Game design & Proficiency Assessment: LUHS students capture the adventure of the Renaissance

Are games really a viable option for assessing student learning?

The social studies department recently invited me to a meeting to deliberate this question.  Lively discussion ensued about how one might really assess learning by asking students to create a game.  Among the comments were these:

  • There is already a great game out there about trade.  Maybe we should just have them play Catan (formerly Settlers of Catan).
  • How much time is this going to take?  A test will only take part of the period.
  • I don’t know how it will look.  What do I tell students if they ask me questions about how to design a game?  I’m not sure I know how to do that.
  • And finally: we agreed to try this.  Let’s do it and see how it goes.

I understand the fear.  It is disquieting to ask students to do something that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable with yourself.  But.  BUT.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do, and you agree to figure it out together.  (See Innovator’s Mindset: risk taking.)  Here’s the thing: games are a second (or first?) language for our students.  They speak game fluently.  They know health; they know roles; they know many things about games you’ve never heard of.  The most important thing you need to know as teachers?

Students love games, and they can and will take your content and turn it into a game if you give them the time and some guidance.

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Trade routes & settlements: a game board in design

“I get it,” one teacher said to me when I walked into his room later that week to find groups in deep and eager conversation about their game design.  He looked at his room full of engaged–no, empowered–students, looked at me, and said, “I see what you’ve been trying to do.”  I’ve been working to help teachers take games seriously over the past couple of years, and it’s a goal often lost in the proficiency/personalized learning shuffle.  The real work has been in showing teachers that games aren’t something in addition to the changes they are making to implement Act 77; they ARE the change.  Just one piece, but one that deserves attention, because

games and game-like learning are excellent vehicles for meaningful content delivery and assessment.

Take the social studies proficiency that was the focus for this unit: P.I. 9 (Economics): I can analyze how economic globalization and the expanding use of scarce resources have contributed to conflict and cooperation within and among countries.  Perfect platform for a game, right?  Yes, Klaus Teuber already created something awesome, but let’s see what the students can do with this.  

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Classic Monopoly remade: Renaissance resources dictate a new take on an old favorite
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Candyland revamp: the Renaissance magic is in the cards
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Playtesting a take on Trivial Pursuit

While some students modeled their games after board games we know and love, some embraced their creativity and truly went rogue.  One group created a game where Heaven and Hell were the ultimate end–dictated by choices and currency exchange, often connected to churches.  (Interesting social commentary, too.)  Another group created a game based on settlements and trade routes whose success is dictated by not only the resources accrued but also by luck and happenstance.  While I reminded students of the importance of starting any good game with the ultimate learning goal, I also asked that they elect one member of their group to be the “fun police” (originated and coined beautifully by the Institute of Play).  They had a great time creating game mechanics that left players “dead” or headed back to start because of plague or other catastrophes.

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Bad eggs lead to death.  Good life lesson?

 

Sure, the games look good.  But are they good?

What are students really learning through game design?

Let’s talk about the proficiency first.  I took a stroll around the room of game designers and asked them to tell me how their game would teach players about scarcity, trade, conflict and cooperation.  Yes, there were blank stares.  But when I prodded a bit further, every student was able to explain in vivid detail how their game play addressed exactly those concepts.  Whether it was the act of trading resources of varying value, losing valuables to thievery during the New Age and gaining advantages as the culture shifted, or dictating card values based on resources, the students were able to explain how players would engage with the content.

A quick google form to garner feedback and reflection post-game creation also allowed students to reflect on the proficiency:

proficiency reflection

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Travel through the Ages: resource allotment from Renaissance to Reformation

That content holds a place in students’ overall education, but in my mind,

the true power of game creation is in the focus on transferable skills.

Here’s what two students had to say about how game design helped them practice communication skills:

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And problem solving:

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Is it worth the time commitment?

If you want students to delve into deeper learning, you have to provide the time and space for them to do so.  While you may not know how long it will take, or how it might look as things unfold, or if you’ll have the answers students seek, I implore you to

 give yourself permission for things to get messy

for there are tangible rewards on the other side.  Take the risk.  Cannonball.

 

Resources:

Institute of Play’s Game Design pack : in-depth game design guide brilliantly designed & executed

Game design handout for students : the handout used by the social studies department for this unit.  Thanks so Amanda Denison for creating it!

Innovation: Rowland Foundation paves the way

Thanks to Gabrielle Marquette of Fearless Teachers for buddy blogging with me this week!

 

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Imagine this: as an educator, you are awarded a $100,000 grant which allows you to take time out of the classroom to research and implement a transformational idea.  You can use the funds to travel to innovative schools, to attend conferences to further your learning, to hire consultants to work with your school, or any other activity that might help you in your venture.  With the help of your administration and a steering committee, you work to transform your school into a place that best serves the needs of students.

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Sound like a dream?  It is, but it’s available to Vermont educators through the graciousness of the Rowland Foundation, which seeks to usher forth the work of innovative educators, and in turn to truly transform Vermont schools.

Recognizing that this is the exception, Rowland fellows are able to experience all of Couros’ elements to look for in today’s classrooms.  A few to note:

Time for reflection:

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This is the ultimate gift of the Rowland Foundation.  Time to reflect on why education is the way it is, how change happens, and the true meaning of  innovation is something most educators only have time for if they disregard the more pressing issue of planning classroom lessons.  During the sabbatical, fellows meet five times per year and engage in reflective protocols; they blog about their experiences, successes, and insights, and they have deep discussions with others who are engaged in similar work.  Wouldn’t it be incredible if we somehow built into our systems the opportunity for every teacher to take a sabbatical every few years?  How might that change our schools?           

Choice:

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The Rowland foundation literally trusts teachers every year to make choices about what to do with $100,000 no questions asked.  This can be overwhelming at first.  There is a sense of guilt that comes with many years of explaining where each penny of your budget is headed.  But, once a Rowland fellow can let go of that guilt, the level of creativity and innovation that is possible increases exponentially.  One experience leads to another; questions begin to unfold; learning about one new idea leads to a desire to know about ten more new ideas.  This is another level of overwhelming that requires working through but at each turn the learning ascends drastically.  While there are moments of paralyzed wonder, the ability to respond to a curiosity and have the freedom to do it in whatever way you choose is extremely liberating and leads to deep learning, creativity and ultimately innovation.

Problem finders/ solvers:

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The Rowland fellowship stresses that we are engaging in an inquiry process.  Unlike most learning experiences, there really is no expectation for a final or finished product.  There is no paper, no formal presentation or defense.  The fact that there is no expected outcome is again, liberating.  It allows for experimentation, revision, or major pivots if that makes sense.  In general, learning experiences have an expected outcome.  But with inquiry, learning changes our thinking along the way and what made sense at the start doesn’t always make sense in the end.  Learning experiences where the process is more important than the product allow for real problem solving to occur.

Opportunities for Innovation:

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Because of the focus on inquiry, Rowland fellows are free to experiment.  This is key to innovation, as  sometimes those experiments fail.  However, fellows are able to incorporate these lessons and move forward with a better plan.  They are free to imagine possibilities and make progress with other stakeholders in their schools.  They function as models of innovative thinking and often inspire their colleagues to follow suit.

Trust is paramount in order for any of these eight elements to work

–whether it be in a classroom with  students or with professional development.  Innovation happens by embracing the fact that failures happen but can ultimately be overcome with solid relationship foundations.  Vermont owes thanks to the Rowland  Foundation for supporting innovative teachers with the ambition and drive to transform its schools.  

 

References:

Frith, Caleb. Think. Digital image. Unsplash. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Street, Jamie. “Sparklers after Sunset, by Jamie Street | Unsplash.” Back to Unsplash. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Tietsworth, Justin. “Lead The Way, by Justin Tietsworth | Unsplash.” Back to Unsplash. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

 

ISTE asks…what do you need to effectively integrate tech in your school?

ISTE has established itself as the go-to place for all things tech-related, and its guidance on leveraging technology for learning is as robust as its many other resources.  It outlines fourteen different elements that are critical to success with tech integration–two of which our school does well:

Equitable Access and Empowered Leaders

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Students work on stop-motion videos in Biology

Equitable Access: All students, teachers, staff and school leaders have robust and reliable connectivity and access to current and emerging technologies and digital resources.

As part of our Lancer One program, every student in our school is issued an iPad.  Indeed, one of the original goals of the Lancer One program was equity: all learners were to have equal access to technology.  In a rural school district, where diversity comes in the form of socio-economic separation, the importance of this belief cannot be overstated.  We wanted our students to be able to access learning opportunities anytime and anywhere, and having devices in hand was imperative.  With a supportive community who were able to recognize a budget surplus as an opportunity, we were able to make it happen, and with a lot of work on infrastructure, we were able to build the internal supports to uphold it.

Empowered Leaders: Stakeholders at every level are empowered to be leaders in effecting change.

I appreciate how ISTE recognizes that “leaders” can be any stakeholders.  This is why I think we succeed in this element.  Our teachers are empowered through a culture of opportunity and celebration–that is, we encourage teachers to share their successes and we celebrate them.  (Check out #LamoilleLearns for a few examples!)  Our students lead the way in groups like YATST, Environmental Club, and A World of Difference–effecting change in the realm of technology and beyond.

While every school has bright spots, there are also some that could use some shining.  I think Implementation Planning is ours.  ISTE describes this as,  “All stakeholders follow a systematic plan aligned with a shared vision for school effectiveness and student learning through the infusion of information and communication technology (ICT) and digital learning resources.”  We have some incredibly bright spots–teachers who are lighting it up daily with innovative use of technology to meet the needs of our learners–but there need to be more.  As George Couros so often reminds us, it’s about relationships, and building those with reluctant teachers is a step in the right direction.  As the tech integrationist, I’ve started with that and have continued to encourage those who risk.  It’s about helping teachers keep what’s working and update what’s not–without judgement.

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Enemy of trust and building relationships

One of the things I noticed in ISTE’s Lead & Transform Diagnostic Tool was the number of times they referenced some kind of incentive for teachers.  While I spend most of my time trying to bribe teachers with lunch in order to show them a tool, this survey started me thinking more seriously about compensation.  Food is great; badges are better, but money?  Now you’re talking.  Maybe that’s where the magic incentive lies, and perhaps it’s where more school districts should begin planning their PD budgets.  If funds were budgeted to compensate teachers for taking the time to learn these new tools on their own, perhaps more teachers would do it.

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$$$: Maybe more teachers would look this happy to be learning?

Or, what if we banded together (speaking for smaller school districts) and offered up a partnership with some of the big leagues to host PD?  Beekmantown School District had great success with their recent Explore EDU event that paired classroom visits with panel discussions.  While traveling to far off places for conferences isn’t always possible, perhaps we ought to start considering bringing more to us.

Big ideas…thanks to ISTE for providing the inspiration to begin dreaming about a school that meets all of the essential elements!

 

Relationships: 6 ways to encourage innovation through connections

As I’ve made the switch from a focus on students to a focus on teachers this year, I’ve been reminded that there are a lot of similarities between teaching students and teaching teachers.

First and foremost, it’s about relationships.

In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros referenced a New Yorker article that explained why “one-on-one interactions increase people’s willingness to try something new.”  In essence, the article explores the idea of seven “touches–” that is, interactions with people with whom you want to build a relationship.  Yes, this takes time, but if you are committed to change, you have to commit to connecting with the people who will make it happen.

While I admit I have an inclination toward risk in the classroom and in school, I recognize that this isn’t the case with everyone.  Still, I have an intense desire to help teachers try new things in the classroom, so I’ve been working diligently to develop relationships.  Below, I’ve included six things I regularly do to help build these connections.  I hope these may be of some use to you!

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Just two of the rockstar teachers with whom I’ve built relationships: Cori Rockwood & Katie Bryant

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References:

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015. Print.

Gawande, Atul. “Spreading Slow Ideas.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 19 June 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

 

 

 

Dream School 1.0: a draft vision

For a moment, I’ve pretended that my dream school exists.  I pored over photos to find glimpses of it in my own school, in schools I’ve visited, and in the activities my children participate in.  I didn’t capture everything of which I dream; in truth, this is a cursory look in draft form of my ideal school, but it’s a start.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/208406899″>Dream School</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user6516965″>Lori Lisai</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I envision an education that inspires, challenges, and exposes students to the wonder of the world through experience.

The school is just the catalyst for a deeper kind of learning that often happens outside of its walls–it’s a building, but as with any great architecture, it inspires.  Its learning spaces are amorphous–changeable depending on the needs of its inhabitants.  The learning is not confined to this space, and instead encompasses the idea that education happens all the time, everywhere.  We are always learning through our experiences.  My vision includes opportunities for all students to travel and see the world–provoking the deep empathy only possible with first-hand experience.

The school name needs an upgrade, and this is just the beginning of an idea.  Still, I would want to attend my dream school, so I can’t be that far off.

Thanks again to George Couros for the inspiration.  250 words–a different sort of challenge!

Cannonball! Risk is integral to an innovator’s mindset

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The amazing George Couros has offered up inspiration for this blog post by asking us to consider one of the elements of the Innovator’s Mindset, and I’d like to talk about risk takers.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to receive a Rowland fellowship–an incredible opportunity for Vermont educators to transform learning in their schools.  As part of this work, I formed a steering committee, which I deemed the “RFCC”–Rowland Foundation Cannonball Committee–a name which embodies the way I encourage its members to operate.  Our mission is this:

to recapture the adventure in learning through the use of technology and game-based learning

and that requires a willingness to take risks–that is, to cannonball.  Sometimes you just have to jump in, right?  Sometimes the best way isn’t a toe wading in the water, or a scoop by the foot to test it out–sometimes, you have to plunge in with abandon, limbs wrapped tightly and maximum height employed, when you try something new.

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Marc Gilbertson rockin’ the cannonball

I’m making an assumption about those who avoid risks: they fear failure and they fear change.  I recognize and respect these fears, especially as someone who abhors disappointing people and who can get just as comfortable with the way things are as anyone.  But I’ve been forced into change over the last five years, much of it against my will, and I remain as eager and inspired as ever to direct my energy into making positive change in our schools.

My steering committee is a group of teachers who bravely experiment with new approaches, recreate their lessons to incorporate new tools, and in general, iterate.  By having them as models at our school, we begin to build a culture where cannonballing is revered–because it gets results.

Take Chris Bologna for example.  He teaches social studies to 7th and 8th graders at our school, and recently created a Breakout game to help students explore our constitutional amendments.  Check out the game launch–where he lines up the “prisoners” in short order– in this video:

Or take Ryan Farran, who decided this year to completely overhaul his approach to teaching math by incorporating Dreambox for practice and a flipped model using TES Blendspace, all hosted by Schoology.  He takes you through his process here.

These are just a couple of teachers taking risks at our school to engage our students and try innovative ways to teach curriculum.  As Couros says in The Innovator’s Mindset, “Risk is necessary to ensure that we are meeting the needs of each unique student.  Some respond well to one way of learning, while others need a different method or format” (51).  These teachers are taking risks–modeling failure when it happens, and  more importantly, grit that develops when they model how they move through any failures.  In truth, there have been far more successes, as demonstrated in the engaged looks on these student faces.

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References:

Couros, George. 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. Digital image. The Principal of Change. N.p., 14 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.