Gamification in Education

I moderated the #slowchatED Twitter chat for the last week of May 2015. The topic I chose was gamification in education. I work for a provider of K-12 educational materials in Finland, so it was very refreshing to jump into discussions with (mainly) US educators.

When I asked about gamification examples, the first answers mentioning e.g. Kahoot! were what I expected. Kahoot! does a great job in turning a classroom or a virtual learning space into a competitive environment. I was also told about Classcraft, which I think I had heard before but never really took a closer look. Now I will for sure.

In my job I am mainly involved with online learning materials. Just to calibrate my thinking, I also wanted to find some examples where modern technologies play little or no role. I got some great answers such as:

  • Having students running towards a fence, trying to estimate how much is 2/3 of the distance and stopping there. The best guesser gets to pick the next fraction, and off they go again.
  • Survivor-inspired Grudgeball, where answering trivia questions is combined with voting out your classmates.
  • Giving students dice and having them to simulate the electoral process of the US, where each student is a district and they form groups which are states.

The week-long discussion reinforced my opinion that learners should be motivated and engaged. This is not to say that they don’t need to drill from time to time or read long texts, not at all. Engagement can come from multiple sources. Quest for mastery is probably the ultimate motivator but gamification can be used at least to spark the interest and get things started.

My favorite quote of the week was the following:

Gamifying evens the playing field. It helps all to get aboard, to get engaged. And when they are engaged:

Thanks again for having me!


This post is cross-posted on the slowchated blog. This week’s #slowchated will focus on JOY in education. To participate in this week-long one-question-per-day chat, you can jump in here –> #slowchated

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

~ Albert Einstein

Oh, Albert. Such a smart cookie you were. I would take Albert’s statement just a bit further in adding that the act of awakening joy in others brings joy to the awakener as well. It is utterly and beautifully cyclical. How lucky are we educators to have this honor? Helping a student find joy in learning, is one of the best feelings I know. IMG_1241

One thing that I know I forget far to often (my husband and children can vouch for this) is that it’s important to experience joy away from one’s job. For every ounce of joy I experience in the classroom comes an ounce (or more) of frustration (usually due to some layer of bureaucracy). Doing the things you love and spending time with people who bring you joy outside of your school provides a balance that is vital for preserving one’s career … and sanity. So …

… Q1: What brings you joy outside your classroom/school?


How often do we make a conscious effort to focus on the joy of teaching and learning? How often do we remind ourselves that learning should bring the learner joy? How often do we design learning with joy in mind? It’s hard because of the demands of people and entities outside the classroom constantly clamoring for our attention. Despite those demands, the classroom should be a place of learning and joy. I would even go so far as to argue that in order for learning to take place, there must be some element of joy involved–or maybe more accurately, learning will be more likely to occur of there is joy in the process. This is not a scientific fact; it is merely based on 15 years of working in the trenches of public education. This brings us to …

… Q2: What brings you joy in the classroom or school where you work?


[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.

~ Jim Henson

What do you share with your students? Are you a real person to them, or are you the person who they believe keeps a cot in the closet and lives at school? We need to humanize ourselves to our students. It’s part of the give-and-take of relationship-building. If you want to understand your students, you need to know them, and in order for them to trust you, you need to reveal who you are to them.

I’m not suggesting you need to share every detail of your life, but how about sharing that you raise chickens? or paint watercolor portraits of your friends’ pets? or that you climbed a mountain last summer? or that you cross stitch pop culture icons in your spare time? or that you collect dolphin figurines? or that you love to sit in a hammock and read book after book all summer long? or that your great-grandpa was an Arabian prince? or that your dog died and that it makes you sad? or that when you see a snake or a turtle in the middle of the rode that you stop and move it to the ditch so it doesn’t get run over? or that you are an alien from outer space just trying to fit in? (There was a teacher at my elementary school who told her kids this. She never ever denied it. In fact, part of me still wonders …)

Why not share those things with your students? Every teacher will have a different comfort level regarding what s/he does and does not share, but share something. When you share, your students will usually share in return or be one step closer to sharing. Dr. Gary Stager says that being an interesting adult is one of the best things we can do for our students. I agree with him and I strive to be a weirdo for my students every day!

This is the perfect intro to Q3: What are some ways we can share our personal joys (and passions) with our students? IMG_1278-1qa3znf What teachers do in the classroom can affect a child for life. That’s one of the reasons why our profession is so totally rad, but also so totally scary. When a student walks into my classroom, I set the tone in my instruction, in my reactions, and in my expression of learning. It’s not always easy! It’s easy for students (who often seem surprised to see us at the mall or in a grocery story) to forget that we are human too and humans have off or bad days, so I need to ask … Q4: When you are having a bad day, what can/do you do to set a positive tone in the classroom? HOMEWORK: Think of some images that represent joy to you & have them at the ready for tomorrow We are a visually driven culture, so let’s talk about Q5 (which is not really a question): Share some images of what joy looks like to you (inside or outside the classroom/school). Look at all this joy!

IMG_1280(1)Q6, the final question of the week asked: If you could send one message of joy to your students, what would it be?

You responded with …

How joyful!

My wish for all educators who read this is that you always remember how much fun and joyful learning can be and that you do what you can, when you can to ensure that your students have a joyful experience in a place that can set the tone for an entire year of their life and potentially for their whole entire lives!

REFLECTION April 27-May 2

Reflection:  throwing back, serious thought or consideration, cognition


Let me take a minute to reflect…

Why am I so resistant to writing the introductory piece to #slowchatED? It seems to turn me off in some way.  Not sure why? Maybe I feel it has to be formal and totally legit since #slowchatED is a collective endeavor sparked by @davidtedu and maintained by the masses.  I feel a sense of obligation to try harder, sound smarter, write better than I normally do.

But why the resistance? It doesn’t make sense considering the fact that over the course of #slowchatED’s existence I’ve learned that I really like the easy going pace and intimate nature of a slow twitter chat. I enjoy being able to think about the questions, although I do still answer in a spur of the moment fashion.  #slowchatED has created a space for me to dream, problem solve, question, support, and befriend many teachers.  If I met them face-to-face I would already know some of their fundamental beliefs as an educator…and a human.  It’s triggered new thought, challenged old thinking, and connected me with positive forward thinking educators from all over.  #slowchatED has offered the perfect amount of give and take during the busy school year.

Even though I did not answer my original question, and the reason for writing the above reflection, I did link and construct meaning out of my #slowchatED experiences.


I’m curious about the role reflection plays in learning.  This year I began a reflective journey on Instagram that changed me more than any other PD or bit of information I have learned.  My reflections began as random yoga poses with minimal writing. Everyday I posted a yoga picture and wrote.  Eventually my writing evolved and became more reflective.  Posting a picture everyday to a social media site became a catalyst for growth that was completely unexpected.  I guess, what I didn’t expect was that I already had a ton of experiences inside of me but through the reflective process I was able to make sense of it.  It became apparent to me through this process that reflection is critical, essential, and should not be pushed to the side as a two minute exercise at the end of a period.  Reflection takes time and effort.  I’m now wondering if teaching reflection is more valuable then teaching content…

I have so many questions, I just don’t know where to start so I’ll just randomly list them:

  • Why reflect? Why is it important?
  • What reflective process do teachers, students, admins have?
  • Why aren’t we required more to reflect?
  • Do we have to reflect on our personal lives to be able to reflect on our professional lives?
  • Do we value reflections or is it considered too touchy-feely? Not academic enough?
  • Is a written reflection more effective than a reflective conversation?
  • How do we allow for students to reflect? What practices do we have in place?
  • Do we reflect?
  • Is there more power in sharing your reflections? Why share them?
  • How can we, as teachers, grade or evaluate a student’s reflection? Is there any way to compare one student’s reflection with another’s? Every one’s reflection will be different…how can we grade them?

Questions to be solidified when they are tweeted.  I’m still reflecting on which ones I want to ask…

#slowchated week of March 30th – April 4th, 2015

“Building capacity on experiential learning”
#slowchated week of March 30th
Moderated by Allison Fuisz (@allison_fuisz) and Mari Venturino (@msventurino)

Last week, March 23-28, the #slowchated conversation delved into the world of deep learning.  The goal was to bring some light to what deep learning is and how it is an essential part of student success and learning.  In summary, those who participated in the chat saw deep learning as a means for students to fully immerse in their learning and apply it to their life.  In the words of students, “deep learning is something that sticks with you, like root”.

So how do we get things to stick and become roots in students’ understanding of the world around them?  Experiential learning may be the answer.

Today I attended a PD session with Jennifer Stanchfield.  Her common sense and imaginative approach to teaching revolves around experiential learning and the simple day-to-day activities that teachers can present to students in helping to form their understanding of content and collaborative opportunities.  Comments in the room from teachers were varied when it came to this line of thought.  They ranged from “this is hard” to “wow, I never thought of approaching a class like that!”  These varied responses shows the different levels of understanding as to what experiential learning means and how it can be a positive in the lives of students.

According to the UC Denver Experiential Learning Center,
“Learning that is considered “experiential” contain all the following elements:
1. Reflection, critical analysis and synthesis
2. Opportunities for students to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results
3. Opportunities for students to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, or physically
4. A designed learning experience that includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes”

To some, experiential learning is second nature; to others, it is a chore that involves more work than what they deem necessary despite the benefits it carries for students.

So how do we build capacity around experiential learning?  It seems like a no-brainer yet not everyone is on board. Perhaps this twitter chat will be a starting point for some or spark some interest in others to spread the ideas of experiential learning forward.

TED talk on experiential learning: Tools

Q1: What is experiential learning? #slowchated
Q2: What personal experience do you have with experiential learning? #slowchated
Q3: Name a resource that is a must for Ts RE: experiential learning? #slowchated
Q4: How does experiential learning promote critical thinking and deep learning? #slowchated
Q5: Based on this week’s chat, how are you going to implement experiential learning into your classroom? #slowchated

#SlowchatED Week of March 16, 2015

Week of March 16th
Topic: Homework

When I woke up this morning, I saw that #slowchated was mod-less. I volunteered, but didn’t have a topic in mind. A few rolled through while getting ready and heading to work, but nothing struck me as authentic or something I needed to discuss. However, this all changed once 1st period started today. Only about 25% of my students had their big unit project completed…I was furious. <rant> My students have had this project assigned in early February, and have had multiple opportunities in class to work on their project. I have been available before school most days, at lunch, and occasionally after school. Additionally, I check my work email frequently. How is this possible?! I expected maybe 25% to have an incomplete project. This project is in place of a unit assessment, and students were excited to not have a test. I feel disappointed, frustrated, and angry. *deep breath* </rant>

Out of this, I decided I need to spend some time thinking about homework. I know my students don’t have the support for doing homework at home, yet I don’t know where, why, and how their disregard for homework started. I’ve started assigning less homework, and when I do, I’m finding fewer students completing it. I need to revolutionize my classroom, and go in with a new game plan next school year.

I don’t have any extra resources/research because this topic comes purely from my need to grow as a teacher, and my curiosities about how other teachers are handling similar issues. If you have resources, please share in the comments below, or on Twitter with the hashtag #slowchated.

Here are the questions:
Q1: What does homework mean to you and your students? #slowchated
Q2: What is the purpose of homework? Are there alternatives? #slowchated
Q3: How do you handle students who do not do their homework? #slowchated
Q4: How can we make homework more manageable for students?
Q5: What’s the best excuse you’ve gotten for why a student didn’t do their homework? #slowchated

*Questions are subject to change, based on where discussion goes*

Sunday Summary: Authentic Audiences

You can relive the entire week’s chat with the Storify archive!

From hanging work in the hallway to having my students publish their own book blog, giving kids an authentic audience has been a powerful force in my classroom this year. I was happy to jump in and moderate #slowchated this week to find some other perspectives on authentic audiences.

I started the week with this question:

I was surprised by the wide range of answers. This one matched my initial thoughts on the topic:

But these ones made me realize that there might be more to choosing a truly authentic audience:

I’ve been successful at giving my students an audience they have no connection with. I often share our book blog on Twitter tagged with #comments4kids As a result, my kids have received feedback from teachers I know in other parts of the country along with others who have absolutely no connection to me or our school. When we’ve discussed it as a class, everyone agrees that they take more care with their writing when they are truly publishing it for the world. We don’t know who will read it.

I really like the idea of using people with expertise as an authentic audience. When I invited judges for my school’s Invent Idaho competition, I asked a friend who is an accomplished tinkerer to view the projects. With his experience in electronics projects and scale modeling, he was able to give students feedback on their projects that I wouldn’t have considered. Our district technology coach also judged. He has judged at many of these competitions, so he was able to offer yet another perspective. Going forward, I want to find more opportunities for my students to present to “logical consumers.”

There are so many appropriate audiences for students, the key is getting their work in front of someone. The background photo above is a poster some of my math students made after learning about scale drawings. It’s been hanging in the hall facing our playground for months, giving my students an authentic audience for their work each time students go in and out the playground doors.

I hadn’t directly thought about the benefits of audience awareness before. But, I have seen my students go from assuming everyone knew all about the characters in Harry Potter and other popular series to understanding that they needed to provide that information in their book reviews. I think building audience awareness leads to developing greater empathy. It’s definitely an idea worth exploring further.

A few of our slow chatters shared some great things they’ve done with their students. These were two of my favorites. Please follow the links to see some great student work!

Although most of our discussion was about reaching out, this was a great reminder that our classrooms have a built-in audience. When work is shared with classmates rather than created for teacher eyes only, our students get many of the benefits of having an authentic audience. Doing it successfully, though, often requires teaching what it means to be a good audience, as described in the tweets below.

I’ve been able to incorporate an authentic audience in my English/Language Arts classes with our book blog, but I really want to give my math students more opportunities to put their work in front of others. Here were a couple other places suggested for authentic audiences.

During Day 4, Mark Crotty suggested that it was worth examining how the structure of school affects authentic audiences. I decided to use his question for our 5th day of discussion:

I love this idea – a school so engaging that the community wants to be a part of it. By opening our doors and sharing the great work of our students, it can become a reality.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in this week’s #slowchated discussion of authentic audience. I’m excited to use what I’ve learned from this week’s chat in my classroom.
Cross posted at Teacher With Tuba Blog.

Authentic Audience #slowchated March 9-14, 2015

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I took great pride in my work for elective classes in high school: often more than I did for my academically required courses. I played tuba in multiple bands, acted in most of our school plays, competed in speech and debate, and wrote for the school newspaper. Now, of course, the fact that I chose my electives was a motivator, but the biggest difference between those classes and my others was the audience. I knew that my work would be on display for my peers and the larger community, not just the teacher. I practiced and practiced the tuba solo in the Holst Suite because I knew how many people would be listening. I carefully revised and edited every submission I wrote for the Timberwolf Times because all of my friends and teachers would read my work. I did fine on the papers that I wrote for my teachers’ eyes only, but I rarely put the same type of effort into those assignments.

Coursework in the arts and many electives have always given students an authentic audience, while work in other classes is done solely for the instructor. Why? Personally, it wasn’t something I thought about much until recently. In the past, I had my students imagine an audience for their writing, but we rarely wrote for a real audience. This year, I’m starting to give my students real audiences for presenting their work. I’ve seen how sharing their work with a broader audience motivates and inspires many of my students. Still, I know I can do more and I want to hear your ideas.

These are the questions I have in mind, but they are subject to change as you contribute ideas throughout the week.

Q1 What makes an audience “authentic”?

Q2 How do your students create for authentic audiences?

Q3 How much audience participation do you want? How do you encourage or discourage it?

Q4 What is something you already do that could be enhanced with an authentic audience?

Q5 Where do you find an audience?

Q6 What is your “dream audience” for student work?

I’m eager to discuss this with you on #slowchated and I hope that you will take full advantage of the slow chat format. We have a whole week to find and post links, photos, and blog posts. Best of all, we have an authentic audience in each other, and audience participation is required. Ask questions, challenge assumptions, and learn from one another!

Cross posted at the Teacher With Tuba blog

#slowchated – Week of March 2-7, STEM/STEAM

March 2-7, 2015

S – Science
T – Technology
E – Engineering
[A – Arts]
M – Mathematics

So we’ve all heard of STEM, and many of us have heard of STEAM, but do we actually do this in the classroom? I’m a 7th grade science teacher, but I mostly focus on science, with a little bit of technology thrown in. We look at data tables and make graphs, but admittedly, many of my students still have no clue the difference between the x-axis and the y-axis. Occasionally, I’ll spice it up a lesson with an engineering task. Arts? Well, sometimes we draw stick figures, does that count?!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not giving STEAM it’s proper place in my classroom. One of my biggest worries for the future of our students is that we will have a country filled with science-illiterate citizens making big decisions. As a teacher in California, I see a heavy emphasis on English and math, while all the other subjects are becoming secondary. I assume it is similar in other parts of the country. While literacy and math skills are important, we can’t discredit science, history, and the arts because they are what make many students want to show up to school. We all need to work together to encourage students to seek out STEM-related opportunities and careers. How will you help?

While considering STEAM, it is important to consider two underrepresented groups in STEM-related careers: minorities and women.

Minorities in STEM:



Image source:

Women in STEM:


Image source:

More Resources:
TED Talk “Growing up in STEM as a girl”:

Article on STEAM from US News:

I look forward to chatting with you all this week. Remember, one question per day Monday through Saturday!

-Mari Venturino


PS. If you’re like me, you get anxious when you don’t get a preview of the questions. Here they are!

Q1: How do you incorporate STEAM into your lessons? #slowchated

Q2: How can we break down barriers to incorporating STEAM into our classrooms? #slowchated

Q3: Share your favorite STEM/STEAM resources! #slowchated

Q4: Why do you think minority students feel discouraged from pursuing STEAM-related careers? #slowchated

Q5: How do you encourage girls to get involved in STEM-related fields, especially in MS and beyond? #slowchated

Q6: What action step are you going to take next week to add more STEAM-related fun into your classroom? #slowchated



#slowchatED – Week of February 23, 2015 – ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

This week, we’re talking about assistive technology in our schools. Assistive technology, or AT for short, is any device that allows kids with disabilities to access content, skills, and processes in ways that level the playing field with respect to their classmates. These technologies come in many different forms depending on how they assist the student and what disability they mitigate.

For example, audio books are one of the best assistive technologies available to students who have trouble accessing print. Whether the child is blind, dyslexic, struggles with a processing disorder, or whatever, audio books provide a pathway by which a child who has trouble reading with his or her eyes.

Donnie_in_the_matrixHere, is a child reading an ebook on a Kindle Touch while listening to an audio version of the book provided by Learning Ally. This child qualifies for Learning Ally’s services, but had an easier time following along with the voice on an e-reader that allowed him to manipulate the text size. All of this, gave this young man the accommodations he needed in order to read one of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels. When I met him just months earlier, he was unable to read Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to me. This is the power of assistive technology.

Assistive technology does more than help kids read, though. We’ve issued NEO2 personal keyboards to students who are dysgraphic. We’ve issued digital spelling aids to kids with memory and retrieval disabilities. The Livescribe Smartpen brings AT to a whole new level giving the student the means to record lectures, take simplified notes, transmit those notes to digital platforms, and return to the lecture later in order to take the time he or she needs to assimilate the content.

Two things got me thinking about the power of AT this week. First, my 7-year-old and I were watching this DARPA video over the weekend featuring disabled vets testing prosthetic arms:

Imagine the finesse involved in drinking from a water bottle or eating a grape. Technology makes these mundane (but previously impossible tasks) possible again.

Second, I got a new student on Friday. This young lady arrived in the United States from China just days ago. Her mother insists that she attend our school despite the fact that we have no ESL program on campus. The girl speaks VERY little English and doesn’t understand much more. While wrestling with what I might do with this child after her translator left us (she had to get to class, herself), two of my students volunteered to take her under their wing. These ladies were undaunted by the fact that neither of them spoke any more Chinese than our new friend spoke English, and sure enough, by the end of class, all three of them had their phones out and were using Google Translate to carry on a conversation. They opened the door through which I will be able to start working with this child and begin the long journey of learning English in a mainstream classroom.

Given my past experience with struggling readers and writers, the amazing heights to which state of the art engineering is soaring, and this new experience using tech to communicate with a human being from an entirely different linguistic background, I figured that when #slowchatED needed a moderator this morning, something in the universe was telling me to start the conversation.

So here we are. Remember to tune in to #slowchatED each day this week for a different question and throughout the day each day, so you can stay involved in the discussion.

A Question of Quality

(cross-posted by Eric Démoré at The Learner Sherpa)

My dad likes to say:

I’m a classy guy. It’s all low class — but I’ve got lots of it.

He’s just being a goof, of course, but his joke carries some philosophical weight. It begs a question that every self-respecting pedagogue must ask at some point:

What should we aim for: QUALITY or QUANTITY?

Q-words are worth a lot.

‘Quality!’ I hear you scream. Why aim for anything less? And you’d be making a valid point. We expect quality in schools, just as we expect quality from the things that we buy and from the relationships that we forge. Quality is valuable. Quality is rare and beautiful.

But quality might not be everything. In fact, sometimes quality is not possible, nor should it be desired.

I love chocolate. So when I get a craving, I know exactly where to go: Soma in Toronto, where chocolatiers make everything in-store from cocoa pods they purchase directly from their South American farmers. Soma’s chocolate bars are exquisite. Heaven in your mouth. But also $8 from your wallet.

Much as I love making kids happy on Halloween, there’s no way I’m giving out a hundred bars of premium-grade Peruvian organic chocolate. Because for $8 I can buy a mega-box of assorted Nestle garbage chocolate which, in addition to saving me a lot of money (OK, I’m cheap), ensures I have enough to go around. Kids get treats, I save money. Win-win.

Cheap? Low-quality? Absolutely. But sometimes the moment calls for lots of something — not just a really good something.

Writing coach Deanna Mascle recently tweeted:

Writing teachers expect quality writing from young writers. But we’ve come to understand that quality writing is impossible without having practiced writing, a lot. The same goes for reading. Unless you’ve put in the flight hours, you will not be a quality reader. A quality commercial pilot has tens of thousands of hours under her belt. That’s quantity.

You might even say that, when it comes to learning, quality is only possible through quantity. Want to make something good? Make a lot of it.

In the coming week on #SlowChatED, I’d like to hear what you think. Let’s do this!

Q1: In your own learning, which Q-word do you value more?


Q2: What’s the best-quality result you’ve ever worked toward?

Q3: Outside of school hours, into what have you sunk the greatest amount of hours?

Q4: Is it possible to teach someone Quality?

Q5: What place does Quantity have in learning?

Q6: Share an example, be it in or out of school, of when less was more, and/or when more was more.