Course Five Project: Gamified MS Ecology

 MS Ecology Unit / Gamification

Below is my attempt to gamify an Ecology unit for my 7th grade science students.  I am not sure if I blew the doors off “Redefinition” but I had a blast learning and enacting a gamified unit.  I also tried to incorporate some techie goodness that I explored during my COETAIL experience.

Instant Analysis and Quick Hitters

  • Students love playing games!
  • Physical paper badges were more of a success than digital badges
    • Students liked trading, collecting, and decorating them
  • Assessment and scores need to be updated immediately or students get angry : )
    • I can also see how student buy-in can quickly be crushed with score delays or poor teacher management of the game.
  • I only focused on game mechanics, next time I would like to try and craft a story behind the points and badges.
  • Students took more of an interest in the quality and completion of their classmate’s work.
  • It was necessary to have a class meeting to discuss collaboration norms and respectful communication.  I found that I had to be vigilent to monitor any put downs or blaming.  Overall the students were very supportive and helpful.
  • Videos take soooo much time to edit for students and teachers.  However, students (and teachers) who do a lot of video editing (especially outside of school) get faster and better.
  • Gamification could be overlayed on any unit.
  • Boys and girls both got excited and engaged (the boys seemed slightly more geeked out than the girls)
  • I still remember the only teacher who created a gamified unit during my schooling.  It was a knights and dragons game in my third grade class.
  • I will definitely expand on and attempt gamification again next year!

Ecology UbD Unit Plan

Game of Life – Course 5

For my Course 5 project I have focused on Gamifying my 7th Grade Ecology Unit.

Game of Life



  • Increase student motivation, engagement, fun, and collaboration.
  • Allow students to learn and model ecological relationships through group interactions


While planning my gamified unit, I was a little apprehensive about the effects of competition, points, and badges on intrinsic motivation.

Fellow COETAILer Dan Slaughter outlines this issue wonderfully in his posts on motivation and gamification. ( so I will refer you there for a comprehensive analysis 🙂 )  He makes many great points on how to weave motivating elements into game design.  Allowing students to make choices and exhibit autonomy, find value, build competence, and receive informational feedback.

I also believe that Gamification is only motivating if it frames and augments intrinsically motivating projects and assignments.  It can provide a dramatic and fun way to frame an inquiry based investigation.

For example check out the awesome assessment summary of a gamified unit produced by Michael Matera.  It is epic and oozes awesomeness and fun!

China Test from Michael Matera on Vimeo.

Course 5 Project Brainstorm


 During my course five project I would like my students to:

  • connect and collaborate with learners around the world
  • research and filter information effectively
  • collaborate effectively with classmates
  • discover tools that help them learn and organize their knowledge
  • present information effectively

Photo by: jasonr611 via Compfight cc


I am considering the following units for my Course Five Project.  I am open to all and any suggestions or ideas.

Possible Units

7th Grade NESA Virtual Science Fair

Brief Overview

  • January – Mid March
  • Students choose a research question
    • What make great ice cream?
  • Student designed research and inquiry into a broad question
  • Students use the Moodle Platform to record their learning process
  • Emphasis on research skills, experimental design, working with data, and presenting results
  • Worldwide audience

Rough Brainstorm


  • connecting with other students around the world with similar topics
  • following appropriate field scientists on Twitter
  • subscribing to RSS feeds of relevant news sources
  • working with an online mentor
  • taking collaborative online notes with group member locally and online

6th Grade Sustainability and Resources Unit. 

Key Concepts

  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Energy Resources
  • Windmill Design
  • Sustainable Decision Making
  • Environmental Impacts

Rough Brainstorm


  • connecting with companies around the world exploring green technologies
  • researching and connecting with people facing different energy problems
  • Skyping with NGO’s, companies
  • following twitter and RSS feeds
  • presenting designs to authentic audience of engineers
  • digital 3-D modeling

These are few rough thoughts that are bubbling up in my head right now.  When I return from break I will post a more elaborate UbD unit plan.  Thanks for the help this semester everyone and enjoy your break!

ALF – Authentic Learning for the Future


Authentic Learning for the Future

Photo Credit: jbhalper via Compfight cc

In the real world problems are messy and ill-defined. They are identified and formulated, not given.

Solutions are brainstormed and discussed. Prototypes are created and redesigned.  Results are then presented to the appropriate audience.



To replicate this reality in class I always refer back to the Buck Institution for Education (BIE) components of PBL when planning a unit.

photo by Adam Fox


  1. In-Depth Inquiry 
    1. Hopefully a part of most learning experiences.
  2. Driving Question 
    1. Ideally student created.  I sometimes help craft, redirect, and add sub-questions .
  3. Need to Know
    1. I view this as a big philosophical change from traditional teaching.  Students are not given the material and then asked to formulate a project.  They are given a problem and must determine what content and skills they need to complete the assignment (with some teacher guidance and nudging of course : ) )
  4. Voice and Choice
    1. This is a critical component.  As Dan Pink argues, students (and everyone else) must have some autonomy to ensure intrinsic motivation.
  5. Revision and Reflection
    1. I find this takes some coaxing.  Many students see learning as a linear process and are reluctant to cycle through steps and engage in the iterative design process.
  6. Public Audience
    1. Probably the most neglected aspect of PBL and most important.  Authentic audiences and the creation of real products drive rigor and quality.

My latest PBL mini-unit was a design challenge undertaken by my 7th grade science students.  Problems and opportunities present in our middle school environment were identified and discussed.  Design teams then embarked on the collaborative design process outlined in the Google Doc below.


During the project I saw an extremely high level of time on task and motivation.  Students collaborated constantly and encountered a variety of problems and learning experiences on they way.

On another problem-based learning front…

My favorite source of inspiration for short real world problem-based learning is Dan Meyer’s TED Talk.  I have seen this shared around COETAIL a few times and love his approach to making math and any other content relevant.

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Connectivism through Commenting


In pursuit of putting my money where my mouth is, I set out to comment on every blog in my cohort.

I felt it was the least I could do to connect and engage with my classmates.

I could feel useful ideas and discussions slipping through my hands like grains of sand.

Photo Credit: j.o.h.n. walker via Compfight cc

My Results and Thoughts

  • I only made it through last names A-G.  Wow.  We have some prolific writers in this cohort and many more than I was originally thinking!
  • I felt really good about myself.  I developed a warm fuzzy feeling when contributing to conversations and reading what other people are thinking.  Dare I say, I felt “connected or connectivised” (I would like to coin a word at some point in my COETAIL experience)
  • I loved reading the PYP posts.  There is something about those enthusiastic little munchkins engaging in inquiry that puts a smile on my face.
  • I still wish that I could have met everyone in person and hung out for a few hours before the COETAIL program began.  I have a much deeper feeling of connection with the few people I know in person.  I imagine them reading my comments and can picture their responses.
  • Great work A-G’s!  You rock!

Exploration Emporium

The Positives of Flipping

“At it’s best, reversed instruction is about empowering learners.” – Rebekah Madrid

< Revised Middle School Homework Model >


      • “Homework time” utilized to teach students how to explore things they are passionate about
      • Challenges focusing on skills and mindsets
      • Students practicing skills while learning content they find intrinsically motivating

Photo Credit: Camdiluv ♥ via Compfightcc

This could create a common language and skill base utilized by teachers in every classroom.  Skills such as digital citizenship, researching, social media, creative commons, collaboration, and more would be ready to seamlessly integrate!

Instead of Khan Academy, we could create an Exploration Emporium: ) (Who wants to spend their free time in an Academy?)

Teachers and students could create a curated collection of resources on how to learn, combined with a COETAIL-like network of learners sharing their experiences.

We could even gamify it!

( ~ :  The Great Homeworkfun Challenge! : ~ )

Your Mission:  Complete 1 blog post / week describing WHAT and HOW you learned.

Earn Badges:  Describe why you deserve one or more of the following badges

  • Problem Solving Badge
    • How did you solve a problem you encountered while learning?
  • Cool Collaborator
    • Who did you work with to learn or solve a problem?  How did working together make things easier or more fun?
  • Great Googler
    • Map screenshots of a Google search sequence investigating a new concept yo
  • Etc.

Done.  No more homework!  Kids around the world rejoice!  We’ll see what my colleagues think at our next staff meeting : )

The Negatives of Flipping

The bell rings.  Another day of 6th grade is in the bag.  You head to soccer practice for an hour and a half, you ride the bus home for 45 minutes, then eat dinner.  It is now 7:30.  You head to your room.  You are at your peak tiredness.  Your room and the internet is filled with wonderful distractions.

Time to dig into some Khan Academy videos and see what we are learning next in science!!!

The traditional Flipped Classroom where new content is introduced by video clips so the following day can be spent exploring the content doesn’t excite me.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Introducing concepts in mandatory video fashion seems like a great opportunity to foster disinterest.

One of the hallmarks of project-based learning is a “need to know.”  Students engaging in inquiry and expanding their vocabulary and conceptual understanding as they explore problems.

Borrowing from the game-based conceptual framework; who ever reads the game manual (or watches an explanatory video) before playing the video game?

Game-Based Design Challenge

Objective:  Gamification of Middle School Science

Challenge:  Motivate Middle School Students

Difficulty:  Expert

With the help of my students I set out to gamify a two week design unit.  When planning we completed three steps.

  • Level 1:  Student Survey:  Analysis of current student game usage and mindsets
  • Level 2:  Gamification Brainstorm:  What factors make a good game?
  • Level 3:  Game Board Creation:  Google Spreadsheet with game based factors

We came up with the following result:  Game Board.

Design Game 2

It is early in the game, but the results are more encouraging than I would have imagined.

A few observed benefits

    • A distinct increase in motivation.
    • Good group cohesion and buy-in
    • Students asking an increased number of clarifying questions regarding project quality.
    • Group members encouraging each other to do a thorough job and complete tasks on time.

I am a big fan of game-based learning.  I can’t wait to improve my game design skills and move on to the next level as a game designer!

Student Generation of Ideas

Google Form:  Game Usage

What Makes a Good Game Brainstorm

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Innovation Specialist

I would love to be an Innovation Specialist.  I saw this term for the first time in the article:  The End of Tech Integrationists = The Beginning of Innovation Specialists – by 

Primary Role:

To promote the themes of global awareness, entrepreneurialism, civic literacy and digital literacy and the skills of creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration through work with faculty on curriculum and instruction.

To effectively create this learning environment in the most logical and motivating manner you would certainly be part technology integration specialist.  As Innovation Specialists, we could develop our own SAMR model..

The “Redefinition” could be done with or without technology.

  • Students must collaborate with individuals with similar interest but different perspectives from around the globe. (techy redefinition)
  • Every student project has to create an actual usable product in your local community. (non-techy redefinition)
  • The finished plans and project must be shared throughout the world for others to use and adapt (techy redefintion)

I like how the CEO of High Tech High puts the role of technology in focus.

“The purpose of technology is is as a tool.

A camera is a tool, just like a hammer is a tool or a vice grip or anything else.

If you understand how to use them you can make things, and do things, and demonstrate to people”

Photo Credit: pennuja via Compfight cc

Cover Letter:  As your school’s Innovation Specialist, I promise to bring all available technologies, creative pedagogical theories, motivational techniques, classroom experiences, physical tools, design principles, and project based learning models to create a rich learning environment for students and teachers.

This sounds like what I strive to do as a teacher.  But it would be nice to have more time to explore, share ideas, and help others.  So now I am going to develop my skills, kick back, and wait until the Innovation Specialist scene blows up! : )

How Does Footwear Affect Running Time?

I created a video outline of the experimental method for my middle school science students.  I used my 4 year old daughter as the lead actress and iMovie to piece everything together.

The thing I found and always find most challenging was getting the audio the way I want it. I spent most of my time messing around with this aspect asking, “Did I just spend 10 minutes on 10 seconds of audio?”

Whenever I do a video project with my students I always go over audio as well as lighting and camera angles.  Middle school students frequently have trouble with these concepts.  I have a Storyboard planning sheet that helps them plan these filming variables.

I loved spending the time with my daughter (she loves being on YouTube) and my students always enjoy personal examples of concepts.

YouTube Preview Image

Astronauts Love Infographics


Space Info Bottom

Astronauts love infographics!  They must, judging by the array of excellent visuals they BBC Visualproduce.  Space lends itself to infographics. The vastness, abundance of data, hard to fathom concepts, and sheer beauty of space is difficult to capture in writing alone.

While exploring astronomy with my seventh graders, I came across and utilized a variety of awesome infographics.

One of my favorites is BBC’s Spatial Awareness: Ultimate Guide to Exploring Space partially shown above and below.  It gives students a quick idea of where we have explored in space.

Well produced visuals like these inevitably evoke questions and inspire curiosity in students. They are a great way to start a lesson and get students engaged and discussing.

Pinterest is a wonderful tool to store and visualize infographics in class.   My source of many visuals for my Astronomy board was the Space Infographics board.  A treasure trove of 142 space infographics!

How far is the Moon from Earth?

Earth to the Moon

Click to See

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