MultilingNIST – a final project

I’ve been sitting at my laptop staring at the keyboard for the last few minutes.  Not sure where to start.  Wondering how that can be…this is it!  My final project post!  Almost two years since I started COETAIL, I’m finally here and I don’t know how to begin!

Still staring at the keyboard, I decide to outline my project very briefly.  My final project video describes each of my project’s parts in detail.  Probably too much detail – it’s 14 minutes long. I was so worried that I wouldn’t have enough to say, and somehow I ended up talking for longer than I needed.

Part One:

In an attempt to share information, resources, and ideas with the NIST community, I created (with lots of help from Tosca Killoran) a website, MultilingNIST.

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The landing page for MultilingNIST

Part Two:

Course 3 piqued my interest in storytelling, so I knew that I would include elements of digital storytelling in my final project.  Ever since seeing “Many Languages, One America: 25 Bilingual Children” by Stephanie Meade, I thought about how we could create a similar video at NIST to tell the story of our multilingual community.  I drew on the expertise of Amit, a multilingual Year 6 student, who videos and edits stories for “NIST News”, an elementary student run, written, directed, and produced news show.  Amit videoed my multilingNISTs using an iPad and our green screen and edited and produced @MultilingNIST, a story about the multilingual kids at NIST.

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Part Three:

As you can see on the MultilingNIST website, the focus for my final project is to connect our school community to help parents to foster, maintain, and develop multilingualism at home. To get started, I decided to create a video that offers parents 10 tips for supporting their multilingNISTs at home.  Amit took each of the photos and created the background music using GarageBand and we created the video together.

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My final project video

Without further ado, my final project video attempts to explain these three parts in more detail.

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Now I can breathe a huge sigh of relief that my final project is out there!  I’m looking forward to developing this project and connections with our parent community over the coming months. The great thing about COETAIL is that I now have the confidence, knowledge, and skills to continue to take my learning further.  Thank you for reading my blog, viewing the videos, and for being part of my PLN.  Until the next blog post, tweet, or face to face connection!

What a week!

Friday night: What a tremendous week finishing up my final project!  It’s Friday night and by 7:30 when my daughter was off to bed, I was so tempted to climb in next to her and fall asleep. But, I thought of my to-do list, and if I’m going to finish my project (I still have to complete my video!) by Monday, sleep will have to wait for a few more days.

A reflection on this week: I work with amazing educators at NIST who go above and beyond to support a friend.  My final project included teachers, parents, and students from across the school.  Everyone was willing to give up their time and energy, and share their knowledge with me so this final project could be successful.

  • Tosca Killoran, one of the Digital Learning Coaches at NIST, is the mastermind behind MultilingNIST.  She patiently showed me how to add content to the site and explained RebelMouse to me. Thank you for taking the time to teach me how to use these new platforms (if it hadn’t been for her, I would have built a wiki!).  Most importantly, thank you for constantly encouraging me and reminding me that “I can do it!”.
  • Luckily, I’m not the only NISTie/COETAILer working on a Friday night.  Since arriving at NIST last March, I have been supported in my COETAIL journey by David Garcia Fernandez. He’s always there to offer great words of support and always makes me smile.  Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 8.55.56 PM Thanks for being there, especially on a Friday night and for planting the idea in my head that a “wiki isn’t sexy”.  😉




The students at NIST are an incredibly talented group of young people, who speak multiple languages, are kind and caring, are risk takers, and are generally an awesome group of kids to work with.  I involved 12 multilingual children in my project, who are proud of the languages they speak and the countries they are from.  Amit, a multilingual Year 6 student, skillfully created a video using an iPad and a green screen and created the music and took the photos for another video we created.

  • So much of my final project grew out of conversations I’ve had over the months with friends and colleagues at school.  From tossing around ideas with Brighde  about how to get parents to understand the importance of their child’s mother tongue in their learning, to ideas about digital storytelling with my co-teacher Rachel (we will get there this year!), to how you can add “NIST” to the end of anything with James…all of these conversations and so much more have helped to guide and inform my final project.  Thank you!

My final project introduction: My goal is to share the story that NIST is an incredibly multilingual school and that our multilingualism is a force that we can use to enhance our learning.  I want parents to understand the need to foster, develop, and maintain their children’s mother tongues.  I want to share ideas of how parents can support their children’s multilingualism.  Our theme at NIST this year is “ConnectedNIST”, so I want to bring together children, teachers, and parents in my final project.  I’m hoping that my final project will only grow from here and that MultilingNIST will become a place where our learning community can share and learn.

Check out: MultilingNIST and follow us on Twitter @MultilingNIST





It’s been a long time

Honesty is the best policy…

I’m going to be totally honest, I have been neglectful of this blog and COETAIL since my family and I moved to Thailand last March.  I have a thousand reasons for not being as active as I could have been, but I’m not going to write about them here.  If you’ve read my previous post about our move, you can easily figure out why I haven’t been a very active blogger.

Even though I haven’t been blogging much, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been connected and continuing to develop my PLN.  I have been much more active on Twitter and continue to be amazed at the professional learning opportunities that I am presented with in the palm of my hand everyday!

Professional learning a few tabs away

The multiple tabs I have open at one time.

The multiple tabs I have open at one time.

As I am writing this blog post, I occasionally go back to my Twitter stream and have a quick skim.  If something really catches my attention, I’ll open it and read it.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned in the past 20 minutes…

1. Our Year 2 students learning about Thai Puppetry

2.  Ideas for a great 7 minute workout that can be done anywhere.

3.  Tips for creative breakthroughs

4. Some great pictures illustrating the history of the Berlin Wall.  25 years ago it fell and for my husband, who was 18 at the time and an East German, his world opened.

5. How one school in the US organizes their EAL programme.

6. What one of my former colleagues, Ashlea Mills, is thinking and proposing as her “moonshot” idea.  Please check out her blog and share it!

A few weeks to go

The November 24th deadline for my COETAIL course 5 project is quickly approaching.  While I have stacks to do and organize between now and then, my learning won’t end when I finally upload my final project video.  Being part of COETAIL, no matter how actively I blog or not, has been a game changer for me.  I continue to be passionate about learning to learn in today’s digital age.


Telling our multilingual story

As a dual citizen (American/Australian) soon to be living in Thailand as an expat, as the wife of a German citizen (but he hasn’t lived in Germany for more than 15 years) and the mom of bilingual (German/English), tri-citizen (Australian/American/German) daughter, I have a keen personal interest in all things related to culture, language, cross-cultural living and learning, and multilingualism.

One of my favorite online resources is a magazine called “InCultureParent“.  Stephanie Meade , the founder and editor in chief, recently posted “Many Languages, One America: 25 Bilingual Children“.  Stephanie created a beautiful video that gives a face and a voice to 25 bilingual American children.

I love this video and the story it tells!  It’s a great example of storytelling, especially for COETAIL course 3.  I plan to create a similar video to highlight the multilingual community in which I live and work.  Our school communities, no matter where they are around the world, are full of multilingual children.  Let’s give them a voice! Thanks to Stephanie for giving these 25 children a voice.


The Perfect Storm

Photo Credit: sharply_done via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sharply_done via Compfight cc

Garr Reynolds

I love reading Garr Reynolds’s blog, and I look forward to receiving his weekly blog update, as I know  I will learn something new and he will push my thinking to new levels.  A post from January 14, 2014 resonated deeply with me.  Reynolds shared an interview with Nancy Duarte of Duarte, Inc.  In this interview they discuss the creative process, working when you have children, getting into creative flow, and storytelling.

When they touch on the aspect of storytelling and being inspired, it made me think of how to tell our story for our final COETAIL project.  It’s worth watching to get into “creative flow” and to think about how to tell your story for our final project.   

But, what really resonated with me is when Reynolds talks about having children and working.  In his blog post he writes:

  • I’m much less productive professionally than I was before my daughter was born over three years ago, but I think I have a greater sense of purpose and a clearer idea about what’s important and what is not. Since having a son almost two years ago things have become even more hectic, but also more rewarding. I think that having children has somehow changed my brain.
  • I still get frustrated sometimes because I want to produce more professionally and to do much better work — to make a significant contribution — but I also do not want to be away from my children. One important thing my children have taught me is to appreciate each moment more, even the seemingly inconsequential ones.

Finally back in the COETAIL game

You see, this is exactly how I feel.  My daughter was born almost four years ago, and man, how things have changed!  This, however, isn’t a blog post about trying to balance life, work and family.  It is, instead, an explanation as to where I have been since December and where I am at in terms of my COETAIL final project.  

In a previous blog post, I wrote about all of the changes that are happening professionally (a move to NIST International School in March) and personally (moving our family from Melbourne, Australia to Bangkok).  In December we took an extended family holiday to spend time in the USA and Germany.  I thought I would have plenty of time to catch up on professional reading and learning and to be an active member of the COETAIL community.  But, the perfect storm struck (no, not all of the snow and the Arctic blast we faced on the East Coast of the USA): uninterrupted periods of time with my daughter and husband.  Reynolds and Duarte talk about the importance of having uninterrupted periods of time to get into creative flow and to be productive.  This is exactly what we had as a family!  Precious time together without the pressures of day to day working life.  So, I didn’t manage to do all of the professional reading I wanted and I didn’t manage to be a very active member of the COETAIL community.  But, now I’m back in the game.  

Where to from here

We are back in Australia for a few weeks before our big move to Bangkok.  We are busy preparing for our move: selling off some of our possessions (I sold the car on the weekend!), sorting through our stuff, spending time with friends, and enjoying everything we love about Melbourne.

Up until now, my COETAIL activity  has been limited:

  • I’ve been lurking (sorry!) on the COETAIL site and our Google+ community to learn about all of the cool projects that everyone has on the go.  I will get back in the game and be more active and supportive.  You have my word.
  • I’ve been in touch with Jeff who reassured me that my project will come together when I’m on the ground in Bangkok, and if it doesn’t, I can do it next school year.
  • When I was in Germany I had a great Google hangout with Vivian Chow and Verena Zimmer.  We shared ideas about our final project and got to know each other a bit via the hangout.  It was especially nice for me-the time difference between Melbourne and the rest of the world can be tricky sometimes, so it was great to be in the same time zone.  I know this will get easier once I am in Bangkok, so I look forward to more hangouts with COETAILers in Asia.
  • I have also been in touch with my future colleagues at NIST and have learned more about the year level I’ll be working with (Year One!) and technology integration and use at the school.  I have decided that it’s best for me to wait until I am at school and meet my colleagues and students before embarking on my project.

Highlights of our Perfect Storm



On the road again

Photo Credit: .craig via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: .craig via Compfight cc

Course 5 Final Project

This last post of course 4 is meant to be all about my ideas for my COETAIL course 5 project.  I’m meant to think about the following questions and answer them.

  • Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

  • What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

  • What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

  • What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

This all seems straightforward enough, doesn’t it?  These questions should be easy to answer; we’ve had four fantastic courses to get us ready for course 5.  I am brimming with ideas and areas that I’d like to explore in more depth, but the one that I’m most interested in is the flipped classroom.  I’m keen to try it out and see what happens.  So, now that I have a focus, you must be wondering why I’m not just answering the questions, finishing my post, and getting on with my school holidays! The answer is simple: change.

On the road again

In a previous post, I wrote about how much I love change.  I ended that post talking about the changes coming up in my life…changing jobs, moving schools, moving countries!  My family and I are in the midst of some major changes.  We are moving from Melbourne back to Bangkok in the middle of March.  For the last 8 weeks we have been busy clearing out our house, selling our possessions on eBay, planning for our move to Bangkok, getting ready for a 6 week trip around the world (Australia-USA-Germany-Thailand-Australia), selling our house (sold it on the weekend!), finishing up the school year for me and a four year project for my husband, saying goodbye to colleagues and friends at work, helping our 3.5 year old daughter understand what’s happening (why people keep coming to our house t “to take” our things!), and doing all of the other things that you normally do day to day.  It’s all been a bit hectic and crazy, but our to-do list is getting shorter and shorter.  We’re looking forward to a holiday with our families before coming back to Australia in February to finish preparing for the move.

My new position

I’m changing my role from Teacher Librarian back to EAL teacher/coordinator, and I couldn’t be more excited!  I’ll be working at NIST International School in the heart of Bangkok.  Thailand, and particularly Bangkok, are very special to us, as I met my German-born husband there in 2003.  We are so excited to return to Bangkok, for me to return to NIST, and for our daughter to attend school there.

The Course 5 Project

NIST is an incredibly supportive school and I know that my participation in COETAIL is highly regarded (there are a number of former COETAILers at the school), so I will have a supportive and experienced group of educators to call on once I arrive.  I’m hoping that my project will become clearer once I’m “on the ground” at school and I get a feel for my position and the learning community I’ll be a part of.  Until then, I’m finding it difficult to imagine answering the questions and really nailing down my Course 5 project for a new school, position, and most importantly, new students whom I haven’t met.

What do you think?  Do you have any advice?  I’m open to any and all suggestions…to do with any of the changes going on in my life at the moment!






Solution Fluency

In thinking about Problem-Based Learning, I have decided to reflect on one of the best professional learning experiences I had this year: a one day workshop with Lee Crockett  in Melbourne.  Lee is the Managing Partner of the 21st Century Fluency Project and co-author of several books, including one of my favorites, “Literacy is Not Enough” .

In the book, Lee and his co-authors, Ian Jukes and Andrew Churches, argue that for learners to be competent and capable in the 21st century, they need a completely different set of skills from those that were needed in the past.  They identify and explain the fluencies (Solution Fluency, Information Fluency, Creativity Fluency, Media Fluency, Collaboration Fluency, and Global Digital Citizenship) that learners must use and apply.

The 6 D’s of Solution Fluency

In our one day workshop Lee focused on Solution Fluency, a process of 6 D’s, which allows learners to solve any problem they encounter.

The 6 D’s:

Define: Identify the problem and plan where to go before starting.  Skills include restating or rephrasing the problem, challenging assumptions, gathering facts, and considering the challenge from multiple perspectives.

Discover: This is the exploration stage.  Skills include determining where the information is, skimming, scanning, and scouring the information for background filtering, and taking smart notes.

Dream: Dream is a whole-mind process, one that allows us to imagine the solution as it will exist in the future.  Skills include generating wishes, exploring possibilities, and imagining best case scenarios.

Design: This is the process of gap analysis, breaking out all the necessary steps to get us from here to there.  Skills include having a clear idea of how to do the task, starting with the end in mind and building steps backwards, and writing instructions in small increments that are easy to follow, positive and logical.

Deliver:  Putting the plan into action and making the dream into a reality is delivering the solution. There are two components: produce and publish.  Skills include identifying the best format for presenting and using that format to present the information or solution to the problem.

Debrief: An opportunity for students to self and peer assess; it’s a chance to look at the final product and the process to determine what was done well and what could have been done differently.  Skills include reflecting on the process and the product, acting on the reflections, and internalizing the new learnings and understandings.

The process of Solution Fluency is not a linear one, but a cyclical one.  At any stage, learners may need to revisit a step in the process.  A teacher needs to guide her students and offer feedback as the students work through the steps.  Lee argues that an understanding of Solution Fluency will allow students to face problems, not only within the classroom, but also in their personal lives.

A video from Lee Crockett explaining Solution Fluency

The tallest free-standing tower challenge

In our one day workshop with Lee, he spent part of the morning setting the scene for the 21st Century Fluencies; he gave a very limited overview of the 6D’s of Solution Fluency.  He then presented us with a problem to solve: each table group had to construct a free-standing tower, using newspaper and masking tape.  In addition, we were challenged to construct the tallest free-standing tower.  He gave us a limited amount of time.  My table group jumped into the task and were focused and determined on solving the problem, without thinking too much about process. We quickly defined our problem; we did very little discovery; we skipped the dreaming step completely; we designed in our heads; and we spent most of our time, energy and focus on delivering the tallest free-standing tower.  It was in the debrief where we sat back and thought about the process and reflected on our motivations and our thinking.

A danger and a solution to that danger

Our table was so focused on delivering and building the tallest tower that we missed the opportunity for crucial learning and understanding.  This is a possible danger that I see with problem based learning: students just want to solve the problem and in doing so, they lose sight of the process.  The opportunity for learning, growth and understanding is overshadowed by solving the problem.  The best way around this danger is to allow students to be the problem posers so that they are invested, connected and care about the problem they face.  This is inquiry learning at it’s best-when students pose the problem and then go about finding the answer(s) to that problem.

There are so many different models of inquiry and multiple ways to understanding, but I really like the 6 D’s of Solution Fluency, as it is an excellent process and provides good structure and language. If you haven’t already checked out the 21st Century Fluency Project , do it!  I promise it won’t disappoint.

The times they are a-changin’

“The line it is drawn 
The curse it is cast 
The slow one now 
Will later be fast 
As the present now 
Will later be past 
The order is 
Rapidly fadin’ 
And the first one now 
Will later be last 
For the times they are a-changin'”

Bob Dylan, 1964

Change-love it or hate it-that’s how most people feel.

love the idea of change.  To illustrate how much I love change, I’ll outline one of the craziest periods in my life: in a span of 7 months, my now husband and I moved from Ukraine to Indonesia in late February 2006 (my husband started a new job and opened an office in Bali from scratch), got married in Germany on 11 March 2006, had another wedding celebration in Thailand in July 2006, and moved to Melbourne, Australia in August 2006 (when my husband started another new job). While I do love change, at the end of this 7 month period, I was happy to settle and not have so much excitement in my life!

“The only constant is change.”-Heraclitus

1. “Will education as we know it change because of technology?”

This is easy to answer-yes!  In fact, the education “times are a-changin'” daily. In the three years that I have been in the role of teacher librarian/information literacy specialist, I have witnessed and have participated in a number of changes.

Some highlights:

1.  Blogging: whether students have individual blogs or contribute to a class blog, writing instruction has changed.  The audience has widened and the purposes have varied.  Students and teachers are able to connect with and learn from others around the world, all through blogging.

This article from Wired magazine outlines how successful networks nurture good ideas.

  • The fact that so many of us are writing — sharing our ideas, good and bad, for the world to see — has changed the way we think. Just as we now live in public, so do we think in public. And that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge. -Clive Thompson

2.  iPads: we are a 1:1 iPad school in Years 5 & 6; next year we will be 1:1 in Years 3-6.  Working in a 1:1 environment has allowed for more individualized and differentiated instruction.  The next change I would like to see is one where students can bring devices of their own choice and can choose the device based on their need.

3.  Google Apps: beyond fantastic!  What more do I need to say?  My school recently introduced Google Apps in Year 6, so we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible, but the collaborative, online nature of Google Apps is a game-changer.

4.  COETAIL: building a professional learning network through COETAIL and being connected to other educators around the world has been a massive change in this last year.  I can choose when, how and what I learn, so my learning is relevant, on-time, useful and practical.  Also, COETAIL has allowed me to experience the connected, online world that my students live in.  It’s allowed me the chance to “walk the walk and talk the talk”.  At EduTech 2013 in Brisbane, Gary Stager said, “You can’t teach 21st century learners if you haven’t learned anything yourself this century.” Provocative? Yes!  True? Yes!  And, thanks to COETAIL, I’ve had the chance to learn, learn, and learn some more in the 21st century!

These are just a few of the highlights of change that I have witnessed and experienced in the last three years.  There are many, many more.  What about you?  What changes have you experienced?

2. Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?

Answering this question isn’t as easy as the first one.  Imagine what happened in my life in a 7 month span.  Forget what can happen in the next 15 years!  But, along with change being a constant, I hope that a few other things remain constant: that I continue to be a learner, an inquirer, a risk taker and a networked educator.

The blog post “Are we in an age of collective learning” by Rotana Ty is a curation of ideas exploring aspects such as “collective learning”, “learning flows”, “collective sense making”, and “mindfulness and learning”.  It’s well worth the time reading the post, especially when thinking about the ideas explored in this week’s big idea of connectivism learning theory.

What do you think?  What will your learning environment look like in 5, 10 or 15 years time?



Finding balance while flipped

Photo Credit: liber via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: liber via Compfight cc

Balancing while flipped upside down.

It takes skill, precision, knowledge and experience. Like any balancing act, it can provide tremendous rewards.  The art, of course, is in the balance and it’s this balance that I’d like to focus this week’s post on.

I’ve enjoyed this week’s readings and learning more about the flipped classroom.  I’ve been interested in this idea since I started COETAIL and even added flipping some of my instruction to my possibilities list.  It feels like every time I open my ASCD Smart Brief email or ScoopIt update email I read something about flipped instruction.  When I attended the EduTech conference in Brisbane in June 2013, one of the keynote speakers was Sal Khan of Khan Academy.  I attended a session led by Alan November who spoke about the benefits of flipped instruction.  Given all of this, I think it’s impossible to ignore the flipped classroom.  It is a methodology that teachers need to investigate, understand and possibly experiment with.

Getting the balance right

For me, flipped instruction doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach.  It can be part of my teacher’s toolbox and used when the need is there.  When I initially thought about the benefits of the flipped classroom, it was in relation to my Year 6 lessons.  My intent is to flip some of my instruction (skills based) so that if students miss a lesson due to illness, a music lesson, or any other reason, they can stay up to date and informed.  Moreover, students can follow through with the skill instruction in their own time and watch a video (for example-I understand that there is much more to the flipped classroom than videos!) over and over until they understand something.  No one needs to know how many times they watched the video until they understand what they need to do.  I love that!   In addition, I love the fact that a flipped classroom is archived and a permanent record exists.

Tim Gascoigne shared the glog What about younger learners? Flipped classrooms vs. flipped teaching and the question, “What is the best use of your class time?”, is posed to get teachers thinking about what can be shifted to outside of class time.  Teachers should always be asking that question, whether thinking about flipping instruction or not, but it does serve as a nice reflective question when considering the flipped classroom.  Again, the classroom doesn’t have to be completely flipped…find the balance and implement it when necessary…a balancing act that is sure to offer rewards for learners and teachers.

Resources I found useful

I really like the article, The Flipped Class: What it is and what it is not,  from the Daily Riff.  It is a concise piece outlining the myths and truths about the flipped classroom.  Here are the highlights:

The Flipped Classroom IS:

  • A means to INCREASE interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers.
  • An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning.
  • A classroom where the teacher is not the “sage on the stage”, but the “guide on the side”.
  • blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning.
  • A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities such as athletics or field-trips, don’t get left behind.
  • A class where content is permanently archived  for review or remediation.
  • A class where all students are engaged in their learning.
  • A place where all students can get a personalized education.

All of these bullet points are important to me as a teacher, so flipping instruction, in a balanced way, can be part of my toolbox.

I like this short video with Jon Bergmann (his website is a treasure trove of information.  If you haven’t checked it out, do it now!)

A New York Times article about “Mastery Learning”

Back to my possibilities list

It’s now the end of the school year in Australia and I have not had the chance to flip some of my classes as I intended back in February.  But, armed with more learning and more understanding of what a flipped classroom can be, it’s back on the top of my list!  I’m mulling over the idea for my Course 5 final project.  Lots to consider and lots to think about, especially as I’m changing schools, jobs, and countries!

It all started and stopped with the Atari 2600

The Atari 2600-the extent of my gaming experience.  It started and stopped there.  Given my limited experience with computer/online games (I don’t check in on foursquare; I don’t play candy crushwords with friends, or angry birds.), this week’s focus on gamification and game-based learning has really challenged me and has caused a lot of tension for me.

It’s not my hook but I have to give it a go

When Rebekah Madrid said in her Learning2 talk that “gaming doesn’t hook me”, I cheered! It doesn’t hook me either.  I just don’t get it.  I can think of a thousand things I’d rather do than play a computer game (Jane McGonigal‘s staggering statistic that people spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games is unbelievable to me-who has the time to play online games?!).  But, when Rebekah went on to say, “most of us became teachers to share our passions, but sometimes, we have to spend a significant amount of time learning about their (students’) passions, and being honest about it … being learners in the spaces where they are passionate, even if we are really uncomfortable”, I knew she was right.  I always tell my students that when you’re uncomfortable and feeling a lot of tension, the best learning can happen.  The tension can push you forward and feed your curiosity to find out more.  This is where I find myself now-in a state of utter and complete uncomfortableness-wondering how I’ll ever be able to move my gaming experiences beyond Donkey Kong and Frogger.

Gaming and connections to my life

The more I learned about the concept of gamification (adding game-like concepts to a learning process), the more I started to make connections to my own life and my beliefs about teaching and learning.  I drew inspiration from Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World”  and drew parallels between what she says gamers are good at and my own life.

CrossFit Parallels

As a keen CrossFitter, my workouts are gamified and the leaderboard at the box is an example of gamification.  At CrossFit, there’s a great sense of:

  • community and trust (you always cheer on the last person to finish)
  • optimism (you have the feeling that anything is possible after a grueling session)
  • productivity (you’re able to accomplish so much after a workout)
  • epic meaning (epic basically describes CrossFit sessions!)

McGonigal argues that gamers are also good at these four elements and once they see the connections between games and real-life problems, they will be able to change the world.

Teaching and Learning Parallels

The Institute of Play has a nice explanation of the history of games and learning.  I believe we (children or adults) learn best through inquiry, exploration and discovery that is self-driven.  So, of course, when I look at the idea of gamification through my beliefs about learning, it makes sense. The Institute of Play has another good explanation, “why games and learning”, that resonated with me.  I especially like the fact that they refer to games of all types: board games, physical games, puzzle games, online games, console games, mobile games, etc.

In the paper “Play As You Learn: Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners“, Ian Glover makes the point that “the act of gamifying an educational experience alone is not
enough to make the experience rewarding, instead it should serve primarily to make something that is already rewarding more rewarding – perhaps by encouraging learners to invest more time than they otherwise would.”   I love this statement, as I believe it is a warning for us not to go overboard in gamifying everything.  As with all aspects of life, learning and teaching included, there needs to be a balance in approach.  Gaming can help to motivate learners, but as teachers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we nurture a learning community which fosters curiosity, creativity, inquiry and lifelong learning.  


While researching gamification and game-based learning, I came across the idea of using badges quite often.  Once again, I really don’t get it.  Badges?  In the articles and blog posts I read, they were referred to as the “old sticker chart”.  Really?  The old sticker chart?  As a way to motivate learners? What happened to inquiry and self-directed learning?  What happened to fostering curiosity and passion?  Surely, there must be another way to motivate learners.  So, for inspiration, I watched one of my favorite Ted Talks again.  Dan Pink on motivation.  Watch it and then let me know what you think about using badges.

I don’t mean to be so hard on the idea of badges, but I seriously can’t wrap my head around how they would motivate learners.  They just seem like a big electronic sticker book to me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and any experience you may have with using badges.  Like I said, this is a serious area of tension for me, so I’m keen to learn more and find out more about the application of badges in teaching and learning.

Moving beyond Donkey Kong and Frogger

I’m still wondering how I’ll move beyond my experiences with gaming to those my students love and play.  I’m certainly open to the idea of using game-based learning (still not so sure about badges, though!) and I know that I have to give it a go.  I have to play a few in order to understand (even just a little!) the world in which my students operate.  If you have any ideas to help move me beyond the Atari 2600, please let me know!

Some articles I found thought provoking

MindShift: “Dan Pink: How Teachers Can Sell Love of Learning to Students”

  • The same principle applies to the big trend in games and learning, which sometimes results simply in rewards for rote knowledge and memorization. Games have the potential to make math more relevant or engaging, Pink said, but if they lead to standardized thinking about getting to the one right answer, that can be problematic. It’s the carrot and stick thinking vestigial of a bygone era. If the only aim of a game is for points and badges, the game has little benefit for the player. For a game to be compelling and a good source of learning, it should be capable of providing rapid, robust, regular, and meaningful feedback. Social gaming, such as Minecraft, is one instantiation of this kind of salient feedback, Pink said.

Edutopia: “Game-Based Learning Units for the Everyday Teacher

  • GBL can be more rockstar when using technology, but it is not a requirement. No, GBL is not simply using games in the classroom. It is about making a rigorous unit of study a robust game, not just one day, where multiple games and challenges are used to explore concepts and learning targets in depth.

Edutopia: “Get Your Game On: How to Build Curriculum Units Using the Video Game Model”

  • You must use the Understanding By Design principles to effectively plan the GBL unit.

TeachThought: “A Six Step Process for Adding Gamification To Your Classroom”

MindShift: “Girls and Games: What’s the Attraction?”

  • Game developers and academics who have been studying the elements that go into making games more attractive to girls found that those very same qualities are also important components of learning. For instance, girls are more drawn to games that require problem solving in context, that are collaborative (played through social media) and that produce what’s perceived to be a social good. They also like games that simulate the real word and are particularly drawn to “transmedia” content that draws on characters from books, movies, or toys.

A game I could use with my students

Digital Passport from Common Sense Media