Game on!

Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. –George Couros

Ever wondered how to implement gamification into your classes beyond kill and drill review games? Me, too. Last year, I tried implementing Classcraft last year, but it didn’t quite fit. The excitement wasn’t there, and the energy to gamify flagged when kids leveled up enough to get their favorite outfits. I was just debating whether or not to try again when my husband stepped in.

He’s my favorite sounding board, because he believes I can do anything I set my mind to achieve. And when I told him about my epic fail to make the energy spike in my room, he jumped in with an awesome idea: create a storyline that is more epic than merely leveling up.

Some wild drawings later, we came up with this: a massive game of RISK, with students trying to dominate the world of the classroom. With his background in geology and our backgrounds in gaming, he painstakingly came up with a world map for my kids to dominate.

Each Classcraft team begins in a city on the map. They move one hexagon for every assignment they turn in on time. Together, the team is more powerful, but each member can go on their own to explore the map. As they conquer each square, they will uncover side quests that align with the unit we’re about to begin. Some quests will be available only for higher level characters. Each team has a resource they must first find and then protect from the other teams, and teams can challenge each other in a Boss Battle to conquer the world, all while deepening their connects to each other and to the content of the course. Students who fail to complete their work cannot move forward in the game and risk weakening their teams. One team will rule supreme, as kings and queens of our kingdom. After dominating, they can move on to conquer the other continents (that represent the other classes I teach.)

Gaming ties right in with my desire to create deeper connections within my classroom, as well as fits right in with the novel we read this summer, Ready Player One.

Let the games begin, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Photo credit to



Gaming the System

Ever played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid? How about World of Warcraft as an adult? The danger of the boss round, the tension of grinding out a side quest to level up. Waiting for that sweet set of armor to drop.

Even if you’ve never geeked out to gaming, I’m sure you’ve been in this scenario: the kid who won’t stop talking. The kid who does everything right but the teacher has no time for praise, only scolding the kid who won’t do his work. Up until this year, since I taught mostly general English classes, this was my life. Enter the concept of gamifying your classroom.

I’d read about it a lot on Twitter and on Michael Matera’s blog Alice Keeler talks about it, too, on For those of you who are not teachers but have read this far into the post, gamification has two modes: either using games in your classroom, like Risk, or using the elements of playing games within the structure of the class, like leveling up, badges, side quests, powers, etc. I couldn’t come up with any way to easily apply either technique, so I dropped it. Until I discovered Classcraft.

Classcraft was created by teachers for teachers. Students can choose pets, character types, powers, and armor as they level up. They earn XP for things like being helpful, doing their work, staying on task, and completing side quests. They lose HP for things like disrupting the class and not doing their work. They earn powers, like eating in class or turning in a homework a day late. It’s almost completely customizable by the teacher.

A quick story, to demonstrate how Classcraft has changed the classroom environment. Even though most of my day is now filled with electives and College Credit Plus Composition (more about that in a different post), I still have one class of my bread and butter, General English 10. Picture 17 boys and 3 girls, including some of the most disruptive in the sophomore class. I worked for several weeks to try and get them to work together, be kind to one another, and respect each other, but it is a constant uphill battle. Then we started Classcraft.

Student participation is voluntary, and I had four students who didn’t want to play. I was fine with that, but struggled to make the consequences of those four be equal to the ones playing the game, who just lost HP if they misbehaved. We worked together to create a plan they felt was fair, and eventually, all but one joined the game.

So here I am, with a huge number of boys who “hunt” snacks in my room every day, while still disrupting me and the world around them. I have a couple of mages who take daily “invisibility” bathroom trips, and then don’t pay attention while in the room. I’m a better teacher than this, so I made some changes.

Now students can only use their powers the last 10 minutes of class, if they haven’t lost any HP that day. After the verbal battle of “you can’t change the rules” and “yes I can, didn’t you read the Classcraft contract you signed?”, I explained to them that the point of the game was to reward positive behavior and to give consequences for negative behavior. I explained that their disruptive behavior was disrespectful to me and to their fellow students, and that it seemed crazy to spend upwards of $20 a week on students who turned around and ignored me when I was trying to teach. Because we’ve worked so long on mutual respect, they listened, and the class changed for the better.

Now if only my principal were hip to all things techie and beautiful, and didn’t hate students listening to music, eating in class, and social media?

Pawns or partners?

Now that I’m (mostly) done with teaching Higher Ed, I should have a little more time to write. By next weekend, I’ll start expanding on these posts. 

As part of a Twitter book club (#TBookC, which meets 3 Thursdays of every month at 9 EST), I am currently reading Daniel Pink’s Drive. Part one discussed the idea of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, and which tasks suffer from extrinsic motivation.

Part 2, the section we’re discussing this week, moves into various theories of workplace management. Specifically, it looks at controlled vs autonomous work environments. It strikes me that the dichotomy of the two environments is very similar to the difference between teacher centered and student centered learning. This post will explore how both environments might work within a school.

Gamified Motivation

Until things start to slow down, I am participating in #Edblogaday by creating blog stems of posts I’d like to create but don’t have time or energy to finish. 

I am trying at the end of this year for two reasons: one as a motivator for behavior and two to experiment how works while students work cooperatively to read books in groups.

I am also reading Drive by David Pink. This post would explore how gamifying my classroom participation might help or hurt student learning, due to the external motivation provided by xp. Since behavior is more algorithmic than heuristic, I’m probably okay with an external motivation, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The Rocky Shores of BYOD

Like many districts, we have little money for individual technology. I have tried many different methods of having students bring in their own devices, but no solution is perfect. This week, we’ll examine what you think about students and their own technology use in your room. Feel free to see “Cell Phone” as encompassing any mobile device, such as Kindles, laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, whatever.

If you’re deadset against students using their own devices, consider reading the attached article to see what’s happened in New York, now that they allow cell phones in class.

SlowchatEd questions this week:

Q1: What is your current stance on cell phone usage in your classroom?

Q2: What tasks best lend themselves to all students having their own devices?

Q3: How will you address students who do not have their own devices?

Q4: Do you believe banning cell phones will help keep students on task?

Q5: What is your biggest obstacle to student’s using their own devices?

Q6: What’s your biggest takeaway?

Engaged Online Reading

It was spring, and my family was faced with a dilemma. If my husband kept working at his current job, he was going to lose his mind, but we couldn’t make it on my income alone.

He had been working for the same private school for three years, tasked with teaching science to students from third to twelfth grade, many with special needs or severe autism. Small class sizes but with difficult kids and almost impossible curricular demands had started to compound his stress this last year.  He had to make a change, and he wanted a chance to actually use that Masters in Geology.

As he applied to everywhere he could to find a new job, I started looking to supplement our income in the meantime, too. I didn’t want to give up my high school teaching job, but maybe I could find a summer job until an opportunity came up for my husband.

Enter Curriculet. It is a free reading platform that provides engaging and interactive reading experiences for students and provides teachers a powerful tool for creating, managing, and tracking literacy curriculum. I had first heard of them via Twitter, from Kate Baker, an awesome, tech-savvy English teacher in my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter. Curriculet has two awesome features for teachers who want to use technology to support independent student learning.

The first feature I tried was importing my own pdf. In the past, I had photocopied a chapter of Stephen King’s On Writing (less than 10% of the entire novel, and so okay for educational use) to show students the difference between revision and editing. I really love this chapter excerpt, but students sometimes struggled with going back and forth between the printed reading and the worksheet.  That year, I decided to try the assignment on Curriculet.

Wonderful success! Students could find the information more easily since it was embedded directly into the digital text! Also, I could tell from a teacher dashboard who had completed the assignment and how long they had spent on it. I could identify which questions gave students trouble and address those specifically.

The second feature I loved was using Curriculet’s precreated questions, quizzes and annotations. We always read Julius Caesar in my Advanced English 10 class, and in the past I had tried using an online version of the text, with a separate worksheet that asked questions about different lines of the play. Well, students struggled, because depending on the versions, the line count can be slightly different. Curriculet not only had the play for free, there was an entire  Common Core State Standards aligned layer of questions, quizzes, and annotations already developed by a master teacher.

Using Curriculet’s Julius Caesar,  I got data on which standards were hard for my students, as well as how long students were on the platform and whether or not they got the answers right, all without much grading on my part. The majority of the questions were multiple choice, with several short answer sprinkled within. I modified the “curriculet” to suit what I wanted my students to focus on.  Feedback from my students suggested that it was easier to read the play on Curriculet then it was using the paper annotations.

Back to my family’s potential financial woes. On Twitter, I saw that Curriculet was hiring Curriculet writers. A job that I could do on my couch, at my own pace, that I already sort of knew how to do? Awesome!

In addition to the application, I had to write a detailed, Common Core aligned curriculet for a short story. I agonized over it, seeing it as a way to free my husband from having to work at the private school. Imagine my pleasure when I got hired! That summer, Upward Bound also hired me to work for six weeks, providing a grammar and writing class and a Spanish class for local students.

It was a long summer. During the day, I taught classes. In the afternoon and the evening, I basically ignored my family, grading papers and writing curriculets. Along the way, I wrote curriculets for books I have long loved, like The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, as well as books I have always wanted to read, like 1001 Arabian Nights.

Curriculet provided us with some awesome Common Core aligned videos, which were short but well done, and suggestions as to how to implement the standards. Editors previewed my work, giving valuable feedback to help me improve my writing. And I got paid for reading books–best job ever!

If you’re curious, I still work part time for Curriculet. And my husband? He’s working part time at a local community college, finally using his degree.