teaching with the tools of a digital world

1 Comment

A Game Based Story

I have started down a path of Game Based Learning (GBL) in my class this year and it originated from an experience last year that I will relate, shortly. I am currently using a number of GBL ideas and philosophies in all of my Earth Science and Physics (although less so in Physics) classes. I have seen some successes already and I have made refinements along the way. I hope to get back to blogging more regularly and have decided to focus around my use of GBL and Project Based Learning – this will without a doubt dredge up some about my beginning use of performance or standards based grading. 

All of this started, or at least, the realization that I was going down this path, started at a conference during last school year. I was a presenter at a conference put on by the University of Wyoming’s Distance Learning Center. While in attendance I listened to a presenter discuss how they had implemented a Game Based Learning environment for an introductory university level writing course where the end goal was a completed research paper.

Up to this time I had been struggling with what to do with a required research paper that students had to write for Earth Science. The previous year I had taught this unit had been atrocious! Students dragged their feet, complained and made minimal effort to complete the assignment and I felt they accomplished little and learned less. This idea of making a research paper process into a game was intriguing and I ended up basically copying the idea in a couple short weeks just in time to implement it in my own class.

Here are the basics of the project:

As a researcher you are asked to defend a scientist’s greatest contribution to society – either their theory or discovery – from being slandered by outsiders. The game consisted of four levels that each had several assignments to choose from. Each level also had a total of 300 points available to students, yet their grade was only calculated out of 200 points – this gave students the ability to pick and choose which assignments they did at each level to get to their 200 points (they did not receive extra-credit for getting more than 200 points). As students progress through each level they came out with more and more of their research paper completed (Leve 1 = research, Level 2 = rough draft, Level 3 = self, peer, and instructor editing, Level 4 = final draft). Students were able to progress through the levels and whatever speed they chose – although a few needed some extra encouragement at the end to make more progress, but not nearly as many as in the previous year.

This ended up being such a succes that I began looking for ways to add components of GBL into my class writ large, rather than just this one unit. I found on this search a book by Jane McGonigal “Reality is Broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world.” I have since read the book and begun implementing a number of changes in my class. I would like use the next few blog posts to describe what I have learned (and experienced) about games, how they can truly change the world of education, and how they can make us all better along the way.

Game on!

Leave a comment

“Beam Me Up Scotty!”

First off I want to apologize for the lack of posts for most of this school year. Last year my blog was such a successful part of my reflection and my own learning as a practitioner that I am dissapointed that I haven’t managed to make it a part of my regular routine. I can say this has still been a great year! Despite not utilizing my reflection tool I have learned, thought and changed a lot about my teaching and more importantly the learning that happens in my classroom.


A major focus of this year has been on designing successful group work. (I purposely refer to it as “team work” in my classroom rather than group work to highlight the differences between groups – any number  of people considered to be related in some way – and teams – a number of persons associated in a joint action or task who are dependent upon each other). Students have worked in teams in th PBL (Project Based Learning) activities in each of my courses. My Earth Science and Physics classess have been entirely project based, whereas my Chemistry and Atronomy courses have utilized PBL at times but not entirely, this has mostly been due to time constraints.


Another related aspect of my class that I have focused on has been Game Based Learning. Before discussing what I have done in my classroom and plan to do I would like to relate an experience that I have had very recently that exemplifies the reasons I am studying and implementing GBL in my classroom.


A colleague of mine recently purchased a multi-player computer simulation game, Artemis. “Artemis simulates a spaceship bridge by networking several computers together.

One computer runs the simulation and the “main screen”, while the others serve as workstations for the normal jobs a bridge officer might do, like Helm, Communication, Engineering, and Weapon Control” (Robertson, Thom. “What Is Artemis?” ARTEMIS. Artemis, n.d. Web. 05 July 2012. <>).


I have played my fair share of video games, but I have to say that Artemis represents the most fun I have ever had playing a video game. It was highly-challenging, exciting, engaging and collaborative. It embodied all of the things that I wish my classes always had. Even though I have been thinking about a game-based classroom for some time this experience with Artemis has encouraged me to press forward and accomplish the goals that I have. To transform my classroom into a game-based learning environment.


My classroom has always been a place where I am constantly experimenting, but I think this will be the largest scale that I have ever experimented at in one single instance and it will also be the most complete transition I have ever made (in my two short years of teaching…).


I have poured all of my available resources into this endeavor. I have used my Summer Professional Development time and my Materials Grant funds from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation ( to support this transition and I have been thinking about this change all year and will continue to work all summer on it, as well. It will be a year long (or longer) endeavor and effort. Please join me!

Leave a comment

Time for a New Year!

Summer is over, it was short and busy! Schools is starting and it’s time time get back to blogging. I haven’t had a chance all summer, but lots of things have happened that I need to share. I’m adding Astronomy to my list of courses I teach (Physics, Chemistry and Earth Science). I’m refining my class projects to more formally match a Project Based Learning format after attending a great PBL workshop this summer in Santa Barbra, CA. I’ve made some changes to my classroom Google sites and how I am using Google docs in the classroom. My school is going to 1:1 iPads this year and I’ve starting working more with sharing Google Apps for Education tools and training with teachers and admins across my district.

It’s shaping up to be a busy, but exciting year! Check out this article in T.H.E. Journal from an interview I had a couple of weeks back:

Leave a comment

Goal 13: Give Students Reign


This post is more of a successful report on a project in the past that went really well, rather, than a current project. My students were working on a research project on water shortages around the world. I set out on this unit a plan to give as much control over to the students as possible.

1. Students brainstormed questions they would need to answer to under stand what “water shortages” are and what causes them.

2. Students, in small groups, chose one of their brainstorming questions and did preliminary research.

3. Students reported to each other their basic findings on their questions, then students selected the “important” questions and topics to continue to investigate.

4. Students researched a topic of their choice, from those selected as a group. They had the overall goal on becoming a “class expert” so they could share their knowledge and skills with everyone else.

5. Students developed a way of sharing their expertise with their peers, completely of their own method and choosing.

6. Students chose the criteria that would be used to determine if they could be considered an expert.

7. Students scored each other based upon their self-selected criteria for expertise.

This ended up being a great project. I feel that simply because of the autonomy that was afforded students I had many grasp the assignment and run with it. Students that typically are the most difficult to engage in the classroom were the most engaged when they had the opportunity to have nearly complete control over their own decisions.

This was a great experience that I feel helped to shape the rest of my school year with my students and that I hope to be able to refine and improve upon for next year.


“Paperless Fridays” has become paperless… period.

A while back I posted a goal from my 30 Goals Challenge about initiating Paperless Fridays. My Paperless Fridays goal have become a beast of its own, I haven’t handed out a piece of paper or stood in a copy machine line since that day! I have taken to using Google Docs with my students a lot more regularly and I have started using my Camtasia software more frequently, as well. As I posted earlier, the end of last week I was at the Math and Science Teacher Conference at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming. While away from my classes I bypassed the substitute by communicating directly with my students through daily assignment emails, Camtasia screen capture videos detailing assignments, Skype running in my classroom, a private chat room and email throughout the day. This allowed for a much less disrupted classroom when I returned than is common following a substitute.

I have been using Google Forms to collect student responses and using Camtasia to build short tutorials for both technological challenges students may face and instructions for completing assignments. We work through all of these instructions in class, but these tutorials stand in as my backup when students are absent or at school sponsored activities or even if they just forget an aspect of the assignment. These tutorials have given me a tool to say, “Go check the video, ask a neighbor and if you still have questions then ask.” This has been especially helpful for those students who chronically tune out instructions.

I have had a number of students begin to take greater advantage of these technologies outside of class as well. I have always offered and given my school email to students and asked them to contact me whenever they have questions, yet they rarely have. This last week or so, however, I have had students contact me via email and Google Docs’ chat function while they are working on assignments at school, home and wherever else. I feel this has helped students to be more productive outside of class. Students aren’t waiting until the next day to ask their questions and using that as a reason to fall behind. They are learning to leverage these technologies to learn when they need to.

So far teaching paperless has been great!

1 Comment

Taking the 30 goals challenge!

I have been looking for a significant way to push myself to dive further into my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

I have been looking for a way to set goals that will help me to do new things in my PLN that I haven’t done before and will help stretch myself to grow and improve.  I recently stumbled across this resource, The 30 Goals Challenge written by Shelly Terrell also author of The 30 Goals Challenge is designed to be a daily goal or challenge to be met for 30 consecutive days, each goal is focused on accomplishing tasks which will help teachers to improve their use of technology in the classroom and as educators. I’ve decided to take the challenge starting January 1st (the challenge was designed to be started on January 1st, 2010 – a year late isn’t too bad :). I’m sure you’ll hear more about each activity/goal as I go along.

Leave a comment

Using Twitter

How has Twitter helped you? What good is it to the world? I am far from the person who is qualified to answer this question but I will tell of my experiences as a newcomer to tweeting and more specifically its application to education. I’ve had an account on Twitter for about a year now, but don’t be duped, I’ve only been “active” on it for about 3 months. For most of that “inactive” time I fell in the “Well now what do I do?” category.


That has changed in the last 3 months because I started to find resources about using Twitter in the classroom. I started hearing of how I could use it for my own professional growth. I started to have a use for it, I even started to need it as a next step in my growth. I now have a whopping 45 tweets! I’m working on a goal to increase my number of tweets, for now I have mostly been a lurker! Just watching and reading what others have to say. I’m comfortable enough now to begin to step outside of that and become more of a prosumer.  Any one have suggestions of a number of tweets a week that might be a reasonable goal? Is there some other way to quantify this? What do you think?

I have definitely seen a growth in my own understanding and experience since I dove into the world of Twitter. I have met many powerful leaders in edtech and have gleaned many resources, ideas and perspectives from them. It has been a powerful river of knowledge and experience that I now can’t imagine not being able to tap to improve my teaching. I only hope that I can continue to take advantage of this powerful resources, share it with others and begin to contribute to the flow of knowledge and experience.


On your mark!

Early in the school year I decided to adopt a motto for my teaching this year “do something new everyday.” I feel like I have stayed pretty true to this, even though it has more likely been “do something new every week.” A lot of this has centered on my technology use in the classroom. I am continually looking for new ideas and new resources that I can apply in my classroom.

I’ve decided to highlight some of the things I have been doing in my classes up to this point as a way of recapping and documenting basically the firstquarter of this school year. First up is iPod Touches. The school district has purchases a set of 20 iPod Touches for each building (HS, MS and Elementary). Early in the year an email went out notifying the staff of their availability. Well, I was the first to reply and requested to have an app added to them so I could use them in my Earth Science classes. Since I was the first (and only) teacher to request the iPods I was asked to manage them for the high school. This brought a little extra work but mostly extra benefits, namely, the case of iPods almost never leaves my room!

Here are a few of the ways that I have used the iPods so far this year:

I have a few more ideas/uses coming up in the next couple of weeks but I will save those for when they happen.

One of the best things that has come from having the iPods in my room and from managing the set for the  high school is it has allowed me to look for ways to encourage other teachers to use them in my classroom. After a lot of suggesting and discussing other teachers have begun to use the hordes of available content in their classrooms. I hope I can continue to help other instructors find ways to use this technology in their classrooms, it is what helps me to learn more and try new things.

Leave a comment

And so it begins…

Tech in the classroom. Where does it fit? What works? Is it worth it? Does it do any good?

These are some of the questions I hope to be looking into through the rest of this first school year (at least).  I have set my professional growth goal as “Increase student engagement through technology

.”  Part of this was motivated by receiving the highest tier award for my district’s Digital Success Ladder ($1800) and just this week a Digital Educator Leadership Training award ($5000+) and three years of commitment to the program. How in the world should I spend this money? And more importantly what will make the biggest impact on student learning?


I will also use this forum as a way to track my successes and challenges and questions I have about which tech to use, how to improve what I’ve got and to brainstorm new ideas.