#IMMOOC: Empowerment & Fluco Game Designers


“Our job as educators and leaders is not to control others but to bring out the best in them.” – Innovator’s Mindset, pg 98

As I have mentioned before, I recently started a game design club at the middle school where I work. I ended up with a large group of kids. I am supposed to have 66 if all kids show, and I had 55 last week at the first meeting. I’m crazy and nuts for keeping my group so large, but I do have 2 parent volunteers and as long as the behavior is good, we’ll keep the large group.

Keeping so large a group is a tricky little beast. The students meet in the library and are seated at tables that hold 5. I use one particular tool for most of my management, and that’s so I can get the students’ attention quickly and easily when I need to give guidance on the next topic. If you’ve heard of Kagan strategies, then you know about high five. Basically, the teacher holds up a hand, says “high five!”, and the student response is to hold up a hand in return, mouths closed. A bit of compliance, yes, but simply so the group can regroup and move forward.

The goal of the club is to teach game design, and a lot of that is done through quests (via Gamestar Mechanic) and then the students’ own projects. I want the focus of the club mostly on student designing, so I am carefully scouring the lesson plans provided by Gamestar and using that to create my own. I set up the week’s plans via Google Classroom so that all of the students can be on the same page. Gamestar uses 5 simple lessons to get things started, and then students can branch from there. The basic 5 lessons are meant to teach basic concepts. Once that’s done, there are many routes to take.

For example, this week, students focus on the elements of game design, the big backbone for all of their future work. Every game designed always features the 5 elements- mechanics, components, space, goals, and rules. I want to make sure to hit this one on the head, but I don’t want to make it all lecture. That’s boring and the students don’t get to do much with that route. The lesson I found details it as where I introduce it, then the students complete episodes 3 and 4 to play games that utilize it, and then we come back together for discussion.

Because this lesson is so important to game design in general, I want to add in some empowerment, and may extend the lesson further into the next week. I’m thinking of having the students first focus on one particular element and create a game in their workshop focused around that, asking them to blatantly ignore all other elements in their design process. Then I want them to design a game where they focus on all 5 equally. Since they won’t have finished the first quest in its entirety yet, they won’t have all the sprites from it, but they can still use what they  have to make something. I need to mull it over and put it into my plans.

Looking toward the future in the group, I want to have a lot more projects where students are given the basic parameters and then set free to create while I work on facilitating. It will help prepare them for the STEM Video Game Design Challenge in the spring. I also want to borrow the idea of an Identity Day for game design. I want to see what games students identify with and are passionate about, what their influences might be when it comes to their games that they’ll design. Influences are important, no matter what field, and I already know this crew loves talking about their favorite games.

I used to think engagement was key back when I was in the classroom. Oh, I was good at getting the students’ attention all right. I loved being a goofball, and using that to design lessons that grabbed the students’ attention, such as my Power Rangers Rock Cycle demonstration. Looking back now, that wasn’t all I needed to do. I should have engaged, yes, because that got their attention initially. What I failed to do was take that interest from being engaged and use it to empower the students to take control of their learning, which is what I should have been doing. I know better now. Engage first, but empower more than anything. I’m going to demonstrate that with Fluco Game Designers. I can’t wait!

#IMMOOC- Relationships: Connected Yet Disconnected


“It is easy to lock yourself in an office, connect with people on Twitter, and appear from your room with some great idea or new thing.”

– pg 90 of The Innovator’s Mindset

As I worked on completing my reading for this week, this particular sentence jumped out at me. No, I’ve not finished my reading just yet, but I suddenly had a realization that this is me right now. As the realization dawned on me, I became very disappointed with myself. I had been doing something akin to this so far this year, and just hadn’t realized it yet. This is not the me I want to be, nor is it the me I should be. Thinking about it, it seems so obvious now. Why did I not see it before?

We sometimes find ourselves settled into our routines and not realizing the impact on others. In fact, one of my goals this year is to build relationships with the teachers around me. I do this in some ways- I attend the same meetings, I give professional development… but it’s not enough. Those are not good ways to build relationships of trust with staff members at either of my schools. I am failing my staff by not taking the time to get to know them or learn about what goes on in their classrooms. How can I help them as the technology specialist if I don’t know their specific needs?

Sure, I love being on Twitter and researching to find new ideas, but I’m not learning how to connect those ideas to the teachers that I serve. As a technology leader, why should they try my new ideas if they don’t trust me or know me all that well?

I can think back to my days in the classroom as a teacher. I remember our technology specialists well. The school I worked at was a smaller school, and usually not often visited by the technology person. I would often go weeks without seeing them. When they did appear, it was to pop in and see if I had any issues. If I didn’t, off they went. I know part of the problem is that in that particular district, the technology specialist was expected to fix things and integrate technology. Though the job description was only about integrating technology, fixing things was thrown in, and often all teachers ever expected.

Would I have interacted differently with these technology specialists had I had a relationship and a sense of trust developed with them? Probably so, but I can’t really say. What ifs are tricky things to contemplate, after all. When I took on the role of technology specialist myself, I worked to develop relationships with staff. I would talk to them about things not related to my job, and it worked in my favor.

It hasn’t taken me long to forget all of that within my move. I’m in a bigger school district, but that doesn’t mean I should be slacking on this. I need to make a change. I see the problem now, and I want to work on correcting it. I may be that person mentioned in the quote above, but I don’t want to be that person. I have failed myself and my teachers so far, but I am going to change that. It’s time to fix it.

If I’m going to fix things, I need a plan. It’s very easy to spend time during my day wandering around to teachers’ classrooms during their planning. The middle school is easier because each grade level has a separate planning period. The high school will be harder, but I will make it work. I know each teachers’ planning period, just not their rooms. Once I get ahold of that information, I’ll be golden. Starting next week, I plan to visit teachers on planning throughout the day. I will drop in and see how their year is going, and begin to get to know them better. I won’t spend too much time, just about 5 minutes and head on my way. I’ll begin to build those levels of trust with my staff and hope that I can bring about some changes in how I do things.

I may have failed, but that’s okay. I can’t always be successful. I can take my failure and turn it around. I’m going to turn this around, and I’m going to be a different person.

#IMMOOC: Stagnate Education

Education is all about the students we serve, which means serving the students in ways that are best suited to their needs and passions. Every school year should not be run exactly the same way. Each class is unique and different. What works for one class doesn’t necessarily work for another class, nor should it.

When I was a classroom teacher, I worked at a very small school. There was only 1 class per grade level. Because of this, I knew my kids well before they hit the 4th grade. The 3rd grade room was next to mine, with a vent in the wall between them. I always tended to hear what was going on in the other room. I got to know my future students all year and their dynamics as a class. I would observe what worked and didn’t work with them, and try to come up with some ideas that would suit them in my room. This wasn’t my only bit of information on my upcoming classes, but it was a part of it.

There are some educators today that are focused on the days of education gone by. They may have taught for many years or they may be in the beginning of their career and remember how they were taught. This school of thought reflects in their classroom teaching style. They teach using a style that was comfortable and good for students of the past. They have newer equipment and technology tools, but they use these tools in the same manner as their predecessors might have. It is not innovative, or better. It is stagnated education, and it fails our students.

In Chapter 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset, there are some critical questions for educators. These are important to reflect on if stagnated education is to come to an end. The questions were as follows:

  1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
  2. What is best for this student?
  3. What is this student’s passion?
  4. What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
  5. How did this work for our students?

Each of these questions are important, but perhaps one of the most important questions is Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? Chances are if you wouldn’t want to be there, then neither do your students. Instead of fostering a love of the subject and learning material, your class may end up being the one that turns them off, or that they just do the work in order to get through, hoping the next teacher will do better.

Sometimes we focus on what is easiest to do instead of what is best for the students. Worksheets, textbook readings, and definitions are all easy to prepare for, but are they best for today’s student? Is locking down the use of devices in the classroom the best method? The high school where I am has a BYOD policy, yet so many teachers balk at this and refuse to allow any BYOD in their classrooms. A sign is posted on the door. We fear the change, fear the management, and fear how students might use these devices. So we stagnate instead.

One thing missing from many classrooms is feedback- consistent, regular feedback. We grew up in an era where the teacher was the authority figure, and what they say went, even if it wasn’t something we liked or that worked for us. We just had to do it, and that was that. We never had a chance to say how something worked for us, or how the teacher could help us improve. By talking with our students throughout the year, we can develop ways to impact our classroom for those students, instead of waiting until the end of the year or semester when we don’t teach them anymore and they move on to the next class.

An innovative educator should work toward creating education for today’s students that isn’t stagnate and works in the best ways possible for the student, not the teacher. If we are working to help students, then we must take the focus off of ourselves and place it on the students. They are the reason we are educators after all.

#IMMOOC: Innovation and Professional Development

Thinking differently isn’t enough. We can think differently all we want, but that’s only a step in the right direction. It takes more than just a step to evoke change. We also can’t simply replace one thing with another, such as when teachers replace pencil and paper with computers and tablets. In many cases, all that has been done was replace the traditional with a far more expensive tool, unless educators decide to use the tool to make their lessons do something new or better.

As an instructional technology resource teacher trying to help teachers see how they can innovate with the technology they have in their classroom can be rather difficult. My district recently received a large load of Chromebooks. All levels received a cart of 30-40 Chromebooks to share between 2 or 3 teachers. At the high school level, all English teachers received their own Chromebook carts. This is great!… except it’s not. We’re almost 2 months into the school year and teachers are typically using the Chromebook for the following: MAP or IA testing, Mobymax/Study Island, or simply having them type up papers. This is one use for a Chromebook, but it’s nowhere near the best use. All that’s been done is replaced the typical pencil and paper tools. And while the data and computer adaptive nature of some of the above programs are amazing, that’s not all that the Chromebooks should be used for.

My fellow ITRTs and I are trying to counter this use of the tool, but it’s very difficult to accomplish. So far we’ve offered professional development that’s been lacking in attendance, usually a handful at most. When I came on board this year, I made the suggestion to move to doing Google Classroom self-guided professional development. Our teachers had 3 options to partake- in person, Google Classroom-based, or 1:1 with one of us instead. Our sessions that are being offered are based on the feedback given from staff so we go from offering Google-based sessions to others, such as Kahoot or Seesaw Portfolios.

Despite the feedback and new ways of attending sessions, we feel the reception to be lukewarm at best. This is a problem for us because in most cases professional development isn’t mandatory for teachers. They have to attend anything offered on a staff day, and they need 180 points for licensure renewal (VA requirement), but they don’t need to attend so many sessions a year. It was like this in my previous district. They had to get 18 hours of PD each year, but if they attended the Opening Day session and the next day, they easily had 12 hours completed.

Even if the trainers have the tools to help teachers begin to innovate their lessons or to help inspire them with something new, it does no good without teachers attending the sessions. This is my 3rd year in instructional technology, and still I don’t have the answer to this. I haven’t figured out a way to make professional development sessions new and better, at least in the sense of getting more people to attend them. I have moved away from the sit and get method, and the sessions I offer have teachers doing hands -on work. I know this still isn’t enough, and I’m working to improve in that regard.

If you are a teacher, it would really help me if you would give me some perspective, on why you choose not to attend professional development. What would make you want to attend a session, especially if all you have to go on is the description before signing up?

#IMMOOC: Inspiration

I started this post with the quote from the very beginning of the introduction to George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset because it resonated strongly with me, even after I finished reading the section. Ever since I was little, I’ve been curious about the world around me. My interests have changed and evolved over the years, but no matter where I end up, I seem to be curious about learning new things. Perhaps this is why I hate click bait articles so much… I know they aren’t as good as they are made out to be, but my curiosity can’t resist at times.

Curiosity lends a lot to my desire to learn new things and to seek new information. As an educator, I’m eager to seek new opportunities for professional development to learn new things. I get to learn about GIS and makerspace next week, and I’m sure more opportunities will arise throughout the year. I am eagerly developing professional development for staff, and am so very proud of my effort to create some new connected educators. I tell many educators that all it takes is being motivated to want to learn something new, especially when it comes to my technology PD sessions.

Education should make us motivated and curious about learning. We should willingly seek new knowledge, be willing to share that knowledge openly with others. To me, this is the true purpose of education. And yet we send five and six year olds to school curious and eager to start, and by the time they graduate, they can’t wait to get out of school and move forward. They are done with school and all it entails.

Something has to change. The times are changing. The way we learn and the way kids learn is changing. School should no longer be the time where children sit and consume knowledge with bouts of time for them to explore their passions. No, not at all. School should encourage them to be creators, innovators, game changers. We expect them to change the way the world works, but how can we expect that if we don’t change the way their education works?

Innovation is a gateway to changing the game. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen over time with dedication and passion. It’s my hope that after reading the introduction, that I’m in for quite a treat with the #IMMOOC. I can’t wait to continue!