Gamifying the (Australian) Curriculum

spaceinvaders
Professor Jeffrey Brand – Gamifying the Australian Curriculum (Oxford Conference 2014)
Jeffrey Brand presented a keynote on ‘Gamifying the National Curriculum’ at the Oxford Conference and tried to turn it into the first gamified keynote ever.
Gamifying is not a dirty word, he argued. Games have clear goals, immediate feedback and a social layer.
Other elements he saw as important were ‘badges’, levels, which signify ‘progress’. These have been in the ‘Horizon Reports’ since 2007 but which are not referred to more than sporadically in the AC.
Gamification is using aspects of games (game mechanics) in other activities, like learning. Games are problem solving activities approached with a playful attitude. Isn’t that what learning should be like? It’s different from GBL (games based learning) which is using existing games for classroom activities.
Game mechanics include: points, levels, increasing difficulty, low risk points, progress, narratives, quests, social engagement, mastery, virtual goods, leaderboards, use accumulation not averages …
Some final lessons:
  • Design for narrative-play and flow. I liked that.
  • Don’t add a thin layer, like badges, on content. Oops.
  • Don’t force people to play.
I tried Class Dojo a couple of years ago and I’ve tried things which *might* be construed as game elements (badges etc) but this presentation didn’t really grab me, or convince me. I’m not a game player. I don’t know if my students need an extra artificial construct to be interested in the learning. The more the ‘game’ of the keynote progressed the more I disengaged. The woman next to me was the opposite, getting very animated, racking up points, enjoying answering the questions, ‘how many points was that worth?’, she called out. She interrupted him mid-sentence to point out the deliberate spelling mistake. She was more interested in the game than the learning. The game had supplanted the learning. I didn’t want to play the game.

The Network takes Over

This post was written at the Idea13 #idea13 Conference, MCG, 12/11/2013

Mark Pesce, from the University of Sydney was the opening keynote.

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Connected World

Pesce opened with the idea that ‘this is the moment’, when things aren’t going to be transformed. They already are. Pesce argued that we’ve gone from little or nothing to a radical change in just over fifteen years; about a billion seconds. Eighteen years from the beginning of the web to now.

The biggest change, he argued, was connectivity and the literally unimaginable possibilities that connectivity created. He said it was about ‘knowledge amplification’ and gave Wikipedia as a key example.

He argued that the next key moment after the internet was the smart phone. ‘A fundamental transformation to the construction of human knowledge’. The smart phone and tablet (he reminded us that the iPhone was only five years old in Australia) were desktop computers in the palm of your hand; ‘a huge, growing wealth of human knowledge’ was the world of our students.

It was interesting, for a futurist, that Pesce seemed to assume that he evolution was now complete. ‘I’ve seen the full evolution of the connected computer’.

‘If the classroom lacks the tools for sharing that are available everywhere, then how is it going to survive?’ was something like a key point. He gave the example of the students who invented a social network for their school, because it needed one.
He called the new generation ‘sharing natives’; sharing and collaboration was native to them, and that’s why THIS moment was the greatest challenge in the last 200 years. Knowledge is not not rare, it’s ‘universal’. What does mean for librarians? What does that mean for teachers? What does that mean for schools?

Craptastic World

What does the educator offer now? In two years the now craptastic $79 tablet will be powerful enough, as powerful as today’s smart phones, which means that everyone will have one. Schools will hand them out every year, with the textbooks on them. The digital divide has expired, he argued. It’s available to everyone, everywhere.  A key point is that sharing is not going to be restricted to the wealthy (the $29 Indian tablet) nations.

He talked a bit about ‘flipped classrooms’ and the rise of MOOCs. ‘The classroom is the least natural environment for the new learning. Peer mentoring is now easier for students to access than a classroom or a teacher. Teachers (professional educators) will need to be problem solvers: innovative, creative, capacity amplifiers.

But…

Sharing can be distracting, the ‘weapons of mass distraction’ and it can arrive too early for some students. We know we can’t stand against this ‘tide of change’, but ‘what do we have to surrender, when the network takes over.’

Keep Calm and Find a Peer Mentor

There may not be a class in the future. Or a school? If everything is connected, why centralise it? Pesce argued that the ‘foundation skills’ (reading, writing, numeracy) are an essential preparation for immersion in the culture of shared knowledge. Digital citizenship, time management, etiquette, safety still need ‘an attentive educator to monitor their progress and provide assistance.’

The next question was around, ‘how does assessment work in a world of shared knowledge?’ Pesce said that this question was a furphy; the key point is that ‘assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing’ Every moment of peer-mentoring is a moment of assessment. Being able to critique, and receive critiques of mentoring, is a new key competency in the middle years of learning. Schools initiate students into the culture of shared learning and establish patterns of behaviour. The role of the professional educator will change, will be mentoring students some of whom will be face to face, some who won’t. It’s not either/or.

The secondary school will be:

  • Connect.
  • Share.
  • Learn.
  • Do.

A never-ending process of continuing education.

Students need to be able to grow their own networks, beyond a learning network for teachers, but a network of peers, mentors, problem-solvers,for life. ‘The classroom, as it is beginning, is the initiation into this network … the path is clear.

Questions I had
Is the internet ‘wisdom’ or even ‘knowledge’
Is it overly optimistic to believe that peers will shape things nicely and positively for learners?

2013-11-12 08.49.19

Last days

blossom

That time of year thou mayst in me behold …

Hard to believe it is that time of year as my senior class is coming up to their final few lessons, the last week of timetabled classes before the ‘swot-vac’ and (varying) degrees of intensive study.

Every year I try to improve what I do as a teacher with these students, each year I probably get more critical of myself about what I should have done, said, intervened or fed back at stages during the year, and what difference that might or might not have made.

I’m not doing a post-mortem yet. I’ve put in place a series of consultation times, some intensive sessions on key texts, some lunchtime ‘lit talks’ combined with the other class and some online revision sessions using Adobe Connect. There’s plenty of learning yet, but when you do complete that last timetabled class, which happens this week, no matter how much revision you’ve got organised, you do feel a door closes. You work hard as a teacher to establish a positive learning culture, to work with the personalties of the students to get something bigger and more powerful than themselves. And then, it’s done. Happens every year, about this time.

Photo: Blossom, by Warrick

Use it or lose it

barge_2013-08-26_20-18-20

That’s what they say about new learning don’t they? Put it into place straight away or it will never happen? It’s the old adage about those PD sessions you attend. You want to come home with at least one good idea  you can try tomorrow. That doesn’t test your very notion of being a teacher. And moves the students learning forward.

So, I was pleased to come home from a Critical Agenda day with Glen Pearsall, from Critical Agendas on Year 12 Literature with a swag of ideas and I’ve been trying them for the last two weeks. Some you know, of course, and just need reminding. Some were brand new. I liked Glen’s approach, which was focused on very practical strategies tied up with good research backing, and I liked his naming of these strategies as a kind of identifying common language.

Since the day I’ve talked more about ‘bundling’ evidence with the students, talked explicitly about ‘woven quotes’, have deconstructed and reconstructed the examiner’s report (as we did), have used Wordle (see above) to help unpack some key passages from Antony and Cleopatra, have used Wordle to compare student essays, have done the ‘May Essay, August Essay’ comparison, have done some peer to peer swapping and have completely rewritten my feedack sheet.

I was also reminded that the most important thing is that the students are doing the thinking and the work, and that despite the pressures of year 12 and getting ‘through’ the content, the richest, deepest learning is likely to come when students themselves are wrestling with the concepts, not being lead through them by the teacher.

Postcard from Finland

At futurEducation I did take the opportunity to make some notes from a couple of the keynotes, which were both interesting.

Dr Tom Wikman, from Finland, opened the conference and was disarmingly honest in his admission that he both was a bit sick of Pisa test discussion but also liked it (‘after all, it’s brought me here’). He opened with a gorgeous Finnish landscape shot, a bit like the one above.

Wikman talked about Finnish education, the ‘Finnish Pisa machine’ he called it, and explained why Finnish results might be so high, even in comparison with ‘like’ countries such as their Nordic neighbours.

One reason he pointed to, ironically, was the lack of reform in Finnish education, where education has been consistent and stable compared to other countries that have had multiple reforms over the last twenty years. The message: test less and reform less, and let teachers get on with it.

But that’s if teachers are trusted as high quality, well esteemed, all with Masters Degrees and seen as teacher-researchers. His metaphor was the teacher as ‘conductor’ (as in conducting an orchestra)and described a surprisingly conservative and old-fashioned sounding education system: blackboards, kids in rows, textbooks, with an emphasis on ‘essentialism’ (the subject) rather than ‘progressivism’ (the child), and traditional in emphasis rather than future-orientated.

Okay, it gets good test results in PISAS; can’t argue with that. But, unquestioned in all this, it seemed to me, was the idea that tests like PISA do accurately measure what matters, just not what can be measured. I’m not sure that I’d go far as to endorse the (somewhat US-centric) view that PISA test results are inverse predictors of creativity or ingenuity or entrepreneurship, but I get the point. Everyone, from the PM down to the boys in the Gonkski-mobile seem to believe.

And, after all Wikman’s talk about the status of teachers, the need for stability and the worth of trusting teachers, what’s the take-home message for Australian politicians?: test, test, test, and make teachers accountable.

Finland landscape photo from Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfgangfoto/

Hear this blog post read by a computer!

Ted-Ed and all that

There’s been a bit of bite-back recently around the ‘Ted-Ed’ concept and the usefulness, relevance or otherwise of the whole shooting match of powerful people spouting powerful ideas. Apparently, they censored a Ted Talk that was critical of the inequity at the heart of American society. That idea sure ain’t going anywhere fast. Gary Stager had a field day. He’s hated the Ted Talk thing from day one. Salon described Ted Talks this way

Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders. (here)

Admission 1 – I was always a bit sceptical about the $1000 a seat, or invite only idea that the Ted Talks seemed to be about in the first place. Yes, I too, smiled and nodded in hearty agreement when Sir Ken Robinson told us all how schools were killing creativity, but not a lot of the videos interested me, and the education ones always seemed a bit ‘off’ somehow. Too American maybe? Or too corporate? Or is that the same thing?

So, I hadn’t paid much attention to them really. I like video, and I think that they are a great resource when used carefully and judiciously. I’ve been actively campaigning for YouTube access at my school, first for teachers and, just this week, for senior students too. So far, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Admission 2 – However, I’m very dubious about the Khan Academy kind of approach to learning. **Maybe** the drill and drill kind of repeat and rewind thing might be useful for a skill based kind of subject (a concept in Maths?) but for Literature? I want to show that part from Olivier’s Hamlet where he finds himself in the graveyard as Ophelia is brought there, or the amazing swordfight at the end of Branagh’s version. I want to show it at the right moment in the teaching, that three to ten minute scene, then talk about it. That’s not anything to do with a chalkboard screencast of factorisation repeated until you can say it too.

But (Admission 3) I have become very interested in the concept of the *flipped classroom* and how that might supplement and enhance the classroom work I’m involved in. What if I could deliver that 20 minute overview of the SAC *success criteria* in a podcast or vidcast, and then gets the students to watch that at home? Wouldn’t that leave that 20 minutes or so free for the class to actually talk, collaborate, seek support, get on with things? That’s tempting. And (Admission 4) the tools for creating and delivering some of these enhancements, these ‘flipping’ tools, are so powerful and accessible and first time ever that they’re almost too good not to use. I can add audio to a PowerPoint with Adobe Connect and put it online so my students can watch it, and listen to the audio. I can set up an online meeting (I’ve talked about this before) with Adobe Connect and have a revision session prior to the exams, everyone in their own homes, meeting together. And that’s not to mention Skype, Slideshare, Edmodo, Class Dojo and good ol’ podcasts themselves to support student learning. So many geat tools, so little time.

Which brings me back to Ted-Ed, and their next innovation, allowing teachers to ‘frame’ a Ted Ed video with some questions: questions for understanding, questions for deeper meaning, deeper questions. And, they promise that it will work with YouTube videos too. Which is pretty exciting. A YouTube video taken away from the hideous comments and un-related playlists and brought into a learning context.

I couldn’t get it to work at first, and of course if that YouTube video goes away, so does your lesson. But it’s a much better way of looking at and framing a YouTube video in the classroom, or set for homework like the example below.

Here’s one I put together for Literature homework on Frankenstein. 

Getting started on thinking about ideas in Mary Shelley’s text: http://ed.ted.com/on/Cd3PnwNz

Or this one for the students I’m working with in Pen Club: http://ed.ted.com/on/US1FygmB

I’m still not receiving invites to Ted Talks, and console myself that any club that would have me as a member I don’t want to join. Andrew Douch said recently that he thought audio was more powerful and effective than video anyway, but here’s another tool for learning which, when combined with thoughtful teaching, might make a difference.

Change and continuity in teaching Literature

I’ve been trying to be more actively interventionist in my Literature teaching this year, inspired by some thinking about Personalised Learning I’ve been moved to consciously work on some ‘high impact micro-teaching strategies’ that might help student learning as a follow up to some thinking on formative assessment over the past couple of years.

So, I’ve kept the things that have been working pretty well (the wikis, using OneNote as the default teaching, presenting and note-taking tool) and the blog as the primary means of communicating class news and information.

But I’ve also tried some new things too. I’ve also been up front with the students about that, talking them through my thinking and what the intention/s are. They’re Year 12 students after all, 17 or 18 old most of them, well able to understand these approaches and generally just as keen to do well as I am for them to do well.

We began with a ‘no-hands’ up approach to discussions and I showed them a couple of bits of research about that, including this piece from the BBC.  This approach, coupled with greatly increased ‘wait-time’ has seemed to make the class more generally attentive and receptive. I haven’t had a problem getting discussion going with this group; they’re great about that, but the ‘no hands up’ means that everyone is involved potentially.

I also moved the room around a bit, based on some feedback I got from a couple of teachers who sat in one of my lessons for a ‘classroom observation’ project we’re trialling. I’m stuck with little individual ‘test-style’ tables and, yes I could bundle them into ungainly little squarish pods each lesson, but the next teacher would probably untangle all that and start again. So, I’ve tried a kind of horseshoe arrangement that I use for lots of meetings I run, where students can really make good eye-contact with each other in all the conversations. They’re still all facing the front where the data projector (and teacher) is, but it’s generally more conducive to a good collaborative atmosphere and, importantly, the other teachers who use the room, can mostly tolerate it and don’t shift things back.

I’m going to do more surveys too, shorter surveys more regularly. I generally do an end of semester student survey and end of year but, inspired by a young English teacher who’s been giving her students short surveys using Google Docs (I don’t even know how to do that) I plan to do more surveys online using our own school system.

I did the first survey this week and already it’s given me some good feedback that I intend on acting upon right now, rather than wait until the end of the semester. This is all about helping students improve as they go. I found that they haven’t much enjoyed the poetry cartoon tasks I’ve been setting, which is interesting as I wouldn’t have picked that. I liked them!

And they’re sometimes not so sure about how well they’re going, the kind of progress they’re making. So I want to work on more individual feedback more often, short, focused learning conversations perhaps.

I was also inspired by another teacher to try the “Icy pole sticks”. A simple technique, that you’d often do with younger students, of having an icy pole stick for each student, with their name on it, and selecting the stick at random and asking that student to answer the question. A kind of simple randomiser, and you can just keep selecting sticks at random, or move them from the big pile to a ‘used’ pile to ensure that questions are distributed around the room. I told my class about the idea and got them to name and decorate their stick with some iconographic aspect of themselves. Which was fun.

So, the icy pole sticks, combined with wait time, and the ‘no hands up’, has helped reshape some of the questioning that goes on in the classes so often. And helped make me more conscious of this approach even though, every now and then, I’m drawn to ask the keen student who I know is itching to say something.

Finally, the questioning itself has been sharpened by trying a technique called: ‘Pose, Pause, Bounce, Pounce’, where a question is posed, wait time is added, the question is responded to, bounced to another student, and then a third is asked what they thought of those answers. Sounds more complicated than it is and you can read about it at the Guardian HERE

I’ve just started to try to collect some of these techniques on a Diigo list HERE.  Suggestions are welcome, particularly focused on assessment for learning strategies.

Finally, some traditions are too good to change. Cake day, once every fortnight at the end of the day, is a student-inspired initiative that I’m happy to continue just as it is.

The Flipped Classroom

I’ve been a bit interested in the Flipped Classroom lately; the idea of turning things on their head so that the predicatable, the ordinary and the mundane gets tackled with technology and the real learning takes place in the classroom.

I became interested in this a while ago, even bought a microphone to do more podcasting and audio with my own class and collected a list of resources and made a Diigo list of them, as you do. [http://www.diigo.com/list/warrickw/flipped-classroom]

But there’s another side to this too. A nagging concern that what might come out of this movement is not the freeing up of the classroom, but the intrusion of the bureaucracy, the big business backed educational resource sites such as the Khan Academy.

How many teachers, in reality, will have the energy, motivation or expertise to develop their own material? Our educational institutions really going to free up teacher time to develop new resources in new technologies?

And, if they don’t, aren’t we going to end up with mass-market resources that don’t fit my classroom and my students or my course?

I can imagine that a closely knit, organised and cohesive team of teachers working together on a course could collaborate closely enough and effectively enough to generate resources together. I can imagine that such a team, with perhaps two or three staff with expertise in new technologies feeding into the main team, could in fact create a course that was flipped. But I can’t see it happening often in the daily, stretched lives of the teachers.

Perhaps flipping the classroom makes more sense the universities with a lecture model still predominates. And where perhaps hundreds or thousands of students undertaking the same course. But I want personalised resources of my students doing my course at the right time, appropriate to the level of ability and the timing of the course. Which means I may have to create them myself.

And, if flipping the classroom means we all go home to watch YouTube, then I’m against it.

What is e-learning now?

Yesterday I got the opportunity to speak again at the Chisholm Institute ‘Ripple’ Conference at the Mt Eliza Business School, overlooking Port Phillip Bay; this time with a focus on what e-learning looks like to me  now and how can help support teachers through change.

Last year I focused on the students who were coming in to tertiary institutions from k-12 schools and what that meant for learning environments. This year my focus was more on the teachers. It was a beautiful spring day, maybe the first real spring day this year, and the conference was well run with a group of teachers who wanted to be there.

Below is a an abridged version of the slideshow with some of the key ideas. There’s also an annotated list of the resources I used on Diigo here: http://www.diigo.com/list/warrickw/ripple-2010