Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gamifying CRASH

Crash by Jerry Spinelli...

An "easy" read. Short but sweet. I think reading it at the beginning of the school year would be better than now, but... I decided to read it now because I'd like to try out a few new things with this familiar book... Notice & Note review of ideas, Making Thinking Visible ideas, and I'd like to dip my toes into aspects of gamification...

Plus, we needed more work on how the author develops theme, and this book would be a good way to pursue that.

I didn't want to spend all of Spring Break on creating challenges or quests for the kids, so I waited. What I did do was to create teams - three teams per class. I have at the most 21 students (I am so very fortunate, I know!), so the groups are of six to seven students each.

I was very familiar with Crash, so I just took a copy home to look through while I prepared. I'm also pretty familiar with Notice and Note, so I just updated the notes sheets I'd had already created on those. A quick FYI - The notes I've written here are not our entire plans. We had more going on in our 80-minute blocks than reading Crash.

Introductory Day:
We started with an activity called "Chalk Talk" from Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchart, et. al. I wrote a different question on four pieces of construction paper that I would place on four different table groups. I prefaced this activity by explaining that we're trying something new... We're calling it "Marker Talk," because we're using markers (have them available for everyone), and we're not talking with our mouths. We're only writing in response to the question, then responses to each other - all about the topic at hand. ("What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'team?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'points?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'competition?'" "What thoughts or ideas come to mind when you see the word 'game?'") When they heard the signal, they would move clockwise to the next question, and respond to it and the other responses. I'd decided that we'd start with four minutes at the first station, then move down to three, and then try two for the last two questions. (Next time, I'd put the word "lose" on one of the questions, and then recap by talking about the differences between "game" and "competition.") Click here to see a video of how "marker talk" went.

We then read this introductory article on gamification, annotated, and asked questions to each other about it (student-driven). This got the ball rolling on what we're going to try, and I got a feel for how students would enjoy it (or not).

Day 1:
After reading the first three chapters of Crash, we had this challenge:
Names included "Milkweed" (a book that Jerry Spinelli wrote), "Party Crashers" and "Crashinies."

Day 2:
After we had a few facts from the book, a game of "Crumple and Shoot" was in the plans. This game, explained by Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy) here, is one that is conducive to facts. I realized as we went on that many of the gamification games themselves are more conducive to memorization or review. This doesn't bode well for the teacher who likes discussion questions more than facts.

Day 3:
Observations: Today the kids decided they could not ask for points. THEY decided this. One thing we all noticed was that they were asking, "Can I get points for this for my team?" for many things. It sounded much to me like, "Can I do this for extra credit?" I guess their peers didn't like the sound of it either, because they nixed it from class themselves. :)

Teams of 6 or 7 may be too much. Today we had a couple of kids absent, and the groups that worked the best together were groups of FIVE. Our challenge today: Choosing the most significant events and putting them in order.

Day 4:
I loved today's challenge - finding similes and metaphors. I thought I made a mistake in not telling them what the challenge would be before we read our chapters, but they played so very well! I then realized that it was a GREAT review of these terms. The teams that split up the chapters performed the best.

Day 5:
We didn't have a group challenge this day. We did have a comprehension check, however, so I used the scores on these questions to add points to each team. Not having a group challenge was easier for me to handle during class, but harder to add up points after class was over. I decided to take the top five scores from each team, since there were a different number of players in each team.

Day 6:
Today our group challenge focused on character traits. One thing I love about gamifiying at the end of the year is that I can review literary terms and ideas we've been hitting all year. This challenge hit the spot, as students really dug deep to describe the characters. They also were given the option of challenging a trait if it was not obvious to the class why one team chose a particular word.

Day 7:
We did not get the results of this group challenge (coming up with a title/name for an important chapter in the book) until the next day, when all classes voted for their favorites. I liked this one, even though it took a bit of planning. While the students were voting, there seemed to be a sense of power in the room. I think they liked deciding which were the best from the other titles. They knew their votes had weight.

Day 8:
This challenge was my favorite, as it helped us to write about the theme the next day.  The mini lesson went well, and their answers reflected their learning.
Bonus Points: I was excited to have them create paper footballs and flick them through goal posts (which we made), but it never happened. Students wrote about the theme choosing from all of their answers combined, but they never had the thrill of flicking the paper footballs.

Overall Reflection...
I'm glad I waited until the end of the year to try this. This way, students don't expect me to try these all year long. When motivation was lacking, this came at just the right time of year. I don't know if I can do this for every unit, but I think group challenges throughout the year for review of what they've learned in 6th grade could be worth it - with SMALLER groups! Groups of four would be what I'd try next.

I didn't like how kids started wanting points - much like they want grades. The good deeds that suddenly came about (with eyebrows up, asking for points - without saying a word!) reminded me of Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. What was good, however, is that when this unit was over, students just accepted their group's ranking and moved on with life.

We did try side quests - They were somewhat received well. The first one was searched for more than the last two, for sure.

One challenge I never got to - one that seemed just like "beer pong." My middle class really wanted another "throwing" challenge ("Crumple and Shoot" was a favorite of theirs), and so I told them I'd try for our next novel. Weeks later, it still hasn't happened. I've got it on my list of to-dos, and need to figure out when before the end of the year.

Questions I still have... If I tried this more, I'd create the groups again. However, does there ever come a time when I can let them create their own groups? Should teachers tie this into behaviors (plug in computer, push in chair, no complaints)? I can see the points being a pain to keep track of. Also, tying it to behavior doesn't seem right. I get a bad feeling in my stomach when I think of gamifying behaviors. I'll pass on that.

Plans... Find a way to incorporate more of these ideas. I don't need to plan an entire unit or an intricate year-long game. I do, however, see us trying small games every so often to keep kids on their toes and engaged in lessons.

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