Friday, February 9, 2018

Boss Battle!

Oh, my goodness! I had no idea when I started gamifying my advanced ceramics class that I would have the reaction I did today!

The first time I tried a boss battle, it was with 20 minutes left in class, the kids had never used dice and didn't know what they were doing, and it didn't work very well. At 3:30, the clay golem they were battling had to run off into the woods after he'd dropped from 100 to 71 hit points.

Wednesday, most of the students were finished with their current project (magic clay whistles to call for the clay man to deliver more magic clay). They were given a range of websites and YouTube videos to use to explore different types of clay musical instruments. Some of them did not take this very seriously, so I decided to have a boss battle Friday to see if any of them had learned anything.

First - I had a student tell me Thursday that he was going to be absent Friday. I told him he would miss a boss battle. He decided he didn't want to miss it, and since he was going to check into school for my class, he decided to check in at noon so he would only be absent a half day. So by gamifying my classroom, I got him to attend another teacher's class that he would have missed!

I created a Kahoot! with videos and questions about clay musical instruments. You can find it if you search for "Return of the Clay Golem - Ceramic Musical Instruments" on Kahoot. Next, I laid out dice for each student to use. I also laid out cards they could purchase.

All but one of my students are at level 1. When they level up, they get 100 gold pieces and a red card (this can do things in the classroom or during a battle). There are also blue cards they can buy at any time. My student who has hit level 2 drew a red card that allows him to add 1 to any die roll three times per day. I also had a student buy a card that can be turned in to allow him to reroll any die roll.

While my third block Ceramics I students cleaned up, I laid out the items we would need. Dice, cards, and a dry erase board listing everyone's hit points.

When my students arrived, they were excited to see we were having a boss battle. I started the Kahoot, and joined it with my phone so there was only one device that could answer. I went to each group (I have three pairs of tables with a team at each) and they answered a question. If they answered correctly, the student whose turn it was rolled to see if they hit the monster. If they did, they rolled to see how much damage they did. If they answered incorrectly, the monster attacked them. I rolled to see if he hit, and if he did, I rolled for damage.

They quickly realized that if they wanted to get the monster to zero hit points before they ran out of questions, they had to help each other. They used their cards to improve dice rolls. They cheered when they did damage, and groaned when they missed.

We got to the last question of the game and the monster still had 7 hit points. The team answered the question correctly, and the student rolled high enough to hit. No one thought she would do enough damage - as a Ranger, she rolled 2 4-sided dice. She rolled a 7! Everyone cheered!

All of this took 30 minutes of a 90 minute class. The activity was successful as a formative assessment, because I could see what they knew from the previous class. It also functioned as a review. By the time we finished the Kahoot, all of the students had seen a wide variety of ceramic musical instruments from various time periods and cultures (even if we didn't go into depth there yet), and they had heard what they sound like. This was so much better than trusting them to do it on their own, or worse, holding the class captive while I showed videos and talked at them. They were engaged and discussing the topic.

I asked at the end of class what they thought about boss battles. The students were very enthusiastic, except for one student who said she had rather spend the time working with clay. I may come up with a compromise there - I'm not sure. This whole thing is still a work in progress.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Alternate Reality Games

My Advanced Game Design students began the year with an Alternate Reality Game. Day one of this semester, I handed out an article printed from the internet and asked them to read it. At the bottom of the page was an image that looked like a video advertisement from the webpage.

Underneath, it said "Breaking News:  Award winning high school students disappear."

Several students read the article and said they were finished - they didn't even pay attention to the image because it looked like the random things that print when you send something from the internet to the printer - ads, etc.

Finally, a student noticed it and within less than a minute the whole class was discussing it. Finally, they asked me about it. I told them some students DID disappear, from our very school. The teacher I replaced, Ned Tillis, sent some students to search for 'The Ultimate Assignment,' and they were never heard from again. Ned was so distraught he quit teaching game design and moved away. I was hired in his place.

Now, my students know that I started the game design program at our school, but they played along. Pretty soon, they were searching everywhere online for Ned Tillis. Luckily, I had chosen a name (Ned Flanders + Mel Tillis) that no one online seemed to have. They were searching death records, criminal records, property sales, and everything else they could think of. Eventually, they found him on social media.

They found him on Twitter. Our laptops don't allow the kids to access Twitter, but some of the students who use the app pulled out their phones and found him. Poor Ned only had three tweets to his name:

One of the most important ideas to keep in mind when designing an ARG, is that the players need to know when the solution to a puzzle is correct. Ned's profile picture is the same image of students that appeared in the 'game design students missing' picture. That, plus the fact that Ned's tweets were all very recent, helped the students know that they were on the right track. Of the three tweets, the oldest said, "I love games. I hate losing kids." The next had a gif of a sad Stitch, and said, "I can't design games anymore. I just can't." The most recent tweet said, "I never did thank Coach Ray for keeping my file for me. I wonder if he still has it."

The students were beside themselves begging to take the hall pass and go see Coach Ray. I allowed six of them to go (I had to let Coach Ray know how excited they were!). He hunted around and found the file Ned left with him. The students brought it back and examined it. Inside, there were some game design handouts, a flash drive, and a Post-It note with the number 1466598646, 3, 3, 1.

The flash drive held three pdf files. Each one was password protected. They were named Date.pdf, GameDesign.pdf, and Regrets.pdf. Since they couldn't do anything without the passwords, they decided to work on the Post-It note. It didn't take them long to realize that the first number was the ISBN of a book. And when they found that book on Amazon, they could look inside.

The 3, 3, 1 portion of the clue stumped them. I eventually had to give them a little help. The numbers refer to the third page, third line of that page, and first word of that line in the book, which was the password for one of the pdf files on the flash drive. 

The pdf file (Regrets.pdf) only had one line:  kwwsv:// The students recognized that the :// meant it probably was a website, and quickly decoded it (Caesar cipher) to find a link to a YouTube video.

The YouTube video contained three important bits of information. The students quickly realized that the static was on the left channel only, and if they used their right earbud, they could make out a distorted voice. They started attempting to transcribe the text. Then, the first class of the semester ended.

When they returned, some students worked on the video while others studied the audio. Some continued their transcriptions. One separated the audio and used Audacity to raise the pitch so they could make out the words they were missing. The entire transcription read, "I only have two regrets. I should have never allowed my students to search for The Ultimate Assignment. They went down the rabbit hole. They went down the rabbit hole. I also regret attempting ceramics. I wish I'd never given away that wonky cube I made. It needs to go back to the boneyard." 

The Boneyard

I also teach ceramics, so I let them know that for ceramics teachers, a 'boneyard' is an area of sample clay items. Usually they are made as demonstrations by visiting artists, and they are usually bisque fired but not glazed, so they are fired, raw clay, usually white - hence the term 'boneyard.' They weren't sure what to do with this information, so they concentrated on the video.

Eventually, they discovered the flashes of images, and someone recognized one as a door that would be in our school. After pausing the video and showing it to everyone, a student realized it was the door to the office of one of the assistant principals. They noticed the images seemed to be moving toward a ceramic cube (!), and a few students went to retrieve it.

The Mysterious Cube

When they returned, they spent a lot of time passing around the ceramic cube and examining it from every angle. I told them they were not allowed to break it (they asked). Finally, a student noticed that when you watch the YouTube video full screen, you see the word 'SYMBOL' in the bottom left corner. In dark grey on a black background, it was a little hard to notice. Finally someone put the idea of a symbol with the cube (the only symbol on the cube is a sun), and tried 'sun' as the password on another of the three files on the flash drive.

The GameDesign.pdf that unlocked had a string of numbers - 29 17 34 27 0 35 37 36 21 34. It took quite a while, but eventually they realized that if you numbered the alphabet and added 16 to each number, you could decode it (0 is a space). They came up with the name Mark Suter, and began scouring the internet.

Mark Suter is a real person and was gracious enough to play along when I contacted him. The students realized they were in the right place when they found that Ned Tillis had tweeted to Mark Suter, and Mark had replied to Ned.

Class #2 ended without a solution. I had hoped to finish it on day two, but the kids were engaged and working hard. They finally realized the up-down comments referred to a see-saw. Even though some had actually found the correct website to continue, they didn't realize it.

On day three, one of the students discovered that you could log in to a teacher's class on Seesaw using the XLWS QFFK code from the tweets. The link is now expired, but when they used it, they were added to a Seesaw class where they saw this:

The third file on the flash drive, Date.pdf, opened when 'ludiclearning' was used as the password. The pdf contained the text '869 prior.' The students also found a website when they searched for ludic learning - Ludic Learning- Play to Learn and Learn to Play

By the end of class, they found that there was a blog post 869 days prior to the day they found the flash drive, titled Down the Rabbit Hole:  How to Turn Your Class into an Alternate Reality Game.

Between the ARG reference, the correct date, and the rabbit hole reference (it was mentioned twice in the video), the students knew that they had found The Ultimate Assignment. They were to make an ARG.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Gamification Process Continues

In order to create functional leaderboards, I needed to do some research into Google Sheets. I had used spreadsheets before, but the most complex thing I ever did with them was to sort them A to Z. I needed a spreadsheet where I could keep up with experience points, gold, badges, levels, etc. I also wanted to allow students to see their progress without showing everyone else's. And I needed to be able to have team leaderboards.

First, I learned how to insert images into Google Sheets. This allowed me to insert student avatars and badges into a sheet. Then, I created sheets for each student. I learned how to pull only that student's information from my master sheet to populate the cells of their individual sheet. This way, each student can see his / her progress.

While searching for websites to tell me how to do these things, I ran across the Google for Education Training Center. I looked through the lessons, and realized that I already knew how to do the things for the Level 1 Certification. I went ahead and registered for the exam, and spent 2-1/2 hours doing it Sunday evening (you have three hours to complete it). A few minutes later, I found out that I passed! Now I get to display the following:
That's what I get for consistently using Google Apps for Education in my classes! They do make things easier. I would like to take a look at the requirements for the Level 2 exam and the Trainer exam, but that will have to wait until I'm a little less busy (probably after I submit my National Board stuff).

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Advanced Ceramics Gamification Day One

I got a later start than anticipated due to snow days. Our first day back had a delayed start, so my class was only 55 minutes long instead of the normal 90 minutes. I knew we wouldn't get as far as I had planned, but I didn't want to waste any time. As the students entered, I handed them a one question survey.

I need to collect data to prove that what I am doing is increasing student engagement. I used parent surveys (several parents said their students aren't motivated) and classroom observations, but I also wanted to see how my students felt.

I gave them one question. What is your motivation level in my class? They had three options. Option one was 'Compliant - I learn because I have to - I'm not really interested but I'm doing what I'm told.' Option two was 'Engaged - I learn because I'm interested in what we are doing.' The third option was 'Empowered - I learn because I want to and the learning is meaningful - I see value in what we are doing and how it relates to my life.'

When I evaluated the students based on classroom observation, I scored 9 students as compliant, 4 as engaged, and 2 as empowered.

When the students evaluated themselves, 4 students said they were compliant, 10 said they were engaged, and 1 said she was empowered.

Clearly, there is room for improvement.

Once the students turned in their answer, I moved them to their new groups. I did my best to arrange them with a balance of Ceramics II/III at each table, a balance of skill level, and a balance of motivation level. We began the journey.

Everything went pretty well. By the end of class, the students had chosen mythical animals and team names. We did not make it to the website, but I am okay with that. All of the students were actively engaged, and they were also communicating with each other - something that I was very pleased to see, since I broke up most of the groups that had been sitting together all year. They seemed to enjoy doing something different. I can't wait until Monday when we will (hopefully) get to the website.

A section of my spreadsheet at this time:

Preparation for Gamification

In order to start our epic journey, I needed a new Google Classroom class and a website. I set up the following to post at the beginning of class:

The code takes them to a class titled "The Kingdom of Lorniath." There, they see this:

It's Dangerous Out There refers to a safety quiz. They must make a 100 to progress (and earn 50 XP). Then they see this:

Learn the Language refers to a ceramics vocabulary Kahoot! that we will play in class. The team with the highest average score earns 25 XP each, second place gets 20, and third place gets 15.

Next, each team chooses a name and a mythical animal. Once done, they post this information to the assignment in Google Classroom, and they earn 40 XP. This ensures that every team member will have at least 100 XP and make it to Level 1.

Once finished, the students dream of their last project, and write a reflection on it. This is the last loose end before we move on in our course content. As they finish, they will uncover a link to the Kingdom of Lorniath website.

The website features a map with three main areas - the library (ceramics history, artists, criticism, etc.), the pottery (construction), and the surface finishing area (decorating / finishing techniques). All but one of the links say that "This quest is not yet unlocked." This is because I am still adding them, and because I want them all to do the same project to start.  There is also a page with quest requirements (research / sketches / planning, creating, evaluating) and guidelines (red quests are required, some quests are moddable). Last, I included a page labeled 'Goals' that had all of the state standards for the course listed.

Students who go to the pottery find out that the mysterious potter woman is almost out of magic clay. She has just enough for the students to make whistles to call for more magic clay. My students struggle with control, precision, and craftsmanship. A whistle is a good, quick project to help them with these skills.

The quest is listed in red, which means it is required. It is also moddable, which means that students may substitute an equivalent project as long as it meets the required skills and the state standards listed on the quest page.

There is also a hidden area - students who notice it will find the side quest page. This is a page of things that students can do to earn extra XP (but not points on their grade). Side quests include creating a quest, creating a poster to teach something, making test tiles, etc.

Once the Google Sites website was done, I created spreadsheets to keep up with badges and XP. I created badges for some of the quests and sidequests, and levels 1-15. I also created badges for each state standard, so the students could see tangible evidence of what they are learning to earn credit for the course. I made individual spreadsheets for each student and each team that will pull data from my master spreadsheet. These will be shared with the students once we begin.

Next:  how day one went.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reset - Gamification to Improve Engagement

It's been a while. I am resurrecting this to help focus myself, and keep my thoughts straight.

There have been lots of changes at my high school over the past couple of years. We have a completely new administration. There are more demands on my time. My classes are much larger, and the curriculum has changed.

We are back on an alternating block schedule after a year or two on straight block. We have four periods A day and four periods B day. My schedule looks like this:

A day:
1 - Planning
2 - Ceramics I
3 - Ceramics I
4 - Ceramics II & III

B day:
1 - Planning
2 - Video Game Design I
3 - Video Game Design I
4 - Video Game Design II & III

I won a scholarship the first day back to school to do the National Board Certification process. I am going to recommend that they draw for this at the end of the school year instead of the beginning, because having the summer to plan would have been helpful. While I have read all of my standards and components, I haven't DONE much yet, and it's already halfway through January. Another teacher and I took last Friday off, and Thursday evening headed three and a half hours north to her parents' timeshare to work on our NB stuff.

Two of the things you need to address for Component 4 are a student need and a professional development need. For my student need, I chose that students try to do the minimum amount of work to get by - they are unmotivated and afraid to take risks. For my professional need, I chose to learn how to fix this.

I had been stumped when trying to choose a student need. Then, as I was looking at articles on game design for my Video Game Design students, I ran across an article on gamification in education.

I had attempted gamification once before. I had a class, Comic Art, that was what teachers refer to as a 'dumping ground.' Only a few students signed up for the course, so the rest of the students were students who either didn't want to be there, or who did not fill out a schedule (and also didn't want to be there). These students were also afraid to try to draw, because they had no art experience. I attempted to use Classcraft to help engage the kids. It simply became another tool for disruption. I did not understand how to properly use gamification to engage my students, and Classcraft was not a match for my needs.

Most of my students this year were ones who actually wanted to take my courses, so that isn't a problem. I still have several students, a few in each class, who are unmotivated and content to take an F. I have tried several solutions (begging, choice based learning, proximity seating, etc.) but these haven't worked. When I ran across the gamification article, the lightbulb went off. This could work as my student need for Component 4, and it will help me get my students engaged (hopefully).

I am going to try this with my Advanced Ceramics class. This is a mix of Ceramics II and III. This class is where the lack of motivation is most obvious. Also, the majority of these students have not tried anything new this semester, unless directly assigned by me. Their projects are a mix of assignments that I give (create an artwork that will hang, made of multiple pieces) and projects they do on their own (a jewelry box, a bathroom set - soap dish, toothbrush holder, whatever they choose).

I started by re-reading Explore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera. I also read Gamify Your Classroom by Dr. Matthew Farber. I joined several professional development communities, including the #XPLAP, #TLAP, #games4ed, #GBL, and #gamification Twitter chats, and the GAMIFICATION and Gamification for Education groups on Facebook. I brainstormed with the other art teachers in my system before implementation, and I plan to use all of these communities when I hit difficulties.

One of the things I will need to do is show evidence of meeting the student need. I know many of my students are unmotivated in my classroom. I think all of them could be more engaged. The problem is how to show evidence (assuming they improve). So far, I plan to compare before and after using four data points:  number of projects completed within a set time, complexity of projects completed, student survey, and classroom observation.

Next post:  the plan.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I missed blogging last week. I am trying to do once a week. The only reason I am able to post now is because I have a study hall. Between getting fundraisers ready to raise money for a trip to New York and National Art Honor Society invitation letters needing to go out, I am behind.

In art news, my Ceramics II students are hard at work on their NCECA projects. My Ceramics I students are almost done with their bookbinding project - they make their own sketchbooks each year.

The cover is being prepared for this sketchbook.

My Art II students are in the middle of their value scale projects. I keep remembering to take pictures on B day, so none of my A day students are on here or on Facebook. I must do better.

Edgar Allen Poe in progress, upside-down.

These look better in real life than they do in photos.

It is so quiet when they are working. Some are listening to music.

It's hard to take a photo from this end of the room.

Animation & Video Game Design I students have learned about the history of animation and made thaumatropes. They were thrilled when they were successful. Animation & Video Game Design II are working on storyboards for an animation to illustrate a concept taught in one of their core subjects.

Some of the Animation I students with their thaumatropes, and one Animation II student with his storyboards.

We are all about New York here in the art department. We are planning a five day trip through EF. Our meeting is in a week, so we will find out then if we have enough interest to pull it off!