Exploring "Bring Your Own Technology" and Project-Based Learning



January in Georgia is NOT my favorite time of year.  Christmas is over, it gets dark earlier, a lot of people are out sick and I’m generally dragging myself from one day to the next.  Until this year.  On January 9, 2017 school was closed because of inclement weather- snow and ice.  In Forsyth County teachers post lessons for the students online, which allows students to complete their work without making up the school day.  Teachers work from home, posting lessons, checking emails, and answering student questions, during  office hours for the day. The downtime gave me an opportunity to check out a couple of webinars and plan ahead for the next few days.  I found a webinar about gaming in the classroom.  After 45 minutes I was sold on the idea, but confused as to where to begin.  I thought, maybe over the summer I could figure out how to run my classroom like a game.

Lunch and more hot coffee fueled my desire to figure out how to make my classroom a game, but where to begin?  Suddenly, the idea occurred to me that someone had probably figured this out.  So, I did what I always do and what the students are told not to do- I googled it! That is how I found Classcraft.  This program, which works on all technology devices, changed my dreary winter days to fun, engaged my students, motivated them to work together in teams, provided easy formative assessments, and surprised us daily.  It was so easy to get started, which was good for an old timer like me with no gaming experience.  Classcraft provided a getting starting video and I watched most of it before I jumped in with both feet.

When we returned to school the following day, I had a plan, a skip in my step, and surprise for my students.  I showed my class the Classcraft introductory video.  They were so excited!  I explained that I needed their help and they were more than willing to walk me through it.  Over the next few days we divided into teams, chose team names, team crests, and student roles: warriors, mages, or healers.

Next, students helped me tweak the behaviors that would earn XP points, (experience points needed for the next level) or take away HP points, (health points to keep you alive).  This led to good conversations about behavior expectations and consequences. It did not take very long to accomplish and I think students bought into the game because they had input.

Next, we tweaked the powers of the warriors, mages, and healers. It is essential for each team to have at least one warrior, mage and healer to provide balance.  Each role has special powers that help the team.  At this point the teams were able to start earning points for being prepared, answering questions in class, or turning in high quality work.  (We had a great discussion on what high quality work would look like.)

Then, we added the Random Events.  When students enter my classroom there is a short warm-up on the board.  Students begin this work while I take attendance.  As soon as I finish attendance, I click on the Random Event.  These are so fast and fun.  We started with the preset events and then added more as we went along. Here’s some of our favorites:

  • Gift of the Gamemaster- 1000 XP to one random student
  • Abundance of Energy- 15 AP to the player with the least AP
  • Boon or Bane?- you find a cursed blade, one player loses 25 AP, but gains 300XP
  • Thief- One random student loses 50 GP, and one random student gains 50GP.
  • Plenty to Go Around- the player with the least XP on each team gains 300XP

Next, we added the Wheel of Destiny which chooses one random team or player.  This is where Classcraft went from improving behavior and motivating students to increasing student learning.  The Wheel of Destiny made two immediate improvements in my classroom.  First, when choosing teams, students, who were too shy to answer, would speak because they had an opportunity to clarify their answers with their teams before answering.  I could hear the team conversations and was immediately able to assess the level of understanding.  Secondly, when choosing individuals, the students were suddenly motivated to complete the work to be able to answer the questions to get the points.  (Can you see me smiling?)

Finally, we added the Boss Battles.  Boss Battles are quick formative assessments.  I choose a monster for students to defeat, make a short “quiz” with multiple choice, true false, or short answer questions, and decide the reward.  Students can play as teams or individuals to defeat the monster.  Students LOVE the Boss Battles!

Boss Battles and the loss of health points for negative behaviors caused some students to die in battle.  When this happens, team members may step in the heal them, protect them or transfer power to save their teammates.  However, if a student dies in battle, their name goes into the Book of Laments.  When this happens, a student has to carry out a sentence in order to get back in the game.  We tweaked the sentences to fit my class.  Sometimes, students get a free pass, but other times they have to  clean the classroom, do a review worksheet, work a crossword puzzle or complete some type of assignment to get back in the game.  This is a great opportunity to review material and student work willingly and eagerly to finish their sentences.

Classcraft has other tools that we’ve started enjoying.  My favorite is the new volume meter.  It uses the microphone on my laptop to monitor the sound level in the room.  I set the acceptable level of noise, enter the points and gold pieces for the reward and click start. Have you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagined students asking to work quietly???  My students do!  It is amazing to watch students work quietly in teams, with a partner, or individually for a set amount of time.  Even with the end of the year chaos right now, they will work quietly.  If an announcement is made or a fire alarm goes off I can click false alarm and students do not lose their reward.  If they get too loud, the reward is cut in half- but not taken away. When I started using the volume meter, I could hear the angels singing.

In addition to the Random Event, the Wheel of Destiny, the Volume Meter, and the Boss Battle, there is the White Mountain Countdown.  This is simply a countdown timer.  I use it to inspire students to finish work quickly or focus for short sprints of work.  It really helps them focus.

There are other tools that I’ve just started using.  For example, Classcraft works with Google Classroom.  Classcraft converts grades and work turned in on time to points and gold pieces for rewards. There is also interactive class content which allows me to post extra credit work for students to complete for even more points or gold pieces.  I try to post something for extra credit each month for points, not for a grade.  Students have created tornadoes in a bottle, completed a tsunami web-quest, completed a water cycle web-quest, carried out at-home science experiments and discussed a Ted Talk about the oceans just to earn bonus points to get to the next level in the game.

So, Classcraft has  increased student motivation, participation, and engagement, along with improving behavior.  It has encouraged students to work in teams, to collaborate, and build on each others knowledge.  It has also added an element of surprise and fun into my classroom on a regular basis.  I highly recommend Classcraft for your classroom.

Technology: Tools or Toys?


Here is my presentation for the Georgia Academy of Science for Saturday, March 30th. This is a summary of my research on student achievement and engagement so far.  I have included samples of student work, apps that students have enjoyed and websites that have been dependable.  We had a slow start at the beginning of the school year, because this was new to everyone.  However, now we are having so much fun and the students are excited about showing off their work.  I will post some other samples of student work in a separate post very soon- students are still making revisions.


Example of Student Work Using Technology

Fossils:Uncovering the Past See a movie trailer made by a sixth grade student, March 2013.  This  is an example of how creative students can be when given choices of products to demonstrate what they have learned and the tools to make what they envision come true.



Quiet and the Ideal Classroom


I am reading a interesting book, recommended to me by my daughter, a fellow introvert, that has me wondering about the best learning environment for all students.  BYOT and collaboration sound fun and exciting, but what about the quiet students, like me, that prefer to work alone?  In my mind, I imagine the perfect classroom boasting a lively atmosphere, filled with energetic groups of students questioning, talking, laughing, and learning.  But, is this the ideal classroom for all students?  For example, I recently attended a BYOT training with other teachers in my district.  I was excited about the training because I plan to begin BYOT with my own students next fall and I want to be as prepared as possible.  In addition, in the midst of summer break I miss my friends and the social interaction of work.  The training was great: a mixture of modeling the technology, discussions, and time to practice.  However, during the training I was distracted and somewhat fascinated by what other teachers were doing; I found my mind spinning with possibilities and questions, but without any direction or idea of where to begin.  At that point, if I had been trying to complete a project, meet a deadline, or collaborate with friends I would have been frustrated and hopelessly lost.  My contribution to the group would have been to amen any reasonable suggestions, volunteer to complete any independent,  behind-the-scenes work, and escape as soon as possible.  As it was, I was able to come home, relax with my dogs, and let things percolate awhile before taking any action.  Over the next few days, I started this blog, made friends with Twitter, toyed with the technology, researched on the net, and entertained plans for next year.  So, my own experience and reading Quiet has helped me realize that I am not alone in my work preferences and habits.  Some students, perphaps even middle school students, are most productive and creative when given quiet time and space to ponder, reflect, and create.  How can I use BYOT to provide a peaceful environment for these students while simultaneously allowing other students to work in meaningful collaborative groups?   Today I have more questions than answers, but surprisingly, I am okay with that dilemma.



Old Cell Phone

Welcome to my latest adventure in teaching middle school science.  Next year my school will begin BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) in the classroom.  Students will be allowed, even encouraged, to use their own mobile, wireless devices for instruction during class.  When I first heard this I panicked as my mind flooded with questions and concerns.  First, I wondered if I could really learn the technology and classroom management skills necessary to be successful.  Next, I worried that students would not feel included or would not be prepared for standardized testing.  Finally, I realized that the way I teach and access student learning would have to change for BYOT to be implemented in a way that would be meaningful to students and applicable to real life.

At the time,  I owned a little red cell phone that only made phone calls and I had never sent or opened a text message.  I left things like blogs, Twitter, text messages, chat rooms, wikis, QR codes, avatars,  and apps to the younger generation.  I was content as long as my husband or son were nearby to show me which remote to use or to troubleshoot my laptop when something went wrong.  Personally, I used technology to send emails, shop, research, pay bills, prepare documents, or take pictures.  In my classroom, I incorporated online games, quizzes, videos, current events, and media presentations into my class webpage.  Sometimes I reserved the school computers so that students could complete online labs, simulations, conduct research, or review material.  I was comfortable, but something was missing.

After completing BYOT training, for the last two days, I realize this is not about technology devices, but about making education relevant to students of the 21st century.  The skills necessary for future success include critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity- the Four C’s.   Modeling and practicing those skills in my classroom will require changes in how I plan and present lessons, in classroom management and communication, and in my expectations and assessments of students.   I have a great deal to learn and it is exciting.

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