Gamers Like to Be in Control – Gamification and Classroom Management

by Randy Fairfield, 11/12/18

During my last blog post, I introduced my new blog series on gamification in education. In this post, I will be addressing my first point, “Gamers like to be in control,” by discussing gamification and classroom management.

Classroom Management: The Controller


Control. It’s something we as people like to have. We like to be able to make our own choices rather than having someone else make them for us. Perhaps that’s one of the the great appeals of gaming: You can choose what you want to play and how you want to play it. In fact, the more I think about it, this appeal to control and power is exactly what Nintendo was marketing to their younger audience back in the day. Consider the message: When you have a controller in your hand, you’ve got the power.

What makes this marketing strategy so effective is that control and power are not something that kids are often used to having in their everyday life. Part of the reality of being younger is that, whether it be at home or at school, you are going to be told what to do and how to do it for a significant portion of your day. While much of what adults tell kids to do is entirely appropriate, I wonder if, in general, we could do more to release some of that power and control to provide students with a greater sense of autonomy over their lives. For as much discussion is held about having student-centered classrooms, the reality is that the vast majority of classrooms are still very teacher-centered.

You know, it’s kind of funny that I’m now saying this because I’m quite literally cringing as I think about what my approach to classroom management looked like when I first started teaching. It was bad. Really, really bad. I was working with an extremely challenging group of students, and particularly as a young teacher, I felt the need to get in there and establish my authority early. I’d heard about young teachers coming in and trying to be too relational with the students, and I just didn’t want to give off that vibe. So what did I do? I took control of my classroom. Or so I thought.

38 Special: Hold on Loosely

Right out of the the gate, I hammered kids on the dress code. I stood and delivered from PowerPoints and expected silence and note taking. I frequently called home and let parents know when their students were misbehaving. There was little grace and a lot of sternness. Full transparency here, it probably wasn’t long before the sternness became meanness. I wish I could say differently, but I can’t. You see, what I was doing wasn’t working. I wasn’t happy, the students weren’t happy, and honestly I started to doubt if I wanted to teach for the rest of my life. What I didn’t understand at the time was a lesson perhaps best learned from 38 Special: “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”

There’s that word again. Control. You know, we really desperately need to change some of the vocabulary we use in education. Why? I really think the language related to classroom management had a significant impact on my perception of what was expected of me as a teacher in the early going. I find it curious that “being controlling” is generally considered to be poor behavior, and yet that same behavior is often seen positively when describing a teacher’s approach to classroom management. That is, when a boss constantly tries to control his or her employees by telling them what to do and how to do it, we call it micromanaging; yet when an educator does the same to a group of students, we say, “Oh, wow! Mr. Fairfield has such great control over his classroom!” Do you see the problem here? Rather than teacher, I now prefer to be considered a facilitator of learning. Rather than rules, I prefer guidelines and parameters. Rather than a classroom management plan, how about an academic and behavioral engagement plan? Words convey meaning, and the words we use and the way we use them can have a significant impact on the way we are perceived by the students in our care.

Stop a moment and think: Are you in control of your classroom, or have you found ways to release as much of it as you reasonably can to your students?


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Gamification in Education: 14 Things Teachers Need to Learn from Gamers

by Randy Fairfield, 10/20/18

A few years ago I was teaching a course and noticed a curious trend towards the end of the school year: There seemed to be a direct correlation between students wearing Minecraft t-shirts and failing my class. It was uncanny. Now I wasn’t really sure what Minecraft was at that point in time, but I wondered if there might be a way for me to harness the energy these students were expending on the game and somehow get them to use it on my class instead. So I bought a copy of the game and put in a good fifty or so hours of time over the summer. In all honesty, I found the game to be fairly enjoyable; In fact, my wife had to get on my case a few times! This was all the beginnings of a great of learning about gamification in education, and I’ve finally decided to sit down and blog about my learning and experiences.

So anyways, I somehow talked my principal into letting me experiment with Minecraft Edu—which ended up largely being a failed endeavor due to the lack of support from the IT department—but I’m not sure Minecraft Edu was really the answer anyway. The more I thought about it, the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach didn’t really sit well with me. Nevertheless, I still wanted to find ways to get kids more plugged into my class and less plugged into their video game consoles.

PNW Tecmo Super Bowl

The truth is, I have more than a little experience to draw from to relate to my students. Indeed, about 90% of my misspent youth was playing the good old Nintendo Entertainment System. While my days of hardcore gaming are now largely behind me, I feel no shame in admitting to winning a few Pacific Northwest Tecmo Super Bowl Championships over the past few years.

A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic conversation with Peter Grostic, Director of Professional Learning for CBD Consulting, and we discussed gamification in education. Gamification is the process of taking the design elements of game play and applying them in another context, and I think I have a unique perspective on the topic. Feel free to listen if you’re interested!

During our conversation, we talked about some things I’ve learned from incorporating elements of gamification into my own classroom. By better understanding what motivates gamers, we as educators can do a lot to keep our students more engaged with our classes. Over the coming months, I’ll be blogging once every few weeks about each of the points raised below. Stay tuned if I’ve piqued your interest! You can subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like a reminder to check back every once in awhile. 🙂

Gamification in Education - Keynote Overview

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Online Course: Edmodo and Google Integration (Spring 2018)


Edmodo recently launched some exciting new features on their platform which has served to tighten the integration with the Google Suite and has made the facilitation of online courses better than ever!

In tandem with these releases, Edmodo partnered with MisterEdTech last Spring to promote an interactive online course titled, “Using Edmodo and Google to Facilitate 21st Century Learning”. The course has ran twice before and was so well-received that it’s back by popular demand! The course will begin again on April 2, 2017, will last six weeks, and will cost $129 per participant. Everyone is welcome to participate, and 20 clock hour credits will be offered through ESD 171 for Washington State teachers for a cost of $40 extra to be paid directly to the ESD. These clock hours count as TPEP clock hours.

Participants will be asked to spend 3 hours and 20 minutes per week engaging in the course and will learn the baseline technological knowledge needed to integrate Edmodo and the Google Suite. The course will also focus on best practice and will ask teachers to be reflective about their pedagogical applications of these tools.

If you are interested in the course, click the “buy now” button. After you make the payment, you will be directed to an Edmodo link that will let you join the course after you log in with your Edmodo account! You can check out the course syllabus here and/or send Randy an email at misteredtech2002@gmail.com if you have any questions or have difficulty joining. Hope to see you there!

Testimonials

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Changing the Rules of the Game

by Randy Fairfield, 1/4/18

Middle school and high school was just a game to be won for me, with the end goal of getting the highest possible GPA. Each teacher’s class had different rules, and I took the easiest possible path to manipulate them to end up with the lowest possible “A”. I thought things like, “I already have a 96% in math and the teacher said the final can’t hurt my grade, so I guess I’ll just skip these last few homework assignments.” The only purpose learning about quadratic equations served was to help me get that “A.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t until halfway through my senior year that my mindset started to change. Yet given the rules of the game and how the adults in my life framed “winning,” my mindset and corresponding behavior was completely rational.

All things considered, the game ended up working out pretty well for me. After all, I did end up learning about quadratic equations, I got into college, and as I matured I began to understand that there is more to life than having a good grade point average. However, I also noticed that a lot of marginalized students seemed to just disappear during the course of the game. I wouldn’t see somebody for a few months and would think, “Oh, wow… I wonder what happened to so-and-so.” And for many of them, I’d never see them again. For far too many students, the rules of the game were preventing them from feeling like they had a chance to win, and so they decided to quit playing. Can we blame them? Too often we do because it means we don’t have to change.

Change is uncomfortable. It’s hard. Most people do not like change, even when it serves to make things better for themselves and for everyone else. A perfect example of a rule change that most people hate is, “no trade, reverse robber” in Settlers of Catan. This rule change makes the game become far more strategic and largely prevents people like Cody (see below) from going on suicide missions to take out the best player. Please be gentle, it was my first of many embarrassing attempts to go viral…

Rule changes aren’t always for the better. A teacher I once worked with made participation a full fifty percent of his students’ grades so that, and I quote, “If they’re acting like little s***s in my class I can just fail them.” True story.

I can’t help but consider: What “rules” can we change to make our schools and classrooms better, and how can we frame the conditions for winning in a different way so that everyone feels like they have a chance? I think I’m better at asking questions than I am at giving answers, but as a recovering video gamer and current board game enthusiast, this is one I have some unique insight into. I’ve been working on a keynote titled, “What Teachers Need to Learn from Gamers” that I’m dying to give. Dee Lanier (@deelanier) has some pretty awesome thoughts on “hacking learning” too. I’d also love to hear some of your thoughts on Twitter if you’re open to sharing! Just tweet me at @RandyFairfield and you’re sure to get a reply.

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The Greatest Scandal of Teaching

by Randy Fairfield, 11/9/17

I’ve heard many people say that the most important thing they learned from college was how to learn. That got me thinking: Why does learning this incredibly important skill have to wait until college? Is it possible to empower students by teaching them this skill during high school? Middle school? Elementary school? Even younger? I believe it’s not only possible, but that it’s of the utmost importance.

For me personally, I started to feel empowered to take charge of my own learning during my senior year of high school. My mom pulled my sister and I out of school to go on a three week road trip to visit family in early January right before the conclusion of first semester. Most of my teachers grimaced that I’d be missing so much school, but since I was generally a stellar student they decided to just give me the grade I’d already earned. That is, except for my calculus teacher. He gave me an incomplete and assigned me a whole bunch of chapters to do on my own. What a jerk, right?

Once I finally mustered the intestinal fortitude necessary to teach myself calculus, I made a shocking discovery: Not only could I teach myself, I could also learn at a far quicker pace without all of the distractions and limitations that are an inherent part of being in a classroom full of students. Since I had taught myself, I felt a greater sense of pride in my understanding, and I found that my level of retention increased as well.

The discovery that I could be my own best teacher had a cascading effect on my life that reached far beyond calculus: I spent Spring Break teaching myself how to build my own website with HTML code; When a Rubik’s Cube craze hit our senior class, I figured out how to solve it on my own while the rest of the students were looking it up on YouTube; When the time came for me to file my taxes for the first time, I didn’t take them to a tax prep guy—I solved my own problem. I found some of my greatest joy simply in self-discovery and learning. What a shame that it took me so long to find it!

Now, am I advocating that the best way to teach students is to hand them a textbook and wish them well? Certainly not. Given a similar situation at a different point earlier in my life, I can’t say with certainty how I would have responded. Yet I do wonder what more my teachers could have done in response to this strange truth:


I can’t remember when or where I heard a quote like this, and I couldn’t find it with a Google search. If you can help with attribution, that’d be great.


While I sometimes feel that I was often robbed of the joy of discovery during school, I did find that joy through other outlets—video games, in particular. I’m dying for a chance to give this keynote on “What Teachers Need to Learn from Gamers”. It does not surprise me that a game like Minecraft has become so poplar, for at its core Minecraft is a game about limitless discovery.

There are a number of practical ways in which educators can tap into this human desire to discover and learn in the classroom, but it really starts with looking in the mirror. When is the last time you got excited about something and learned about it on your own? Tell your students about it! They need to hear these stories. Yet too often I hear educators complaining that they don’t have enough time to learn this or that, or that they aren’t going to attend professional development unless they’re paid. If we want our students to take ownership of their learning and become lifelong learners, we must first do so ourselves.

So with that, I encourage you to click around my website and learn a thing or to. Better yet, shut this blog off, open an application you’ve been meaning to learn, and just start clicking around and figuring stuff out on your own. It’s fun!

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Quizziz: An Engaging Formative Assessment Tool!

Quizizz is a lot like Kahoot, but it’s better for having students work individually. One of the best things about Quizizz is that you can share it directly to Google Classroom!

http://www.quizizz.com/


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Kahoot! = Guaranteed Engagement

Kahoot is one of the most engaging web apps I’ve ever come across! Students compete with one another to try and answer questions as quickly and accurately as possible. It’s quick and easy to set up too! This can be used as a great formative assessment tool to see where your class is on DOK Level 1 knowledge.

https://getkahoot.com/

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Is MinecraftEdu the Ultimate Educational Tool?

by Randy Fairfield, 5/19/15

Is Minecraft the ultimate educational tool? Despite the compelling and fast-paced argument made in the video below, I’m not sure that I’m convinced. What do you think?

While there were number of very practical applications to a variety of content areas suggested in the video, I did not think that enough time was spent addressing the counterargument that there are some very real limitations to using Minecraft as “the ultimate educational tool.”

The first issue I see is one of practicality. I simply fail to see how a comprehensive course could be taught in Minecraft in a manner that was practical in terms of the time investment that we need be made on the teacher end.

The second and more overarching issue is that of seeing any sort of educational technology as “the ultimate educational tool”. This implies that we start with Minecraft and then try to see how it can be the silver bullet that fixes every malady in education. Rather than starting with Minecraft, it makes more sense to begin with the educational challenge one is looking to address and then finding the best tool — be it Minecraft or something else — that addresses that challenge.

Now, can I imagine a world that Jane McGonigal imagines?

Every course, every activity, every assignment, every moment of instruction and assessment would be designed by borrowing key mechanics and participation strategies from the most engaging multiplayer games.

Well, yes. I can imagine that world. In fact, I am currently working on a keynote in which I hope to take some of the game-based principles Jane is talking about and make them a practical reality in the classroom. Here’s an overview in case you’re interested:

As enthusiastic as I am about gamification, I still have a hard time seeing it as the basis for instructional design. Can gamification components partially address a number of the core issues we face in education such as differentiation and engagement? Absolutely. Is gamification the silver bullet that’s going to solve all of the challenges we face in education? I’m afraid not.


Sources:

McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.


Links:

MinecraftEdu – http://www.minecraftedu.com/

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