Hello! Thank you for coming to my session!

I tend to be cynical and negative in professional development settings. So as I was making this presentation I wanted to have a clear and positive message

Blended Learning is Hard because Traditional Data Collection Sucks

Wait… That doesn’t work… Let’s Tweak that…

Traditional Data Collection Sucks, but Game Inspired Design can make it fun and engaging.

That’s a little better.

Since you are at FETC I am going to be working on the assumption that you all know a little about Blended Learning. I was introduced to the technique about 5 years ago at about the same time I was starting to think about Gamification. My district was really pushing the Station Rotation Model but I was more interested in the general concept than in the specific model because I was seeing a Connection between my game theories and the Blended Learning theories. I also saw that there was no one “correct” way to do Blended Learning. (show the many different forms slide) Here is my working definition:

Combining physical and digital learning spaces in order to personalize the student’s learning experience.

This is a fantastic idea! Tailor the student’s educational experience to best fit their needs. But there is the catch. If our goal is to personalize the instruction we teachers need to know what the students need to know. And that’s hard… because data collecting is hard… And it is hard because traditional collection methods don’t think about the student or the teacher.

Let me tell you a story about my favorite two of my students. Ok, they are also my two sons. Wesley is 8 and Ben is 6. Benny is really excited that I am here today because yesterday he got to spend his Birthday at the Magic Kingdom. Last year, in 2nd grade, Wesley started getting real homework for the first time and it was a difficult transition. Wes is bright and artistic and more than capable of doing the 15 minutes of math homework he was assigned twice a week. But almost every night there would be tears and tantrums – sometimes Wesley would cry too! But this is the same kid who would willingly spend hours trying and failing at a puzzle game like SnailBob. That traditional check on his math skills didn’t factor in his desire to go outside and throw the football, watch cartoons, or get on the XBox.

So Last year during Winter Break I decided to take a chance with Wes while my wife was out “helping Santa”. I had been toying around with updating some Battle mechanics to my classroom and wanted to try them out before using them in class. My Juniors had already been reviewing by attacking bad guys. My twist on traditional traditional review games was to add dice rolls. Instead of one question equaling one point off the bad guys score the students’ attack would be equal to the dice roll. It was fun but the novelty was wearing off so I was trying to create an actual battle where the bad guy could fight back. I eventually developed something I call DREADSHEETS which uses Google Sheets but I needed a Guinea Pig and Wesley was there. This could have gone badly in so many ways. His brother was watching Paw Patrol so I asked Wes if he would help me out and get some 1 on 1 dad time.  He agreed and we grabbed some old homework sheets. Remember these are the same sheets that led to frustration and anger but this time we played a game. . He would work the question and if he answered correctly he rolled the dice to attack. The monsters had different special abilities. One of his favorites was the Boulder Bug which was protected by a shell that could only be broken by a “Doubles” roll. When Ben’s tv show was over he saw what we were doing and he asked to join in! We played another half hour with Ben doing Pre-K type questions about the alphabet and Wes doing Math! A Full hour of Math homework with no tears and no yelling! even when he got a question wrong! From my teacher’s perspective I also know which types of questions each boy was struggling with AND could correct them immediately.

Wes was so excited about this game he even used his art skills to help me make a new monster!

If I were in the audience this is the point where I would roll my eyes and say sure – this works for two kids and its because you’re their dad. Fair point. So let’s try it out.

When you came in there was hopefully a die and a QR code card on your seat. If not you can help your neighbor, watch, or go on a side quest by scanning one of the QR codes on the wall. I would encourage you to use headphones please.

The QR code is actually a PLICKERS card. I will project a question and you will show my your answer with that Plicker Code. Put the letter of the answer on the top of the square when you show me the card. I will scan the room with my phone and if you get the question correct you can roll the die and attack the monster by submitting the Google Form. The address for that is on the back of your Plicker card. If you are wrong select miss from the drop down menu and submit. For question number 2 submit the form again.

Question #1

<Show the Data answer bar graph and the Correct answer

Question #2

Question #3

<back to the Presentation – show what the data collection looks like on the phone. Show what the data collect looks like on Plickers website >

Thank you for playing with me.

This is the type of activity that I would use instead of a traditional quiz. I get the same information in roughly the same amount of time. Students have more incentive to answer correctly but they are not punished if they get the question wrong. Most importantly it can be more fun and instead of dreading a quiz they can look forward to the game – even if it is just to see the new monster or to play with the dice. As a teacher I like the instead data and the ability to rapidly address any misconceptions.

We all know that this is only 1 type of data. More important to me are informal check ins where I can talk to students to monitor their progress and develop deeper relationships. Traditional Teacher led instruction doesn’t really allow for these types of assessments on a regular basis. The district suggested Station Rotation model of Blended Learning doesn’t really allow that either. I have spent the better part of 3 years working on a model I like to think of as an Open-World Game Inspired model.

Games have mastered the collection and use of User’s data.

Almost as well as Facebook.

When I was growing up my favorite game was Super Mario Bros. It is a side scrolling platformer masterpiece. The player starts at point A and moves towards point B and the game is constantly assessing the player’s skills. For example, in the opening moments of the game the player’s ability to jump on the mushroom guy is tested. If they are successful the player moves onto the jump over the hole assessment. What I really love about the game is the rapid feedback loop with low risk-taking penalties. If the player tries something and fails Mario shrugs his shoulders and the player tries again. Overall though, I would equate this with a traditional classroom. Their may be some choices in the level but in the end all the players end up in the same place. This is not the gamified model I would choose for a Blended Classroom.

A better model is the Grand Theft Auto series…

Wait… Not school appropriate… Let’s go with the Zelda.

These are sometimes referred to as “Open World Games”. They are big expansive worlds that allows the player to explore, go on quests, and they are dripping with theme and narrative. It is not complete freedom though. The games have to provide guard rails that teach the player necessary skills and keep them on an overall trajectory. Most importantly though the Player is the Center of a gaming universe that is full of meaningful choices, critical and creative thinking, and growth. Using Open World Games as my inspiration.

Here are the guiding principles of my Open-World Game Blended Model.

  1. Growth Mentality through XP Grading (a variation on Mastery learning)
  2. Meaningful Choices though Questing – a main quest and side quests
    1. Creative and Critical Thinking Flexible Assessments
    2. Rolling Submissions
    3. Increased Conferencing
  3. Rapid Feedback Loops through Battles and Increased Conferencing
  4. Theme
  5. Many Paths to Victory – Players play differently with power ups and items

All of these concepts blend together and I write about them extensively on my blog – Classroompowerups.com. There is a lot to this and probably too much for the time we have left so please check out the site if you want more.

Because students are doing different things at different times AND because they work until they show a level of mastery AND because I am no longer up front lecturing I spend most of my day conferencing. I am not a Sage on the Stage but I have an expertise that Guide on the Side overlooks.

Can we start calling this the “Wizard of Walking”?

The real magic of this Open World System though is how each of the pieces interact to make this walking and conferencing possible. The first step was to change the way my grading system worked from a traditional weighted category system to an XP or experience points based grading system.

In the XP system is similar to the way that a character in an RPG would show progress and growth. A character like Cloud in Final Fantasy VII starts the game as a fairly average person in that universe and by learning new skills and accomplishing quests the player earns experience points and “levels up”. In most XP based games experience can’t be taken away so the player’s XP score never goes down and that number stands in as a rough approximation of the player’s power and progress within the game. Similarly in an XP based grading system students start the semester with zero XP which means they have a zero overall grade. As they the demonstrate mastery of content or skills they will earn XP. Since I can’t take that experience away this also means that the XP count is a pretty good indicator of the students progress or, as we would typically think of it, their grade.

This is different from a typically points based system which would just divide the total points by the points offered so far to get a percentage. In an XP system the teacher sets predetermined benchmark levels. For example, after Unit 1 students should have 2,000 XP. I set my semester XP at 10,000XP which means an A would be 9,000XP or above, a B would be 8,000XP to 8,999XP. Each unit has more XP available than just the minimum needed to earn 10,000XP and the activities that earn XP are varied which allows students to demonstrate their abilities in ways that meet their own talents. Since we are using an Open – World Blended Model we would call these activities Quests or  Missions.

Most Open-World Games have a main narrative which is driven by the player following a main quest. In Skyrim after the player creates his or her avatar the game directs the player to go on the “Before the Storm” quest. Essentially the player has to cross the map and talk to some local royalty who then sends the player on the next quest. There are some challenges along the way of course which allow the player to demonstrate game related skills and people to talk to that enhances the lore and narrative of the game. It is possible to beat the game by just playing the main quest but they player can go beyond the minimum by going on side quests. While traveling to meet the local king the player can go get side tracked and learn how to forge new weapons, enter a bandit’s cave and defeat some ancient boogeyman, or even go of in search of Giants and their wooly mammoth herds.

Similarly, In my open world class I have a couple of main quests for every unit that try to examine some of the core skills I would expect wrapped into the content of a particular unit. These often involve some research or writing ability. The students can also go off on smaller side quests that assess different skills or content that wasn’t built into the main quest. At a minimum I would expect one main quest item to be completed but all XP is equal so students can choose whatever quest path they would like to go on. The whole idea of quests and XP grading is to provide the student’s with meaningful choices that allow they to tailor their assessment experience to meet their own interests. The best part of this blended style is that the students are all working within their own interests and at their own paces. They can work in small collaborative groups which I would call guilds or raiding parties too. Because the students are all working throughout the class and are typically working on different quests at different paces they are organically staggering when their work can be checked.

Since I am the Wizard of Walking I spend most of my day walking around and informally assessing student work. This is that I rarely collect papers anymore. Instead we have a conversation about their work and I give feedback on the spot. Since we are conferencing 2 or 3 times per class I can look at part of the whole work in a minute or two rather a taking an entire weekend to look at a massive amount of whole papers or projects. In jargony terms this is called a Rapid Feedback Loop and it is nearly instant making it more meaningful than if I were to write comments on a paper and return it after a 2 weeks delay. This also means the students can rapidly make changes and improve their work. If the work shows mastery then the student has “finished their quest”, they earn the XP and can move onto another quest or different element of the class game. There is always something to do in the Open World Class.

I final piece of this Blended Model is a theme or narrative which ties into the Many Paths to Victory concept. We have all had the student ask Why… Why do I have to learn this? Hopefully we have a better answer to that question than it is on the test or because I said so. Be creating a thematic layer the student has a built in answer to that question. Why does Link have to learn how to play an Ocarina or shoot a Bow and Arrow? Because it will help him find and save Zelda. In my 11th grade US History classroom the students have classroom superpowers which doesn’t seem to explain my class why until you see that the powers are only activated by analyzing certain key primary source documents. Most of the quests are an effort to go and find rare and valuable sources before our big bad guy can get to them. We battle historic characters to disenchant them and then they become the student’s allies. My theme and narrative are tied into my classroom why. And because students are questing to find different sources with different powers they are also able to find their own path to victory in my classroom.

Again, if I were in the audience I would be skeptical. I would be asking…

Wait, I wonder if the students get this?

Wait, this seems like a ton of work for me.

There is no way my principal or parents or teammates would go for this.

The kids would think I’m goofy.

My students wouldn’t handle the freedom.


These are all valid concerns. I would encourage you to try one new thing. All my pieces overlap but I have been working on this for 5 years and there is no one correct way to gamify. Think about the games that you love to play and be inspired. Data collection can be more engaging and teaching and learning can be fun. I would love to talk more and answer questions. If I don’t see you today please find my @MrPowley on Twitter or on my website classroompowerups.com. Thank you so much.