Friday, May 24, 2013

Wrapping up gamification in Astronomy

Many of you have been following the implementation of Galaxy Fleet in my astronomy class. This experiment was conceived after the development of Mission Possible, it professional development model for technology PD. The process of applying gamification to my classroom had very distinct differences to applying it to our staff.

Most notibly, I was alone. In developing Mission Possible, I was fortunate in that I was surrounded with people who were excited about the idea. Leanne Wanger, our teacher-librarian was instrumental in the implementation of Mission Possible, and my principal Matt Degner's trust and leadership was essential. With Galaxy Fleet, I was alone in the development of the structure, the activities, the exams, and the back-end bookkeeping. 

Student Reaction:
In keeping updates on this blog, I was focused on the student reaction the process as we went along. I made adjustments on the fly if things were not going well, always kept upbeat about advancement through levels, and made Bead Ceremonies as public and special for everyone. It was nice to start a day by saying "Please join me in congratulating Joe Smith on earning his silver Ensign Rank!" The kid would come forward, be presented with the bauble, and shake my hand. The class liked the individual recognition of their peers.

Today I looked over the end survey for the class.
The comments spoke a very similar story. When asked if they enjoyed the gamifiaction model or they think I should throw it out, a vast majority said they would like to see it stay. Most of the comments revolved around it being fun, a great way to motivate students, and helped them learn the material. Many of them liked the testing procedure where they took several smaller tests instead of one large chapter exam. Even if I decide to not do Galaxy Fleet, I am going to give serious thought to keeping aspects of the testing procedure.

Some students mentioned how competition was a great motivator for them, and that this transition was easy because many of them play video games based on the same principles. They enjoyed trying to reach a level and gaining the recognition as they went.

That is not to say that every student bought into the idea. As you can see from the above graph, four of them were not interested in the game at all. In the comments, one wrote that if he/she wanted to be enlisted in ranking exercises, they would join the army, not take an astronomy class. One mentioned that there was a lot of things to remember in the labs, exams, and homework that was assigned. They had a hard time remembering to do all of it. They also felt frustrated in not reaching levels, wanting to drop the class because they felt they couldn't get anything right. These kind of comments concern me, and can not be fluffed off as outliers in the average.

Grade-wise, the students probably did better under this system, however, it is hard for me to attribute that to the game, or the fact that I took several more days to teach the material. I would say that the game motivated several kids in a way that I didn't have to personally keep them on task. However, if I took the same amount of time in my traditional learning cycle structure, I may have had similar results.

Overall, I am at the point in the process where I look at next year. Do I do this again? What changes would I make? I believe I have learned a lot about what motivates kids, how to tap into their competitive nature, and keep them focused. I am going to definitely keep some aspects of the game, if not the entire system.

I will keep you all updated.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Classroom Gamification Update

I realize that it has been a while since I have posted an update on the Galaxy Fleet game I am running in my class. I have few excuses except to say that keeping up with the game is very time consuming. Choosing to do this from scratch, with little back end support in place has proven to eat time quicker than a Sarlacc eats a bounty hunter. 

I have found that in order for the game to run smoothly, the students need to feel success periodically. This means that I need to be up to date on grading and awarding of points. The thing would not work if they did a lab activity and it took me three days to grade it, this forcing them to wait that time for their commendations, and therefore slow down the frequency of bar exams. I have to keep things graded everyday. Who knew this game would force me to be a better teacher! 

So where are we now? Of the 25 students in the class three of them have not reached Ensign status. That means that most of the class has passed the cadet bar exams with no less than a 70%. Granted, they could retake exams, but in my normal tests, there was no way 22/25 would have gotten a C or better. 

Of those who reached Ensign status, I have about half who have silver (extra work) status and one that got gold. This one girl who made gold passed all three of the exams on her first attempt and did the extension activity. I can tell already that there are a lot of Ensigns who want a gold bead when they hit their commander status. Since they can all get a gold bead, they truly are not competing against each other, only against themselves. They see her with her shiny gold bead and want that recognition. The game is putting wind in the higher achieving student's sails. 

What about the lower three who have not gotten there? I had a serious talk with them yesterday about their grades and the importance of putting in effort in class. Their stalled movement through the game has given me an avenue to breach the topic of not handing in work. Before this system, I found myself waiting until the summative exam before finding out they were not going to turn work in. Then they coming in after the fact to finish their labs. They failed exams because they didn't do the labs, then did the labs late for credit, turning them into busywork instead of their intended purpose. The game system forces those activities to be in before the exams which keeps them as a learning tool instead of empty points. 

After going through about half of the game, I am still on the fence as to whether it is a good idea or not. I truly believe the students enjoy the game and are more engaged. It is hard to tell if they are retaining the material as they are able to retake the exams, which they were not able to do before. A post-game survey of the class will probably reveal a lot. 

I will try to keep you updated better than I have. 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gamification day 5 recap

I was in Johnston yesterday to kick off the next generation science standards for the state of Iowa. I will probably post on my thought on this sometime soon.

For now, lets fill you in on how my gamification class has been going.

Galaxy Fleet has now graduated three quarters of its cadet class to the title of ensign. Several of the students have received silver beads and one very bright sophomore has gotten gold. We have held two ceremonies at the beginning of class where cadets come forward to receive their beads. I can tell you that those that come up are proud of their accomplishments. A simple handshake and having the class clap for them has really focused them on completing the tasks.

I informed them that they would not receive the points for exams if they do not pass them. I also informed them that they would not be able to even take higher exams until they pass e previous ones. This has spurred them on to retake the exams.

Allowing the to retake the exams has driven them towards passing them. They study for that second time, and really get upset when they fail. These are the same students that have struggled on every previous exam but never cared to even look at them again after the test was over. Now they know that the material is important because they will not move on without showing proficiency. My goal is to have the all pass to ensign by tomorrow. I think They can do it if I nudge them a bit more.

We shall see. Ensign exams start on Monday so they had better be ready.

I will keep you posted,