Anyone else feel like this is a “hold my beer” year?

We are living through a once in a century Pandemic and Economic disaster and terrifying Stress Test of our Democratic institutions. We’re lucky if the kids show up much less have the mental capacity to focus on their school work while also dealing with all of the trauma they are facing. We have a lack of in person time and the distance learning as mandated by administration is limited. Traditional administrative expectations are wonky. My test scores on district mandated tests are in line with what previous years but I just found out that virtual students will count towards my EOC passing rate this year even though I have literally never even met them. I feel like this year I’m playing with House Money. If the kids do well on a state End of Course Exam that is, again, being administered during a Global frickin Pandemic then I look great. If the kids do poorly on the high stakes test we kind of expect it.

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So, this year feels like a “hold my beer” year. Lets do some crazy stuff and see what happens. This might lead to some spectacular failures but it could also lead to something that is so spectacularly awesome it changes the whole frickin game. I guess the trick will be making sure the failure is one that moves forward and not one that is a fireable offense which, frankly, is what the meme would suggest but “hold my beer but lets not get fired” isn’t click-bait.

If you clicked for the headline stay for the testing idea!

I’ve written before about the disconnect between review and testing outcomes but since coming back from winter break this seems even more exaggerated. So, in the spirit of “hold my beer” my mission this unit is to turn the common assessment into a game. I’ve pondered this as a half baked idea before but it’s time to follow through with this. Some of my students seem to be barely hanging on during testing days and their scores show it. In another setting and another year they would be doing alright but their scores are terrible and I don’t think that reflects their actual ability. The rest of this post will be an effort to work out a system that is fair and manageable for a game based assessment.

Opening Guidelines

  1. It’s about the data. Students need to be assessed on what they know individually, where they are in need of improvement individually, and receive the data individually.
  2. Answers need to be entered into the District Mandated testing system. These are mandated tests that have to be entered into the mandated recording programs. This will also spit out a report that I can later give to the students.
  3. It should be “fun”. Well there is a subjective term. In my mind I am thinking social fun based around the test questions. Something like the Boss fights of the past with student’s rolling dice, saving each other when the Boss attacks, collaborative victory.

First Thoughts

Plickers is a good system to assess each student individually during a whole group game. The Plickers website will also be able to generate a student specific report that I can print and return to the student. I see two possible pathways. The first is to use the common assessment as a review game and then return the report to students so they can review the questions they missed in preparation for the official common assessment. Students would not have access to the report during the exam. The second option is to use the game AS the common assessment. In this path students would answer the questions during the game, the report would be provided to them and then students would enter their answers into the district testing program. This would allow students to enter the correct answers and have a rapid second chance at those they missed. If they still miss a question they can use the credit recovery form to earn back the missing points.

Plickers will also allow a game that is collaborative while allowing individual assessments. This will foster some of the social fun that is missing from a traditional assessment. It is also quicker to start than a digital game.

This first experiment will be based on previous boss fights.

Boss Hit Points – The “Boss” will have a certain number of Hit Points (HP) which will be within reason but should take the entire test to defeat. If the Boss is not defeated then they will “escape” and can be “defeated” in the next unit. If the boss is defeated too soon I should have a “reinforcement” that swoops in to set up the next big fight. Part of the motivation is in the collaborative fight and a too speedy victory might impact the assessment.

Student Attacks – Students will attack using dice rolls. The rolls will be counted in real time through some type of yet to be determined Google Sheets/Form set up. Option 1 is to have a premade Google Sheets which feeds into a Boss Spreadsheet that is projected onto the board. Advantages to this would be that students can quickly hit the boss. The downside is that it will take time to get every student on the correct Google Sheet Tab. It is possible to load a Google Sheet as a Google Classroom assignment and give each student some editing rights. Another option would be to use the Mr. Sederquist Form Fight model. The downside there is that I would like the hits in real time and I’m not sure if that can happen with a Google Form without multiple submissions. I need to look at his latest updates. I suppose there are other options I have not thought of yet. I’ll keep you all posted.

Student Defense – The reason Boss fights work is due to the threat of a defeat. So, if a student misses a question there should be a consequence. The issue here is that I need students to continue to take the test even if they are “out”. Also, FERPA and not sharing student scores so it needs to be relatively low key. Since we are going with a “collaborative victory” maybe there can be a collaborative consequence. For example, if a majority of the students miss a question then the boss gets to attack. If the boss were to randomly attack then it removes the FERPA issue. So what happens if a student is knocked out of the game?

Student Knockouts – If the boss KO’s a student they are still in the game. They will continue to answer questions. The KOed student will need to do something to reenter the game. Again, collaborative consequences can play a roll. Perhaps if a majority of students answer a question correctly the student can perform a task (roll a 1, throw a ball in the trashcan, etc) that will allow the student to regain some health points or hearts. The intention is that the student stays motivated to answer correctly.

Special Powers – What kind of game would not have special powers?! I love the Pandemic’s (the game not COVID) mechanic of giving special roles to each player. Each role has some unique impact on the game and are often best when combined with other roles. I can envision some roles off the top of my head. Deal 2X damage once a game, block a boss attack, revive an ally, absorb a boss attack for another player, allow another player to reroll once per game. I’m sure I’ll think of more. The question then is whether to allow players to pick their own role or randomly select. I’ll need to think about that one.

Keep it Sorta Simple though – I do want students to forget this is an assessment and have some fun. However, too much complexity can be 1) demotivating if they are confused by the rules and want to give up and 2) distracting from the overall goal of assessing their understanding.