Sunday, July 10, 2016

My gamification takeaways & a chat with @TechedUpTeacher

I'm fired up about Monday night's quarterly #USedchat on twitter because of the topic and the guest moderator! Chris Aviles is going to be leading our conversation Monday night around the topic, Gamifying Your Classroom.

I'm sure my interest in this topic stems from my background in athletics. My husband and I love to play all sorts of games (board, card, physical/athletic, electronic), and we've raised our girls to love games as well. I incorporated games in my classroom while I was a classroom teacher, but it was never called "gamification." I can't wait to learn more about the topic, especially from Chris and other educators across the country in Monday's #USedchat. 

Chris Aviles, our guest moderator for #USedchat, was recently recognized by ISTE as one of five Emerging Leaders. 

You can read his straight-talk-style blog post about his gamified classroom over at Tech & Learning, and he'll also share feedback from his students that makes him a true believer of gamifying the classroom. He does warn us, though: "Gamification is not the be-all and end-all."

I had a few questions for Chris about "Gamifying Your Classroom," and here's what he told me.

Me: In layman's terms, what is gamification?
Chris: I find it helpful to know two definitions here, actually: Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning. Gamification is the use of game-mechanics in non-game contexts. This most often is the use of points, badges, and leaderboards in the classroom, but it can be so much more. Game-Based Learning is using (video) games to teach and assess. Think of Game-Based Learning as using games like Minecraft, Cities Skylines, or Offworld Trading Company in class to teach a concept or lesson. 
Me: Why are you such a fan of gamification?
Chris: I believe in a student-centered classroom. Good Gamification is student-centered design rather than the usual content-focused design most often employed in the classroom. I love gamification because it helps be design the classroom for my students, not design my curriculum for the classroom.

Me: Does a teacher need special equipment to gamify his/her classroom?
Chris: Not at all. Gamification can be as indepth and intense as you want. I've worked with teachers and done easy, no-tech gamification and I've used some serious edtech to create an immersive classroom that blew students' minds. Gamification can be as much or as little as you want, or better yet: as much or as little as your students need. 

Me: Is this something that can be done in EVERY classroom, no matter the subject area?
Chris: Can it be done in every subject and grade? Absolutely. Can it be done in every classroom? Yes. Should it be done in every classroom? No. I recently phased out most game-mechanics in a particularly engaged and motivate class because they didn't need it. Gamification is a tool and the teacher must wield it as such. There is no one size fits all in education. 
Me: Are there any tech resources you would recommend for teachers who are just getting started who want to dip their toes in the "gamification waters"?
Chris: So many great educators and thought leaders bring something different and exciting to the table. Greg Toppo, Mike Matera, Steve Issacs, Matt Farber, Kevin Werbach, Jane McGonical, Yu-Kai Chou are just a few doing amazing things with gamification. TED is a great place to hear about Gamification in both an educational and broader context for those looking to be inspired.  
Me: Anything teachers need to know NOT to do?
Chris: All of Gamification comes down to one thing: being fair. Remember to make your gamified classroom fair!

The interview with Chris led me to this TEDx talk by Yu-kai Chou at TEDxLausanne. He shares some of the basics about gamification, and he reminds us that points and badges don't automatically make a game fun.

Click the following link if your device won't play the video above: 

Below is one more video to pique your curiosity. Paul Anderson is a biology teacher in Montana. I encourage ALL EDUCATORS to watch the video below.

Paul's opening line to his TEDx talk...

"Hello. My name is Mr. Anderson and my classroom is a video game."

Do you gamify your classroom? 
Would you be willing to try?

We hope you'll join us for #USedchat Monday, July 11! 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Insisting I was right as a first-year teacher

This week’s topic for our Compelled Bloggers Community is inspired the BAM! Radio Show, My Bad which is hosted by community member Jon Harper. Jon has issued his “MYBad leadership challenge - Mess up, fess up, and share with us on My Bad” and we’ve accepted it as bloggers! Today I’m going to share a mistake I made during my first year of teaching. It’s a story I tell to the first-year teachers who join us at Hoover High School each year, and one I'm not proud to tell!

When I was in the classroom, I tried to be very organized and efficient. I had lots of systems in place, such as a “what to do if you were absent” station, a place to turn in work, a system for curtailing tardies, taking attendance, and all the rest of those managerial tasks that I had to do as a teacher. 

One of my systems was how I collected students’ work. Students would pass their work up to the front of the row, the first person in the row would make sure he/she had a paper from everyone, then I would come by and collect the papers. I would neatly align the papers and put a paperclip on the stack. Then, I would put the papers in a file folder labelled with the class period. This made for easy transportation home for grading and for keeping 120 papers organized. 

I had student in my class that I’ll call Suzy. Suzy was generally a “good student,” meaning she was attentive, wrote neatly, turned in her work, and made pretty good grades. One day when I was giving back the homework that I had graded, there was no work in the stack for Suzy. She asked me where her paper was, and I stated that she must not have turned it in to me the previous day. She told me again that she did, so I broke down my system for her, letting her know how organized I was and that I couldn’t have lost her paper. (Ugh! I hate even writing that!)

Now, I must confess. To this day, I don’t think Suzy turned in her paper (which was 24 years ago). BUT, I definitely would have handled it differently now than I did then. Even in my second or third year, I think I would have handled it differently. 

What happened next was a phone call from her dad. He said that Suzy had told him that she turned in her paper, and I (again) explained my system for collecting papers that involved the paper clip and file folder for safekeeping. I assured him that I didn’t lose her paper, and that since I had nothing to grade she would get a zero. 

This all turned into a meeting in the principal’s office. We went through all of the details, including the parents’ point that their daughter had turned in every assignment prior to this one. My principal was supportive in the meeting, and I’m thankful that he was. Looking back, I wish he and I would have been able to have a conversation prior to the parent meeting so that perhaps it could have taken a different turn. 

As I look back, here’s what I have learned since then. 

There were other options besides giving her a zero. I could have not counted it for or against her. I could have given her an alternate assignment. I could have made her do it again. I could have had a short conference at my desk with her to find out what she knew about the previous night’s homework. 

What I share with first-year teachers is that sometimes when we’re so staunch about our approach to something, we might win the battle but we lose the war. I lost a relationship with that student after that day. I lost that opportunity to model second chances and forgiveness, too. 

I always encourage first-year teachers to come and talk through situations with any of the administrators at our school. We all have an open-door policy and the belief that asking questions is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and willingness to grow. 

What happened 24 years ago was definitely one of many of “My Bads.” I hope I have learned from every experience as much as I did that one!

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”
-Zig Ziglar

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

4-step action plan for leaders

In today’s post, I’m sharing tons of resources for the acronym LEAD. Our journey as leaders and aspiring leaders must include reading, watching, learning, and applying. I would love to hear your take-away in the comments!

L - Listen

Listening is a very important skill for leaders. Leaders who listen understand that others feel empowered when they feel heard. Listening grows out of having curiosity, which is a requirement for self-learning. In Dan Rockwell's post, Why Leaders Don’t Listen, Dan shares 13 reasons why leaders don’t listen, and he also shares 5 listening tips for leaders. 

The good news is that effective listening skills can be practiced until they become habit. If you’re a leader or aspiring leader, working on your listening skills is essential. 

Listening also reflects a leader’s willingness to collaborate. Leaders that are competitive are often poor listeners, as are the leaders who try to multitask while listening. 

Want to test your listening skills? Here's an online quiz with self-reflection questions and analysis of your score.

E - Engage

An article in the New York Daily News reports that less than one-third of employees report being "engaged" at work based on a Gallup study. Helping employees feel engaged at work is a responsibility of a leader.

Leaders must trust employees, expect the best from them, and empower employees by creating a culture of risk-taking, which all lead to individual growth and initiative. 

As shared in Randy Conley's post at Blanchard Leaderchat, there are four basic needs that people must have met or else they will start down the path of disengagement and ultimately quitting their jobs. 
1) The need for trust
2) The need for hope
3) The need to feel a sense of worth
4) The need to feel competent
When you think about your own leadership or the leadership of your organization, ask yourself, "How am I (or How is my leader) fulfilling these needs of my (the) employees?"

"The most engaged employees are those whose leaders have confidence in them."
- Glenn Llopis

A- Act

As leaders an aspiring leaders, we must walk the walk. We can't sit back and admire the problem, wait for perfect opportunities, or resist making decisions. Leadership requires action. It also requires leaders to know where they are going, and a leader's actions must align with his/her values and beliefs.  

In Linda Cliatt-Wayman's TEDWomen talk, "How to fix a broken school? Lead fearlessly, love hard," She shares one of her mantras: 

 "If you’re going to lead, lead."

Don't know if you're ready to lead? In a straight-forward article at, Molly Cain shares 5 signs you're not ready to lead.

D - Deliver

Finally, leaders must deliver results and deliver on their promises.

What are the promises on which leaders should deliver?
~Set the direction for the team/organization 
~Build on their own strengths and build the strengths of others 
~Create value for their employees 
~Identify and develop future leaders 
~Commit to servant leadership

Here's a powerful question to ask yourself about your own leadership:

“Am I a transformational leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” 
- Dr. Maynard Brusman

Whether you answer YES or NOT YET to Dr. Brusman's question, we all need to continue to grow and learn in order to be the best leaders we can be. Leadership is on a continuum... not a yes or no option. Stay committed to the journey!

A quick read for your professional learning library! 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A simple plan for getting started on twitter


Still hard to understand how twitter is this amazing place that you keep hearing about that will change the way you “do business?” I recently got “back to basics” with a school district who asked me to be a part of their professional learning day, and today I’m going to share one strategy to getting started on twitter that you can share with others who are considering jumping in on twitter!

When I first started using twitter, I quit after a while and didn’t use it again until six months after giving it up. I felt like I had missed a lot and that I needed to read all of the tweets that I had missed. I didn’t know at the time that the lifespan of a tweet is about 18 minutes. I was trying to scroll back through my feed and “catch up’ on what I had missed, and the conversations were hard to follow and confusing. Six months later, when I tried it again, I tried something different. I would read through my home feed at least once a day, scrolling back a little to see if there was anything that caught my interest. I began to connect by retweeting occasionally. I also had a personal friend using twitter, and I began to tweet her, which helped me to learn the mechanics of tweeting back and forth to someone. I slowly added people to the list of people I followed, because I was afraid that if I got too many, I would get overloaded by the volume of different tweets.

Today I call this the 5x5x5 plan. When starting out, follow 5 people only and spend 5 minutes per day for 5 days reading tweets. After those 5 days, begin to retweet and comment on tweets. Share your own tweets. Gradually add to the number of people you follow by looking at who your “first 5” follow (not who follows them.) Once you understand the mechanics and flow, start to move from lurker to connected. Don’t spend a lot of time on twitter. Check in daily, read a little, share a little, and stay positive!

Want a step-by-step plan on how to tell your school's story on twitter?

Want to read more about twitter? Check out these other posts:

twitter for educators
Pin this for future reference and to 
share twitter goodness with others!