. There is something wonderful about the element of mystery. It builds anticipation and excitement for what is to come. Up to this point, the badges I've awarded in my class have all had experience points attached with varying amounts that is visible to them when they earn them. This mechanic has worked really well in my class as students collect badges to reach apprentice, sous chef, and ultimately MasterChef status. However, as I watch my students interact with the game I realized for the first time this past unit that what we were missing was a little mystery.
The magic of a gamified classroom is in adding twists and turns and a little mystery whenever you want. So when this unit started, I threw them a curve ball. I told them that I would be awarding Mystery badges throughout the unit that would each hold an XP amount behind a scratch off sticker. Students would not be able to reveal the scratch off amount until the end of the unit when all the badges are turned in. This little bit of anticipation adds a new excitement to the game! They only can strategize so much, because there is an element of chance that won't be revealed until the end. I knew by my students responses when I revealed this new mechanic, that this was going to bring a whole new dimension to our classroom dynamic. They were excited!
So here is how I made the Mystery badges. I create my badges using Pages on ios. I make each badge the size of a baseball card so students can keep them in a plastic Baseball Card Sleeve. (shout out to @mrmatera for this idea!) I then laminate the page and cut out the badges. Once the badges are laminated and cut, I apply a scratch off sticker to each one. Adding the sticker to a laminated surface allows the badges to be reused by removing remainder of scratch off and applying a new sticker. However, you could apply the sticker directly to a badge printed on cardstock and left unlaminated, it would just prevent them from being reused. Either way works!
The Mystery Badges are kept in a box and when students earn one, they reach in and pick one randomly. The badges hold various amounts of experience points behind the sticker: 250, 500, 1000, and 1500. To make the higher XP a little harder to get, I populate the box with more of the lower numbers incrementally with the fewest badges holding 1500. This balances out the XP and makes it a big deal when the higher amount is revealed. Again, they can't scratch off the amount till the end of the unit, so it adds another layer of suspense!
The beauty of gamification is you don't have to have everything figured out from the get-go! You can add game mechanics to your game as you observe how your students interact with the game. If things get a little predictable, add a new element to mix things up. If certain player types aren't buying in, find a mechanic to bring them on board. YOU are the game designer! Adding twists and turns and a bit of Mystery keeps the game exciting! Who doesn't love a good mystery?!
I don't watch a whole lot of television, but one show that I get excited about each season is The Voice. I've always thought it would be amazing to sing beautifully and share it with the world. I love watching the contestant's journey as they progress through the competition amazing the judges with their mind-blowing talent. As I'm sitting in my living room binge watching past episodes it dawns on me, it's not just the singing that I love about this show...it's the passion.
Contestants on The Voice have a passion and love for singing that is tangible. You feel their excitement as they share their stories of what brought them to this point in their journey. I may not have a great voice...okay, it's terrible. However, I can relate to their passion. This is how I feel about being an educator. I know what it feels like to love it so much that my mind continually spins with new possibilities to bring to the classroom. I too have a story that has shaped me as an educator and will be the legacy that I leave.
When singers perform, they are giving it their all. They are leaving it all on the stage. I think about all the emotions I feel as an educator when I give my all in the classroom. Let's be honest, not everyday feels like a stellar performance but every day my goal is to bring my best self and give it all I've got.
Let's talk about the judges. They are passionate about their role as a mentor, and that passion shines through. There is continuous banter, laughter, and a positive vibe because they love what they are doing! Though the game is serious, they are having fun in the process. This is what I love about my PLN. These are the people in my life that are continually giving me encouragement and support. They are my cheerleaders rooting for me and giving me authentic feedback to help me continue to grow as an educator. On the days when I'm discouraged and feeling beat down, I can always look to them for inspiration, positivity, and a good laugh.
Now don't get me wrong, I 'm sure there is a lot of "out takes", and "off camera" moments on The Voice that aren't so pretty, but isn't that real life for us too? There are days that I would rather not be "on camera", but I'm glad those days are few and my passion and love for teaching keeps me going between episodes. Singing is definitely not my calling, but I'm so glad teaching is!
*Shout out to my friend, Rodney Turner for this blog post's title. Power of a PLN!
Follow him on Twitter @techyturner....he's awesome!
This week my Culinary Arts 2 students participated in their first MasterChef Challenge as our Yeast Bread unit came to a close. Teams were given a formula for a rich and lean yeast bread dough and were to prepare the dough without recipe directions into something AMAZING. One day was given to prepare and shape the dough and another to bake and present their creation to a panel of judges.
I sent out a staff-wide email a week prior to the event requesting judges. Within the email was a link to a google form for staff to sign up for the time slot that worked best. Staff members love to participate and it really is what makes this challenge feel authentic for the students. It is so meaningful when staff and students engage in a different classroom environment. For some students, this is the one class that they feel successful in. To have the opportunity to "shine" for teachers is powerful for them.
When students come into class on challenge days, dramatic music is playing with the MasterChef symbol projected on the screen. I hand each team a yeast bread formula and give them the challenge rules. I let them know that they may use any ingredients that I have on the cart to incorporate into their bread. I also explain that the judges will be a panel made up of staff members on campus and that they will be evaluating their creations based on taste, texture, appearance, & creativity. All ipads and other digital devices are off limits until their dough is made and then can be used as a resource to generate ideas.
The initial reaction when students hear they will not be given a recipe is shock. Students think I am asking the impossible. However, what happens next is magical. The classroom begins to buzz with energy as students scurry to their kitchens to begin preparing their masterpieces. Students know that each team member brings an important dynamic to the team and the collaboration that happens is exciting to watch. As students begin making their dough, you can almost see the transformation in their demeanor turn from fear to confidence. They soon realize they really DO know how to make this dough....they don't need no stinkin' recipe!
With this new found confidence in their yeast bread making abilities, the creative juices start to flow. They have successfully made a yeast bread dough without a recipe, now they are about to make it into something AMAZING! It is awesome to witness the collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity that happens within each team. They are fully immersed in this experience and can't wait to create something special.
The next day students come in and are ready to get right to work. I tell them they have 40 minutes to bake and finalize their bread before the judges arrive. It is so fun to see all of their creations take shape. It blows my mind how varied their breads are and how much their personalities shine through each one. Students take such care in the finishing touches and plating so that they will have the perfect presentation.
As judges come in, I direct them to a special judging table set with rubrics, a pen, glass of water, napkin, and plate. I explain the challenge rules and the criteria that they will be evaluating on. I stagger the teams based on who is finished first and have them present their dish to the judging panel sharing what they made and how they made it. I tell students that they need to "sell it". It is important to let the judges know why their creation stands apart from everyone else's. I encourage judges to give feedback not only verbally, but on their rubric so students know exactly what they did well and what could have been improved. The moment that students bring up their creations they are glowing. It is so heartwarming to hear them talk about their creations with such pride knowing that not only did they make it without a recipe, they made into something AMAZING! Students are all ears as the judges give suggestions and express what they enjoyed most about their bread.
Once the judges leave, I tabulate the scores to determine which teams have earned first, second and third place. The day following the challenge, I award the winning teams with badges with varying amount of XP attached. I also show a slide presentation of all the bread creations from my 3 classes on the screen and talk about what I loved about each one. The judges rubrics used to evaluate the creations are given back to students so they can look through and discuss the feedback with their team. I find this time of reflection to be extremely valuable in the experience and gives me an opportunity to discuss and provide encouragement to the teams.
The MasterChef Challenge has proved to be the ultimate demonstration of learning. Students demonstrate their understanding of the methods and vocabulary by ditching the recipe and then make it into something that is uniquely their own. Students will not soon forget the memories and learning that happened in this unit. It is my hope that they will carry these skills with them long after my class and build on them for years to come.
This week in our Amazing Food Truck Race, student's were up against their first regional challenge. After two weeks of learning about the flavor profiles and cuisine of the Northeast United States, each food truck adapted their signature dishes to represent the region. Food trucks had the amount of money earned in the Truck Stop and Speed Bump challenges to spend on ingredients they needed. Ingredients that I already had on hand were considered "free". I gave students 3 days for this Northeastern Challenge:
Day 1: Students worked on their presentation and plan for recreating their signature dish
Day 2: Students prepared their signature dish and finalized their presentation
Day 3: Students finalized signature dishes, plated, and presented to our "customers".
Now here comes the exciting part! Our customers were not only school staff members, but local food truck owners! In an Adventure Quest I had given my student's a few weeks back, I challenged them to visit local food trucks and invite them to our classroom. I created postcards for students to hand to them with all the details. The calls started coming in and our community was thrilled to be a part of this learning experience for my students. To be completely real, this scared me a little...okay a lot. What would these local chefs think of my student's skills? Would they think I've been preparing them all wrong? Would they think this Amazing Food Truck Race idea was crazy? However, this is what real authentic learning is all about. Chefs that are out there everyday in the restaurant industry coming in to give feedback to my students. So, I pushed all fear aside and embraced this opportunity with open arms.
Once the food truck owners arrived on the day of the challenge, they circulated around the room while my students were making last minute preparations on their signature dishes. They asked questions and gave some last minute recommendations. I was so proud of the students and how professional they were as they shared their ideas and preparation process to our guests. I also noticed students "upped" their game. They weren't just preparing this food for me or even the staff, they were preparing it for people who operated a food truck for a living! This was the real deal!
One by one students began setting up their food truck stations with their signature dishes and samples. They also brought their ipads that held their presentations to share about the Northeastern region. This is where the magic happened. The growth I saw since our food truck launch was evident. Students were more poised, their presentations were more polished, and they were more confident. As each team member began sharing about their dish in detail, I was so impressed by the knowledge they are sharing about the Northeastern region. It is clear that they have done their research, they have practiced, and they are clearly able to tie the preparation and flavors of their signature dish to the region.
The authenticity of this experience was most evident in the feedback that the food truck owners gave after each presentation and sampling of the dishes. They asked important questions, gave specific feedback as to what worked and didn't work in each dish, and advice on how the dishes could be improved. They offered suggestions that only someone who cooked for a living day in and day out could give. My students were sponges and hung on every word. It was priceless.
As I watched this scene unfold my heart was full and I may have teared up a little. My students had owned their learning. They collaborated and created far beyond what I imagined.
This... was 21st century learning in action.
This... is what it looks like to have learning come alive.
This... is what makes the tough days worth it and why I must continue to bring passion to the classroom everyday.
This... is just the beginning. I can't wait to watch this adventure unfold as we continue our race across the United States.
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.