Sunday, June 28, 2015

Leaderboards with Google Apps, an update

A while back I talked about using Google Spreadsheets to create a leader board. The main drawback I saw in my original version is that students (and me) were unable to see clearly who was in the lead unless I sorted it, which at times created errors in some of the cells. I continued to tinker with it and discovered the pivot table function. This was the answer!

 Here is a video tutorial that shows just how to create the self-ranking leader board.

The formulas that I used to create this are -

Importing ranges of cells:
Conditional formula for images:
=IF(C2>=15401, image(""),IF (AND(C2<=15400,C2>=13601), image(""), IF (AND(C2<=13600,C2>=11901), image(""),IF(AND(C2<=11900,C2>=10301),image(""),IF(AND(C2<=10300,C2>=8801),image(""),IF(AND(C2<=8800,C2>=7501),image(""),IF(AND(C2<=7500, C2>=6301),image(""),IF(AND(C2<=6300, C2>=5201),image(""),IF(AND(C2<=5200, C2>=2501),image(""), IF(C2<=2500,image("")))))))))))

Modified embed code - I highlighted the part you add:
<iframe src=";single=true&amp;widget=true&amp;headers=false&amp;gid=0&amp;range=A1:D39" width="450" height="2350" ></iframe>

Of course, you can always make a copy of the document I used in the tutorial and modify it to suit your needs.

I invite you to play around with it. For example, you can add avatars or other images using
You will again need to host the images in a published document, shorten the URLs, and remember to modify the range, width and height if you are going to embed it anywhere. In this document, I show the avatars in the pivot table, and just like before they are ranked by XP.

I have not found a way to also include items or badges in the pivot page. When I try it, the totals are pushed to the very end, creating a rather messy look. However, you could always publish them in the leader board page, which keeps them in alpha order and could actually be an even better idea.

If you've found different ways of doing this or need some help, leave a comment. Don't be shy. We are in this journey together.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gamifying the NGSS

The NGSS standards are asking students to apply science and engineering practices in order to understand how cross cutting concepts play out disciplinary core ideas. The three dimensions of the NGSS require much more than a simple addition to an inquiry lesson. The student who is not able to make connections across the content and apply his/her understanding to one DCI concept to solve a problem or answer a question in a different context or DCI has not mastered an NGSS standard.

As I considered different ways to modify my instruction in order to provide students with maximum exposure to the science and engineering practices (S&EP), as well as the crosscutting concepts (CCC), I read Leigh Roehm's lesson "pHun with Phenolphthalein" at the BetterLesson website*. In it she masterfully exemplifies just how to incorporate the crosscutting concepts into what she calls the Ladder of Discourse. Through the use of the strategy, she transfers the responsibility for the crosscutting concepts from the teacher to the students! This got me thinking about doing something similar with the S&EPs, which finally led me to the idea of gamifying the three dimensions of the NGSS.

Before I explain, I invite you to visit any of the grade-level sites I created for this. If you check out the How to Play in any of them, you will perhaps get the idea of just what I mean about how the NGSS are tied into the game.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

The DCIs are present in the training rooms. These are the concepts I cover, mostly using PBL which already gives a lot of opportunities for choice, and do not provide XP or gold coins. The main reason I have for this is that in my previous attempts at gamification, including them in the leaderboards becomes a grading nightmare (see Gamified Classroom - A Year in Review). However, as the year progresses I will be granting access to PowerMyLearning and MySciLife activities that will allow the students to gain XP and gold coins through choices in this area.

Science and Engineering Practices = XP

These are gamified, providing students the opportunity to gain XP and level up by writing weekly blogs. I first introduced my students to the idea of obtaining XP for weekly writing two years ago (see Gamification, starting really small). The structure of the posts has changed over the years, and in this iteration I am asking the students to engage with a specific character, depending on the game, and provide evidence that they have  acquired experience in the S&EPs. To gamify the S&EPs meant that students needed a structure that would allow them to make each of the practices visible in their writing. In order to create the structure I used Rodger W. Bybee's article "Scientific and Engineering Practices in K–12 Classrooms", transforming each of the practices into student-friendly statements that they can choose to write about.  It also meant that they needed a purpose to push themselves in the critical thinking required by the assignment. This is where the leveling up comes in as higher levels of XP mean privileges, such as being able to use their phones or listen to music in class.

Crosscutting Concepts = Gold Coins

In thinking about what I want students to get through the gamified experiences I was creating, it made sense that the crosscutting concepts became the boss battles. Being able to identify and explain big underlying ideas that span different content areas is what the crosscutting are about, and as such require a rather deep understanding of the content. It also means that students need to be able to revisit them over and over as their understanding grows. The irony is that these were by far the easiest to gamify. I created the Boss Battles by  transforming the K-8 statements from the NSTA's Matrix of Crosscutting Concepts, and added the Ladder of Discourse I mentioned earlier to further help the students draft their "battle". At the moment, the battle arenas are set up in blogger, providing students a dedicated space to engage in them. However, this might change as my goal is to have the students keep the same arenas for the four years that they have with me, so the page structure I propose might become too cumbersome. I am even toying with the idea of having actual "boss battle" days in the form of classroom debates - but that is a post for another day.

At this point you may be asking why I decided to award gold coins instead of XP for engaging with the crosscutting concepts. This really comes down to motivation and the difficulty I am expecting some of my students to have with this shift, especially in the lower grades. Not every student will make a big connection every week. However making that connection and being able to explain it can, over time, earn the students big rewards. 

So, what do you think? Let the conversation about gamifying the NGSS begin.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gamified classroom - a year in review

About a year ago I set out to offer my students a complete gamified experience in my classroom (Setting up a Gamified Classroom). With quests, leaderboard  and student buy in we set out to train dragons, and overall it was a positive experience for both myself and the students.

My gamified classroom was set up so that the different units (quests) would unlock a power-up.  This meant that power-ups could not be accessed until we reached that unit.  This worked well for the students that wanted that power-up, and having all power-ups unlocked became a status symbol. The goal of having students revisit work (even if it was done months before) was achieved. In fact, a student that did not join us until the second semester took it upon herself to complete the previous units just so she could also unlock the powers.

On the flip side, I also had students that did not care about a particular power-up. Yes, the assignments were completed (as they would go in the gradebook), but my vision of having them revisit old work in order to earn the power-up did not materialize. However, this is not a failure  of the gamification experience, but rather missed opportunity on my part to find a way to encourage these students to refine work.

The "training the dragon" aspect was a different matter. The dragon training was tied to a weekly blog writing assignment and its end goal was to not have to do the assignment at all (blog immunity). Although only ten of the 140 students that I had this year reached the goal, most of them came close enough that they could taste it. I had students come up to me a couple of weeks before school ended asking, "If I write two blogs this week and score well, will they count towards blog immunity?" The logic of writing one post a week for the final two weeks vs. writing two posts in one week so they would not have to write a post the final week escaped them!

From the mechanics aspect, I will be honest and tell you that as much as I love my leaderboard, keeping up with it was not easy. A big part of the gamified experience for students is immediate feedback. In the real gaming world, students can immediately see if they have reached a goal or unlocked a power-up. In my classroom, they not only had to wait for the assignment to be graded and put into the leaderboard, but in the case of revisions, they also had to wait for me to be done with all other grading before I could even tackle revisions. Now, the students know and respect the fact that I do read through all of their work, and have a rather quick turn-around for grades. However, grouping the power-ups with the unit assignments meant that I was in fact keeping two gradebooks, sometimes with different scoring criteria. This is something that I will definitely be revisiting.

All that being said, I will continue on the gamification path. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 19, 2015

PBL - Avoiding the pitfalls of "Doing Research"

OK, so you created an engaging entry event for your students. The students are excited about immersing themselves in the PBL experience. As a class you developed a list of "need to knows" for the project, everyone understands what they need to do. You walk around the classroom. All students appear to be working. Students attend the workshops you carefully develop at their request. The conversations you overhear tell you the students are engaged in some deep learning. All is well in the PBL world. Except...

Scenario 1: Time travel to day 5 (or whatever) of the project run. You ask a team, "How are you doing?" A student gleefully states, "We are doing research on cells." You continue, "What specifically are you trying to understand?" Their reply, "Umm." You follow up with a series of questions until finally you obtain a better answer, only to repeat the same process with a second and third teams.

Scenario 2: Time travel to the day before the project is due. You ask that teams submit their work so that presentations will run smoothly. Several teams are frantically compiling final products, You know that these teams will offer up piecemeal presentations. Organization and mechanics have gone out the window.

After being faced with these two scenarios several times in my PBL runs, I developed a couple of strategies that seem to help.

Project Timetable

At the start of the PBL run, and along with the "need to knows", the students and I analyze the different components that are required for a project. With rubric in hand, we backwards map the project and develop a project timetable. Both the requirements and timetable are put into a shared document, which the students use to "move themselves" through the project continuum.
Sample of my Genetics Project Timetable

Daily Project Work Report

While the project is running, I have students submit a Daily Project Work Report. This simple sheet, inspired by BIE's Project Work Report asks students to set specific goals for the day's work, and then report what was actually accomplished during the time in class. The key to using this sheet is the specificity of the goals. At the start we go over what a specific goal for a day's work means - "Doing research" is never specific enough. I collect these sheets daily and provide pointed feedback on them as the project run progresses. 

Project Management Sheet

Project Management Sheet
Both of the previous documents still have the teacher very much as the project manager. However, my goal is to shift the responsibility for managing a project to the students, so as students become more adept at managing a project run, I introduce the Project Management Sheet. This document has students take full control of the project run, from identifying need to knows, project requirements and backwards mapping the project, all the way to requesting feedback and assigning work outside of class.

Although I still get some "Doing research" answers, these tools have cut down on students going down the rabbit hole that this statement means. They create tangible evidence of student accountability for a PBL run.

Do you have other ideas for solving the "doing research" conundrum? I would love to hear them.