Gamifying and Zombifying The Great Gatsby

I started this year asking my students how they would design school. I noticed they really struggle with this question, because they have spent 11 years in the system that has been created for them. However, the things I kept hearing from all of my classes were:

  • We want to work at our own pace.
  • We want to make learning a competition.
  • We want to pick what we learn.

I took all of these ideas into consideration when I designed my next unit. I debated on allowing my students to choose the next novel we read, but with time constraints and a lack of resources I decided I would choose this time. However, I would try to add something that would help spark student interest. . .zombies.

We have lots of fans of “The Walking Dead”, so I decided we would add a zombie twist to our novel The Great Gatsby.  Also, to make it a competition and to allow students to work at their own pace, I designed The Walking Gatsby Survival Game.

Students have been placed in survival groups, and they must finish tasks in order to earn survival tools. We have a large game board hanging on the wall, and students move their game piece once their group has successfully completed a task.

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This allows students to work at their own pace, and adds the gamification piece at the same time. It also motivates the students who might not work during class when they know they can take as long as they need.

So far the game is going well. The kids love moving the game pieces, and getting ahead of their peers, but they also don’t feel pressure to rush. It is going to take us a while to get through Gatsby, but I believe my kids are going to go deeper into their learning this way.

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My New Classroom Setup

When I first walked into my classroom it looked like this:

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It had no color, vibrancy or life to it. I knew I could never learn in a space like this, nor did I want to work in one. So my mother and I spent several days cleaning, painting, and sprucing things up. When we were done, my classroom looked like this:

008The walls were bright, the tables colorful, signs were hung, but I still never enjoyed the layout. Six tables all in rows. For years I had six tables all in rows. I asked the kids how we should arrange the space. Tables would move into weird shapes that made no more sense than they did before, and quickly we would find ourselves back to six tables all in rows.

This year I was finally done. My classroom is a large space, and we were crammed into these rows because I couldn’t come up with any other idea. I decided I would create learning spaces for collaboration, and the spaces would need to make sense when we did centers.

First, I started with my vocabulary center. I have a white board that had computers sitting in front of it, so it was never used. I moved the computers, covered the white board with paper, and created a word wall. I then put a table in front of the wall for my kids to work while they are expanding their vocabulary.

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Next, I brought some large pillows I had from home, bought a rug for $7, and created a nice, comfy reading area.

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I have had a couch squished in the corner of my room for years now. Although I didn’t mind students sitting on it, most just assumed it was a forbidden seat, and it was rarely used. Why do teachers keep couches in their room that students can’t sit on? I decided to put it front and center. It’s a great place to work, and it’s perfect for the game center.

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My students really wanted bean bags to sit on, so we got a few with some grant money, and I also got a toddler table, so they would have a work space that was just the right height.

042 044 046For the art center, I put a table near the sink. This provides an easy cleanup spot for my kids. I also cleaned off a bulletin board next to the sink, so my kids can display their work.

005I had a cafe table that I turned into my writing center area. It is right next to the spot we keep the computers, so it made sense to go here.

007The last area I created was my drama center. Last year, my students and I cleaned out the closet and painted one wall green so we could have a green screen recording studio. We also store costumes and props in the closet, so it just made sense to have the drama center right next to it.

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My room finally feels like it has a purpose to the layout, and while we don’t do centers every day, each area is used for group work and collaboration. My students love it, and I’m finally happy with my classroom.

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Gamification

I have been spending a lot of time considering how to “gamify” my classroom, and I think I have come up with phase one.

Gamification is one of those buzz words that are going around now. Companies are gamifying shopping experiences. Classrooms are gamifying learning. I’m not much of a gamer myself
, so it’s difficult for me to think this will be a motivation. However, when I asked my students to design English class, many of the groups wanted to play games and add competition.Wordsmith

Phase one of my gamification will take place with badges. I’ve created several badges in Google Drawing in a matter of minutes. When my students earn a badge, they will add it to their Google Site. It will be a fun visual of what each student is doing in class.

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We will see how it goes. I know stickers are a great motivator, and these are basically online stickers.

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Google Forms for Rubrics

I stumbled across a wonderful idea on Twitter one day. Use Google Forms to create rubrics for grading!

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My class is completely paperless, and I’m always looking for ways to make things easier with the computer, and the rubric idea was fantastic.

I’ve also switched to standards based grading, so the more quickly I can provide feedback, the better.

So, how do you set up a rubric on Google Forms? Check out Kevin Brookhouser’s video, and he’ll show you how.

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A Successful Monday

As I said in my last post, I planned on spending my PD time on Monday figuring out how to add a little preschool to my high school English class. I located the perfect article “Finding Center: How Learning Centers Evolved in a Secondary, Student-Centered Classroom” by Allison P. Movitz and Kerry P. Holmes, and now I have some fantastic ideas on how to incorporate centers into my classroom.

The article takes the reader through the implementation and changes made to centers through a mediaeval unit in a high school English class. Movitz gives actual examples of her center setups, ideas, writing prompts, projects, etc..

The number one idea I liked from this article was Quiet Days and Busy Days. As I’ve wrestled with the idea of centers, I’ve struggled with the idea of how to have a Reading Center in a room while other centers are loud. Hence, the Quiet Days and Busy Days.

So, this is what I’ll be trying in my classroom with my The Great Gatsby Unit.

  • Direct instruction days. We will still read, discuss, and write as a class.
  • Center days at least twice a week.
  • Quiet Days: Reading Center, Vocabulary Center, Writing Center
  • Busy Days: Drama Center, Art Center, Puzzles and Games Center

My centers will include:

  • Reading Center: Articles about life in the 1920s. Clothing, bootleggers, the 1919 World Series, etc.
  • Vocabulary Centers: Vocabulary words from the novel. Students can define by taking snapshots, drawing pictures, creating word walls, adding to their personal website.
  • Writing Center: Various writing prompts, create newspaper articles, journal as characters.
  • Drama Center: Learn the lingo of the 1920s, act out scenes from the novel, record silent movies, learn the Charleston
  • Art Center: Design clothing from the 1920s, make props for the drama center, create artwork for a newspaper in the writing center, political cartoons.
  • Puzzles and Games Center: Statue of Liberty 3d puzzle, crossword puzzles, checkers, jacks

1920sI’m excited to see how the kids take to centers. I know some of my kids will struggle with choosing the center they actually want to go to versus the center their friends choose, but hopefully the more we do this, the more they will venture out on their own.

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My Plan for Monday

This Monday morning, I get to spend my PD time researching on my own. What do I want to learn? What do I want to get better at? How will I improve my practice?

My thoughts: take my class back to preschool.

What do I mean by that? My daughter is three, and she recently has had the opportunity to attend some amazing preschools, and I often sit back and watch the class when I go pick her up. The kids are all engaged, learning, and making choices. They use their hands, their voices. They collaborate, they work alone. One child will work on letters while another is on a computer. Two more will be working together to build the tallest tower possible out of the blocks, while others are playing veterinarian.

This makes me think back to my own education when I couldn’t wait to get to school each day, but by the time I was in high school I was so bored and unengaged I just wanted to get through my day.

Sit quietly. Do your work. Don’t do your work till you get home. Take notes. Don’t chew gum. Don’t be tardy.

Why does high school have to be a boring thing to get through with nothing but rules and regulations? Why can’t upper level learning be fun? Why can’t students make choices and work on different things throughout the day?

There will definitely be challenges to this idea, but I think it’s worth it for my kids.

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So, how will I bring preschool to the high school classroom? That’s what my Monday morning time will be spent exploring.

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Standards Based Learning

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Last year my honors class and I researched Standards Based Learning and worked together to make the switch. This year, with the help of coworkers and my new assistant principal, I will be implementing the practice in all of my classes. In honor of this, I thought I’d share my favorite project my students completed on SBL.

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