With a rush of excitement, a push towards action and an explosion of intellectual growth the Analyzing Revolutions unit is over. The students have completely blown past expectations in the products they have made, the discussion they have led and the skills they have acquired. The last minute push exhausted all of us, but luckily the end of our revolutions led us to a break.
While the students rested, I was busy at work creating the new unit. The United States Constitution. Our last unit brought humanity to the forefront. What are rights? What is war? When is violence warranted? Is it ever? These deep human questions about the rights of the citizens and the power of the government kept the kids riveted.
While the last unit was packed with action, The Boston Massacre, The Tea Party, The Battle of Brooklyn, Saratgoa and Princeton; the new unit slows the pacing down significantly.
The new unit is the deep dive into the framework of American government. In this unit students will be tasked with sketch noting every article, section and clause of the document to not only learn, but to fully understand. I love the sketch noting lessons and utilization in this unit, which is why it is the only constant that I have in all the years I have taught it.
Every year I try a new method to spice up the learning. The kids are genuinely interested, but the pacing slows, the words are foreign and systems thinking is incredibly difficult for 8th graders who have just developed the ability to think in the abstract.
Four years I have taught this class and while I am always happy with the learning that is done, I am never satisfied with the unit as a whole. This year, implementing EduScrum, I hope to embrace what I have learned and create a unit that electrifies my students and keeps them engaging and loving learning.
Ambition is never my problem, but sometimes I just run out of ideas. Thankfully my students stepped up and helped spark the match that lit my creative fire. After spinning my wheels day after day a group of students suggested we make a game out of the Constitution.
But what if we gamified the entire unit? Why just learn game design when we could live a game?
Sitting on the floor of my classroom the suggestion triggered a lightning bolt of ideas. Suddenly after days of accomplishing nothing the unit had planned itself.
What do games and government have in common? Systems.
This was the basis of the unit.
I quickly typed out my Task Statement giving background knowledge necessary to launch and setting the intentions of the unit with my driving questions.
How did the design of the constitution enable power to be distributed?
Are the 6 ideas of the Constitution still relevant today?
With my learning objectives set I planned out my Celebration Criteria.. Until I hit a wall.
What do I know about game design?
So the research began. After finding several incredible websites Stanford.edu, , Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching, and eDynamic Learningand also purchasing the booksA Theory of Fun by Raph Koster, Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton I felt I had amassed enough information to really plan our unit.
Now knowing some of the lingo and keeping my expectation in sight I have been able to finish my Celebration Criteria and create rubrics for the game and writing piece.
With the aid of eDynamic Learning I was able to put together a game design activity to introduce students to the idea of game design through simple games and help them build comfort with the idea of being a designer by requiring extra verbal and written reflections after the completion of each article.
Once a week the reflection question: “How would I turn this article into a game?” will be in their Stand Up Meeting agenda. This will allow the group to do a quick check in with each other and share random thoughts and ideas. I chose to incorporate this in the Stand Up Meeting because I did not want students to spend too much time stressing over the ideas. Think quickly, share new, silly, absurd ideas and move on.
This should always ideation, but also the time to let ideas marinate and sit. Once said out loud the idea will be in everyone’s head and hopefully they will think about it as they go about their day. When the written weekly reflection is done the ideas may be more flushed out since they had been discussed several days before. This is just my hypothesis, I will be eagerly waiting to see if I am correct.
The Day to Day Game
There needed to be an extra push to keep the kids engaging and the content moving. This is where the idea of the gamification of the entire class emerged.
Students would we rewarded with points in our game system for turning in work early, doing well on “Competition Days”, and annotating and marginal noting “extra credit” articles.
As usual, students created their flaps with all of their assignments and activities on them. They broke down their stories into color coded squares and practiced their time management skills by deciding which tasks to prioritize and how to handle the case load. This time though I added the incentive of time. Middle school kids are not known for their excellent executive functioning skills and some students were struggling with getting work done in a timely manner. I am hoping that adding this game will help them prioritize work without me adding a bunch of deadlines that takes that self-management piece out of it for them.
Work that is assigned and must be completed will earn game points upon handing in. The first group that hands in work earns 25 points, the second 20, the third 15 etc…. Students can earn points through extra participation in class which is a struggle with a split virtual classroom. They can also earn points through our competition days which are really application activities disguised as a game.
They can also earn points through “extra credit” assignments. These are readings, annotations, political cartoons, and iCivics games that I would ideally want them all to do, but I do not have the time to explicitly teach. I did not want to leave their excellent resources behind so I added incentive to completing them. The idea is that if students fall behind turning in their mandated work, because of sports or course load, they can make up points by practicing Sylvia Duckworth’s 21 sketch note lessons, or reading dissenting views on the Necessary and Proper Clause.
What do kids really want?
When I announced the game the students were enthusiastic, but honestly after all of this planning I was again spinning my wheels to come up with ideas for rewards.
Again, my students stepped in.
They created a wheel of prizes, ranging for King and Queen of the week, Krispy Kremes, 15 min nap time, candy, the ability to “pause” other groups and taking a nature walk.
We are currently one week in and students are succeeding. Moving at a pace I could have only imaged in years before. Enthusiasm is up, students are self-directed, the room is buzzing with energy.
Let’s see how the full roll out goes……