It has been a rough year for me in terms of “self-care”. I ran back to back 1/2 marathons in 2013 and 2014. I love running but at the end of 2014 I decided that I was still fairly unhealthy. I was too heavy and had a poor diet; since heart disease runs in my family and to set a positive example for my sons I lost 20 pounds and ate more veggies.


In 2017 my wife and I tried and succeeded at getting pregnant. Ok, a bit of personal history. My wife and I have suffered multiple miscarriages. So much so that we began our family through adoption (our amazing 8 year old). Nearly 3 years later we biologically concieved our second child (the fabulous 5 year old). We had tried again after Ben but suffered another miscarriage so when we found out we were pregnant in April it was both thrilling and terrifying. It was nerve wracking. All the time… Literally 9 months of stomach churning anxiety… No breaks… No forgetting… Every odd twinge, every ache, every small bump from the older boys was an emotional trial. Then the baby comes and is healthy and happy and perfect. Fantastic! But that adds even more stress – especially with 2 other boys in the house. I teach 11th graders and they have lots of questions about family. I tell them that a baby is more of a highlighter than whiteout. Whatever fears, anxieties or minor partner squabbles are amplified with a newborn in the house. They’ll figure it out eventually…

Long Story (semi) Short…

I fell off the wagon with my healthy habits. I gained back all the weight I had lost all while taking a 5 month running break. I thought I’d found a solution to my lack of running motivation back in November with a slightly gamified solution when I joined the running app Strata with several other #edurunners. I even wrote about it (Edurunners and Social Fun). I was excited to bring Social Fun to my running experience and at first it was fun! It was novel and I was connecting with people I hadn’t know before. The Strata running app allows the user to follow other runners and even receive comments about their workouts. On Twitter #runlap was going strong and I could post runs there. I titled one of my early runs “That Burrito for Lunch was a Bad Idea” and got a few laughs from my Strata followers. It was hitting all the Social Fun/Relatedness motivators I had expected.

Then, all of a sudden, it didn’t.

After a few weeks I wasn’t getting the same excitement from seeing a follower like my run. I started to skip runs. I stopped checking in on the runners I was following. What happened?

My best guess is that my social media based social fun wide but not deep. I hesitate to write that because I don’t want to devalue the people that I know who followed me on Strata but the running group felt like an example of shallow gamification. I’m sure we have all had the social media experience of having a Tweet or Instagram or Facebook post get a lot of likes. It feels great but that is not the real value of the platforms. The most meaningful tweets for me now are not the ones with the most likes or retweets (but I do enjoy that 😉) but the ones that have let me make deeper connections within my gamification community. Before my last #wellplayed pod appearence (#WellPlayed Pod Apperance: Gamification in Pop Culture) with Michael Matera (@MrMatera of Explore Like A Pirate fame) we were joking that we have never really met in person. Our friendship started through #xplap chats. By taking the time to chat on the platform we have gotten to know each other and have a real friendship built entirely through digital networks. That relationship has made the likes and retweets more meaningful. There are a few dozen people in my gamification Twitterverse that give me a similar feeling.

The difference between shallow and deep social fun has to be Relationships and Interdependence. Over the course of a year or so, interactions that were once just clicks turned into a shared experience. There is a person I recognize with thoughts, feelings, and perspective on the other side of that Twitter Heart. These relationships have grown into a sort of Interdependence. We are a community of learners. Each member is trying to support the other and giving advice or borrowing ideas. We recognize when someone has been away for a while and note big life moments (Jestin – @jvanscoyoc- I hope that baby is doing well!). We help each other out when we have questions and root for each others successes. I’ve been on Micheal’s pod, Carrie Baughcum (@heckawesome) has hosted #xplapcamp, Matthew Farber (@MatthewFarber) invited my to his Facebook group, Melissa Pilakowski (@mpilakowski) let me host my first Twitter Chat, I love that Tisha Richmond (@TishRich) has been on Pods and is coming out with her own Book, and I don’t know how many people have given me awesome ideas for items! (Whoever told me about Mtgcardsmith thank you – send me a message if you read this). There are so many people I look forward to seeing and talking to every Tuesday and Thursday.

So what does this have to do with the classroom?

Traditional group work is an ad hoc & a one off event. The students don’t have time to develop any meaningful relationships. Traditional group work also lacks any sort of positive interdependence. Like my running group, in most classroom groups the success of the group is not tied to the actions of each member. How many students earn an A while also complaining that they did all the work? How many times have you known that one student did nothing to contribute but gets the same grade? There is no incentive to contribute in most traditional systems because their is no relationship or interdependence among the group members.

I am still learning how to best applying relationships and interdependence to classroom groups. My first step has been to create long term guilds. This semester my guilds were teacher created 3-4 person teams that stayed together for the full semester. To encourage team building they made “shields” with logos and their unique name which were then hung on the wall. At first they competed against other groups in the class and with groups in the other classes through asynchronous challenges. (Then I went on paternity leave and this part slowed down.) They also received bonuses and a few special powers for working together. Guilding was an improvement but next year I will have them play more quick board and card games to promote some relationship building. I also intend on crafting more quest like mission assignments that will require each member to actively participate in the first all product or preparation. For example, a 5 minute skit in which each guild member must speak.

Again, I am working on this but am beginning to see the importance of not simply telling students to work together. I would love to hear your hints, tips, and suggestions. Please post some in the comments.

(PS Gabe is doing great and is the happiest 4 month old I’ve ever seen!)

(PSS Since starting this post 2 weeks ago I am down over 3 pounds and am back up to 2 straight miles… Its a process and now you are all out their to keep me on the wagon!)