I am reminded of Salman Khan's TED talk this week. Before he started tutoring the world through the Khan Academy he was tutoring his cousins. After uploading his first videos to YouTube they told him that they preferred the video version of him to the actual version. I have heard the same thing from some of my students. However I would imagine that it went both ways for Mr. Kahn. It is much easier to create and upload online lessons than it is to interact with students that are struggling with difficult concepts or learning how to learn. I know this sounds silly but the one thing I didn't expect in my classroom this year was how much teaching I would be doing.
I just finished the sixth day of my new classroom and it feels like the sixteenth. The new format of the class has compressed the first three weeks of the class. I know which kids need extra help, which kids are geniuses and which kids are going to struggle on the first test. I am spending hours each night keeping ahead of the fastest students and quality time in the classroom working with kids that need help.
Before I get too far ahead of myself I thought I should detail the features of the class. My entire classroom this year is an alternate reality game called Biohazard 5. I grew up in the eighties playing video games and I continue to play the occasional game of Angry Birds or Tiny Wings. I think that schools can learn three important lessons from video games.
- School should be fun. Most high school students love coming to school because that is where their friends are. Unfortunately most of the classes are a passive, teacher-centered learning environment.
- Failure is good. Making mistakes in a video game is generally encouraged. It is the only way to get better at a difficult skill. Sometimes I will fail 50 times before passing a level of Angry Birds. If I lost points everytime I failed I would never keep playing. I just hit re-load and try it again.
- School should be leveled. In a typical classroom the entire class must be at the same level at the same time. Imagine how frustrating it would be to play Angry Birds with a group of 30 people who must stay at the same level. Half of the students would be frustrated and the other half would be bored.
My new class uses a mastery system and so failure is encouraged. If they fail a quiz or a lab they simply repeat it until they have mastered the system. This automatically creates a system that is leveled. I have a few students that are on level 7 (Essential Characteristics of Life are Conserved) a few students that are still on level 4 (Genetic Drift) and the majority of students on level 5 (Evidence of Evolution). The students have all assumed playernames and they chart their progress on the constantly updated class leaderboard. All of the students currently have an F in the class but they will move up throughout the semester to achieve the Rank (i.e. grade) they want. The class leaderboard includes the top 25 scores in the class, an anonymous histogram of all the scores, and a Class War page that compares each of my three classes.
I stole this grading rubric from Lee Sheldon, a game design instructor at Indiana University who has created an alternate reality game in his classroom. I added the biology-inspired ranks. All of my students are currently Primordial Soup but they aspire to be Grandmasters. He has created a Gaming the Classroom blog that you can view by clicking here.
Two thousand possible points will be available this semester and so a student that is able to accrue 1700 points will achieve the Rank of Narwhal and the grade of B. Half of the points come from the game and half of the points come from the summative tests. Each level requires RSVP80 to move on. Student must do the reading, complete the special task, watch the video and complete the problems. They must then pass the final quiz with a score of 80%. Students are encouraged to collaborate on everything, except the quiz at the end of the unit and the summative tests they will reach along the way. I am using Moodle to run the game.
In Level 5 the students have to do about five pages of reading, complete the great chad hunt, watch my podcast on evolution, complete some practice problems and pass the quiz. Students get general feedback after taking the quiz but I have established a four attempt max. The great chad hunt consisted of finding paper disks of varying color (chads) that I had scattered around the room. They enter their data into a Google form and it is automatically added to the classroom data. You can view the data so far in the following graph. The white and green chads show wonderful camouflage and I continue to find them throughout the class.
Update: The class is officially entering the fourth week. The students did well on the first test and I am continuing to see a high level of engagement. I was able to meet with each of the students yesterday during the class. Many of them told me that they enjoy the autonomy of the class and they are learning how to learn. One of the best parts of my new class is the sub plans. I will be gone for the next four days and my sub plans were simple:
- Here is the key for the iPad cart.
- The kids know what to do.