Friday, October 27, 2017

Using Classcraft for Gamified Motivation and Formative Assessment

This is a guest post from Rachel Langenhorst. Rachel's work has appeared here in the past and been quite well received. I was excited to get another guest post submission from her. 

Every teacher in this day and age must be able to juggle 3 to 45 things at any given moment. There are days when I feel that my head might spontaneously combust because, quite simply... Nothing. Else. Will. Fit. Classcraft, however, has proven to be a tool with which I can most effectively lead with the least amount of disruption, in a way that is both engaging and motivating for students of all ages. Gamification is a research-based way to take the fundamental appeal of play and apply it to non-game activities such as schoolwork and classroom management. My first experience with the game came at a Google Summit session I attended this summer. At first, I was curious, although admittedly skeptical. How effective could a game really be? However, upon signup and the interactivity provided during that session, a fire was lit. I signed up for the free version and experimented with it throughout the summer. It didn’t take long to see that this was the real deal. Since then, we have been able to successfully incorporate Classcraft into our at-risk room, elementary classrooms, as well as my middle-high school technology team, with more sure to follow!

What sets Classcraft apart from other forms of gamification is the fact that it is grounded in actual classroom behavior and accomplishments. There is the ability to create teams within Classcraft, which, I have found, adds a particularly effective form of peer motivation. Teachers can and should be the creators of their own environment and should adapt the experience to fit their own classrooms. There is a preset list of items for which students can receive or lose points, but they are completely customizable. While these are touted as “classroom management” points, I have found that with a little ingenuity, I was able to tie points to anything, including other types of formative assessments I do in classrooms like Kahoot, Wizer, and Quizzizz. These points can be divvied out to individuals or teams as desired.

There are five different point types found in the game. There are HP (Health Points), XP (Experience Points), AP (Action Points), GP (Gold Pieces), and PP (Power Points). Each serves a distinct purpose that helps maintain student interactivity and success. Additionally, there is a parent connection, where you open up the ability for them to award GP to their child for good deeds done at home. Within Classcraft, students have the capability to completely customize their own avatars and select from the role of Warrior, Mage, or Healer. Each role comes with a certain set of skills that can be advantageous for their team. With a coordinating Classcraft app and a Chrome Extension, you are able to manage your class with ease. This video helps describe a typical day in Classcraft.

A Typical Day in Classcraft from Classcraft on Vimeo.

Classcraft does offer premium access to their site for a minimal cost of $12 a month, discounted to $8 per month if you pay for 12 months up front. There is also a school/district account package available. If you should decide to upgrade, all data will be carried over into your premium version. The paid account allows for additional features such as linking to Google Classroom, analytics, gamified curriculum, extra gear/pets to earn, as well as several interactive class tools like the volume meter. The school/district package adds those plus admin controls and security features.

Classcraft has a unique penchant for encouraging positive behavior and deterring negative through common sense cause and effect. Their continued goal of using gamification for good has resulted in a recently published online guide for using Classcraft to prevent bullying.

Classcraft has been a fun adventure that has the kids abuzz and showing real progress and teamwork. Give it a shot! Before you know it, you will have the power to encourage continued learning, accountability, collaboration, and ownership through gamification, leaving you to do the one thing you never seem to have enough time for….teach.

About the author:
Rachel Langenhorst is a K-12 Technology Integrationist and Instructional Coach for Rock Valley Community Schools in Rock Valley, Iowa and serves as an adjunct professor in the graduate programs of the University of Sioux Falls and Northwestern College. A 20+ year teaching veteran, she presents throughout the country, focusing on technology integration strategies and best practices. Rachel serves as a contributor for, Mackin Educational Resources, and Education Talk Radio. Find her on Twitter and other social media @rlangenhorst and her blog, Tech from the Trenches.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Teaching Coding With CS First

This is a guest post from Keith Kelley. Keith is the integrated technology instructor at Sebasticook and Somerset Valley Middle School in central Maine.

"The limit to the system is the number of coders we have, our policy is to hire as many coders as we can."  Mark Zuckerberg

Coding is important and MIT’s Scratch platform has been a fabulous boon to the classroom. The learning curve for the teacher and creation of lesson plans had not caught up to those classrooms yet. Enter Google’s attempt to help fill the coding skills gap through their CS-First initiative.

You do not need to be an expert in Scratch or coding to let your students learn on their own. As I have used it in my class I found students enjoyed the self-paced video tutorials with matching Scratch Starter Programs. I have used the Gaming Theme club to allow my students to successfully code and design their own Games.

They will provide you free materials (badges, lessons, etc..) however all can be done through the CS-First digital interface as well. They have set them up to be clubs with volunteers and after school meeting times, but I easily adapted it to use in my school schedule.

There are a variety of other themes which lend themselves to other core subject areas. For instance, I used the Storytelling Theme as an enrichment activity for my high level writers.

The dashboard is excellent to keep track of students badges, which they earn for completion of watching the video tutorials and commenting on them. It also provides easy way to click student account and open their actual scratch game they made for that lesson. I would recommend adding the name of the student in the dash board to be with their account for ease of use.

Typical Themes run for a 10 hour session with 8 badges and Scratch Games to create. I really like the feature of the kids being able to share their games with their classmates and other students to play. My students have used PC or Chromebooks to access their Clubs (each club has a code the students log into once which creates their CS-First accounts which is linked to a Scratch account)

I have used Scratch to teach coding before but CS-First has added an excellent management piece and ability for students to self-pace. I highly recommend it whether you use it in the classroom or for an after school coding club.

About the author:
A Maine educator for 25 years, Keith is currently teaching Integrated Technology for RSU19. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies and serving as the School Librarian, this is his first experience teaching IT. Students make Skateboards, Robots, Computer Games, Fly Drones and 3D Print Projects in this class. He earned his Bachelors and Masters Degree in Education at UMaine. He has coached soccer, track, and various tech camps. In his free time he enjoys riding around in his classic mustang with his wife and dogs.

Get in touch with Keith at KeithKelley (at) and see more of his work at Learn 3D.

History of Hashtags and How Teachers Can Use Them

Hashtags are everywhere. They are used in advertising and marketing and appear on all social media platforms. Hashtags even appear in school newsletters and church bulletins. But do they actually serve a purpose?

Hashtags were first used on Twitter over a decade ago as a way to help people who weren't so tech savvy search the site for information. Hashtags are used as a way to organize and promote content and ideas. There are no rules about creating hashtags, but they can only contain upper and lower case letters, numbers, and underscores.

You can search for content on Twitter without signing in or creating an account. Some popular hashtags include #edchat, #ntchat, and #stem. Jerry Blumengarten, Cybraryman on Twitter, has curated a huge collection of hashtags that are used by educators. You can search any of these on Twitter to locate content that is associated with it. This is a great way for teachers who are new to Twitter to find new and interesting people to follow.

Educators also use specific hashtags as a way to meet up with other educators to discuss a variety of topics that impact education. For example, #nebedchat takes place each Wednesday evening at 8pm CST. This is the chat that is led by educators in Nebraska and has become quite popular. Check out this huge list of chats that happen on Twitter. Chances are you will find numerous chats that will be of interest to you.

Don't let hashtags intimidate you. Including them in your tweets will help you connect with people who are looking for information that you are sharing.

Searching using hashtags on Twitter

Delta Math

Delta Math is a free program that allows teachers to combine modules of lessons for their students to complete. The modules cover a wide range of topics taught in Middle School math, Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus,  and Computer Science.

Once teachers set up their account and create their classes, they can provide students with a code to join their class. Students can work through modules at their own pace. The program includes built in graphing and statistical calculators as well as a keyboard that allows the user to write mathematical expressions. There program also shows students the steps to get the correct solution.

Applications for Education 
This would be a great way to encourage students to practice math outside of school. My daughter, who is a 7th grader, loves this program. She says that Delta Math motivates her to practice more often and it makes it more enjoyable.

Favicons: Reclaim Space on Your Google Chrome Bookmark Bar

Our bookmark bars are prime real estate and we need to maximize every millimeter of it. One of the easiest ways to reclaim some of the space on it is to create a favicon for the sites we visit most frequently. For many of us this means our mail, calendar, Google Classroom, and gradebook program. When we bookmark these items, we see a website icon (favicon) followed by short description. The descriptions are unnecessary and take up space on the bookmark bar. We can easily delete the text by right-clicking on the bookmark bar, selecting edit, deleting the text in the name field, and clicking save. All you are left with is the website favicon. Pretty nifty, eh?