Musings from the Plains
Gamification: "the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically education to encourage engagement with learning."
Homework from observation and experience goes one of two ways for students. There are students who do it really well. These are the type of students who don't need the additional work anyway and there are those students who can't do it, often they don't have someone to help them, so they end up skipping or copying. Why give homework, you may ask. I think that comes down to the fact that, ‘This is the way we’ve always done things’. We are comfortable with the idea of homework because it is familiar to us. This post isn't about debating the pros and cons of homework but about sharing a small success that we had and introducing the concept of gamification of homework.
In October, we at The British School, New Delhi embarked on a trial with Year 5 and Year 6 students using Mangahigh. This is a website which uses gamification to inspire students to tackle Mathematics at both Primary and Secondary level. I have used this in the past with significant success in the UK and it has been developed by some very eminent Mathematicians. We felt that instead of the usual worksheet based approach, we should tap into student interest in games and try to see if those principles can further drive connection and engagement with learning.
We decided to aim for a Diwali Maths challenge run by the website to give this an extra impetus with students. Students were trained and needless to say they picked it up pretty quickly and we set them weekly homework before asking them to go for the challenge over the Diwali break.
Students work towards goals set for them. They earn bronze, silver, or gold badges. While the students are working to obtain the badges, what’s really driving them is their competitive nature. They are trying to beat their friends, and me. I also signed up as a student and take some of the challenges. The students really do LOVE coming to me and bragging how they’ve beaten me or how they have achieved "x many gold badges". Several have commented, “It’s way more fun”
Another feature of this software is that it is adaptable and increases the difficulty of the questions based on student answers. Also there are tutorials which show students how to solve questions and understand the concept. This helps develop their confidence in working independently. Also through the use of competitive games they support or challenge each other. Competition is further driven through the use of league tables for the class, the year group and the school.
Studying the data generated by the site, on average students solved 350 maths problems over the three week trial and over the Diwali challenge period they solved an average of 500 problems per student each week. This data is for the entire cohort of Year 5. Now compare this to the weekly homework set on paper which students rushed at times. We also got in depth data which could be used to plan our support in lessons and understand where the student is really struggling.
The net result was that in the Diwali Challenge our students won 11 gold medals in a national competition. The type of students who won these were students who were traditionally disaffected by Mathematics and had homework completion issues. What a turnaround!
Now what was even more amazing was that even though the trial was over and while we were analysing the results, students continued on Mangahigh without any input from us. They took us to 8th place in the December Maths challenge. Remember these are just students in Year 5 and 6.
We are now looking at rolling this across the Primary section as an extended trial.
Exciting times indeed!
Below are comments made by our parents on a trial run with a group of students.
“I let him do this independently (as there is instant feedback to students about whether they are right and wrong so didn't feel that I needed to be watching him) however he says that he enjoyed it and it was fun.”
“He enjoyed doing the Manga high programme. In terms of presentation the website is easy to navigate for the kids and the different challenges are displayed in a clean and neat format.
Content and level of challenge:
He attempted the recommended challenges relevant for his key stage and found most of them easy. As the level progresses some trick questions come up which required he to first comprehend the questions and then go on to solving the same.
He also attempted the games given on the website. Most of the games involved doing mental math and the skill has to be applied quickly.
He enjoyed the challenges meant for higher key stages as well.He played the algebra game the most and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Overall it was a good experience for him."
"He has enjoyed Manga High programme. He likes to do it in his free time, the interface is friendly and easy to use. He independently logs into the system and finds it easy to use.
Through this program he has improved and tested his mental ability to solve math problems across several fundamentals. He has learned the ability to work on the selection of his answers through multiple choice to find the right answer. He found it challenging at same time as the questions got difficult as he progressed in the program.
He enjoyed competing with other school kids in this programme. Thanks for introduction of this program. On continuation of this program on frequent basis the mental test ability of Cameron will certainly get better."
(images sourced from Mangahigh.com and are their copyright)
Should teachers write a lesson plan for every lesson?
I had a buzzing session discussing lesson planning with some colleagues of mine which led me to think about the whole process of planning and how much I take it for granted at times.
I have some very strong schemes of work / medium term plans which are based on a lesson by lesson format with differentiation/homework and so on but when it comes to day to day lesson planning it is more organic
Below is planning process that I (and others) generally follow
We discussed the need of a formal way of writing lessons and a lot of colleagues were under the impression that this takes time away from other more important bits like thinking and marking. But equally can we rely on our memory all the time, writing something down often grounds our thinking. We can think about the questioning needed, grouping, AfL, structure. I am sure we can do that all in our minds as well but if you have 5 out of 6 lessons a day. Would you remember everything as you have thought the night or the weekend before? Most of us often do planning in our down time as far as I gathered.
Now I guess experience plays a part too, I have been teaching for 13 years now and there are certain modules and lessons I can do on the fly without even thinking too much kinda like driving to work and you know the route so well that your brain goes into autopilot. You get to work without remembering much of the journey. That to me is of serious concern as the journey of learning is perhaps sometimes more important than the end result.
Now there are tools like the 5 minute lesson plan, used by thousands, who swear by it but I find that it still takes more than 5 minutes to do one. Again that pesky thinking time there which leads me to think that I personally spend more time thinking about my lessons but have an aversion to writing it down which probably will take 5 minutes after I have thought it through.Wonder why that is?
Below are extracts I wrote for the minutes of the above meeting which shows how a group of teachers have decided to tackle this.
Writing up - why we don't do it?
Takes time away from creating resources/assessment of existing work. Normally used to explain to other people what you are doing rather than yourself. It is personal and since each teacher is unique, they have their own thinking process to follow and own method of planning. Much more effective to plan examples of work targeted to individual students like drawings or a particular skill or research new pedagogy/content.
When do we write them up?
We do formal lesson plans when dealing with new topics where we have to plan each aspect to help us deliver new learning. For formal observations though even OFSTED don't require them anymore. To show new teachers the method of planning was another time when we used written plans.
If time was not a bottleneck, what would a perfect lesson plan look like?
Do we do all of the above?
Not regularly but experience fills in the gap for most of us.
Should we be doing all of the above?
Definitely, we need to have a display about criterion like above in every classroom next to the board to prompt us to think about them rather than having a form which needs to be filled for every lesson.
Action: We will create a checklist to monitor our day to day planning for next half term to see if our current planning methods tackle the above. Share it to decide how to tackle areas that we don’t cover.
This blog is related to the use of technology for pedagogic instruction or in plain simple terms using computers to help students learn better. I plan to use this to share resources and little tit-bits of knowledge that I have gleamed from my own experiences and from others.