This blog is crossposted on the COETAIL site
The Game of School
The particular offense of playing the Game of School lies in the disengagement of our intellect and our feelings from tasks that deserve to be taken seriously; task like writing, reading, thinking, planning, listening, researching, analyzing, performing, applying evaluating. We do harm when we reduce these acts of intellect, creativity, and judgement to rote exercises, perfunctory deeds, or meaningless gestures. Faced with the stress of daily life in school, it can seem easier, at times, to pretend to believe rather than to truly believe in the value of what we are about. The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How it Hurts, and What it Will Take to Change it. By Rober L Fried
I have pronounced, loudly, that I am not a gamer.
In case you haven’t guessed it, games are serious business.
So the next big question, is how are you going to use games in your classroom? Are you going to gamifiy your grading system? Are you going to redo a whole unit as a quest for your students to explore? Are you going to remix an existing game with your own curriculum? Are you going to play games that push your students a little further in their thinking? Are you going to use badges at your school, with students or teachers? Are you going to try to play a game, to see how games really work and how the best ones are designed? Are you going to have students create a game? Can you gamify COETAIL?
Our students are already learning rules for success and failure in school. And some parents (and our students) will be reluctant to change the game. And so, the final question is, are we having them play a game that is worth playing?
My students spent a week coming up with a good question. A single question – average around 10 words – took my 8th graders a week to come up with. In comparison, my students will spend a week actually putting together a final product answering the question. This may be a little crazy. But I think it was the best thing for my students.
I’ve stated a couple times that I am intrigued by Design Thinking as a way to teach my students. I was lucky enough to go to a Creating Space for Innovation with Ewan McIntosh in September and for the first time I was able to actually practice what had been just theory: Ideation. Synthesis. Prototype. Feedback.
While the discussions I was able to have during the conference were meaningful*, I also fully appreciated how I was able to take the concept of ideation into my classroom the next day.
My 8th graders were starting their culmitative world religion project. I’ve never been happy with the questions my students chose to focus on. Even worse, I don’t think my students were happy. This was a project that my students were supposed to care about and their questions were letting them down. And in reality, I know from teaching all levels, kids often don’t know how to create good questions. Moreover, creating questions is an assessed strand in the MYP Humanities criterion “Investigation”. So I figured it was time for my students to learn how to create good questions.
Step 1: Generating Questions. Lots and Lots of questions.
This is the phase that probably looks the most familiar to anyone who has brainstormed. 12 minutes, don’t put your pencil down, write as many questions as you can. Music played**. I wish I would have had them standing up. But most of them were scribbling away.
Not surprisingly, some kids had tons and tons of questions. Other kids, not so much. So we re-grouped.
Depending on how many questions they had generated in 12 minutes, they had different instructions.
- 0-10 questions – meet together and have a conversation with me to try to generate more questions. This was a great chance for me to meet and help draw out interests and establish prior knowledge in small groups. I was surprised how hard this was for some students.
- 10-20 questions – share with each other for 4 minutes and write questions for 2 minutes
- 20+ questions – share with each other for 6 minutes.
By the end of day one, all kids had a least a dozen questions. Some questions were absurd. Others were intriguing. But we had started.
Starting to synthesize
Now students need to do something with their questions. They need to sort, purge, combine all their questions. And it needs to happen quick. 13 minutes laters, students had their questions sorted.
Making it MYP
My students need to know the official IB Command Terms. If they know what “identify” or “explain” or “analyze” means, they know how to answer a question. If they can start to get this in 8th grade, they’re golden.
I gave my students the IB Command Terms sheet. They then had to classify the terms into Level 1 (these are easy questions) to level 3 (high-level question/non-googleable). They were actually really good at it. Basically, they created their own Bloom’s Taxonomy.
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) September 24, 2013
Creating the Question: Next Step
Students had to create three possible questions, using a Level 3 command term. I want them using terms like “analyze” , “evaluate”, “justify”. They submitted them via a GoogleForm. I started getting excited because the questions I were getting were good. But now we needed to get to the final stage.
I learned at Ewan’s workshop about the “New, Useful, Feasible” Matrix.*** I changed it for my kids to “Interesting, Answerable, High-Level” Matrix. Students ranked how each question to figure out what they really wanted to do and what was actually possible. This was knocking out questions like “Why is there a God?” but keeping in questions like “Analyze how religion affect family and communities”?
I then did individual conferences with each student using this matrix as a guide for discussion.**** Sometimes I disagreed with their classification, particularly about how answerable a question was. I helped them refine their questions. Sometimes, we narrowed the questions. But a week after we started, they had questions they were excited about and questions that challenged them.
I had Parent Teacher Conferences this week and when the kids were telling their parents about the questions they were working on, I was a little blown away. Hearing 8th graders talk about the role of women in religion or why religions go extinct is amazing. And the kids are excited (for the most part) about the work they are doing.*** We’re also refining their questions. I want my students to be comfortable changing the question as their research develops.
I don’t know if I’ve spent this much time thinking about writing questions since I was in grad school. I think we assume kids know how to do this. But I don’t think that’s true. And I’m still so new to this process. I know that I have loads to learn about how to make this ideation phase better for my students. And while it’s been hard to be patient at times, I am convinced every second has been worth it.
** Pro-tip- Jack Johnson is a good choice for this type of thing.
***Basically, take ideas and rank them out of ten on how new, how useful, and how feasible the idea is. This helps figure out what the next step is.
**** I liked doing this on paper to hang up in the classroom. While I was absent, though, I created a GoogleDoc of the matrix. Having done both, paper was better.
**** I haven’t talked about the research phase or the prototyping phase. Another time.
Two days after arriving home from Learning2.0 Singapore, two tweets seem to summarize how I am feeling…
Happy to be back at work but think I’m suffering from a #learning2 brain hangover. Anyone else feeling similar?
— Ben Sheridan (@B_Sheridan) October 15, 2013
— Adrian Camm (@adriancamm) October 14, 2013‘
It’s with this dizzying mix of exhaustion and exhilaration, on the edge of a (literal) typhoon, that I start the bullet points.*
- I’m excited that Learning 2.0 is really Learning to_________. The blank can be filled with verbs like “tell stories”, “code”, “capture stories” ,”build robots”, etc. The palpable excitement around the maker movement, the focus on pedagogy, and the desire to find a way to bridge student passions with classroom learning suggests to me that things are changing. And they are changing quickly.
- There have been a couple (dozen) times when I wonder what I have done to be so lucky to be in the room learning from such amazing and impassioned educators. I thought this when I was in the conference hall with all 400+ participants. Or when I was in the room of COETAILers. Or when I was was working with the amazing Learning2Leaders. But I honestly believe hard work (coupled with willingness to share) has given me this opportunity. And I will be working just as hard to stay in that room, because the amount that I learned from every teacher I met is a gift
- International schools in Asia actually form a giant/global school district. I’m amazed how many teachers I have met in different countries and continents and how many people I know when I go to a conference. Not needing to “meet and greet” means we can get to the big issues we are dealing with in our schools.
- I will be taking Visual Notes from now on. Even though I don’t draw.
- I will be learning more about Design Thinking. Stay tuned for more blog posts.
- Sub-bullets from Everything is a Remix: Learning2 Edition.** Huge thanks to the positive and energetic participants who I learned a tons from.
- Remix is the current word for Creativity. This resonates for all teachers. Imitating then innovating – in multimedia, products, text- is a concept worth exploring and I found myself really geeking out.
- The skills of remix are really non-technical. After watching a series of remixes teachers noted that skills were: research, visual literacy, background knowledge of content, being able to recognize tone, storyboarding and more. The technical skills were editing. Even those of us not comfortable with editing can and do teach all the other skills.
- Creative Commons, citation, and attribution and Fair Use is a quagmire for schools. But I think one way to have this resonate with schools is to teach this line with academic honesty and plagiarism. We teach students not to Cut and Copy, to chose a little bit of text and create something new, and that citation is required by IB. Why aren’t we teaching this with new media as well?
- Our students are remixing. Check their YouTube channels. So why aren’t we embracing this in our classrooms?
- Preparing for a five minute talk takes about 76% more energy than preparing for a three hour session. I can teach all day. Talking in front of an audience is scary.
- This is the third conference in six months where I have thought about moonshot thinking.
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) October 12, 2013
It’s not a surprise that people who are Moonshot Thinkers don’t love traditional high school education. Let’s change that. #gafesummit
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) July 14, 2013
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) July 14, 2013
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) May 7, 2013
I still don’t know what my moonshot is. Jeff Utecht challenged us to find our moonshot and not knowing what mine is making me a little nervous. But I’m pretty sure that I’m on my way. And I plan on dreaming BIG. And I have some amazing people who inspire me and who will have my back (to push or support) when I know which moon I’m shooting for.
* I reserve the right to add more bullets, as I think of them. I just wanted to write it down before life got super busy.
** I’ve been thinking about remix for the past six months in preparation for this session I knew I would be leading at Learning2. I’m not ready to stop thinking about it.
Teaching is easy…Learning is Hard.
At Google Teacher Academy, I had the honor of presenting an inspiring idea about how I use technology in the classroom. I really wanted to talk about how I try to get my kids thinking about technology. And I wanted to show how I tried to help my students to really understand how all the free services the use work. How many times have I taught something by saying “you click this and then you click that” and then I’m surprised that the kids forget it two seconds later. This lesson was one way I hoped to avoid that. So here is my presentation with a little summary of my speaking notes.
— Wendy Gorton (@WendyGorton) May 7, 2013
I wanted my students to think about how GoogleNews works, instead of using the service without being critical consumers.
With my Grade 8 students I used the Visible Thinking Routine: See, Think, Wonder
Normally, Visible Thinking Routines are done on paper and post-it notes. I love that my classroom is covered with visual evidence of my students thinking. It’s messy and crazy and fun.
But for looking at GoogleNews, we used Padlet/Wallwisher. If you use the Chrome extension, you get to save all your walls. Which is messy and fun in its own way.
I started by having my students look at a zoomed in image and notice everything they could. (Did you notice I was using Chrome? Or I have two google accounts? My kids did)
Here are my Grade 8 See, Think, Wonder Walls. Click on the wall to see the big wall. What I love most about the routine in this context is that by taking the time really look at GoogleNews they could see how it was organized and then they had room to jump into inquiry about how it worked.
I think there are dozens of uses for this routine (and the many other Visible Thinking Routine) and digital literacy and digital citizenship.
You could use it to teach Google Advanced Search….
Or have kids think about Facebook privacy settings?
Or how about having kids think about how to use Creative Commons? Or why it’s fair to use Creative Commons?
This is simple way to teach something that is complex and I hope others are able to use it. And huge thanks to everyone for your support for my presentation. It’s a little intimidating talking to such great group of educators and I appreciated all of your good vibes!
Update: I presented as session at California Google Apps for Education Summit entitled Thinking about Google: Using Visible Thinking Routines. Check it out for other ideas of how to use technology (including Google Cultural Institute and others) to practice Visible Thinking Routines.
Other related links:
- Summative Assessment on Global Issues and Perspectives - For MYP Humanities Teachers, this assessment address Criteria C where students are asked to evaluate sources. Evaluating sources is so much of of what it means to be digitally literate and it felt like a very natural fit.
- See, Think, Wonder Walls from my class
- Visible Thinking Routines Booklet
- Artful Thinking Routines Booklet
It was from my Australian friends that I learned the phrase “Tall Poppy Syndrome“.* So it’s somewhat appropriate that I try to write about my time at Google Teacher Academy in Sydney with a measure of humility and gratitude and quickly followed with how I’m supposed to change the world.
Sitting in the room.
Never underestimate the power of teachers meeting face to face, sharing quality time together to develop their thinking and networks #gtasyd
— tombarrett (@tombarrett) May 8, 2013
In a conference room in Google HQ Australia, I look around a room and saw strangers, twitter acquaintances, and friends. There were fifty-two educators from 13 countries, directly influencing 32,727 students, 40,311 teachers, and therefore indirectly influencing 410,885 students. These were amazing teachers who want to do amazing things for their students. In other words a powerful bunch of educators.
Nominally it was a tech conference (here’s a really great write up from another Google Certified Teacher about the Google Teach Academy from Gretel for the nitty-gritty). It was Google-y. We saw demo-slams. We learned techs and tips. But it was really about meeting people, re-connecting with people, and finding a community of innovative, positive, supportive educators. There were a lot of people who had the right to act like a tall poppy, but everyone just rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I can’t tell you how great it was to sit in the room with teachers who didn’t need to be convinced technology would benefit our students’ learning.** The energy in the room was crackling and buzzing. People were excited to play around with new technologies and brainstorm ways to use it in the classroom. I can’t tell you how privileged and lucky I was to sit in that room.
Things I’m geeking about.
In reading about the conference, many describe the Google Teacher Academy as a “fire hose” conference…in other words lots and lots of talking about tools and things Google can can do. For me, high-pressure spewing of information doesn’t sound the most enjoyable way to spend the day. And while the days were crazy, the emphasis of on pedagogy from all the Lead Learners was noted and truly appreciated. The days were spent talking about teaching and learning, which is always the forefront of my thinking. A few days later, here are things I am still geeking out about***.
- I am already trying to figure out how I can get Google Hangouts turned on at my school. My kids are already informally using Skype and GChat to do homework and I think I can use this innately social nature of my kids to help them learn, locally and globally. And I honestly think Google Hangout, Google Hangouts on Air, working on GoogleDocs in a Hangout and Hangouts on YouTube are going to be transformative to student learning.
- Using Google technologies and critique protocols – I learned about this from Chris Harte and I’m always geeked to find out ways to help my kids learn from each other.
- Geek Gurl Diaries! Created by a Google Certified Teacher Carrie Ann Philbin, I am very, very intrigued by this. Getting girls into the tech world is important and complicated. I hope I can beg, borrow, and steal things from Carrie Ann to help my girls enter that world.
- Design Thinking. I had the good fortune to talk to Tom Barrett about Design Thinking, an inquiry method using real-world strategies for solving real world/ungoogleable problems****. I have a feeling I’m going to be embarrassed very soon about how little I knew about the pedagogy behind Design Thinking. I also have a feeling I’ll be bugging Tom about it as I figure out ways to integrate it into my classroom.
— Amy McCauley (@AmyMMcCauley) May 7, 2013
Part of being a Google Certified Teacher is creating an action project that will bring about change and then get it done. People have done intimidatingly incredible action plans. The change can be local or global, but we were encouraged to dream big. To-The-Moon-Big. It’s a little scary really, because I really feel that if I come up with something good, Google (and all the Google Certified Teachers out there) will help me. That’s no-excuse territory.
Share early. Fail fast. #gtasyd
— Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) May 6, 2013
So what I’m thinking is a global conference, similar to Google Teacher Academy, for students. It would be run by students for students, supported by Google and Google Certified Teachers. It would help them develop the skills and networks needed for Moonshot Thinking to become a reality for them. This is a nutshell of an idea. There is more for me to think about and for me to figure out. This will evolve and I plan on failing fast, getting feedback, and to keep on moving. But I know that my passions lie in helping kids become empowered learners and active world citizens. And if Google can help me just a little bit, then I plan on exploiting my tall poppy status to make that happen.
—*Of course, as an American I don’t believe in cutting down the tall poppy. In the States, we’re all tall poppies. It’s what makes us awesome. And at times, annoying. **It’s not to say I don’t have these communities elsewhere (Coetail, Twitter, people at school). But it’s always incredible to find another group of people who will help you get better. ***Here are the notes Katie Christie and I took during the conference which shows a small amount of all the amazing things we learned. And there are dozens of things I still need to explore (scripting!). I had to take out a few sections that fall under the Non-Disclosure Agreement. Mentioning the Non-Disclosure Agreement does suggest that I’m a tall poppy. I’m okay with that, because it’s kind of cool. ****This is simplistic. Also, a sign of how being in the same room allows for some serendipitous conversation. And seriously – check out the No Tosh site.
See, Think, Wonder
Back in February, I signed up to take the Making Thinking Visible course offered through Harvard Project Zero. I had seen the teachers in the elementary school at YIS go through the class and heard how they felt it improved teaching and learning in their classroom. I thought that Making Thinking Visible would be a set of teaching routines that would help ensure that I no longer got the blank stares I was used to seeing when I ask “Everyone understand?” I also thought that the team of teachers was made up of people I wanted to learn with. (the amazing Kim, Simon, and Frank make up the indomitable Team Kangaesaseru* ) And really, I wondered how the routines would change my teaching and my students learning.
10X2: Describe 10 things you have observed. Then do it again. (I’m going to cheat and only do it once)
1. My students are incredible thinkers. By using the routines, every single students gets to show what they understand and what questions they have. And the routines are non-evaluative and low-stakes, so my kids are really open to showing their thinking.
2. The routines get easier for both me and my students each time we do them. I’m constantly referring to the booklet**, but as a class we’re figuring them out.
3. It really, really helps that other people are doing the course. The students are practicing the routines across many classes. Hopefully we are starting to build a culture of understanding across the school. Also, seeing how eight teachers are using the routines is inspiring.
4. Being a student is hard work. As part of the course, my team is constantly trying to figure out what expectations our teacher has, how are we going to get it done on time, and how to balance it with all the other things going on in our lives. It’s tough and it’s good to remember that.
5. My class is zippier. The routines are quick. I can do multiple routines in a class depending on what concept I want my students to focus on. With these routines, my students are constantly moving, changing directions, and thinking about different aspects of the concepts we are studying in class. Time goes fast.
6. My classroom looks crazy. Their learning is visible everywhere. On butcher paper. On post-it notes. There are papers on top of papers on all walls. Other students, other teachers, and parents can see what is going on in my class and we’re talking about it.
7. Paper is good. A lot of the learning is becoming visible using paper and pen. It’s a quick way to see what they are learning. If I really need it, I’m taking a picture so we can use it again.
8.GoogleDocs/Surveys/Wallwisher/Tech is good. Graphic Organizers with the Thinking Routines are fantastic. Wallwishers where students post their understanding is the perfect way to show their thinking. I’ve sent out a Google Survey asking students to submit Headlines. When pedagogy changes, technology can follow.
9. I want to use the new iPad mini to capture learning. School has given me a new iPad mini to pilot*** and I’m trying to figure out how to use it to show student learning. Yesterday, I used YouTube Capture to record students practicing a Thinking Routine, uploaded to YouTube and linked in my blog in less than five minutes.
I think there are lots of similar quick, easy, and effective ways to capture my students thinking visibly. And I want to find out what they are.
10. The Thinking Routines is about the process of student learning, not the perfect final projects. This is a very, very good thing.
I used to think….Now I think
I used to think, Visible Thinking would be quick little tricks that would make my teaching a little more varied and that it would be interesting to learn about. Now I think that though none of the ideas are revolutionary, they are helping me understand what I can do to help every single one of my students, in every grade level. Now I think, I am on my way to being a better teacher.
*The course is online and I may have been a little crazy to sign up. I’ve learned a lot, but I feel there is a lot to say about distance learning after this experience. The best part has been working with my team, Team Kangaesaseru. Kangaesaseru means “to think” in Japanese.
**This fantastic booklet (from which I stole the visuals used in this post) was made by Frank and it’s my go-to for this course.
***Way more on this later.
Every single professional success or accolade has started with me wanting to learn something new. Every single time I have said “Let’s try it and see what happens” I have been showered with the opportunities.
I applied for the Google Teacher Academy on a bit of a whim. I had just learned about YouTube video editor and I wanted to play with it. I am really, really pathetic with movie editing and I wanted to see if I could figure it out. Knowing that one of the requirements for the Google Teacher Academy was a 1 minute video, I made a video on the topic of “Innovation”, just days before the deadline. I never really felt I would be accepted and I was thrilled with the possibilities of YouTube editor for my classes. But, because I wanted to learn something new, I have now been invited to Google Teacher Academy summit in Sydney with 52 other incredible educators. I’m a more than a little thrilled about this opportunity. And I hope I am exposed to dozens of new ideas to try and explore, because who knows where that will take me next.
Here’s my video (not too bad for a first try).
My kids are failing and struggling and I’ve never been more proud of them. We are in the midst of a project and I don’t know if they are going to get done what I thought they were going to get done by the deadline. But I’m pretty sure they have never been more engaged in their learning. After this experience, I wish my kids could fail a little more often
Anyone who knows the history of Japan (including the triple disaster of March 11th) knows that the ability to power this massive industrial nation has always been a struggle. At YIS we have started to think about how to go “off-the-grid”, even in a small way. Teachers from all three divisions of the school and from a multitude of different departments have been brainstorming ways we can conserve and create energy for our school.* It was obvious from the start that we needed the kids. And so with Grade 10 Individuals and Societies, it was clear we could introduce the topic in out Sustainability unit.
My co-teacher, Ben McKewon, and I decided this would be an entirely inquiry based assessment. We gave them was the inquiry statement: “In order to create a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators.” They were told they would need to work as an entire class to come up with something to present to the Board of Directors and other bigwigs. And armed with an authentic audience and a statement of inquiry, they were set loose.
Questions, questions, and more questions.
The first step was to list questions. I asked them to write 20 questions they had about statement of inquiry. And then I asked them to write 10 more. Some questions included:
- What are innovators?
- Who is the YIS Community?
- Do we have to make something?
- Can we create a sustainable community?
- Will is cost a lot of money?
- Should we create a sustainable community?
- How are we already sustainable?
- How much energy do we already use?
- What is sustainable?
- What are we going to have to do?
“What are we going to have to do?” was just long list of questions that I did not have an answer to.
Students Take Control
My students did three things that set the tone for how they would run the project.
1) Every day they set the room up in a circle. They debrief each day at the start of class and one student has been designated note-taker. They also debrief at the end of the period and assign homework**. I try to stay silent. When I do talk it’s usually to say “I don’t know” or “What do you think?”. Occasionally I repeated the statement of inquiry: “In order to create a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators.
2) They set up a Trello Board.
I had never seen this project management tool before my students introduced it. It’s worked incredibly well for this type of project. If I assigned it, I don’t know if they would have bought into it the way they have.
3) They love to do pitches. They have pitched ideas about solar panels, energy-generating bicycles, algae farming, and dozens of other things. Every single pitch has created more and more questions.
Wandering down the wrong path.
Ben’s class quickly decided to research the feasibility of installing solar panels on the school roof***. My group was far from decisive. After much, much discussion they decided to try to install Enefarm (a household fuel cells unit).
They quickly broke into the following groups:
- Science behind Enafarm.****
- Architecture of the school/feasibility.
- Case Studies of Fuel Cells in Japan and/or schools
- Cost and government subsidies for fuel cells
- Communications Group
- Aesthetics/Everything else
The kids started to work. They learned, when trying to get the blue prints of the school, you must be very nice to the school secretaries because they hold the real power. They found the month-to-month usage of energy at YIS from the physics teacher and how fuel cells worked from the chemistry teacher. They practiced their Japanese trying to find a school in Yokohama that uses this technology. The learned who could be a leader as different students stepped up and took on new responsibilities. And they kept asking more questions.
To get some answers they called the company selling Enefarm units in Tokyo and the answers they got were not the ones the wanted. Disaster.
They realized it would take our school 186 years to recoup the cost of the fuel cell unit. And the Enefarm would only last 10 years. And it would require an outside energy source (gas) to start the process and it didn’t meet the requirement of sustainability. And what power it does generate would probably power about 10 computers. We had failed. And they now have 10 days to come up with something.
In the real-world, when we have a deadline, we have to produce something. So in about 10 days my students will have to come up with a proposal that they could present to important school officials that addresses our statement of inquiry**** . I’m not sure what they will present. I am liking that in the last class they talked about what they can “create” and “make” instead of what they can buy. I’ll report back what they actually do. But despite (or because of) this major problem they are facing, I am loving watching them learn. Their feedback to me (which they are documenting on Gdocs) has been nothing but positive. Different students (and not the obvious ones) are taking on leadership roles. Every student seems engaged and knowledgeable about the topic. No one asks me what they are being graded on. It’s fun, and it’s intense, and it’s stressful. And they are learning.
On the day after they realized Enefarms would not be a good option for the school, I was wondering how I would redirect their energy and make sure they didn’t get discouraged. Before the bell rang, one of my students walked to the front of the classroom and said he was going to address the class.
This is what he said:
To be honest, after talking to Mr. Duffield [their physics teacher], Enefarm isn’t going to work. All the time that we spent, looking this stuff up, it wasn’t a waste of time. We found a lot of stuff out….Riding on train yesterday, looking at the posters, I realized that…sustainability can be closer….Remember our statement was: In order to be a more sustainable YIS community, we must be innovators. In order to be a more sustainable YIS community we must be innovators. (link for video)
At the end of his speech, the rest of the class (me included) did this:
And then we got back to work. We have a lot to do.
* A lot of people smarter than me have been leading this initiative. The science department in particular has been doing a lot of research that was incredibly helpful to this project.
** They seriously volunteer to do homework. I actually got in trouble because I didn’t upload my profile picture to trello when I was supposed to.
***This would be a very different post if written from Ben’s point of view. His group has invited people from solar companies to see the feasibility of our roof as a place for solar panels and they are creating a documentary. Our classes were given the option to work together, but they got a little competitive.
**** I had never heard of Enefarm before this project and I’m still not 100% sure how it works. But I’m pretty sure you could walk into my classroom and find out the answer.
*****They will present, but probably later in the spring. The unit is ending in 10 days and they do need an end-date.
Grade 7 seems like the wrong grade to pilot using Minecraft as a learning tool. This is an age where real-world interactions are difficult enough and empathy is sometimes lacking due to the fact that their bodies are rushed with hormones. Sometimes they can’t control their actions. Setting them loose in a virtual world seems silly when you think about it too much. But at YIS, we are risk-takers and the school gave each 7th grade kid a Minecraft account to use in Humanities class. Kids go on after school in the evening to build, create, and hang out. It has been an crazy process and perhaps one of my most unexpected learning experiences as a teacher. While I’ll do a more expanded blog post later, I wanted to write down some of my initial observations about this process before we went off on holidays.
- Alex Guenther, my teaching partner, is the real brains behind this. His blog post on how we implemented Minecraft is a must-read for anyone considering using Minecraft in the classroom. It explains our goals and reasons for using Minecraft in our Humanities classes. Or watch Alex’s video. It’s a pretty great explanation of what we’re trying to do.
- The kids love being experts. I’m a total newbie when it comes to Minecraft, not entirely sure what it was or how to use it. The first time I logged in, I had no idea how to move or how to talk, let alone how to build anything. The kids sat down and showed me what to do. When I showed up in Minecraft world for the first time, a kid literally had to find me and I followed her around the virtual world they built. They loved being smarter than me. They loved showing off. They gently hazed me (virtual snowball fights and hidden trapdoors) as you should welcome all rookies. And for the kids who were also newbies, we made a deal to learn together.
- I am amazed at my administration and I work with incredible teachers. The admin at YIS are risk-takers and I can’t tell you how great that is. I love that my principal and vice principal not only vaguely support us, but ask how things are going and are just as invested in our kids learning as Alex and I are. And other teachers are always asking what is going on in our Humanities class. They are equally intrigued with the possibilities of Minecraft and they’re learning with us. A major thanks has to go to the other 7th grade tutors, Frank Curkovic and Alex Thomas, who have worked with the 7th graders as they have struggled to build a community in a virtual space. Next step is for administrators and teachers to come visit us in Minecraft world.
- Kids are the same in Minecraft world as they are in the real world. But sometimes they surprise you. Their personalities shine through in virtual world. Trouble makers are trouble makers. The sweet kids are the ones who helped me out the most. The kids who is kind of ditzy in class is also ditzy in virtual world. They make me laugh when I visit, the same way they make me laugh in class. And, sometimes I don’t want to go into Minecraft world, because I need a break from 7th graders and I know if I go in there it’s literally like stepping back into my physical classroom. But also, kids have a chance to shine in there. They challenge themselves and take pride in their work. They are so creative, that every time I see what they’ve built (be it a Nyan Cat or the Roman Coliseum) I am amazed.
They are working harder in Minecraft than they do on their real-world assignments. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s proof that 7th graders can and will work hard if they are invested in their learning.
- The content they are learning is much less important than the real-life skills they are practicing. My kids have built an awesome Hagia Sophia and an incredible Globe Theater. The structures are amazing. There is definitly some humanities stuff going on in there and they are working with each other to accomplish this goal. But what is really amazing is how Minecraft has allowed us to practice living and working in community with others. We have been plagued by griefers (Minecraft-speak for vandals or irritants). They have destroyed some beautiful structures and at times it’s been difficult for the 60 kids of 7th grade to get along. It’s been disappointing and stressful. Nonetheless, Alex and I believed that the Minecraft world should be one for the students and to the best of our ability we tried to let them work it out on their own.
In response to the griefing, the students called a “family meeting.” Lead my one of my students who struggles at times, the entire 7th frade gathered voluntarily during recess to discuss what type of community they wanted. They brainstormed on their own what they wanted to talk about. They thought about how it could be a postive meeting, as opposed to a griefer witch-hunt. During the meeting, a student spoke in front of his peers and directed a conversation, with skills that a veteran teacher would envy. Amazingly, during a recess, sixty 7th graders gathered in a room and listened to each other.
It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher, watching them think, talk, and negotiate the rules of the community they wanted. They wanted people to be kind. They wanted people to be thoughtful. They wanted people to respect each other. They wanted it to be fun. If they can negotiate how to do that in a virtual space, I really hope that they can be kind, thoughtful, funny students in real space. Which, at the end of the day, is really the most important thing 7th graders can learn. And for that reason, grade 7 may be the perfect grade to launch Minecraft.
My goal of my COETAIL final project was simple: Have my Grade 11 Theory of Knowledge kids do something is now second nature to my middle school students. The rest of this post is a long discussion of how I tried to achieve that goal.
The Project: Create a TOK Presentation
Every TOK student must complete a presentation at the end of Grade 11 that is 20% of their TOK grade, which is part of their IB Diploma. During first semester of TOK, students do a practice essay. All presentations must meet certain requirements (click here for way more information about these):
- It must deal with a real life situation.
- It must address a knowledge issue.
And all presentations are assessed on four criteria:
Criterion A – Identification of a Knowledge Issue Did the presentation identify a relevant knowledge issue involved, implicit or embedded in a real-life situation?
Criterion B – Treatment of Knowledge Issues Did the presentation show a good understanding of knowledge issues, in the context of the real-life situation?
Criterion C – Knower’s Perspective Did the presentation, particularly in the use of arguments and examples, show an individual approach and demonstrate the significance of the topic?
Criterion D – Connections Did the presentation give a balanced account of how the topic could be approached from different perspectives? Did the presentation show how the positions taken on the knowledge issues would have implications in related areas?
I have taught TOK for seven years and I have sat through dozens and dozens of these projects*. I wanted to kick it up a notch.
What makes this presentation different?
1) Something that is not in the official TOK presentation guidelines is anything about PRESENTATION. No points for bibliography or using Creative Commons. No mention of making the presentation attractive or effective. I have heard so many incredible ideas being discussed in TOK presentation that have just been killed by bullet-points. So for this presentation, I would require Presentation Zen style using Creative Commons images.
2) Criterion D is about connections. In traditional TOK presentations, students are supposed to make reference to different subject classes. I wanted to push it even more. So I required for Connections, student make connections between school, local and global resources. But I didn’t want to make the connections for them. These kids have thier own connections. They are international school students, Third Culture Kids, and multinational/multilingual individuals. So for this presentation, I would require students to make their own global collaborations using Skype, Facebook, or other Web2.0 tools.**
I had to sell these ideas to the kids. Sometimes for grade 11 students, if it’s not on the official criteria, they won’t want to do it. So I had to figure out ways to make them realize that there was value in what I was asking them to do. And I had to do it fast, because we only meet once a week.
1) I showed them tons of resources:
2) I showed them my own presentation that I was creating for Learning2.0. I wasn’t asking them to do anything different than what I do. That helps build trust.
3) We talked about what freaked them out about using Presentation Zen. They were scared that I wouldn’t understand the message and that they would forget. Nothing that adults aren’t scared of.
Step 1: Have students brainstorm what connections they have.
School: Teachers, classmates, elementary school, middle school, The International Center for Japanese Culture (ICJC), etc.
Local: neighbors, off-campus sports teams, parents, grandparents, etc.
These maps are analytics from Facebook via Wolfram Alpha. These kids have global collections. There is no reason for me to find them for my students. They can do it themselves.
I think this is the part of the assignment that starts to lend itself to a tranformative lesson. When I started teaching TOK, there was no thought that they would make global collaborations. Now it’s ridiculous that we don’t have this happen with every TOK presentation. If we want them to think of other perspectives and arguments, then they must make global connections.
I think it helped with expressing things in your own way because we weren’t reading off the board. I will definitely try and apply this concept to our class presentations. Visually, I think our images were good, although could of been a bit more interesting. I think the images themselves help the audience concentrate on what your actually saying, compared to just reading off the board.
The Presentation Zen also required you to think about the choice of images carefully. The way you wanted things to be portrayed and also relate to your knowledge issue had to be taken into account.
By having a simple slide, the audience listens to the speaker more, whereas they won’t if there are much more information on the slide given.
Presentation Zen uses a minimalistic view of the presentation. It may be harder for the presenter, yet once you get used to it, it becomes a breeze. Also, from the audience’s perspective, the eye ache of being throw crammed words in one slide is mercifully avoided.
I made connections with my family member, my aunt, who can also be my global connection as well, because she is a Cambodian who has lived all her life in Cambodia. I contacted her via email, which was not difficult. Making connections was not too hard, because I had relatives with multiple cultural experiences in different country (and my partner Dessy interviewed Ms. Cox, her English teacher, who has lived in Tanzania and Japan). There could have been more methods, however, to ask others about their perspectives. I am now intrigued in setting up a forum on the web to see opinions from people around the world that I do not personally know.
I sent a survey about political issues throughout our school, Yokohama International school which is the represented group of Third Culture Kids and asked friends I know who lived only in the U.S. This was in some ways hard, especially getting in touch with those in the U.S since even if I do know them. I had to have the courage to ask them to answer a survey after not talking to them for a while.
We only had one global connection, who was my Aunt who lives in Australia. Perhaps a way we could have widened our connections would be to interview someone living in an LEDC and and MEDC.
I found that finding these connections were a lot of fun and by being physically involved in learning about each culture from such nearby sources, it was beyond belief. It surprised me to realize that we have so many people, who we can use as resources, to further expand our points.
- Their presentations looked incredible***. It was so much better as an audience to not have to read bullet points. In reading their reflections, I think they got what the purpose of Presentation Zen is. And if they are brave enough to do a presentation in another class using only visuals, I will have succeeded.
- I wish I spent more time introducing Creative Commons to the students. I don’t know if they understand what it is. Creative Commons would actually be an interesting presentation topic for TOK.
- They made global and local connections and did a good job of it. I wish they would have made more. I underestimated how intimidating it is for a grade 11 to make these connections. I love the one student who wants to start a forum.
- I think in the future I will bring in more TOK students around the world to collaborate. Every student who is working towards to IB Diploma takes TOK. I would love for students to work on a presentation with people around the world. I think that is the next step. And maybe I will help lead that next step.
* I don’t plan on talking about this part of the presentation in this blog post. Another time I will talk about the topics of my kids presentations and the process of teaching the content and concepts of TOK.
** For those that care, NETS standard: Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
***I would add the presentations here, but this post is already absurdly long. I plan on using their exact same images in my COETAIL presentation and when I share that, I’ll include the links.