Setting Up the Game and Our Story So Far


Setting up the game:

1.) We’ve established levels of mastery for each LT, here they are:

POSTER - Level Zero POSTER - Level One POSTER - Level Two POSTER - Level Three


The way I’ll track the levels is through Socratic Brain. If you haven’t heard me talk about SB before, it’s the sbg system I use. Basically, I input my LTs and it lets me set a level for each kid on each one. It’s awesome, and I’ll definitely do a post on all the details later. For now, here’s a sneak peek at the interface:


sb levels sample
2.) Our Story So Far:

It starts on Frogstar World A. Arthur and Trillian have landed and are confronted with a problem at the spaceport. We’re not sure if its a riddle just to unlock the computer or a legit problem. I’m purposefully keeping the story vague right now so that I have options for where to take it later. Here’s the activity:


3.) Maps!

I would really like to get the ARG going this quarter, and I think my activity maps are going to be a great platform to make this happen. So far, they’re just a way to present the activities to the students, so that they can move ahead or get help when they need it if I’m not available. Click here to check out the map for 1.1: Write a rule to describe a pattern.


Not established yet:

Badges! I want to use badges as a way to acknowledge excellent work, different perspectives, growth mindset awesomeness, etc. My plan is to print them on stickers and have students put them on their binders. But with such limited planning time (I’ve to cover classes the last 3 days in a row), I haven’t got the stickers printed out. Anyway, the first badge will look like this (everyone gets this one):

BADGE - Don't Panic

Update on the new #SBL scheme


Here’s the plan as it is now:

Step 1: Students complete some learning activities! Sometimes these are whole class, teacher directed (like a 3-act or something). Sometimes they are individual, student paced (like a guided handout). All activities exist on a Blendspace page for each learning target. If an activity covers multiple targets, it exists on multiple pages.

Step 2: Students complete some practice (usually). If a learning target is not easily assessed in a multiple choice or numerical response question, this step can be replaced with some reflection questions, like “what did you learn from activity ____ ?”.

Step 3: Teacher conducts brief “interview” with each student to check for understanding. The student should be able to show their completed activities and practice work, AND be able to explain what new skills and learning were acquired. (Note: this earns the student Level 1 on a target)

Step 4: Students take a separate quiz on each learning target. Some LTs will be better suited to multiple choice or numerical response, and some will require a constructed response. Possible results:

  • Student aces quiz, earns Level 2 for the LT
  • Students misses one or more items on quiz, keeps Level 1, but does not level up. To earn a second shot at the quiz, student must complete any extra learning activities (as there are usually more than the required amount), or redo the practice, or both.

Step 5: Students reach Level 2 (have aced the quiz) for ALL LTs in the unit. Then, and only then will they gain access to the Level 3 task. This task covers all the individual LTs and is never computer graded. An example from Physics would be our Energy Screencast task, in which students choose a YouTube video and thoroughly describe all the energy exchanges taking place in the video. Each Level 3 task is accompanied by a rubric that indicates exactly the things we are looking for. For the Energy Screencast example, we would include:

  • make reasonable estimates of relevant heights and distances, in meters
  • define the system in which energy flow and transfer is to be modeled
  • model energy distribution within the system using bar graphs

…among others.

Step 6: Teacher reviews the Level 3 task entry and uses a rubric to indicate mastery of each LT (or not). For instance, let’s say a student turns in a screencast in which they successfully estimate the relevant heights and define the system, but do not include bar graphs to model the energy distribution. In this case, the student earns Level 3 status on the first two LTs, but stays at Level 2 on the bar graphs one. (Note: This could even have been part of this student’s plan. A unit with at least 3/4 LTs at Level 3 will still calculate as an A for the unit and students will know this.)

Let’s see how this looks! :) My colleague has been working on some upgrades to our system (same name, but it’s not 100% ready. For now, here is a partial screenshot:

screen capture2

Notes: When you click on “Practice”, it shows whatever the teacher puts in as practice for that LT. So, in the case where a multiple choice item is not appropriate, the teacher could include a link to something else, or just a few reflection questions. When you click on “Level up” it gives you the next level task (whether it’s the Level 2 quiz or the Level 3 performance task). If the button says “Not Ready”, then when you click it, it tells you what you’ll need to do to get ready.

Some things I love about this system: 

  1. Students must demonstrate some level of understanding before “leveling up”. I’ve struggled with how to help students who fall into the habit of “I’ll just take the quiz over and over until I figure out the pattern”. With this system, the teacher is in control of access to the quiz, so if they want a try at it they have to show what they’ve done to earn it.
  2. I LOVE how the Level 3 task becomes the focus of the unit. One big failure of mine from last year was not providing summative tasks that combined LTs. In this system, the only way for a student to get an A for the unit is to complete a task that does exactly that (combines multiple LTs).
  3. Last year, we had a big problem with students turning in Energy Screencasts that showed a clear lack of basic skills and understanding. It was way too time consuming to provide appropriate feedback on those. The hope is that by requiring Level 2 status on ALL LTs before attempting the Level 3 task, we will avoid this problem. Then, we’ll be able to really push students further with our feedback, instead of pointing out simple mistakes and omissions.

What do you think? Any advice or feedback is appreciated!

A Framework for Scientific Investigation!


I am super lucky to get to work with some amazing educators! This summer, we’ve been able to work together for two weeks and our main goal has been to improve our students’ ability to design, perform, and analyze scientific investigations. To accomplish this, we decided that our first task would be to create a framework that we all follow when doing labs. The idea is that students should use the same process to investigate chemical reactions as Sophomores as they use use to investigate cellular respiration as Juniors or the acceleration of gravity as Freshmen. So, the first thing we made is this:



We’ll each modify the descriptions to match the level of our students, but the framework (in gray) remains the same all four years.

Once we had a basic framework, we went to work creating lab activities using the framework as a guide. Here is the template we are starting with:



And here is an example from our Biology teachers (note: this is a rough draft, they’ve already decided on several things they want to change):


You’ll notice that some of the process has already been filled in for the students. This is the great thing about the template! Year-to-year and lab-to-lab, the teacher can decide how much to provide and how much to leave to the student. We came up with a basic vertical alignment plan, but really it’s going to depend on the content and the students. But the framework is always there. The students in any class at our school will see those gray bars on a handout and immediately recognize that an investigation is about to take place and know what that means.

I am really looking forward to seeing how we all use the template this year, and over the next few years whether students improve their investigative skills. Eventually, we’d love to see the framework become so internalized that a student immediately recognizes the various parts without the framework.

Does your school use a common framework for labs? Can I see?

[Gamification] Unlocking Levels


As part of my series on game elements I want to play around with, today I’ll talk about unlocking levels. A simple version of this can be found in Angry Birds, where you must do the levels in order because the higher numbered ones are locked out:


What I like about their display in particular is that all the levels are shown right away, just some of them have a lock symbol covering them. They’re sitting there like “come and get me” and you know what you need to do to get to them. Mario Bros. III had a great version of this too with their map style display of levels. In fact, theirs was even better because it had the added benefit of forks in the road to introduce choices. Like, you don’t have to play 3 or 4, but they’re there (and you want that mushroom house):


How does this apply to my class game?  

You can think of the Mario map above like a unit.  1, 2, 5, and 6 are instructional activities that I want every student to complete. They could be learning activities, or any sort of formative assessment. To add some choice and variety, 3 and 4 are in there as optional (perhaps with some added incentive). Then, the two castles are like summative assessments. While this doesn’t fit exactly how I want my game to run, the idea is there. To get to the next thing, you’ve got to complete the first thing. It’s essentially just mastery learning, but with the familiar terminology and symbols of games.  

Starting the Summer Off Right!


I realized the other day that I hadn’t written consistently in a while. I think it’s because I’ve had so much going on that I felt like I didn’t have time to write quality posts. But that’s a dumb reason to not write. I need to remember that this blog is for me. I write here to reflect and figure things out for myself, and if someone else reads it and gets something out of it, awesome! So I’m starting the summer off with some blogging. On with it then:

What was my biggest plus this school year?

Without question: Utilizing Fawn Nguyen’s We did one pattern everyday, using the included handout. Sometimes I planned ahead of time which pattern we would do, and sometimes it was randomly chosen. I liked both ways. Choosing ahead of time allowed me to focus on mostly linear ones at first, then quadratics and exponentials once we were ready. Choosing random ones reminded the kids that it is ok if we don’t get an equation every time; it is the process that matters. Don’t just make a table! Draw a picture of the next step, how do you see it growing? Try to draw the 27th step, what structure do you notice? I even submitted one of my very own. :)



What did I do poorly this year? 

I think my main area for improvement is in student discussions. In Algebra and Physics, I know that student run discussions are possible and I believe they would be very beneficial. So I just need to figure out how to make them happen. My fist step will be to read 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Task Based Discussions in Science. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about that one once I get into it. First, I want to finish Gamification of Learning and Instruction which I’ve already started.

What are your summertime books gonna be? 

[Gamification] Game Element #4: Coopetition


So, I feel like I just need to write something today because I haven’t written in a while.  And this is a game element that I am very interested in using in my class-as-a-game, so here goes.

Coopetition = cooperation + competition

On the cooperation side: I already work on finding or developing good group work tasks.  I look for tasks that have a low entry point, a well defined goal, and an “Open Middle”.  This way, I can get lots of buy in on the front end because it’s easy to get started, and I also get lots of different strategies for reaching the goal.  So the group work part comes easily. I have students who used different strategies share with each other and/or the whole class through short presentations.  What I need to improve is the collection of these strategies and presentations.  I want the students to bring everything together in a wiki or something, the same way gamers do when they share walkthroughs and tips.

On the competition side:  I really don’t do this at all yet.  I’ve never been good at creating a fun, competitive atmosphere, but I know it can be useful for motivation so I want it.  My first thought on competition is usually head-to-head games.  Like a “Quiz-up” competition, or a physics card game.  We played “Heads-up” with the iPads a few weeks ago and it went really well.  The kids love playing this game!  So I put some simple physics questions in and they played with just as much enthusiasm as they showed when playing the pop culture or celebrity categories.  This says to me that it’s the game play and the competition element that they are into, not necessarily the content.  If you haven’t seen your kids playing Heads Up, check out the game play here.

I also think this may be where my XP/Leaderboard system will be useful, as I will need to track completion of the “coopetition” activities.  With a good XP system set up, I can have different categories for leveling or prizes, and hopefully encourage the cooperation and competition aspects of the game.  For instance:

“Your team must attain 500XP to reach level 3 on this topic”

For this one, students would be relying on their teammates to acquire at least part of the XP needed to move to the next level.  So, if I can get students to want that next level, they’ll need to work together to get there.  And as long as I give XP for a variety of tasks, I can maintain the “choose your own adventure” feel to the class, while still leading students through a progression of topics.

“To receive this badge, you must complete 5 entries in the class wiki”

This is an example of an individual accomplishment, but one that requires a product that’s all about collaboration. Hopefully, students would want to complete the activity for a variety of reasons.  They might want the XP to move up the leaderboard, they might want their name to appear on the class wiki the most, they might want the badge to display on their binder, or they might want to “save the lost spaceship” before anyone else.  But whatever their reason for wanting to clear the obstacle, they’ll need to collaborate to make it happen.


[Gamification] Game Element #3: Choose your own adventure!


Plans are in the works on a system for making this work, but I wanted to reflect on the basic idea first.


 So far, I see it working like this:

1. All students start at Level 0 on each learning target (LT).  Yes, they have a level for each LT instead of one overall level.  I haven’t thought about how to combine their LT scores to get an overall score, or if I even need to.

2. To reach Level 1 on a LT, a student must gain a certain amount of XP, but it is up to them how to get there.  XP can be gained in a variety of ways, but mainly will come from “Missions” (activities, labs, etc) and “Status Checks” (short quizzes).  The XP will be divided up to push kids toward certain activities (the more I want them to do it, the more XP I offer for it), but the path is still up to them.

3.  To reach Level 2, students must create an entry in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Physics”.  Here again, the students have choice in how to create the entry.  They could complete a paper/pencil task, make a screencast, or create a lab report.  The students will have more choice at this stage, but the tasks will mostly still be teacher made (with instructions and a rubric).

4.  To reach Level 3, students must create another entry in the guide, but this time they will play a much bigger role in designing the task.  They could create their own multi-skill problem and then thoroughly explain it.  They could complete a goal-less problem (Tell me everything you know about energy conservation in a _____ situation.).  Or they cuold come up with some other way to prove their mastery of this skill AND its connections to other skills in the unit.


Level 1 will be clearly defined, but I know it will be tough to determine what exactly counts as a Level 2 or 3 entry, so that will require some careful planning.

I need to start thinking about story line and how I can tie in the various activities and tasks with it.  I think this will be very important for motivation, if I can make it interesting we’ll all be better off I think!

Having choices at each stage is going to require a butt load of activities, quizzes, and tasks!  Getting these prepared ahead of time may prove to be impossible, but I’m going to try.