The third limitation is in our understanding of how much potential we have for growth and change. For the most part, people seem to think that life is linear, that our capacities decline as we grow older, and that opportunities we have missed are gone forever. Many people have not found their Element because they don’t understand their constant potential for renewal.
— Sir Ken Robinson / The Element
For both the students and myself, growth, change, and renewal are all on the plate for the first day of school—as is positioning the kids to discover their own Element. But how to introduce and explain it right now, before I completely understand and comprehend it myself? That’s going to be a real challenge.
So, I turn to you for ideas and solutions—to the Mac Lab students and alumni who’ve patiently awaited this post all summer, to fellow educators who happen by or frequent this site, and to our other visitors who’ve found their way to this blog for one reason or another. I’m going to just think out loud and you’re all invited to suggest changes, modifications, additions, pretty much anything you want. All input—especially constructive criticism—is welcomed for this is quite literally, a work in progress.
The Concept in a Nutshell: Rather than assignments, students will embark on Quests, earning Experience Points, Leveling Up, and eventually earning creative freedom in choosing a profession that fits their wants and needs: animator, illustrator, graphic designer, digital publisher, photographer, videographer, etc. (Think WoW.) They’ll have the opportunity to embark on multi-player Quests (student-directed collaboration) and initiate their own Quests, like cross-curricular projects, formal student mentoring, commercial work, etc.
The idea is to shape the curriculum into a game. The 2011/12 school year will be an Open Beta with the students and I—and other interested parties—working together to construct, play, and refine the game. Participants will become members of The Mac Lab Artists’ Guild, fighting the insidious forces of apathy and mediocrity. Students will be free to work alone or in teams and they will self-assess their own progress using an LMS. Each Quest or series of Quests will offer five levels to work through:
- Novice: 1 Experience Point
- Apprentice: 2 Experience Points
- Journeyman: 3 Experience Points
- Expert: 4 Experience Points
- Master: 5 Experience Points
There are a great many details yet to be fleshed out but because the bulk of the Experience Points (XP) are collected by Experts and Masters, my intent is to encourage deeper comprehension of the subject matter. Because the game must involve risks and rewards, Duels or Challenges will serve to enforce the Code of Honor among members of the Guild who have self-assessed their individual levels of proficiency. Here’s how I see the Levels at present:
Novice (1 XP)
- Completed first phase of Quest
- May or may not understand the purpose of Quest
- May or may not be able to help peers
- Not subject to Duels
Apprentice (2 XP)
- Completed second phase of Quest
- Is beginning to understand purpose of Quest
- Can help Novices with Quest
- Not subject to Duels
Journeyman (3 XP)
- Completed third phase of Quest
- Understands purpose of Quest
- Can and does help Novices and Apprentices with Quest
- Is subject to Non-Binding Duels with no loss or gain of XP
Expert (4 XP)
- Completed fourth phase of Quest
- Can Explain purpose of Quest
- Helps lower level peers with Quest
- Is subject to Timed Duels (X min—variable)
- Risks all 10 XP
- Victory nets an additional 10 XP
Master (5 XP)
- Completed fifth and final phase of Quest
- Can teach Quest
- Helps lower level peers with Quest
- Is subject to Live Duels
- Risks all 15 XP
- Victory nets an additional 15 XP
Background Info: For those not familiar with the Mac Lab, it’s a room full of music, banter, and humor. We have fun while we work. Duels aren’t intended to be punitive. I want to build confidence so Duels will begin easy and ramp up slowly. I want students to win. Because every class includes second, third, and sometimes fourth-year veterans, those kids will most likely encounter the initial Duels, modeling for the rookies. Extreme taunting of the teacher (which is sure happen) will result in extreme Duels. I want to push each kid’s envelope while building confidence. Failures will happen but failure is always instructive and is always part of any good game.
A Little More Information about Duels:
Journeyman: Non-Binding Duel
- Teacher-initiated random checks for understanding
- No penalty for failure or reward for success
- Training ground for higher-level Duels
Expert: Timed Duel
- Expert-Level students may request Duel but are always subject random checks for understanding
- Expert has X minutes (variable) to demonstrate understanding in “open book” challenge
- Expert knows how and where to find answers
- Expert risks all 10 XP in Duel but victory nets +10 XP
Master: Live Duel
- Master-Level students may taunt teacher to initiate a Duel but are always subject random checks for understanding
- Master must demonstrate mastery on the spot, without any aid
- Master already know the answer
- Master risks all 15 XP in Duel but victory nets +15 XP
To Summarize: Quests are skills, strategies, techniques, standards, competencies, etc. we (teachers) want students to understand, or better yet, master. Levels are a self-assessed measure of each individual student’s proficiency in each Quest. Experience Points are equivalent to mana, energy, or even a form of currency to be used by advanced Guild Members. Duels are interactive checks for understanding.
Important: Students know (or quickly learn) that the Mac Lab is more a frame of mind than a place. We have a well-established classroom management policy and Mac Lab students consistently produce exceptional work. Assessment is based on the World’s Simplest Rubric™ and the introduction of The Mac Lab Artists’ Guild is intended to heighten student achievement while making the learning environment more engaging and fun.
And since I mentioned assessment…
In a room filled with IEPs, 504s, Plus Codes, ELLs, and everything from 0.6 to 4.6 GPAs, there has to be a way for every kid to reach toward his/her own level of personal excellence and achievement. Expectations in the Mac Lab run sky-high but they are also flexible enough to allow each student the opportunity to excel if he/she tries hard enough. Because students begin the year with widely-varied levels of experience and expertise, they will progress through the Quests at widely-varied rates. Depth and breadth of knowledge and skill requires persistent effort. Students are judged against themselves, not their peers.
If effort (focused participation), more than any other factor, has proven to lead to student success in the Mac Lab, then effort should be the most important factor in determining a student’s grade. In a self-paced, hands-on, project-based, tutorial-driven class, each student determines the pace of his/her instruction and the scope and scale of his/her learning. The question is: How hard is each student willing to try?
This rule may not hold for all things in life, but in the Mac Lab, effort truly does count because it leads to success.
The Fine Print: Giving one’s all includes abiding by classroom rules, policies, and expectations too.
Having said all that, I give you the World’s Simplest Rubric™
A: You Gave it Your All
You tried your best.
B: Great, but…
You tried, but not hard enough.
C: No Second Effort
You really didn’t try very hard.
D: Are You Kidding Me?
You are wasting your time.
F: Who are You?
You stopped coming to class.
Who is the Judge? Formal one-on-one reviews take place every three weeks. Discussions include progress, goals, ideas, dreams, etc. and each student informs me of the grade he/she has earned. While I reserve the right to disagree, I’ve found that virtually every student knows exactly where he/she stands according to this rubric.
I fully realize that some/many educators will gasp in dismay at my seemingly unprofessional method of assessment. The rubric may not appear educationally sound, but dang if it doesn’t work.
Full Disclosure: Tapping into intrinsic motivation matters most to me. If I had my way, I’d dispense with grades altogether. But since grades remain a necessary evil in education, I try to make them as easy to understand as possible—for both the students and myself.
More on Intrinsic Motivation: Obviously, the choice to structure the curriculum around a gaming model is a blatant attempt to tap into students’ intrinsic motivation. But I’ve been pondering this for a while. In October of 2010, an essential question arose:
How might I reconfigure and restructure expectations and assignments in my classroom to provide a wider array of sustained opportunities for students to tap into their own Zone of Intrinsic Motivation (ZIM) without compromising the integrity of the curriculum?
The story, including credit for the Venn the ZIM evolved from may be found right here.
There’s far more to add but it’s time for me to make this public. As this is a work in progress, I reserve the right (as always) to edit the post after it’s gone live.
As I have…
several dozens of times already.
Kudos: The intrepid snowman on a San Diego beach is courtesy of Chadd C and a few other 2nd period artistic brainiacs. Special thanks also to the group of students and alumni who helped shape this post by contributing to the private conversation on our Haiku during the summer. In no particular order: Christopher, Christian, Fadi, Kyle, Diana, Semar, Oday, Tiffany, Philip, Vincent, and George.
Thanks: This idea grew out of my Masters Program at FSO. (Only two weeks to go!) Special thanks to Tom for helping me find my ZIM! and Jason for encouraging me to run with this crazy idea. There are also a whole bunch of educators experimenting with serious gaming (gaming with a purpose). Thanks to all for your pioneering work!
Because Someone Will Ask: What’s Element 246?
- The Mac Lab is located in room 246 of Valhalla High School.
- 2.46 was my cumulative GPA at Watsonville High School. (Didn’t like school much.)
I’m going to offer extra XP for cross-curricular projects because I want students (and their teachers) to experience the power of visual information. Y’know, like this or this (Fadi G and Christopher W).
0814: I love epiphanies.
TAG: You’re It
Woke a little before 4:00 with The Artists’ Guild in my mind. Hey! The Artists’ Guild. The program could be called TAG. Sheesh! I’ve been trying to come up with a catchy acronym since May. And this one’s even a game! And TAG: You’re It speaks to the individual members… The cooperative nature… The child-like playfulness… The fun we could have…
The answer is often hiding right in front of us—right inside of us.
— Journal Entry / February 5, 1988 (via)
The best answers are usually so simple, and so obvious, in retrospect. Now, how to get the kids to play? How to introduce this?
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I began reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken right after I initially uploaded this post (which I’ve been editing and adding to ever since). It seems like I’ve already highlighted half of Jane’s ideas but there was an especially electric connection to this passage near the end of Part One:
Gamers can imagine 6 billion people coming together to fight a fictional enemy, for the sheer awe and wonder of it. They are ready to work together on extreme scales, toward epic goals, just for the spine-tingling joy of it. And the more we seek out that kind of happiness as a planet, the more likely we are to save it—not from fictional aliens, but from apathy and wasted potential.
Aren’t apathy and wasted potential both ever-present in our classrooms? Back near the top of this post when I wrote: Participants will become members of The Mac Lab Artists’ Guild, fighting the insidious forces of apathy and mediocrity, was I close to resonating with Jane’s visionary declaration? (If you aren’t familiar with this amazing woman, watch her TEDTalk.)
Like any good teacher, I’m going to lift Jane’s idea and use it in reshaping my own vision for TAG: You’re It.
Participants will become members of The Artists’ Guild, fighting the insidious forces of apathy and wasted potential.
Yeah, I like the sound and feel of that better. Anyone else out there want to play along? TAG: You’re It!
••••• ••••• ••••• ••••• •••••
Educators Only: There are two conversations relating to this idea taking place on the Web. One on the Adobe Education Exchange and the other at the Art Ed 2.0 Ning. Both require registration. If you’d rather follow or contribute to the conversation behind closed doors, here are the links to the conversations on their respective sites: Changing the Game and TAG: You’re It. Or, since many of you seem to like email better: email@example.com.
••••• ••••• ••••• ••••• •••••
Back to Our Story…
Just began Part Two of Reality is Broken (called Reinventing Reality) and the book continues to inspire and inform.
For instance, I’d never heard of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). The most amazing thing about ARGs is that they DO have an impact on the real world because they’re played out here in the real world but using rules that make work into a game. In other words, ARGs are designed to make real life more fun for the players.
Realization: TAG qualifies as an ARG!
Whenever I walk through the front door of my apartment, I enter an alternate reality. It looks and works just like regular reality, with one major exception: when I want to clean the bathroom, I have to be really sneaky about it.
The point? She and her husband play Chore Wars and they decided that cleaning the bathroom should be worth 100 XP (other chores are worth less). Since they use the XPs for real world rewards (like what music is played in the car), they actually want to beat the other to the dirtiest of chores each week.
Imagine your classroom as an alternate reality. Our (teachers) first task would seem to be convincing the students to become players. And as wonderful as it would be to leave no child behind, it’s got to be voluntary or what’s the point? Modifying what it says at the top of this post:
But how to introduce and explain it to the students before I completely understand and comprehend it myself?
I don’t have that answer yet but one thing’s for sure, writing this down has helped to clarify a number of murky concepts. The responses from other educators have helped as well. David Gran, interested in trying a variation of TAG in his own classroom (in Shanghai, China), wrote:
So tell me more about ‘duels’. What would that look like?
Now that you force me to think enough to answer (and thanks for that!), I see “duels” as highly individualized public challenges.
First, there has to be a signal—a throwing down of the gauntlet so to speak. Maybe we’ll just use an old leather glove—but something symbolic and potentially theatrical.
For the shy, sensitive, or insecure kids, perhaps the only “public” thing about the duel would be that the person sitting next to them noticed the glove dropping. In this case, the duel would be a gentle check for understanding: “Show me…” But I already know that many students will relish the classroom-wide duel—the overt and dramatic challenge followed by the chance to show Skocko—and everyone else—that she (or he) can beat me by showing what she knows.
Since there’s already a lot of banter in the room and a lot of verbal jousting, this should fit right in. And McGonigal points to research that indicates that getting “pwned” in public is actually socially constructive for both parties. Go figure. (You gotta read the book.)
If I might anticipate another question:
What real world rewards will students be able to claim for their XPs?
Music is almost always playing in the Mac Lab. With over five thousand of my favorite songs in the queue, music is one of the many wonderful perks of my calling. But—gulp—with Jane’s example as my guide, maybe some students would choose to spend XPs—or more likely some other reward XPs would trigger—to dictate the playlist for the period. I’m pretty sure the kids will enjoy this one more than I will.
Since all students will begin the year with a WordPress blog to chronicle their journey, beginning with a simple, inelegant template may provide an added incentive to earn XPs to access more interesting template choices. Other XP thresholds would open options for a wider array of Quests from which to choose. Significantly higher levels of XPs will open creative freedom opportunities. Accumulating experience points will give players access to more cool features, resources, opportunities, etc.
These ideas are obviously in flux but one thing I know for sure is that I want students to be a part of setting up some of the game’s parameters. I just want to provide the foundation and framework. We’ll build the rest together.
0817: Thanks to a very exuberant response from an alum (Hannah J in the comments below), I’m thinking that our former students could/should be able to play too. Mentoring and supplying resources would seem to be natural fits. We’ll need a separate alumni self-assessment tool and a leaderboard but that won’t be hard to set up. Thanks for the idea, Hannah!
So, Fadi, Christopher, Kyle, Steven, Hannah, Diana, Julia, and the rest: Do you want to play?
0826: It’s official. After a solid year of toil and trouble, I’ve got my Master of Science degree in Education Media Design and Technology. Now it’s time to focus on the year ahead. What’s that? School begins in 11 days?! Holy deadline, Batman! I better get rolling.
Tag: They’re It! A big ol’ Mac Lab welcome to the first members of The Artists’ Guild: the students of Seminole High School in Florida. Adobe Education Leader, Rob Schwartz, has introduced his students to TAG before we’ve even returned to the classroom. Go Seminoles! Fight the insidious forces of apathy and wasted potential. And don’t forget to enjoy the battle!
WoW: It’s Free! Before I get to the point, I have a confession to make…
Like many others, I sometimes jump to conclusions before examining any evidence. Take World of Warcraft (WoW). Millions of people play it. What an utterly useless waste of time and energy! For years I’ve scoffed at those who played that silly game (that I’d never even seen). Then, in month 9 of my year-long Masters program, I had to play WoW for 10 days. What an utterly useless waste of time and energy!
At least that’s what I thought before doing my homework. That’s right, my homework was to play WoW for 10 days and look for an educational angle. How might WoW help students learn?
To put this in perspective, Gamestar Mechanic was the spark. WoW was the kindling that caught fire and led to this post.
What accounts for World of Warcraft‘s unprecedented success? More than anything else, it’s the feeling of “blissful productivity” that the game provokes.
Blissful productivity is the sense of being deeply immersed in work that produces immediate and obvious results. The clearer the results, and the faster we achieve them, the more blissfully productive we feel. And no game gives us a better sense of getting work done than WoW.
— Jane McGonigal / Reality is Broken
I know what you’re thinking because I used to think it too:
World of Warcraft is an utterly useless waste of time and energy!
If I may quote Jane on WoW once again…
You improve yourself by earning more points, which requires managing a constant flow of quests, battles, and professional training. The more points you earn, the higher your level, and the higher your level, the more challenging work you unlock. This process is called “leveling up.” The more challenging the work, the more motivated you are to do it, and the more points you earn… It’s a virtuous circle of productivity.
That’s sums up the idea that sprang to mind when The Artists’ Guild began to take shape in my imagination back in month 9. On May 20th, long before I’d even heard of Jane’s book, this page went up. Right now, thanks to my Masters program, I’ve never been more excited (and less prepared) to begin a school year. I believe in TAG and I know we’ll invent and discover the rest of the details as the year unfolds.
So, to the students and educators who want to join in the Open Beta…
WoW: It’s Free! Before you knock it (like I did), try it. The link to the free trial is on the right sidebar of this page. Experience blissful productivity for free (up to level 20) and think about how we might improve TAG in future iterations.
Hadn’t Seen This Before: Jane on The Colbert Report. I’m always amazed that anyone can maintain composure as Colbert zigs and zags to the point.
0827: Maybe there’s a way to leverage the following into a better way for the kids to keep score in TAG. The current idea is to use an LMS but there’s got to be a better solution.
One Minute Later: full design details of how one teacher is gamifying the entire school year. I LOVE IT. this is smart, intrinsic design http://bit.ly/oM7cEJ [Link back to this post]
In the last nine hours—basically overnight—53 people have retweeted Jane’s link to this post. As the sun rises out here on the west coast and more people wake and encounter Jane’s tweet, I’m wondering…
Does anyone have a better idea of how the kids might self-assess?
Of course, since that question falls 3,600 words downstream, few people will probably ever see it. But to those intrepid few, we need a simple way to keep score. Something that won’t get in the way of the students’ experience. The LMS will track students’ self-assessed progress and collect the data for me but there’s no way to automate negative points for losing a Duel. As soon as anyone (me) has to enter data manually, the fun stops.
The current self-assessment model involves 5 true-false statements:
The journey has begun. I am a Novice.
Step two. I’m now an Apprentice.
Halfway there. I’ve become a Journeyman.
The penultimate level: I, Expert.
I have conquered this Quest and am now and forevermore a Master of…
The LMS allows students to return to a test up to 5 times so each student may level up by clicking true at each stage of the Quest. I can see where everyone is with a click but… Well, the solution has many problems I can already see from here and probably many more that will bite us as the year progresses. Since it will be very difficult to change the scoring system later in the year, we need to start with a better method if at all possible.
Any better ideas out there?