Fun with Adobe’s Spark Page platform as a reflection on Deeper Learning 2017 in San Diego last week:
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Think about the last time you committed to changing something and it paid off–a time when you had to change habits, and although it was difficult, you did it because you believed in your end goal. The struggle was hard, but it was worth it, right? Now think about how much time you spend on social media–scrolling through recipes, fake news, and kids’ sports photos on Facebook or naming the filters on your Instagram feed. How do these two connect? Because committing to a new social media platform–namely Twitter–takes some commitment, but the end result is incredibly useful, and you’re much less likely to be subject to recipes or kids’ sports photos in your feed. (I can’t say the same for fake news, but that’s another post altogether.)
I joined Twitter in 2009, and like most new Twitter users, was immediately flabbergasted. My uncle told me I should check it out, and because I respected his tech savvy eye, I did. My Twitteracy was elementary, to be sure. I had no idea what a hashtag was, why there were so many @ symbols, or what on earth people were trying to say because everything was abbreviated. I scrolled, wondering how this could ever be useful to anyone. I spent some time lurking, following other Twitterers here and there, but feeling like I had really missed something. Instead of feeling connected, I felt left out. And stupid. I left it unattended for a few years. Yes, years.
And then one day, inspired by a desire to establish a better online presence and find other like-minded educators, I hopped back on and I found this:
posted by @Stephen_H, and I thought, well, maybe it IS useful. I was inspired, and that’s what it took to hook me. I retweeted his graphic, because that’s an easy way to get your first tweet out there, and Twitter began to reveal its brilliance to me.
Inspiration junkie by definition, Twitter is where I now go for my fix. I didn’t realize it then, but in order for Twitter to work well for you, you have to work at it a bit. After searching for and following people you already know, you have to dig around to find people who might inspire you, and reading through whatever pops up on your feed won’t necessarily help you in your first few weeks. Instead, spend time searching for hashtags to find people who interest you. You’ll know you’ve found someone worthwhile when you read their brief bio and it spurs you to read some of their tweets, which then inspire you. When you find someone of interest, check out who they follow. This can increase your network exponentially, where ten minutes of searching can suddenly fill your feed with the collective brilliance of a hundred more educators.
You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation? One of my favorite things about Twitter is that it becomes one degree so easily. I’ve exchanged tweets with @MsMagiera, @gcouros, and @Sugatam –all people for whom I have great respect in the world of education. I would never have directly communicated with them–and so easily–without Twitter.
With so many options to choose from in the world social media, it can be challenging to put in the time to learn another platform. The way I think of Twitter, however, is as my professional social media platform. The others have a bit of crossover, but I use Twitter to grow my PLN, garner inspiration from other educators, create connections for classroom games or lessons, and to learn. It’s worth the time. Do it.
My favorite hashtags:
Fitzgerald, Kelly. “Using Twitter to Become a Strong Educator.” Using Twitter to Become a Strong Educator. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.
Just a quick share of my slides for our VITA-Learn workshop last Friday…
If any of you have ideas about how best to share your successes around technology and its impact in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you! Our designers discussed a Tech Hub, a plan for creating time for staff innovation every school week, and some potential additions to two dynamite VT-based learning platforms: LiFT and Launch Pad (currently in beta in with limited availability). Feel free to share your successes on Twitter with #VTedtech. Let’s share all of the incredible tech happenings in our schools!
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about school change and how best to make it happen: hours in meetings talking about how to inspire, talking others down from the ledge as they became so easily mired in pessimism, sometimes finding myself marveling at the problem as opposed to seeking out solutions. It’s easier to say you can’t do anything because of X, Y, Z than to actually take steps to make change. And it’s true that sometimes even when you spend countless hours trying to make systemic change, it fails.
Michael Fullan, the Heath brothers, and Dan Pink have all written at length about change and its one primary, deciding factor: motivation. In “Change Theory: A force for school improvement,” Fullan writes, “If one’s theory of action does not motivate people to put in the effort–individually and collectively–that is necessary to get results, improvement is not possible” (8). Interesting that he draws attention to the fact that change cannot beget results if only accomplished individually. I have learned this lesson time and again as I carefully constructed the isolated island of a classroom teacher, head down, wading through the bull in an effort to create the best experiences for my students. By the time I met with my colleagues at the end of the day to talk about standards, common assessments, or whatever other initiative was coming down the pike, I was spent and ready to watch some ridiculous Jib Jabs, not so much do heavy thinking on how best to align ourselves for the betterment of our students.
This idea of a culture shift–noted by both the Heath brothers and Fullan–is one that the Rowland foundation has likewise esteemed, and I recognize that shift as the ultimate goal. So let’s talk about some small steps to get there, taking my call for empathy as the impetus. I will attempt to build capacity through students first–Fullan’s second premise of the change theory. Check out my Powtoon for my plan of action–one I hope will result in a move toward better understanding the world in which we live.
I will report out (share widely!) what our students propose, and how their ideas play out at our school. I’d love to hear your ideas as well, and if you’d like to partner with us in this venture. Authentic audiences, global connections around issues important to our students, and a lasting understanding of what technology can do to build empathy are all worthy goals for this venture. Please join us!
Fullan, Michael. Change Theory: A Force for School Improvement. Jolimont, Vic.: CSE Centre for Strategic Education, 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. London: Random House Business, 2011. Print.
Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2010. Print.
“Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy.” Rowland Foundation Vermont Secondary School Teacher’s Fellowship Philosophy. The Rowland Foundation, n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.
When I first encountered Skype over ten years ago, I thought about its practical uses on a micro-level: I could reach out to my grandmother in Florida, my colleague in Texas, or my college buddy in Chicago. We could see each other and spend a different sort of time together. And then I realized its implications for the classroom. How enlightening would it be to connect with classrooms around the world? For the students in my small, rural Vermont school, Skype had the potential to build cultural understanding of places they’d likely never visit. The headlines in the last few days remind me of the most important purpose behind flattening the classroom walls and reaching out beyond our small corner of the United States: empathy.
Webster begins the definition of “empathy” with: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another… Because we have 1:1 iPads in our school, we have the power to reach out, and I believe it’s more important than ever to make that happen. It seems that others are feeling the call as well.
Rachel Mark, a PD Coordinator for the Tarrant Institute, reported on one such teacher. In a lesson designed to help students understand more about the refugees who were slated to relocate to our state, Charlie Herzog looked to virtual reality as a vehicle for empathy. Without the ability to physically visit countries in need, the next best option might be to access our nearest VR headset and visit one of them virtually. As demonstrated in Sophia’s response, her previous superficial understanding was replaced with a deeper awareness of the refugees’ plight: “I knew that they had it bad, but I didn’t know how it actually worked and how they would experience everyday life, so I thought that [VR] was a big help in understanding that.”
Even if we want to avoid bringing politics into school, empathy can be built around shared cultural tenets. Take the example of the hero’s journey–a global story structure familiar despite cultural differences. Tie that together with a love of games and a few video chats, and we have the makings of this multi-place Breakout Edu. Two of my colleagues teaching overseas and I used game-based learning to inspire connections across cultures, and in so doing, taught students not only about the hero’s journey, but also about its cross-cultural appeal.
Some teachers have used our 1:1 capacity to talk with authors and some have dabbled in Mystery Skype. This is a solid beginning, and I plan to build upon that capacity by culling student feedback about how best to reach out beyond our walls during a lunch series, by encouraging use of video chat tools and providing links to inspiration and possible classroom partners in my weekly Tech Update email, and by taking the simple step of committing my time to talking with teachers and providing individual support around building empathy. I have to believe we can change our world for the better, and starting with empathy feels like the best way forward.
Every hero’s journey begins with a call to adventure, and we answered it with a Breakout game. My teaching partner, Whitney, and I cannonballed a long-distance, multi-place game that took our students through a bold “edventure” of their own.
Here I take you through day by day, sharing our experience and offering up lessons learned.
Our goals were to connect Vermont students with students in the Dominican Republic, to teach them the story structure of the hero’s journey (HJ), to explore facets of Identity, and to inspire their love of learning through games. We created a ten-puzzle prototype that led students from the call to adventure through the journey to an eventual return home.
Our most daunting task began before the game even started: to take something of value from our would-be student heroes. Thinking abstractly, we decided to “steal a memory” of a proud moment from their lives. Requests were sent to parents to contribute to a form letter that could be printed and kept as a final prize. With this task underway, the game began.
Day One: Students took their seats and we explained that our goal in the next two weeks was to discover the power of the hero’s journey through game play, and that they would work together to do so. We encouraged them to be curious, to ask questions, to collaborate, and to persevere. Then, because setting up the game properly is incredibly important, we paused for a moment, adopted a sober tone, and started with this:
“I have been informed by The Hero that something of personal value has been taken from each of you. You may not know what it is yet. You may not be aware that it is lost, but it has indeed been taken. It is my understanding that you will receive the object upon successful completion of difficult challenges.
A message has been sent to you with further instructions.”
This was a risk. Students have to believe in the story of the game. They have to be curious. They have to want in. And we have to risk being out of the ordinary. We hoped to see confused looks and curiosity piqued, and we did. Students dove into their emails looking for “further instructions,” and there found a primer for the game: a link to a dossier.
The dossier triggered a gmail confirmation: see the game master for the next challenge. When approached, we gave each group an envelope with numbered puzzle pieces of the respective flags of Vermont and Dominican Republic, a small Breakout box, and an iPad with the Locks app set to a color code lock. The game was in full motion.
Students scrambled to make sense of the puzzle and the first connection between our two groups. They eventually discovered the relation between the flags and the numbers, and successfully broke through their first lock.
We set the color lock to open a Chatterpix, which told students to run! to their library with the clue GNFYANG. Some realized that their clue was a call number which led them to copies of American Born Chinese by Gene Yang, inside of which was a QR code linked to challenge questions. The reading of the graphic novel took our class through the remainder of the first Breakout day.
Day Two was rife with challenges for the most patient heroes. After finishing Yang’s novel and accompanying reflections, students traced a clue to the lock opening the small Breakout box. Inside, they discovered a black & white copy of a map, a flashlight used for reading invisible ink, and another QR code linked to Petra. Our daily lesson tied the Hero’s Journey to one element of identity (spirituality), to guardians, and to journey. Google Street Treks (Petra) provided a virtual tour of this place that has drawn many a hero over time.
At this point, we as game masters presented the large Breakout Box complete with a hasp and three locks on a front desk, giving students a sense of the scope of our study and game. Students smiled (or gaped) and returned to the heady work of the Petra challenge, using this guide to locate map points related to the directional lock.
As with any class game, play it through first so you can anticipate where students may struggle and have answers for them. Thus we saw necessity in revisiting the guardian stage and the journey through a portal to a special world. Students savvy with the invisible ink/ flashlight enjoyed searching the room for their portal: a table of talk times with students from the other country.
Day Three: students reviewed the structure for conversations and plunged through a portal/ video chat with students from another country. For all involved, these video chats were one of the very best parts of the game. Each country had a question and half of a URL needed in the next challenge, but only revealed it after discussion about the meaning of true heroes. By combining each half of the URL students could move to the next lock.
Day Four: With the URL now in hand from their long-distance partners, students discovered a seven-minute physical challenge and choices to explore gender as it relates to heroism. Digging deep to find the part of themselves that defeats self-consciousness, they risked push-ups and planks in front of their peers to follow the calling.
Day five: My long-distance partner, Whit, was ready to test our heroes’ patience. After solving the riddle buried in Google’s Arts and Culture Institute, students faced finding a grail within the school. Although they wanted to tear through the halls looking for it, we offered them a structured challenge to earn the location: work together to create a HJ word wall, and in return, receive pieces of a photograph showing them the way.
The grail held the key to another lock on the hasp. The final word lock was revealed in a Padlet exchange–an asynchronous meeting as compromise since we could not find another time to meet live. There, we shared both clues and photos of our ideal heroes. And in the box was the final clue: a rhyme hinting at the location of that which had been taken in the beginning of the journey.
Day six was our heroes’ return home. Students were invited to the highest offices on campus where administrative teams met them to unveil the letters. Admittedly some students were hoping for candy, but all who read the letters blushed with amazement and joy, some even shedding tears. A few nodded as they understood the deeper level of what this experience represented, and requests were made to keep the game going.
This prototype of interactions, communications and problem solving was so much more than a box of locks or a reading and a graphic organizer. It was an experience–an adventure, even. Already we are exploring changes and collaborations with schools in other countries for next year. Everyone teaches the HJ; why not make it a truly shared experience?
Apps and tools used:
In a word, creepy. That’s what it was. It was my first thought as I ventured into the unknown territory of The Fullbright Company’s award-winning game, Gone Home. I’m not a gamer, despite the fact that I understand the value of games in the classroom. Although video games are not my forte, I have had an incredible time playing and learning along with a group of seniors this month.
I sent out an email to a colleague sharing the inspiration I had stumbled upon in Paul Darvasi’s all-encompassing approach to incorporating games in his classroom. At first, she replied kindly and expressed her appreciation and fear at the idea of using a video game as a text. I didn’t hear back from her. Until a few weeks ago. There is something about the end of the school year that gives teachers a certain sense of freedom to try new things, and I was so happy to hear it.
Her trust in me allowed us to jump right in. Our focus would be on character development through game play. How do game developers create and develop characters? How is it similar and different to an author’s approach to the same task in a novel? How might you “play a story?” These questions guided our exploration.
Briefly, Gone Home is a first person video game where players discover the story of the Greenbriar family. Kaitlin Greenbriar, the main character and player’s point of view, has just returned from a one-year trip overseas. When she arrives home (late at night during a storm), she discovers a note from her younger sister Sam and an empty house. The endgame is to discern what happened to Sam, who has disappeared. Through exploration of the Greenbriar mansion, players learn about the family, the house, and eventually, what happened to Sam.
I borrowed heavily from Darvasi in order to get started, following his suggestions to stick to the foyer on the first day and encourage limited exploration in order to familiarize ourselves with the game and gameplay. I had a crew of ten seniors, two of whom were accomplished gamers, so sticking to this creed was a challenge at times. I wanted to level the playing field for at least the first day, inviting gamers and non-gamers alike to understand the mechanics of the game: arrows move you around, fingers on mouse pad to look around, control to crouch or stand up, and shift to pick up objects. Those well versed in game play had the two main commands down in a second; newbies (like me) took some time smoothing out movement through the house. There were many things to discover within just the foyer, and in fact, play starts outside of the house with a locked door. The first real challenge is figuring out how to get into the house in the first place!
With the lights turned off in our small lab of Macs, we adopted Darvasi’s approach to annotating the game and started collecting evidence of our discoveries. (Screenshots for objects were challenging on the Macs because the commands to do so were the same commands needed to control the game movement. We punted; students used their iPads to take photos of their screens when needed, and it worked beautifully.) Students dove in, and the room became eerily quiet as they bravely opened doors to dark rooms, hunted around for light switches they couldn’t see, and tried not to spook when the thunder clapped in their ears.
We took a few moments at the end of the first class to talk about what they had discovered. They noticed that like any good story, the exposition becomes clear with quick exploration of just the foyer itself. Players meet the family and are provided with hints of possible conflicts to come. By the end of the period, our seniors had a clear idea of the characters, conflict, and mood of the game and were champing at the bit to keep playing.
Because the foyer is really the only place in the house that is somewhat contained, game play from this day on was simply guided exploration. Again following Darvasi’s lead, I asked that students choose a group of characters to explore as they made their way through the Greenbriar mansion. Students took screenshots, practiced annotation, and collected evidence of character development, all of which was demonstrated on this doc. In all honesty, the actual document wasn’t completed until the final day because they couldn’t. stop. playing. Struggling to engage and challenge learners? Here are a few snippets I overheard as students discovered the many intricacies of the Greenbriars’ story:
“This house is huge.”
“I found the kitchen!”
“OOOOHhhhhh! I knew it!”
“I’m starting to wonder if this is a mystery or not. Whoever created it could be leading me astray.”
“Clues could be anywhere.”
And finally, one of the best: when bell rings: “I wanna keep doing this!”
On our final day, we circled up and processed. “It made me cry,” one of our senior boys said. “I was just so caught up in her story. When I got to the end, I cried.” We talked about how the game creators had to have mastered character development in order to evoke that kind of emotion. We discussed how the characters were created through found objects in the game, organization of the house, and audible journal entries. Multimedia approaches to character development were prolific, and it was absolutely delightful to hear students as they discovered secret passages, revealing letters, and those heartbreaking journal entries.
Video game as narrative is a valid form of media in the English classroom, and if Gone Home is any indication, we should be paying close attention to games as new media. (This game in particular is probably best used with older students, as there are some mature themes and discoveries along the way.) Using games as true content delivery methods has long been an interest of mine, and I was so appreciative that one English teacher was willing to take a chance on this. I’d encourage you to do the same.
So I am training for another half marathon, and beating myself up about not running enough, but when I do run, it’s in some incredibly sweet places: up the side of Mt. San Jacinto, through Golden Gate Park, and alongside the unparalleled pacific coast most recently. Aside from getting in shape, these miles are for processing. For some things in my life, there just aren’t enough of those miles, but I do accomplish some decent planning for school. On a recent run, I recalled my visit to Epic–a middle school in its second year of awesomeness.
Epic is aptly named. Francis Abbatantuono, their director of personalized learning, took a significant chunk out of his day to meet with me and two of my colleagues on a recent visit to NorCal. His passion for game-based learning and education in general was apparent, and I sat in awe listening to him recall his journey over the last few years as a founder of Epic. It kicked into high gear when they won a Startup Edu competition, and has grown into a successful middle school model with future plans for growth into high school.
What brought me to Epic was their focus on learning through and with games, and they do so with a focus on the hero’s journey. Students receive their handbooks in the late summer, but in contrast to the standard thick brown envelope full of multi-colored random pieces of paper to be signed, their handbook is beautifully crafted, and sets the tone for the school year with a story: “…you are one of the chosen ones,” the story tells students in its opening pages. Framing the challenges ahead as a call to action, the story acknowledges the work ahead, but ends with questions about identity. “How did you become who you are? How did you achieve all that you have?” and the story’s answer is this: “In time, you will reply, ‘I became Epic, because our world needs heroes.'” How awesome is that?! That’s adventure, right? In the pages that follow, you meet Epic’s sages, like Francis here, who are all tricked out in game gear and looking epic themselves. Now that is an introduction to the school year from which we can all take some cues.
In fact, it has me wondering about how we can apply this to our personalized learning plan (PLP) process in Vermont. I hear plenty of whining these days from students about PLP’s, and it’s clear that there is a disconnect between the intent of PLP’s and their implementation. At Lamoille Union, we are fortunate to have some rock star teachers planning the rollout, and they have offered many resources and inspiration in an admirable attempt to support faculty in this venture. Still, students are complaining. So I’m wondering how might we adopt some of Epic’s awesomeness and take the power of narrative and games for a spin when we launch the second year of PLP’s? How might we reinvigorate the PLP’s by deeply thinking about next year’s launch? What if we framed the school year as an adventure quest? (I’m picturing our school entrance and lobby designed with student engagement and inspiration in mind. There is art. A lot of art.) How might we integrate badges into PLP’s? Using a platform like Schoology, it would be relatively seamless. How might we integrate the power of games into our classrooms and programs in order to increase student engagement?
Epic grants badges for various accomplishments tied to their three foundational principles: safety, responsibility, and respect. Each badge has its own rewards, and some badges can be combined to create a new badge that holds higher level rewards. For example, the Hacktivist badge is earned when a student has a Maker and a Catalyst badge, both of which are earned separately for their own demonstration of skills. What if students were combining their PLP badges to demonstrate proficiency in transferable skills? “Look, Ma! I earned a physical health badge for the marathon I ran, and a community service badge for my erosion project. I can demonstrate grit with these!” Badges give students something concrete to connect their learning to their goals, and thereby help them understand how to tangibly demonstrate skills acquisition like creative problem solving, grit, and communication.
Some people run for the same reasons they play games: competition, strategy, skill, coordination…I run to think. And I think I might be on to something with layering game principles onto our PLP’s. We know games are engaging. As a state, Vermont has set out to personalize learning in an effort to reach all students. The two ideas seem like a natural fit. Many thanks to Epic (and my Brooks) for the inspiration.