Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Potty Passes, Fahrenheit 451 and Gamification

I am thinking about how ridiculous it all is. I just reread Shawn Cornally's post on Potty Passes where he tells the story of students getting extra credit for turning in their unused potty passes. How meaningless grades have become. 

Then, since my IPad was out of batteries I had to read a real book last night and ironically, I picked up Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The part that hit me was when Beatty is explaining to Montag about how all this book burning got started. There was so much information that people couldn't digest it all, so they had to make it simpler and everyone was so confused that somehow they figured out that life would be better without all of this material that was worthy of deep thought. They needed to present things in quick, easy to figure out ways. 

Then last week I watched a TedTalks video on using games in education or Gamification. (While I am writing this either 1, 2 or all 3 of my sons are playing some horrible game on the XBox in our attic). Ok, now this one really bugged me. The games have such quick resolutions and everything moves so fast and this guy says that this helps kids learn. Learn what? Not how to do real problem solving. Where is the deep thinking here? 

I like video games, I was once really addicted to Frogger (in the early 90s),  I stayed up until 4 am playing it. I've been addicted to other games too, like Scrabble. I've gotten a lot better at Scrabble since I've been playing it on the computer but mostly because I've learned words like xi and za and how to maximize my points. 

Now to pull all of this together, potty passes, Ray Bradbury and gaming. I don't want to be a part of making Fahrenheit 451 come true, I want there to be real books and front porches and good deep thinking, even if it seems boring to my computer crazed kids. They have to know that it isn't about points and getting to the next level. It is about something a lot more beautiful and meaningful and it is worth doing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Google Form for Reassessment

I started using this Google form. I won't let anyone reassess without it. I like it because I can keep track of things. I think I took the questions from Sam Shah.

Here is a link to a better copy if you can't read it.

It's Working

I did something a little drastic, a little punitive and a little scary. I did not want the end of the trimester rush of procrastinating 8th graders, scrambling to reassess on concepts they hadn't "passed." At the beginning of the year,  I instituted a "no-fail" policy that every student needs to get a score of 7/10 or above (sum of last two assessment scores on a 5-point scale) in order to pass my class. First trimester, many students came during the last few weeks to avoid getting incompletes and I had to give several incompletes anyway and I still have one incomplete outstanding. Also, some students needed these skills for subsequent skills and were continuing to fall behind and were feeling lost in class.

So, this trimester I used our "mandatory study hall" to make sure they took care of it and told them that they wouldn't be passing math if they didn't take care of it by Jan 12. In our middle school, students are assigned to mandatory study hall if they have 2 Ds or an F our 3 week progress report checkpoints.  Now, I am only concerned about concepts that have dropped off the in-class quizzes. Setting a time-limit and holding a punishment over their head goes against what I truly believe but it really worked! Of course, the reason it worked is because I have failed to truly motivate them, this is sad but true but hey, it did work! In the past few days, I have seen my students working hard, asking good questions, being resourceful and coming in and reassessing.

I am also very happy that my students did so well on their midterms. I just reread a post from last May where I was so discouraged by their lousy scores. I make them reassess on anything they get a 2 or below on that is no longer tested in class. In my one Geometry class (20 students) there will be 4 reassessments. Much better retention than last year.