#DBC50Summer 10/50: Explore Like A Pirate

Storytime! (If you’re not into stories, feel free to skip ahead a bit – I’ll let you know when to stop; otherwise, read on.)

When my youngest daughter was born, we were thrilled – as second-time parents usually are. I emphasize second-time because we knew what we were getting ourselves into.  The anxiety and life-altering commitment of BECOMING PARENTS is eased with the second child.  Naturally there are several other fears, but much like the Luvs commercials… “You live and learn, then get Luvs.”  Although, for the record, we were Pampers Swaddlers kind of people.  I know you are wondering how in the world this has anything to do with #DBC50Summer, but give me a minute. Surely by the blog on Book 10 you have a little more faith in me.

So our youngest daughter, Sophie, is the spitting image of my husband. Dark complexion, brown hair, round face, his eye shape… but she has my bright blue eyes. We knew she was completing our family, and we were done having kids, especially with my medical history.  No questions asked, the shop was closed.  Let me just tell you… if we didn’t know before, we knew the second we brought that little girl home.  She screamed for (I swear I’m not exaggerating here) 8 MONTHS! The only time she wasn’t crying was when she was sleeping, and sometimes she cried in her sleep.  She is now five years old, and still has a delicate temperament.  Some things just set her off… and there is no stopping the tantrum once it starts; you just let it run its course & pray nightly that she will grow out of this by the time she finds her life partner (bless their heart)!

Today, I had the privilege of babysitting my sweet nephew and niece (ages 16 months and 5 months).  Yes, you read that right… 11 months apart.  Their mom, my sister-in-law, is superwoman!  This is only the second time I’ve been available to babysit my niece, so we’re still getting to know one another.  Well, today she apparently had a horrible tummy ache.  (Gina, I love her so much & will be happy to keep her again anytime… just know that before you go further, if you read this.) Reminiscent of my picnicking at an 8 month camp out with Hades and Sophie, my niece screamed for the majority of our 12-hour day together – unless she was eating or sleeping, she was screaming. Today, I’ve been pooped on (THREE times), spit up on, straight-up vomited on, then gave her a bath only for her to do it again 5 minutes later, while screaming (her, not me)… and still managed to take care of my nephew and my two girls. Needless to say, it was a LONG day. All I wanted was a long STEAMING HOT shower with the fruitiest smelling body wash they make, my king-sized bed, and my 1200 thread count sheets. (Yes, I splurge on bedsheets. It’s a thing. Some folks drink quad venti cappuccinos from Starbucks every morning; I sleep on ridiculously expensive bedsheets – po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Don’t judge.)

I have been totally honest with anyone actually reading these blogs, and will continue to do so.  Today was the first time I have NOT wanted to touch #DBC50Summer. However, during my pity party earlier this evening, I found a graphic with a pretty hot air balloon floating in front of a sunrise (or sunset, I can never tell – they should have a compass on those things) that read “Find your passion and you’ll find your purpose.” My passion is being the best educator I can be; not the best scores or the best summative evaluation, but the teacher that the kids remember, the teacher that works to build the relationships. The teacher that truly cares for them and shows up every day ready to bust my tail to make school amazing for them. So… I knew with that quote and that idyllic scene in the background, I had to crack open the dang book and at least attempt to read some of it before bed.

(If you skipped ahead, you can continue reading here!)

I did not regret the decision for a minute! It got me excited and put me in a great mood! Earlier in the summer, I mentioned that Learn Like A Pirate made me want to go back into the classroom… well, so did Explore Like A Pirate.  The difference?  Now, I want to go into Mr. Matera’s classroom!  As a student!  I’ve got to figure out a way to visit his class for a day!  Explore Like A Pirate by Michael Matera showcases everything that’s right with gamification in the classroom!  Michael breaks it down and helps you think through exactly how to bring those game-like elements into your classroom! Not only that, but the book starts out with how to convince your naysayers!  Right from the beginning!  Loved that!


Coming into this book, I was no stranger to the world of gamification.  I am so fortunate to have Lucas Gillispie as a director in my district and one of my greatest mentors and friends.  I have blogged previously about EPIC Academy, our district’s gamified online professional development for digital learning. (Go check that out when you’ve got a minute, EPIC Academy is fabulous!) I have worked with Lucas on quest design and participated in the pilot program when it was first released.  Now I am a community mentor for all middle school educators within the program and have created multiple quest chains leading to badges. All quest chains can be found online under a Creative Commons license; feel free to use with attribution!

Because of this prior knowledge, I started out a bit skeptical.  Not because I didn’t believe in Michael or his “realness” because I was given the opportunity to attend #BadgeSummit in Chicago where I met Michael and was able to chat with him and hear him speak on a panel. It was an amazing experience.  I knew he was the “real deal” then! No, I was skeptical because I kept reading “gamification” and “game-based learning” like they were interchangeable.  In my (admittedly biased) mind, these two cannot and should not be used interchangeably.  Then, I read a sentence that changed my tone when Michael said, “I will never argue with the positives of a solid board game, but it isn’t what gamification is about.”  I needed to see that clarification before I could really buy into reading about his gamified approach in his middle school classroom.  I needed to know that Michael and I saw eye-to-eye about the difference between these two seemingly similar concepts.

Gamification is applying basic game theory and game-like mechanics to a non-game environment.  Game-Based Learning is using store-bought games and applying them to the classroom to pull out curricular connections.  These games can be classified as educational, or just choice games (games that we CHOOSE to play, like Life, Monopoly, or for those who like really GOOD games, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Splendor, deck-building games, 7 Wonders, Tsuro, and the like).  These games are also not limited to tabletop games, but also Dungeons & Dragons (Role Playing Games – RPGs) and computer/video games (Minecraft, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, etc). Michael uses gamification in his class, which is what the book primarily focuses on, but the game-based learning (or game-inspired as he puts it) is found toward the back of the book where he shares amazing mini-games that have been used in classrooms, some in his class and some in other classrooms.  Purchasing the book is worth it just for those pages, even if you have no intention of gamifying!

So honestly, I’m not going to talk a lot about what Michael wrote in his book – you just need to go order it now and while you wait for it to come in, you can read about what I’m going to do with his infinite wisdom.  If I were to try to explain bits and pieces of his process, it would be incoherent without reading the entirety of the book, anyway.  Just know that he starts out with how to dispel the myths and be prepared with an answer for those who question the gamification process.  He talks about how it prepares our students for life, and not for a test.  He discusses that not only do his students cover the curriculum, but they EXCEED the curriculum content and do so enthusiastically.  He shares ways to keep students motivated and engaged in the game as the game master, even the “non-gamers” through discovering the gamer-type of each student. Then he takes you through a step-by-step process in which he asks you questions about your game theme, setting, characters, and action/conflict.  He writes so conversationally and is able to break down the concepts in ways that I won’t even attempt. I love that I feel as though we’re having an informal meeting and he’s talking me through my ideas – poking holes at things that might not work, asking those really good questions that make you think! They probably could have titled this book, “Explore Like A Pirate: Folks Who Know Nothing about Gaming Can Gamify Their Classroom, Too” – this is why they leave the book titles to people who aren’t me.  Here are the #BookSnaps from my reading for some insider info.



Anyhow, here’s the deal.  I have been gamifying my Battle of the Books for years. (Don’t get me started on the philosophy behind Battle of the Books – it’s a soapbox thing for me and I don’t have the time; neither do you.)  My district is looking for innovative ways to encourage a love of reading and I am desperately trying to steer the ship as far from Accelerated Reader (or anything like it) as I can.  Instead, I want to use the Pirate methodology and make the books come to life for the students.  I want my students CREATING things when they’ve read a book, not just taking a test.  My district is supportive of taking calculated risks and said, “Lead the way.”  Challenge. Accepted.

After a discussion with an ELA (English Language Arts = Reading & Writing) teacher last month, we decided to create a gamified approach to our literacy plan that is similar to the way we run Battle of the Books, but more inclusive of all genres of literature (fictions, nonfiction, articles in magazines, etc).  Upon sharing this idea with our principal, she also gave the green light, then turned my world upside down in an amazing way… She said…

I wonder if we could include other things in this gamification approach, as well. Like, maybe our PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support), extracurriculars, mastery of makerspace materials, etc. What do you think?

~my principal during brainstorming

So wait a minute… you want to basically gamify the entire school?  You want to know if we can gamify the “game” of school?!…. WE CAN ABSOLUTELY DO THAT!  An hour long brainstorming session and a sketch of a quest tree with the end in mind, and I now have a MASSIVE project that I’d love to see to fruition.  This will be the biggest risk I take on this school year.  We will gamify everything from our literacy plan to use of learning spaces throughout the school to PBIS to community outreach to attendance to goal setting and growth on benchmarks.  Don’t ask me how we’re going to do it… I have no idea.  Just know that if it works, it will be INCREDIBLE!  If it doesn’t, then what an awesome risk to even be willing to take on!  We can’t lose here, as long as we stay true to the basic foundations of gamification.  Using Michael Matera’s book, we will be able to do that.  As long as the game designers have his “playbook” in mind, we won’t fail, even if it doesn’t work!

Our mascot is the Mustang.  We immediately realized we wanted to do something centered around horses and what better place to pull from than a Derby.  There was all this hype this year about Justify winning the Triple Crown, so we’re going to build on that.  Our theme is The Derby and the setting will vary depending on which section of the race they are on – it may be the training grounds, or the race, or the stables, etc. Our characters will consist of everything from the horses themselves to the jockeys, trainers, veterinarians, groomers, stable boys, gamblers, horse owners, etc.  The action… have your team of horses win the Triple Crown.  Teams will be split by grade level and by homeroom.  XP will be given for each badge, but the amount for some will not be disclosed until the end of the race season, which will be quarterly.  We will start each race over again, with the opportunity to level up on badges.  Badges will also include soft skills as we want our students to be prepared for the real world through P21 skills.  Past these details, we are still thinking.  We have the perfect guide in Michael Matera and his book Explore Like A Pirate.  Stay tuned because I will be blogging like a mad woman about how this unfolds throughout the school year!

For now, if you didn’t take me seriously before… here are your directions:

1 – Go buy Michael’s book

2 – Check out this picture from #BadgeSummit in June when I met Michael. YAY!IMG_8515

3 – Join the community on Twitter using the hashtag #xplap (Chats are Tuesdays at 10 pm EST)

4 – Check out the #xplap website!

5 – Share your thoughts, gamification experiences, favorite mini-games (I will record one when it isn’t 1:30 AM), and other takeaways from #xplap on Flipgrid! Andrea Paulakovich inspired the addition of Flipgrid for each #DBC50Summer book – follow her and her #DBC50Summer journey here!  She’s incredible!

Whew!  Explore Like A Pirate rounds out the first 10 of the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc books!  I can’t imagine how Dave & Shelley must have felt when they reached their 10th book from this publishing business they built from the ground up, when others told them it couldn’t be done.  Maybe that’s why I gravitate to their story so much.  As discussed in an earlier post, I also like to do what others say is not possible, so perhaps I feel a connection there.  Either way, their books have touched me – both professionally and personally.  I just wonder if they ever thought that less than 3 years later they would be staring the release of book #53 in the face.  What an incredible growth!  I’m equally impressed because I’ve read many of the more recent books and know that the caliber of content has not wavered from these earliest ten books.

Keep in mind that I’m literally building this ship as I sail it.  I had no idea what these #DBC50Summer blog posts were going to look like when I started, or if anyone would ever read them.  With that, I believe I will do a short blog after every 10 books as a recap, so expect that next.  Probably within a day because I’m on a roll – HA!

The 11th and 12th books are two that I purchased just a week ago and I cannot wait to read them!  Both are shorter books and should be read and blogged pretty quickly.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they are all about (I love reading these in order because I get to these spans of books that – embarrassingly – I don’t know much about; I took a hiatus from Twitter around the time these were released, so I missed the initial hype). You may want to go ahead and grab book 11 – Your School Rocks by Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe and book 12 – How Much Water Do We Have? by Pete Nunweiler with Kris Nunweiler.

10 thoughts on “#DBC50Summer 10/50: Explore Like A Pirate

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