Thursday, August 6, 2015

GenCon: Trade Day Teaching

As an educator, I like to take advantage of Trade Day for GenCon. It's held the day before the official convention starts and there are tons of seminars hosted for educators, game store owners, and librarians. I went last year and had a great time learning about what other people were doing with games in their classrooms and being able to validate my own practices.

This year I was encouraged to run my own seminar on how to start a middle school game club, since I have a pretty successful club. Last year my husband was talking to some people while I was in a seminar and he nabbed some info on what they want out of a seminar. Thus was born my Middle School Tabletop Seminar.

As if that wasn't enough, my co-teacher totally fluffed my ego and encouraged me to do a seminar on my Lucy Calkins Cumulative Tabletop Unit. Feeling successful and wanting to have faith in my epic skillz, I submitted to run a seminar on my sixth grade Literacy unit for Tabletop Games.

GenCon gave me the opportunity to share the work I've been doing in my career field with other people who actually care about what I'm doing in my career field! I worked hard to create meaningful and informative powerpoint presentations and I used my performance humor to try to deliver a reasonably well-done seminar.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. . . I have no issues getting up in front of my students every day and teaching them. I can hear myself say "Showtime!" when I hear the bell ring and the kids stomping up the stairs each morning. I'm on, turned up to 11. Humor is my teaching tool and it works for me. Banter and inside jokes. I'm good to go.

Put me in front of my coworkers to present something or share ideas. . . I go cold fish and, on my last presentation, I was literally shaking by the end of the presentation. It's intimidating. At least here I didn't know any of the people. But I put pressure on myself, because I felt that if some of them had to pay for that Trade Day badge and were attending, they deserved to get their money's worth!

My first presentation was at 10AM and focused on How to Start a Middle School Game Club! Everyone is going to run their club differently and bring different strategies to the table, but if I can help someone just get organized and have an idea of where to go, then I'd be doing what I needed to do. My husband and our friend were with me and helped me get my projector setup and distribute handouts.

My keypoints were:
    1. How is a Tabletop Club Different from Other Clubs?
    2. Preparing Expectations to Pitch Your Club
    3. Approaching Your Administrator
    4. Getting Games
    5. Plan Your Year
    6. Create Student Expectations
    7. The Role of Teaching & Being Taught
    8. Hosting Events
    9. Community Participation
    10. Enlisting Parents
    11. Making it a REAL Club (Add some BLING)

If you're interested in some of this information, check the end of the article for how to contact me to learn more about starting a club.

During the presentation I used my humor. I had to make several Wisconsin references, because, seriously. . . teachers are in a bad way in Wisconsin. So much so that several of the funding suggestions that were made involving Unions or Government/Private Grants, I had to say were great ideas, but weren't for me. I know how much schools in general are struggling to find funding for their CLASSROOMS; the places where children are learning and need supplies and materials. I love my club, but it's a club. It's supplemental to the learning in the classroom and should not trump the needs of the classroom. Until things in Wisconsin are better, I would feel guilty seeking funding from government and private grants. I do, though, chose to do fundraising. . . fault me, but candy bars turn the biggest profit! I've had lovely game designers offer games to the club and the rest is just out of my pocket as a labor of love.

There was also a joke at the expense of a student I really treasure having in my club. It was demonstrating how it's important to work with kids on how to behave while playing games. Ways to enhance a positive gaming experience. Certain expected standards of behavior for gamers (personal space). But I had brought up playing Shadows Over Camelot with my students, which has a traitor option. As we started playing, one of my kids decided they were only going to draw black cards. First of all, this draws attention to you and is somewhat challenging others to call you a traitor, which then also hurts the cooperative nature of the game. It also hurts everyone else, because you're drawing black cards instead of taking a hit-point or two. The point of this little story was that, it turned out they weren't the traitor, they were just being a jerk! How do we handle this kind of behavior with club members? I know the students, so I understand what's going on, but when you're doing clubs like this, you have to be prepared to handle these kinds of issues.

The presentation was progressing and I felt good. I was doing well until I realized I'm not going to finish my presentation. I tried to cover basic points, but one of the things I wasn't prepared for was there being no transition period between presentations. My room poster said there was not a presentation after mine, so I figured I had time to strike-down, but with 8 minutes left, a lady busted into my presentation and said she's next and needs to setup. It was really quite embarrassing for me and I tried to wrap-up as she started setting up her stuff.

My husband and our friend swiftly removed my projector and I removed my crates. I was visibly shaken when I left the room. No one was after her, because there was a lunch hour, so would it have killed her to have been polite about the situation and just taken 3 extra minutes into the noon hour?

Being the overly self-critical person that I am, I felt my presentation was disappointing and could have been better. A learning experience for the future that I can use to develop and grow. Then my husband and our friend, who don't dole out compliments freely, said it was really great, even with the snaffoo at the end.

My husband always says when he's in my classroom watching me teach, it's like seeing this other person. I just transform into this confident person. I always say, my classroom is my safe space. I am confident and I have no fear in my classroom. The minute I step out of my classroom, the confidence cloak just fades away. But when I'm teaching I need to just know that I'm doing an amazing job.

The second seminar I had organized was at 1PM so after some downtime and mingling, I went to my next room to set up. The problem I was having with the projector was that the walls were not white. My first presentation denied turning the lights "off," but the second presentation, they all approved! YEA!

Last Spring I was able to create a cumulative unit for my Literacy class using the Lucy Calkins writing program. My students made some amazing games, but the focus of the unit was on writing and the vehicle was Tabletop Games. It allowed for a real world application to the writing skills they've been learning all year!

The presentation was laid out following the weeks that I covered and what we covered each week.

  • How to Prepare for a Unit
  • Unit Outline
  • Where to Begin
  • Creating an Idea
  • Narratives, Instructions, and Components
  • Publishing
  • Presentations & Sharing Final Product
  • Scoring

This was the presentation I was meant to present! I was confident. I knew the information that I wanted to share and get across. I was able to discuss everything within the time allotted AND had time to clean up and get out! Immediately I was thanked by people for my presentation (which didn't happen in the other one) and people were asking me lots of questions. I was an expert!

It was liberating and made me feel great! I remember walking back to the car and I could literally feel the swagger in my step. Yea... I'm cool. One audience member said something like, "your seminar was exactly the type of information sharing he was looking and had hoped for." I don't want to direct quote, but that's almost exactly what he said. Seriously wow.... A few more people approached me through the con commenting on my seminars and thanking me for the amazing handouts and presentation. Really made me feel great. So next year I'll be back with one or both presentations.

I wasn't the only one to overhear or be directly told compliments. Another lady approached my husband, who I involved in my presentation, because he acted as my volunteer Game Developer for the kids (and is my rock during the unit). She said to him it "was the best seminar she's seen not just this year but in multiple years" (potentially not a direct quote). Blessed++ when I hear amazing compliments like this, because if you saw me stressing out about my presentations and preparing them and wanting to make them worthy of GenCon you'd think that was my plan all along.

Was my goal to help people achieved? I think yes. Starting with these two seminars gave me an extra boost for the next teaching experiences I would be participating in at GenCon.

If you're interested in the work I've written about above or would like more information, you can tweet me at @TabletopEdu or @AdventGeekGirl or adventgeekgirl [at] gmail.

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