Monday, July 14, 2014

Teaching Through The Arts: "Gamification" I Like the Sound of That and So Wil...

Teaching Through The Arts: "Gamification" I Like the Sound of That and So Wil...: Walk into many high school classrooms a few minutes before class starts and what will you see? A large number of students will be on their c...

"Gamification" I Like the Sound of That and So Will Students

Walk into many high school classrooms a few minutes before class starts and what will you see? A large number of students will be on their cell phones, iPads, etc. and many of those will be playing games. So if they like playing games (and who doesn't?), then shouldn't we be figuring out how to take advantage of this in the learning process? Like making a worksheet into a "playsheet" perhaps. In her article "Beyond the Worksheet: Playsheets, GBL, and Gamification" (I love that term), Educational Technology Specialist Alice Keeler discusses how using electronic devices to play learning games in class has become a hot topic in education. 

She defines the following terms as "GBL [Game Based Learning] is when students play games to learn content. Gamification is the application of game based elements to non-game situations."

Keller also goes on to discuss the use of playsheets instead of worksheets; it's a thought-provoking argument that may be useful in your classroom this fall. Here are 5 benefits of using playsheets from the article.

5 Benefits to Using Playsheets in the Classroom

Most math games created for the tablet devices are playsheets. The gaming elements are superfluous to the learning objective -- for example, shooting space aliens when answering math facts correctly. Playsheets are not bad. While they may be described as chocolate-covered broccoli, students do enjoy playing playsheets.
Here are five benefits to using playsheets in the classroom.
  1. Engagement: Students are engaged in their learning. The gaming elements draw students in and motivate them to continue practicing. You can find students voluntarily practicing playsheets, even when they are not assigned.

  2. Feedback: Digital playsheets have the advantage of giving students immediate feedback. This alone is an advantage over traditional worksheets. Students can correct their mistakes or ask for help before they have practiced incorrectly too many times. They don't have to wait for the teacher to grade their work to know that they're doing a good job, because the work is corrected after every question. Success breeds success. As a student is successful, he or she will continue to practice.

  3. Progress: Typically, a playsheet allows students to know what their score is as they play the game. A progress bar, adding stars, or a tally of the number of correct answers can help students feel that their efforts are resulting in positive progress. They're able to set goals to help push themselves beyond what they would normally strive for.

  4. Celebrate Success: Playsheets often have elements that encourage students and help them feel successful. This motivates them to continue playing. Sound effects can help the student know he or she is on the right or wrong track. Words or stars can appear, helping the student to feel as if his or her efforts are being celebrated. When a student reaches a certain level, it becomes something that we as teachers can celebrate with the child. Reaching a short-term goal is something to get excited about.

  5. Self Grading: Digital playsheets can free up teachers' time. They spend less time grading worksheets and reviewing answers with their class. Instead, they have more time to engage with students and design activities that continue to stimulate and challenge. This allows for a shift in what is possible in the classroom.

Image from Ninja Math app.
 Credit: Thinking Garden
Playsheets are not a substitute for teachers. While playsheets can be a part of the learning environment the teacher creates, they should not be the entire educational experience. Using playsheets in place of paper worksheets has tremendous benefits, but this format can never replace engaging activities, projects, and discussions. As with all things, moderation is the key.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thinking and Having a Voice: "Save the Last Word for Me" Activity

In this age of let's memorize this content or this form of writing so we can do well on the high stakes testing and pretend that we learned something valuable, it becomes more and more important for us to get our students to think and have a voice. Allowing students the opportunity to come up with their own ideas and cultivate a point of view can often get lost in the race to cover content. This activity called "Save the Last Word for Me" from Facing History and Ourselves is a way to facilitate thinking and voice for all of our students. I'm definitely going to use it this fall.

Save the Last Word for Me


“Save the Last Word for Me” is a discussion strategy that requires all students to participate as active speakers and listeners. Its clearly defined structure helps shy students share their ideas and ensures that frequent speakers practice being quiet. It is often used as a way to help students debrief a reading or film.


Step one: Preparation
Identify a reading or video excerpt that will serve as the catalyst for this activity.
Step two: Students read and respond to text
Have students read or view the selected text. Ask students to highlight three sentences that particularly stood out for them and write each sentence on the front of an index card. On the back they should write a few sentences explaining why they chose that quote - what it meant to them, reminded them of, etc. They may have connected it to something that happened to them in their own life, to a film or book they saw or read, or to something that happened in history or is happening in current events.

Step three: Sharing in small groups
Divide the students into groups of three, labeling one student A, one B, and the other C. Invite “A”s to read one of their chosen quotations. Then students B and C discuss the quotation. What do they think it means? Why do they think these words might be important? To whom?  After several minutes, as the A students to read the back of their cards (or to explain why they picked the quotation), thus having “the last word.” This process continues with the B student sharing and then student C.


  • Using images: This same process can be used with images instead of quotations. You could give students a collection of posters, paintings and photographs from the time period you are studying and then ask students to select three images that stand out to them.  On the back of an index card, students explain why they selected this image and what they think it represents or why it is important. 
  • Using questions: Ask students to think about three “probing” questions the text raises for them.  (A “probing” question is interpretive and evaluative. It can be discussed and has no clearly defined “right” answer, as opposed to clarifying questions which are typically factual in nature.)  Students answer the question on the back of their card. In small groups, students select on of their questions for the other two students to discuss.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Embodied Cognition" We Think With and Through Our Bodies

I love learning new terms and putting language to concepts; it helps me to learn it better and also helps me to explain it to others better. Allowing students to move so they can learn and think has been a constant theme in this blog, and the term "embodied cognition," thinking with and through our bodies from the article "The Body Learns"  by Annie Murphy Paul on discusses the importance of getting the body involved in the learning process.

In a series of experiments carried out more than a decade ago, Arthur Glenberg of Arizona State University "found that children’s reading comprehension improved when they acted out a written text, using a set of representational toys (a miniature barn and horse, for example, accompanied a story about a farm). Glenberg then demonstrated that the same procedure could work on a digital platform: In a 2011 experiment, he showed that having first- and second-grade students manipulate images of toys on a computer screen after reading a story benefits their comprehension as much as physical manipulation of the toys."

Games are also an important learning tool for students and not just for the young ones either; we use games all the time at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Never make the mistake of thinking that what you're doing is too childish for the students in front of you; they'll love it. Here's a great game described in the article: 

"Mina Johnson Glenberg (who is married to Arthur Glenberg and also works at Arizona State, as director of the university’s Embodied Games for Learning lab) is taking the embodied approach even further, designing educational games that engage learners’ entire bodies.
program called the Alien Health Game, for example, presents students with this scenario: “You have just woken up to find an alien under your bed. It is hungry and it is your job to figure out what makes it healthy.” From an array of foods, users learn to choose the ones that are most nutritious, and then must dance, jump, and exercise to help the alien digest his meal. (A bonus: The game is so physically active that it measurably elevates users’ heart rates.)"
Take a few moments to read it, and you just might agree. Of course the challenge, as always, is implementing this type of learning in a system that is set up to keep students quiet and in their seats. But that's the great thing about being a teacher: rising to the challenges and making them happen for our students.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bates Middle School: Transformation Through Arts Integration

In our age of showing results through data, the Wiley H. Bates Middle School is doing just that. Check out their results after integrating the arts for just four years. Click on the link for Edutopia to read what they've accomplishes. It's worth the time.
Arts integration has been shown by several rigorous studies to increase student engagement and achievement among youth from both low and high socioeconomic backgrounds (Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012; Upitis & Smithrim, 2003, cited in Upitis 2011; Walker, McFadden, Tabone, & Finkelstein, 2011). Arts integration was introduced at Wiley H. Bates Middle School, in Annapolis, Maryland, as part of their school improvement plan in 2008 after the district applied for and was awarded a four-year grant under the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) Grant Program.
Since arts integration was first implemented at Bates, the percentage of students achieving or surpassing standards for reading has grown from 73 percent in 2009 to 81 percent in 2012, and from 62 percent to 77 percent for math during the same period, while disciplinary problems decreased 23 percent from 2009 to 2011. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, math and reading scores among students in grades 6-8 have shown a long trend of improvement across the state of Maryland. However, the percentage of students proficient or advanced at Bates has grown nearly 12 times faster than the state in reading, and four times faster in math. Science achievement among eighth graders also has outpaced the state from 2009 to 2011. Teachers and staff report that arts integration has been one of the key reasons for the school's improvement. Several research-based practices contribute to the success of arts integration at Bates Middle School:


Since focusing on arts integration, this school has achieved the following:
• English-language learners increased their achievement in math and reading by almost 30 percent.
• Special ed scores jumped higher than hoped.
• The school is developing a body of research data that shows that arts integration can help struggling students learn standard curricula.

 715 | Public, Suburban
$7,451 District | $4,694 State
Data is from the 2010-11 academic year.
46% Free/reduced lunch
10% Special needs
7% English-language learners
39% White
34% African American/black
20% Hispanic
2% Asian

Data is from the 2011-12 academic year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Benefits of an Arts Education by the Arts Education Partnership

Integrating arts modalities into the academic curriculum is as important a priority as any issue facing American education.  For both the student and the teacher, the arts offer the opportunity to reflect on both content and process, and play an integral role in joining fact and meaning in a person's education.  Learning through and with the arts inspires the creativity and imagination that is so essential to think critically, love deeply, and to live fully in a diverse and complex world.
Check out the following link from the Arts Education Partnership that  "offers a snapshot of how the arts support achievement in school, bolster skills demanded of a 21st century workforce, and enrich the lives of young people and communities."

Preparing Students for the Next America: The Benefits of an Arts Education

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Principal's Research Review" Recognizes the Research on the Value of Arts Education and Arts Integration

The National Association of Secondary School Principals recognizes the importance of integrated arts education.  Click on the following link to read "The Arts: New Possibilities for Teaching and Learning" by Dr. Lauren Stevenson published in the Principal's Research Review: Supporting Principal's Data-Driven Decisions.  As we have said so many times, being able to cite the research gives authenticity and credibility to educators advocating for arts integration in the everyday curriculum.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Bridging the Gap Between Math and Art" Scientific American

We need to stop boring our students and work to instill a love of learning and an excitement to be in school. I become more and more convinced all the time that this is the foundation of a great learning environment-fostering a place where kids want to be. A place where they really want to come everyday. Is this a bit pie-in-the-sky? Maybe, but I choose to believe that we can make schools places that crackle with excitement instead of snooze in boredom.

I remember taking math in high school; I got good grades, but I was bored stiff! In fact I hated it and learned very little. It's not that I hated the subject; I hated the unimaginative methods used to teach it--ones that were mired in the outdated paradigm that we still throw at our kids today: drill and kill and make no relevant connections to why we were studying this stuff. Why do we do this to our students? Why can't we find the joy in learning? Why can't we put the reasons why we need to learn this stuff out on the table and make it relevant to their lives? And if we can't do that, then why are we teaching it to them? Is it because it's always been taught that way? Maybe the worst reason of all!

Okay, so what sent me off on this rant? A wonderful slide show called "Bridging the Gap Between Math and Art" in Scientific American, a magazine I'm liking more and more all the time (and science was another subject I hated in high school, so I'm feeling another blog post coming on with that one). These artistic renderings of mathematical principles and concepts are astounding and something that I would love to have done in my study of math, and something that I would guess most students would like to do rather than sit at their desks and solve problem after problem.

The caption to the project pictured reads:

"Mitered Fractal Tree I," by Koos Verhoeff and Anton Bakker

(This sculpture was awarded Best of Show at the Bridges conference.) "Mitered Fractal Tree (designed late 1980s, first executed in wood), constructed from a beam with a rectangular cross section in the ratio 1:√2. When this beam is cut at 45 degrees, the result is a square cut face. When this beam is cut twice at 45 degrees, where the cuts are perpendicular, the result is a "roof" consisting of two smaller square panels. On this roof, two smaller copies of the entire tree are grown. No two branches point in the same direction. The result is an awe inspiring organic structure that is both highly structured and chaotic."—Koos Verhoeff  [Less] [Link to this slide]

Koos Verhoeff (design) and Anton Bakker (construction). Copyright Stichting Wiskunst Koos Verhoeff. Used with permission.
All I can say, as I wrap this up, is I wish that someone had given me the opportunity to work on a project like this when I was studying math. But that's in the past, and I like to live in the present moment, so the positive takeaway from this is that we can do this now with the kids who are coming into our classes this September. Let's work on changing the paradigm!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thoreau Knew it in the 19th Century!

How much time do our students spend in their seats? A good question to think about as we move back into our classrooms. Another question is how many of them need to "move to think" as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us. Henry David Thoreau knew it back in the 19th Century as he wrote in his journal:

Get Moving!How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow--as if I had given vent to the stream at the lower end and consequently new fountains flowed into it at the upper. A thousand rills which have their rise in the sources of thought--burst forth and fertilize my brain. . . . Only while we are in action is the circulation perfect. The writing which consists with habitual sitting is mechanical wooden dull to read.

Take stock of your students when you go back to school and see which ones need to move around to get their thoughts to flow. The dividends may be huge.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Fear and Anxiety Effectively Shut Down Higher Order Thinking" from MindUP

As educators we are in the communication business--whether it's with students, parents, administrators, colleagues it doesn't matter. In order to communicate well, we need to have the language to help others understand. To that end I'm always on the lookout for cogent, succinct language that will make any point I'm attempting to make accessible to the given audience. Lately I've been on a search for such language to explain how stress, anxiety and fear will shut down learning. Mindfulness Educator Lori Corry gave me an insightful lesson and introduced me to the MindUP curriculum from the Hawn Foundation. Here's the language that I understood and think others may as well.

When we are calm and peaceful the filter [amygdala: an information filter regulated by our emotional state] is wide open and information flows to the prefrontal cortex, where the brain's so-called executive functions take place. On the other hand when we are feeling negative and stressed out, these executive functions, which provide cognitive control, are inhibited. Indeed information stays in the amygdala; it doesn't flow into the prefrontal cortex for executive processing. Instead it's processed right on the spot as fight, flight or freeze. In this way, fear and anxiety effectively shut down higher-order thinking (Scholastic 9).

So there it is: simply put and easily accessible. An important piece in getting ourselves and others to understand the importance of teaching mindfulness in our schools and having the research to back up what we are doing. If we can get policy makers to understand that social and emotional learning is just as important as core subjects, because they open up the learning pathways, then we'll be well on our way to improving learning and the well-being of our students.

The MindUp Curriculum. [brain-focused Strategies for Learning-and Living]. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2011. Print.