Changing Tracks with Classroom Game Design

Another amazing day of learning conversations wraps up at the Discovery Education Network Summer Institute in Bozeman. As the chatter of the attendees begins to shift away from digital tools, pedagogy and learning to other more social topics, I am reflecting on this morning’s keynote by Montana educator Paul Andersen.

Paul is perhaps best known as the web-based star of a TEDxBozeman presentation that caught attention around the world for his unique ideas around gamifying the learning experiences of his students. I wanted to share a few takeaways from this morning’s talk, which focused more on his ideas around shifting the story of school in his classroom.

Takeaway # 1 – Change means something different for everyone. Paul receives many visits to his class and inquiries from teachers who want to replicate his success. They ask him to show them how to do it. Unfortunately, he is reluctant to suggest that he has the answers for them as he passionately believes that each teacher – like each learner – has an individual solution that is unique to them. Teaching is far more an art than a science, with teacher artists all using a different medium and palate to paint the learning in their classrooms.

Takeaway # 2 – Classrooms are all that can be fair. Students have many barriers outside the walls of the classroom, from lack of connectivity and resources to family and job demands. We can’t begin to know all their stories. The only time and space we can shape is our classroom environment. Don’t place excessive demands on students to watch videos or do other academic work outside of school. Fairness can only exist when demands on students are limited to their time in school.

Takeaway # 3 – Give your students the keys. Learning is a journey. Traditional classrooms are like a bus driven by the teacher. Every student rides the same route at the same pace and arrives at the same time. Paul suggests a better model, one where each student has their own car, take different routes and arrive at different times. But expect this model to be more risky. Kids will crash or get lost. We have to be prepared for that, but we must be prepared to fail for real learning.

Takeaway # 4 – Students are not Vulcans. Spock used to teach classes of Vulcan children simply by emptying facts into seemingly unresponsive children. But humans are social by nature and need social elements and connections for learning.

Takeaway # 5 – Delay the gratification. As demonstrated in the Marshmallow Experiment, humans struggle with delaying gratification. Teachers needed to be less a guide on the side and more of a meddler in the middle, being involved in the game by providing checkpoints along the way, challenging students to delay the gratification. He noted that those students who were able to exhibit patience in their learning measured best on assessments.

Takeaway # 6 – Dipping doesn’t work. Teachers often try and ease their way in to change, only to retreat at the first sign of a challenge. To be successful, teachers have to jump in to the water and start swimming. Only by abruptly switching tracks will teachers go to new places. But, he warns, after you switch tracks, you may not move for a while. Traction takes time.

In case you haven’t seen Paul’s TEDx chat, take a few minutes and watch below. Enjoy!

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2 thoughts on “Changing Tracks with Classroom Game Design

  1. Great post! Summer certainly is a great time to recharge and re-invent the classroom for next year! Thanks for passing along Paul’s TEDx chat. The Classroom Game Design has given me one more layer of thought in building my classes next year!

  2. I would have loved to have heard this keynote as the topic and content is an area I am interested in. Do you hope to implement some of this into your classroom? If so I would love to know how you may do it, what you actually did and the learning along the way..

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