I am taking two courses this semester to finally finish up the requirements so I can file for teacher certification in Idaho. In one of the courses, my reading this evening included this except from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (NCFOT):
Black and William report that studies of formative assessment show an effect size on standardized tests of between 0.4 and 0.7, larger than most known educational interventions. (The effect size is the ratio of the average improvement in test scores in the innovation to the range of scores of typical groups of pupils on the same tests). . . . Formative assessment is particularly effective for students who have not done well in school, thus narrowing the gap between low and high achievers while raising overall achievement (NCFOT, 1999, ¶ 4).
Which reminded me, forcefully, that I do not have enough formative assessment built into my Nolat Labs course game. It’s integrated thoroughly in my Gnimmargorp game; nearly every activity is a formative assessment. But it’s nearly missing from Nolat Labs. I need to build it in as thoroughly as I have for my other game.
But as I wrote that, I realized just how much work it will be to properly integrate. To have formative assessment done well, there need to be clear and frequent opportunities for students to check their own progress. That will mean, among other things:
- Building multiple versions of exams covering the same topics, so students can take the formative exams and receive feedback about their areas of strength and weakness without compromising the final exam(s).
- Writing built-in feedback about the areas of strength and weakness, which will involve adding feedback information to every question in the question-bank.
- Creating exemplars of each project, in a range of results from mediocre to outstanding, so students can compare their work against a know standard and determine their current success and further needs.
Whew! That’s going to be a lot of work. But I believe…no, I know it will be worth the effort and time. Because I already have that in Gnimmargorp and I know just how powerful it is for student learning. Seeing their own results and knowing exactly what to do to improve them, or what to ask in order to understand more fully, is one of the most powerful tools I’ve given students in my games. So I’ll get started.
This is an under-construction ongoing post that will be regularly modified as the summer progresses. It’s a place for me to capture my thoughts about how I’ll be structuring my two major course-as-game efforts in the coming school year (16-17). There may also be responses posted here to some of my friend and colleague’s efforts along similar lines, over at Game On.
A tale of two games
My two game for next school year will be: a revised version of Gnimmargorp, my Introduction to Computer Science course, and a brand new site, Nolat Labs, which is for my IB Design Technology courses. I’ll talk in much more detail about each of these below. What they will both share are the basic mechanics and structure of Game-On, a plug-in for the WordPress website development environment. Game-On enables a gamified learning management system, or GMLS, which gives the capability to run my courses as a game by setting up assignments in parts, tracking players’ progress and earnings, awarding rewards, and providing oversight. For details, see this post at Game On.
These two courses are rather different, too. Gnimmargorp is well established, having gone through 3 full-year iterations so far. Many of the components will be familiar to my prior players, but several will be tweaked this year to improve classroom dynamics and engage players in more interaction. It will also be easier to navigate, start, and track your own progress.
On the other hand, Nolat Labs will be a brand new game and will be structured substantially differently than Gnimmargorp. In part, this is due to the nature of the course (having a more clearly defined curriculum and external moderation, for example). A larger part is due to me wanting to set up both a linear sequence – to accommodate learners who prefer this approach – and an open structure – to accommodate those who’d rather jump around.
This will be continued
One of my students wrote this in their final reflection: “It was fun because I really didn’t have to memorize things for a test or a quiz, instead some things were remembered because they were interesting. I didn’t have to stuff information in my brain in order to understand or do something, information about electronics just was in my head because it wanted to be there.”
I count that as a win for the year.
What a great way to end a week. I assigned a test this week to my Introduction to Computer Science players, in the form of a “Boss Challenge.” I have several fairly quiet students, who come in to class, sit down, get to work, and rarely say much even during our semi-weekly one-on-one conferences. But one of them wrote this in her journal after the period:
When I first heard there’s going to be an assessment my initial reaction was “Oh no, I’m really not that good.” But, last class I did the warmups and it was actually kind of fun because they were all sort of logic based questions and basic python coding so I thought “Maybe, I’m going to be okay.”
As it turns out, I was okay as a matter of fact I actually enjoyed it. After a bit of struggle , I breezed through it and even mastered it. I didn’t use the internet that much because the problems I did were sort of similar and I remembered more than I thought I did from CodeAcademy. So, I went from an “Oh no, I’m really not that good” to a“Maybe, I’m going to be okay” and by the end of it all I was at an “That was actually sort of fun.”
My response was simply: “I’m glad it was fun! And you are that good.”
“Sun behind clouds” by Superflewis at Wikimedia commons
Today I was thinking a lot about iteration. It’s a concept from computer science that describes the process of building something, then going back to revise it, again and again. It’s like my English teacher told me in junior high: just start writing and revise it as many times as you need.
This is something I’ve been teaching many of my students, in every subject I teach: Yearbook, Computer Science, Electronics, and Design Technology. It’s also something I’ve been doing, with my writing in various forums, with my websites, and in the design of each of my courses.
Iteration is all about not being afraid to start, even though you know it’s going to suck at first. In my experience, the best stuff I’ve created has sucked for around a couple of years before it really starts being something other folks notice. This matches what an amazing creative, Ira Glass, has said about his own work (not that his sucks, but that this is true in general). So it’s important to get over the fear of it sucking and just get started.
Then iterate. A lot. Revise it frequently. Get feedback from lots of people whose opinion you trust. Take criticism as a kindness, because praise doesn’t help you make it better (and you already know it’s not great, yet, so be skeptical of anyone who tells you it is, they probably just don’t want to see your feelings hurt). Keep iterating. And you’ll gradually see something you recognize as much better than when you started.
About two years into it, if you’re like me, you’ll start feeling like “yeah, this isn’t so bad after all.” You’ll also have a much better idea of all the amazing things you could still do to improve it, which are the most important, which are the ones you really want to do, and so on. Plenty more iteration to go!
Just before spring break, I asked my students playing the Introduction to Computer Science course (gnimmargorp.com) to add a note in their journal in which they thought either about their own thinking or about themselves, rather than just in-game observations. One young man wrote this:
I have learnt much from this class. This class has not only taught me the basics of coding, but how to time manage my time, and focus my attentions on my studies. In the beginning of the class I just wanted to follow the footsteps of my older brother who now studies Computer Science, and Engineering in Penn State. But a few month into the subject, and I began to actually really like it. I thought it was easy, but what was easy turned out to be both fun, and challenging. I finished all the Lullaby lyrics a few weeks ago, and had recently completed the tough quest of secrets. I have set a personal goal for myself, in which I would spend 30 minutes doing anything related to this class. I have been recently busy, thus unable to complete that goal. I have learnt that working with my classmates, especially Mohamed Abo Aiad in coding, has proven to be efficient, because we are both at the same level, allowing us to help each other in every quest and activity. I had been sick for a week, and traveling for another, so I think I might be behind in terms of the Code Academy completion, but I hope to catch up the class. I learnt that sometimes sitting near friends can cause disruption, and lack of focus. Although other times, I end up learning from them. This class I will continue working on quests, in order to earn some gold, and experience.
He packed a lot of stuff into 250 words! Most of his prior posts had been about his game progress or a problem on which he was working. Boy, was I pleased to read this. I should have begun asking for more thoughtful, reflective posts much earlier in the year. Lesson plans will be changed for next year. While this is the most exciting example, several other students similarly increased the depth of their reflection. I’m chalking this one up as a complete win.
The initial impetus for asking for more specific reflection came from a post at Mindshift: When Kids Have Structure for Thinking, Better Learning Emerges. I’m planning on re-reading that at least a couple times this summer in order to mine it for other ideas on asking better reflection questions and eliciting more specific responses from my students when they complete their weekly journal entries for our game.
36 – High Five by Melanie at Flickr