When we spiraled into May I saw the Zoom meeting squares fill with faces of frazzled, tired educators ready to get off the roller coaster. That’s when I knew I needed to kick into overdrive and come up with a plan to get us through the last month of the school year. As I looked into their worn-out faces I started to brainstorm ways to add a little energizing fun, self-care, reflection, and friendly competition into the final stretch of this wild ride we’ve been on. Those who know me can probably anticipate what’s coming. Gamified Learning!
I knew it would be tricky to create a gamified plan that tired, frazzled teachers could get excited about, but I was up for the challenge. I started thinking of missions I that would allow for creativity, collaboration, reflection, and self-care. I also wanted to make sure that there were missions that would account for the learning already done, because goodness gracious...there’s been a TON of learning!! Once I had a game plan formulated I shared it with our district superintendent and other district administrators to see what they thought. They were all in, so I decided to make it happen! I called upon my think tank (aka Flame Throwers) in my district for mission ideas and suggestions to to help fine-tune my plan. They were SO helpful!! Within days it was ready to launch! We shared it out in the district staff bulletin and I also posted it on our district staff website. To kick it off our superintendent even created a short video introduction of the challenge to generate excitement. It was awesome!
Here's the Game Plan
Theme: Create Your Own Learning Journey Staff Challenge
Goal: To engage your staff in energizing, fun, and innovative learning
Who: All district staff
Where: All missions are found on Padlet and points are tracked in a Google Spreadsheet.
When: Anytime! This challenge can last as long as you want!
What: Each week, 5 new PD missions are launched. If you choose to accept the mission you will receive experience points (XP) to level up and earn PDU's and an animated badge to display in your email signature!
Level 1: 300 XP = 3 PDU's and badge
Level 2: 600 XP = 6 PDU's and badge
Level 3: 1000 XP = 10 PDU's and badge
Create Your Own Learning Journey Staff Challenge Template
How to Design Your Challenge in Padlet
Once I approve each post in Padlet I immediately transfer the points to a leaderboard that I created in Google Spreadsheets. Thank you to LeVonda Vickery who helped add the formulas for calculating! She made it way cooler than my original spreadsheet. Click on the button below to see how the XP (experience points) are tracked. No video tutorial for this creation, because...well, this is not my specialty.
Updating Missions and Leveling Up
At the end of the week, I change the title of each mission column to "expired" and add 5 new missions in. The expired missions move to the right so the new missions show up first. I send all of the staff members that leveled up a congratulatory email with an animated badge they can download and add to their email signature and wherever else they wish. I created the badge in Canva with dimensions of 100 x 100 px, but you also could create the badges in Adobe Spark, Buncee, or other digital creation platforms. See the examples below. PDU's that are earned when leveling up are submitted at the end of the challenge.
The Possibilities are Endless!
Our challenge is still in progress, but I'm super happy with the results. It has been wonderful to see all of the learning throughout the day as the evidence is posted. I have found so many ideas as I've scrolled through the columns and read all of the reflections. Many have shared that this is just the kind of motivation they needed in the final stretch to get them to the finish line.
Though I launched this challenge for an entire K-12 district of 19 schools, you could launch this for a single school or even in your classroom. The length of the challenge could be as short as a few weeks or last an entire semester or school year. It's really up to you! You can also change the theme, personalize the missions, and add your own special twists and turns! The possibilities are endless!
Reflect on the Wild Ride
As we all raise the safety bar on our roller coaster cars in the next few weeks, I think we are all going to feel a bit dizzy as we try to process what we experienced and learned during this pandemic. There is so much to reflect on and process. Whether or not you create a challenge similar to this one for your own learning community in these final weeks, summer, or next school year, it's important to find ways to reflect and share your learning with others! We are all in this wild and crazy adventure together!
The last two months have been a blur. On a beautiful evening in early March, I was eating dinner with my daughter in Portland, Oregon when I learned that my professional development training the following day was canceled due to the developments of COVID19. It seems that each day since that evening in March we have plunged deeper and deeper into a surreal world of steep and urgent learning as we try to transition our educational practices in a world that is uncertain and rapidly changing. In the past two months we’ve left our brick and mortar buildings and have recreated our learning spaces so students can access them from anywhere. What schools across our nation have accomplished to ensure all are learning is truly remarkable. The learning has been arduous and laden with obstacles, but the true heart and soul of educators is shining brighter than ever in this time of adversity to find new ways to connect and support students in learning. As the school year comes to a close and we start anticipating what the Fall educational landscape will look like, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged. However, I’d rather choose to have a Walt Disney mindset and believe that, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”.
Collectively as educators we have accomplished what we would have considered impossible eight weeks ago. In this pivotal moment in our history we have the unique opportunity to push forward in this crisis to not only reimagine education; but actually make it happen. As we pull back the layers of education as we know it, we must take an honest look at the needs of all of our learners. Learning is going to look different in the days ahead, so let’s take this opportunity to make it better. As we’ve navigated this season, many discoveries have been made. Students who once felt invisible in our schools are now finding their voice in a remote learning landscape. We have developed a greater appreciation for the relationships with students and colleagues and the everyday interactions we once took for granted. Inequities in the educational system are coming into light. Whether we call this surreal world we are living in the “new normal” or “new temporary normal”, I think we are all beginning to see that as we live out this unique moment in history a new era is emerging.
In my role as a Tech Integration Specialist I’ve had a chance to support, problem solve, and collaborate with incredible educators within my district and beyond. I also have had a wonderful opportunity to chat with amazing thought leaders and educators from across the nation on my Make Learning Magical podcast. We’ve discussed the various ways they’re navigating teaching and learning during this pandemic, their hopes for the future, struggles, and magical moments. So many thoughts have been swirling around in my mind as I reflect on my learning, conversations with others, my passion for education, and how we can take this extremely challenging time in our history and reimagine what learning could potentially look like as we move forward. We no longer can remain comfortable in the way things were, we must be willing to push past what we have always known and explore new ways of teaching and learning that will better meet the needs of all learners and prepare them for a world that is constantly changing. However, as we begin this work to reimagine, we must never lose sight of our why.
I keep my “why” statement taped on my journal and in various places so it can remain visible and help me focus on what is most important in my work.
Today as I read my “why” I found myself pondering all that has changed in education in a matter of weeks. Never has my “why” been more true to my calling and purpose.
The words sprinkled throughout “my why” hold a special power. They contain the magic that made learning come to life in my classroom and I also believe they hold the magic that will make learning beyond COVID19 come to life as well, wherever that takes place. Whether students are learning in a brick and mortar school building, from home, or a combination of both, my passion and purpose is what fuels me. As I thought about this it made me think about my MAGICAL acronym:
Memorable Beginnings The saving grace in this emergency remote teaching world has been that teachers already had established relationships with their students. They were connected. Some of the teachers I talked to on my podcast taught quarter-long classes where they had either just met or hadn’t connected at all with their students face to face. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be to be thrust into remote teaching without having any prior connection with your students. Whether we begin Fall in classrooms, virtually, or in a blended situation, taking time to foster relationships and create memorable beginnings is going to be vital.
Authenticity and Agency Now more than ever we need to let our true selves shine through. This time of remote teaching has brought a whole new level of authenticity as our students have had a window into our homes; seeing our pets, our kids, and maybe even our piles of laundry. On the flip side, we have had a glimpse into our student’s worlds as well giving us a new perspective of what “home” looks like. I think this authenticity has actually been refreshing for us all and allowed us to be a little more real and relatable with our students. It has also allowed us to create authentic learning experiences. What better time to take the skills that we teach them and have them apply them in real world situations.
We have also had to consider various learning options for students to meet the diverse needs of our learners. Many districts are using choice boards (learning grids as our district calls them) to differentiate and provide multiple options for students with diverse needs. As we reimagine learning in the future, student agency is going to be increasingly important. When students have choice in how they learn and how they share, they become invested and empowered learners. What a powerful combination when we combine authenticity and agency together to provide real, relevant experiences, with an abundance of choice and voice.
Gamified Experiences I have been thinking a lot about the gamified experiences that were created in my classroom and what that would look like in a remote or blended learning environment. It excites me to think of all the possibilities for creating a storyline and game mechanics that can live in both the virtual and physical worlds. Finding ways to engage students in playful learning has never been more important.
Innovation I’m not sure that there has ever been a time in history where educators have been shoved out of their comfort zones more violently than they have during COVID19. We’ve had no choice. Like it or not, we’ve all had to learn new ways to transition to life outside of our school buildings. Granted, not all of the new ways have been better than what we did before. How could it be when we had to pivot so fast and in a crisis? However, I think most would say that growth has happened for all of us and we’ve discovered new teaching and learning strategies that will continue far beyond this pandemic. Reimagining education requires us to get uncomfortable and to keep learning and growing to find ways to address the needs of all of our learners. It may seem like education is unraveling, but think about how beautiful it will be when we knit it back together with a combination of the best of the old and new.
Creativity, Curiosity, and Collaboration The degree of creativity, collaboration, and curiosity that I have seen emerge as a result of this season has blown my mind. In education and beyond, I have seen people tapping into their creativity in unique and imaginative ways to make the most out of a difficult situation. Virtual field trips, scavenger hunts, Bitmoji classroom adventures, and Zoom cooking experiences are just a few of the learning experiences educators have shared. I have also seen a rise in curiosity. When faced with uncertainty we are continuing to research and explore new ways to solve the problems we are faced with. People across the globe are collaborating on social media platforms to share ideas and resources. Connecting virtually across districts, regions, and states on Zoom and Google Meet has become the norm. As educators begin expanding their professional networks, I think they will begin connecting their classrooms too. This time has made us realize we truly are better together. What a powerful combination when creativity, curiosity, and collaboration come together in learning.
Authentic Audience When I began providing students with an authentic audience to demonstrate their learning, it changed the learning landscape in my classroom. Students shined when they received feedback from local experts and staff members that they respected. As we think towards the future of education, providing our students with an opportunity to connect and demonstrate what they've learned to an authentic audience will be even more important. How can we expand beyond our classroom walls and connect with authors, experts, and classrooms in different parts of the world? How can we partner our students with others to collaborate, share ideas, and solve problems? How can we provide opportunities for students to create together. As we reimagine learning beyond our classroom walls we must begin thinking about how we can connect and collaborate with people of varying backgrounds and perspectives. We all need connection and unity more than ever!
Legacy This pandemic has rocked our worlds. Many have felt like first year teachers again trying to figure out how to teach in a completely different way. It’s highlighted our insecurities and fears and made us feel vulnerable. We’ve felt grief, loss, and anger because moments were taken away from us that we can’t get back. As a mom of a senior, I have felt all of those emotions in a big way. What I have had to hold onto is the fact that though moments have been stolen from me, magical moments have also been created that will last forever. I have had more meals and heart to heart conversations with my son. We've spent lots of time playing games and watching our favorite movies. Though our students have felt loss and heartbreak just as we have, this season will forever be etched in their memory. They have lived a part of history that will be talked about for years to come. No one will forget the class of 2020. We are leaving a legacy that will last forever. We have to remember as we move forward and reimagine learning for our students that we will always hold the magic. Embrace the unique and special ways you connect with students and bring that into whatever learning environment you are faced with in the Fall.
Under extreme stress and global crisis we completely shifted our teaching practice within a matter of weeks. Educators have proven that the impossible is actually quite possible. Now it's time to reimagine an educational system where MAGICAL experiences exist for ALL students! Let's reimagine the impossible.
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post for the past few weeks, but until today I've had difficulty articulating what I have been processing and feeling since the beginning of March when COVID19 changed all of our lives. One month ago, I would have never considered that going to work, grabbing coffee with a friend, visiting my family across town, going out to dinner with my husband, or having a picnic at our favorite park would one day not be possible. And yet, here we are on Easter at home unable to carry on the traditional family rituals in the same way that we have always looked forward to. It feels strange and surreal, and yet, I keep finding myself looking for the magic in the midst of the madness because, for me…. that’s how I cope.
I have a quote by Roald Dahl that hangs in my living room that I love and reference often. It is actually in the same room that has become my daily office and “Zoom Headquarters" simply because the table in this space overlooks a beautiful view of our neighborhood and it always radiates with warmth and sunlight.
Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
Times are uncertain, unsettling, and can easily bring upon feelings of fear, sadness, and stress. But the truth is, hidden in the shadows are secrets that are quite magical if we really pay attention.
Families are eating dinner together more often.
Families are playing more games and laughing together.
Families are connecting.
People are picking up old hobbies, and finding new ones.
Kids are creating and playing.
People are showing kindness in the most wonderful ways.
Teachers are finding freedom to explore new ways of teaching.
Districts are reimagining what learning could look like.
People are abundantly sharing, giving, and loving.
People are innovating and inventing.
People are collaborating & communicating in imaginative ways.
People are appreciating the beauty of Spring by getting outside.
People are planting gardens and making more food from scratch.
People across the miles are realizing they can now connect in new ways.
People are finding beauty in the tranquility.
People are finding joy in the little things.
People are realizing that we need one another.
People are realizing we are better together.
People are realizing that we are all in this together.
The magical moments we create today will be the memories that we hold onto tomorrow and for years to come. I am grateful for our school district's superintendent, Dr. Bret Champion, who has chosen to lead us through this time with the mantra, "Simplicity & Grace, and ...Don’t Panic". There is a lot of power in that phrase. Let’s simplify, give grace to everyone, including ourselves, and remember not to panic; because this pandemic is not forever. We will get through this, we will be stronger because of it, and maybe, just maybe, the magic that we discover in the unlikely places of COVID19, will make this world a better and more joyful place when everything returns to normal once again.
To say that the month of March has been surreal is an understatement. I had a lot planned that I was looking forward to. Two conferences. A trip to Disneyland with my bestie. Spring Break with my boys. Heading into the month, I had every intention of making it all happen. Tickets booked, plans made, I couldn’t wait. And then…Coronavirus hit the United States and everything changed. 23 days into the month all my plans have come to a halt, school is closed, and I’m scrambling to help my district create plans for anywhere learning. I feel like I’m on some type of parallel universe trying to make sense of it all. There is so much that is uncertain; so many questions I don’t have answers to. However, one thing I do know is that beginning April 1st our district will begin educating our students in a way that is completely foreign. No classrooms, no bells, no face to face interaction. Everything has changed, yet I know we will rise to the challenge. We will adapt, innovate, and explore new possibilities. Because, we must. Our kids are depending on us.
I was watching television with the family during spring break when I received a text from my college daughter asking, “Do you still have the Words with Friends app on your phone?”. It had been quite awhile since I’d played; in fact I didn’t have it on my phone anymore. But, anytime my sweet girl asks me to play a game I’m all in. I quickly downloaded the Words with Friends game app and before I knew it I was hooked. I had found a way to connect with my daughter across the miles. Before I knew it, I was finding other friends and family members who were connected to this game app too and I had multiple games going. By downloading a free game app I had found a new way to socially connect in a world that was socially disconnecting.
It wasn’t long before I began to make connections between this rediscovered game app and learning. Engagement. Connection. Vocabulary Acquisition. So much potential for this new digital landscape that we’re living in.
Let me introduce you to the Words with Friends Mash Up...
Do you have other Magical Mash-up ideas? Share and tag me @tishrich on Twitter @tishrichmond on Instagram using the #MLmagical hashtag. We're all in this together!
I am not much of a television viewer, but I do love a good reality show! Couple that with a singing competition and this girl is all in! I'll let you all in on a little secret. I can't sing to save my life, and I have always thought it would be so cool to be able to sing my heart out on stage. Shhhh! So, when I learned recently that there was a new show on Fox called The Masked Singer, I was extra intrigued. Singing + Game + Mystery….this is bound to be my new fav! Just as expected, I love it!
Let me explain this new reality show that has captured my attention and viewers from around the world. Over the course of 10 episodes, 12 celebrities anonymously compete in a singing competition by concealing themselves in a costume from head to toe. Each episode, the celebrities are paired off to compete against each other, by singing a song of his/her choice. After a panelist and live audience vote, the lowest scoring celebrity is put up for elimination. Throughout the competition, clues to each masked celebrities’ identity are given. The panelists are given time to solve the puzzle and are able to ask them a single question to try to guess their identity. At the end of the episode, the eliminated singer takes off their mask and reveals their identity to all.
Reality television shows have become a fundamental part of my gamified classrooms, so I can’t help but see them through the eyes of an educator and game designer. As I was watching an episode of The Masked Singer tonight with my husband, I began deconstructing the elements of this intriguing show and thought about how it could be brought into learning. Most reality shows have some key elements that draw us in. Challenge. Choice. Authentic Audience. Chance. When used effectively, they hook us and keep the viewer wanting to watch week after week. However, I am a distracted television watcher. It is rare that I sit through any show with my eyes glued to the screen. Often times, I’ll be on my computer or working on something else while watching. Tonight was different. I noticed I wasn’t working on my computer or anything else for that matter. I was immersed in the show. Why was this show different? One word...
From the beginning of the show to the end, I was drawn into the mystery of who was hiding behind the mask. I didn’t want to miss out on any of the celebrities mannerisms or clues that may possibly reveal their identity. I wanted to figure out the clues and solve the mystery! As I thought about this, I began thinking about the parallels between this show and a new favorite in my life...BreakoutEDU.
BreakoutEDU is like an escape room game for the classroom. Within the BreakoutEDU platform, there is an extensive collection of immersive learning games for all ages and content areas that require problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity to solve. In teams, students are working together to solve a series of clues that will reveal the code to break into a small and large box that is closed shut with various locks.
I have loved this immersive game ever since I entered the BreakoutEDU bus a few years back at the ISTE conference in Denver, Colorado. However, there was something about it that I had always found a little intimidating to facilitate on my own. That all changed when my friend Ann Brucker, a game designer and community manager from BreakoutEDU, designed a game for my book, Make Learning Magical, that she facilitated at the SOPTV Teacher Summit a few years back. (It's incredibly magical, check it out HERE!) Assisting her in setting the locks and facilitating this game, took the fear away and I knew it was time to take a leap. I needed more BreakoutEDU in my life. In my new role as Tech Integration Specialist, I had the opportunity to purchase a set of 6 BreakoutEDU boxes for our district. They came in just in time to reveal them to our innovation team before our holiday break, and they were a hit! When everyone returned in the new year, they were all fired up and ready to bring these immersive games into their classroom. There was no turning back. Any trepidation I had about getting started was short lived, because before long I was feeling like a BreakoutEDU rockstar and was setting locks and facilitating games like I’d been doing it for years. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration… But seriously, why I had I waited so long to take this leap?! Each time I facilitated a game, I became more confident and the immersive and rich learning experience that I was witnessing blew my mind! Talk about the 4 C’s amplified….WOW! These kids were collaborating, communicating, critically, and creatively thinking at a high octane level! In an intense moment in one of the games I facilitated in a 5th grade classroom, a student exclaimed, “You guys! We have to be smarter than we normally are if we are going to figure this out.” It cracked me up! They were thinking really hard and they wanted to! That’s pretty flippin’ amazing! During reflection time after the game was over a struggling learner said, “Today was the first time in this class that I didn’t give up.” When the teacher asked what was different about this experience he said, “Because, I saw how hard the other students in class were working and it made me want to work hard too.” Wow! A true testament to something I believe strongly….learning can and should be fun and play is powerful!
What is the common denominator between what hooks kids into a game like BreakoutEDU and what hooks me into a show like The Masked Singer? CURIOSITY!!!! Whether it’s behind a mask or hidden in a box, we want to solve the mystery! As I thought about this connection, my mind began swirling with ideas. How could I weave curiosity into the gamified classroom with these new BreakoutEDU boxes in a similar way that The Masked Singer weaves it into a season of episodes? Then it hit me! Each unit could kick off with a new mystery and throughout the unit students would search for clues that would unlock the BreakoutEDU box that held the mystery inside! Clues would be hidden in the classroom or around campus, in invisible ink or digital text on their assignments, or randomly throughout the unit in daily activities. The clues would connect to the content being learned and would require students to dive deeper to discover the mystery within! In the gamified classroom, the opportunities are endless. You could give special badges or incentives to students or teams that opened the box first. You could even have a different badge for each lock figured out and a badge for the entire class if collectively they could open the box before the test at the end of the unit. In social studies, a historical figure, event, or secret location could be hidden in the box. In science, it may be a famous scientist, rare gem or invention. In math, it could be a famous engineer or mathematician. In culinary, it may be a rare ingredient, recipe, or chef that connects to the content being taught. The point is, it could work in any grade level or subject area.
When we bring mystery, wonder, and curiosity into learning, magical things happen. Our students want to be challenged. They want to explore. They are starving for a little mystery and excitement in learning. They are craving curiosity. As educators, we have an amazing mission to bring that magic to our classrooms. Whether it’s behind a mask or locked in a box, curiosity is magical! Let’s find a way to bring it into learning!
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.