Hear Caitlin Unterman’s
Legends of Learning Best Practices

Caitlin Unterman, a middle school science teacher in Forest, VA, is one of Legends of Learning’s most active teachers. Now you can hear how Caitlin uses Legends of Learning in her classroom during a special webinar on October 23rd at 4pm EST.

She has used the platform since day one, and hasn’t looked back. Caitlin will discuss deploying games in the classroom, building playlists, test preparation, and performance analytics. Participants will learn:

1) Implementing game based learning for topic reinforcement
2) Replacing study guides with game based resources
3) Assessing content mastery through gaming

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of our strongest ambassadors. Register for Caitlin’s webinar today!

About Caitlin Unterman

Caitlin Unterman was the VAST Earth Science RISE Award winner in 2016 and Lynchburg’s Teacher of the Year in 2015. She also loves horses and owns several of her own. She is an employee of Bedford County Public Schools.

Four Legends of Learning Case Studies

We recently published four Legends of Learning case studies from schools and projects across the country. Whether in the classroom with schools in Mississippi, New York, and Virginia, or our special eclipse case study with Cobb County, Georgia, these short videos offer insights on how Legends of Learning can work for classes.

Forest Middle School Students Play Games, Master Content

 

Forest Middle School students play games and review incredible amounts of content in short periods of time. Hear what teacher Caitlin Unterman and principal Scott Simmons experienced with students playing Legends of Learning games.

Gulfport Middle School Engages with Legendary Games

 

See how students in this Gulfport, Mississippi Title 1 school engage with Legends of Learning games! Our ambassador Lisianna Wilson shares her unique insights about deploying games in her classroom.

Kristen Crain on Empowering Cobb County Students to Watch the Eclipse

 

Forty-four middle school students from the Cobb County School District in Georgia joined Legends of Learning on August 21 on a field trip to Clemson, S.C. Kristen, one of the teachers on the trip, discusses how the experience went, including how Legends of Learning games helped prepare the students.

Legendary Learning Gameplay in Rensselaer, NY

 

We had the great pleasure of visiting Rensselaer Middle School, and talking with Scott Beiter about Legends of Learning in the classroom. See how the games, which include teacher and student ratings, are supporting a strong, interactive learning ecosystem.

A Game for Every Lesson

No matter what middle school science lesson you are teaching, there is a game for it on the Legends of Learning platform. Each of the 90 different learning objectives for Earth and Space, Life, and Physical Sciences lessons already has or will shortly have 10 games.

With 900 games, we can say with confidence that there is a game for every lesson.

Still it can be hard to visualize 90 middle school science learning objective. That’s why we created the following periodic chart filled with standard lessons.

You can download you own periodic table of games on Slideshare.

These learning objectives are mapped against national standards. The games are intentionally designed to fit within a conventional class period so they are easy to implement.

As the school year ends, games are the perfect way to keep kids engaged. They are also great for reinforcing lessons as your students prepare for testing. Find the perfect game for your lesson today on the Legends of Learning platform.

If you cannot find a game for your lesson, please contact us at support @ legendsondsoflearning.com. We are so confident that there is a game for your lesson, that we will personally find it.

PODCAST #6: Caitlin Unterman on GBL, NASA, and Test Driving the Legends Platform

Caitlin Unterman (see her DonorsChoose Page here) is and 8th Grade Earth Science and Science Exploration at Forest Middle School in the Bedford County School District. She also partners with NASA to deliver a class in her school.

Caitlin is also one of the first teachers demoing the Legends of Learning platform. She shares her insights with Aryah and new co-host Sean Reidy about game based learning, NASA, the Legends of Learning platform, and much more.

27 Tips to Set Up Your Blended Learning Classroom

Blended learning offers amazing benefits to the classroom, with ISTE reporting it meets many of the organization’s Standards for Students and Teachers and leads to a “more rigorous, challenging, engaging, and thought-provoking classroom.” While true, blending learning has to be implemented correctly to provide engagement and teach classroom lessons.

In its simplest definition, blended learning integrates digital content, like Legends of Learning educational games (edgames), with face-to-face learning. The more technical definition says blended learning integrates digital content with traditional teaching methods; typically requires the physical presence of the teacher and students in a classroom; and gives the student some control over their time, space, and learning path and pace.

To create a blended learning classroom, use some or all of the following 27 tips. The tips can be categorized into three areas: planning, implementation, and improvement. As such, you should find a relevant suggestion for wherever you are in the blended learning journey.

27 Blended Learning Tips

1. Redefine your role in the classroom. You, the teacher, perform a critical part in encouraging deeper learning. However, the role is evolving, particularly in blended learning environments. TNTP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to positive change in public schools, says teachers who employ blended learning should learn to see themselves as people with three distinct responsibilities. These include research and development, integration, and guidance. The three responsibilities may be owned by an individual teacher or shared amongst a team.

2. Start with a description of the curriculum. Writing down what the next two weeks or semester will cover often identifies learning goals, objectives, and outcomes. The description also ensures your familiarity with the curriculum content and helps pinpoint potential digital resources, such as edgames, online quizzes, and videos.

3. Outline your goals. Goals strip a curriculum description of the fluff, leaving you with a clear focus and targets to hit.

4. Determine learning objectives. Learning objectives quantify goals. Set these so that you can measure classroom and student performance in real time and at the end of a learning block.

5. Define learning outcomes. Outcomes define how students will achieve objectives and demonstrate competency in the subject matter. Specific outcomes could include classroom participation, online assignments, oral presentations, et cetera.

6. Choose a blended learning model. Once you have a clear picture of what you want to teach and desire students to achieve, you can choose a blended learning model. The common models number six: face-to-face driver, rotation, flex, online-only, self-blend, and online-driver. Most of the models contain nuances. For example, the rotation model spans rotation stations, lab rotations, and individual rotations. Another common model includes the flipped classroom, in which online content and instruction is delivered online and at home. Students then come to a brick-and-mortar school for in-classroom projects and practice. Some teachers use one or more models to make their classroom content more engaging and rigorous.

7. Explore different teaching methods to complement the model. Different models and teaching roles sometimes mean changing up your teaching methods. Some blended learning classrooms, for instance, use team teaching.

8. Use the right technology tools. Software changes often, so it’s important to set down the fixed matters first. Goals, learning objectives and outcomes, blended learning models, and instructional methods should dictate the technology choice, not the other way around. In addition, remember that you may need more than one tool. Students learn differently and have unique needs. It’s unlikely that one edgame or digital resource will work well for all.

9. Aim for relevance and fun, not one or the other. This tip relates to technology in that the tool should be relevant AND fun. That is, the digital content should complement learning objectives and achieve outcomes. If it doesn’t, the tool is irrelevant and ineffectual. The tool, though, also needs to be fun. Students won’t use a tool they don’t like.

10. Design the classroom as a blended learning environment. Layout and aesthetics affect student morale and the ability to learn. Plus, if you use a specific learning model, you may need to move desks and chairs around. You don’t necessarily have to do the work on your own; Mark Philips, a teacher and educational journalist, notes in an Edutopia article that student involvement in classroom design and layout can “empower them, develop community, and increase motivation.”

11. Know the traditional and online content. To build trust with students, you need to know the content inside and out. This means revisiting the curriculum content, as well as testing digital content and edgames. You want tools that cement knowledge, lead to application and critical thinking, and motivate learning, not ones that sabotage your efforts or frustrate students.

12. Create individual and collective learning goals. You established overarching learning goals earlier. Now, combine them with individual learning goals. Students work at different paces and may be on another learning path than another student. Learn to incorporate that information into your blended learning planning to see success with students and the classroom as a whole.

13. Develop a classroom culture that embraces blended learning. Esther Wojcicki shares her process for creating a blended learning culture in the book “Moonshots in Education: Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom.” She uses the acronym “TRICK,” which stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness. With those values embedded in the classroom, students want to learn, grow, and help out their teacher and classmates.

14. Set expectations. Students achieve when given goals, so set expectations. Let them know how to succeed in the classroom and at home, and they will.

15. Share an overview of classroom activities, projects, playlists, and outside resources. With overall expectations set, share daily and weekly assignments. The process might not look all that different from standard homework tasks except that they involve online content and opportunities for in-classroom game play. Sharing additional resources for study can be a good idea, too, especially if you claim a couple of high performers or students who need to skip around assignments to stay engaged with the classroom content.

Young students in grades 3-5 using science games in the classroom.
16. Provide clear instructions and routines for game play. Students need to know to log out of an application and turn off computers or tablets before moving to a different classroom activity. The specificity is important; students probably don’t have to log out at home, so they won’t think to do it in the classroom.

17. Give students control over time, path, place, and pace. It can be hard to relinquish control, but students excel when given the chance to direct their learning. They become more engaged with the content because they have a personal stake in their success.

18. Encourage collaboration in the classroom and online. Collaboration gives students the chance to work through complex concepts and to help each other learn. It also offers opportunities for dialogue, which teaches students to position their points with facts and hard evidence. Collaboration should occur in the classroom and online; quieter students, for example, could become extremely vocal online. If you need more reasons to employ collaborative learning, the Global Development Research Center lists 44 of them.

19. Incite curiosity, imagination, and critical thinking. Students start wondering and thinking when you ask, “What if?” You can raise that question through traditional teaching methods and online content. And, the more you ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions, the more students will seek out answers.

20. Challenge students to learn and grow with authentic, relevant tasks. Nothing’s worse than busy work, and even a fifth grader has an antenna finely attuned to it. Give students real, curriculum-based, challenging assignments, and they’ll complete and compete to finish them.

21. Review classroom and online content regularly. Online content supplements other teaching tools. As such, you should go over both pieces of content to ensure students’ basic comprehension and deeper understanding.

22. Measure individual and classroom progress. Blended learning leads to real impact when it’s measured. The work should be fairly easy to do since you already decided on goals, objectives, and outcomes. The Legends of Learning edgame platform simplifies the work further, providing real-time performance reports via an easy-to-use dashboard. Combine its information with your grade book to track and assess progress.

23. Analyze classroom impact to balance traditional teaching time and student game play. Every classroom is different, so take some time to find the right balance of traditional teaching methods and digital media. Many Legends of Learning teachers start with a 50/50 blend and work from there.

24. Identify new goals and objectives, and repeat. Once you measure progress and impact, you may discover that learning goals need to change. That’s a good thing. Goals should change over time. However, that change means you’ll need to continually adjust teaching methods and digital content to see continued success with blended learning.

25. Communicate with everyone. A blended learning classroom requires communication with everyone—students, professional peers, administrators, and parents. Blending learning works best when everybody shares a belief in the vision for it.

26. Remember the parents. On a related note, not all of your parents will get technology or edgames. They may work multiple jobs to make ends meet, so they don’t have time to learn how the internet works. Help them out with an evening class or individual meetings. By interacting with them on a personal level, you’ll see interest, buy-in, and participation grow at home and in the classroom.

27. Be patient. Finally, remember that it takes time to succeed with blended learning. Don’t give up if you don’t see the results you want within the next two weeks. Blended learning works if you’ll just be patient with it a little while longer.

Ready to start your heroic journey into blended learning? Try these 27 tips, then check out what you can do in the classroom with the Legends of Learning platform! Have any tips to add? Please add them in the comments section.

What Makes a Successful Game Based Learning Environment

The following is an excerpt from our new white paper Introduction to Game Based Learning. Download it today!

Few blended learning studies exist to date, but those that do highlight some best practices. Legends of Learning’s own GBL study, “Substantial Integration of Typical Educational Games into Extended Curriculum,” identifies several elements essential to overcoming challenges found in blended learning environments. They include the following three:

1. Student choice from a set of teacher-curated games
2. Competency-based game mechanics
3. Strong teacher instruction

A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation RAND study, Interim Research on Personalized Learning, notes an additional four attributes common to successful blended learning environments. Jamee Kim and Wongyu Lee name two more characteristics in their study conducted at Korea University. The six cumulative characteristics are:

1. Learner profiles
2. Personal learning paths
3. Peer interaction
4. Competency-based progression
5. Flexible learning environments
6. High levels of teacher support for the digital material

The qualities further detail the three identified by Legends of Learning and Vanderbilt University in their collaborative study. The six also recall James Paul Gee’s 16 tenets, suggesting they build upon the best practices of the past while encountering the present and looking forward to the future.

Turning Curriculum into Interactive Game Content

However, true success with GBL cannot be limited to engagement alone. Games must help educators deliver lessons for them to have long-term value and impact. That means they must connect to the curriculum in some way, as well as support other learning goals related to the subject matter, lesson plan, or grade level.

Robert J. Marzano, who conducted a five-year study of game based learning, makes the argument in his findings. He says, “If games do not focus on important academic content, they will have little or no effect on student achievement and waste valuable classroom time.”

European researchers Venera-Mihaela Cojocariua and Ioana Boghiana also believe that games need to have a clear and understood role in the classroom. They state, “In order to exploit the advantages of using game-based learning in class, there is a clear need for standardization and regulation on the use of games in teaching-learning-evaluating.”

Legends of Learning and Vanderbilt University similarly tie GBL success to the rigors of learning. Their study shows that GBL efforts integrated with the classroom curriculum cause quantitative and qualitative improvements in content mastery as well as engagement.

Balancing engagement with content mastery remains a challenge. If students aren’t interested in the teacher-approved games, they won’t play them. Gee and other researchers note that games must be interesting and fun, while delivering educational content, for them to produce results.

In a productive GBL environment, learning and engagement operate hand-in-hand. One cannot succeed without the other.

As a result, educators will need to carefully evaluate games to make sure they both engage students and support the curriculum.

Get the entire white paper Introduction to Game Based Learning here!

James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles for Good Game Based Learning

Image by Steve Wheeler.

James Paul Gee is often considered the godfather of Game Based Learning (GBL) thanks to his significant academic research on effective learning methods via video games. He wrote a paper called Good Video Games and Good Learning more than a decade ago that outlines 16 components critical to strong GBL. The essay can be found in his seminal book of the same title, now in its second edition.

Here are the 16 principles of good video-game based GBL outlined in his text.

1) Identity: Players build a sense of identity throughout the video game, either through direct input or an on-screen character they inherit.

2) Interaction: Communication occurs between the player and the game.

3) Production: Gamers help produce the story through some form of interaction, such as solving a puzzle or completing a level.

4) Risk Taking: Failing in a game holds few consequences in comparison to real life, empowering players to take risks.

5) Customized: Games usually offer a level of customization so that users can play — and succeed — at their competency level.

6) Agency: Players have control over the gaming environment.

7) Well-Ordered Problems: The gaming environment contains problems that naturally lead into one another, allowing a player’s mastery to grow and evolve.

8) Challenge and Consideration: Games offer a problem that challenges students’ assumed expertise.

9) Just in Time or On Demand: Players receive information as they need it, not before, which teaches them patience and perseverance and improves critical-thinking abilities

10) Situated Meanings: Students learn new vocabulary words by experiencing them within game situations.

11) Pleasantly Frustrating: The game should frustrate the student enough to challenge them but be easy enough that they believe and can overcome the problem(s) faced.

12) System Thinking: Games make players think in a bigger picture, not just individual actions taken, helping them see how the pieces fit or can be fitted together.

13) Explore, Think Laterally, Rethink Goals: Games force players to expand their situational knowledge and consider courses of action other than linear ones.

14) Smart Tools and Distributed Knowledge: In-game tools help students understand the world. Through using them, they gain confidence to share their knowledge with others.

15) Cross-Functional Teams: In multiplayer environments, players have different skills, forcing them to rely on each other—a needed soft skill for students.

16) Performance before Competence: Competency occurs through taking action in the game, reversing the typical model in which students are required to learn before being allowed to act.

What do you think of James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles of Good Video Games and Good Learning? How might you incorporate them into your teaching style and curriculum?

 

What Makes an EdGame?

Many educators hold notions about what constitutes an edgame. Some think it’s a game loosely based on the curriculum. Others believe edgames are quizzes, something to be downloaded from the iTunes store.

 

 

Still others suppose that edgames are commercial ones like Sid Meir’s Civilization, Minecraft, or Pokemon Go that are then tied to education goals. In other cases, the game may be a specific simulation, for example, the 1979 Revolution: Black Friday or The Body VR. Both serious games, one puts the player in the midst of the Iranian Revolution. The other takes a player on an Oculus tour of the human biological system.

 

The Experts Weigh In

 

“All of the above” is the correct answer. An edgame can be a variety of things.

In his excellent book “Gamify Your Classroom,” Matthew Farber defines Jane McGonical’s definition of an edgame. She believes that a game must have around four key factors:

  • A Goal
  • Rules
  • A Feedback System
  • Voluntary Participation

Clearly, this definition would disqualify many of the electronic games currently used by educators. Matt Farber proceeds to have a conversation about the McGonical definition of games largely revolves around voluntary participation. He asks, “Does forcing kids to use a game for educational purposes destroy the intent of a game in essence violating the entire entertainment value of a game by turning it into work?”

 

James Paul Gee Responds

Farber’s search for an edgame definition unsurprisingly includes an interview with the godfather of game-based learning (GBL), James Paul Gee, someone we’ve discussed previously. We recently wrote up Professor James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles for Good Game-Based Learning.

But even though Professor Gee provides a lot of structure and regular commentary about what makes a good edgame, he dismisses many of the nuances needed to define one. For Gee, a game’s adherence to every aspect of defined games or every principle of game-based learning is irrelevant. What matters is that the game inspires learning.

Gee told Farber, “The issue is how do we get engagement by an affiliation, not whether we call it ‘play’ or a ‘game’ […] What we want to say is, ‘What’s the interactivity? What’s the engagement? What are the values?’”

EdGames Defined

games

In essence, good edgames or game-based learning platforms inspire children to learn. They involve students and capture their interest. As a result, they deliver exceptional educational value.

Most educators want supplementary curriculum tools that engage and help students master their studies. So whether a game is short or long, comical or serious, made for education or originally developed for commercial use is immaterial. To be an edgame for educators, it simply must meet the barometers of engagement and basic learning.

What do you think makes an edgame?

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