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.

* Registration for BetterLesson is free and provides you with access to thousands of CCSS and NGSS aligned, vetted lessons for Science, Math and ELA for all grade levels (K-12).

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