What’s a Gamer Brain and How Can We Harness It in Class?

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 >



In the past, I’ve written on ideas for gamification—using games in the classroom—but lately I’ve been reflecting on some of the bigger ideas that games open up in terms of pedagogy and the classroom experience. While we can use games as tools and perhaps build units that are gamified, we might also adopt some basic ideas from the experience of playing games. Here are four takeaways from games that we can instill in our classrooms.

Leverage the Gamer Brain
People like different kinds of games. You may love a game that your friends don’t like. This is only natural, as different games have different motivations, mechanics, and other design elements. However, these games access different parts of the “gamer brain,” a concept developed by International Hobo Ltd. and illustrated by Rob Beeson, a game marketer and producer. Perhaps you’re a Socializer who likes to talk and support other people while you game. People play World of Warcraft for this reason. Or maybe you’re an Achiever who enjoys the process of collecting objects and completing every available goal. Obviously, Pokémon—the card game and the mobile app—aligns well here. Games may leverage one or more gamer types in their design, and our lessons can too.

How can you use this in your classroom?
Have students self-assess what type of gamer brain they might be.
Have students discuss their favorite games to uncover how they like to engage in their gaming time.
Play games with students and have them reflect on why they like the games. Use that information as feedback for lesson and unit design.
Create a lesson with different types of activities for different gamer types to pick from—perhaps a collection-based activity or a more social one, for example.

Embrace Failure
This is not a new idea, but it’s still an important one. Games can be played over and over, and we can fail and make mistakes and try again. Can you imagine what it would be like to play a game like Super Mario Brothers and only have one shot to get it right? Crazy! Unfortunately, much of the school system and our classroom structures are set up that way. While it is challenging, we need to find ways to allow students to redo work and try again. Games give the just-in-time feedback that shows us what we need to do better, and we teachers can do the same to make failure simply part of the process, not an end. Watch Edutopia’s “5-Minute Film Festival: Freedom to Fail Forward” for more inspiration.

How can you use this in your classroom?
Assess your grading practices to ensure they allow for multiple tries and redos.
Don’t grade practice—grade students at their best.
Embed reflection throughout your lessons to help students learn from their failures and mistakes.
Share famous failures and inspirational quotes to help reframe failure into a more positive experience.

Celebrate Epic Wins
Have you played a game and had a moment when you won and were so excited that you blurted out “Yes!” in celebration? That’s the epic win or “fiero,” as Jane McGonigal explains in her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World: “Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity. You know it when you feel it—and when you see it. That’s because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way: We throw our arms over our head and yell.” To me, this means that learning should be challenging, but appropriately so. We should create challenging learning experiences so that students are given enough support to triumph and feel the epic win. We should also celebrate ourselves and each other when we get those wins in the classroom.

How can you use this in your classroom?
Have students celebrate everyday wins regularly as a discussion or journal activity.
Record reactions of students being successful and share them with the class.
Share your successes and wins as a teacher with your colleagues.

Foster Voluntary Learning
We don’t—or at least we shouldn’t—play games because we have to. We do it because we choose to. When we pick up a controller or a chess piece, we’re volunteering into that experience. Games would not be as powerful if we had to play. We can stop when we want, which creates a feeling of safety. When we step into a game, we accept “the goals, the rules, and the feedback” of the game. This is probably the hardest aspect of games to instill in education. Students are required to go to school, and what they learn is mandated. However, we can do our best to create invitations to learn and to create spaces where students volunteer to learn.

How can you use this in your classroom?
Focus on engaging strategies like project-based learning to open the door to learning, instead of forcing students through it.
Provide as much choice as possible for students, from grouping to product and topics.
Give a student a pass if they don’t want to engage, and seek to understand why that is. Then follow up and invite them back to the task.
Ask students what they want to learn about, and do your best to leverage this in lesson and unit design.

What do you think we can learn from games to make learning better for our students?

A Global-Ready Curriculum

 

p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >

 



I am amazed by the students of my school and their ability to tap into multiple cultures. Recently I shadowed a student through part of her day. She was speaking Korean, her Native language, to her friends in the hall, English in the Social Studies classroom, practicing Mandarin with her Chinese teacher, and giving a presentation in French. It reminded me of resilience of students and the unique experience of an international education.

Although I have only recently joined the community of an International School on a more permanent basis, I have worked with many international schools in the past, and I even attended a 6-12 public school as a student with a focus on international topics. I took French my entire time there, and teachers sought to include global topics, questions, and themes into the curriculum. Most recently, I visited a school in Tokyo, Japan that had currently finished a curriculum audit and was working towards setting goals and next steps for their school and to meet accreditation expectations. They are exploring questions such as “How do we provide an international experience?” and “What does global and international education look like?” This school is not only trying create an experience that is uniquely international for students, but also supports and prepares them to be ready for that global world they are already living in.

Integrating Global Competencies
P21 has published Global Competence Indicators for grades K-12. They focus on the themes of “Understanding,” “Investigating,” “Connecting,” and “Integrating.” These indicators can easily be integrated into existing curriculum, just as many schools are already adopting 21st Century competencies of collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. One strategy we worked on was having departments look at the indicators, identify which ones are already in the curriculum and which additions might be appropriate to teach alongside content standards such as the Common Core.

It is critical that if schools intend to adopt these competencies, then they must make a concerted effort to unpack the indicators, just as educators unpack standards. Unpacking allows teachers to identify the level of thinking students need to know, and the content and skills they will need as well. (To do this, I prefer using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge). As educators unpack the standards, they need to be wary of just looking at the verb, the context is important, as it might change the level of thinking. Unpacking also allows educators and schools to identify priority standards. The same is true for these global competencies. Educators and schools should not attempt to teach and assess all the global competencies, but instead select ones that are priorities and have currency in their curriculum. International Schools particularly have an opportunity to leverage this work as it is part of their identity and mission.

Use PBL as the Model
Just as project-based learning is being used to deliver content and develop skills from the Common Core, Next Generation School Standards and college and career readiness, PBL is a perfect method to teach and assess global competencies. Global competencies call for investigation and inquiry, a deep understanding of content and different perspectives, and taking action. With these competencies in mind, teachers can create highly authentic projects that require students to partner with the cultures of the world, reflect on their place in that world, and advocate appropriately.

My friend Rich Lehrer did a fantastic project where his students connected with students in Brazil, Africa and India to build efficient stoves. They not only learned engineering, energy and other science concepts but also about serious health hazards facing people around the world. They didn’t just build the stove for someone else, they students worked together across cultures and languages to build the stoves together, to learn perspective and to learn from each other. What I truly appreciated was that is wasn’t charity work – it was a partnership. Students learned from each other not only traditional content, but global competencies as well.

International schools consider global competencies as part of the “What” of their curriculum and project-based Learning as the “How.” Together they create students that will not only be global-ready, but engaged in the many cultures of which they are members.

The Tyranny of Being On Task

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 >



I remember when I was first teaching and was getting ready for my first official observation and evaluation. I was very nervous. My principal had told me she would be looking for a classroom where students were on task. Heaven forbid that any students were off task. I thought that if my classroom even hinted that some students were off task, I would never be a successful teacher, and perhaps told to leave the teaching profession.

I now know that it is unreasonable to ensure complete on task behavior from every student at all times, but back then I wanted a good evaluation, and I wanted my students to be on task so that they would learn and I could support them. Before the observation, I was told by my colleagues to have students quietly work on an assignment after I gave some instruction. “Don’t have them do group work. Don’t have them present. It’s too risky!” This advice seemed to be successful. When my principal came in, the students were quiet as I moved around to check in with them. After the observation, I was praised for my success in keeping students on task.

Many years later, I taught in a school with a focus on project-based learning. Learning was messy and conflicts emerged as students worked together to solve problems, but ultimately students succeeded. The meaning of “on task” was different there. Yes, there were times when students were off task and I needed to redirect them. Yet I struggled with the expectation of consistent on task behavior.

There seem to be forces in education that push us to make sure students are on task. Why do we attempt to meet that demand when we know it’s unreasonable? Why do we demand on task behavior when it is not equivalent to student engagement? Isn’t it OK for students to be off task from time to time? In fact, don’t students need time to be off task? To take it to another level, what if off task is really on task?

What Does the Science of the Brain Tell Us?
Adults have built executive functions of the brain, and we receive a dopamine reward when we do the right thing. Our students have not yet built up those functions. In the teenage years, students receive that same dopamine reward for very different behavior, when they take risks and explore. When a student does something that is a risk in the classroom, something we might consider off task behavior, they are doing so because they receive a dopamine reward for doing so. Science tells us that students will not only be off task on occasion but might even have strong motivations to behave that way.

What Can We Do?
Instead of working against off task behavior, we should embrace it and try to reframe it as an on task moment that is necessary and useful to our students. Judy Willis calls such moments brain breaks in her book Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning. She wants us to understand that such breaks are needed and are useful to students. They prevent the brain from becoming overloaded and give time for information to be processed and retained effectively. On a related note, Eric Jensen explains that movement gives new spatial meaning to information being processed, and increases oxygenation of the brain as well (subscription required).

We should explore ways to incorporate brain breaks more into our classroom routines and norms. Some other practical strategies include:

Be mindful of students’ attention span and chunk activities and tasks appropriately.
Break up tasks with conversations and checks for understanding.
Admit personal challenges and failures related to staying on task.
Meet with students one on one to discuss off task behavior rather than shame them.
Smile and laugh more.
Balance louder and quieter activities.
Move more.

Brain breaks are essential to classroom culture and student learning. These seemingly off task moments are truly on task because they provide a space for students to learn better, and take into account the fact that students are growing and maturing. Brain breaks are responsive to students and help us become allies of their behavior rather than punitive figures. In fact, brain breaks help us as educators to rethink the binary nature of on task and off task and to realize that all the work is on task and helpful to children as they learn and grow.

What brain breaks do you use in your classroom?

Navigating a STEM School as a Non-STEM Teacher

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 >



Having worked at a school with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), I often notice a tension. In a STEM-focused school, there seems to be value placed on the topics in the acronym itself, but perhaps less value on subjects not explicitly mentioned. This seems to me to be a problem.

Just because a school is focused on STEM—and the ideas presented here apply also to STEAM schools, which add a focus on the arts—doesn’t mean that history doesn’t matter. The same can be said for every other subject. As an English and social studies teacher at a STEM school, I struggled with this, and had many conversations with fellow teachers, administrators, and coaches to navigate the focus on STEM while meeting other priorities I had for learning in my classroom. Meeting the demands of the STEM curriculum and of the other courses in the full curriculum can be done—here are a few ideas about how to achieve that.

Respect Balance
We all have priorities, we all have beliefs, we all have values. As an English language arts teacher, I value the study of literature, and in fact, my standards call me to focus on literary texts. I needed to have conversations with other teachers to share this priority and to find ways to support the larger STEM mission. We had to balance curricula and find the appropriate times to work on specific standards. For example, I knew I could easily support a STEM unit with a unit on informational writing, but I also had to have time for my unit on poetry. An elementary teacher may choose to focus some of their day on STEM and other parts of the day on other important topics. Teachers should have conversations and map their curricula to find appropriate fits and to strike the balance we all need in supporting the larger STEM vision.

Implement PBL Units Together
As we know, project-based learning (PBL) and STEM are a great fit. A project can focus on an authentic issue in science or maybe an arts design challenge. There are numerous possibilities, and teachers across disciplines and priorities can find ways to work together to accomplish a common goal. Not every subject must integrate, but there should be some level of integration. If you teach many subjects (as many elementary teachers do), consider developing a PBL unit side by side with another teacher who shares your grade level. When we implement a curriculum through authentic projects, we can learn from each other and find meaningful ways to support a STEM vision.

Swap Lead and Support Positions
When you integrate, the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the quantity of time required. We as teachers may feel that we should each be getting the same amount of time on a unit or project, but I think that shouldn’t be the highest priority. For example, I spent two to three weeks on the informational writing unit mentioned above, but the science teacher I was partnering with spent approximately five weeks on the project. I was an integral part of the project, but it wasn’t about the amount of time. I was the support teacher, but in a future unit, I served as a lead and asked for support from my math colleague. As you support STEM education and STEM units or projects, decide on who will lead and who will provide support, and switch it up to ensure all teachers and subjects are valued.

Focus on Success Skills
Everyone can support students in building success skills such as collaboration and communication. Teachers should collaborate to identify these skills and how students can demonstrate them. There should be alignment about expectations regarding these skills so that students demonstrate them at a point in time and also demonstrate progress in them as they move up in grades. These success skills can help students in any STEM field and are an easy entry point to collaboration for any teacher.

STEM education is a wonderful focus for learning, but it isn’t the only focus. Even in a STEM school, there are other priorities in terms of teaching and learning. However, we can learn from aspects of STEM education to push our thinking in terms of our own teaching. For example, as we started to collaborate to develop integrated projects, I was inspired by what other disciplines were doing. The science teacher wanted to do a design challenge, and our math colleague wanted to connect statistics to relevant concepts. Those are ideas any teacher might find appealing. Non-STEM teachers can find entry points into STEM education from a practical standpoint, and they can learn from principles of STEM to reimagine learning in their own classrooms.

Tips for Combining Project-Based and Service Learning

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 >



Service learning is a great way to not only take meaningful action but also teach important content and curriculum objectives. It is also a chance to build empathy and compassion and have students learn from others outside of school. Project-based learning (PBL) matches well with service learning as both focus on authenticity and meaningful work. When we use service learning as a focus for PBL, we can ensure that the experience is highly effective and impacts learners and also the larger community.

Here are some tips for how to create a PBL project with a focus on service learning:

Assess Community Needs
Teachers and students can find local partnerships to help focus the service learning and project work. It’s useful to provide students with a question to answer, as a way of providing focus for the work. With a partnership, students can find ways to assess community needs. Students can decide what they want to learn and how they will use that information. This is similar to a “Need to Know” list often found in a PBL experience. They should also investigate what data or information already exists to help them and figure out how they will go about collecting more information. The are many opportunities here to address real needs, but students and local partnerships need to work together to find a focus.

Align Content and Skills
Of course, it is always important to align the project to overall outcomes. Teachers can look for appropriate learning targets and standards to address, or solicit these from students. What do they want to learn? As a teacher, you can help them navigate how their project outcomes will meet course outcomes. PBL and service learning also provide an opportunity to teach and assess success skills related to civic responsibility, collaboration, problem solving, empathy, and critical thinking.

Learn From Each Other
Service learning should be a reciprocal relationship where students are learning from their audience and the audience is learning from the students. PBL often does focus on a public audience and product, but here you might consider how students will learn from that audience as well. How will students listen? How will you scaffold listening strategies for students to build empathy and respect? How will students share learning that is reflective of deeply listening to the audience they are serving?

Reflect Often
Reflection is a key component of PBL, and can also help students create more effective service learning products. Have students reflect often—before, during, and after the project—on what they are learning in terms of content and also in terms of empathy, respect, service, civic duty, and more. Reflecting on these topics and skills can help students internalize their learning and allow students and teachers to slow down to ensure meaningful action and learning.

Create an Action Plan
In terms of management, PBL leverages student-centered tools so that students learn to manage themselves. Team working agreements, task lists, and more all help students own the process. Once needs, and ideas for addressing those needs, have been determined for the project, students and local partners can create an action plan, in which they determine small, manageable steps to take to ensure great learning and great service. This is also an opportunity to co-create benchmarks and formative assessments that matter.

Evaluate the Impact
Once action is taken, make sure you take time with students to evaluate the impact. While PBL often has a public product and audience, we don’t always take the time to see or measure the impact. With all the great work students are doing, they and their audience deserve to know the extent of the impact of that work. How much of a difference did they make? Even realizing that there wasn’t much of an impact will still be good learning for students and teachers. This step also provides another opportunity to listen and reflect.

Celebrate Success
Don’t forget to celebrate. Students will have had some impact on their community and on themselves. Carve out time to celebrate where they were before the project and how far they have come. Celebrations can be traditional, like a gathering or party, but they can also involve discussions, letter writing, and even screening photos and videos of work from the project.

Service learning and PBL are nothing new. Teachers and students have long done amazing projects that serve others. We should continue to push ourselves to make our projects more authentic and more impactful. How are you implementing projects that serve?

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