Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Games We Play - Part 1

About a month ago, our Year 5 team was approached with a new idea of how to engage students. Games. We all love games - there’s a sense of competition, challenge and a goal that you ultimately want to achieve by the end of it.  The idea of challenges or quests allows students to feel like they are working towards something larger and with each quest they have accomplished something.

We decided this games based approach to learning might work best with our space and shape unit that was a stand-alone mathematics unit. The concept seemed like the students would love it but still, there were lots of questions and even more logistics to iron out as we went.

The concept: Class against class against class as they took over various locations of the school. While it started as a general and vague concept we were able to narrow down much of the details. The week of the game beginning was where a lot of the decisions actually came into play. There are 7 locations to gain possession of, each with a different topic, specific tasks and challenges associated with it. In order to gain possession, the class has to accumulate the most points.

We created a website as the point of interaction for students. Our homepage has a general outline of the game and each class has a google presentation learning journal that they can create/add to as we go. We also have the game map. Each week as a new level is introduced, we add a picture of the new takeover area as well as a graph comparing the 3 different teams points for that weeks topic. The graph updates in real time as the points change and are logged by the teacher.

Our first week was to introduce students to the game, build a team mentality and develop an understanding of symmetry. We had all of the Year 5s join in one classroom for our official launch where we introduced the game concept and showed them the first video which introduced the 7 locations, game expectations and also the first topic they would be learning. For our ‘initiation’ task, students had to work as a team to come up with a name with 2 lines of symmetry, create a team cheer and develop a secret handshake. They also had to create a small flag with 2 lines of symmetry. Those that completed the tasks received points. It was an instant motivator knowing that the students in the room next door could not come out victorious. While I would have liked a bit more time to smooth out some of the rough edges of the game before launching, we went ahead and had a successful launch that had the Year 5 students on board with the idea.

The next day we introduced our students (each class individually) to the tasks for symmetry. Students needed to demonstrate they knew how to draw lines of symmetry and create symmetrical figures/drawings. Once those 2 tasks were complete, they were to show the teacher and receive a 1 (complete with errors), 2 (complete with minimal errors) or a 3 (complete). If they received a 1 or a 2, the student could go back and correct their thinking and be reassessed to upgrade their marks. As a Year group, we had to work out a few kinks to make marking consistent especially with the bonus challenges where we debated having double points or just extra points (which is what we went with). We also had to discuss whether the challenge tasks could be completed before the mandatory tasks at each level. It is something to discuss more if we were to do it again and also consider having weighted activities and points based on difficulty or length of challenges.

The students loved this sense of competition and constantly were setting goals of how many points they thought they could receive as a class by the end of the lesson. It was a big achievement when we overtook another class and broke the 200 point mark. It was really interesting doing a math lesson at the same time as another class on Friday as the students could see us neck in neck and continued to push themselves to complete tasks.

We are tracking student data in Google Sheets and from there pulling the data to create graphs that we embed onto our site. The challenge with this is constantly updating it in real time when students complete a task. The first 2 days of tasks I was finding I was spending more time marking/updating the spreadsheet than working with individual students who needed help. It was great that I was able to have a lot of constructive feedback through conferencing with students as they came to get their work assessed. I was able to show them where they went wrong and question their thinking so they could go back and fix their mistakes. However, students who were quite low I felt I didn’t have the same amount of time I would normal work with them for. This is something I am going to work on managing better as we enter into week 2.

In my class, my students write weekly emails to me and they also created their own class weekly reflection journal in Google presentation. From what the students are writing in these 2 spots they love it. It is clear they are motivated to learn and they are excited about playing a massive ongoing game in mathematics. I even have students taking home their books to work on the challenges and tasks at night and on their long weekend. I even received a parent email telling me how excited her son was to do extra math work at home so he could gain more points for his class - not bad for a kid who I was told struggled with math at the start.
The students are really coming together as a team and supporting each other in order to propel the whole class forward in the game.

As we begin Week 2, I am interested to see how the interest and engagement level keeps up. I have not assigned any math homework to my kids other than to complete any of their tasks (not challenges). I would love to see how much students do at home. As we introduce the topic of transformations, I would also be interested in seeing how many students go back to our symmetry level to try to upgrade and stay ahead of the other classes. I wonder how this would be different if we weren’t in the lead. Would students focus more on symmetry to regain a lead? Will they now not worry too much about symmetry because they are in the lead or will they want to further their lead? One class is close to us and could potentially take over the pool house if they continue to gain more points. Once all students complete the mandatory tasks, will they feel the need to continue to do the challenges? At what point will they feel ‘safe’ in the lead of one school location? I’m interested to see how the possession of locations on campus fluctuate between classes as the game progresses and how the students decide to try to regain an area or perhaps focus their attention on only specific locations. The other thing the students must remember is that the game can change at any time and new obstacles and challenges can come into the game. How can we the teachers create new ideas into the game that the students didn’t foresee that further pushes them to explore all parts of the game?

This game is definitely something that we have been adapting and changing since the start and I know we will continue to. The concept of developing this game as we go has been a challenge for me as I feels more comfortable for me to see the whole picture before beginning something. However, now that a lot of the bigger items (assessment, website, task general layouts) have been ticked of things to figure out, I am sure a lot of smaller questions/concerns can be worked out more easily. There are constantly questions I have that pop up about how students are going to track their progress, what will intrinsically motivate them further, how can we get the best quality work out of our students instead of just having them rush to get a point or two and many more.   I am excited to see where it goes and how it continues to take shape as we develop it week by week.