I recently spent the weekend finishing off the game the Last of Us for the Playstation 3. I had been meaning to play it for a while but the fact is I never had the time. After getting started I instantly got into the story and couldn’t stop thinking of ways to beat a certain level or even strategies to best use my player’s skills in the game play (I even asked my students for some hints as I was getting stuck). The one thing that stuck out to me as I finished was “How can we compete at school with the stimulation that these games are providing our students?”
As a computer programming teacher I instantly saw the connections that could be made and how we could spin a lesson out of video game design and storytelling, and then go on to create our own games. Unfortunately as a math teacher I was (and still am) stuck on the idea of how to get students into a subject that is often deemed one of the worst classes. I often try to being humour into the course and try to connect what we are doing to real-life and even popular media (singing all about the bass when working on power laws), but I want to further inquire about gamifying my classroom.
I feel that with the amount of students that play games (girls as well as boys), we could all benefit from the power of gamifying classrooms. Games provide that connection to our imagination and provide us with opportunities to try new things without being punished when failure occurs. Although I strive to make the learning zone in my classroom a fail-safe zone where students feel comfortable in answering questions even without full certainty, it is not the same feeling as with a game. Due to the fact the lives can come back and that you will not be judged on intelligence, failing in a game is much safer than failing in real life. I have tried to make “games” that have helped the students get interested in tackling problems and being successful in their own learning, but it is not the same stimulation that a game provides.
I have often thought about making the MAP4C class into a game of life or the SIMS, because they learn about buying a house, saving money, and planning for their future. I think the trouble lies in the delivery of content such as statistics (two-variable data sets, weighted averages, percentile ranks, etc.), exponent laws and exponential functions, and algebraic models (linear vs. quadratic vs. exponential graphs). There are the trickier topics that can demotivate students and I want to further explore how to incorporate these into the ideas that we have for personal finance, trigonometry and geometry. These are the questions that I have for myself and have for my colleagues who are further interested in making the courses more interactive like a game as that can help our students stay focused in this over-stimulated world.
It goes without saying that we will have to face the challenges of motivating students for a long period of time when they are developing shorter attentions spans. With games, smartphones, and Netflix we are becoming the most boring and least controlled element in the students lives. It is a difficult (but interesting) challenge although I am unsure of how we are able to compete or even teach the students content that they do not feel is applicable to their lives. Reaching the students and getting them to see the application of content in their lives is one of the greatest accomplishments but is also the biggest obstacle. We need to use the lesson of great video games: get them hooked to the story and the tasks at hand and they will want to continue attempting the work for hours (even days).
This year I have taken over a class after a month and a half of being taught by another teacher with a different mentality and different teaching style. It has been a tough three weeks for both the students and myself, but for the most part we are all getting used to each others tendencies. Included in the Growth Mindset approach to my teaching, I am trying to help my students (both that I teach and coach) about resiliency.
In the mixed level math class the students had a test from the last teacher that needed to be done when I walked in. I immediately worked on diffusing the anger and outbursts that the students had towards doing a test after not being properly prepared. We spent a few lessons ironing out any misconceptions, and my main goal was to instill confidence in their abilities. I knew that most of the students would be successful but needed to have the right mindset to do so.
As I anticipated, there were students who were not thrilled with the outcome of their test. I tried to talk to those students individually by letting them know that there is always a chance to improve and a chance to learn from our mistakes. From that day on, I saw a big change in some of the students and saw them fight through the troubles they had before. Just today I saw them face the challenges of the lesson with a positive attitude and with more courage to take risks.
I had a moment of learning resilience myself. I had a few bad lessons where students were not focused and they had a bit of attitude towards what we were doing in class. After having a bit of a hard time after school with what my next steps were I remembered what I told my students when they were struggling with things. I feel like it is something that new teachers often forget, to live by the words we teach our students. I know that after taking a step back and thinking about it, I was able to bounce back and realize that I need to show the same resiliency that my students showed.
This summer I had the unique task of teaching summer school but my class was a split class. I had a Grade 12 Advanced Functions group and a Grade 10 Academic group in a single room. At the start I was really nervous and feeling slightly overwhelmed at the task at hand. Worrying that the students would not be working if I wasn’t watching them all the time and trying to think about how I would give each group of students the time that they deserved were the initial thoughts I had.
The first day felt like a rollercoaster ride, simply because everything seemed to have just happened and I didn’t know how it had all worked out. That night I made sure that I went on to plan the day out better and to make sure I had structured my day to avoid that feeling again. Once the structure was set out by myself, the students felt more at ease and higher learning took place for most of the students. The next week and a half went much better although I know that if I am fortunate enough to do this again next year I will have a better idea of what to do.
Some of the big takeaways I found in this experience were:
- both sets of students developed their own routine in the classroom. Students knew when particular tasks were to be completed and they scheduled their time around it.
- students developed a level of respect for one another within the first day. When I was teaching one group the other would work quietly and not interrupt.
- Grade 12 students were given the opportunity to re-learn topics they may have not been as comfortable with (like factoring) without having to ask in front of their peers
- Grade 10 students could see the applications of the topics they were learning in the new context (I would also vocalize how the skills from Grade 10 were now considered to be skills they knew by Grade 12).
One of the big things I would like to do next time is try to create opportunities for the two groups to work together (have the grade 12’s teach the 10’s a skill, or even have the 10’s talk about what they are doing and work through problem solving). I was wondering if anyone out there has had this experience and has any ideas on how to make it less of two separate groups and more of one whole group.
Today I had the opportunity of supply teaching a history class that was completely self-directed. The students were creating blog posts on a particular topic in World History. The teacher left the link in the supply notes so that I could look at the posts if I was interested. I found that because the class was working hard I found myself captured by the posts and topics that the students wrote about. I even found myself reading these throughout the day because I was interested in the other posts that were available. Some of the students shared their view on the EU, Terrorism, Torture, and Global Warming, based on the research they have completed to show their new understanding. The class made me think about how much we have changed in terms of teaching and learning.
Teaching math I have found that I did not think of ways or redefining my class and then integrating technology into it. I have mainly used it for substitution and modification (through the use of new apps so students can continue to learn outside of the classroom). But from this class and the computer science class at my current school it has made me start to think about how to foster the power of blogging in my math class. I feel that this would be a fantastic way to have my students truly think about what they have been learning.
In my future classes I feel like I am going to use blogging or even forms more often so that we are using the power of technology to positively enhance student learning. I know that this year I have learned a lot about integrating technology and have tried to use it more often but I am still learning and growing like my students are when they learn something new.
One thing I never thought about in my own schooling and on my teaching placements was teaching students the value of perseverance. It is something I became more aware of when I worked at the college level as a teaching assistant and then again this semester when I started teaching the grade 12 college math course.
I think this post links well with my earlier post on growth mindset because I have been trying to implement the idea of “I can” in my students minds. Today was one of those days where I later realized that the teaching I did was more than just teaching math content. I felt like I was able to teach a bit of perseverance to my students today which positively affected those who put in the effort. I had a couple have those “ahh” moments that we hope to see a lot of our students have.
At the end of the class I made sure to let my students know that we did struggle at the start but when they kept pushing through we made it to solving the problem effectively. Before the start of class today I had a student come to get additional work because they were going home sick. This made me realize that I needed to congratulate my students on their efforts because they needed to know that I appreciated their hard work in a difficult task.
I feel like the two lessons yesterday and today gave them the confidence they required in a task that they usually had difficulty with. I have always strived to create a connection with my class so that they felt comfortable with taking chances, but I am still learning how to motivate them to consistently persevere in math.
In the past unit I taught on graphical models, the course focused on regression modelling using the TI-83 Graphing Calculators. Having used them myself during my high school education I was initially excited for the chance to use them in my own classroom. Unfortunately it was short lived when I went to the GAFE Summit and I decided to use the Chromebooks and the app Geogebra.
The first day I brought the Chromebooks into the classroom my students were slightly confused on how a math class could use the same technology they used in English and the Humanities. I introduced the program, created a help guide with Google Docs that they could access, and walked them through the new piece of technology (while assuring them that I was still a beginning user so we were learning together). After the class ended a lot of discussions arose about the unfamiliarity of the program and how some wanted to use the graphing calculators even though they did not fully enjoy those either.
After the third time we used the tech students who “mastered” the steps were able to help their classmates who did not fully understand how to produce the various regression models. To my delight students were more appreciative of the new tool they were provided and even found that their resilience was paying off. Great discussions in the class began about which model to use based on the situation and the R Squared value. I will admit I was delighted that this was working well and I began to share my new knowledge to my coworkers.
Students wrote their test and instead of the smiling faces or confident submissions I was expecting I found that students were confused and were very upset about their potential mark. I spoke to some students after the class to understand why they were not very happy with the way the assessment went and their responses initially shocked me. “We felt like we could produce the graphs and describe them, but we could not describe a graph that was provided for us”. I thought through the unit and looked at my plans only to realize that I focused a lot of the lesson on being able to use the tech and not as much time as needed on understanding the outcome.
As a first year teacher I realized that I fell into the bad trap of getting lost in the new tech and unfortunately created students who could follow steps instead of thinkers. One thing that I think will help me in my next attempt at using this is writing out a pros and cons list and a next steps list. I also started tracking what points students had difficulty with so I can prepare for these in future classes.
My question to those of you reading it is how do you prepare your students to be clearer thinkers rather than students who follow steps? (and this example above was a college level class that I am looking at helping develop deeper understanding)