Tuesday, December 26, 2017

More than a "Design your Own Board Game" Project

Link to Unit Plan

In a recent conversation, the subject of student-created games came up. As many before me, I've had students create games for a variety of reasons - to review the content, to demonstrate knowledge, etc.  However, often the products are nothing more than trivia games, where students go around the board they created answering questions. At best students craft a nice-looking "skin" for games like Trivial Pursuit or Beat the Parents, and at worst there are only boxes and questions in a quickly hand-drawn path. There is little challenge or replayability - as @MatthewFarber has been known to say, "chocolate covered broccoli".

This got me asking, "Where is the disconnect?"If all of my students have played games before, can quickly make decisions about whether a game is fun or not, and know that there will be a game tournament at the end, why is it that they rely so heavily on these types of games? Now, I know that one part of the answer is simply that they equate questions/answers with review. However, in my search for answers, it also became clear that they look at this type of assignment from the point of view of the consumer, not as designers of an experience.

At this point, I would like to clarify that I have never taken a course in game design myself, but with a willingness to learn, I embarked on my own quest to help my students become better at designing games. The assignment I am sharing with you is the end result of this experience.


In this assignment, the research is not where students go over notes or textbooks looking for questions and answers, but rather where students learn about creating games. We start by investigating different board games and discuss what makes a game "good". This is also where I explicitly teach the parts of a game, including the need for goals, challenges, storylines and clear rules which will then make their end product interesting and replayable.


One of the key parts of game development, which is often overlooked in "create a game" assignments. From carefully selecting a theme to presenting and playing a paper prototype with a focus group (consisting of other students), the goal is for the students to develop a well thought out game idea before committing to a final product. This is where students often realize that their game is really a non-game, just a pretty board with questions. Providing this opportunity to prototype, play-test and most importantly act on the feedback is a good way for students to develop critical thinking skills.

Final Design 

If the previous two sections were done successfully and allowed enough time for students to digest the information and feedback, this section is relatively easy to implement. The "hard thinking" is done and it is just a matter of crafting the product and making it look pretty. Skills to be practiced in this section include of course fine-motor skills (which even my middle-schoolers need to practice), and digital media creation (icons, game pieces, digital art and transforming hand-drawn art into digital formats). Although some of my most artistic students like to create their art by hand, I require them to digitize it ("If you wanted to create 50+ copies of your game your art would have to be easily reproducible").


Often some teams of students are ready to move on to our tournament day while other teams are still crafting or even prototyping, so I added the advertising section. This has not only the benefit of providing us with a time buffer, but also continues the "think like a designer" mindset, with the goal not only of creating a better game, but also to be able to market it adequately.

ISTE Standards (for students)

The beauty of this project is that it also allows your students to practice several of the ISTE standards for students. For example:
4a -Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
4c- Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
6a - Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
6b -Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Below you will find a small version of the board I created for students to access the complete assignment. If you would like the version that I share with my students click here. Almost all of the icons and text are clickable, opening the needed information and items students need to document their progress. On the student assignment page, you will also find a Teacher Corner button, which opens to a unit plan that may help you in implementing this with students.

Feel free to share with others who may find this useful.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Embedding a Google Drawing with Clickable Links

I'll start this post by stating the obvious, the easiest way to create a drawing with clickable links/tags is to use Thinglink. This site has been my go-to for any type of image tagging and while I love all their possibilities, including adding custom icons and tagging 360 images, I recently had the issue of wanting to both create the image and the tags at the same time.

A little backstory. 

The culmination of my Interdependence of Organisms unit has my students creating blog posts for different organisms in the Amazonian rainforest where they write about how each organism has a specific role to fulfill in its environment. In class, we then use those posts to create a Google drawing of the food web with links to their work. Everything works great as long as you stay within Google Drawing. It is not until I tried to embed that tagged image the students created anywhere that I realized that those tags the students painstakingly created do not work!

In the past, I've always solved the problem using Thinglink.

But as I mentioned before, this has the "problem" of having to create the image first and then add the tags. In class, this does not always work for a variety of reasons. The most important being that the image is completely static. You cannot change anything on the actual image so the students cannot add any more arrows (or organisms) as they discover other relationships when they discuss their work. Since this is a collaborative end product, the permanence of the image does not work for my purposes.

The workaround

It is a little convoluted, and it requires a little risk-taking simply because of the unfamiliarity you may have with some of the steps, but bear with me. In the end, you will have created the code with working links that can be embedded on any site or platform.

1. Open up a Google drawing. Add your background and items, and tag to your heart's content. In case you do not know how to do this, Karen Ferguson's video does a great job of explaining this.

2. Once you and your students are "done", or even before if you wish, publish your drawing to the web (File>Publish to the web). It does not matter when you do this since any changes you make after the fact will be updated automatically, which is exactly what my students needed. Do not worry about the size or the code at all. You just need it to be "on the web".

3. Go to Google sites, and create a simple blank site. You can name this whatever you like, and edit the homepage to insert your google drawing.

4. Unclick "include border around Google drawing" and "include title". At this point, you will choose your height and width. I recommend setting both to the size of your actual drawing.

5. Save the Google site. This creates a version of the site, with your Google drawing that includes those pesky clickable links you were aiming for.

6. Once you have saved, right-click anywhere on the image and select inspect

7. For those of us not familiar with working with HTML or the developer tools, this is where it gets scary. But don't fret it is simply a matter of finding the code and copy/pasting it in three quick steps:

  1. On the tab that appears, select Elements. Find the code where you see <div id="sites-chrome-everything-scrollbar">, and click on it to expand it.
  2. Scroll down until you find  <div class = "sites-embed-border-off sites - embed"... style=width 800 (or other number) px;" and right click on that.
  3. Select edit as HTML (third option). A box within the space appears, filled with the code you are looking for! Select everything within that box, and copy it.

It should look something like this:
<div class="sites-embed-border-off sites-embed" style="width:600px;"><div class="sites-embed-object-title" style="display:none;">Interdependence Rainforest Blogs</div><div class="sites-embed-content sites-embed-type-sketchy"><iframe src="https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1ELpo7S7a0htZsqckkHkEtaI3KMXORFPStvVZGnVzt_o/preview?authuser=0&amp;h=400&amp;hl=en&amp;w=600" width="600" height="400" title="Interdependence Rainforest Blogs" frameborder="0" id="811835776" allowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" webkitallowfullscreen="true"></iframe></div><div class="sites-embed-footer"><div class="sites-embed-footer-icon sites-sketchy-icon">&nbsp;</div><a href="https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1ELpo7S7a0htZsqckkHkEtaI3KMXORFPStvVZGnVzt_o/edit?authuser=0" target="_blank">Open <i>Interdependence Rainforest Blogs</i></a></div></div>
8. Now you can go ahead and paste that full code anywhere that allows you to edit HTML embeds (Blogger, Wix, Weebly, Wordpress, Emaze to name a few) creating your tagged and clickable Google drawing. 

And not only that, any changes you make to the original image immediately populate anywhere you have embedded your image so your students can modify the drawing, adding and deleting elements and tags without any worry about going through the process again!

Additional benefits

Using this method for creating interactive images also has some other "unforeseen" benefits.
  • The students can be in total control of the creation process. Any CC0 image is fair game to be used as a background or for tagging purposes. Once you teach your students to crop things in shapes, they can create all sorts of icons without worrying about size limitations.
  • Recently my district blocked Thinglink for student use. I can share my tagged images with them, but they cannot create accounts themselves and use it to create their own. 
  • Thinglink is not set up to be collaborative, so even if my students went outside of our servers and created personal accounts, they cannot work on one image together. This often defeats my purposes for creating interactive images.
  • It is totally free. You only need access to the Google tools mentioned. Most districts nowadays have given students access to the Google suite, so anything they create using them will not need any paid upgrade of any kind.

I hope this is useful to you and your students, and please drop me a line in the comments section if you find an easier way to do this.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Leaderboard and Badging with Google Sheets

Many of us in the gamified education game have toyed with different leaderboards and badging systems over the years. I've often dreamed of having a system that does the tracking of XP, badges, and items automatically as I input scores, without having to navigate between spreadsheets copy/pasting data from one to the other. This dream also includes the ability to change ranking and badging systems relatively quickly so that if my students become bored with something I do not have to start from scratch each time. As I've kept toying with this idea, I've been discovering some new tricks on spreadsheets that have allowed me to come up with a template of sorts.

I invite you to make your own copy of the template before I explain what is happening in each sheet. Doing so will allow you to follow along and make changes so that by the end of this post you have your own working copy.

Leaderboard Sheet

Displays all names, ranks, total XP and badges earned by the students. The names and last names are carried over to all other sheets, so any changes you make there will be present in all other sheets. Inversely, it populates the data and images from the other sheets, so changes made in other sheets will display on the Leaderboard sheet without you needing to make any adjustments to it. This is the only sheet I share with the students.

Ranking Sheet

This is a pivot table created from the data on the Leaderboard sheet. If you are using the template, you do not need to do anything to it, but I am sharing a video that explains how to create one in case you are interested.

Heraldry Sheet

In this sheet, I include the images and points needed for each of the 11 ranks I have in my game this year. If you want to change the image to something else, you will need to have the URL for the image you want to display. Simply substitute that URL within the =image("URL goes here, inside the quotations") formulas found in cells A2-A12. Changing those URLs will automatically change the images on the leaderboard page. Same goes for changes in the name and the min and max XP for each rank, allowing you to quickly change the theme of your ranks as well as make adjustments to your ranking when you find that the range of points for a rank is too wide or too narrow.

Badges Sheet

Much like the heraldry sheet, this sheet contains the images and descriptors for each of the badges I have for this class. Any changes in name or image for the badge are reflected on the Leaderboard sheet. Just like in the Heraldry sheet, to substitute the badge image change the URL of the image to one of your liking within the quotations of the =image("URL") function. All of my badges were created using Google Draw as explained by Alice Keeler in this blog post.

XP Sheets - (Blogs, PBL quests, Mastery Quests, Repeat Assignment)

These are the sheets where I input the XP. Although I could have done this on just one sheet, I prefer to have the different sheets in order to organize the data. The names in all of them are populated from the leaderboard, and the total values calculated in each sheet, populated back into the hidden columns (F-J) on the Leaderboard and added into column E. Changing the names of the sheets will not affect the Leaderboard calculations nor the ranking sheet. The "magic happens" on the cells with a grey background so those are the ones that should not be touched directly.

Badge Tally Sheet

This is the sheet where the badges are "awarded".  You can award the badges "manually" by entering the scores directly, or you can pull those scores from the sheets and manipulating them using the different formulas you see on the sheet. The names for the badges come from the Badges sheet, making it easy to keep everything organized.

Right now, I am toying with adding an Items sheet that will work much like the Badges sheet, and I will share that with you as soon as I am done. If there is anything that does not work, or you find confusing drop me a note in the comment section. I'll gladly help you figure it out.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Twitter, a Tool for Teacher Professional Development

Whenever I share my Twitter experience I face the inevitable, "Oh, I don't use Twitter", and I must admit that the first time I heard about teachers using Twitter, I was skeptical, too. My knee-jerk reaction was, "Social media is for keeping up with family and friends. Twitter, specifically, is for people that, at best, participate in politics and debates, and at worst those who enjoy instigating others. Why would a teacher invite that!" I completely dismissed the idea and patted myself on the back for not following in the trappings of social media.

The second time I became aware of Twitter as a possibility for me was at a conference. Like many others before me, I joined so I could post the happenings at that particular event, but it was more a feeling of shouting things out to the wind. I even remember that there were prizes given out for the most tweets, which pushed me a little to participate, but nothing more than that.  Follow others, why? At the end of that conference, I did not go back in. This cycle was repeated at the next event, and three or more times after that.

A couple of years went by and as I became involved with Edmodo as an ambassador, I completed the "Participate in an #edmodochat" challenge. That was the turning point for me. I started to read the posts, occasionally overcoming the risk of replying with my own ideas. All of a sudden I was involved in a deep conversation about best practices in education with a bunch of people that I had never met. That first hour went by in a flash, and at the end, I had specific ideas that I could put into practice the next day. I left that chat energized and hungry for more.

Fast forward to where I am now, writing about why educators should have Twitter accounts and participate in conversation often.

Twitter as Professional Development

Find and Share Resources

Gone are the days when the work of a teacher was a solo endeavor, or when you could open the file cabinet and teach the same lesson the same way for years on end. At our fingertips we not only have a plethora of resources, but these resources are constantly updated. New tools are imagined every day and ideas are flowing freely. Teachers all over the world are discovering and sharing ways to teach specific content and/or using ed-tech tools in a variety of ways. You may never have thought of using the board game Pandemic to teach about The Columbian Exchange, but @MatthewFarber has.

Staying Updated

Education is changing. Whether you are now an expert at the Common Core Standards, struggling to implement the 3 Dimensions of the NGSS, awaiting Social Studies standards or interested in changing your delivery to include PBL or gamification, the conversations are happening now. And wouldn't you know it, many of these conversations are happening on Twitter. Just take a look at the calendar of education Twitter chats below (managed by @cybraryman1, @conniehamilton, @thomascmurray, @cevans5095 and @jrochelle). You could say, "There is a chat for that!"

For those of you that have never participated in a Twitter chat and that may feel overwhelmed by trying to follow a conversation while remembering the "rules", here is a handy "How To" written by @kelseynhayes. The only thing I would add is the use of @participate's tool - Participate Chat simply because it allows you to focus only on that particular chat and automatically adds the #hashtag to the chat you joined, lessening the risk of tweeting to the wind.

Grow your Professional Learning Network

All of these educators that are sharing on Twitter and participating in Twitter chats are offering up their perspectives. They are also connecting with other educators who are willing to help out when the teaching work gets hard. Perhaps you are struggling to reach a particular student, and you need a sounding board outside of your own site. Maybe you would like to infuse more kindness or creativity into your classroom, or even would like to have a speaker come into your classroom, but do not know where to start. The PLN you create by using Twitter is there to help out. The beauty of this is that Twitter is available 24/7 so those ideas or questions that came to you at 2:00 a.m. as you were grading the last batch of essays can be posted and tagged to be answered by your Twitter connection in Europe as he/she starts the day.
In a similar vein, leaders in education are also on Twitter, and connecting directly with them is only a click away. Perhaps you are not ready to engage them in conversation, but you can infuse what you learn from their posts into your own practice. Here are a couple of lists to get you started:

How to's

If you are ready to get started, I invite you to read Edudemic's The Teacher's Guide to Twitter, and if you are new to the Tweetverse, look below for a handy infographic.

Click to view the original
How To Twitter
Source: Twiends

Friday, December 8, 2017

Embedding - Generate your own iFrames

If you are like me, you use a variety of tools to share content with your students. Tools like goFormative, Wizer.me, Symbaloo learning paths, PowerMyLearning, DeckToys and even webpages you create on WIX or GoogleSites, are super useful in part because they allow you to embed content from other places. This means that your students "stay" on the same platform as they work on their assignment, lessening the risk of distractions from moving between platforms. The developers of most of the apps and simulations I add to these sites know that their content is shared on other platforms and they have made it easy by providing embed codes right on their platforms.

But what happens when you find something you really want to share but there is no embed code in sight? In the past, I would just add the link, and teach the students to navigate between several tabs. This is fine for most, but of course some would use this as an excuse to visit something else - that meme generator they've been itching to show off, for example.

After a bit of searching ways to create embed codes, I came across this easy to use iframe code generator

To use it, the only thing you need is the URL of the content/resource you are wanting to embed.

Once you have pasted the URL in place, you click on Generate, and presto your embeddable iFrame Code appears almost as if by magic.

Of course, if you wish, you can also play around with height width, adding scrollbars, borders, etc. (as I did on the "blob-in-blog" above).

Now, depending on where you are going to use that embed code, the only thing you have to worry about is whether the original site's URL is secure or not. Most of the educational sites that have embedding content options do require that the embedded link is "secure" - HTTPS and not just HTTP.

I have also shared this with my students, who blog for me every week and who sometimes create products using different edtech tools. They, in turn, publish their products by embedding them into their blogs.

I am sure there are other iframe generators out there. Have you found a different one that you like better? Share with us in the comment section.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Countdown calendars using Thinglink

Although I recognize that not all my students celebrate the holidays the same way, for the past few years I've been creating advent calendars simply because I love the idea of having little treats that countdown to something. In the spirit of inclusion, I've also created Hannukah menorahs, but this still begs the question of what to do with students who do not celebrate in either of those ways.

Hour of Code Spotlight link                                                                                     Hanukkah Spotlight link

The more I thought about it, the more it became evident that I could use the same concept for a myriad of purposes. For example, we could countdown the days until the holiday break, or better yet countdown the days until "we meet again in 2018". It is all about inspiring students to continue learning every day.

Creating a digital calendar:

1. Open a blank Google drawing.
2. Add a background and images appropriate for the purpose. This could be holidays or not.
3. Add a table, and label with the calendar dates you want to include.
Here is my December 2017 version, if you would like a template.
4.  Click on File>Download as>jpeg image (it can also be a png).
5. Upload the image to Thinglink.
6. Start tagging your calendar with links, prompts, apps or games. Whatever you want to share with your students.

Repurposing your image, unfortunately, requires that you follow the process again, but once you have the tags it is easy to simply copy/paste the links into your new image. For example, here is my 2017 PD Advent calendar repurposed as a Winter Break calendar.

                             Advent PD Spotlight link 

Different feel, but still fun.

Now, if free forming is more your style, you can also choose to go that route as I did in these EdTech and Science Games Holiday-themed images.

Edtech Spotlight link                                                                                                Science Games Spotlight Link

Although these are all holiday/winter themed, countdown calendars can also be used to launch a unit of study or review activities until a test. If you gamify, you can use them as we are reaching a boss battle or the end of a game chapter. The possibilities are endless!

Feel free to share how you have used countdown calendars in your classroom. I'd love to share ideas.