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Friday, April 24, 2015

Calkins & Tabletop Games - Days 8 - 10

As part of this unit, I wanted to bring in someone who knew something about games and could help elevate the students to the next level. I wanted to bring in a "professional." I wasn't getting any bites on local game designers, but I do always have my husband. He has an amazing way of visualizing the ideas of others and making them into something tangible. It's a gift he has. After watching him work his magic last year when I taught a Tabletop Unit, I wanted to bring him in again to help the students further realize their vision and to hopefully work out some of the more intricate mechanics issues that the students were dealing with.

During this phase of the project, I have the kids prepare themselves for sharing their ideas with a "professional." I dropped the ball a little bit and didn't model the expectations ahead of time for them. This sadly led to a very frustrating evening when I was debriefing with my husband on what the students had presented to him. The kids were just sitting back there mute and not talking and my husband had said that he felt like he was wasting his time. That breaks my heart and the fact that the kids just weren't being passionate and excited about their brilliant ideas! They just want to sit and listen and not really interact and learn to share ideas. They also were not following the clearly written, spoke, and reminded direction of taking notes during the meeting. That shows a lack of investment in what they're doing.

So after day one, I took a step back and I wanted to make sure the students knew what they were doing back there. I made a rubric that incorporated a writing component (W69 - focusing on using new appraoches to revise their ideas) and I also added in two Speaking & Listening standards so that the students understood that this is something they are expected to know how to do and should be pushing themselves to learn to interact professionally. I gave each student the rubric, explained it, and then my husband scored them in pencil during his meeting.

I was even able to coerce my husband and his favorite presentation team in each class to come up and demonstrate what he is expecting of them when they come back. I had forgotten that important piece of modeling. The above rubric helped turn things around a great deal, as well as the modeling of expectations, and even enforcing note-taking. My husband left on the second day feeling much better about his interactions with students. He finally felt like the kids cared about their games and were invested in making them something special.

While the "professional" meets with the students, I have the "professional" keep notes in a google doc that allows me to read them in real-time. I have a back room in my classroom that I set up like an office for my husband. Then I would schedule the students when they were ready, and my husband would see it pop up on the form. I would then type to him, asking if he was ready or not and then he'd signal to bring the students back. I would bring them back and introduce them. If I didn't act as a "secretary," the kids would have been running back there, one after another, and it would have been very frustrating. In the google doc, I had the names of the students, the date they met, and what their mentor game was and then a spot for my husband to type of notes. I made a 1x2 chart for each set of students. Not only did this help my husband keep track of the kids and take notes for what he wanted to think about later or find out more information, it also helped when I debriefed with him each day and was an assessment tool for me as I evaluated and will continue to evaluate the students.

Since my teaching day runs from first hour straight through fifth hour, I took time during my sixth hour prep to debrief with my husband. We would go over the rubric of the students, discuss his feedback and what each students needed additional help with. I would then finalize the rubric, also taking into account my knowledge of the students and I would adjust their raw score, if needed, based on that. I never adjusted grades for the worse. If they were adjusted at all, it was due to things I learned after speaking with the students or my co-teacher or from observation later on. This offered for a well-rounded score for the students.

What I really appreciate that my husband does, and I know I am spoiled for it, is that he goes home each night and mentally runs through the notes he wrote that day and tries to envision the games. He makes additional notes, writes up information for the kids, or finds a way to demonstrate to them their idea by bringing in additional games and setting up a visual. I'm going to be honest, I couldn't have done all of that work in my classroom without him. Or, I would have had to schedule in a lot more time to the unit. I am, though, very lucky to have a volunteer who is willing to go this far to help with this project.

I also love that every year that I offer this unit, I am learning more and more from him. I had said to one of my kids that they need to take advantage of his genius while he's here, because I am merely a padawane of game development. I have not yet developed my Jedi skills. My husband gets all "Beautiful Mind" with this stuff and one of my kids said they could actually see him playing their game in his head. I've got something special here and I wish industry people would finally snatch him up like they should!

It was very important to stress to the students the finality of his visit. If they had questions, they needed to form them and ask them before he left the classroom. I even invited students to ask at recess while he was there. Only students who were in my game club took him up on the offer, but at least someone did. In this day and age, where it's not about losing grades based on work being late, because we function within the Common Core which is about assessing a standard, not a student's ability to adhere to deadlines, students have a tendency to ignore due dates and forget about timeliness. Forget is an understatement. . . they just downright don't understand the urgency. That is why I use the professional coming in. It is a one time opportunity. If you don't have something ready to present, how are you going to continue on with the process? You just missed out on your chance to get meaningful and vital feedback for your project. Additionally, if you don't talk over the feedback he gave you, how are you goig to know if you have questions? He is gone and I made it clear to the students that I can't help with every aspect of what they want to do, especially if they don't communicate what kind of help they require.

I love the real world aspect of this activity, because the students are supposed to use what they've learned all year for writing (Narratives, Arugmentative, and Informative Writing) and the rest is where I can provide support here and there. How can they apply what they've learned while also grappling with expectations and an assignment that they need to complete within a specific time frame. So far the deadlines are working and it's going well. This next week will be the real test.

By the end of the three days that the "professional" could be in the classroom, he helped 23 groups develop 23 games. What he is nervous about is them taking the game to the level they should be at to really develop the greatness that is in their game and demonstrate their own creative abilities. I tried to tell the kids that he sees something amazing in your game, but you have to be the one to make it so (yeah... Star Trek reference.... I run a geeky classroom).

What I took from these three days of working with the kids are the importance of sevearl things that will be applicable to the real world. I intend to remember them for next year so that I can be sure I do not forget them again.

  1. 1. The importance of a "professional" to light the fire of their youthful creativity.
  2. Stressing that a mentor game doesn't mean you're skinning it, it means you're using it in some way (the directions set, the pieces, the mechanic) to help guide you as you create something you've never done before.
  3. Taking notes during meetings. Meaningful notes that you can reference when the professional is no longer there with you.
  4. MODEL your expectation. You'd think this would be second nature, but oh how easily it slips the farther you get into the year. 
  5. A rubric has the power to incentify your expectations. Once those points are on the line. . . they don't want to fail.
  6. Enforcing the finality of the "professional." Get those questions answered before he leaves. You won't get another chance to ask him what he meant.

This is still an amazing experience and I'm starting to compile all of this into a packet/binder. My co-teacher, who is also my Literacy Coach at the school, is encouraging me to package this unit. With her there to build my confidence and reminding me that this is amazing for the kids, it makes me want to share this with others.

On a side note, while I am so happy to be doing this unit, I have a student or two who have decided to be a bit snippy. The other two sixth grade literacy classes are writing mystery stories. Watching movies, reading mystery novels, researching crimes, etc. It sounds like a really fun fictional writing unit (Calkins' 6th Grade Narrative is a personal narrative, not a story you make up out of nowhere). So one of my students said to me, "After this unit, I want to do what they're doing in Mrs. Other Teacher's classroom." I looked at him and said, "Hun, this is the last unit of the year." He looked at me, "Awe, I wanted to write a mystery." To which I reminded him, "You can write a mystery to go along with your haunted house game!" He only slightly perked up and responded with an, "Oh yeah!" When I told my co-teacher this, she said he should be celebrating and bragging to others how he's making a game. I totally agree. If I could only have counted how many kids were peaking their heads into my classroom to see the kids doing "research" by playing games.

Sometimes I feel like my chest is going to explode with the swell of pride I feel for what I've been able to create this year and that is beyond amazing!

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