Saturday, November 21, 2020

#girlswhogame - Part 2

The learning is incredible! There is something so refreshing about being open to new learning and to doing it with a group of other people. 

The girls getting their GAME ON!

Since the last blog post, the #girlswhogame have been playing/experimenting with Minecraft, learning about being good digital citizens - especially around video meetings (Google Meets and Teams meetings), and digging deeper into who they are. 

Mrs. Ruston joins the team to assist the girls with their learning!

They recently met with Brenda Sherry and everyone got to learn a little more about each other and Brenda provided them with some specific instruction around the use of Minecraft: Education Edition. The girls are learning to use the game and experiencing a lot of success. 

The girls meeting with Brenda Sherry to learn more about Minecraft.

Mrs. MacDonald has taken the lead in helping the girls to continue to discover who they are and what they value. The combination of gaming and self awareness is pretty cool as we dip into important conversations around equity, education, and personal growth. 

Mrs. MacDonald leading the girls in a self-awareness activity.

On top of all of that, the girls chose a name for their team - the Mindful Minecrafters! Anyone who knows these girls would agree that the name is good fit with the make up of this team. It would be great to have a graphic to go with the name and hopefully that will come sooner rather than later.

Of course the learning isn't just for the girls. Mrs. MacDonald and I are also picking up a lot of tidbits on how to use Minecraft and how to support the girls as they grow as gamers who are aware of and demonstrate the global competencies. As the girls dig deeper into creating an #eateryofthefuture, more emphasis will be placed on the global competencies in the following ways as the students work on their culminating task:

  • solve problems using an inquiry process, make connections, see patterns, and transfer learning from one situation to another, particularly as it relates to the real life goal of ending hunger and making sure clean water is available to all people (Critical Thinking and Problem Solving)
  • think of and express questions in order to generate novel ideas, demonstrate leadership, initiative, innovation, and creativity to help solve real world problems (Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship)
  • think about their thinking and have a growth mindset, monitor their own learning, develop personal, educational, and career goals, and learn to manage aspects of their life (Self-Directed Learning)
  • participate in team work, learn from and contribute to the learning of others, accept and excel in a variety of roles depending on the needs of the team, and connect with individuals outside of their team to further their knowledge towards their culminating activity (mentors) (Collaboration)
  • communicate effectively in a variety of ways, use appropriate digital tools and create a positive digital footprint, and ask good questions and understand different point of views in order to find answers to questions (Communication)
  • understand how they are globally interconnected, make responsible decisions that support positive circumstances for all people, learn with and from diverse people, promote principles of equity and speak out against injustice, and participate in networks in a safe and responsible ways (Citizenship)
The gaming portion of the #girlswhogame initiative is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many amazing learning opportunities for everyone involved, especially the girls who are the future BUT can make positive societal contributions right now! 

Getting a selfie with the Mindful Minecrafters as they put in the work.

Stay tuned for more good stuff from our #girlswhogame @ St. John's!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

#girlswhogame - Part 1

A wonderful opportunity was presented to me last winter by my School Board's Learning Innovation Consultant (Suzanne Smart - @mssuzannesmart). She asked me if I wanted to be part of the "Girls Who Game" (GWG) initiative being run by Dell in partnership with Microsoft Education, Minecraft Education Edition, and the Ontario Science Centre. Of course, I said yes! 

Unfortunately, COVID19 entered into the picture at around that time and the school buildings ended up closing and we all found ourselves engaged in remote/online teaching and learning.  My school's participation in this amazing project would have to wait until the physical school buildings opened back up again. 

Not long after we returned to school in September, we were asked if we wanted to participate and of course we said YES! Sherry MacDonald - @teachermackie (St. John CES VP) and I are the club leaders but there is always room for other staff members to assist and get involved in any way that they would like. 
The girls getting together for the first time to do a survey about gaming.

The GWG initiatve is a robust one as it provides the girls and the leaders with hardware (Dell laptops) as well as support around gaming (using Minecraft: Education Edition), the Global Competencies, STEM, leadership, and mentorship. The girls, who are in the grade 5/6 class at our school, will be getting together at least two times per week to play Minecraft, connect with Brenda Sherry - @brendasherry (Minecraft coach), and other guests who will share their experiences in STEM fields.  

The girls have come together several times now in order to do the gaming survey, talk about their interests, strengths, and areas of growth, and to start up and set up their Dell laptops. Sherry and I have met with Katina Papulkas - @KatPapulkas (Canadian Education Strategist for Dell) twice and Brenda Sherry once to learn more about the initiative and take care of some logistics. 

Brenda, Sherry, and I meeting to talk about the initiative.

There are a number of reasons about why I am excited to be part of this initiative. My passion for edtech, the opportunity to be a positive role model for the students, to practice being a 'leader' with my VP Sherry, and to serve my school community are a few of them. In addition to those reasons, I have to say that I am quite please to get to work with Katina and Brenda. I have met both of them before through the Ministry of Education's Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. My interactions with them have been second to none so it is a real bonus that I have connected with them again for such an important and worthwhile project. I have learned so much from them face to face, and now I can continue to learn from them virtually.  

Exciting times are ahead as the girls discover more about gaming using Minecraft as well as the Global Competencies, STEM, and future career paths that may be of interest to them. Please make sure to follow us on our journey by reading and commenting on our blog posts and on twitter (@gwgthunder).

Friday, November 1, 2019

Esports in Primary - Part 3: The Tournament

In my last post (which you can read here) I indicated the following as my next steps:

1) I will show my students what games I have and we will decide which one to start with.

The students and I decided we would start with FIFA World Cup 2014. All of the students in my class are familiar with Soccer and reported that they like the sport. They were also excited that they would get the choice to choose a team from around the globe!

2) Have students sign up to show their interest in participating.

Eighteen out of twenty one students in my class signed up to participate. Here is a photo of the initial match ups!

3) Provide interested students with time to practice playing the game to familiarize themselves with the controls and parameters of the game.

The students were given two lunch time recesses to play around with the controls and become familiar with the controllers. I literally started up a match and had them play a bit and then pass the controller on to the next student. From what I saw and heard it looked like it was a good way to get them into it.

4) Create a tournament chart/schedule

I decided to pair students together (each get to play a half) and scheduled 5 games. The winner of each game moves on to the next round. The team who scores the most goals in the first round gets a bye to the third round. We will schedule games based on that. 

5) Create and share expectations for students who stay in to compete and students who stay in to watch the competition(s).

All the students in my class are welcome to stay in to watch whether they are singed up to participate or not. The only expectation is that they are respectful of the students who are playing and of the other students in the room. Since the tournament only involves my class they are familiar with our class expectations and are to follow them when they are with me. When I start involving other classes we will take some recess time to go over what is expected if they would like to be included in the tournament.

6) Start the tournament and adjust and troubleshoot as needed. 

The tournament is underway and the only thing I have really had to work on is how loud the students get! They are excited and I want to treat it like any other sporting experience but there is a limit on how loud they can be while they are in the classroom. Aside from that, things have been going well.

7) Share how things are going by blogging and tweeting about the experience - successes, issues, etc.

I took some photos today from our games and will be tweeting them out. I am also enjoying the fact that I am tracking the experience by blogging about it. I am not sure if I will track my experience as diligently in the next round with another class but would like to keep recording and sharing about the general experience of running a primary esports club/tournament.

My Vice Principal actually talked to me the other day about using school jerseys because the school just got new ones!! So my consideration may become a reality sooner rather than later. My other consideration about making the club/tournament available to other classes looks like it will be happening, it is just a matter of timing and scheduling. 

I did have a quick lesson on the 21st Century Competencies the other day in order to formally introduce them to my students and to talk about how they would be integrated and observed in our esports club. This is new to them but with time and explicit experiences they will become part of our epsorts talk and actions and I would like that to carry over into the work we do in our classroom. It will be fun to introduce the competencies to the other classes I work with and then see if they use the language in their class with their teachers.

Looking forward to sharing more about the primary esports experience as things progress with the involvement of other classes.    

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Esports in Primary - Part 2: Next Steps

I recently got things started with esports in my classroom. I wanted to get started and wasn't 100% sure how I would do it but I did, and I did it in class, and I connected it to the Mathematics that we have been working on. It was a great experience and kick start for my students. You can read about what we did and how it went here.

I want to continue to use video games as a way to reach my students with respect to the curriculum and their learning but I also want to implement esports as an extra curricular activity/option for younger students who don't have the option of trying out for school sports teams; and who may not want to play traditional sports and be competitive that way.

One of the problems I am bumping up against is finding games that are accessible and appropriate for my students. Games where they can actually play video games and compete against each other, head to head - which is what esports is all about - have been hard for me to find. There is a plethora of games where students can compete against a clock but I would like to expose them to actually playing video games against someone else, in real time.

Let me provide you with some information about my context. Students have access to chromebooks which are connected to the Internet via wifi. I have found some games that I think are appropriate but are not accessible to my students via their access to the Internet. This has been causing me some heartache and has been getting in the way of what I would like to do with my students. I needed a solution. I decided that I would move away from the internet and the chromebooks and use a video game console so that my students could compete against each other.

I am fortunate because I have an Xbox 360 at home that is not being used. I have a bunch of sports games that are single and multiplayer. I also have the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor so the students can play games that allow them to be physical. I brought the system into the classroom and then had to deal with how to set it up. The easiest way to connect the system to my whiteboard projector was via HDMI but I didn't start there. The first thought was that I was going to need a VGA/HDMI connector in order to get the Xbox connected to projector. After some investigation and solid support from Michael Leonard (my school board's experiential learning and innovation lead) I ended up learning that my projector has an HDMI port already attached into its setup.

After the HDMI cord was connected to the Xbox and the port in the wall, I plugged the console into a power source and found success!! 

I discovered a car racing game in the Xbox which provided me with the opportunity to see the setup in action. The console is now set up and it works. Next step - what do I do now? Where do I start? 

Now that I have a gaming system that is accessible to all my students, I am going to plan a tournament for them to participate in. 

Here is the process I am going to follow moving forward:

1) I will show my students what games I have and we will decide which one to start with.
2) Have students sign up to show their interest in participating.
3) Provide interested students with time to practice playing the game to familiarize themselves with the controls and parameters of the game.
4) Create a tournament chart/schedule
5) Create and share expectations for students who stay in to compete and students who stay in to watch the competition(s).
6) Start the tournament and adjust and troubleshoot as needed. 
7) Share how things are going by blogging and tweeting about the experience - successes, issues, etc.

One of the things I am considering but not sure about involve having the students wear school team jerseys as they compete. I am thinking about making teams so that students belong to a group rather than being an independent participant. I am also interested in making this available to other classes so we can have add to the tournament results with winners in different classes competing against each other. That is a "down the road" action but it is on my mind and looking forward to moving all of this beyond my students. 

Since the esport extra curricular will be happening outside of classroom time, I am not planning on making explicit curriculum connections but I will be keeping an eye out on possible connections and will bring those to the attention to the students as a whole group and in one-to-one conferences depending on the connection and the student. 

I will be looking at the 21st Century Competencies and the Ontario Catholic Graduate Expectations explicitly and speaking to my students about them and how they fit into the competitive video gaming that they will participate in. Even though the students will be competing against each other, I believe that it is a great opportunity for them to become more aware of and practice such things as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, effective communication, and what it means to be a self-directed lifelong learner.

It is an exciting time in our classroom. The students and I are pretty pumped about what is to come. They are happy that they will get to play video games at school and I am happy that I can offer them the opportunity while helping them become better learners.   

Monday, October 21, 2019

Esports with Primary Students - Part 1: Jumping In

A few months ago I dove into esports when I took a course called "Build a school to career pipeline with esports and gaming concepts" through the Microsoft Educator Community. It was a good course - quite informative with respect to what esports is, what it looks like in an educational setting, and how to get started (high school and above). My only issue with the course was that it didn't get into esports or gaming concepts with younger students. Having integrated video games into the learning of primary students in the past, I was surprised that there wasn't much on that in the course.

In 2012 I learned about a teacher in the UK who was using video games with students to help them improve their writing. David Andrews was integrating the use of technology (iPads) and video games to help engage his students in the writing process and to help them improve their writing. At the time, I thought that I could have used what David was doing with the last class I taught - a large group of boys who disliked writing very much. Based on his results and consultations with him, I decided to try implement some of what what he had done to help my students along with their writing process and skills. I ended up writing a series of blog posts about the experience. Feel free to check them out here: part #1, part #2, and part #3.

Seven years later and I find myself interested and intrigued with competitive and organized video gaming and how it can be integrated into the curriculum - especially with primary students. One of the reasons that esports is so popular is because a lot of kids play video games - and are good at them. From a global perspective, millions of people around the world tune in to esports events that are streamed online. The fact that "27 Million people watched the League of Legends Championship in 2017 [*more than Game 7 of the World Series (23.5 million) and the final game of the NBA Finals (18 million)]." is mind blowing. "Projections are that over 589 million people will watch esports by 2020.".

Based on the growing popularity of esports, how much kids love to play video games (generally speaking), my enjoyment of video games, and the opportunity to increase student engagement and achievement (academic, social, and emotional) by integrating esports into the curriculum, I decided that I wanted to bring it into my classroom. I started by looking online to see what I could find regarding esports with primary students. I didn't find anything. I went to Twitter next and I found the #esportsedu community which is strong and growing larger each day. I was looking for a model or a template that would help me integrate esports into my grade 3 classroom and hoped that I would find that within the #esportsedu community but I didn't find any such thing. I did find people like @chomoojoo, Mike Washburn, and Steve Isaacs who have been helpful and supportive. So much so that I decided to blaze my own trail based on my interactions with them.

After communicating with them, and thinking about how I wanted to get started, I decided that I wanted to find a game that would be competitive, accessible to my students (free, online, and easily played on a chromebook), and be connected to the curriculum. I went to the Cool Math Games website and started searching. I found Moto X3M - a cool motorcycle game that involves passing levels. At the end of each level, the students are informed how long it took them to complete the level. BINGO! I found a game I could use. Let me explain.

I introduced the idea of esports to the students. They were interested, actually they were pretty excited that they were going to get to play video games in class. I introduced them to the game and told them that their goal was to complete the first level as fast as possible and that I would give all of them 15 minutes to practice. In order to make it easy for the students to get to the game, I grabbed the link and put it in our D2L class site for easy access.

The competition would involve three rounds. In the first round, all the students would have the opportunity to compete. The top ten finishers would move on to the second round. In the second round, the top five finishers would move on to the third round. In the third round the first, second, and third place finishers would be identified.

After the first round, each student had to read their number to me. Up to this point we had only worked with whole numbers - this would be a great opportunity to talk about the decimal and the continue our talk about place value. After each round the students were responsible for comparing and ordering the finish times, which connects with the work we had just formally finished up with respect to Number Sense and Numeration. The opportunity to spiral our mathematics is welcome as it provides the students with points of reference with which they can refer to as they continue to learn. In this instance they could make connections to what they had already learned in math and moving forward they can look back on this esports activity to connect to the 'new' math they will be learning in the future.

Take a look at the data we collected. I recorded the times as they were brought to my attention. The students had to work to compare and order the times. They asked me to highlight certain times but didn't ask me to create a new chart to order them.

The students that were eliminated from the competition worked on improving their times but would stop and work with the rest of the students to compare and order times after each round. At the end of this competition we talked about the experience and whether they would like to do it again. All of the students indicated that they wanted to participate in esports and even had suggestions on what games we could use to compete.

This was a really fun experience. Although the math was a bit challenging, it didn't seem to scare any of the students away. What I was seeing and hearing as they were comparing and ordering the times was great formative assessment data for me. I could see which students were able to do the activity with ease, who struggled, and everything in between. This activity also allowed me to take a look at some of the learning skills like initiative, collaboration, and organization. After all was said and done we took time to reflect on what the students could do to improve their times with respect to this game. Here were their responses:

In terms of next steps I would like to continue to find games that will allow students to compete and that I can connect to the curriculum. At first sight and thought, I can make quick connections between esports and the Language curriculum. I also see how these types of activities can benefit students with respect to "assessment AS learning" experiences. The Global Competencies and Catholic Graduate expectations need to be considered as well as I move forward with this in a more organized fashion. I would also like to move the esports out of classroom time and into recess time as an extra curricular activity. I think it would be a great option for the students who like to play video games and compete. I am also interested in using a console gaming system like a PS3 or Xbox where students can compete 'head to head' in true tournament fashion with traditional sports games like hockey and soccer. 

I think that my students and I did a pretty good job for our first esport activity. With no model or template I took what I had learned about esports so far and put it into action in order to get the ball rolling and start my learning journey and how I can help my students improve their achievement in a number of different areas. 

I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Success is Relative

When I found out that I was transferring to the school I am currently at, I was told that my skill set (integration of technology and building relationships) was going to be a really good thing for the students at the school. With the end of the school year approaching fast, I have been reflecting on and processing what I was told.

I have always been a firm believer in meeting my students where they are at and helping them build and grow based on the skills and attitudes they demonstrate to me. No two classes are the same so why would I expect to engage in the same "recipe" I may have used with the last class? Every group helps me set a customized path for them and I have to say that I am really proud of where my students started this year and where they will end. Let me explain.

The school I work at has a large population of newcomers to Canada. In my classroom alone the majority of the class is made up of students that have not been in Canada very long. Just today I was looking around the room as the students were working and was fascinated with the cultural diversity. There are students in my class from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Isreal, to name a few locations. English is not their first language and as they are learning to speak, read, and write English they have been open to building positive relationships with me and their classmates and have been open to the use of technology to learn and demonstrate their learning.

Some of the things I have introduced them to has blown their minds. 3D printing, virtual reality, coding, Google Drive, and the use of audio/video are examples of things I have introduced them to for the experience and for them to consider as options to help them with their learning and their demonstration of learning.

The introduction and integration of the technology I have mentioned above has come differently than any other class I have worked with. My experience at this school has required me to teach in a way that I have never experienced before. It's hard to explain the shift but it was a necessary one. The student make up of the class in front of me is largely made up of ELLs, students with special needs, and "neurotypical" students. I have worked in a variety of schools in a variety of locations and none of my prior experiences come close to what I have been experiencing this school year. Having said that, it has been a special year and has been a good change for me for a variety of reasons.

My focus with this class was to build relationships and learn how to "reach" them so they would learn and achieve. The integration of tech took a backseat because It didn't feel like it was appropriate to engage in the way I have done so in the past. As I learned how to teach the students in my class this year, and built good relationships with them, I started to feel more comfortable taking risks with my learning which led me to start introducing them to learning that would require them to take risks. Together, we have been able to engage in some pretty awesome stuff. Those experiences have only strengthened relationships and led to more risk taking with our learning.

I had a moment late last week which has led me to this blog post. As I was conferencing with a few students, I looked up and saw the following:

1) students talking about the Father's Day gifts that the 3D printer was printing,
2) students working on a writing activity using Google Slides,
3) students discussing the YouTube video that we would create for our Math coach,
4) students speaking in English and their home languages as they worked on the items I mentioned above.

Success is relative. It looks different depending on your circumstances. I can say, with full confidence, that this group has found success this school year.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Lend a Helping Hand: Kids helping other Kids

I became interested in 3D printing about 6 years ago when one of my grade 2 students told me about an idea she had. She was writing about and drawing pictures of a Leperchaun trap. She said that she could see it in her mind. She wanted to create a prototype that she could hold in her hands. It was that conversation that got me thinking about design and creation using 3 dimensional technology.

Two years after that conversation I had a 3D printer in my grade 4 classroom. It tuned out to be an amazing year of learning! We documented our journey - you can read all about it at I remember hearing about 3D printed prosthetics back then and I tried to connect with people so that my students could help out but we had no luck. I thought it would be a great social justice project for my students but it wasn't meant to be.

Fast forward to this school year (three years later) where I stumbled upon Valerie Perez's twitter account (@3rdgrade_STEAM) which led me to "Enabling the Furture" (@Enablethefuture): a global network of volunteers using 3D printers to provide people with prosthetic hands. I checked the website out and learned about the great work that Enabling the Future is doing. I brought it to my student's attention and told them what my students and I tried to do years ago. They thought it would be a great learning experience to try and print a test prosthetic so we started our learning journey.

One of the first things we had to do is figure out which hand to print. Once we made our decision, I started looking for the files to print so we could start putting the hand together. I had difficulty finding files that were compatible with our printer so I reached out to Doug Braden (Chief Technology Officer at Inksmith) to ask for help - and he did!! After a couple of days of printing we were happy to share with our twitter followers.

The day after the above tweet, we had the hand assembled and my students wanted to share a little bit about our journey.

After pushing this out we got some responses. All of them were complementary but one of them really got me thinking. I was asked how I am convincing people that primary students did this?

My class and I are doing this together. Parts of the project are more appropriate for me to deal with rather than the students. Having said that, I don't feel that I need to convince anyone of anything. I talked a little bit about this on a podcast, you can hear my response to the question here:

The work we are doing is much deeper than printing parts and putting them together. Of course, that part of this project is necessary but it isn't where I would like to spend our focus. My hope is that the students remember our work as a service to others, the importance of learning (especially the hard parts that we have to overcome), and that they don't need to wait to make a difference in this world. Using the technology we have at our hands, we can help other kids and hopefully lend them a hand.