Game On 2013

At PLSM back in August I pledged to run a PBL unit getting my computing students to write video games and publish to a public audience. This may not seem like a lot to you but it was for me.

I’ve never written a video game before, let alone teach and inspire students to do so, using a programming language I’ve never really used before. My students have only just learned how to code – in Python – so, a different language (syntax, UI, etc).

While I’ve run PBL before, I’ve never had a public audience. I honestly didn’t think it was necessary until challenged at PLSM. And yet when I launched this PBL with my students, I told them they would have an audience beyond me, beyond the classroom,and possibly beyond the school.

My students took on to the task well enough BUT they did not take the public audience bit that seriously…..which, of course, challenged me even more! and made me more nervous as well. This PBL was running mostly AFTER formal assessments were done so I was also worried about the motivation factor as their efforts would not go towards grades or report comments.

The original plan was to have this Game On event with the public audience being the target audience of the game, i.e. our junior school (K-6 students).  But as end-of-year schedules typically are, it was difficult to find time to schedule the event, let alone synchronise with junior school as well. I’ve yet to share this with our junior school.

And, to complicate matters, we decided to use the event to launch the idea of a computing club ready for next year. The good thing about that was the opportunity to collaborate with @townesy77.

What I really wanted from a Game On event can be summed up thus: give my students a public audience, raise the profile of gaming, raise more interest in computing (why just play games when you can make them, right?), outsource feedback and give purpose to learning (software programming and concepts). Lofty aims needed a big event!

yada yada yada….let me just tell you a few of my strategies (which fortunately worked):

  1. I picked Scratch because no downloads/installs were required for either developer or game player. That, plus Scratch has a Studio feature which makes it super-easy to create and share a game arcade.
  2. I participated in the PBL. That is, I went through the PBL myself and designed and wrote my own game. Two, in fact. This forced me to learn Scratch more. Having to think through different algorithms demanded by the different student projects made me learn super-quick
  3. Get @townesy77 to do her magic…creating posters, organising and running the Xbox station for the Game On event, setting up the computer lab with generic logins ready to play the Game On Arcade, help me to announce the event at assembly, etc etc etc
  4. Get my students to talk up the event, invite their friends as well as speak at assembly
  5. The turning point was getting Google to sponsor the event. Much like how my Google excursion came to be, I just asked. Well, okay, I wrote a proposal! And they gave me enough funds to buy prizes and more besides (and really, this is worth another post…really, really). When I told my students about the sponsorship, they were stunned (as was I) and realised that I was serious about this public audience thing. I told them I sent a link to the arcade as part of the proposal (with only 3 games in it then) and that it wasn’t just me holding them accountable for delivery. Amazing!
  6. I tied prizes to feedback. For every 3 game reviews, each reviewer got a chance to win a prize (chocolates). The drawcard, however, was the Google goodies – which I got from my visits to Google (I just remembered I haven’t blogged about my other visit!). It’s a pity not all my students were at the event because they missed out on feedback that weren’t written – the buzz, the ‘oh, this is fun!’ comments, the ‘that looks good’, etc.
  7. Get my students to decorate and help out at the event.
  8. I called on my PLN to visit the arcade.

The Game On event today was amazing! My room looked amazing. The prizes looked desirable. The ‘sponsored by Google’ thing provided more gravitas. Many came and participated on the 2 main activities: playing Game On and Xbox. All up, I got over 60 entries to the feedback draw with contributions from all year groups! Ditto with Xbox participation. This is awesome stuff considering there were other events happening at the same time!

I’m knackered but my heart is full 🙂

Thank you to Bianca and Lee for staging PLSM and challenging me. Thank you to@townesy77 for being my mockingjay (Katniss). Thank you to Google Australia for sponsoring my event (special mention to Sally for giving me another Oprah moment) and Chris for opening my eyes (and my students) to the wonders of open source software. Thank you to Jeannette for getting her students to visit the arcade. Thank you to all the participants in the Game On event.

Most especially, thank you to my IST students for delivering! There wouldn’t have been a Game On event if there were no games at all.

Now for some pics:


Game On arcade – come and play 🙂




one of the banners. can you see the letters in Gallifreyan? hmm, maybe not – but it certainly attracted the Whovians!


playing and giving feedback


so many feedback sheets! yay!

It’s happening

Last Saturday, I went to the Project Learning Swap Meet organised by Bianca and Lee Hewes. It was inspiring, challenging and ultimately motivational in a ‘Make this happen’ sort of way. So then, while I thought my first blog post about PLSM would be about the day, I’m now blogging about how I came to making it real and happening on my first school-day back, in the middle of an existing project.

Circled are some of the ideas I thought I’d implement straight away.

notes on the back of the booklet Bianca shared

notes on the back of the booklet Bianca shared

I teach 8 Technology and on my rotation, students learn about Textiles and Digital Technology with a project involving the Design, Production and Evaluation of a pyjama set. It’s a common task for 4 classes taught by 3 teachers, including myself. The task has plenty of PBL elements including student voice and choice. Collaboration happens but more incidental than planned. Products are displayed along the hallway for all the school to see.

After attending PLSM, I felt inspired, challenged and motivated to implement some of what I learned on the day. Because I spent hours yesterday designing a Project Packet for year 7s (subject of another post), I decided to focus on something smaller for year 8s; something NEW that would be beneficial straight away.

Year 8s are submitting the Design products tomorrow which include sketches of their ideas and Final Design (the PJ set they’re actually going to make). I thought it would be good for them to get peer feedback prior to submission.

Techniques used (got all these from PLSM):

  • Gallery Walk – items for feedback are put on display and peers write feedback on post-it notes
  • Scaffolded Feedback – Based on @missjessm ‘s suggestion of “I like…Have you considered…”, the class decided to use +1 for “I like” and a star for the “Have you considered…”. Students suggested the ‘star’ and I’m still unsure why, maybe because it’s easy to draw?
  • Goals, Medals, Missions (I’ve used this before but the document here is new to me) – using the task assessment criteria, I listed the Goals. These were the basis of the +1 and star comments as well….i.e. things to consider when writing feedback



Students each had 3 post-it notes so they had to be more picky of what they wrote and who they wrote for. They could always add a +1 or star if they agreed on what has already been posted. It worked really well and every design got peer feedback. This went on for about 10-15 minutes.

Everyone then got their sketches and considered the peer feedback and filled in their Goals, Medals, Missions sheets.

Here’s what I observed:

  • Quality of peer feedback was excellent and the use of scaffold was evidently effective (eeek, that sounds so teacher-y)
  • Students appreciated the +1s and even more so, the stars – i.e. suggestions for improvements
  • Students were surprised at how true the peer comments were, making the +1 even more affirming
  • Students were more motivated and directed to create better quality products
  • Some students noticed things I haven’t (how good is this??? and yes, I’m collecting the post-it notes and GMMs)
  • I’ll know my students more based on their GMMs

It was soooooo worth getting this happening straight away. Read more about the above techniques and MORE in Bianca’s super post about managing the mushy middle.

Making progress

Maybe I miss teaching maths as I feel compelled to use some mathematical terms and concepts in this post about how my (non-Maths) PBLs mentioned in the previous post, are progressing. Oh, and this is inspired by this video on dissociating learning from performance, linked to me by the wonderful Kelli McGraw (@kmcg2375) who constantly pushes my academic thinking, among others.

Anyway, I had to watch that video lots and lots and lots of times. What really hooked me was this notion of variability as aid to learning and transference, even if the performance gain (observable stuff we teachers measure as evidence of learning) is non-existent or slow. See folks, this is why I love Algebra! And in fact, that’s how Algebra should be taught, i.e. change those variables so students can see that the relationships expressed in an equation will yield different values as variables change. This is transference in number terms, literally.

I’m not going to pretend I understand the video completely. I don’t. What does spacing even means? I’m guessing interleaving means making connections. Interleaving vs blocking new things to be learned. whoa!

This is exactly how my PBLs are progressing. Variability. Interleaving vs blocking new things. Conditions are neither constant nor predictable (these terms are from the video, ok?).

Precisely because of how the Year 9 Digital Media Jedi Academy is set up, there is so much variability. I’ve got kids learning to write HTML code, writing ebooks, creating wikis, typography and critically analysing their process…yep, writing their applications to level up. And they’re excited about what they’re doing that invariably (haha) I have to boot them out when bell goes. Comments heard today: “I’ve done so much”, “I’ve learned so much”, “This is exciting”.  They’re collaborating, giving peer feedback and affirmations and best of all, learning how to help themselves.

Their applications to level up are done in Word, submitted to our virtual classroom (a Sharepoint site). I annotate these. Then it hit me that I had no idea of checking if they’ve really read these annotations – we’re talking individualised feedback here that took time and effort! Bianca Hewes (@biancaH80) to the rescue. More specifically, her post on feedback (a must read so go there, will you?) that mentioned the Goals, Medals, Missions framework. I told the students that they had to hunt down the medals and missions in my feedback. This had the added bonus of student feedback on my own annotations. It was clear that I was rather austere on the medals department. haha. I’ll fix that. I wish Sharepoint has notifications like edmodo.

My Year 10 PBL on the school purpose has taken twists and turns I could not have predicted. These kids are getting so engrossed on making sense of the school purpose and want to take the rest of the school with them. I’m actually rather flabbergasted though obviously proud of them taking ownership.  They designed surveys for staff and students and we had amazing discussions on the art of writing surveys and the challenges of collation…we were optimistic we’d get heaps of responses. Now they’re talking about making it a game and what do I know really of Game Design. Well, I’m learning along with them. Like my year 9s, I have to dismiss them a few times before they actually leave the room.

This post is long enough methinks. Anyway, I’m feeling good about the progress. Yeah, I still feel lost but I think I might get used to it and welcome it. That’s a good thing, right?

And just to end on the idea of abstraction: neither Bianca nor Kelli teach maths or computing; yet, see how I’ve abstracted from their work and applied to my context (steal like an artist – go on, check it out….interleaving, see?). This abstraction is Algebra IRL. really.

Walking the walk

I just completed a 2-week block at another school, this time cover for mostly Maths classes. Lessons were already planned by the teachers so technically, all I had to do was deliver them (if keen) or leave the kids to do the assigned work and make myself available….this is what casual teachers do, right?

After a week though, I found myself literally sick to the stomach because I knew I could do more. Here I was harping on about to “Make room”,  “Student reflection”, “Inquiry Learning (1)” , IL(2)  and “Playing with different teaching styles and approaches” and then not doing them. Ha!

I could have hidden behind the curtain of ‘I am just a casual teacher, blink and I’m gone’ but deep down, I felt that I had to walk the walk….my walk. The question was whether I could pull this off in a Maths classroom, with students I didn’t even know the names of?


The year 7s were learning about Data and Graphs; identifying, reading, creating, critique-ing… that order! I’ve taught this unit before and that’s how we’ve always done it…just like most Maths teachers I know. I only had 6 lessons with year 7s and 3 of those where gone in the first week; so I had 3 lessons left for something different to indulge my ‘walk the walk’ thingy.

Here’s my mini-PBL; it’s not great but does tick the boxes of PBL essential elements (via, bar the public audience. There’s a “focus on inquiry, voice and choice and significant content”, as per starting with PBL article (via Edutopia)…relative to the constraints voiced previously.

[click to enlarge]

Students were allowed to work alone, in pairs or in groups of 3. Students had a choice of presentation mode/tools. Students had a choice of graphs.

Investigations were prompted by a couple of Olympic-themed infographics and a video on what is a typical person which aimed to raise questions on samples and populations, in particular.

Musings – positives and negatives

Inquiry was a challenge. The students struggled with the list of questions, i.e. what were good questions to ask. My biggest concern here was that most of them aimed to please me, the teacher, to pick the right questions and answer them. What I really wanted them to do was list the first questions that came to mind, e.g. “What is this graph about?”, “Why did they use this type of graph?”, “Is this a population or representative sample?”, “Is the scale correct?”, etc. It took several instances to assure them that there were no right or wrong questions, as such, and that some questions were impossible to answer, e.g. such as if the sample size and profile were not given.

Timing was tight. Ideally, the students could have been given more guidance to look for more complex and diverse examples. I’m inclined to think that this would have been better at the start of the unit, i.e. I “wasted” the first 3 lessons doing direct instruction and socratic questioning with the whole class.

Presentations helped uncover misconceptions. This was gold! Students were also learning graphs in Science and were talking about the line of best fit and scatter plots. No wonder they were confused when I was teaching them line graphs the week before; some of them thought line graphs were connected scatter plot dots. This misconception came out when a couple of groups presented about line graphs as being bad because joining the dots was “a bad idea”. This misconception would have been practically impossible to uncover using the traditional method of teaching mentioned above because they would have had little opportunity to “make that mistake“.

Big picture approach helped put things in perspective. I’m a fan of big-picture teaching, (re: post on algebraic equations). This mini-PBL got students looking at different graphs all at once, not one-at-a-time as you would in traditional teaching. So when a student asked a fantastic question of how to represent 0.7 in a picture graph using a scale of 10, it allowed opportunities to discuss options such as using a different scale and (the most obvious they didn’t see it) – use a different type of graph….because they can.

This sacrificed Knowledge and Skills for Working Mathematically. This bugs me because I feel I have let the students down because we didn’t tick all the boxes in the syllabus document for Knowledge and Skills such as “using line graphs for continuous data only”. I am biased towards focusing on working mathematically, e.g. “generate questions from information displayed on graphs”, something I believe transcends usability beyond standardised tests and high school years.  Balancing these is a challenge most Maths teachers face. I made my choice and certainly hope that I didn’t do students a disservice.

So, in the end, I did walk the walk….and gained from it.

What’s your (teaching) style?

Today, one of my year 12 students asked if I taught all my classes using different methods.

Serendipity right there as I was thinking of blogging about the different teaching styles (the term pedagogy gags a bit) I’ve been using with 3 of my classes. In fact, I’ve blogged about all of them already:

Project-based Learning (PBL) – Year 12 Information Processes and Technology

Inquiry-based Learning – Year 11 Information Processes and Technology

Games-based Learning – Year 9 Information and Software Technology

Apart from PBL, I’m a newbie to the other two styles and totally loving the whole experience. It feels good to try different ways of teaching and expanding my pedagogical (gag) repertoire. I do believe a diversity in approach keeps me interested and ditto for the students. A win-win in my books.

I have no preference as such, as each approach has its strengths. I think what makes them work in my meagre experience is that each one is all about the learning, fostered through a regular dose of feedback (teacher-student, student-teacher, student-student). It is a community built on relationships built through constant connection. All approaches focus on the instructional core: student, teacher, content – and the interactions thereof.

I do not see myself as an innovative educator – that really is  not my aim. I daresay I am a learning (vs learned) teacher, with an eclectic approach to teaching and learning. Yep, that’s my style. What about you?

I like this “doodle” by Giulia Forsythe. Though I don’t claim to to pursue innovative pedagogy, there are some interesting points here methinks.