Thursday, January 18, 2018

Easter Eggs with Mini-Game Creators

In recent conversations with my gamification PLN, the use of Easter Eggs has come up. As a non-videogame gamer, I was unfamiliar with the term. Doing some digging I came across this Storify of #XPLAP's chat published in @MrMatera's blog. With a little bit more knowledge, and after talking with my personal source of all things gamer (my teenage son), I was ready to think about some ways that I could create Easter Eggs within my hyperdocs and project pages.

Hiding the Easter eggs is relatively easy. In a hyperdoc, you can simply type whatever you wish (perhaps a reminder to yourself of the title of what you linked) and hide it by making the font the same color as the background. In a project page, Google Drawing or Google Slide, you can insert a shape and make both the lines and background transparent, of course linking the shape to the website that hosts the Easter Egg.

Once the issue of how to hide Easter Eggs had been resolved, the question became what to hide. Of course, you can hide Youtube or Edpuzzle videos, links to websites, simulations, interactive sites or documents for the students to read and interact with. However, in true gamer fashion, I like to hide mini-games that are specific to the content and/or vocabulary the students are learning. That is where the mini-game creators come in.


This site from IXL Learning,  offers the possibility to create 18 game types from one data set. This means that once you have your content, in the form of text and/or images, you can reuse it, getting a new link each time. It has the added benefit of providing the students with points at the end of a game, which I then just add to my students' XP total giving an immediate incentive for playing the mini-game.


At first glance not as pretty as Sugarcane, but LearningApps gives you more/different mini-game options (20 total, including hangman, cloze, group puzzle and crossword). It also gives you several options to embed your mini-game in other platforms, which for some may be a plus.


Much like the now defunct Zondle, you are able to create multiple choice review question sets that appear as part of a mini-game. You can link to a specific game or you can give students the link to the question set and have them choose which mini-game to play. Their games do require Flash, so you may want to check that out before creating your Easter Egg with them. Also important to know, the site now runs one ad at the top of the screen, which may be non-negotiable in some settings.


This site has been around for a long time, so it is easy to find ready-made question sets. On the flip side, they only have a couple of "gamy" options (match and gravity), and some of their functionality is restricted (adding images and voice) requires that you upgrade to a Teacher account (currently $2.92/month)

Now, what does this look like in the end? Below is an "assignment page" that includes three Easter Eggs. Can you find them?

Any thoughts to share about how to create Easter Eggs? Leave a note in the comments.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Google Draw - the neglected sibling

Click here to go to tips.

For the last several years I have been using Google products for most of my authoring needs. However, my students and I seldom venture outside of the three products that appear when you click that red NEW button on our drives.

Although I also create Forms and have my students create Sites, we have all mostly turned a blind eye to Draw. In fact, up until a few months ago a search of the thousands of documents that I have in my Drive produced maybe 50 or so Draw documents, and those were mostly simple flowcharts or places to host images that I collected to add to Slides and Docs.

This all started changing after I took the "Making Infographics" course at KQED teach. The course itself walked me through the creation process, thinking like a designer, and provided me with many resources for images, icons, fonts and color palettes. From Pixlr to build graphics, to Pexels - a great source of CC0 high def images, to Piktochart - an easy to use infographic maker, the course gave me the tools to start creating.

Now, you may be thinking what does this have to do with Google Draw? Well, once I started on that creative path, I started exploring what I could bring to the classroom. Piktochart, like Canva and Smore (two other sources for creating visually appealing graphics), have two limitations to their use in the classroom - they require an account on the platform and they do not allow multiple editors, or if they do, it cannot be simultaneous. On both those fronts, Google Draw becomes the winner; yes you do need a Google account to use Draw, but most schools have that in place. Before I continue, I do have to give kudos to Canva for two great "side" resources they have - Font Combinations and Color Pallete that you can then use on Google Draw.

Anyway, once it became clear that I would be "limited" to using Draw for creating infographics, I set about figuring out how my students could make them "pretty". Thankfully, many educators and designers have shared their own tips and tricks freely:

 Clickable Google Draw Image

Once you familiarize yourself with the basics, the possibilities that open up are endless.Using Google Draw my students and I have created posters, mind maps and trading cards like the ones you see below.


Using the technique discussed in "Embedding a Google Drawing with Clickable Links", I've also used it to create clickable learning paths (below) and even display the ranking system for my gamified classroom, which you see at the top of this post.

Have you found other ways to use Google Draw? I'd love to hear about them.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Game Based Learning in a Gamified Environment

In an effort to increase student engagement, gamification and game-based learning have been gaining traction in the education world for the past couple of years. Because of this, there have been some great blog posts that explain the difference between the two:
There have even been some Twitter discussions about the merits of each, almost asking one to choose between the two as if there were mutually exclusive. Much like you Project Based Learning and Maker Ed are not the same thing, but can both occur at the same time in a classroom, you can have a game based delivery in a gamified environment. 

I've talked before about how I've gamified my classroom. If you are interested in how to add game elements to your delivery I invite you to visit my gamification page on this blog, and/or follow the gamification experts - @MatthewFarber, @mrmatera, @mpilakow, and @christibcollins.

If you are looking to find or create games to add to your game based arsenal, you may want to look into:
iCivics - specifically for Social Studies
Legends of Learning - specifically for Science
PhetColorado - math and science simulations
LearningApps and SugarCane - for those of you that are interested in creating your own mini-games

I also invite you to the weekly #xplap (Tuesdays at 7:00 PST) and #games4ed (Thursdays at 5 PST) Twitter chats. Both of these are super fun and informative and will put you in touch with the many other educators that are interested in bringing play into their classrooms.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Grades in the Gamified Classroom

In a recent #games4ed conversation we were talking about gamified grading, and the two tweets above came up. This resonated with me for several reasons:
1. As I am sure it is true in most cases, at the end of the day (term, school year), I have to submit regular letter grades. 
2. I have been guilty of falling for the above-mentioned pointification, or simple substitution of traditional grading for an XP-like system and leaderboard. While the change did infuse some excitement in my classroom, the students quickly discovered that it was simply "a rose by another name" and rebelled accordingly - Gamification - Don't Fake It

Simply changing the grades to points does not change the student's mindset. At its core, gamified grading can be a visual representation of competency-based grading, which as Matt Townsley reminds us is different than standards-based grading.
"Competency Based Education is a system in which students move from one level of learning to the next based on their understanding of pre-determined competencies without regard to seat time, days, or hours.
In a competency-based system…
  • Students advance to higher-level work and can earn credit at their own pace. (In a building, district, or classroom using a standards-based grading philosophy, this is not necessarily the case. Students are likely required to complete x number of hours of seat time in order to earn credit for the course.)
  • Learning expands beyond the classroom. This may or may not take place in a standards-based grading philosophy. For example, in a competency-based system, a student who learns a lot about woodworking over the summer may earn credit when he or she returns to school the next year. Similarly, students are encouraged to learn outside the classroom so that they can demonstrate competencies at their own, rapid rate.
  • Teachers assess skills or concepts in multiple contexts and multiple ways. (This may or may not be the case in a standards-based grading classroom; however, it is non-negotiable in competency-based education.)"
How does this translate to a gamified environment?

1. Explicit criteria and targets are made available to students ahead of time. The students in a gamified classroom know exactly what it takes to "defeat the boss" (AKA demonstrate mastery). Basically, everything is assessed using rubrics. The rubrics are created using objective measures, provide actionable feedback and are presented in kid-friendly language. 

2. There are multiple opportunities to gain XP (practice the standards). Every piece of work submitted results in XP, even incomplete or half-correct work! Let's think about this from the gamer standpoint. A player going through the third level of Mario falls and must restart the level. The XP he gained does not go away, and he/she will try the level again using what he/she learned from the previous attempt in order to pass the checkpoint and proceed to the next level. This cycle continues throughout the game. This is also true in the gamified classroom. That half-correct work is re-done based on the feedback, resubmitted for a new assessment and opportunity to gain more XP.

3. Some may demonstrate mastery on their first attempt earning a set amount of XP and perhaps a badge that shows the students (and community) that mastery of the standard has been achieved. This does not mean that the "learning is done". The student can then go on a side quest to earn even more XP and continue to level up within that standard. While this is happening other students are re-working/adding to their work and even going through the same side quest that the "masters" are completing, practicing the standard until they have collected enough evidence of mastery and the total amount of XP available for the standard is achieved.

All of this made public to my students on the leaderboard. But what happens at the end of the week, when I am contractually obligated to publish at least one new grade in the grade book? For that, I choose the most recent evidence of learning. This means that what goes in is not the same piece for all, but rather the individual piece of work that illustrates the learning from that particular student for that week. So, for example, the student that demonstrated mastery on week one and decided to sit back and relax on week two may, in fact, receive a failing grade for the week (no evidence of learning), while the student that has not shown mastery could be receiving an A. 

I know that this system is not perfect, and there is a possibility of inflated grades. Have you found a different solution? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Digital Media Literacy with KQED Teach

Bill Ferriter 

I am sure that many of you are familiar with the image above. While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, the National Association of Media Literacy Education tells us:
“The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world.”

So, while the learning outcome should not be "create a Prezi" or "produce a video", we do need to provide students with the skills of expression to be effective communicators.

Now I'm sure that we've all been privy to things like

  • presentations with too much text, or unreadable fonts
  • student videos that, while cute, are unintelligible
  • Edmodo or Google classroom posts that should have been edited
  • student-created cartoons, infographics and Google Draw productions that are nothing more than a disorganized copy/paste
I illustrate these to make the point that we do need to help students develop better media literacy skills. We live in a world where most classrooms have access to 1:1 devices (especially if we count student-owned devices). Many of us have dabbled with creating educational products for our students and/or have asked our students to do the same, but how many of us have taken the time to hone those skills before teaching them to the students? I know that I was one of the ones that expected my students to "produce a 5-minute video to explain ____", without ever having gone through the process myself!

That is why I was so glad when last spring I was introduced to KQED Teach. In Randall Depew's words:
"KQED Teach, our new online learning platform, will support educators’ growing media literacy needs by helping them develop the media skills necessary to bring media production to their learning environments."
The beauty of KQED Teach is two-fold. First, it is completely free. Not only are the courses free, all the tools they suggest within each course are also free. Second, the courses are self-paced and short enough to be easily completed in an afternoon or two. As teachers, we are budget and time poor. KQED Teach understands that and responded in kind. 

Let me tell you a little bit about the courses I have taken, and what I've been able to do and teach because of it.

Media Foundations: Allowed me to explore the impact digital media could have in my teaching. Because of this course, I became a more critical consumer of information and started paying attention to bias and copyright. The skills I learned were easily transformed into a lesson titled  "Should I CITE-IT?", which I posted and have available on the KQED Teach platform.

Taking Charge of Social Media: This course opened up my eyes to the world of social media, especially Twitter, as a PD tool, allowing me to add a myriad of innovative educators to PLN, which in turn made me grow so much more than any "traditional" PD.

Designing Presentations: This course should be required by anyone that has ever thought about creating any kind of presentation. We all know about essay-like presentations, but have you ever thought about how fonts, images, and colors interact to tell a story during your presentation? After this course, you will be ready to go well beyond the template that you've seen or used 1000 times to create much more impactful and memorable presentations using any platform. 

Interactive Timelines: At first, this course looks a little scary, especially if you are unfamiliar with Google Sheets. However, following their advice, I was able to create the interactive timeline of my scope and sequence that you see below. How cool is that!

I have not taught the lesson I posted at the end of the course "Technology Timeline", but it is there for anyone that wants it, and can be easily modified to suit other purposes.

Making Interactive Maps: Much like the interactive timelines, I did not know I needed to know this until I created my first map. The course not only gives you the step by step instructions and ideas on how to integrate their use in anyone's practice but also includes how to take these maps further using the layers and data tables that I did not know existed within Google Maps. Because of this course, I was able to have my 5th graders create maps like the one you see below, in response to the lesson I posted within KQED Teach - The Journey of Stuff.

Making Infographics: My favorite course so far. This course taught me some design basics that are transferable to many other platforms, creating websites for example. But that was not all, it also helped me hone my skills as a creator of digital content, allowing me to take it to the next level in things like the blog post about student-designed board games, and the image I created for the Stop the Fake News Cycle lesson I shared in response to the KQED Teach course on Finding and Evaluating Information:

Communicating with Photography and Video Storytelling Essentials both highlight the power of your smartphone camera. Beyond the composition of your subjects to issues regarding lighting, sound, and editing (including how to conduct interviews), these two offer very specific fixes and ideas that can help you learn and then teach the basics to your students. I invite you to look at the lessons I posted for these two, which include student examples -Source to Mouth documentary and Layered Selfies.

These are only a few of the courses that KQED Teach has to offer, and they are consistently adding new courses. I encourage you to sign up and start learning today.