Global Games:Breakout EDU & The Hero’s Journey

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.  

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Breakout box & letters (photo credit: Whitney Kaulbach)

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.fullsizerender

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.

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Check out these faces as this group realizes that their clue is a call number.

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.  

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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.

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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.img_6280

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.

img_6285The 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. img_3775-1 

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: 

Gone Home: Reading a game in English class

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Photo credit: The Fullbright Company

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.

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My co-teacher exploring the game

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.

IMG_1662I 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.

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An artifact found in the foyer
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One of our gamers cruising through the foyer

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!”  IMG_1665

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.

 

 

Game on! Personalized learning, meet your new bestie.

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Me in all my sweaty glory under a tree that smells heavenly.  Can anyone tell me what it is?

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 sIMG_5620ummer, 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?IMG_5586

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.

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Class agreements, hero style.  Nice use of chalkboard paint.

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WTH VT?

Maybe that’s coming on a little strong.  Let me explain.  I recently returned from SoCal with a team of amazing educators and admin from Lamoille Union.  While there, we attended CUE, visited four schools, and attended Deeper Learning.  It was an amazing experience full of inspiration in the form of real people doing some incredible things in schools.  From innovative learning spaces–open space devoid of desks, materials at the ready, seats built for movement, etc–to deeper learning through projects driven by student curiosity and choice, to design thinking the way to a better educational experience for students and teachers alike.

IMG_0720And they are doing it with 34 students in their rooms.  No joke.  Really–34 students packed into smaller rooms than those we are lucky to have at Lamoille, and students are engaged.  Often times when I stepped into a classroom, the teacher was difficult to locate.  In one instance, the teacher was at a desk in the corner looking through designs that her students had recently submitted for a competition, while the students themselves worked on prototypes.  In another case, where students were guiding a 6,000-piece robot around the room by remote control, the teacher wasn’t even there that day.  No spitballs in the air, no fires in the maker space–just a few super engaged boys tweaking their basketball-throwing robot.

Perhaps you’re thinking these are pipe dreams–something only the wealthy districts can afford to do, but that wasn’t the case, either.  In fact, Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA) was an absolute mess just three years ago.  Gangs were prevalent as was gang culture throughout the small school, complete with fighting, graffiti-laden school furniture, and students who didn’t believe their school was a school.  Three years later, with the leadership of Eric Chagala Ed.D, that school has a much different story–one where students are engaged, digging deeply into the design process to bring projects to life, and finding joy in learning.

IMG_0749So, Vermont, what is holding us back?  So many of us are fortunate to have class sizes of less than twenty.  Time and again, tour leaders pointed out how great it was that students could “get plenty of one-on-one attention” when their class sizes were just shy of thirty, or in one case, when the other half of the class was on a field trip and there were only eighteen students with one teacher.  In a state that has just passed a law requiring us to personalize learning, what excuse do we have to do anything but embrace it with fervor?

As a Rowland fellow, I constantly shoot out new findings to my steering committee, hoping that they don’t just hit “delete” when they see my name.  They never disappoint me.  In fact, two days after I purchased our first Breakout Edu box, Pat LaClair was using it in his Latin class.  A few weeks later, Chris Bologna had designed a Breakout lesson around Africa.  This week, Whitney Kaulbach took it for a spin in conjunction with the Russian revolution.  I am not so naive as to believe that every educator has the energy to cannonball new ideas as these three; they are, indeed, exceptional.  However, what is stopping us from pushing the boundaries more often?  My theories, and their answers, below:

  1. Time.  There is never enough time.  Instead of saying, “I just don’t have the time to [fill-in-the-blank],” try reframing the thought.  How about, “What can I accomplish in the few minutes that I have?”
  2. Resources.  If you are teaching in a public school, there are never enough of these either.  But if you’re teaching in Vermont, at least at my school, you’re lucky.  You have what you need, and when you want something new, ask.  What harm is there in asking?  And if the admin denies you, check out DonorsChoose.  Find a way.  Be resourceful.
  3. Apathy.  On the part of the kids or on the part of the teachers?  Maybe it’s both.  Either way, take a look at the system in place.  It’s been around for over a century.  We don’t live like we did a century ago, so no wonder we are apathetic about school.  Remember why you started teaching, even if it was years ago.
  4. Ambivalence.  Some teachers find it easier to just keep doing what they’ve been doing for so long.  They’re right about the ease–change is difficult.  But really, if we continue teaching the way we have over the last 100 years, with the teacher at the helm driving everything about the experience, we aren’t educating our children to become thoughtful, creative, innovative citizens of our world.
  5. Fear.  There are plenty of things that could go wrong when you try something different.  If you lived by that credo, however, you’d still be eating plain cereal and drinking from a sippy cup.  Dig as deeply as you need to in order to recapture that curious, playful child within and trust in him/her to guide your explorations.
  6. We ARE doing amazing things, but we don’t talk about it enough.  Honestly, I think this might be the key to what’s happening in VT.  This sabbatical has given me time to visit classrooms and talk to teachers about the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms.  I think they are so busy prepping awesome lessons and doing the insane work that great teachers do that they don’t have time to go the extra step to get it out there–by website, by newsletter, whatever.  The Alt School has a documentarian on staff to capture many of the great things they are doing.  Perhaps we can invite students to help us in this quest by asking them to use their social media prowess to help us get the word out.
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Kaulbach & Bologna with their IGNITE awards–inspiration for us all

It’s time for people from around the country to start visiting us.  There are incredible things happening in our classrooms; documenting and then publicizing them helps us celebrate our successes, inspire others, and push one another to be the change.  Let’s start focusing on the bright spots and leave the five excuses above in the dust.

Let them play! Recapture the adventure in learning

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Opening slide–credit Pasi Sahlberg

Yesterday, I was fortunate to have attended a discussion led by Pasi Sahlberg and Saku Tuominen from Finland at #SXSWedu.  They titled their talk, “Can the Finnish Education Miracle be Replicated?”  The talk was more a call to action shaped by these three Finnish cornerstones: 1. Let them play! 2. Prepare kids to be wrong and 3. Build on what works.  If we are to transform education in the US, then we must embrace these ideas and shift our culture to show that we value them.

As a proponent of game-based learning, I found these ideas validating, exciting, and inspiring.  The Finns embrace play as a regular part of the school day–everywhere–recognizing the importance of what Einstein once said: “play is the highest form of research.”  Play inspires curiosity and inquiry, and isn’t that what we want from our students?  For those teachers looking for a structure to bring playful inquiry into the classroom, games provide the necessary framework to both inspire and engage.  The Institute of Play created a list of seven game-like learning principles which, when carefully considered, paint the picture of an ideal classroom environment.

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Photo credit–Quest to Learn

Challenge, participation, learning by doing, feedback, iteration, interconnectedness, and fun are all recognized as pieces of the game puzzle, and also as solid classroom pedagogy.

So to answer Sahlberg and Tuominen’s call, let’s bring more games into classrooms.  Number two on Sahlberg’s list asks us to prepare kids to be wrong.  Not only do games provide students with a safe place to fail, but they also teach the idea that failure is really just iteration.  How many times have you seen students playing a simple game (either surreptitiously in class or elsewhere)?  They aren’t quitting when they don’t accrue the points they want, or when they fail to guess correctly.  Instead, they are motivated to try again and again to get it right, or get better.  Why?  Because it’s fun.  And fun has an important role in the classroom.

I think that some educators are reluctant to integrate games into their classrooms because they don’t believe that games can provide the necessary challenge inherent in deeper learning.  Perhaps they think that games are just filler for the end of the period, or to be used strictly as a review tool.  While those applications are valid, I’d like to offer some examples of games that require students to dig deeper and to actively use higher level thinking skills.

Paul Darvasi, an English teacher and NYU doctoral candidate located in Toronto, Canada, has experimented with delving deeply into game based learning, and has arrived at incredible results.  Darvasi took the plunge by using Gone Home, an award winning game completely devoid of zombies and killing, as the basis for literature study.
Brilliant!  Rather than reflecting on the narrative of a images-3bound novel, Darvasi asked his students to discover the narrative elements in this emergent media, complete with annotation and close reading tasks as well as video game review.  Essentially, he used the game as a catalyst for building critical thinking and writing skills.  Ever humble, Darvasi shares both his lessons and reflections on his blog, and invites other teachers to experiment as well.

Peggy Sheehy, a teacher from Suffern, NY, also dives deeply into games in her classroom.  With a focus on the hero’s journey, Sheehy, in partnership with the curriculum writer Lucas Gillespie, uses World of Warcraft as a catalyst for deeper learning.  Connecting three elements–the game, Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit, and students’ real lives, she invites
images-4students to dissect the meaning of the hero’s journey as it plays out in each different arena.  Again, students engage in similar exercises as they would if they were reading a bound copy of a novel alone, comparing the game to other texts and media, writing creatively in response to game-based prompts, and drawing connections between their experiences in real life and those in the game.

As an English teacher, my bias is clear on choosing these two games on which to focus, but I believe in the importance of paying attention to games as a viable tool in the pursuit of deeper learning.  The third tenant of Sahlberg and Tuominen’s suggested path was to build on what works, so I encourage you to take the plunge, and if you do, please tell me about it!  If we are to embrace play and recapture the adventure of learning, games are the perfect vehicle.  Teachers can provide the opportunity for both the deeper learning they crave and the play that students so desperately need in our current educational setting.

 

 

We can do this: design thinking as edu-therapy

The state of Vermont adopted the Education Quality Standards in 2014 and thus set in motion an education overhaul.  We needed it.  Schools in Vermont have been working hard to retrofit our systems in order to meet these new requirements, and with the class of 2020 as the first ones who will graduate measured by their proficiencies (proficiency based graduation requirements), this shift is literally just around the corner.

The staff at Lamoille Union knows this, and when we met for inservice last Friday morning, it became ever clearer that this transition will be both complex and challenging.  Among the concerns for our staff were issues around communication to parents and community members, changes to our grading and reporting practices, a need for common language, and what will be required of students who receive a high school diploma from LUHS.  Although there were many concerns, I believe that this is the first law that holds genuine potential to truly change the way we educate our students.  Still, it’s intimidating.  It’s overwhelming.  And it’s happening next fall.

 

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Kate Selkirk and Leah Hirsch look on as Brad Parker explains his prototype.

So how do we as educators get a strong grip on the changes that need to be made and welcome them?  Our first solid go at it was inspired by design thinking in a workshop led by Leah Hirsch and Kate Selkirk, two teachers at Quest to Learn in NYC, and in conjunction with the Institute of Play, also in NYC.  With their guidance, our faculty experienced design thinking with an introductory wallet design challenge.  Pairing up educators who don’t often work together, we opened the door for connection and collaboration, and judging from the positive feedback and laughter, it was enough to break the tension created earlier in wondering aloud what these changes might bring.

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Crowded around the art supplies like kids in a candy store

The power of play once again leveled the field, and we were able to move on to the real work.  Teachers met in interdisciplinary, cross-school groups which provided them the opportunity to have rich conversations void of any baggage.  The result was therapeutic.  Given license to think about all of the challenges inherent in How might wean overhaul, plenty of sticky notes gave their lives to thoughts and concerns.  Grouping them was the next task, after which followed the key to the work: “how might we…?”  It is an incredibly empowering question to ask, as within its structure is the idea that the person asking the question already knows the answer.  It was the proverbial leather therapist’s divan

As expected, solutions to those problems abounded.  Teachers started to see what was possible, dream about how it might happen, and be inspired by one another.    The simple use of the word “might” freed us.  It wasn’t, “How will we…?” In fact, Leah and Kate pushed the idea of thinking big and bold.  So our staff dreamt, and we considered, and we collaborated.  We realized that this change could be incredible, and that we have the human resources to handle it.  We felt better.

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In the end, after we grouped our thoughts into categories and considered what prototypes we might create as we ran out of time, we left for lunch with some important takeaways:

  • change can be intimidating, but realizing just how talented the teachers with whom you work are is incredibly comforting as you’re facing it
  • approaching a problem with design thinking is good therapy; it reminds you that the answers to your problems lie somewhere within
  • trust and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to do the hard work are two incredibly important components to creating lasting change

While design thinking set us on our way toward school-wide change, it is also something that can (and might I suggest, should) be used on a smaller scale in the classroom.  Check out Saga Briggs’ collection of 45 design thinking resources for educators if you’d like some ideas about where to start.  I’d love to hear about your experiences; feel free to leave comments!

 

 

Tech share: a few quick ideas for your classroom

IMG_5107Through the generous support of the Rowland Foundation, I was able to attend the annual Future of Education Technology (FETC) conference in Orlando, Florida last week.  In a word, HUGE.  Everything about that conference is huge.  True, this is coming from a Vermont girl, but on day one, when I had to walk from the south concourse to the north to check out a second workshop, it was literally a mile and a half.  I saw a Segway at one point and thought, “are you kidding me?”  By the time I reached my destination however, I completely understood.

 

The good thing about huge is that there were a ton of great resources, and I’d like to share a few tools that may help to make your life easier, make your teaching better, and might even inspire you.

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Adam Bellow introducing Tech Share.  Check out his “Buddy, I’m Good” parody on tech overload.

Adam Bellow absolutely lit up the place, along with Kathy Schrock, Hall Davidson, and Leslie Fischer in their Tech Share.  It was rapid fire tech gadgets and tools thrown out by these four tech gurus.  Here are a couple that I’d revisit:

Google Tone: a Chrome extension that allows you to push out a URL to students in your classroom.  Maybe you’re playing a game and need them to check out a site; try this instead of a QR code.

Polaroid camera: If you’re old enough to remember the Polaroid cameras of a few decades ago, this is the updated version and equally cool.  Snap and print instantly.  I remember it being a bit pricey, and this version is no different at $200 for the camera, SD card, and 30 sheets of photo paper on Amazon.  It might be a great Donors Choose request, though.  I’m seeing instant photos of students’ aha moments to share with parents, to document project work, to create an art installation in the hallway…

Raspberry Pi Zero: A five-dollar computer?  For real?  For real.  For $300, you can spring for the full-on machine, but five bucks is a great way to get started.  Makerspaces and code clubs, take note!

Breakout Edu:  I have heard so much about this game platform in the last month, and it looks absolutely amazing.  Open sourced, you can create the kit on your own or order one from the makers themselves.  I love the idea of Escape Rooms, and so do a million other people who are out there participating in them, and this game platform brings the concept to the classroom.  FUN!  I can’t say enough how excited I am to get my kit in the mail.  Yes, I might have ordered one as soon as I returned home from FETC.  Maybe you should, too.

Smarty Pins: I am excited about the possibilities of this game not just for geography’s sake, but for my own game-making interests.  The tagline is “putting trivia on the map,” which is exactly what they do.  Random facts about the origins of history, people, places, etc. are presented for you to nail down on the map.  I can see all kinds of ways to integrate this into classroom challenges, connecting it easily with readings about authors, events, history, etc.  Their snarky responses when you miss an answer are good fun, too.  Not that I missed any.  Ever.

Keynote tools:  Adam Bellow does all of his presentations on this platform.  He shared two of the tools he uses most often: Magic Move and Instant Alpha.  Magic Move is a transition tool that makes it look like an image on one slide is moving onto the next.  Instant Alpha is a tool that allows you to remove the background from any image you want to use.  Bellow usually posts his presentations on You Tube after he’s given them, so I’ll link it here when it’s available.

LMGTFY: “Snarky” might be Leslie Fischer’s middle name, and it works well for her.  She had a slew of useful ideas to share, but I had to mention the one that allows you to have a little fun with people.  As educators, we know that there are no stupid questions, but when you are out of the classroom and someone asks you a question that seems a bit too obvious, head to this website and type it in.  Hand your device to the question asker.  And smile.

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Sean McComb reminded us of this important fact.

FETC hosted some incredible speakers (Sean McComb and Leland Melvin–two fantastic storytellers–were a joy) and a plethora of resources.  I was completely saturated by Friday night, but I left inspired and excited about possibilities.  I also came away with an honest appreciation for the amazing things happening at my school every day, and the innovation happening just down the halls by people like Whitney Kaulbach, Marc Gilbertson, Chris Bologna, Patrick LaClair, and Katie Bryant.  There were some incredible people at FETC, but our little Vermont school has some amazing human resources as well.  Here’s to finding and knowing those in your school.