In the B.C. years of my marriage (that is Before Children) my wife and I rocked Guitar Hero. Neither of us play guitar but ability to pretend to be rockers, enjoy the music, and just be goofy with each other got us through some tough times. We were in the B.C. era because of infertility issues and jamming on together on a fake plastic guitar was one way for us to have what game designer Nicole Lazzaro called “Serious Fun”, or mind altering play. This silly game, with its cartoonish rockers and its Superstar Mode Power Up, was a way for us to escape and find a meaningful connection with each other.
During one of our jam sessions one of our guests noticed that I picked up on new game mechanics pretty quickly and told me it was “evidence of a misspent youth”. I took this to mean that I had spent a lot of time playing video games in my childhood. There was a negative connotation to this but I wasn’t upset because I did play a lot of video games but I did a lot of other things too. Flash forward to marriage AD (Achieved Descendants)* and my new job as an 11th grade US History teacher and that misspent youth began to pay off when I joked with a colleague during lunch duty that school should be more like a role-playing game. This discussion led me on a journey towards gamification and game-inspired classroom designs and has radically improved both me and my students’ classroom experience. There are so many game inspired concepts that I am grateful for but I am extremely thankful for the notion of a reset button.
In my misspent youth I was a huge fan of the Madden football games. If you are unfamiliar with these games several modes are available to play and my favorite was the franchise mode. In this option the player guides a team through multiple seasons and is responsible for drafting players, signing free agents, setting ticket prices, and playing the games. Nothing is more frustrating than building a team and then losing your star player to an injury. Well, I am not too proud to say that when this happened I jumped up and hit the reset button. The downside of this strategy is that you lose whatever progress that was earned in that game, the upside of course was that you didn’t lose the star player. The other benefit to hitting the reset button was understanding the tactics and strategies I would be facing from the opposing team when I played them in the reloaded game. This is why I am grateful for the classroom reset button.
One thing that college didn’t prepare me for is that school is full of giant classroom reset buttons. In an era where we teachers are expected to build relationships with students this is a difficult proposition for an introverted teacher like myself. One myth of the introvert is that we prefer isolation. The truth is that we enjoy social interactions as much as extroverts it just requires more energy expenditure and we need decompression time after words. I spend enormous amounts of energy developing relationships with students only to watch those students leave in the Spring. I do this not as a way to manipulate their test scores or boost my data for the district report card but because students deserve their humanity affirmed in a building where they will spend literally half of their waking hours. I also do this because I buy into the concept of “player type motivations” and I want to make sure that I see students as the complex individuals that they are and not just as a collection of incentivized behaviors gamification could lead a designer to see. That said there is a colossal opportunity in player type based designing if one can see the constant emergence of Reset Buttons in a school. If you buy into the notion that students often fit certain Player Types then the teacher can improve each time the reset button is hit. Much like a video game the teacher can use the data from the last version of the class game to improve the design. Think about how many times teachers have to hit that reset button.
The biggest reset is obvious. Both the end of the school year and the beginning of the next is full of pomp and circumstance which leads to a whole new group of students. Students and teachers get a fresh start and opportunity to be whatever they want to be. The latest version of a class is a wonderful symbol for the growth mentality we want our students to develop. The new school year is just a major reset the school year is full of minor reset buttons. A change of semester, a new unit, every morning, and even every new class period offers a chance reflect, reset, and improve. Unlike my Madden button mashing though these resets are not based on a selfish desire to keep my external rewards. I am thankful for these reset buttons because it is an opportunity to improve my practice, make something better for my students, and ultimately create engaged and excited future citizens.
*My wife and I went through several miscarriages and began our family through adoption and we have since had two biological children. We are very open to sharing our infertility, open adoption, and current family stories. I hope it goes without saying that this is what I am most grateful for but I wanted to keep this post focused on my gratefulness in a professional setting. If anyone wants to talk or share their stories about adoption or infertility I am here.