Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: March 2018

The Problem with Quiz Bowls

I had fun today. I served as a quiz bowl judge for our conference competition. The amazing facts that high school kids could answer–and I couldn’t–blew my mind.

I also struggled today. This competition is supposed to be our answer of promoting and challenging our schools’ greatest minds, and 98% of the questions didn’t get past the Maslow’s lowest level of recall.

Instead, they answered random trivia questions about 1984, nuclear energy, litotes, and Ptolemy. Except for a handful of math questions, nothing provided any deeper thinking beyond DOK1.

Is this really the best way we can challenge our best minds? With a competition to determine who is the greatest fountain or worthless knowledge? With a competition that is often done in conjunction of many beers at the local BW3s?

I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of owning both the Trivia Crack and Jeopardy apps. If you have a trivia night with wine, I’ll be there an hour early to get started. However, let’s call these games for what they are: Escapism.

Playing trivia games does very little to develop our critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving skills. Instead, our sponsorship of quiz bowls is only glorifying students who HAVE the most knowledge, rather than those who USE the knowledge best.

I propose we eliminate quiz bowls and replace them with competitions that will improve and truly display amazing student thinking, with competitions that will push students up the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy. There are already better options in schools, such as Math Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind, Destination Imagination, and probably hundreds of others I don’t know about. Let’s promote these formats.

Instead of asking low-level questions, let’s provide challenges:

Maker Challenges: Think Marshmallow Challenge, or bridge building. Perhaps provide the same materials to each team and require each one to build a Rube Goldberg machine.

Breakout Challenges: Pretty obvious here. Which team can solve the fastest?

Visual or Tangible Puzzles: Again, races for each team to solve the fastest.

Story/Situation Problems: Involve math, involve logic, but solve the problem.

There are already so many TV shows using these mental games. Big Brother, Survivor, and Idiotest all have games that involve these deeper thinking challenges.

Maybe it’s time we take a lesson from our TV reality shows and make our students’ academic competitions just as challenging as those on TV.

Google Vocab Challenge

I’ve always been jealous of social studies teachers and the games available to them. One game I especially envy: the global draft game, where students draft countries and then compete by the number of mentions or hits the country gets each week on Google.

How could I exploit this for ELA usage? After much pondering, I decided a draft-based game would work best with vocabulary, where teams could draft words that they liked best.

However, we couldn’t just run the words through the Google stats and see how many hits they get–not much learning there. Instead, I modified the game by presenting a key word, such as “mathematics” or “Fortnite” and asking each team to select a vocabulary word that they’d drafted to pair with that word. Then I typed in the key word and their chosen word. The vocab word that earned the most number of hits with that key word–wins!

At first, my students were skeptical. But once that first round was over, the energy built. Several classes commented at the end how we should definitely play that game again.

Here is what I love about the game:

  1. Students have to talk about the words before they draft them. This means they have to not only know the meanings but also consider the various contexts the words could be used.
  2. During the game, students make more connections between the key word and their own drafted words.
  3. Just the right amount of luck is needed. While knowledge of the word is helpful, sometimes another team simply has a better word with more hits. I witnessed many examples of teams gaining a lead but then falling behind. This level of luck led to that magical “flow” that kept students involved the entire game.


This is the slide deck I built for the first time we played the game.


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