Sunday, May 31, 2015

June Game-a-Day Challenge

In December I challenged myself to play a different game each day for a month. Now that school is letting out and I have a bit more time on my hands, I wanted to challenge myself to get back into gaming and really exploit my extra free time between family, traveling, and professional development.

Starting tomorrow I will be playing a game a day. I can't say I can guarantee it will be 30 days of different games. In December that was really hard to do, and even moreso right now, because I'm really excited about a few games and feel the need to play them frequently. With that being said, I cannot commit to diversity, but that's okay, because I also have to get my 10x10 and 15x15 challenges done. Summer is the best time for that, for me.

Half of my time in June will be spent traveling, but I'll still get a game in. It'll just be a matter of posting it when I get a chance. Can't wait to get started!


Throughout the last two years as a teacher, I've been having a hard time finding useful resources for Tabletop Games in the classroom in a "single" place. It's mostly been forums where information is shared in a link and then lots of complaining and emojis. Or it's been on Pinterest, where a lot of it isn't about tabletop or board games, it's just playing games in the broader sense of the term.

As I was wrapping up my Calkins & Tabletop Unit of Study, it hit me (after a giant mug of coffee) that I should make a G+ community for educators who want to share their ideas, links, images, etc. on Tabletop Games and the Classroom.

Thus was born TabletopEDU. I opened up a Twitter account so that I can tweet out information. I'm brainstorming ideas to make this more social and interactive, such as a weekly Twitter discussion based on a theme (yes. . . I drew inspiration from @BoardGameHour).

I just really felt there needed to be something out there that was beyond JUST using specifically educational games or exclusively talking in forums about things. I'm even logging my ideas for starting a TabletopEDU "website" so that I can start to invite guest educators to write and share their ideas and experiences.

What I do know for sure is that I cannot run this alone and I'll have to start doing some networking as this thing slowly lifts off the ground. It's now my baby project and I'm beyond excited about what this could mean.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Calkins & Tabletop Gaming - Celebrating Success

It is the end of the unit. We wrapped yesterday and had a celebration! During our 100 minute class periods we played the finished games of the students and I ran a slideshow of all the pictures I'd taken throughout the unit.

During lunch, my husband went and picked up some Hot n' Ready pizzas and the students brought in chips and drinks and we had a lunchtime party. We ran a slideshow of all of our pictures from the unit on the board. Students showed off some of their games.

I was also able to share feedback that had been left for them on BoardGameGeek. (PLEASE give thumbs and leave feedback. You have no idea how excited the kids are to see what people think about their games.)

Celebrating with the students is something that Lucy Calkins really promotes. The more you encourage and praise their successes, the more success they want to achieve. After each unit this year we always took time to celebrate the amazing job they did becoming writings. Our focus this year had been to build their writing stamina so that they could actually write without getting bogged down in the idea of "I've written 5 sentences. . . can't I be done?"

Plus, as we've told the kids, they just created something amazing, that is also very difficult for even adults to do.

I also had the students sign a "thank you" for my husband for coming and helping them. I laminated them and gave them to him in front of each class. The kids really appreciated him coming in and working with them. At this time of year it's sometimes good to get other people in the classroom to help, because the kids are sick of listening to you. Sad, but true. They're kids afterall. I always feel it's important, though, for them to always write or sign a thank you when we have people in the classroom. This year's class was clearly, truly thankful for his help. It did my heart proud.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Calkins and Tabletop Gaming - The Key is Modeling

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: One of the keys to success is modeling.

I've always been one who wants to show people how to do something through doing it myself. How do you know what you're asking the students or anyone to do unless you do it yourself? I can't teach a game unless I've played the game and learned it myself. I can't teach my daughter to make homemade pizza unless I've done it myself.

It will be a lot of work, but I recommend modeling everything for the students in this unit. That includes making a small game of your own. You don't have to go big (remember K.I.S.S.?), but you should make something so that you can also troubleshoot the problems that the students might encounter.

Below I've made a list of the activities you should prepare to model for the students so that they understand the expectations and can see what the end product or what they're doing should look like:

1. Research Reflections
Before you begin allowing the students to play games, you should prepare them for writing reflections on the games as part of their short research. By playing they games and thinking about what they like and didn't like, this will help them choose a mentor game and, hopefully, better understand how games work.

2. How to Write a Game Proposal
Before they can receive advice about their game, they have to fill out a rough draft of what they think their game should be. I filled out a rough draft of a game, as well, to show them how to do it. This also included brainstorming ideas for what kind of game they might want to make and choosing a mentor game.

3. How to Speak with a Game Developer (previously called the Publisher)
Have the volunteer or a volunteer show the students what you expect from them when they meet with the game developer for feedback on the draft of their game. Also, show them what types of notes you would expect them to write and what they are accountable for.

4. Writing a Narrative to Accompany a Game
I can give my students the narrative checklist from the beginning of the  year, but writing a narrative that demonstrates the expectation is even better! Then the students can read through the narrative and see if the checklist is being met. It also provides them with a mentor text. There is no excuse when you have provided them with an example.

5. Writing A Formal Instructional Packet
Filling out the packet that you want them to complete shows them the expectation. Use it as a teaching tool to demonstrate how to use bullet points, where to put periods, and what can be written in sentences or paragraphs and what needs to be written in steps. As they fill in the template, they can reference what you've done in your own example to guide them.

6. How to Create Digital Media
If you can show them your own finished product using the same digital tools that they will be using, it gives them hope and they see just how awesome their own creations can be. You can run a tutorial on these kinds of things, but it will always come down to having to work one-on-one with the kids to complete the task at hand. Still, make a demonstration of how to create their work digitally and have a final product to show them.

7. How to Construct Components
When you have your final components printed out or ready to construct, take a moment to show the kids how to cut out cards and apply them to playing cards or how to cut cardstock cards and glue them to backs. Showing them how to do it might seem silly, but in the end, it might give them a better perspective on what you are looking for in a final product. Sure, my 4-year-old can cut on a straight line, so you'd think a sixth grader could. It's amazing how many don't. So don't pass up the chance to show them exactly what you are looking for, even if it's just a quick 5 minute demonstration.

8. How to Playtest a Game
It may take a little while, but showing the students how to playtest a game is a valuable modeling activity. The kids want to treat it like real published games or they don't want to give the games a chance, because they can't figure it out in two seconds. Providing them with steps to follow can be beneficial and acting out those steps can also be incredibly helpful for the students.

9. How to Leave Feedback for a Game
Once you've done a playtest, make sure that you demonstrate how to leave feedback. The students would hopefully have learned how to do this prior to now, but since it is in another format and students struggle with transference of skills, it is important to show them how you want them to leave feedback. If you just give them verbal examples or quickly go over it, they will also seek to leave meaningless and inconsequential feedback for people when they play games.

10. How to Prepare an Argumentative Presentation/Present an Argumentative Presentation
I made a presentation. I wanted to show the students exactly what I am looking for in their presentation, while still allowing them their own creativity. So I made one and then I actually gave the presentation to my students. I asked them to use the rubric to score my presentation (or look at the checklist for the activity) and then I asked them to tell me what they noticed about me as a presenter. They talked about things like not looking at the board, looking at the audience, talking loudly, etc.

One thing that we found was helpful was reminding the kids before they present to look at the heading on their slide, then turn away from the slide and talking about the heading. Who knows more about their game than they do. Then, when they were done talking, they could look at the slide as they prepared to change, in case they forgot anything. It really made a difference in presentations, because the kids still felt mildly confident glancing at their slide, but they were so much more interesting and authentic when they were talking. I can tell my students that and even show them until the cows come home, but it wasn't until my husband said something that they listened. Broke my heart, but there are only 9 days left in the school year. They're sick of my yammering.


There are so many more things you can talk about with modeling and all the different aspects of modeling, such as how to write a Works Cited for images and Mentor Games, but it's the game thing. . . walk them through it and write one of your own to guide them as a demonstration. I prefer to have my students write their bibliographies or works cited without using all these fancy new gadgets, because sometimes it's 50xs faster than plugging in a bunch of info to a thing and it spitting out a potentially flawed looking citation. I'm still old school like that.

Either way. . . modeling is a requirement of making this unit work. Not only for solidifying your own knowledge and understanding, increasing your ability to empathize with the issues that students might run into, but also to be an engaging teacher.

Friday, May 22, 2015

5 Fandom Friday: 5 Nerdiest Things I've Ever Done

5 Nerdiest Things I've Ever Done

1. Dressing Up Like a Nun to Play Nuns on the Run at GenCon

2. Designed a Tabletop Game Unit for my Classroom
If you've been following me at all, you know I'm really into my tabletop game unit. I created it last year as a first time shot to go with my argumentative writing unit. I learned a lot trying it and was eager to try it again. Then we started a new writing program in our district; the Lucy Calkins writing program. I had no clue how this was going to affect me creating a tabletop unit for this year. Honestly, it's also part of my PDP that I'm working towards, so it's a big deal for me. But I was able to blend tabletop gaming with literacy perfectly and that, for me, was such a geeky thing to do. . . was bring my geeky passion into the classroom.

3. Participated in a Jane Austen Tea Time in Bath, UK

4. Dressed up like an Aviator to introduce my Aviation Unit
I got a bomber jacket and goggles and a leather cap and I told the kids I had to get something out of the back room and then I jumped out with my hands on my hips and declared that I am "AVIATOR BONILLA!" Then I pointed to the sky as I described our awesome adventure into aviation that we'll be on. My co-workers said I looked like Carl from Up. It was pretty epic and awesome! My school is by the EAA in Oshkosh, so it was a "duh" for me to use aviation as the theme for our informative writing unit.

5. Dueled with Lightsaber Popsicles

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Calkins & Tabletop Gaming - Days 11 - 15

This week was a difficult week and could have easily been done in three days, not the 5 that it turned into. We had Badger Exams this week. The way they were arranged I was supposed to have some of my kids for each class on Monday and the others on Wednesday. That's not how it happened, which is fine, but it just caused problems in my original plan (insert "best laid plans. . ."). On top of all of that, I was attacked by a sinus infection and was out of commission on Day 12. That caused its own set of difficulties, because even though the students were in class and the subs did their best, the kids act like they don't know which end is up. I accepted the fate of the decision to not go in with a 100.8 degree temperature and barely able to pick up my own purse, but it still frustrates me to be absent, knowing how it's going to set back plans that cannot be set back at this point in the year.

As part of this end of year culminating unit, the students have to write a narrative using the Calkins checklist (see her program for the Narrative Checklist). Calkins' program asks the students to write a personal narrative, but I encouraged the students to use everything they learned about personal narratives to write a fictional narrative that develops off of their game. They are able to use the characters, the plot, the setting, etc. to help them write a companion narrative.

At first some of the students thought they had to write a story of how their game would play out and then became frustrated when the ending to their story would not be the same as the game. Lucky for them, I had decided to follow in the steps of Calkins by modeling how to write a companion story.

Over the weekend, I had decided to work alongside the students to make my own game and go through the creation process with them, so that they had a model for the process and not just a Mentor Game.

In my first lesson, I shared my game with my students. My Mentor Game is Dragon Slayer, because I love the press-your-luck feel of the game. I had the idea to make a Bakery Competition game out of it. I won't go into my games details here, but I have changed the game to be something of it's own entity. I'm really quite excited about it.

I explained the game to my students the same way they had to pitch their game to my husband. I even showed them the feedback I wrote down from my meeting with him. Then I shared with them the story I was writing (still in the process of writing). This way they could see what was expected of them from a story and had a frame of reference for how to go about achieving their task.

Here is a sample of my own story:

     The kitchen was sweltering and the sweat was dripping in large drops off of Francoise's forehead. He had never felt such intense pressure before, driving him forward, pushing through the intensity of the competition. Keep going! he told himself. You’ve got this!

     A glance around the kitchen reveals four other bakers mixing and kneading and scrambling to pound dough into something fabulous. It was only task one of the Bakery Masters, but it felt like an already bloodied battlefield. Above each of their heads hung a task list of what they needed to complete for task one. Francoise, while stressed, knew that he had task one in the bag. He had to make two batches of chocolate chip cookies and 2 dozen double chocolate cupcakes. Despite his stress, he knew he could complete the additional bonus task of 1 batch of macadamia cookies and 2 dozen white chocolate cupcakes.
     A quick check of the clock sent Francoise into overdrive as he finished up his cookies and got them into the oven. As he swung around to extract his cupcakes from the ovens, he smacked right into Berthe, his arch-rival. Berthe was a large, French woman of about 40 years. Her thick brown hair was wrapped up in a tight bun, covered with her pristine, white bakers cap. Her lips pinched together and she scowled at him as she shoved him off with her hip, her hands full of three cupcake trays.

     “Watch it, Francoise! You’ll live to rue the day you mess with me!” She rushed back to her station, stomping haughtily while she went. You could see the other bakers try to become one with their baking stations, squeezing themselves as flat as possible against the counter as Berthe stormed by.

      With a deep breath, Francoise steadied himself and hustled back to his station. He set the cupcakes aside to cool and started working on the frosting that would go with them, ever keeping an eye on the clock. Too late did it dawn on him that he should have set a timer for the cookies so they wouldn’t burn. As his anxiety ramped up, he wasn’t paying close attention to his frostings and they were starting to split. Not enough milk, then not enough powdered sugar, and as he dusted himself with an explosion of white snow, he started to smell the worst smell that could ever. . .

Now, the students have to follow demonstrate an internal and external story, as well as develop their characters, provide tension, have a concrete ending (no Cliffhangers. . . this isn't Fortune & Glory), and have their main character learn a lesson or hint at a message. For example, in my story at the very beginning my character's internal dialogue hints at the greater lesson he'll be learning by the end of the story. This is all part of the Calkins' curriculum and I provided students with reminder tools to write their stories, since we last dealt with Narratives at the beginning of November. I also have the reference charts hanging in the classroom to inspire.

Some of the students who were frustrated and didn't know where to go with their story were allowed to use Story Dice and Roll for Inspiration. I love the meta nature of rolling for inspiration while writing a story about a game. I use Rory's Story Cubes and I had just purchased three new packs: Prehistoria, Enchanted, and Clues. I the base set and Voyages that I use in class when we used to write fictional narratives. With the Calkins program, there weren't many opportunities, since the students were asked to draw on their personal history and experiences to write a semi-non-fictional-semi-fictional story. One of my co-teachers use these story cubes with her students to help them when writing their narratives, just to get them thinking about where to go next in their story or what they could do.

Another thing that I wish I could have brought in, but due to the rating, I could not, was Clue. It's essentially what we want to do with these narratives. The movie Clue, while not a direct story of the game, is still a story about the game! If you see the movie, you kind of understand the game. If you play the game, you understand the movie. I told the students about the movie and even how it had different endings. I went online to find something like that I could use and I found an episode of Psych (which I still couldn't use) that was an homage to the movie. It was overly silly, but fun at least. Since I couldn't find something that met the expectation I was trying to set, I reference the Tortoise and the Hare and the Hare and the Tortoise. There's always that commercial that is using it currently, so it's helpful. We talked about how the story and the game still have different outcomes, but the game was inspired by the story.

The students spent the rest of the week writing, editing, revising, and rethinking their projects. Their stories need to be finished and then next week they move on to creating their Instructional Booklet, which is call on their Informative Writing skills. A template is in the works to help guide them through the process so that when we get into the lab the following week, it's all about putting their drafts into electronic format.

Funny Story: Since this is a cumulative unit, my co-teachers and I have backed off a bit on giving detailed feedback and one-on-one critiques. We just do walk-arounds. It's that idea of a flipped classroom, but we don't have digital lectures and things like that. Plus, they have a partner they're working with, so they can work together to give each other feedback. On Friday, my students started to ask me to read the ending to their stories! I had to keep telling them no, because they're going to spoil my reading of your story! It became a whole class joke and I wrote a note on the board saying "I will not read the ending of your narrative. . ." and while I was writing it someone was asking if I would read the middle and so I wrote ". . . or any other part of your narrative." We were goofing around, but it was pretty hilarious and keep them excited. I told them to wow me for while I'm reading it to grade. Furthermore, I encouraged them to use their tools and really show me all they've learned by making a great story with a story with uber impact.

Again, for scoring purposes, I am still using the Calkins Narrative and Informative rubrics. The Informative rubric will be tweaked, though, to account for the writing-to-task standard and to make sure it covers the expectations of the project.