Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Twitch Inspired Classroom

I've been streaming on Twitch for almost a year now. The experience has been amazing. My online connections to wonderful people has expanded and strengthened. I had several goals when starting the journey as a streamer. One was to improve my practice as a teacher and as a gaming club advisor. The other goal was to have fun meeting people and learning the technology involved (I find playing with tech fun and enjoyable). I've done many streams that involve me reflecting on my teaching practice and getting feedback from chatters. What I didn't expect was the idea I came up with awhile ago and have been processing in my head trying to codify.

Twitch streams have mechanics to engage and chatters and gamify the stream experience. Can we take any of these mechanics and incorporate them into the classroom?

Channel Points

As you watch a stream you gain channel points. Viewers can spend the channel points to unlock features (like highlighting their next post) or get the streamer to do something (Hydrate: drink some water). The viewer gets to interact with the streamer and control some aspect of the experience. 
The streamer can customize the experience for viewers and make whatever rewards with a matching image. The more you watch the more points you get and the better the reward is (ideally). This mechanic allows the viewer to directly interact with the streamer. This is also a reward for being present and participating.

Bits and Subs

Bits are more of a currency than Channel Points. Giving Bits to a streamer is akin to throwing money into the hat of a street performer. You buy Bits on the platform that you can then disperse as you feel fit. Giving Bits can put you on a leader board and give the spender status among the other viewers. Giving Bits can also unlock Emotes and other features in the chat. When you Sub a channel you are showing the ultimate support. You are rewarded with special sub-emotes and badges for subbing for consecutive months.

The Twitch Classroom

These features of Twitch made me think of SAPS as outlined by Michael Matera in Explore Like a Pirate. SAPS is an acronym for  Status, Access, Power, and Stuff. Channel Points work within the Power paradigm. The viewer has the power to control the stream and streamer. Giving Bits and being a subscriber gives the viewer Status and Access. Status is gained by being able to use Sub-only emotes and badges. You can also "Access" Sub-only chats and sometimes Sub-only parts of the streamer's Discord.

Trying to understand my description of these mechanics, without having ever watched a Twitch stream, will not give you the full picture. I encourage you to stop into Twitch and watch these mechanics in action. How do they encourage audience participation? How do streamers interact with viewers? How is this similar/different from student-teacher interactions?

How might we leverage these game mechanics within our classrooms? How might your Google Meet or Zoom session be different and more engaging? I have already used some of these mechanics in real life via Classcraft where students can spend Gold Points (GP) on choosing the music, being able to eat in class, or receiving candy. I do wish the process was as easy as it often is on stream in Twitch. For me this has proved an interesting source of thought recently. Some if not all teaching for me will be remote in the fall. Having some system in place to encourage online chat participation is intriguing and full of possibilities.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

ScienceStreams on Twitch

So I did this thing.
I started streaming on Twitch.

When I first started the streaming journey I wasn't sure where I was going with it. I started at first to get an idea of how everything worked for the esports program I was running at school. I needed to figure out the technical aspects, but also the social and cultural load that comes with it. The social and cultural depth here is huge. Hours were spent discovering what terms like "Raiding" and "Bits" meant. I figured going into this I was in for some learning; this has been intense!

I started streaming, in part, to help the Rensselaer Esports team stream. We're looking to stream practices and matches on a regular basis. Streaming at home and learning there definitely helped. I encourage anyone who is running an esports program to stream themselves first to get to know what streaming is (I'll be writing a separate post about the esports program).

I've also been streaming for personal enjoyment. Figuring out technology and how it works has always been a hobby; streaming fit right into this! I recently got a new microphone and enjoyed the process of setting it up and adjusting settings. I love learning these things! For about a decade now I've been making my own videos and publishing them for science class. Recording myself is a commonplace thing at this point. Taking the leap to live streaming was not effortless; however, the transition was easier due to my earlier endeavors with screencasting.

A few other experiences got me going. Last year I attended PAX East and at several panels the panelists encouraged those in attendance to stream. One panelist said, and I'll paraphrase here, "Don't worry if someone else is streaming the same thing as you. Get out there and do it. You just might do it better."

I also attended USM Summer Spark and attended Michael Matera's talk on maintaining a YouTube channel. Check his channel out here. He had lots of great insights on using video for personal growth as well as professionally. That talk edged me towards getting going streaming. Six months later I was Affiliate on Twitch and still stream three times a week.

Check out my channel and consider streaming.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Few Stories on Extrinsic Motivation

I gamify my eighth grade classes. A major critique of gamification is the extrinsic motivation it often relies on. I put a great deal of thought into how I utilize games in class. I try to understand and evaluate what I do in relation to the "carrot and stick" limitations on student motivation and management. Extrinsic motivation is not to be discarded as some suggest in place of only attempting to foster internal motivation. Both have their place within the classroom.

Sure, ideally, all students in front of me would be motivated by some internal passion and drive. That is not the case. Nor, as some suggest, are wonderfully planned lessons the panacea of motivation and management. Your awesome lesson will not relieve some students of the baggage they bring to class. Your empowering lesson promoting student choice and agency won't change a terrible marriage, mental illness, or myriad other problems that arrive with students in class. I digress.

Extrinsic motivation has its place in the classroom. I'll give two stories from my years of teaching, both involving the simplest and most common of motivators: candy.

Story 1
I believe it was my fifth year teaching. My period six class couldn't seem to get to class on time and it wasn't always the same students. A few were repeated offenders but about a third of the class was coming in late; not a behavior I wanted to continue. I didn't want to call home and write detentions for eight students. I spoke to a few of the worst offenders and called home for them. The rest of my plan?

On the next Monday those in the class before the bell had one Starburst placed on their desk as they did the bell ringer. Students coming in late took notice and asked. I told them it was a reward for those who came in on time prepared. The next day more students arrived on time. The following day even more. By the end of the week only a few students arrived late.

The next week I didn't hand out candy, but guess what happened? They kept arriving on time. For the rest of the year I didn't give out candy for being on time. I just had to change their behavior the one time to elicit the continued positive behaviors. Of course there were a few students that needed the negative reinforcement of phone calls home and detentions once in while but that was rare. Was this candy experiment external motivation? Heck yes! Did it work? Fantastically!

Story 2
John (not his real name of course) was not a great student and didn't even have great attendance. He lived in poverty and was a nice kid you could talk to one on one. He had trouble staying on task and focusing in class. Detentions and phone calls home were not going to go far (I knew the family) so I had to find another way to get this child through science 8. Talking to him after class one day we came up with a behavior plan together. Every day he was on task and didn't get in trouble he could stop by after school for two Starbursts. It worked. Simple as that. Our little agreement motivated him to do better in class. At the end of the school year I stopped by his house with a bag of Starburst.

I think most teachers that try everything to reach students will have similar stories to mine. The truth is that not all strategies work with all students. Instruction and behavioral interventions need to be on a case by case basis. As teachers we adapt and do what works for us and the students in front of us. Extrinsic motivation isn't the evil thing some would have you believe. It must be placed in the tool chest and used appropriately and with care. Nor should it supplant our endeavors to increase internal motivation through student agency and choice. Part of what comes with teaching experience and professional practice is understanding and utilizing techniques and strategies at the right place and time.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Trust Generators and Building Relationships with Students

The Trust Generators outlined by Hammond (2015, p. 79) sparked my thinking regarding how I build rapport and relationships with my students. The five Trust Generators are: Selective Vulnerability, Familiarity, Similarity of Interests, Concern, and Competence. I have used each in varying amounts to reach students and aid in the learning of science.

As few as five years ago, I made it a point not to show any weakness or vulnerability in class. I believed that showing that vulnerability would somehow indicate I did not know what I was doing and that I was an imposter. This thought process changed as I reached out to other teachers, collaborated with those teachers, and continued to read up on what makes “good teaching.” Ramsey Musallam in the book Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Embracing the Power of Student Curiosity discusses how he felt he was an imposter in his own classroom. Part of recognizing my own faults and living with them was opening up to students about them. I now freely take responsibility if I do something wrong and often use it as a teaching moment. If a lesson does not turn out the way I expect we reflect on it together. I’ll ask questions such as, “Should I try this experiment with next year’s class?” and “When we do this lesson next year, what should I change?”. Students are empowered by this and I get good feedback to improve my teaching.

Familiarity is easy in the small city school district I work in. We know each other. I know the families after having worked in the same district of 17 years. Any walk down the hall, any time of day, is met with friendly greetings. Students regularly see me at games and events as well. These interactions are important in that we can see each other as people; not just student and teacher. We can develop common bonds because we both have families and similar interests. I see a different side of students as their coach and club adviser as well. We can relate on another level that is similar but yet very different than that of teacher-student.

I always ask students about the games they play with their friends and family. Probably 90% of students play mobile games, video games, or table top games that I can talk with them about. This year I had one African American girl that did not seem to like to do anything till I had her stay after for Gaming Club and play Mario Kart. She stayed after to play several other times and I could tell it was a safe and relaxing place for her to be. Many students that struggle academically are also gamers and love talking about the games they play. Other pop culture is also a great way to relate to students. I have conversations about Anime, music, and TV shows with students. I ask for recommendations and ask them questions about their interests. I will even throw in a reference to their interests on tests or in lessons. 

Remembering details about a student is a challenge for me. In the past few years I have begun to journal certain things students tell me about their interests and family so I can follow up later. This journaling can be important for other reasons (such as tracking parent contact) but is a great reference for me for rapport. Teachers can see well over 100 students in one day and hear a multitude of stories and concerns from students during that day. I have tried, especially with struggling students, to pay extra attention to their needs and concerns. Knowing what NOT to talk about is equally important. Some students have strained relationships with family members, for instance.

I believe that students come to class at the beginning of the year hoping for a teaching that is caring and knowledgeable. They want the teacher to bring passion into the classroom and get them excited about the content. Students respond well when that learning is related to their lives and interests. As a teacher you need to know your content and be able to break it down into understandable bits. 

The first week of school is all about relationship building and class culture. The first day of school students arrive into class and see a piece of wax paper and container of Play-Doh at each desk. Their task: build something that represents their summer and then write about it in their journal. I purposefully spend very little time on direct instruction. The activity gives me time to circulate through the room and talk to every student about what they are building. The next day we focus on journaling and what that protocol looks like. For each student I try to link our interests somehow and find something I can ask them about again later. Students are sitting in cooperative groups. I note who they are sitting with and listen to conversations. 

One of the next activities is the Fortnite Marshmallow Challenge. This is a fun gamified approach to the classic team building Marshmallow Challenge. Students can earn points as their group learns about the classroom (how to make Flipgrid, how to access Classroom). They then spend their points on power-ups for use during the design challenge. This gives me the opportunity to see group dynamics and again move about the classroom. The Fortnite theme immediately grabs student interest. By the end of the first full week of school I have spoken to every student several times, established a culture of teamwork and fun, and laid out expectations regarding group work and learning. There is at least one student by the end of the first week that realizes that nothing has been “graded” and that they have not learned any “science”. This opens the door for me to talk about the importance of teamwork in science and how learning isn’t about grades. 

Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Musallam, R. (2017). Spark Learning. Dave Burgess Consulting.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Reflections on my Cultural Worldview

The following post is in response to the writing prompt below on Culturally Responsive Teaching.
We are using the book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond (2015).

What did you learn about how your cultural experiences shaped your worldview?
Would you characterize your cultural background as individualist or collectivist based on the definitions in Chapter 2?
I’m an army brat. My cultural experience and background is distinctly different from the rest of my family except maybe my sister. I grew up with the culture of my immediate family, the military, and Germany. Each has its own distinct culture that shaped my worldview. I grew up acutely aware of culture. Also of note, the culture of my childhood is distinctly different than my current culture.

I long realized that culture is something peoples have that you need to learn about before traveling to the country of that culture. I have visited over 15 countries. Many required preparation before visiting in order to avoid culture shock and know how to avoid cultural faux pas. I recall in Grafenwoehr Elementary school we had Host Nation class in which we learned about the German culture. The class was mainly about surface and shallow culture: holidays, language, and social expectations. Learning all this about German culture attuned me to the idea that there were many cultures (often within a larger predominant culture) and how important it was to understand and be respectful of those cultures while in their space. I became very adaptable in managing being in and out of different cultures.

The deep culture I developed was an amalgamation of coping mechanisms for being within cultures. My mental model developed into traits that allowed for my ability to adapt culturally. Things like trying foods (surface culture), never taking pictures of foreign military personnel or equipment (shallow), and how some cultures don’t “discipline” their children (deep) all were things I had to understand and place in my mental model. Most culture education I received when traveling involved the surface culture of the place being visited along with some delving into shallow culture. Nothing beats host families for really getting a feel for a culture. Traveling, touring, and staying in hotels only allows one to delve so deep into a culture. Staying with a family enables you to experience the food, music, and environment (shallow) but also have meaningful conversations and exchange of ideas (deep). There are challenges, however. One challenge is that each of you are representing your own culture and country. I know I took much care to represent my country (culture?) in a positive manner and explain when I was speaking for myself and when there were differences within my own culture. An example conversation could have gone:

Host father asks, “What do Americans think of X, Y, Z?”
I would respond, “Americans have differing opinions such as A, B, and C. I personally feel A.”

Another challenge is determining which things are family and local differences between your culture and theirs. For instance, your experience staying with a rural family will give you a different cultural perspective on a larger culture than staying in an urban area. Certain things may cross these cultural boundaries such as language (shallow), but other cultural aspects may be different such as their relationship to nature (deep). 

Drawing generalizations from one cultural experience is risky. Consider how difficult narrowing down American culture is. It is so voluminous! I helped sponsor an exchange program that hosted Dutch students and we wanted the Dutch students to experience American culture. What was culturally specific to America and specifically to our specific area of upstate NY? We arranged activities involving making S’mores, visiting historical locations, and picking apples. We baked pumpkin pies and some visited the mall. These were mainly surface culture events but the relationships and discussions (as is the main point with cultural exchange programs) are what were important. We wanted to delve deeper into that deep culture. These are the experiences I know shaped my worldview and wished to import on some of my students. As much as we are different culturally there are also so many similarities. 

And that is a summation of my worldview. It’s not about the differences but about the similarities. People everywhere love their kids. People everywhere love to play games. People everywhere love a good story and a good joke (though humor does differ). People everywhere love to gather with friends and family for food and fun. That’s it. These fundamentals cross all barriers it seems. All deep culture has these similarities. It does not matter if they are individualistic or collectivist. I remember someone remarking about the culture of East Germany. They regretted the lack of trust in your neighbor and inability to easily travel. The speaker reminded the listener, though, that the flowers were still beautiful, happy weddings occurred, and the joys of life continued. We need to remember that even in cultures we may view negatively, life goes on and certain joys of life continue. 

Germany is more collectivist than American. The United States is the most individualistic culture in my opinion and was founded as such. Our country was founded on individual rights and that continues to be a driving force in society and politics. Germany, being more socialist is indeed more collectivist. Most Germans see little problem in helping each other pay for college. Businesses are much more heavily regulated for a perceived common good. I grew up in this society and thought it worked pretty well. My culture shock came when I began my college education stateside and was flabbergasted at the opposition to what I had grown up viewing as normal collectivist ideas being washed as evil. I did grow to understand that I do have many cultural perspectives that are individualistic. There need to be limits, for example, on how far the government can go at regulating my life (or business). Honestly, I didn’t think much about my views on this until I began voting and working. I now have the lens of individualistic and collectivist to consider when evaluating cultural norms.

I consider my cultural background a mix of individualistic and collectivist. I have long valued teamwork, family, and community. Through scouting and my experience with the military I understood that accomplishing goals requires the help of others and the work of teams of people. That knowledge, however, did not extend to my understanding of school work and academics. I wrongly believed that all that people accomplished academically was in social isolation. People did well in school, I thought, due to hard work and natural intelligence. Only after I graduated from college did I reflect, talk to others, and realize I had it all wrong. My individualistic view could not be further from the truth. Those that did great in college got where they did by working with others, talking to professors, getting help when needed, and networking. They weren’t just isolated in a room studying like I was. I did not have my friend who was an excellent writer, for instance, review my papers before submission. I considered it cheating at the time. Looking back I realize that was wrong. Collaboration is a hallmark of success. My cultural viewpoint as either individualistic or collectivist continues to evolve and I am often not sure what direction I lean.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Culturally Responsive Teaching: My ratings on being Ready for Rigor

There are four parts to the Ready for Rigor framework as seen in this graphic.
From that I have rated myself on the four categories as follows.

  • 3: I understand and am proficient in this, and I regularly practice this in my classroom.
  • 2: I understand this somewhat, but I’m am not proficient at it and I don’t use this regularly in my classroom.
  • 1: I am not sure what this is, and/or I cannot do it.
Ready for Rigor Framework

2 - Awareness
2 - Learning Partnerships
3 - Information Processing
2 - Community of Learners and Learning Environment

There are several patterns that emerged as I reflected on my self-reflecting scores for the Ready for Rigor Framework. First of all, I have a love of learning myself and a passion for figuring out how learning happens. For this reason I scored myself a 2 in “Awareness” and 3 in “Information Processing.” I recognize that culture affects learning and that is the impetus behind my deciding to learn more about culturally responsive teaching. I want to know how to have culture be an aid in teaching and learning instead of a barrier. Over my seventeen years of teaching I have continually adapted lessons to provide ever more authentic opportunities for students and try to make classes culturally relevant. But am I really? Could I be doing more? I believe this is in fact where “Awareness” could be improved and in turn help me improve student information processing. 

I have recently been reflecting about the balance of giving students both care and push. Knowing when to do each is challenging and effective teaching makes it look effortless. I made a concerted effort this past year to get students away from thinking about school being about grades, and instead that school is about learning. We don’t do what we do in school for a grade, but as part of learning. This was a shift for students and I. Being able to balance care and push was easier when the focus wasn’t on “getting work done.” This is similar to how the tone and effectiveness of parent-teacher conferences change when any discussion of homework is removed. Something deeper can be discussed rather than why “work isn’t getting done.”

By shifting class culture from that of one focused on grades, we could develop in my class a rapport that focused on learning. We also then developed a common language about learning and goals. That is why I rated myself as a 2 for Learning Partnerships since I feel there is more I can do with CRT to get that care and push well balanced. I feel I do need to help students share a common language they can use when talking about their learning. Now that I have made a cultural shift, that can be followed by a language shift. Often I find students want to do well, have questions about what to do, and struggle identifying how I can help them without doing it for them. Part of the cultural shift was that I will not help them “figure it out”. The students need to do the cognitive heavy lifting. But arming them with the language to help them articulate better questions as well as understand and help their peers is a vital next step. 

Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Learning Ecosystems with the Game Shelter 1

I've always been a fanboy of game-inspired learning, game-based learning, and gamification.

For at least the last 14 years of my 18 year career I've been actively incorporating games as a method of teaching, review, and making class fun. This post isn't a treatise on GBL. There are plenty of other places to learn about the benefits of games in education.

Inspired by Paul Darvasi and others* who use commercial games in class, I planned to do the same. If you've looked through my posts you know I used to use MinecraftEdu extensively in class prior to this post. I am no stranger to GBL.

This year I wanted to try using a game to help teach ecology in either my Living Environment Lab or my AIS Living Environment class (Living Environment is biology for you non-NYS people). I looked through Steam's copious catalog of titles. I knew there was one I was looking for that I had seen before but couldn't remember the name.

Eventually I found the game: Shelter.

In the game you play a mother badger leading her young through an often hazardous environment. Along the way you must feed your offspring, navigate raging waterways, and find shelter to avoid predators. The game only takes about 45 minutes to complete. Each level is 10 to 20 minutes of play depending on your propensity to explore (or get turned around).

My goal was to use the game to add context and engagement to the unit. As a commercial game it didn't come with prepackaged lesson plans or direct content. Using the game therefore required a deep-think on the best way to incorporate it into class. I decided we would first play the game and then talk about what we saw and how it relates to the content we were learning. There were a few hurdles I had to get through first.

9th graders playing Shelter

Getting the game into class was the first obstacle. I used my own Windows laptop that had Steam and the game installed on it which made it easier than trying to get things loaded on a district computer. I tried getting access to Steam online at school with no success. Even with me and the two IT guys looking into it we couldn't get Steam connected. Instead, I played the game in offline mode with no problems. Taking my computer to and from school the days we played was a pain but there was no way around it.

Second, it's not a problem but something to keep in mind: I bought the game myself (obviously since it is on my personal Steam account). I buy games regularly so it's not a problem for me but I get it if teachers are reluctant to take the time to make a Steam account and start purchasing games to then use in lesson plans. I personally can't think of a better way to plan lessons!

Final issue I had was to planning it all from scratch. I did a quick Google search and didn't find any other lesson plans using the game. I thought for sure someone must have done it before and posted about it. Perhaps, but I didn't find it. Let me know if that person is you! Designing the lesson myself has the benefit that I can now claim all these materials are my own. Feel free to copy and adapt to your own classroom. I can see this being used from grade 4 to 12. Just be aware that the baby badgers do die and it could be traumatic for younger players. Heck, I got upset when they died!

A note about the plan. The class had already had exposure to the content. In this case the game was not introducing new content, but reinforcing content. The plan outlined below can easily be switched about and is what I plan on doing in the future, not what I did. One difference is I did the food web before the category sort. I think doing the opposite order is better.

Day 1
  • Introduce the game and the Frayer Model graphic organizer (5 minutes). 
  • Play the first level of the game (20 minutes). 
  • Discuss what was recorded on the Frayer Model (15 minutes).
Day 2
  • Play the next level of the game continuing to complete the Frayer Model (20 minutes).
  • Discuss results again (5-10 minutes).
  • Play the next level of the game (20 minutes).
Day 3 
  • Review the Frayer model (5 minutes). 
  • Have students sort the organisms from the graphic organizer into categories: Producers, Consumers, Autotroph, Heterotroph, Predator, Prey. I put the categories on lab tables and had each organism's picture and name printed out.
Day 4

  • Play the next level of Shelter (15 minutes).
  • Have students construct a Food Web using the organisms from the game (20 minutes). I had students do this on a wall. You can have them to this in groups or call on students to add arrows and organisms. Focus on talking about energy movement.

Day 5
  • Have students construct an energy pyramid (20 minutes). I taped one on the wall and had students fill in the organisms and name each level.
  • Play the final level of Shelter.

At the end of the lessons I did a quick ten question, multiple choice, summative assessment. All the sorting, webs, and pyramids are formative assessments and you can gauge how students are doing based on that feedback. In the future I'd love for students to provide commentary as they play (like Twitch streaming) about the science they are experiencing. I did ask if they wanted to any of it streamed and they said "no."

Shelter 2 is available on Steam as well. It follows the life of a pregnant lynx. I'll be playing it over the summer to assess its efficacy for classroom use. If it seems a better fit than Shelter 1 I may switch the lesson over.

Link to Folder with my materials. Use and adapt, but please share out to me and others what you do and how it goes!


  • The game involves European badgers that are omnivores; the American badger is carnivorous.
  • Timing is a tricky thing. Playing the game ahead of time is a must.
  • Get students to play the game. Have them take turns. Even if reluctant they will eventually get into it.

*Stop by #games4ed on Twitter.