Disclaimer: This post isn’t so much about learning in small groups as it is about getting my students to engage in small groups… or at all.
I have had somewhat of a rough start to the year. The students that I have this year, like the ones I had last year, have been with each other, like a cohort, since kindergarten. In addition to that, they only had 4 days off between the last day of 2nd grade and the first day of 3rd grade.
School started. After the middle of the second week I felt defeated. I had never been so discouraged in my career as a teacher. No one in my room was excited. My class came with an aide that had been with the group since kindergarten (as she is paired with one of the students) and she assured me that the year was going great. She left me notes that listed “never have I evers” and referenced moments in the day where she saw students engaged in learning that she hadn’t witnessed prior to this year. This was done with the best of intentions, but I wasn’t satisfied with the level of engagement or the level of learning that was going on in room 310.
Graduate school started and one of my classes is game-ified. Even through the struggle of the beginning of the year this motivated me and sparked my interest enough for me to buy in to the idea and try it for myself. I’m not sure what exactly I’ve gotten myself into, but below is the beginning of my journey.
I decided that since our class theme is “Camp 3rd Grade” we could earn Camp Badges, much like how the Scouts earn badges and have vests/sashes, etc. I brainstormed badges that I thought would motivate my students academically. I came up with a few: the Scholar Badge (level 3 on report card- any subject), the Geography Badge (geo. unit), 2D Shape Master Badge (geometry unit), etc.. But I also created some badges that would help with technology integration and following the expectations with our iPad and laptop uses. We have the Edmodo badge, the Kidblog badge, and soon students will have the opportunity to earn the Big Universe Badge and the Discovery Ed badge. Possible badges for the future are: Dojo Queen/King, Respect Badge, Safety Superstar, etc for when I catch students really following our classroom rules.
The TA in my classroom and I created a class pennant banner and I asked each student to think of an avatar or “screen” name just like they would for Minecraft or Animal Jams. We discussed keeping them secret and private, which really drew their attention. We hung the banner out in the hallway and I began giving out badges as each student earned them.
I directly told students about the Geography Badge. I told them that they had to accurately complete their final Geography project in order to receive that badge. Others, like the Edmodo and Kidblog badges were less direct. I asked students to log into Edmodo and follow the directions. When/if they did that correctly the student got their Edmodo badge. Likewise, after students created their first Kidblog post they received their Kidblog badge.
We just started earning badges and I’ve seen a bit more success with students following directions. We still need more work in that area so I’ve begun leaving “Secret Messages” around the room for a possible future “Close Reader” badge (more on that later), but for now the Camp Badges have at least increased their engagement noticeably. The only con that I’ve ran into so far is that students expect these badges in a timely manner. I am a bit behind on grading final Social Studies projects and I’m beginning to feel the pressure!
Check out our banner below. I used MakeBadges to make my badges and then just printed them on a colored printer. I chose to make them paper/visible to help use the competitive-ness of my students in my favor. I was afraid that if they were done online they may create more of a distraction in the classroom with students constantly checking websites than they would benefit our learning. So far they’ve kept their avatars a secret, and I’ve heard “Oh man, I don’t have that badge yet!?” as we walked down the hallway!
Please feel free to share your comments or suggestions. I’d love any feedback as I go further in this quest!