Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: May 2017

#games4ed Takeaways — Webinar Follow-up 5/25/17

“My Tweetdeck is a big ball of chaos” — Jonathan Spike said it, but everyone involved with the #games4ed last night would have to agree. The chat was fast-moving, impossible to keep up with, and filled with genius #gbl and #education knowledge!

The chat was a follow up to Steven Isaacs and Matthew Farber’s EdWeb webinar earlier in the afternoon, Games as a Centerpiece to Student Learning. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:

  • Assessment in #GBL Classrooms: How do you assess student learning through gameplay rather than a traditional assessment? Chatters suggested using reflections through Google Forms, using students’ screenshots with annotations, and teacher conferences with students. The great Mitch Weisburgh mentioned that some teachers let students suggest the form of assessment to use — an amazing example of student voice.
  • Differentiation: One way to differentiate in a #GBL classroom is through the types of assessments used. Students can also be paired up to work together through games, or in RPG games or game design projects, students can choose roles that they feel capable doing. (It all comes down to student voice & student choice, baby.)
  • StoriumEdu!: Storium is a great collaborative and gamified story writing platform, but some stories do contain content for 18 and above. The great news: Storium is now developing StoriumEdu, which will provide a safe place for younger students to collaborate in story writing!

To read the transcripts and peruse the resources from the chat, go to Participate.

Join our #games4ed Twitter chat Thursdays at 8pmET to level up your classroom!

Game Design in College Composition? Yep.

For their first unit of the year, my college composition classes aren’t writing essays. They’re designing games. Digital Breakout games, to be exact.

I’ve taught college composition for four years, and the same concerns keep nagging at me about these young writers:

  • They want to create the perfect draft the first time. The end.
  • Instead, they see revision as editing their grammatical errors.
  • They provide surface feedback in their peer reviews.
  • They don’t feel purpose or authenticity in their writing.

These are issues I need to address, and they aren’t easy fixes. However, the first step in my attempt is to shake up our first unit and instead of focusing on “writing,” we’ll be focusing on game design.

The secret: The game design process mimics the writing process. It mimics the major steps of EVERY creation/maker/design/invention process.

Clearly, for any writer or designer who ever created, there is no single process, and processes can change depending on the project. But the key steps remain: Ideation, Creation, Feedback, Iteration, More Feedback, Iteration, etc, until the project meets Nirvana or the final deadline, whatever comes first.

By teaching writing students game design, we’re also teaching them the design process for writing (or art, or inventing, or whatever you’re making.) That’s just what I want to do — the put my students into a design situation they’ve never been and discover that the steps are the same, and that all the steps are important and applicable to writing.

Here’s my plan in more detail:

  1. Ideation. Writers will first have to work together in groups to analyze digital Breakout games that currently exist, find the patterns, and then develop their own themes and ideas. They’ll also need to consider the age and purpose of their game.
  2. Creation. After the team delegates parts of the game to work on, writers will begin creating those components. In a digital Breakout game, many of the components include writing, so this also serves as a baseline assessment for me to see where my writers are in their abilities.
  3. Feedback. Teams will playtest other teams’ games and provide feedback. This will require some frontloading in demonstrating what clear and specific feedback looks like.
  4. Iteration. Back to work revising the game. Students may have to adjust the game — Was it too difficult? Too easy? Should they remove some red herrings? Did they see “tricks” other teams had in their games that they want to adapt to their own? (Then it’s back to Feedback, as needed.)
  5. Publication. The games will then be submitted to the Digital Breakout EDU sandbox, publicized via social media, and shared with our local teachers if applicable to their teaching areas.

In addition, the plan hits a liberal number of 21st Century Skills, so there’s that.

Granted, this process could be taught with any writing activity: Essays, arguments, short stories, heck, even haikus. (In fact, starting with shorter writings, like poems or short shorts, might be more effective in teaching the design process than longer texts.)

But why is game-based and game-inspired learning gaining momentum? Randy Pausch touched on it in his book The Last Lecture. Games, if well-designed, have the ability to teach without the learner knowing it. Mars Generation One teaches argumentation while students explore their space station, and FanGeopolitics teaches the interconnectedness of foreign issues in geography disguised with professional sports draft mechanics.

Many young writers are anxious about their writing. I get it: writing is personal. It makes you feel vulnerable.

Games — especially a game created as a team — have lower risk involved. Designing a game is more playful and less threatening than writing — or at least that’s what I’m hoping for my students. By experiencing the design process through game design rather than writing, my goal is for students to be less obsessed with writing the perfect draft the first time, less threatened with giving and receiving feedback, more open to deeper revisions.

I want them to see writing like game design. Go in knowing it won’t be perfect, but knowing you can also have fun in the feedback/playtesting and in your revising/iteration.

Playing it Smart with Summer Planning

Last week, I got a wake up call from my body.

I was in the ER with my son and his broken arm (Moral of the story there: Don’t ride bikes next to a kid who is texting and biking) and I inexplicably passed out. Whether or not it’s connected, the next day I started the worst case of bronchitis I’ve had in 20 years.

Over the past three months, I’ve been more sick than I’ve been since my three kids were extremely young.

Message received, universe: I’ve worn myself out. I need to take better care of myself.

Obviously, rest is the first priority this summer, but I’ve also had to think about my priorities. I often do “fun” school stuff during the summer. The stuff that isn’t vital to learning. Stuff like

  • Creating new gamification ideas
  • Reading lots of education books
  • Re-designing my physical classroom layout
  • Browsing Pinterest boards

These aren’t bad activities. To some extent, they all have a positive benefit in the classroom. However, I had to re-examine my priorities and what has landed me here in the land of cough drops & cold medicine.

It was time to take an honest look at what took up the most time or gave me the most stress this year. At first, the answers varied. Assessing writing and work. Staying caught up on planning during speech season. Motivating the senioritis stricken. All of it came down to one word.


This is what stresses me the most. When I’m on top of it, my teaching is most effective. I’m in the flow. When I’m behind, I’m straddling water, and it’s easier to lose student interest, and in turn, student learning.

This summer, I’m focusing on these goals:

  • Revamp my peer feedback methods. Teach them to give stronger feedback. The more students can give feedback, the less weight is on my shoulders.
  • Making a visual layout of each unit of learning — and accepting that it’s a work in process. This includes reviewing the “rough” areas of my units the past two years and smoothing them out.

For years, I’ve heard the tired mantra “Work smarter, not harder.” It’s about time I took it to heart.

Final Countdown!–#games4ed Chat Takeaways

This past Thursday (May 18, 2017), #games4ed took on the end of the school year as the chat focus. As usual, I have some favorite takeaways from the evening:

  • Minecraft Beta Codebuilder: Microsoft recently released the beta Codebuilder for Minecraft! I wasn’t sure about the access to it, so Minefaire shared the options:
  • Some educators like @MarianaGSerrato have their students write letters of advice for next year’s students. Other twists include @PerkyScience’s method of students creating videos on Flipgrid or having students write letters in their avatar character.
  • Reflection can also be shown through game design. Have students create a game as a capstone project based on something they’ve learned this year.
  • Finally, I’m very excited to be playing with the app Deck.Toys. I’ve been dreaming a “game map” for my units for a couple of years now, and this app combines this idea with locks ala “Breakout” Games. Check out the samples below:
  • Join us for the #games4ed any Thursday at 8pmET!


Hosting a Words With Friends Challenge

It’s the end of the school year here. Seniors are gone, but British Literature is 50% juniors, most of whom have qualified for skipping finals.

So just what do you do for two days for students who have “checked out”?

Host a Words With Friends challenge!

Matt Farber inspired me to do this when he wrote about Words With Friends Edu in his book Gamify Your Classroom. I set up an account and a classroom, and then shared the code with the students.

After that, the challenge took off! Many students worked on their games throughout the two days. The best part was tallying up the scores. Even after students posted their total points on the board, they returned to their games and continued playing!


Flipgrid Reading Reviews

For our final reading response of the year, I tried the new Flipgrid app, and let me tell you–amazingly simple and simply amazing.

After creating a Flipgrid account, I started my first grid and shared it with students with the following information:

Share the best book you read this year! Include a SUMMARY of the book and WHY the book was the best!

Things to consider for your video:  Background music? Setting/background? A guest? Notecards? Props?

Awards will be give for the following videos:
-Most attention grabbing
-Most creative
-Most persuasive

I was so impressed with the ease of the program. Students could easily make their videos. Plus, creating the videos also provided another way for students to practice their speaking standards and overcome nervousness of speaking to a camera (which is similar to nervousness of speaking to an audience).

Then, one student took it another step in creativity by adding credits:

Jacob’s video opened the door. Then Chism, whose book was Gym Candy, set his reading response in the weight room:

From then on the creativity exploded! I never imagined two students teaming up to do this:

Or an homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!

On just one assignment–so much creativity! Yes, some students kept it simple and straightforward (you can see more here), but they were able to face the camera and create a great go-to resource for next year’s students who are looking for an independent reading book!



Hiding Easter Eggs in Google Drawing

Easter Eggs in gamified classrooms come in myriad forms. I’ve seen drool-worthy Easter Eggs as cryptic messages, invisible ink, and thousands of other amazing ways.

But Easter Eggs don’t require a lot of time and energy. For my Hamlet unit, I hid Easter eggs using invisible links in Google Drawing.

I organized the unit using a Google Drawing map, as seen above. Most of the links are obvious–links to the videos on Edpuzzle, reading check quizzes, and choices of assignments. You can also see a link at the bottom of Hamlet’s illustration that connects students to Ryan North’s game To Be or Not to Be, if that’s something they want to pursue. (I also own a version on my iPad).

However, I also hid Easter Eggs within the document that linked to other interesting Hamlet links, including the Simpsons’ version of Hamlet, comics about Hamlet, and an article that describes Hamlet being translated into wacky languages.

Here’s how I did it.

First, use the drawing tool to draw a shape–doesn’t matter what shape. Change the line color to invisible.

Then, click the edge of the shape again to highlight it, and link it (Shortcut: Command + K on Mac, Control + K on PC) with the URL.

That’s it. Now I have  7-8 different Easter eggs hidden within the Hamlet map. As of now, I’ve had some students find some of them, but some still lie hidden, waiting for a curious student to find them.

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