Tip Off.

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“That’s what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning.”
Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design

IBDP teachers around the world begin to struggle with the exact same thing around this time every year.  How do we keep students motivated to continue revising for end of program exams? In the Language and Literature course, many teachers will begin practicing the two final papers (which account for 50% of the student’s overall mark) at the beginning of the second year of the course (at the very latest).  There are only so many practice papers a student can write before hitting exam fatigue.  There are also only so many papers any teacher can mark before losing their sanity.

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Exam revision shouldn’t be monotonous.  Yes, the stakes are high.  But we need to remember that stakes for our soon-to-be graduates are much, much higher than exam results.  We want our students to have skills and values which push beyond doing well on tests.  If we believe that students are worth more than a number, we need to second that emotion in our lessons. Students need time to feel like they are working as part of a team, that they are capable of building a cohesive network which is a catalyst for success. They need time to reflect on missteps, to charter new paths, and of course to lead the way.  Mostly, students need to feel comfortable with struggle.

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This is why I’ve decided to dedicate my Course 5 project to developing a menu of activities meant to gamify exam revision.  I want the last few months with my seniors to be about more than good results.  I want those final lessons to be a culminating effort to resulting in better human beings who just happen to be excellent essayists.

Here’s a look at my unit:

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I’ve gamified units before.  The biggest take away is seeing students want to work together because they want to help their peers–not because they necessarily just want the ‘win.’  I think this will make an excellent Course 5 project because it will be incredibly timely for myself and for colleagues out there looking to ‘2.0-up’ their revision practice.  I see this as a way to intertwine the many reflections I’ve had during COETAIL.  Redesigning this unit will allow for my students to remember the joy in learning.  Whilst that sounds fluffy and perhaps even naive, ask yourself what you most remember about your high school experience?  Was it an essay you wrote? Probably not.  You most likely remember the highs and lows, the opportunities you took, or let pass you by.  You might not remember the test, but you likely remember feeling tested.  Hopefully, that has a positive association for my students.  As educators, we have a duty to frame challenges in such a way that they are inviting, not daunting.  If we can conduct our classes in a manner which promotes tinkering, sticking with problems longer, and stretching, I believe we are making more peace-savvy minds.  That’s grandiose and idealistic, but actionable and achievable.

Please share your approaches to gamifying units/lessons in the comment section below.


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Owning IT.

Keys by Linus Bohman vial Flickr’s Creative Common Image Search


A tech-rich classroom isn’t about the hundreds of dollars of gadgetry in the room.  It isn’t about the tangled cords.  It isn’t even about the certificates/degrees of the teacher in the room.  A tech-rich classroom is a classroom where students are prompted again and again to own their learning.

Here’s my list of the top five ways to identify a tech-rich classroom:


  1.  Students are inspired to dive straight in.  Students aren’t waiting around for direction–they know where they are going, what tools they need, and have a variety of approaches at their finger tips.  This happens when teachers curate resources, and organize objectives.  The class will have an effective VLE, where information is always there to be revisited.  What might this look like?  How about this incredible example of integration from a PE teacher.  This teacher was able to demonstrate movement using GIFs. What a brilliant way to showcase the learning and allow for students to revise or work ahead.



2.  Teachers share and develop interdisciplinary approaches to learning.  A tech-rich classroom is one where teachers connect with one another.  Technology has made it easier for the staff to look ahead at what is happening, and technology has helped to facilitate conversations about opportunities for inquiry.  Here is an excellent example of what this might look like:


3. The class acts local, and thinks global.


A tech-rich classroom is empowered to think of itself as a catalyst for change.  Devices are meant to connect us.  When we practice the art of connection—we understand that we matter, that we can spark change, that we can be a part of the solution.  Click here to see a brilliant example of this idea live in action.


4. Students are passionate about teamwork. Expertly integrated technology will always bring people closer together.  When we see technology used effectively again and again, we often have highly collaborative teams.  As an IBDP/MYP English teacher, I love the many ways technology allows students to work together on creative pursuits.  Check out this great bundle of tools to think further about collaborative-writing.


5. Your school community challenges itself to get better in new ways. Technology will help us become better versions of ourselves if we use it for that purpose.  A school interested in harnessing the potential of technology will gamify improvement.  Click here for a look at an example.

How would you define a tech-rich classroom? What did I leave off my list?  Please feel free to make this list better by adding a comment below.

Are we there yet?

“Changing Key” by .stephweiss on Flickr via Creative Commons

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
Albert Einstein


Every school is a busy place.  But not all ‘busyness’ looks the same.  Some schools are busy trying to drive test scores up  Some schools are understaffed.  Other schools are busy trying to move towards a more visionary ‘big picture.’

With the move to mobile, the deluge of apps, the call for more connected educators, ripples of change are well…rippling.  How often do we talk about what ‘meaningful change,’ needs to look like?  So many schools talk about ‘changing the way they teach.’  But when do we color in the lines and define what we want the future of our schools to feel like?  Every new term sees a new buzzword, a new catch-phrase.  It is easy to talk the talk of modern education, it is of course an entirely different thing to discuss where modern education is headed.

Fellow COETAILER, Sonya, does a better job of picture painting here:

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
Robert Frost

I love that Sonya ‘thinks big,’ in her Imagine a School project. We do need to think beyond the flash of 1:1 programs, and schools with Twitter feeds.  The future of learning has to be more ambitious than gadgetry. Technology most certainly is.

In the past five years of my career, I’ve learned this: now, more than ever, our classrooms have more ‘catalyst cred.’  We have much more access to getting things going and moving.  If you want to connect with a classroom on another continent–than you can do it today. If you want to publish for a global platform, you can.  Putting your learning into a global context has never EVER been easier.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t hurdles, because most certainly, there are.  The mother of all hurdles is this one:  we aren’t thinking big enough.

We still think about Challenge Based Learning and Project Based Learning on an insular scale–single schools, or single classrooms engaged in units.  I think the future of learning will be about networks of institutions working together. Schools will not invite guest speakers in–but rather they will have artists in residence, doctors, designers, producers in residence. This is about a philosophical shift in the way we value schools as institutions responsible (not only capable) for change.

Flickr Creative Commons via Sebastien Wiertz "Change"
Flickr Creative Commons via Sebastien Wiertz “Change”

A shift like this can only occur if we stop thinking of school solely as an avenue for individuals to pursue careers.  That’s a short sighted approach. Schools need to be seen as places where old and young, local and foreign are galvanized for greater greats. When schools begin to truly benefit communities, more people will want to be a part of what they do.  Schools should be a place for the elderly to feel valued once more.  What might that look like?

I have no doubt that schools in 2020 will have amazing new devices, funky tools, and loads of mind-blowing virtual reality activities.  That’s not going to transform our job as teachers.  What I do hope for, is that as a global society, we decide to make school purpose-driven.  We start to think of schools as the places that make and break towns and cities.  And I hope that our uber-connectivity pushes us to connect our schools to help one another deal with rising unemployment, or a refugee crisis, or recover from a hurricane.  I hope that teachers in coming decades will have a range of other professionals on their faculties, that we will recognize that only with diversity of thought can we have diversity of our collective mind.


Got game?

When video games are brought into learning — and integrated in a way that doesn’t neuter the relevance or obscure what makes the game wonderful — you’ll notice major changes, many of which won’t always be comfortable. Inspiration changes everything. Some students — many of whom may have previously appeared lethargic and apathetic — may be difficult to keep seated, perhaps literally. via Edutopia,The Role of Video Games in the English Classroom


This week I kicked off a brand new unit in my grade nine MYP class.  This unit’s key concept is Perspective.  The unit focuses on Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge.  In many ways, the skeleton of this unit is old school.  The assessment and the primary text wouldn’t be out of place in an English classroom from the 70’s.  That’s where my work comes in.  How can I breathe a little light into a dusty, conventional unit?  Last year I tried to do this by workshopping commentary writing skill sets by doing an intensive analysis of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. You’d be amazed to see the level of contextual understanding we researched together to try and dig into Swift’s songs.  Or maybe you wouldn’t be.  Using ‘teen-friendly’ resources to workshop writing isn’t exactly the most progressive teaching approach.  This year I wanted to level up.


Perspective, perspective, perspective.  I thought about approaches to unpacking that concept with my class–and it hit me:  what better way to teach perspective than to take a different one to teaching.  Here’s when the iPad game (and table top game), Pandemic came to the rescue.

For the first 20 minutes of our lesson, we played.  That’s right–capital ‘P’ playing, in a high school classroom.  That’s when I realized play brings focus, engagement, and flow.

A classroom at play is not unlike our drop everything and read time.  Students bought into the narrative structure of the game, and more importantly, they were being asked to think about ‘perspective,’ without me even having to mention ‘key concept.’


From there, students were asked in groups to discuss the significant themes they ‘read’ in the game.  They also needed to identify the plot, way tension was created, symbolism employed, and charaterization developed.  In short, we treated the game the way we would treat any other text.

Video games could be the greatest storytelling medium of our age – if only the worlds of art and technology would stop arguing and take notice

I stole this idea from an incredible piece in The Guardian “The first great works of digital literature are already being written”

I was thrilled to see this article spreading like wildfire on social media a few weeks ago.  Here’s the line that I find the most relevance in:

The problem is that people who like science and technology, and people who like storytelling and the arts have typically been placed in different buildings since about the age of 16. We haven’t been taught how to admire each others’ work, to recognise excellence, or even to know that there is excellence in “the other culture”.

As an IB practitioner, I’m encouraged to help students think in an interdisciplinary way.  Now, more than ever, teachers need to be mindful that literacy is a shape-shifting concept.  If I want to inspire readers, I need to rethink the definition of a text.

The idea that videogames are more than mere escapism isn’t new.

To what extent is my own research in looking for effective games good for me?

Arguably the most exciting field of research is exploring the potential of video games to tackle mental decline in old age.

While electronic “brain training” games have long had enormous popular appeal, there is no hard evidence playing them has any effect beyond improving your score

But at the University of California, San Francisco, Prof Adam Gazzaley and a team of video game designers have created a game with a difference: Neuroracer. Via BBC Tech News

Experimenting with games reminded me of my own lacking literacy. I was entirely unaware of the many, many worthwhile games out there on the market.  I pride myself on keeping up to date with new fiction and nonfiction, but I have underestimated the world that gamers thrive in.

Video games require the user to make decisions, giving them the chance to influence the story and even in part design the world in which the game is played out, she added.Via The Telegraph

Here is a list of games I found in my research.  Thus far, I agree–they have a lot to offer to the classroom.  Do you know of excellent games with which to spark conversations about ‘perspective,’?  Please share them with me in the comments.