Thursday, July 23, 2020

Game-Based Learning Is Not Gamification

As my post's title suggests, game-based learning and gamification are not the same thing. They both serve purposes in the classroom, but the two terms are not interchangeable. So what's the difference? Game-based learning is when you use games in the classroom. Gamification is when you transform the entire class or lesson into a game. In its simplest form, gamification means you're adding game-type elements into the lesson. This can be through story telling, problem solving, competition, or scoring.

This 2014 Google Teacher Academy application video from Jeffrey King is a prime example of how to gamify a classroom. He's not just playing a game with his students, he's turned the class into a game. From "mission briefings" instead of instructions to they way he tracks progress and scores his chemistry class, he has transformed it into something different and exciting.

My favorite theory behind gamification is that students don't fail. Just like in a game where an avatar dies and returns to the last "save point", learning is a process as well. If the student doesn't reach the goal don't just give them a F and move on. This won't help the student and will make it harder to move forward. Let them go back and try again. They use the knowledge from that first attempt to improve.

When you use game-based learning in the classroom, you are using games to promote learning. Examples of this can be as simple as using Scrabble to practice spelling or more complex ideas such as a game show style review. Game-based learning can be really effective for student engagement.

If you would like to learn more about Gamification, I highly recommend looking into Karl Kapp, a professor at Bloomsburg University. I discovered him while surfing Lynda courses (free through my public library so check yours) during quarantine. He has a few videos on gamifying classrooms and a few on gamifying professional development for the business world. They were all extremely informative and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

To sum this up, I'm not saying that playing games in the classroom is bad. Students love games and they will help you engage the class in exciting ways to teach or review materials. Just when you are submitting proposals to EdTech conferences please make sure to specify in your description what you are discussing. I would love to become better at gamification, but I seem to always end up in sessions about game-based learning.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Loss of an Icon

 Rosie Parmigiani aka Mama Keystone

I barely knew you. Don't get me wrong, I knew of you, but I barely knew you. You were/are the icon. The heart and soul of Keystones and PAECT. I remember that first PETE&C I attended back before I really understood what type of community I had walked into. I was an outsider, but to you I was another young teacher looking to improve my craft.

I sat down at the banquet that year with other people from Southeast and immediately I heard stories about Mama. We met briefly and you introduced yourself and welcomed me to the family. Maybe at most we spent five minutes talking. The following day you said hi to me in passing with warm smile.

A year later, I came up to PETE&C the day early for the KTI pre-summit. When I walked past you, you not only said hi but you remembered my name. With so many "children", it really amazed me that Mama not only remembered me but she took a moment to ask how everything was including details from a single conversation the year before. This is how it continued. I only saw Mama annually at PETE&C, and once at ISTE, but each time she would take the time to make you feel welcomed and encouraged. Mama just had that way about her.

She spoke to everyone and took the time to make sure each person felt welcome and included. Whether you were a first year teacher or a retired veteran, you mattered. Mama never spoke about herself, it was always about her children and we are all her children.

The last time I saw Mama was in February at PETE&C in Pittsburgh. As always, she was riding around in her scooter and not letting anything slow her down. When we spoke about Pittsburgh, Mama said she came a few days early to spend time with her family that lived on the west side of the state.

Mama may be gone, but her legacy will live on through every student and teacher that she mentored. I know I am a better educator for knowing her, no matter how brief.

Mama will always be there for all of us. (@rosieparm)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Free Ebooks for Teachers and How to Get Them

I love reading for relaxation. However, lately the library's waiting list for digital books can pass two months. If you decide to purchase a book, they can cost $10 and up. So what's someone to do? Well, sign up with the publishers to get an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of upcoming books. The catch? They expect you to write reviews and publish those reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. Any review would have a disclaimer such as "I received a free ACR from [publisher] in exchange for a honest review."

When I went to New York Comic Con this past fall, I met representatives from some of the major publishing companies. That's where I learned the trick to these free early copies. Make sure you mark in your profile that you are a teacher and/or librarian (if you are) because the publishers are more likely to approve your request if you have a good reach. Below are the three sites I have joined to request ARC.

I have been a member of NetGalley for a few years now. It was the first site I learned about back when I was blogging about how to save money. Many of the large publishers will use NetGalley but be aware that I've been declined as many requests as I've been approved for during the time. Some newer authors will be listed as "read now" and don't require a pre-approval.

I learned about Booksprout directly from an author's Twitter account. You can search through available ARCs but you can allow follow an author you like. I now get notified when that author I enjoy has new books available.

I learned about Reedsy from someone at NYCC. The site has an interesting variety of books but it appears that only one reviewer per book, so it's first come/first serve. You can also see the books that have already been reviewed. The one thing I found strange with Reedsy is that people can leave you tips for your reviews. If you receive a tip, you must connect a Stripe account to withdraw the funds.

If you're not interested in pre-release books or agreeing to review the books, you can also look into options like your public library and Amazon for free eBooks.

Public Libraries
Depending on where you live, it may be different. Here in Philadelphia, we have Overdrive and Hoopla. The library has a specific number of digital licenses for each book and if all those books are "out" you can add yourself to the waiting list. You can also search for books the library doesn't own or pre-release titles and recommend the library purchases them. When they do, you'll automatically be able to borrow the title or be added to the wait list if it is a popular pre-release.

Kindle Unlimited
Amazon has a subscription program where you can get unlimited books. The subscription costs $9.99 per month but if you read a lot, it may be worth it. They also offer a free trial month. I'm a little torn on Kindle Unlimited because they have a huge selection of books but often new releases and popular books are not included.

Prime Reading
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can filter ebooks to find titles that are eligible for Prime Reading. These titles can be downloaded for free. The selection is more limited than Kindle Unlimited, but you can often find some decent titles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The New Normal: Hopefully not for too long

This past month has been crazy. From schools closing to stay at home orders, the world has changed overnight. Hopefully these changes are working and we'll be able to get back to normal soon, but will it be normal?

Tweet from Shonda Rhimes
Teachers are being forced right now to basically become first year teachers again. With little to no experience, they are being thrown into a new environment and expecting to thrive. Parents and community members are starting to notice how hard teachers are working and that it's not just "teaching" that goes into the classroom.

This month, I have been hosting webinars on different ed tech products and concepts. I have also been holding daily virtual office hours to support teachers from across the state and region. I may not be in the classroom anymore, but I know the struggles going on.

I hope that I've been helpful to the teachers that have been attending the webinars and those that come into office hours have been asking great questions. I've even geared some of next week's webinars based off the repetitive questions I've been getting in office hours.

Good luck to all educators out there. We will get through this, and we will be stronger for it. So will our students. Stay safe and wash your hands.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The World Is Not Ending... (How Fast a Month Can Change Everything)

Last month I wrote about how great 2020 was so far. Fast forward a month into the future and the world is going crazy. A fast spreading virus is scaring everyone into reacting. Large events around the world are being postponed or canceled. Education Exchange (E2) which I was suppose to attend in Australia was postponed. Then SXSW canceled this year's event. Even Harvard is moving all classes online and students were given less than a week to vacate the campus.

Schools across the globe are currently working on contingency plans if they need to close the buildings. Four local districts closed for a week after a local pediatric doctor tested positive meaning he may have infected his patients (yikes).

As someone that works in the educational technology industry, you may think that I've been waiting for this type of moment, but far from it. Cyber/distance learning has its place, but it's not a replacement for the physical classroom. I think the social aspect of education is just as, if not more important, than the content itself. Teaching students to collaborate and work together can have some of the greatest results in a classroom.

I am working with schools to train their staff on remote learning options, but the pedagogy cannot be taught or learned overnight. Teachers at cyber schools have spent a lot of time training for their specialty and working remotely with students. Additionally, this crisis is further illustrating the inequality of education. Not all students have access to devices and internet at home. So how are schools going to reach these students?

Leonard Nimoy as Spock giving the Vulcan greeting.
Image Source: Buzzfeed
I am not a doctor and I'm not going to pretend to know how truly widespread this virus is or how long it will take for our medical experts to contain it. It's better to overreact than under-react but I hope that we are all overreacting and things will get back to normal soon.

At least us geeks around the world are finally "cool" because we're giving the Vulcan greeting instead of shaking hands.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

2020 Has Been An Amazing Year (and It's Only February)

Wow. What a year so far.

I attend the Microsoft Underground Summit and had an amazing time learning with other MIEExperts. While attending the summit, I was selected for the USA delegation to Education Exchange (E2) in Sydney Australia for March. My airfare confirmation just arrived today, so it feels even more real than when I heard my name called.

I won the election for Regional Director of Southeast PAECT. Again, another thing that started before the new year but actually happened in 2020. I will be taking over for Rachel following PETE&C at the end of the month.

American Cancer Society Team DetermiNATION logo.
Running for a cure
Third, I decided to take my fitness goals to the next level. As part of my motivation to get/stay healthy, I have registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon on November 1, 2020. Since this will be my first full marathon (26.1 miles/42.195 km), I have partnered with the American Cancer Society. With a minimum fundraising goal which goes towards cancer research, they will help me train safely and smartly. They will also provide me with nutritional advice for that peak performance. If you'd like to donate to the cause and help me reach my goal, please head directly to my personal fundraising page to donate.
"The American Cancer Society DetermiNation program will help you achieve your personal race goals and change the course of cancer forever. With access to professional training, an unparalleled community of support, and inspiration every step of the way, the American Cancer Society will help you finish your upcoming race and together we can achieve a world free from the pain and suffering of cancer." (Quote from Team Determination Homepage)
Even small donations will help reach and hopefully surpass the fundraising goal of $3,400.

Up next for me is PETE&C in February and Education Exchange in March. After that, I have some "down time" before the next conference at the end of April, followed by Broad Street Run in May. Wow. I'm keeping busy, in a good way.

Thanks everyone for your continued support.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Microsoft Underground Summit

Sign with right arrow stating "Bill Speidel's Underground Tour: The Underground Tour Founded 1965"
Seattle was built on top of
the "original" Seattle.
I'm currently sitting in the Seattle Airport after a jam packed week in the rainy city. To be fair, it didn't rain the entire time... One day we had snow ;)

This week I attended Microsoft's Underground Summit for Microsoft Innovative Education Experts (MIEEs). As a 2019/2020 Fellow, I went up a day early to have a day of bonding with the other Fellows and to help setup the summit. We spent the morning touring the Microsoft Campus and got to see the famous treehouse, education offices, and other really cool locations. In the afternoon, we brainstormed an event for the MIEEs, toured a local showcase school, and then took a tour of Seattle. During the tour, a few of us figured out why it was called the Underground Summit.

Picture of Stacey Mulcahy and a screen describing the Microsoft Garage as a place where Microsoft employees can hack, make, and experiment.
The Garage's director, Stacey Mulcahy.
The next morning, we greeted the rest of the MIEEs as they came in to start the day.  The day began with an amazing keynote from the Vice President of Education at Microsoft, Anthony Salcito. If you ever get a chance to hear this guy speak, he's not afraid to say what's on his mind. He spoke about his dislike of buzzwords that prevent education from moving forward, along with his hope for the future of educational technology and education in general. He also head an impromptu q&a because we had some extra time. After the keynote, we split up. Half the group had sessions and the other half did tours of the campus. During our tour, we got to see some more exciting locations including The Garage. The garage turned out to be a full office building where innovation and experimentation is encouraged for all employees. After lunch, the groups switched. We went to sessions on growing one's own brand, Minecraft in the Classroom, and Flipgrid/Skype in the classroom. Then some software teams came and gave us a preview of some really cool stuff.

Stuffed koala and a postcard that says See You in Sydney
Education Exchange Koala.
When they were finished, the most nervewrecking/exciting part of the day took place. Each year, Microsoft hosts a global conference of educators in a different country. The United States sends a delegation each year and I had applied for 2020 in Australia. To be fair, instead of having to make the hard decision of who will go, any educator that completes a series of tasks and creates a Sway "Passport to E2" is entered in a random drawing. As they started to draw names, my heart rate spiked. When the fifth name called was mine, I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe that I will be going to Australia in March. The night ended with dinner and a meet and greet with different Microsoft for Education partners.

The next day, the Fellows organized a competition where teams had an hour to create an innovative classroom idea and make a two minute "pitch" on Flipgrid. The Fellows walked around to each group offering suggestions and ideas while also secretly (or not so secretly) judging the ideas. We then passed off ten finalists to the real judges, the Flipgrid team. While we moved on to the next activity, ten mini-sessions referred to as MIEbooms, the judges made their decision. We had another great keynote from Brian Aspinall who made great points about the direction of education. If we treat technology as a special (elective) class, it's not being used effectively to prepare students for the future. He also reminded us that today's technology is the worst technology students will use, as it continues to advance through their lives.

Coffee flight with three pots of coffee and paired chocolate truffles.
Starbucks Reserve Coffee Flight
Although the conference ended around lunch time, a few of us hung around and continued to explore the Microsoft Visitor Center. Here, we saw a small exhibit of the history and future of Microsoft. We saw some amazing demonstrations of AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality). While after lunch, some people left to catch flights, a few of us expanded our stay in Seattle by one extra night. We went as a group to the Space Needle. The next morning, we meetup at Pike Place before splitting up to do different touristy things. Considering I only had a little less than twenty-four hours to do the tourist thing while also getting some sleep, I was able to see a huge part of Seattle. I went to a museum, explored the city, and meet-up with the amazing Tara Linney who currently lives in Seattle. We talked about different Ed Tech trends while sharing a flight of coffee at the Starbucks Reserve.

It was a great week in Seattle/Redmond and I'm excited to return home with new ideas to help the teachers I work with. I can't wait for the next journey, Australia.
Picture of me while playing the VR demo.
I felt cooler than I look.