December 10 2012

Serious Fun

Education is serious business. It’s about moulding and shaping young minds. Imparting wisdom, developing the fundamental skills they are going to need – reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. The struggle of getting though content, meeting outcomes, and managing student behaviour. Test results rule, and it’s all about measurable growth. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t necessarily disagree with most of the above, but I don’t think it’s just limited to that. The role that engagement, true engagement, plays in education is powerful – not just “my students are engaged in the learning in my classroom because they focus on their work all lesson”. I think we can learn a lot from gaming in this regard – I’ve blogged about this before, especially after my experiences at the PLANE Festival of Learning in their Permission to Play strand. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of play, and what we learn from failure in games, so I’ve been experimenting this term with a couple of my classes. It’s been a lot of fun!!

My year 7 class rock. They are a lot of fun, and we have had some great experiences this year as we’ve worked through some interesting topics. This term, we’ve been setting up our faculty iPads, and this class have been our guinea pigs. They’ve been very patient, and given lots of great feedback about how they could be useful in class. They were all obsessed with installing games though, and who could blame them? It was the first thing I did when I got mine!! So, after a couple of solid weeks of working on puppet pals, and creating a film of the play we have been studying in class, I got them to do a creative writing task. I told them we we doing an empathy task – I’d give them some characters, and they had to write some blog entries for me that fully explored the feeling and emotions of the character they picked. Then, I put this picture on the board.


They thought I was joking. “Nah, really Miss, what are we doing?” When I eventually convinced them that I was serious, though, they got to work. We talked about the back story behind Angry Birds, and the narrative that underpins it. We brainstormed the different points of view that the birds or the pigs might have … Why would the pigs feel the need to steal eggs? What about the little pig who didn’t really want to get involved, but was pressured into it? What makes people willing to die for the cause – those birds must know it’s not going to end well for them!! There was some wonderful, completely unexpected cross-KLA chat about historical links to kamikaze pilots and Hitler youth, and lots of parallels drawn between the behaviours of the birds and pigs, and peer pressure and bullying behaviours. The diary entries they wrote after this were AMAZING – some powerful, some strongly emotional, and often very very funny … they really got into it, and produced some sustained significant pieces of creative writing!

This wasn’t the real fun though. The real fun was the lesson that followed this insanely cool creative writing task. We had an Angry Birds challenge. 16 iPads, 28 students, and an hour long frenzy to see who could get the highest score on a level of Angry Birds. They shared tips. They problem solved. They showed persistence and perseverance. They even helped out their principal who popped up to check out the fun!! Angry Birds Star Wars on my IWB was a sight to see, and even though they were competing with each other for the coveted iTunes cards that were on offer for the top 3 scores, the cooperation and communication was awesome. This was serious fun!!


I certainly wouldn’t do this every week, but it’s certainly worth thinking about … Is my classroom fun? And is it fun for the right reasons? We certainly can’t just make our classes open slather gaming, but some intelligent design of activities to build some real engagement isn’t a bad thing!!

NOTE: If you are thinking about implementing an Angry Birds challenge in your classroom, I have a few pieces of advice.
1. Check that the class next door is not doing an assessment task.
2. Find out the chocolate of choice of the teacher in the classroom next door.
3. Make sure the iPads are fully charged – the child whose iPad dies as they are about to hit 110,000 points will never forgive you when their device dies!!

So, that’s one of my episodes of serious fun for the term … I’d love to hear about what you have been doing in your class that’s made you laugh!

October 21 2012

A wild ride …. Failure, OK, and Risk.

It’s Sunday night. The past week has been an amazing adventure for me. This time a week ago, I was putting the finishing touches on my camp, and stressing out big time about what was likely to go wrong, what I’d forgotten to do, what I was missing … you get the idea. Stress head. Three days of wondrousness with my year group, with a few emotional ups and downs (did I mentioning jumped of a power pole? Insane!!!) and I was home for a day, before heading to the PLANE festival of learning. I’ve blogged about some of the fantasticness that was the festival, and I feel like I haven’t fully captured it. My head is still spinning from everything I saw and heard. I’m still a bit star-struck about some of my edu-idols that I got to hang out with, and some newbies that have been added to that list.

There are a couple of main ideas that I have taken away with me from the festival. The first is the idea of failure, and how we value it in gaming, how we learn from it, and use it as a form of constant and instant assessment, but in education it’s just an end. We fail, we move on, and we don’t revisit, or retry, of figure out what it is we need to do to do better next time. It’s something that’s been frustrating me personally as we look at our assessment strategies in our faculty, as I feel like a lot of what we do is one off, not effectively embedded as part of everything that we do. I want students who are resilient – don’t we all? Not because their grades will look better, although that is a lovely side-effect, but because it will help them become better workers, better thinkers, better problem-solvers, better friends, better people. Heck, it’ll help ME be all those things!! I’m not sure how to deal with this, but I’m pulling together some of the ideas that I heard at the festival, and looking at how they fit in with what I want to do with some of my classes. I’m sure it’s going to be something I’ll be blogging about more in the future. My main motivators in my musings on this idea we Peggy Sheehy, who gave an insightful and thought-provoking presentation on World of Warcraft in her teaching, and Dean Groom, who never fails to get the cogs spinning in my mind.

The second is the idea of well-being. What is it? How do we build it? Is ok really enough, or should we be committed to something more? There are some great conference doodles which capture some of these ideas – if I get a chance, I’ll pop on the computer later and add in a link to them, as its not quite working properly on the iPad. If you don’t see them here, then chances are I didn’t get around to it! The idea, though, is that we focus so much on making sure that people are ok, then we move on, that we never get to the point of making sure they are flourishing. I don’t want to be ok with just ok, and lately it feels like that’s what I’ve been striving for. I wouldn’t be ok with that in the mental and emotional health of my year group, or my children – why should I be ok with it in my own?
If you are interested in hearing more about this from someone eminently more qualified to talk about it in eloquent terms, rather than my cryptic ramblings, check out the PLANE Leadmeet coming up on Tuesday night, and Dan Haesler’s blog. I took his advice, and took a bit of time to myself today … Lovely. Need to do it more often.

The third idea that I have taken to heart is that of risk. Dr Sarah Howard present a keynote on Friday afternoon about risk – how important it is, and how we need to nurture it in ourselves and our colleagues, if we have any hope of seeing it flourish in our students. I truly believe we need to develop in our students a desire to step outside their comfort zones, and to take educated risks in their own learning. How can we do that, though, if we keep doing the same thing in our teaching practice because we think it works, or because we are worried what might happen if worry something that doesn’t work? Back to that idea of failure again.

I mentioned the other day about my big risk on camp. My terrifying, I still can’t believe I did it but I’m starting to be a little bit proud of myself, step off the top of a power pole. And I remember the boy in my group, who was firmly committed to the idea of staying on the ground, but after I bawled my way to the top and back down again, with no comment started putting on a harness. That’s what it’s about, right? Demonstrating what you want to see. we do it with text types, we do it with mathematical equations. Let’s start doing it with risk. Let’s start doing it with well-being. Let’s start doing it with failure.

Hopefully this link works … It’s a slightly dodgy video of me, and it’s seriously unattractive at the end, but I’m kind of ok with that. What are you going to do this week that’s risky?

October 20 2012

Quest Atlantis

I went to Dr Bron Stuckey‘s session on Quest Atlantis before lunch. I’m only blogging about it now because 1. I’m now feeling a bit more awake after a delicious lunch, and 2. I was so focused on what she was talking about that I completely forgot to write anything when I was in there!

If you haven’t seen QA, you really should check it out. I have already signed up for a teacher account, and am waiting semi-patiently for Bron to get a chance to approve it. It’s an amazing virtual world environment with a huge range of quests available for students to complete.

I LOVE that there is a strong focus on digital citizenship and social justice. I truly believe we can’t teach about digital citizenship without actually using digital tools … It’s like trying to learn how to swim without ever going in the water. I love that there is a strong monitoring of the chat, which then provides opportunities for authentic conversations with students about how you interact online. I love that the quests provide authentic learning, around meaningful ideas and content, which encourage students to work collaboratively and on higher-order problem solving skills.

I have a bit of a fan-girl crush on Bron …. I totally admire her passion, her commitment to meaningful and authentic learning, and her willingness to share her knowledge with others. What has been wonderful about this festival for me has been the opportunity to be surrounded by so many passionate committed educators. Totally loving her work, and looking forward to exploring the wonderful world of Quest Atlantis!!


Cool things about QA from a teacher perspective include the fact that it is free – YAY!!!! The wonderful people at QA will also provide teachers with training to support you in your use of QA with your students. As a teacher, you have the ability to lock or unlock quests for your students, so that they can only access them as you want them to. As a parent, you can know that your children are protected, as only verified teachers are able to access the virtual world with students (until they verify that you’re a teacher, you will be able to see other teachers, but not students.)

I’m so excited by the possibilities, particularly of the persuasive writing quest that Bron showed us. I love the blending of literacy, social justice, science ethics, etc etc – the possibilities are almost limitless. I’m already planning in my head how I’m going to use it, and I’m not even fully registered yet!

Do you use QA? What do you think about it?

October 20 2012

I love writing.

I love writing. I really do. It’s fascinating to hear the opinions of someone who does if for a living. The idea of learning about the world of their narrative because it is fun- eg the way people know stuff in Skyrim – is immensely powerful. The power of narrative to suck you in, and to completely absorb you in its world, is incredible. None of this stuff was new to me …. and that’s ok. I found this to be a really well thought out discussion of the powerful elements in narrative which build and sustain engagement in your story. I probably needed something a little kinder to my brain after the previous sessions.

Alan Baxter, the presenter for this session, is an author of books with pages, as well as of game narratives. He wrote the Leornian storyline, as well as the narrative for the Seymour Quest, which was an interactive game played around the festival of learning. If you want to check out his work you can head to his website (in a post earlier today I mentioned I was a little fan-girly over some presenters today? Totally applies here!!)

October 20 2012

Ok, could do better. Chatting with Dan Haesler

Second session in a row that has my head spinning. The idea of welfare as about more than just making sure people are doing ok. The focus on not being ok with ok …. just getting to 0 from -5 is not good enough. The deficit model of welfare is about just wanting to fix problems then stopping there. We hang on to bad stuff, and we let the bad stuff define us … So do students.

We become teachers for a purpose. We talked about the idea of positive psychology, and the impact that positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment have on a person’s well being. And I’ll be honest … This whole session has been really hard for me to process at this point. The idea of “ok” is a powerful one, and I feel like sometimes I’m just clinging on to ok. I love what I do, but there are so many ‘cultural forces’ that are impacting on this. I’m really struggling to clarify my thoughts on this one …. certainly something I’m going to be thinking about in the coming days!!

Thank you, Dan. Very powerful ideas.

October 20 2012

Dean Groom and Bron Stuckey …

Don’t just wonder about the future … Create it.

The first three minutes of this keynote have just blown my mind. Really. Exactly what I needed to hear this morning I think.

So, I was too busy thinking about this keynote to make notes. Really awesome. And I agree with Dean – awesome stuff should be allowed in classrooms because it’s awesome. End of story.
I want to be both a unicorn, AND the best person I can be … Is that so wrong? 🙂

I love Bron’s idea that teachers are heroes. The metaphor of the hero’s journey is a really interesting one, and how it applies to our role as teachers. So, that’s part one of my reflection on Day 2 Keynote …. Stay tuned for more on this, though, as I know it’s going to be rolling around in my head for a very long time!!


October 20 2012

Halfway though the flight …

I’ve just sat down on the train, on my way to day 2 of the PLANE Festival of Learning. Yesterday I spent the whole day down in the Permission2Play stream, and whilst I loved that so much, there was so much going on everywhere else that I can’t help feeling like I missed out! There were a couple of sessions I missed out on that I really wanted to attend, so I’ll be picking the brains of people who made it to Dan’s session on staff well being, for example.

I really had a great day yesterday, so kudos to the PLANE team …I’m so impressed with the variety of sessions on offer, and the diversity of the learning experiences that we can immerse ourselves in. For me, though, the real value of the festival so far hasn’t been what I’ve learnt in the workshops I’ve attended. It’s been the conversations with other educators. I’ve met people who I’ve never come across before, and that’s always interesting, to hear their experiences in their teaching practice, and to share ideas. There were also a lot of people I caught up with that I feel like I’ve known for ages, but in reality most of them I was meeting in person for the first time yesterday. We have connected on twitter, or yammer, and we’ve come to know each other fairly well. I know about people’s favourite tv shows, and chocolate preferences. I know what they teach. I know their political views sometimes, and I understand their views on or profession. I know what books they love, and whether they are night owls or early birds. Seem of them have become quite good friends in real life, and some of them wonderful familiar faces that I see occasionally at a conference or teachmeet. That for me is the real value of this festival- building connections, and developing networks that are going to continue to support me in my professional practice long after my sides stop hurting from how funny Kitty Flanaghan was.

There are a coupled of incidental takeaways for me too – more personal than professional, but still fairly relevant. I love writing. I love blogging, I want to do it more, but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so often I’ll start writing posts and get sidetracked by other stuff, and never get around to posting it because it isn’t quite finished, or I just want to fiddle with it a bit more, or find just the write photo to go with it – both my personal and professional blogs have an embarrassing number of posts sitting in draft, just waiting to be finished. When Jonesy asked me if I’d do some guest blogging for the festival, I decided to just write posts as I was in sessions, rather than taking notes like I usually do, then going back and doing them later. The immediacy of posting means that I am having to let go of some of that “it has to be perfect” mentality that plagues me in many areas of my life …. And I’m ok with it! It actually feels really good to hit submit, then move on. Remember that, Rodgers, it’s important!!!!


So, are you heading to the festival of learning today? Im feeling a little fan-girly at the thought of some of the people I’ll be meeting up with again today …. I’m coining the phrase “teacher-crush” to describe the admiration I have for some of these amazing educators. Totally in awe. I imagine its something like my daughter at the thought of meeting up with One Direction … Although with less squealing and fainting, possibly. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of my profession every day – events like this really solidify that for me. The incredible commitment and passion that people show is really inspiring, and I love that, at the centre of every conversation is a focus on authentic and effective student learning, and how quality teaching practice can support that. Truly inspiring.

October 19 2012

Reflection on Game labs

I popped down after lunch to the games labs. If you are at the PLANE festival of learning, and you haven’t ventured down to the dungeons yet, it’s totally worth it! I spent some time helping out a colleague get dressed in PLANE Virtual worlds … apparently I’m known in virtual worlds for my cool outfits, according to Vivian! I checked out Kodu …. I’m totally looking into that some more tomorrow. It looks really interesting!! And I had some conversations about Leornian…. argh, the maze!! My takeaway reflections from my dungeon visit?

The main one really for me, a bit of a gamer myself, is mostly about the nature of the gamers i saw participating in these games labs. Gamers are NOT isolated. They build connections. They collaborate and communicate at high levels. They engage in problem solving activities in order to successfully achieve their goals. The fail, then fail again, then fail again until they succeed. Karran did this today whilst attempting to get her avatar in virtual worlds to do a backflip. Who doesn’t want their class to be full of students with these attributes?

Gamers aren’t always experts, and neither are the people who are teaching gaming. Those who mentor in gaming are not always the ones who know everything about what to do – they are often the ones who are willing to take a risk to figure out how to achieve a task, or succeed in a quest.

I’m typing this reflection whilst listening to Dr Sarah Howard talking about risk taking, and I think there are some definite links here! We are often worried about trying something like gaming in classroom because of the risks inherent in such a task. What do you think? Is it really worth it?

Oh, the main thing about gaming for me? It’s fun! Everyone sitting in the game labs seemed to be enjoying themselves too – that’s just my feeling, though, I took no measurable data! Fun + learning + risk taking + problem solving + ….. sounds like a great mix!!

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October 19 2012

Why use consoles in the classroom? Jay Trevaskis

I LOVE games consoles. Love them. I’ve used them quite a bit in some of my classes. Jay’s discussion about about his experience with gaming consoles in the classroom really resonates with me, as the issues he had to consider when making gaming consoles a part of his teaching have been exactly what I went through last year when starting my gaming unit with yr9.

Key takeaways from this session –
Kids can be the experts. Don’t stress too much if you don’t know how to use it – letting students know that their knowledges and experiences are valued in class is of far greater benefit than of you waiting till you know how to do it yourself!

Want to teach road safety? Put students on a driving game. Drive 2 laps, at or below a set speed, record time, number of crashes, and times over centre line. Repeat, getting students to change a song on their iPods, etc. Compare stats. On the third attempt, read and send one text message per lap. Meaningful Road safety learning without having to crash a real one!!


Feedback from gaming provides some essential rewards for students. Want to get boys engaged in a dancing unit? Get them to compete with each other to achieve the outcomes of the performance, based on choreography in a game like Just Dance. Winning!!

Kids by nature will become immersed in the world of games. They get drawn in to the learning outcome that you are establishing for the unit. Let them!!!

Great ideas for using consoles in PDHPE in particular, but Jay has some great thoughts about how it is applicable across all faculties. Certainly a discussion worth having!

October 19 2012

Permission2Play! WoW, gaming and failure.

I’m sitting in studio 1 at the Seymour Centre. The first session in the Permission to Play strand at the PLANE festival of learning is a virtual conference. Presented by Peggy Sheehy from New York, we are hearing about the power of gaming in education. When kids are in a game environment, the benefits are enormous … Do you want sustained focus on your classroom tasks? I do!!! I know that my students are MUCH better at sustained attention to gaming than they are to reading a chapter from a novel! Whilst novels will ALWAYS be important (I’m an English teacher, of course I’m going to say that!!!) I think that we do our kids a great disservice if we don’t consider the possibilities of gaming in our classrooms. I’ve talked a bit about my gaming unit last year with my interesting yr9 boys class, and what a success it was. This term, with the same group of boys now in year 10, we are jumping in the deep end with looking at designing game narratives, as a way of meeting the “creative writing” outcomes in our scope and sequence.

Things that are impressing me about this session so far …
– importance of challenges – starting at level one, with level one skills and abilities, then progressing as you demonstrate mastery and develop new skills in competency. It happens in games – shouldn’t it be happening in schools too??
– differentiating between time for work and time for play ,… Really? Why don’t enough of us recognise the vital connections BETWEEN these goals, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive?
– progression is determined by the player, and gamers crave assessment – the whole game is assessment!!! Failure equals opportunity to develop knowledge and skills. Failure is frowned upon in schools, but not in gaming.
– gaming provides amazing opportunities for blended learning…. lilteracy in gaming ROCKS!!!! We looked at genre literacy in our class last year, but think about the kinds of vocab used in WoW … What amazing opportunities to build a students’ language skills without having to do dull language sheets.
– reflections on life experiences …. The heroes journey applies in gaming, in novel, in text, in life. It’s an interesting notion to think about – building the capacity for students to recognise their own value, and to engage in some meaningful real-life learning.

I’m really stuck by the idea of failure and how we view it … @townesy77 tweeted from her session with conference doodler Dr Jason Fox that Tetris is a game where you are guaranteed to fail, but everyone keeps playing it!! Do our students keep revisiting their failures in out assessments? Wy to, and how can we make that possible/ valuable?

Get your game on …. What are your thoughts on gaming in class?