Sunday, June 12, 2016

Star Wars, Gaming & Collaboration

Star Wars, Gaming & Collaboration

Dear Readers,

Over the past few months I have been learning how to Explore and Play Like a Pirate. Of course, the book that started it all, Teach Like a Pirate is always in my thought process. I am constantly thinking about "creating experiences" (@burgessdave) for my students. As I started LAUNCH this weekend, I started to reflect on my gamification attempt that ended last week.

Play in the Classroom

I have always loved teaching through play and creative outlets. As a former speech therapist, it was THE way to develop oral language skills. 

One of my favorite lessons I ever co-planned was when I co-taught with a physical therapist. We set up a McDonald's drive-thru. The speech component was ordering from the menu and practicing social skills. The physical therapy component was going through the drive-thru. The students were completely engaged. We had taken something from their world and made it come to life for them.

Another lesson we planned was using the telephone. We did an entire lesson on different phones through the years, how to appropriately answer the phone, how to use the phone in an emergency, etc. Then I went to another classroom and called the students. They had to use what they learned to engage in a conversation with me. We were teaching and practicing important life skills while they were having fun answering the classroom phone. Again, complete engagement.

I never thought I would be able to incorporate my love of play into a middle school classroom. Over the past three years, I have started slowly bringing different tasks into our classroom. For example, what would 8th graders do if I just set puzzles up around the room? They would become so engaged that they were late for a class and I had to write them a pass because they NEEDED to finish. (Sorry!) What would students do if I just set out baskets of fidget toys around the room? I would hear clacking sounds as they attempted to spin them around, paper slicing through the air as they threw flags that came back to them and rattles as they shook cups with rocks taped inside. The most amazing part for me? Watching them dive into those baskets and tasks with excitement and asking me, "What are these for?" 

I love messes! I make other teachers cringe with the materials I pull out sometimes. What would students do if I brought in blank canvases, a variety of brushes and paint? Create beautiful quotes for the classroom and display case in the hallway. What would students do with glitter, construction paper and markers? Create all types of "art" projects. I found a new black marker and my 8th graders grabbed construction paper and started writing messages JUST so they could use the marker.

Utopia vs. Dystopia? Have students form groups and then assign two of them to create the worst school imaginable and the other two the perfect school imaginable. Give them chart paper, markers, glitter, paint, put on some music and 100% engagement happens! Will they EVER forget the different between the two? I doubt it.

Newspaper? I brought in newspaper and divided the classes into teams. The goal was to build a structure, using ONLY newspaper (no tape, glue, staples, string, etc.) that would withstand movement of about 1 foot. The tallest structure that could be moved would be the winner. The first step was planning, they had to spend 5 minutes making a plan. Then they had 10 minutes to create the structure. It was absolutely amazing to see the different ideas they came up with. I would never have thought of some of them! At the end, there was a reflection piece. What went well? What would you do differently? They unanimously decided that the better the communication in the planning phase, the more collaborative they were during the creating phase. All that was learned through newspaper and nothing else.

Who says we can't teach life skills through play?

Gaming in the Classroom

In a previous blog post I captured my plan for bringing Gamification into the classroom. It ended up being a wonderful experience that I would absolutely do again in the future! 

The students and I created our own virtual gaming world with nothing but construction paper, markers, tape and our imagination. I used sentence strips and blank book templates to write the levels and award points. There was absolutely nothing high tech about any of it. We kept score on my chalkboard, the students were responsible for updated their scoreboards as they proceeded through challenges. 

The first challenge was a True/False task about literature, the second challenge was a problem solving task using riddles and the final challenge was a Quest. It consisted of using clues to locate destinations that would provide the next clue and multiple choice questions about Star Wars. The final challenge was a great way for students to shine in different ways. If they did not have Star Wars knowledge, they took the lead of reading the questions and figuring out the clues. For those who were Star Wars "experts" they collaborated to answer the questions. 

Isn't that what we want as educators? Students collaborating together while bringing different strengths to the table?


Reflecting on my instruction over my career as I started LAUNCH made me realize that I have been using the design process (although modified) for many years. I love the visual because it is how my mind thinks and processes thoughts. I am definitely an artist and geek.

To end the school year (before finals begin) I was planning on bringing duct tape and cardboard to my 8th grade class tomorrow, just to see what they would do. However, during the #satchatwc conversation this past Saturday, @burgess_shelley mentioned blocks. I think I have changed the material, but not the idea. What would 8th graders create given a bag of blocks and little direction? We will find out!

Final Thought

Play and creative outlets do not have to disappear as our students get older. Creative thinking, play, gamification and creating experiences is not separate from what we have to teach. It can all be integrated! The question is.......

Will you open your mind enough to think outside the box and try new ways of instructing?