Election Night at NPR: Real-World Projects for the Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


As you can see from the photo above, I got to politically “geek-out” on Election Night 2012. National Public Radio had put out an all-call for bloggers and other social media gurus to take part in #NPRMeetup. At this meetup, not only were we able to get up-to-the-minute developments on election results, but we were also behind the scenes at NPR Studios. The #NPRMeetup Team was comprised of a variety of individuals and political perspectives, all with their own objectives. My objective was to learn about the process and use these ideas to share with the education community in hopes that teachers might create classroom experiences that connected.

Front Row Seat
The setup of NPR studios was fascinating. I had the privilege of getting a pep talk from Ken Rudin, resident political junkie, about the evening and what to look for on this pivotal Election Night. NPR CEO Gary Knell extended us a welcome and thanked us for our participation, and of course we got to watch all the impressive reporters as they spoke live on radio, and the staff as they directed and crunched numbers. There were so many “cogs in the machine,” as you can see from the diagram below. There were so many roles and protocols necessary to make the election reporting work efficiently and accurately. In addition to the physical, on-the-ground work, there was an internal system chat that all team members, from the social media team to the data analysis team, used to communicate in real time to each other. Some information was given to us off the record, and we were allowed to report it only after NPR made the official call. Exit polling was pulled from the Associated Press as well as from NPR exit polling teams.

Classroom Ideas
There is so much critical thinking that occurs when analyzing data from an election and then officially making the call. One powerful learning experience could be an Election Night Studio Simulation for the math and social studies classroom that mimics this work. ELA and Media teachers could use the opportunity to teach writing and layout skills. Teachers could provide an ongoing feed, from exit polls to real voting data, and have teams of students work in real-world roles to officially make calls on which candidate won a specific state. Assessments such as journals or Election Night plans (how and when the teams will make calls) could help students learn about data analysis, critical thinking and collaboration.

Another idea that I walked away with was the concept of the Citizen Journalist. To summarize, citizen journalists are public citizens actively participating in the journalism process, although they may not be affiliated with an official news outlet. In the ELA or Journalism classroom, students could become citizen journalists by identifying and reporting on real issues facing their community. They could use social media tools and other new media to make a difference in their community. In addition, they could learn about movements that have capitalized on citizen journalism, such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, to analyze the effectiveness of different approaches and plan their campaign.

To see more photos and reports of what happened at NPR on Election Night, you can read this NPR blog. You call also read the Storify archive of our Twitter chat from the Election Night.

Should Kids Play Games in the Classroom?


This post originally appeared on Education Nation’s blog, The Learning Curve, which has many blogs both opinion-based and informational. Education Nation is NBC News’ year-round initiative to engage the country in a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America. View Original >


Our students are playing video games, whether we like it or not. In the United States, there are 183 million active gamers – people who play games for an average of 13 hours a week, according to Jane McGonigal in her book “Reality Is Broken.” Rather than viewing this as a waste of time, some educators are seeing this as an opportunity and are using games in the classroom.

There is something about games that engages us, but how can teachers use them to teach important concepts? The answer is game based learning.

Why Games? – Games provide a learning environment that is often starkly different than the traditional learning environment. When you play a game, you have the opportunity to try and fail. In the classroom, students are often punished for practice, as it affects their grade. If you lose a game, you have the opportunity to try again.

Games also provide a “situated learning” environment. In the classroom, content is often disconnected from a relevant context. In a game, you learn content to perform tasks. Whether the game demands learning math content or social studies content, you are engaged because you are invested in winning.

Games also focus on critical thinking and solving complex problems. Instead of “drill and practice,” a good game demands that you use factual information to solve a complex problem.

Here are two examples of how teachers are implementing game based learning:

Games as Direct Lessons – iCivics uses educational games to teach a civics curriculum. Teachers are also using it to teach reading and argumentative writing, crucial foci in the Common Core Standards. In the game “Argument Wars,” players must evaluate arguments and evidence from a variety of court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona. Each case is a separate game, and the player takes on the role of a lawyer representing one side of the case. Students must identify the main idea of the argument they represent and choose the best supporting statements to satisfy the judge. They must also fend off the arguments of their opponent to win the case. The game is designed to be educational as well as fun. Teachers assess students through a written component, such as a traditional essay or persuasive letter to the Supreme Court. “Argument Wars” also tracks students’ answers and scores to give teachers more information on their progress.

Games as Secondary Lessons – Another popular game in the classroom is the puzzle game Portal, in which players have to create portals between two flat planes. The game was not designed to be educational, but teachers are creating contexts for students to learn science content while playing. For example, they can use Portal to help teach concepts like mass and velocity. After a traditional lesson on the topic, students are instructed to send cubes colliding in midair within the game environment. They can experiment with different speeds and collect data on the results. Teachers have students collaborate on different scenarios in the game to predict what will happen. The game provides an engaging and safe space to experiment and learn before applying the knowledge in an exam.

These are just two samples of how teachers are implementing game based learning. Some teachers are using more low-tech games, and some teachers are even turning their classrooms into games where students play every day. We have a unique opportunity now to use game based learning in the classroom as a way to encourage students to learn AND play.

Education Can Learn From Games


This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post, an internet news and commentary website. The Education section features updated on college, teachers, and education reform, where I regularly contribute. View Original >


For those that follow my writing, speaking, and the like; you may know me for my advocacy of Game-Based Learning (GBL). I was a gamer as a kid, and, truth be told, I still am. I used to play World of Warcraft and other MMOs ritualistically. I binged on RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy. I became talented in FPS games like Left for Dead and Unreal Tournament. Games engaged me. They still do. My current game is XCom, although I am enjoying Casual games on my iPad as well.

In my teaching career, I experimented with games in the classrooms. I know my students played them. Many of my students played WoW. In fact, they would spend hours outside of school collaborating, questing and raiding. Ironically, they were having trouble collaborating with their teammates in class. There was a disconnect, and I wanted to rectify this by connecting the collaborative gaming environment to the classroom. Students were collaborating with each other outside of school. How could I get them them to use this skill they already had in the formal learning environment?

This moment illustrates a larger idea. What can we learn from games to improve our classrooms? Games are carefully and intentionally designed environments that create flow: the balance between challenge and progress. Great games are challenging, but not too difficult, and thus not boring. On the contrary, they have specific mechanics to create this game flow.

Freedom to Fail – This component is so powerful. I can guarantee that anyone who plays games has experienced this. When I am on the plane, I see people playing Angry Birds for hours on end. During that time, they are failing multiple times, and yet they still keep coming back to play. Why do we punish students when they practice? Why can’t we reward them at their best? Here’s an example to illustrate my point: A student is not doing so well on the practice worksheets and other assignments leading up to a test. However, the day of the test, this same student succeeds and gets an excellent score. You know what often happens; the students gets a grade for that learning component that is lower than the score on the test. Why? Because we average the work they did in the practice and learning phase with the summative test! To me, this seems unethical. Games don’t punish us for making mistakes in the learning process, Education shouldn’t punish kids for making these same mistakes. We should be creating a safe, engaging space where failure and learning from mistakes is just part of the process of learning.

Situated Learning and Complex Problem Solving – James Paul Gee in his book “What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy” illustrates this point well:

“An academic discipline, or any other semiotic domain, for that matter, is not primarily content, in the sense of facts and principles. It is rather primarily a lived and historically changing set of distinctive social practices. It is in these practices that ‘content’ is generated, debated, and transformed via certain distinctive ways of thinking, talking, valuing, acting, and, often, writing and reading.”

Learning is not just about knowing content. It’s about learning content and using it. Whether you are playing World of Warcraft or Halo, you are learning about this immersive environment that the game provides. You are learning player skills and using them. You are strategizing. You are solving complex problems. You might even be collaborating with other players. We should be creating learning environments in our classrooms that do the same, and creating assessments that value the same level and rigor of learning.

Personalized – We know we need to meet students where they are at and take them to new places in the learning process. All of our students are different and one-size does not fit all. Games meet the player where he/she is at. With complex mechanics, players are given just enough information, but also challenged enough to create appropriate rigor. Good teachers do this to. They differentiate-instruction through a variety of instructional strategies. They know their students through personal relationships as well as data. Games are focused on player needs and ability, education should do the same.

Of course, there are many other things to learn from games (I would love to see comments on this), but these are some of the key and most important ideas in my eyes. I’m not saying that games will solve all educational issues and challenges, but there are already good examples of teachers using games as part of the curriculum, and schools that have embraced game mechanics to create a learning model. We can learn from games and leverage them as tools and models to engage all students in learning. I’ll leave you with this parting quote from Jane McGonigal from her book “Reality is Broken.” Consider how we might create this for our students.

“A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.”

Practical Tips for Mobile Learning in the PBL Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Given the number of technology tools being used by educators and students, it’s no wonder that mobile technologies and mobile learning are being explored in various implementations. From data collection tools to mobile phones, students are learning at school and on their own.

Remember, however, that technology is a tool for learning, so we still need to focus on models that provide engaging uses for these tools. Project-based learning can pair well with tenets and best practices for mobile learning to create intention and flexible contexts for learning.

Here are some tips and ideas to consider if you want to try mobile learning with your next PBL project.

1. Backchannel Need To Know
Educators can use the “Need to Know” activity, and have students create a list of questions and “need to knows” to compete the project. This list is revisited often for revision, reflection and goal setting, and sometimes these questions and “need to knows” come up outside of the formal learning environment.

Use Twitter, or another related tool, with a hashtag to create a backchannel list of “need to knows.” Also, give students the flexibility and space to question and think outside of the formal classroom.

2. Field Work
PBL projects present a great opportunity to have students go out in the field. Perhaps students can interview experts in their area of study or ask witnesses of historical events to support a project.

Using mobile phones and apps like Evernote and Instagram, students can actively and quickly document the work. For example, they can record data on water quality or do video documentary work. The possibilities are endless, and PBL can create the intentional space for authentic real-world learning.

3. Limited Tools
It’s easy with mobile learning to get a little “technology happy,” overwhelming the classroom with Web 2.0 tools. Remember that even though many of our students are exposed to technology on a regular basis, we still must model their effective use.

This can require instructional time devoted to learning the tool. To curb this concern, limit the number of tools that students use in a PBL project and across multiple projects. Let them become experts with a finite set of great tools, allowing them to build their skills. Not only will this keep you sane as a teacher, it will also create college-ready students who have mastered several mobile tools.

4. Mobile Collaboration
Why limit when and where students collaborate with each other? I know my students text each other constantly to check in and set goals for work.

Allow students use this as evidence for collaboration. Not only can you use mobile tools to teach and assess collaboration, but you can also use them to document the assessment process. Model this practice for students and reward their collaborative work through text message logs and other mobile apps.

5. Celebration of Mobile Learning
It is important to honor collaborative mobile learning as a valuable component in the learning process. Therefore, have students not only share their work but also celebrate their work.

Perhaps you assign homework that involves a mobile device. If a student did extra work on a mobile device at home, acknowledge that student’s work publicly and have him or her share it to help teach others. An essential component of PBL is the public celebration of work. Do the same for mobile learning moments when they occur.

Because PBL provides voice and choice in how students use their time and how they explore, the flexibility in mobile learning can support a great PBL project. The key, as with any technology tool, is to be intentional in the choice. Know where the mobile technology fits within the PBL project.

Ultimately, we should move to a learning environment where technology is invisible. We can accomplish this by pairing PBL and mobile learning to create a space where technology is integral, and where the focus is on authentic, engaging and purposeful PBL projects.

The Need for Practical PD for Blended Learning Educators


This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post, an internet news and commentary website. The Education section features updated on college, teachers, and education reform, where I regularly contribute. View Original >


Virtual Schools Symposium has once again come to a close this year. There were many sessions, talks, and workshops on a variety of subjects including curriculum and instruction, virtual school models, and competency-based pathways. One of the overarching, as well as focused subject, was around this question: How do we prepare educators to teach effectively in the blended learning environment?

This is not a new question. There have been concurrent sessions at past conferences, and there were sessions on the same subject at this year’s conference. Yet, educators are still looking for answers. There are some things we already know about the role of the teacher in the blended classroom in terms of best practices. We know the teacher becomes the facilitator. No longer is the teacher the sage on the stage in the blended learning classroom, but the guide on the side. We know teachers need training on the technology tools as well and innovative ways to use them. We know that teachers need to know the content and standards to target for instruction and assessment. We know teachers will need to look at data to best meet the needs of their students. However, there is a better way to address all of these concerns, in more holistic and synthesized way.

We need to provide teachers with practical professional development in learning models. When we focus on the model, we focus on all the concerns and best practices articulated above. When we teach these best practices in “silos,” teachers may or may not see how all the best practices and tools work together. Consider Project-Based Learning as an example.

Project Based Learning is a model that provides teachers with practical strategies to engage students. Teachers who are doing PBL in the blended learning environment carefully pick the digital tools to use with their students because these serve a purpose within the PBL project. They use it for collaborative purposes or as performance assessments, rather than simply using the tool for engagement. They learn best practices in management of the classroom that support the PBL learning environment. They differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students within the project. When teachers learn PBL and use it, it ties all the best practices of blended learning “in a bow” (for lack of a better term). More importantly, PBL contextualizes how to teach with practical steps and strategies. All the work that the blended teacher does with students makes sense.

Of course, there are other practical learning models out there, from authentic learning to game-based learning. If we invest in professional development for teachers on these practical and engaging models, teachers will learn all the best practices needed to facilitate a blended classroom. Let’s create a practical context for teachers to be the best blended learning educators.

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