You down with GPD? Yeah, You Know Me!

Good luck getting that out of your head!

What is GPD?  Gamified Professional Development.  Microcredentialing, badging, gamification… these seem to be the latest and greatest buzzwords in education.  Normally, I am immediately turned off by buzzwords.  For example: “21st Century Learning”… y’all, it’s 2018 – for the love of everything holy, let’s move on from that one, please!  “Innovation”… putting a worksheet in Google Classroom is NOT innovation, it’s a digital worksheet.  “Project-Based Learning”… doing a class project at the end of a unit does not merit the label of PBL.  I get frustrated because the buzzword becomes a “thing” and everyone rushes to do “the thing” without giving “the thing” any real thought or due diligence.

With that small rant behind me (I’m sure it won’t be the last though), I have to say I’m a huge fan of the move toward gamifying professional development.  For the first 8(ish) years of my career, professional development was the one thing I dreaded more than any other.  Give me all the paperwork, grades, conferences, faculty meetings, or any other <insert educational acronym here>, and I’ll do it with a smile on my face.  Give me some ridiculous professional development where I sit through an hour workshop of something someone with a higher pay grade than me thought I needed to know, and I was immediately rolling my eyes and mentally checked out.  I had numerous CEUs from professional development I’d attended, but hadn’t learned a single thing, other than how to refine my ability to pass notes more stealthily.  Then, Lucas Gillispie was hired by my district in 2014 and his first PD with us was #Education, in which I learned what I was missing in professional development.  I realized that I needed to personalize my professional development.  I immediately started using Twitter professionally and following the folks Lucas recommended following; my Twitter PD exploded from that moment.

I continued to learn from Lucas as a pilot participant in the gamified professional development he created called “EPIC Academy” in 2015.  I was immediately hooked by the aspect of a leaderboard and earning points!  Above all else, the learning that happened here was RELEVANT!  If the quest didn’t pertain to what I needed at the time, I just dropped the quest and chose something else.  I had CHOICE in what I learned.  The quests in EPIC Academy were designed to be bite-sized pieces of information.  Showing mastery of each bite led to another bite, and before you know it, you’ve created a product that shows mastery of something much bigger.

In 2016, Lucas asked me to come onboard as a quest designer for EPIC.  I was terrified as this was “his baby” and I wanted to be sure to maintain the level of awesome he had precedented, while keeping the “buzzword” aspect out of it.  I wanted to give each quest I designed the forethought it deserved, and have participants create a product that was relevant and useful to them and their learners.  I designed the quest chains for Augmented Reality and Digital Formative Assessment that year.  Since then, I have been privileged to design the quest chains for Digital Storytelling, BreakoutEDU, Digital BreakoutEDU, Teacher Productivity Tools, Classcraft, and BreakoutEDU 2.0.

EPIC Academy has taken off exponentially since 2016.  Lucas applied for, and was awarded, a Digital Learning Initiative Showcase Grant from the NC Department of Public Instruction to expand EPIC Academy, to connect and share the content to educators from across the state.  As part of this grant, Lucas designed a model for mentors to assist those in EPIC Academy.  As an EPIC Mentor, we support and encourage educators new to the gamified professional development world.

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I have watched this model flourish under Lucas’s leadership.  There are no educators in EPIC that were required to join; participation is completely optional.  With some of the latest buzzwords being “microcredentialing”, “badging”, “gamification”, I am thankful that EPIC Academy is untarnished by the effects of buzzwords thus far.  Through EPIC alone, I have gained over 8 Digital Learning Competency CEUs, but more importantly, my students and staff have been exposed to the benefits of Google Drive, Coding, Skype, Augmented Reality, Digital Formative Assessment, YouTube, Virtual Field Trips, BreakoutEDU, Flipgrid, Appsmashing, QR Codes, Game Based Learning, and much more.  My teaching has been taken to the next level, and my desire for continuing learning is piqued.  GPD is the way to create life-long learners of educators; the days of one-hour professional development is ancient history for me. So… who’s down with GPD?

The Secret to Coaching

For the past 4 years, I have had the pleasure to be part of an amazing network of educators from across North Carolina – the Digital Leaders Coaching Network.  Started in 2014 by the Friday Institute, this cadre of teacher leaders has been given tools to practice the art of coaching.  Over the past four years, we have engaged in multiple book studies, several personality tests, and more coaching scenarios than imaginable.  We have had guest speakers from across the United States and even internationally.  I have met some of the most incredible educators from across our state, educators that see themselves as leaders, educators that are the exemplar of growth mindset.  I have seen our group grow exponentially, both in attendance and in terms of professional growth of individuals that are taking part.  In 2014, there were a little over 50 educators in attendance, and there is so much interest that now we have two cohorts each year, both rocking a full house of educators!  Last year I served as a mentor in the east cohort (#eastisbeast, #bEastmode) and this year, I serve as a mentor in the west cohort (#westisbest).

There is so little professional development available for instructional coaches.  Without professional development, educators become stuck in a rut, not knowing what best practices are and how to implement change in their school.  This network has given me best practices, protocols, a professional learning network, and has changed the culture of both schools in which I have worked.  It has allowed me to grow from a timid first-year media coordinator to a confident innovation facilitator, leading a pilot that is changing the role of media coordinators in my district to formally include the role of a digital learning coach.  I teach all 400 students in my school in multiple subject areas, co-planning and co-teaching with their content area classroom teachers, as well as design and implement professional development for teachers in my school and media coordinators/innovation facilitators across my district.  I stay current with educational technology trends and bring those trends to my school through grant writing and working with research organizations.  Oh – and I also teach media classes once a month and hold open book circulation times every morning and throughout the day.  I also manage our 1:1 and BYOD initiatives in my school.  Without this network of tremendous educators, and the support of the leaders at the Friday Institute and NCDPI and NCTIES organization, so much of the change that has been implemented in my schools and district may not have happened.  This opportunity was certainly a catalyst for so much growth and forward momentum both within myself and my district.

Over the past four years, I have presented multiple times at our state technology conference (ISTE affiliate) NCTIES as a featured speaker, worked with amazing educators to share information about being a connected educator, coding in the classroom, and MinecraftEDU at NCCAT’s Teaching Generation Z seminars, accepted the challenge of piloting the Innovation Facilitator job description, and was elected to the NCTIES Board of Directors as the North Region Representative.  I was also named as a Future Ready Instructional Coach Thought Leader.  It is not a coincidence that all of this happened during my time with NCDLCN.  I felt more confident being part of this cadre, more prepared to face whatever may come my way, and more connected to those outside my district.

So with all of the time spent in the past four years of NCDLCN, what have I learned to be the number ONE secret to coaching?!  Relationships.  Everything boils down to relationships.  Relationships with your administration, relationships with your teachers, and relationships with the students.

When I first started coaching, I was so excited to change the face of education that I started as a bulldozer.  I went in and started making suggestions before I had even taken a second glance.  Rookie mistake.  I learned the hard way that I needed to work in my space first, changing what was directly pertinent to me, then building relationships and trust with administration and teachers around me.  Once I took a step back, and started informally meeting with teachers, listening to their ideas and encouraging their efforts, praising their strengths, I started to build the trust that is so vital to implement sustainable change.  Once my administration and the teachers I served trusted me, I was able to see change happen quickly.  No longer did I have teachers working with me to plan lessons because they “had” to as a mandate, but because they wanted to; they were excited to use the knowledge I could provide as a curator of resources and strategies.

How does one build relationships?  Slowly.  Spending one lunch period with a teacher, then giving them constructive criticism on a lesson is a recipe for disaster.  Informal time outside of school, emailing, social media, lunches on workdays… those nuggets of time are when the real relationships begin to form.  When you, as a coach, see a teacher excelling in an area, point it out to them!  As teachers, we (I still consider myself to always be a teacher first) are our worst critic.  To hear a fellow educator acknowledge a strength is a great motivator and relationship builder.  In my current position, it has taken me almost two years to feel as though I have a solid relationship in which I can have critical conversations with my staff without a long-lasting negative impact.

Where do your loyalties lie?  This is always a tough question!  Many times as a coach, we can become the go-between; administration needs us to share information with teachers, while teachers want us to share grievances with administration.  Do not, and I repeat, do NOT put yourself in that situation!  Make it very clear to both parties that you are not a liaison.  Your loyalties lie with the students you serve, both directly and indirectly.  One of the fastest ways to destroy a positive coaching relationship is to be seen as a coach that reports back to the administration.  With that said, when a teacher I am working with is doing something amazing, I will notify our administration.  However, if we are working through a hurdle, that stays between me and the teacher in question.  Everything we do as coaches is ultimately for the good of the students.  Placing your loyalties there can only yield positive results.

So there you have it – the secret to coaching, as gathered by multiple sources and personal experience.  Building relationships and trust, and taking preventative measures to keep those relationships intact, will propel you and your school(s) forward allowing you to see measurable and sustainable change.

What do you feel is the secret to coaching?  Comment below!  I’d love to have feedback and chat with other coaches!

 

How I Got My [Educational] Groove Back

It’s been 8 long months since I’ve been inspired to write a blog post.  I’ve been saying that I’ll get motivated and I’ll write, but it’s just not happened.  So many blocks, so many doubts… until I attended #PiedmontDLC hosted by Gaston County Schools last weekend.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t looking forward to getting up early to drive down to Gastonia.  The school was a little over 90 minutes from my house.  I was excited to see my edu-friends from across the state.  I was honored to be asked to present at this event and looking forward to learning with others!  I was stoked that Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate, would be in attendance giving the opening keynote and invitation only workshop (which I was invited to – woo hoo!), but even all of that wasn’t enough to make me jump out of bed on Saturday morning.  I even joked with an educator friend of mine that he had lost his educational “mojo” and we were going to spend the day at this conference getting it back.  I had no idea that the one who’d lost their “mojo” was me.

Upon arriving, I sought out the room I would be presenting in (I’m a planner like that), and began to prepare myself mentally to share with those who would attend my session.  I double-checked my materials and presentation, then meandered in to the opening session and keynote only a few minutes before it began after visiting with educator friends from across the state.  I had no expectations of the opening keynote, but I knew I had enjoyed the book Teach Like A Pirate when I read it several years ago.

In November 2014, I read the professional development book once on my Kindle upon the recommendation of a dear friend Lisa Milstead, agreed with the content that was written, and then moved on.  Then as a door prize at an edcamp in 2015, I won an autographed copy of the book, and read it again (careful not to mark in it because – hello – it was autographed!).  I was much more intrigued the second time I read it – I bought in to what this Pirate Dave fellow was selling.  I suggested a book study to my administrator who told me to run with it!  After contacting Dave and Shelley, we purchased books for each teacher in our school, including a copy that I marked up with highlighter and notes in the margins.  That year the theme in the media center was “ARGH you reading?” and every reading reward party was pirate themed (Pirate Party, Shipwreck Party, Sunken Treasures Party).  We even used the acronym PIRATE to encourage diversity in reading selection – Pick Interesting Reads And Try Everything.  I was energized!

Then… I fell overboard, so to speak.  I still agreed with the ideals and philosophy, the basic principles within the book, but didn’t practice them regularly.  I couldn’t find my enthusiasm, my passion.  I tried rereading the highlights and notes from the book study, and I tried following along with the #tlap conversation on Twitter.  I read a few of Pirate Dave’s blog posts, but I just couldn’t duplicate the energy I had found during my second reading of the book.

And then… Piedmont DLC happened.  The captain himself, Dave Burgess, shared his story.  I have never heard someone speak so fast in my life, with so much energy and enthusiasm, so much passion and excitement.  I was torn between rolling my eyes (hey, I teach middle school now – I’m a bit more cynical than I used to be) and being on the edge of my seat.  I was captivated by what Dave Burgess had to say.  I remembered reading the words, but this was a whole new experience.  In fact, I tweeted that I felt as though I’d been to church or something.  Here are some Twitter highlights from the keynote:

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After sitting through the keynote, I was so pumped.  I was determined to be the magic in our media center.  The creativity workshop he did with us later in the day was just as fabulous, but the keynote is what got me amped up.  It reminded me of my why – why I got into teaching almost 13 years ago.  It reminded me what is important – and to remain optimistic and passionate about my work.

If you’ve ever seen Dave speak, you know what I’m talking about; you know that church of the south altar call, hallelujah feeling I experienced.  If you’ve not ever seen him speak, get to a Pirate Keynote ASAP!  As for me, I’ve got a renewed sense of passion and enthusiasm for the work I do.  I’m asking more creative questions as I plan for lessons with my students and workshops with my teachers.  I’m working harder to reach every kid, wanting to do everything I can to help them love school & engage in conversation.  I’m reflecting on the experiences from this year, and asking for student evaluations, to make next year better than ever before.  So, Dave Burgess, here’s to you.  Thanks for helping me find the mojo that I didn’t realize I’d lost and for helping me get my [educational] groove back!

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Top 5 Must-Have VR Experiences

I have spent the past year using the htc Vive to help teachers give students experiences that they cannot possibly have otherwise.  Through this year, I have compiled a list of five of our must-have VR experiences in SteamVR.  (Note: I have not added pricing information as it can change, but check for sales!)  These are in no particular order as they all served their purpose extremely well!

Google Earth VR

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The Roman Coliseum in Google Earth VR

It started out shaky; I’ve got to admit that I hated it at first.  I was not a fan at all.  It made me nauseated and it wasn’t very user-friendly.  With the addition of the search feature and the newly rendered locations, I am in love with Google Earth VR, and so are my students.  We’ve used this in several classes.  We explored the Roman Coliseum, enjoyed a tour of London, and stood at the summit of Mount Everest.  We found and labeled various biomes, went to Pearl Harbor to discuss why this was so important to our military during World War 2, and of course as everyone does, found our school!

theBlu

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This was my very first VR experience and will likely always make my top 5 list.  It would have to be a mighty contender to knock this one out of the top five.  I used this with every science class to discuss different content in each grade level.  With one grade level, we discussed bioluminescence using the experience called Luminous Abyss.  In another, we used the experience Reef Migration to discuss water pollution and migration of animals.  Finally, using Whale Encounter we discussed the magnitude of the oceans and ocean water.  This is also my go-to for the first encounter for others in VR.  It is a quick experience that shows exactly how immersive today’s high-end virtual reality has become.

The Lab

thelab

This experience is brought by Valve, and has so many easter eggs included that it automatically makes my first list of top five.  I spent an entire afternoon just discovering easter eggs!  I have also used several of the experiences within The Lab to explore content from the classroom.  There is a human body scanner, which is fairly impressive to see the heart, brain, and lungs.  The solar system within The Lab is perfect to share inner and outer planets, planetary motion (both revolution and rotation), the asteroid belt, and to discuss size of planets.  Bonus – you can pick up the planets and throw them around like bouncy balls.  There is an adorable robotic puppy in The Lab that my students have loved playing with; he will even fetch!  Finally, and easily my favorite experience in The Lab is the Slingshot!  Imagine… you’re in a cardboard factory with boxes on top of boxes.  Placed between some boxes are loads of TNT explosives (yes, I know – so cool!).  You are given “cores” to calibrate, which just means that you are launching these spherical objects into the factory and the more damage you do, the higher your score.  Your score is given in dollars of damage! It’s great!  Two tremendous parts of this experience – tracer cores and core personalities!  Yep – there are boxes (they look like blue box fans to me) placed in the factory.  Hit one of those, and you can aim your tracer core shot – great for hitting the TNT in the distance!  In ELA, this game is perfect for point-of-view and characterization!  Each core has it’s own personality and talks to you.  They are hilarious, so turn up your volume!

Tilt Brush

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Another goodie from Google is Tilt Brush.  This experience is perfect for students to draw settings of stories, create 3d sculptures, generate nonlinear and linear graphs, and thanks to Jimmy Fallon – Tiltbrush Pictionary is a thing and can easily be done using vocabulary words in class!  This takes a few minutes of practice to learn the controls, but it is well-worth the time and money.

Water Bears VR

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Do you remember the app called “Where’s My Water?”  You had to dig through dirt to clear the route for water to reach a bathtub for an alligator… please say you remember that.  It was one of my favorites until I got stuck on a level.  Anyhow, this puzzle game is very similar.  You are given pipes and a water source, and these absolutely adorable animated gummy bear looking creatures in a bubble.  The goal is to use the pipes to move the water from the water source to the water bears to free the bears and move on to the next level.  It is super cute!  The levels get progressively harder and there is critical thinking and problem solving that must be used.  My personal favorite thing about the experience is catching the water bears when they are released and listening to their laughter at being released.

Bonus: Vivecraft

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Let’s face it.  I can’t just do 5 must-haves.  I’m sorry!  Go get Vivecraft and let your students build and mine on Minecraft IN virtual reality!  They get to experience it through the eyes of Steve/Alex!  How cool is that?  Want to make it even cooler???  The coolest thing my students did this year with Virtual Reality was to create their own splash pads to scale, designing in class, building in Minecraft, then experiencing in Virtual Reality using Vivecraft!  It was pretty epic and the students (and teachers) loved the experience!

Comment with your must-haves from SteamVR!

 

 

Virtual Reality: htc Vive vs Oculus Rift

One of the most frequently asked questions….

Which do you recommend: Vive or Oculus?

I will admit up front that I have a pretty in-depth knowledge of the htc Vive and a pretty limited knowledge of the Oculus Rift.  Which means this post may be totally biased.  However, it’s been asked and I feel the need to share.  Because I know it can be argued, I’d like to point out in advance that there are other options, but right now, these are the front-runners.  I will not address those I haven’t personally tried.

In the beginning, it was Oculus.  I never had the pleasure of wearing the first Oculus, but I hear the motion sickness was something else.  My first experience was the htc Vive.  I was finally able to try out the new Oculus a couple weeks ago.  Here is my verdict.

Headset: Vive

To me, the Vive is sturdier.  I’m using VR in education with 450 students and teachers and I’d like to know my headset isn’t going to break into pieces if a student hits it on accident.  I will say that the Oculus feels nice on because the headset is much lighter & it looks super sleek!  The Vive feels better on my face (using the included face cushion) and allowed less light in when adjusted.  The adjustments on the Vive are smoother and easier to handle than the Oculus.  The Oculus has a very small strip of velcro while the Vive has more substance to it.  I also like the headphones on the Oculus, which are adjustable.  However, the Vive has a port for headphones behind the head, and if the deluxe strap is ordered, it’s a moot point for Oculus.  So for overall headset, I’d have to choose the Vive.

Controllers: Oculus

I love the new Oculus touch controllers.  These were an incredible add to the Oculus headset a few months ago.  These touch controllers feel so natural in your hands, and are easy to maneuver in experiences.  I also love that in the majority of Oculus content, the controllers have the same commands using the controllers.  Another cool feature is that you can give various gestures (like a thumbs up, point, etc) using the touch controllers that you can’t give on the Vive (yet).  With that said, it’s not enough to make it an automatic Oculus win over Vive.  Especially since both have pretty cool haptics.

Room-Scale: Vive

One of the coolest things about the high-end virtual reality equipment is the ability to have a room-scale experience.  This means that you are able to move about the virtual room in the same way that you move around a physical space, with your feet.  Prior to this, it was teleport only through a button on a controller, or the motion of your eyes or head in the headset.  The ability to do room-scale VR is what set Vive apart from their inception.  The idea that you could actually walk around was amazing.  Now Oculus has leveled the field in this respect by offered room-scale using base stations similar to Vive. However, having used both of these room-scale options, I like the Vive best in this regard.  Both the Vive & the Oculus offer their base stations/sensors with the original kit, but while two base stations are sufficient for a good room-scale experience with the Vive, the Oculus really needs three sensors to give you an equal experience.

The Experiences: Tie

I hate when people do that on one of these “which is better” posts, but honestly… I have to here.  I would be very interested to know the opinions of my peers on this.  The limited experiences I have in the Oculus were pretty consistent with what I had experienced in the Vive as far as graphics, response, etc.  I don’t really use Viveport (the Vive platform) nor the Oculus Home (Oculus platform).  If I based the choice on my limited experience in both platforms, I’d have to give it to Vive. The Oculus Home doesn’t allow you to move about, and I desperately want to move to change the radio and look around the patio you’re on, but I can’t (yet).  Instead, I typically use SteamVR and search for VR enabled experiences only.  I look forward to seeing the Home and Viveport evolve though, as there is quite a bit of change coming it seems.

Overall: Vive

So overall, I’d have to tell anyone who asks that I’d recommend the htc Vive over the Oculus Rift – for now.  With the constant changes and the incredible advances in both the look of VR and the experiences offered, there are only awesome things to come in the future of VR in education!

 

 

What’s Inside Our Virtual Reality Lab?

Several people have asked what was placed in the Virtual Reality lab since a recent blog post, Media Makeover.  I thought it would be much easier to create a short blog post relaying this information.

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Virtual Reality headset: htc Vive – Included in the box are the headset, two controllers (with power adapters, lanyards and micro-USB cables), two base stations (with power adapters, wall mounting kit & sync cable), 3-in-1 cable, audio cable, ear buds, 2 face cushions, cleaning cloth, link box, power adapter, HDMI cable, USB cable, mounting pad, and various documentation.

Paint:  Sherwin-Williams Dynamic Blue

Lighting: Ikea Holmo Floor Lamps (Set of 3) & Philips Hue Lights Starter Kit

Base Stations: Two base stations come with the htc Vive.  We chose to mount them on tripod stands for portability (although we rarely move the set-up now).  We have a very small piece of masking tape with an “x’ on it to aid in quick set-up if the tripod is bumped or moved.  We also purchased mini ball heads.

Computer: Nearly any VR compatible computer will do.  Be sure your graphics card is ready to handle 1080p quality from the Vive & consider that you may choose to be running the Vive and two exterior screens (monitor & TV).  For exact US specs, check here.

Viveport vs Steam: We typically run Steam for all of our VR experiences.  The new home screen is pretty awesome, and the ability to switch environments and join with others around the world is an incredible improvement.

Futon: We chose the Mainstays Memory Foam Futon in black.  I would recommend any seating with faux leather that is easy to keep clean.

Banners: Lucas Gillispie designed and printed these using creative commons images & an online banner maker called Bannerbuzz

TV: We chose a 40″ HD TV with wall mount for students who were waiting to be able to see what the student in the headset was experiencing.  We found this allows those who can’t put on the headset for various reasons to still take part in the experience.  Virtual Reality is a tool to teach, so we want all students to have the same opportunity as much as possible.

We look forward to the new vive tracker and are interested to see what come from the TPCAST Wireless VR add-on.  Finally, keep an eye on the new Vive standalone VR headset.  Check out current information here.

 

Battle of the Books – Gamified

I gamified my Battle of the Books team using an online gamification platform.

I’m getting ready to upset a lot of people with my next statement.  I despise Battle of the Books. (waiting for the shame bell and rotten tomatoes….)  I realize some are 110% adamant about the benefits of Battle of the Books (BoB), but I struggle every year showing enthusiasm for something that I truly believe is detrimental to many students.  My reasons for not liking BoB? (So glad you asked!)

  • A required list.  Let that sink in… a REQUIRED list for reading.  I’m a huge supporter of self-selected reading.  I agree with the oodles of research that states that one way a student develops a love of reading is to choose their own books.  I – as many educators – want students to have a love of reading.  This is not only a required list, but a LONG required list.
  • TWENTY-SEVEN books for middle school in one year.  27 = 2 tens and 7 ones.  I realize these are usually phenomenal reads, but let’s think for a minute about how long is takes the average student to read one book, let alone 27.  Oh, and competition is typically before Spring Break.  This will immediately turn off many students who might otherwise be interested.  I believe it raises a concern of quality vs quantity here, too.  I’d rather see the students invest in half the amount of books, really internalizing their themes and learning life lessons through empathy for characters.  Who’s with me?
  • Retention rate of students throughout the year is low.  I may start the year with 20-30 students who show an interest in being on the BoB team.  Only 12 students are allowed to attend competition.  This isn’t typically a problem for me as I am lucky if I end up with 8-10 students on the team in March because the others choose to quit.  Why do they quit?  Read, Accelerated Reading test (don’t get me started), answer questions, repeat.
  • Let’s talk about those questions… “In which book is there a white house in the bend of a river?”  Honest.  “In which book does a character send a note to a friend through a nurse?”  True story.  How about we ask some real thought-provoking questions?  The white house was barely a blip in the story, and the note was sent to a friend because the girls weren’t allowed to see one another due to their race, so they resorted to passing notes through a compassionate nurse.  Let’s focus on what’s important in these books (like the reason behind the note, and not the note itself).

These are just a very few of my grievances.  Also in competition, we can always use the “we’re all winners” approach, but let’s be honest… unless you win & advance in a competition, you lose the competition.  Ever had to ride a bus back to school with a group of students who have spent all that time reading and studying mundane questions to have them come in last place?  Yeah – it’s not fun.

With all that said (my personal opinions), my district participates in BoB.  So… I participate in BoB.  Every year, I get a team together.  Every year, we continue the “read, answer questions, repeat” tradition.  Every year, I lose several students due to a lack of continued interest.  Last year, I decided to try something new.  I had dabbled in this idea while working at an elementary school, but really dove in this past year.  We didn’t practice from August until February.  You heard me.  No practice… My students had so many extracurricular activities, and those that really would have success comprehending the books were the students who were involved in Robotics, Drama, Debate, various athletics, etc, etc.  I agreed that if the students would read the books on their own and complete projects, we would meet virtually, with no physical practices until the final team of 12 was chosen – typically in late January, early February.

How did I ensure that the students were reading the books in the meanwhile?  I gamified Battle of the Books using Rezzly, formerly known as 3DGameLab.  This platform allows me to create quest chains in which students complete quests to earn badges, achievements, and rewards, which also equates to experience points (XP).  Each student who showed interest at the beginning of the year received the log-in information.  They learned about BoB through a quest, learned how to earn points through a quest, and learned how to earn additional XP through a quest.  For each book, there was a thought-provoking question and a short project (a service project, a research project, a collaborative project, etc) that must be completed in order to earn the badge and XP for that book.  I attempted to create questions that were similar to questions in ELA class, thus targeting specific skills as needed.  There were NO Accelerated Reader tests… I repeat, NO Accelerated Reader tests.  In order to keep the landing page from overwhelming students, they were presented with a quest called “Are You In” first.  This outlined the basic ideals behind BoB and presented them with the opportunity to opt out or opt in.  If they opt in, basic information on Rezzly was available as a quest, as well as a quest for their first book (usually a shorter book, or a book with a fairly straight forward project attached) as a starting point.  From there, it would spread as the branches of a tree, allowing the student more choice in selecting the next book.

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Examples of quests can be seen below.

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Upon completion of the question/project, they would submit the quest.  I was then able to approve or return the quest.  I would return the quest if it was evident the student struggled with the response (typically reflecting a quick skim of the book), and would approve if it was sufficient.  If the response was exemplary, the student earned awards, such as a gold coin, which earned additional XP.

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Various badges, achievements, and awards were given as additional forms of XP and bragging rights for those who earned them.

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As students completed all 27 books, they earned a Bookworm badge with 200 additional XP.  Then they were presented with new quests that encouraged students to think of comparisons and contrasts between two or more books on the list and reflect on those similarities and differences.  Finally, the top 12 students were chosen in late January/early February.  These were chosen with as much objectivity as possible.  Basically, the 12 students with the highest XP were on the team and would attend competition.  The top 6 students were designated as mentors.

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I must also mention that we had a guild (basically a virtual meeting space) available on our district LMS page.  This allowed us to have conversation in discussion boards, polls, and share our projects with one another on a virtual platform, which took the place of practice until the month before competition, freeing those students to participate in other extracurricular activities.  We met twice a week for the 4 weeks prior to competition to perfect the dynamics of the team and participate in mock battles.  After competition, we had a party, celebrating one another and what we had learned thanks to these books.  I guarantee you that my students learned more than there was a white house on the river, and they understood significance of a note being passed between these two girls.  We didn’t win the competition; they won so much more.