Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Students Creating Podcasts

Giving students opportunities to share with authentic audiences can increase engagement and tap into student motivation.

One way I have tried to do this is by helping students develop podcasts.  This can be a relatively simple way for students to publish their work.

The most consistent avenue for a student podcast has been one for our teaching team.  Student “reporters” relay what has been going on in the classes during the week.  The process is as follows:  students write a script, students record, students share an audio file with me, and I process the file into the podcast.


I currently publish the podcast using Anchor, a free platform to publish podcasts.  In addition to being posted on its site, the podcast is embedded on team pages, so that parents and students have access.

Anchor is simple, utilizing drag and drop features to produce the podcast. Background music can be added to enhance the podcast.

Students record using their phones or Chromebooks.

In an even more basic form, I have had students record the audio and then published the raw audio without processing it in Anchor. This has been done both for the team podcast as well as class podcasts. Students have created class podcasts on different topics they have investigated.  In addition, we have recorded Socratic seminars and posted them as podcasts. (See Unscripted, Students Jump Into Podcasting)

Vocaroo is a straightforward, online audio recorder students have used. More recently, if students are not using their phones, they are using the Chromebook app Beautiful Audio Editor.  This is a browser-based audio recorder that allows students to easily delete sections and lay multiple tracks.

The process is easy, allows students to publish their work, and provides an authentic audience

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

SideQuests: Introducing Geography of the Week

As part of gamifying my classroom, I decided to include sidequests.

My understanding of sidequests is that they are an optional part of the game that are not directly connected or necessary for the main part of the game.  These give students opportunities to advance in the game while advancing their learning.

I’m not sure I know exactly how sidequests will take shape in my classroom.  I did determine, however, that I wanted some to be standing sidequests.  They would not be extensions of a particular lesson. Instead, they would be able to remain throughout the year.

The first sidequest I have put into my course is a Geography of the Week challenge.  Students do it as homework, but it is optional.  They earn experience points for our game which will help them advance in the game and on the leaderboard.  This sidequest, however, also expands their general knowledge of the world.  They get multiple chances over the week to answer the challenge question correctly.

If they don’t get it correct, their understanding of the standards won’t suffer.  They enhance their knowledge and make gains within the game. It's a simple, engaging way to keep the students immersed in the game outside of class while tugging a bit at their curiosity.

Soon, I plan to incorporate another standing sidequest, along with another that is directly related to the content that students are working within the class.  I also hope to develop some hidden sidequests that students will uncover, giving the game a dose of chance and excitement.

As we build the game throughout the year, I envision that both the students and I will get more and more excited to discover sidequests.


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If you have good stategies for sidequests in a gamified classroom or, if this post has generated some thoughts of your own, please share in the comments. I would appreciate hearing from you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Encouraging Students to Know One Another

Throughout the school year, much time is invested to develop relationships with students. Clearly, the better you know them, the more comfortable students feel in class and the better you’re able to meet their needs.

The very start of the year includes more specific activities to accelerate the process of developing those relationships. At my school, there is a period at the start of the day that’s called Connections, giving the students a place where they can develop relationships with peers and a teacher so that they feel more connected to the school. It is our school's take on an advisory program.

The foundation of this period is relationships. Over the course of the first month, we have done many sharing and team building activities to get to know one another and build trust.

The other day, however, I noticed that it wasn’t quite working (or maybe I expected too much too soon?): students could not say much about others in the group (not including those who were already friends).

Obviously, sharing about themselves is not enough.

I’m going to try more direct sharing from which they will then have to share about another in some format. I hope this will help accelerate the group’s familiarity with one another.

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If you have good stategies for students to get more comfortable with one another or, if this post has generated some thoughts of your own, please share in the comments. I would appreciate hearing from you.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

GeoQuest: Taking Steps Toward Gamification

I did a lot of prep work this summer around making my curriculum more gamified by looking at the work of John Meehan (@meehanedu) and Michael Matera (@mrmatera).  I was reluctant, however, to jump right in. (see Gamification in the Classroom: Big "G" or little "g"?)

Perhaps I wanted to get a sense of my students to see how they might roll with it.  Maybe I needed to gauge whether or not I could handle it.

Yesterday, I took the plunge.

After we tied up a few loose ends from last week, I turned the students’ attention to the screen at one end of the room.  I played this trailer to introduce the class game we would be participating in for the rest of the year:


After viewing, an unexpected thing happened: applause. To my astonishment, in each class, students spontaneously gave positive feedback. Comments I heard:

“That was awesome.”
“That got me pumped up.”
“I’d love to see that movie.”

And I hadn’t even explained the game yet.

I then shared that it was the game that they would play for the rest of the year. “In fact,” I said. “You’ve already been playing it.”  There were a few knowing looks amongst the faces as I could tell they were picking up on some of the things I had said which subtly referenced the game.

The students read a brief game guide document I put together. And they asked questions.  We talked about XP, competing as individuals, competing as a class against the others, competing as a variety of teams, earning advantages, and sidequests.

When some students asked very specific questions about levels and advantages and I responded that the game was a work in progress and would evolve throughout the year, one student piped up, “Cool! We’re beta testers!”

Clearly, the students bought in.  They were excited, intrigued, and eager.  They proceeded into the next activity which they knew was related to the game with great exuberance.

And I am excited, too, as I think this can help enhance their engagement, provide opportunities for collaboration, and increase their learning.

My first big step into gamification was a success.  Now, I just need to maintain the momentum and craft learning challenges that will keep that tenor of enthusiasm lingering in the air.


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If you gamify your classroom or, if this post has generated some thoughts of your own, please share in the comments. I would appreciate hearing from you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Can I Use the Bathroom?

“Can I use the bathroom?”

This is a question often heard during a middle school class. The constant interruptions wore on me. So, I stopped them last spring.

Instead of having students ask me to use the bathroom or to go get water, I would allow students to dismiss themselves for those purposes. 

I told them that I was trusting them to choose times to leave during class that were more appropriate than others.  They were also told that they would still need to sign out of the classroom appropriately.  Lastly, so I could know where they were at a glance, students would need to prop a red (for the bathroom) or blue (for water) placard at their seats.

As their eyes lit up, students revealed they were skeptical. This year I received the same response. In both cases, it took the students a little time to get used to dictating when they use the bathroom. After the first week, I respond to the bathroom / water request with, “I can’t answer that question.”

There has been no noticeable change in the frequency of students leaving the room, but I think the students appreciate the trust and autonomy I’ve developed with them.

This approach has taken the burden of making a decision off of my shoulders, lessened interruptions in class, and allowed me to treat the students more like the people they are.

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If you no longer require students to ask permission to use the bathroom or, if this post has generated some thoughts of your own, please share in the comments. I would appreciate hearing from you.
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