes about students and I have it on my laptop so I can sync between the two devices.

Wordflick  Whirly WordWord SolitaireUnblock MeFlight Control (not free but cheap) … I love to use games in the classroom whenever I can and these are some of my favourites.

Songify … just for fun! My sister got me onto this and a number of the other fun ‘talking’ apps. Songify particularly I use as fun thinking music with lyrics that remind us what to think about (what ever you speak and record become the song).

I am becoming a little concerned at the I-ification of education, specifically, and the world in general … but that is food for another blog post ;p

Letting go . . .

Remember my great game on experiment … well in week 2 I introduced the students to the skill development component. This component is built on some practices they were familiar with from primary school.

Rocket Writing.

I gave them a stimulus statement (thanks to Maiden Gully PS for my initial prompt) and then set the timer. We wrote for 10 minutes. The first goal on their game board was to achieve 5 cm of writing … well, the lowest score was 4.5cm! The top three students achieved 25-27 cm!! The students modified their game boards to allow for future growth!! No-one complained about it, some may even have a story starter they can use to beat a level. They were surprised to see me writing as well, “Are you doing this too, Miss?” … but I have always enjoyed writing and it was nice to share that experience with the students. I read when they do, so it’s nice to write with them too!

Spelling.

I asked the students to be responsible for creating their own spelling lists. I am no longer correcting spelling, I highlight incorrect spelling. I also provided some ‘standard’ lists of words grade 6, 7 & 8 students ‘should’ know. The students themselves noticed we have a list of commonly misspelled words in our school diary and some have used that as their source. I asked them to work in pairs and test each other. They bring me their results to enter on to our leaderboard. We discussed the consequences of cheating and who was really losing if they did this. We also agreed to random spelling tests (like random breath tests) where I could ask them to spell any word from their list at any time.

I have noticed that some students have started to underline the words they aren’t sure of in their writing. When I read it, if I highlight it, it confirms their suspicion and they go and check it. I also had a student ask me if they could do more than one spelling test a week. Great question … it made me stop and think … why not? what would be the benefit of limiting or not limiting? … we talked about it and decided they must do at least one spelling test but if they want to do more it’s up to them.

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About 20% of the class have already successfully completed one of the four level one tasks and are already well on the way with their next piece of work.  It’s early days yet, we still have 6 weeks to go, but I am happy with the level of responsibility and ownership the students are taking. I’m very happy with the ideas and discussion being generated.

We are also balancing our Humanities research in this time aswell. I asked the question “How can you survive in a rainforest?” Most students are working in teams to prepare a presentation … some are making a Powerpoint, some movies, some picture story books and some are going to Wow! me again with minecraft (is there nothing that program can’t do??)

Game ON!

We are about to head into the final term (home straight) for the year. The year 8 team have been working on what we call a parallel curriculum for English and Humanities which also allowed us to integrate SparkL (a project based learning approach to literacy) and Live4life (a local shire initiative dealing with mental health). This term we are embracing the idea of differentiated curriculum … all four of us will still be working towards the same goals and outcomes but each of us is taking a different approach and even varying topics covered in our class groups.

I have blogged about my use of games in the classroom and the more I read the more I am convinced to keep doing this. In my classroom this term I wanted to have a writing workshop theme for the English component and Rainforests for  the Humanities component. As a team we are still trying to incorporate opportunities for PBL and students managing personal learning. So …

… I had this crazy idea! Why not create a game that incorporated all of this.

Write Step! game board

Write Step! is the product I have developed.

It has four pathways (named for the functions of writing I wish to promote: creative, instructional, informative and persuasive). Each pathway has five levels and students will need to develop skills in order to progress through the levels.

Skill development is recorded separately and I have leaderboards for various skills as well as pathway progression. So we have competition with self and competition with class built-in.

There is no set goal level to achieve … that will be determined by the students. Students can work in teams or by themselves.

Leaderboard

We have nine sessions together each week: I have structured the game so that all sessions build skills. We will still continue with our reading programme (FAB – friends and books) but this can be a stimulus for writing for Write Step! We will have master classes (so I can do some explicit teaching in relation to grammar, punctuation, form and function). I plan to set up stimulus for writing using our Ultranet space, classroom displays, games played on wii / netbooks / ds. (Building on the experiences we have been using in our classroom all year.) Students must book a teacher conference (another practice we have been fostering) at least once a fortnight which may be used to present work to “beat the boss” and progress to the next level, discuss problems, nut out creative ideas for new writing tasks.

The students won’t actually know exactly what they need to do to beat each level (that’s part of the learning) and potentially anything they write could be submitted in an attempt to “beat the boss”.

I’m really excited by this concept. When I finally stopped to take a breath and asked myself that important question “Would you want to be a student in this classroom?”, the answer was a resounding “YES!”

I’m now just nervous about how my students will react! Have I over planned? Have I made it too busy? Am I going to overwhelm them? I guess I’ll find out … term four here we come!

The Games People Play . . .

I love playing games!

Growing up my sister and I used to play massive, week-long games of Monopoly; tv game shows like “Sale of the Century” were almost compulsory TV viewing; we were even encouraged to exercise our word and thinking skills in animated and heated family debates. The advent of technology means I now no longer annoy my family (the old board games sit quietly in the cupboard) and I can find like-minded souls on Facebook and other gaming sites to play with.

I love playing games in the classroom!

Last year I introduced games as part of my “classroom management plan”.  I was frequently asked “Miss, if we do a good job can we have free time?”  I thought about this for a while and I replied, “I have scheduled some free time for you today …the first session starts at 10:45 and the second at 12:50”. It took the kids a while to figure this out too! Instead of free time I offered them a games session each week if they earned enough stamps in their planners.  Stamps were earned for completing tasks on time, bringing all equipment (pens, books) to class, beating their personal best in spelling tests, actually being silent during silent reading, among other things. They needed three stamps to participate in games day (in the early days I had to work really hard to make sure some of them got their three stamps). Since we were technically learning English all the games I offered were either word games (scrabble, boggle, upwords,hangman) or communication games (guess who, pictureka, pictionary, charades).

As the semester went on it became increasingly more common for students to earn 4 or 5 stamps in a week. So I brought in my DS, Ipod touch and Wii to reward those who earned extra stamps. The games were still word and communication games but this added feature of trust to use my game consoles gave added incentive to earn stamps.

My psychological game playing has paid off … this year I have that same class for English, Humanities and Homegroup (we spend a lot of time together).  They asked if we were having games day again (they no longer ask if we can have free time … they know the answer!).  I haven’t actually used my stamps yet … but my students are mostly meeting behaviour expectations and their work ethic is developing.  We have extended our games collection to include monopoly, card games and online games we add to our virtual classroom. (Yes, I do mean WE … students actually recommend sites to me to check out and add!)

Games Day not only gives the students a reason to “try harder” during the week it also gives them a chance to practice their thinking, communication, word and number skills.  They are learning to work/play/get along with everyone in the class. They have to make choices and manage their time (monopoly and pictionary need to be set up quickly or they run out of time).  They learn to follow rules, to negotiate changes, to win and lose graciously (the winner always packs up). There is the added bonus of beating me if they invite me to play, and the greatest outcome is the relationship building that goes on when we let our guard down and just have fun!

This group of students are young high school students but I have used games in my classrooms from prep to year 12! The problem I have with “free time” is that teenagers particularly don’t actually know what to do with it.  Schools constantly wrestle with the boredom factor that students face with the hour of free time we call “Lunch” and at home parents are constantly challenged with the “I’m bored” moaning on Saturday/ Sunday afternoon once weekly sport is over.

What games do you play in your classroom?