Reconsidering Gaming

I know lots of educators that talk about using gaming in the classroom with their students. I’ve even tried this out before by using Nintendogs with my Grade 1 and 2 students. Students definitely love using video games or handheld games in the classroom environment, but I often question the learning. While I tried to ensure that our gaming activities focused on learning outcomes and curriculum expectations, I often found students were just too wrapped up in the game itself. I hate to say it, but I did not see the benefits of gaming in the classroom. Then yesterday happened.

Right now, my Grade 6 students are working on a project in Social Studies about First Nation Peoples and European Explorers. As part of this project, they need to create a media piece sharing something that they learned through their research. I was working with one of the groups yesterday, and the three boys mentioned that they were going to use one of the lands in Minecraft to help create their background for a Claymation activity they wanted to do. They went on to tell me about this background and why they thought it would work so well. This is when I asked them if they had Minecraft on their iPods. Two boys mentioned that they had their iPads at school, and yes, they had Minecraft on them. I asked if they could create this world in Minecraft, and they explained that they could, but they were one iPod short. No problem.

I downloaded Minecraft on my iPod Touches, and I suggested that they use Minecraft for their media piece. They loved it! One of the boys mentioned that they could film the building of the world and the discussion, and then play this during their presentation. Awesome! The students then sat down with their three iPod Touches and started creating their world and discussing the connection to Social Studies. Before long, they videotaped this “test media piece”:

Watching what these students created makes me think that maybe gaming really can be used for learning in the classroom. It took three students to show me how. Now I’m inspired to explore more options. How do you use gaming in your classroom? How do you make sure that the focus is on the learning and not on the gaming? I’d love to hear your ideas!


It All Started With A Tweet …

For those that teach or attend public elementary schools in Ontario, Friday, January 11th was definitely a strange day. At one point, it was going to be a day of protest for public elementary teachers, but after an OLRB ruling very early that morning, school was actually back on for everyone. Considering how this day began, it makes me chuckle to think that it ended with the Duct Tape Challenge.

That night, I sent out a tweet asking about reasonably priced iPad cases. My principal was talking to me earlier that day about options, and I thought that I would see what I could find out for him. This is when Brian Harrison, a principal in York Region, replied with,

2013-01-25_1142As Angie Harrison (@techieang), an amazing Kindergarten teacher in York Region and Brian’s wife, mentioned in her post, “sometimes late on a Friday evening, educators are very tired and a little punchy.” Every once in a while, these amusing conversations can lead to something great … and this one definitely did!

Angie, Brian, and I continued to chat about duct tape, and quickly, @haledogg, @cherraolthof, @klirenman, @wrightsroom, @kathycassidy, @corisaas, and others started sharing as well. It didn’t take long for the challenge to evolve: have students build something out of one roll of duct tape. The only requirements were that the students could only use duct tape and all projects needed to be shared by January 25th. We created the Twitter hashtag #ducttapechallenge for sharing purposes, and the rest was up to us.

I love how we even started discussing expectations that we could meet with this fun challenge! It was an interesting conversation because we all taught different grades from different places in Canada, but duct tape brought us all together. So far, Angie has conducted an inquiry with her Kindergarten students on fasteners, and then used the duct tape for an art lesson. Kathy linked the duct tape challenge to her Social Studies unit on families and communities. Lisa Donohue, a Grade 3 teacher, that was not part of the initial conversation but quickly joined in, had her students design objects to sell, as part of a media literacy and financial literacy activity. Awesome!

As for me, I worked with my amazing teaching partner, Gina Bucciacchio, and we linked the Duct Tape Challenge to our Science unit on Flight. Gina, who teaches Science for both of our classes, designed this activity for our Grade 6’s. The students loved it! They worked well individually or in groups to design a plan, test their devices, and make changes accordingly. It was great to see one student that went home, thought about what he made in class, and even tweaked his design again, bringing back a new duct tape flying device the next day. I love to see students so excited about learning!

If you’re interested, you can actually see a record of our whole day in this Storify Story below:

I would definitely look at doing this challenge another year, and I love the versatility of it, regardless of what grade I teach. The biggest change that I would make though, is that I would have each student reflect on his/her own at the end. I know that the students collaborated well to design and build their duct tape flying devices, but this individual reflection really lets me see which students understand the scientific concepts and which ones do not. I would also try to get more students involved in tweeting their learning throughout the day. Timing was tight, so this didn’t work as well as we hoped, but there’s always next year. 🙂

I think that Chris Hale (@haledogg) truly sums this project up best with his tweet:


I feel so fortunate to be continually inspired by so many incredible educators on Twitter, and I think that the Duct Tape Challenge is another great example of that.

So, yes, the January 25th deadline is officially today, but some rules are meant to be broken. 🙂 If you have not done so already, please consider participating in the Duct Tape Challenge with your students, and share what you do here. Here’s to some more sticky fun and learning for all!


Today The Audience Was Real

The Grade 6’s love doing our weekly broadcasts on 105 the Hive. They are eager to share their learning in so many different subject areas using this online radio station. While there’s always lots of students happy to participate, often students question if anyone is really listening to them. Today, the class knew that they had an audience.

This morning, I received an email from one of my students. She was at home sick, but she knew about today’s radio show, and she wanted to join in. She asked what time we would be broadcasting, and the address of our Today’sMeet Room. I replied with the details. Sure enough, at just before 2:00 today, this student started chiming in with her posts in the room. The Grade 6’s were thrilled! Now they knew someone was listening to them at home.

A Recording Of Today’s Radio Show

It was interesting, as her joining in started a conversation about others that have done the same:

  • another student that was sick also listened from home.
  • one student was away on vacation in the Philippines, and he listened to the broadcast and tweeted his contributions.
  • students even shared that their parents listen from home or from work.

Knowing the audience is real can make a real difference. Students knew that their thoughts were being heard, and they really wanted to share them. This makes me think of what other ways I can give students an audience for their work and their discussions.

How do you give students these “real audience” opportunities in your classroom? I hope that we can all share our ideas here!


Doing The Most With What You Have

Attendance today was very low in the school. When I found out that less than half of my students was there today and less than a third of my teaching partner’s class was there, I knew the regular plan for the day was not going to work. During our prep this morning, my teaching partner and I chatted, and we decided that we would try something different during the middle block that incorporated both math and science. We’re working on perimeter in math and flight in science, and both topics lend themselves well to building, so why not build?

We created an Egg Drop Contraption Design Challenge.


Students worked individually or in small groups to create and test their contraptions. As the project evolved, we realized what wonderful discussions students were having, and we just had to record them to capture this purposeful talk. Why not share it with the world as well? This is how the #ultimateeggdropchallenge hashtag evolved.

It was great to see teachers, parents, and students contributing to the hashtag, and retweeting and favouriting the tweets that were shared. In retrospect, it would have been good to get the students to reflect on their contraptions in 140 characters or less, and add even more of a student voice to this Twitter chat. We also had lots of recording devices available, and it would have been neat to give one to each group, and have the students videotaping each other as they planned and built together. We’ll have to do this the next time.

Students and teachers had a lot of fun today, but we all got to apply what we’ve learned in math and science, while collaborating and problem solving together. Yes, our numbers were small, but we did the most with what we had, and captured some remarkable learning. Today also reminded me of the importance of hands-on learning, and that “play” needs to happen in all grades. How do you capture “playing” to ensure there’s learning?


It Just Takes Time

Since after returning from the ECOO Conference at the end of October, all of the Grade 6 students have been participating in regular radio shows on 105 the Hive to share their learning with the world. This is a great way for students to develop their oral communication skills as well as various subject specific skills, and in a meaningful context.

That being said, for a while, the radio shows were hosted by a core group of students. The rest of the students enjoyed participating in the Today’sMeet Room to Twitter backchannel, but they were hesitant to orally participate. This week, things changed though. As students have seen and heard other students on the radio, they’re becoming more willing to join in as well. For our Talking Tuesdays broadcast yesterday, we had nine hosts, and they were all eager to talk about what they’ve read. Not all of these students love to read, but the opportunity to pick books that matter to them, to share aloud with others, and to respond to questions and comments from others have inspired them to want to read.

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Notes From Our Latest Radio Show

For me though, the highlight of the radio show came when it was all over, and a student approached me on his way to phys-ed. This student has often questioned me about why we have radio shows, and his interest in them has been minimal. He always shares information on Today’sMeet, but he’s taken no interest in hosting a show. He’s also a fairly reluctant reader, so needs encouragement to read and reflect on books. On the way out of the library though, he said to me, “Miss Dunsiger, sign me up for the next radio show. I already know what I’m going to read. I’ll start tonight!” Yeah! Success.

Sometimes it just takes time and seeing and hearing the interest of other students to make a difference for those few students that were initially reluctant. I need to remember to always give this time, so that I can witness more of these positive changes in students. What student success stories can you share? I’d love to hear them!