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20th January
written by admin

Each year I resolve to blog more frequently. I often wonder why I keep a blog if I don’t post to it regularly. Maybe I think of it more as a time capsule of my ideas and research. Or maybe I’m just lazy. I thought posting to my blog at least once every other week was a realistic goal. Looks like it might be once every two months. So I better make this a quality post.¬†

Lots of ideas lately. First, I was searching for others online who were interested in taking advantage of students’ interest in video games by creating a back-channel or gamer layer to my class curriculum and found Jess McCulloch’s very cool work in Melbourne. He’s even added the augmented reality layer by making his learning-game take place outside the classroom. Now, how do I take a typical Language Arts curriculum for 8th grade and create a digital game that takes advantages of things like earning XP (experience points), completing quests, unlocking special content, and collaborative/guild problem-solving all while stealthily improving their reading and writing skills? If there’s anything like this out there, somebody let me know. I attended the Games in Learning conference in London two years ago and once again I didn’t see that many teachers there that wanted to develop their own games. That day is coming soon when the game-developer will be in high demand by schools to build games for their specific curricular initiatives.

Last night, I spent far too long researching independent reading incentive programs. After a short search on the English Companion Ning, it appeared that Reading Plus and Scholastic’s Read 180 are leading in this area, yet neither of these use any type of game elements from what I could tell from their websites. Not that they need to. Getting kids to read independently isn’t going to happen if you rely on those token reward systems. But, a game environment that not only kept track of the books that kids read, but also provided appropriate texts from different genres and appropriate places online (blogs, podcasts, newspapers, magazines) would be one step in the right direction. Add to that a gamer layer where students work through a series of tasks that involves them accomplishing their own reading goals (total pages or minutes read) or a particular challenge like reading a classic novel and it’s more than just having kids collecting info on the books they’ve read, which is what I’ve tried with my students in the past when we used GoodReads. Maybe add in a component where kids can check their reading comprehension level and a tool that offers up a challenging set of books to read based on their reading comp score. I’ve tried using a blog for two years now and it’s just been so clunky that it hasn’t met my expectations.

Second idea involves on-going thoughts about e-portfolio systems and how to make the most of a laptop learning environment. Currently, I use Moodle for students to turn in most of their assessments. Moodle is great for this and for grading quizzes. Beyond that it does little to help me pull together the students’ work in one place where all interested parties (me, the students, parents, support staff) can easily reflect on it, notice areas of strengths and weaknesses and most importantly note evidence of making progress towards the learning standards for the year. What if you had one space, both on their computer and synced online, where each time they uploaded any of their summative assessment they would self-assess with a corresponding rubric and this would be stored in one place. While I’m assessing it, I can make notes of areas of needed review, link to online tutorials for remedial help, indicate where a student is on the standards-based reporting spectrum (below, approaching, meeting or exceeding) and offer any other feedback to the student. The key piece is that I can use the digital environment to keep a running record of areas of need much easier than I ever could with the paper-based system (or so I think). What if you had one page with all of the standards for the year and when you click on one, say Student is able to write an effective essay with a clear thesis statement supported by sound evidence and reasoning the assignments that’ve been tagged to SHOW that the student can do this instantly become available. This is what standards-based reporting is supposed to achieve. Isn’t it? This idea probably isn’t much fun for students so what if it was more of a thematic space based on essential questions or used a metaphor like a suitcase and you had items, such as a book or globe or calculator that brought you to the related works for those subjects. I just don’t think the kids will be excited about a portfolio until late in high school or college when they see the real value of it. What if you used an acronym like ¬†PICASSO (Personal Inventory of Creativity, And Self-Sustained Observations)? Kids would see it as a work in progress. Hey, what’s that you’re working on there? Oh, it’s just my PICASSO. Maybe. Sounds better than portfolio.

Lastly, two very quick shout outs of two new storytelling tools. Cowbird. One powerful image. One powerful story. I’m heartened that in this hyper digital age, it’s clear people still want to hear a good story. And there’s lots of people out there who have stories to tell. Friends over at the Center for Digital Storytelling have launched their first of hopefully many apps. SharedTime allows you to see a collection of stories about volunteering. I always found it hard to first find a collection of quality digital stories online and this app eliminates that search. Those folks in Canada know how to put together slick digital storytelling devices. Check out the National Film Board of Canada’s app!

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