Go with the Flow

Perhaps not coincidentally, this assignment came at the same time a new yoga class was starting at my favorite studio. The class coordinates movements and poses with chakras, or energy centers in the body. Each chakra is associated with a color and a quality.

I decided to explore how these qualities relate to traits of an effective leader, and specifically the 21st century educational technology leader I aspire to be. Read more.

LeadershipChakras_K.Strickland

From Blog to e-Dossier

Who knew it could be this easy to create a website? I no longer have to keep kicking myself for not sticking with Dreamweaver after completing EdTech 502. Although I have completely forgotten all the cool tricks I learned in my web design class, the second core course in my MET program, it no longer matters. Why not? Because there are now tools like Weebly.

My first assignment in EdTech 554, Managing Technology Integration in Schools, was to create a new website. This old blog would not do; it needed to be unique to the EdTech554 coursework … and to have a fancy French name: “e-dossier.”

I must admit, I had to look that one up, and was never quite comfortable with the pronunciation (good thing I never had to say it out loud to anyone by virtue of being a 100% online student).

In a Moodle forum designed to aid in our decision of which ridiculously simple website creation software to choose, my peers seemed to agree that Google Sites and Weebly are two of the tools most commonly used in schools. I chose Weebly over Google Sites because of compatibility issues with Google and other platforms.

And the rest is history.

(Visit my site at http://kathystrickland.weebly.com)

Game Plan

People typically remember best the last things that happen in a course, and I am no exception. However, I do feel that designing a game was the epitome of my EdTech 597 experience, and from it came my most profound revelation about the work I did this semester.

With every project in this course—from creating a comic strip, to making an animated video, to designing a Scratch game—my 4-year-old son has been right behind me. As I learn the technology, I’ve been introducing it to him. He has become an avid cartoonist in ToonDoo, a costar in GoAnimate, and is currently working on a game based on his favorite TV show in Scratch (with more than a little assistance, of course).

My husband has been joking that a 4-year-old can do all of the things I’ve been learning. While working on this last project, I realized that he hit the nail on the head—that’s the point! The fact that kids are able to quickly learn this technology makes it an empowering tool for teaching and learning. Edutainment not only engages students; it empowers them.

All controversy over learning styles and modalities aside, children and adults alike learn by doing. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”

Unlike those of some of my peers, the projects I created for this course are not professional quality. They might be slightly more entertaining to kids than a traditional lecture with no multimedia, but they aren’t going to win any awards or earn a page in my career portfolio. When working on my final project—a plan for an engaging gamification project—I was tempted to try to incorporate my cartoon or video as a “cool extension.” But that’s not what gamification is about. These artifacts had no purpose within the learning environment I was creating. So I took the advice I learned in Journalism School: “When in doubt, leave it out.”

I have witnessed in the industry some negative connotations around the term “gamification.” As Kapp points out in his discussion of “serious games” vs. “gamification,” some view the latter as “a trivial use of game mechanics to artificially engage learners and others in activities in which they would otherwise not engage” (Kapp, 2012, p. 43).

Gamification is not about adorning or embellishing the instruction you deliver. It’s not about adding bells, whistles, and rewards to what’s inherently a boring task. Instead, it’s about using game elements and techniques to engage students and promote learning.

As Prensky says, “we can no longer decide for our students; we must decide with them” and “… we must engage them in the 21st century way: electronically. Not through expensive graphics or multimedia, but through what the kids call ‘gameplay.’ We need to incorporate into our classrooms the same combination of desirable goals, interesting choices, immediate and useful feedback, and opportunities to ‘level up’ (that is, to see yourself improve) that engage kids in their favorite complex computer games” (Prensky, 2005/2006, p. 2).

 

References:

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Prensky, M. (2005, December/2006, January). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8-13.

The Thirsty Crow (aka Sprite)

ScratchCatI have been curious about Scratch since I first heard about it as a way to get kids into coding. I’m not sure I would describe what I did to design this game as coding, but it was certainly more complicated than I expected and got me thinking in algebraic terms, waking up a part of my brain I had promptly retired after conquering College Algebra.

Our first task was to mobilize the program’s default “Sprite,” a wide-eyed, bipedal, Felixian feline. I can’t say that successfully programming the arrow keys to make this character walk up, down, and sideways filled me with pride, but it did give me a glimmer of hope. All I had to do now was lower my expectations for my first game.

CaptureCrowIt was my work designing basic instruction in Sanskrit speech sounds that sparked a simple idea. One of the speech sounds (ka) is also the Sanskrit word for “crow,” so I had incorporated the ancient Indian fable of “The Thirsty Crow” into that lesson. Dropping stones into a pitcher to raise the water level was brilliant for a crow … and simple enough for me.

Or so I thought. I did end up collaborating with my husband on some of the scripts and came to the conclusion that gaming alone would drive me to drink something besides that cool, blue water in the pitcher. I can see game design as being a fun, fulfilling team project (hence the ADDIE and Scrum processes we’ve been learning about).

We tried the game out on our 4-year-old son and determined we should increase the allotted time at Level 1 by 20 seconds. Once he got the hang of it and started winning (Level 1 only), he was hooked. He wants to design his own game and has big ideas! You might say the whole family has Cat Scratch Fever!

Who’s Got a Ticket to Read … and Who Will Care?

Ticket to Read is an educational computer game that provides practice and skill-building for young readers and prereaders in kindergarten through sixth grade. Characters in the game include TJ Ticket, his female sidekick, and a professor (all shaped like tickets), as well as Zogwogs, who lead children through the lessons and are reminiscent of “Jumpin’ Beans” or “Mighty Beanz” wobbly jelly bean-shaped toys.

TTR screenshot 1

Zogwogs volunteering their lessons

Players progress through the game as they complete lessons in either phonics or reading, depending on skill and grade level. For the purpose of this summary, we (my 4-year-old son and I) began in the phonics game environment, completing lessons on letter names, letter sounds, sight words/high-frequency words, consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words, onset/rime, and more.

Games are scaffolded for reading levels from preprimer to 7.0. More-advanced levels include reading passages, learning vocabulary, and developing comprehension—all in an interactive, gamified environment.

Motivating Factors

The primary motivating factor for beginning players is filling their personalized Toy Shop with toys. Once a player earns six tokens, the professor character makes whatever toy he or she chooses from a small collection presented on a screen. The toy is then added to the player’s Toy Shop, to be played with at will.

TTR toy shop

Selection of toys you can get with 6 tokens

Older players who are reading or beginning to read may find intrinsic motivation in the goal of becoming a better reader. As they develop reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, they earn rewards, including tokens to be used to decorate a personalized Clubhouse. But what may be equally or more motivating for them is seeing themselves progress to higher levels of passages and understanding more of what they read—in the game, in regular coursework, and beyond.

Ticket to Read does have characteristics that fall into the three categories of a good game that Thomas W. Malone outlines: (1) challenge, (2) fantasy, and (3) curiosity.

  1. Challenge

According to Malone, “In order for a computer game to be challenging, it must contain a goal whose attainment is uncertain” (Malone, 1980, p. 162).

Players of Ticket to Read do not know exactly how much they will improve—or how many toys or decorations they will ultimately accumulate. So there is some degree of uncertainty surrounding the game’s goals. The program does have varying difficulty levels determined by the game’s design according to the player’s skill level. The game is also designed to nurture self-esteem as subgoals within lessons are met.

TTR screenshot 3

Space pickle, anyone?

  1. Fantasy

Ticket to Read uses extrinsic fantasy in its lessons, meaning the fantasy depends on the use of the skill, but the skill does not depend on the fantasy (Malone, 1980). For instance, in one lesson the player finds him or herself flying a spaceship—but it can only move forward and reach its destination if the player answers the phonics question correctly.

  1. Curiosity

At the beginning level of Ticket to Read, we did not notice much cognitive curiosity built in to the lessons. There are, however, many forms of sensory curiosity, including audio and visual effects used as decoration, to enhance fantasies like the space ship, and as rewards (Malone, 1980). For instance, when the player gets something right, the Zogwogs might reward sensory curiosity by dancing, wiggling, or otherwise surprising the player with some sort of entertaining behavior.

Achievement Design

Ticket to Read employs a wide range of in-game achievement design, as outlined in Chapter 10 of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (Kapp, 2012). Types of achievement worked into the game’s design include: virtual currency in the form of tokens, both permanent (digitally tangible) and temporary achievements, both measurement and completion achievements, and both expected and unexpected achievements.

Players earn a token for completing each new lesson (lessons that are repeated may not be eligible) and may earn more depending on how well they did (although the criteria for this measurement achievement is unclear). Players can also earn a bonus token if they “put the Zogwog to sleep,” or, in other words, master the lesson.

Because the system of evaluation is unknown to the player, this bonus token and the exact number of tokens they will earn for the lesson are unexpected. However, earning at least one token is an expected achievement after completing a new lesson.

At the beginning level, toys are the primary form of completion achievement, and tokens are needed to get them. These achievements are permanent and can be played with whenever the player chooses (actually the Zogwogs and ticket-shaped characters play with the toys for the player, which is great fun to watch!).

There are also temporary achievements during and after gameplay. Phrases like “Great job!” “Good Work!” “You’re doing well!” and “You’ve completed the lesson” are meant to give verbal reinforcement. “Unlike tangible achievements, these verbal boosts increase intrinsic motivation,” Kapp writes (Kapp, 2012, p. 219).

Kapp also warns that, with currency and tangible rewards, players could “end up caring about the reward system more than the game itself” (Kapp, 2012, p. 222). This may be true for my son.

Conclusion

Lessons were a bit too long and currency too hard to come by for my preK son. However, the overall gaming environment was motivating, and in-game achievement design was clever. I would recommend this program as fun, purposeful practice to parents and teachers of elementary-age children.

 

References

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Malone, T. W. (1980). What makes things fun to learn? A study of intrinsically motivating
computer games.
Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Spring Holidays in a Nutshell

Spring Rituals around the World” is a short video (8 minutes) designed to give American children who have little to no religious background a brief overview of various religious celebrations happening in spring.

VideoScreenshot

Easter Bunny and Leprechaun discuss religion

I tried to make logical connections between religions as transitional elements in the video and as a means of demonstrating similarities across religious cultures. The Easter Bunny, a character with which most of the American audience is familiar, acts as the host, hopping from one religious celebration to the next. And a leprechaun, played by my 4-year-old son, has a cameo in the video.

I incorporated interactivity by having the Easter Bunny ask the audience questions and pausing while the kids thought of the answer. The questions were simple, and some acted as review of the video’s content. I also introduced presumably new vocabulary by providing definitions with familiar terms (e.g., Apostles as good friends, resurrection as coming back to life). It wasn’t exactly easy to steer clear of some pretty morbid themes!

I had fun making this video in GoAnimate, although, once again, I found myself adjusting content to the available media. For instance, the program had many scenes for St. Patrick’s Day—and related props, including a pint of green beer. However, there was no leprechaun character. Also, the bunny could do just about anything but hop, so I switched out the microphone in a “sing” function with an egg.

If you are interested, please watch it now, as I’m not sure I can save it once my 30-day GoAnimate trial ends!

Redefining “The Funnies”

Creating a comic strip was by far my son’s favorite assignment in EdTech 597. Comics have always had a special place in kids’ hearts. The “Sunday Funnies” were the hottest section of the newspaper, and it’s likely children learned more from them than from any news article. These days, comics and cartoons are not limited to a certain day of the week but available on demand 24/7.

When children can have anything they want whenever they want it, the charge of “edutaining” them becomes more challenging. The visual, nontraditional medium of a comic strip gives educators a head start in capturing students’ interest with an eye-catching message.

India Survey

By kathystrick | View this Toon at ToonDooSanskrit Toon 2

 

Unfortunately, in my first attempt at using this medium, I let the availability of clip art drive the content of my comics. I had a grandiose idea with a plot and fleshed-out characters that I quickly determined would not work with the tools and images ToonDoo (and other such programs) provided.

So I did the best I could to marry what was possible in the program with the content of the instruction I’m currently designing. ToonDoo only offered templates with four or fewer panels, so I created two comic strips, which can be used as part of a learner analysis and introduction on the first day of Intro to Sanskrit Speech Sounds class.

The best thing that came out of this experience was that my son got really interested in making his own comics. He is entering kindergarten in fall, and we’ve been working on sounding out words. He is more than willing to attempt to read words when they are pictured in signs, on T-shirts, on sides of buildings, in bubbles, etc. But when it comes to reading a chunk of copy left to right, he turns away.

Comics provide a format for playing with words–both visually and semantically. In a comic strip, you can use words that don’t often appear elsewhere (zap, boom, bazinga) and use common words in uncommon contexts. It could be just the ticket for teaching kids like my son to get interested in reading!