Leveling Up to Gamification

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end”   Ursula K. Le Guin


A motivational background

When I first began my career as a teacher librarian, the school where I worked utilized a reading accountability tool called Accelerated Reader. After students finished reading a selected book, they took a recall based quiz and collected points meant to show how much they read. Awards were given to students who read “the most” during the school year.

I believe that authentic learning experiences, incorporating naturally occurring rewards and consequences, are not only respectful to students’ intelligence, but also foster their Habits of Mind development. Because enjoyment, understanding, empathy and fluency are natural effects of reading, the act of adding extrinsic and competitive aspects to the process, muddied students understanding of why reading, in and of itself, is rewarding. To this point, my most gratifying accomplishment that very first year, was convincing the school’s learning community to forego Accelerated Reader.

Game play for learning

I was introduced to the concept of game play for developing creative problem solving skills, through Chris Harris, who through an ALA grant, aligned popular board games to standards based curricular goals. While attending one of Chris’ workshops, I clearly remember the if/then, decision making proficiencies demonstrated as necessary, while participating in a simple iPad game we played together as a group. These were valuable skills, the value of which was highlighted, shamelessly, through my own inadequacy in achieving them!

Soon afterward, my colleague Matthew Winner, a proclaimed gamer himself, implemented Wii for to teaching Math skills in his K-5 library. Not only was I now aware of the possibilities of game play for developing higher order thinking skills, but I also saw that video games, for our students anyway, were a “somewhat” real, (albeit virtual), world learning experience, since students were already utilizing these platforms at home and on their own.  With this in mind, I added  XBox 360 and Minecraft  to our library’s programming, and worked with a colleague to incorporate Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic into her Critical Thinking class curriculum. I had no clue what I was doing, never playing or creating a video game myself, but that was OK, the kids took control of their own learning.

From game play to gamification

Inspired by Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, Matthew Winner, with another teacher-librarian colleague, Jennifer LaGarde, created the Level Up Book Club, which was meant as a platform for exploring and participating in game play and gamification for student and professional learning. Personally, I found myself uncomfortable with the competitive aspects of leveling up, and so, I became more curious about the motivational aspects of game play. I read, (most of), Jane McGonigal’s book, and although she argues, with valid reasoning and evidence, that gamers do not play to win and that gamifying is an intrinsically motivating process for effectively achieving a variety of goals, I wasn’t totally convinced. When the Level Up Book Club Community began discussing gamifying student reading, I was torn; memories of Accelerated Reader and my convictions about authentic learning, intrinsic motivation and even the use of grades in schools as creating an overly competitive and adverse learning environment, obstructed my ability to advocate for gamification as a motivational tool for learning.

Badging in the library

When Mozilla developed the concept of badging, as a way for students to account for their accomplishments outside of academic learning, I saw this as a great opportunity for non-traditional, out-of-the-box learners, to show what they know. I’ve always seen the library as a “third” space where students are encouraged to pursue their passions and interests and are inspired to find their element, however, the reality is that they are too often consumed with proving their worth- academics, sports and activities which “count” on college applications. Although I want for the learning to be enough, in and of itself, Badging could serve as a bridge between interest and accountability.

These thoughts however are more applicable in a High School, College or even public library setting; I did try using badges to account for makerspace learning in the middle school library, however I found that it was a time consuming and unnecessary process. Kids are motivated to Make, with or without badges!

Badging for PD

Laura Fleming created Worlds of Learning  as a means for both inspiring and documenting evidence based professional development practices.  What I love about Laura’s creation is that it supports choice and individual teacher needs and proficiencies, while inspiring participation in independent, time of need professional learning and implementation in the classroom. I’ve heard that teachers, in schools using badging for PD, proudly exhibit  their badges to share their accomplishments; and yes, it can become a bit competitive.

Gamification for mastery

I am keenly aware of my personal bias against extrinsic motivational practices, but realize too, that part of my sentiment may stem from my personal distaste for competitive activities; I most often don’t like to, nor want to, compete. However, I am also keenly aware, that I am not whom I teach; witness Kahoot being used in the classroom, and it’s hard to deny the possibilities for engagement generated through competition. That being said, gamification in education seems more about personal accountability for mastery, similar to my shared examples of badging, rather than a process meant for promoting competition and extrinsic rewards. I like that students become acutely responsible for their actions, choose a personal path for achieving goals and are able to move at a pace which meets their individual readiness needs. I do fear, however, that the journey, the being in the moment experience of learning, may be lost with too great an emphasis on achieving the goal.


Failing forward with flipping

Next week, a colleague and her students will be visiting the library to print Six Word Memoir spiral bracelets. They’ve yet to use the 3D printer, and so, I’d like to share some background about 3D printing before they create something. My idea was to create a “jog through the web” kind of scenario. I found the information I wanted to share, organized tabs in a way that made sense, and using Camtasia Studio, I screencasted my way through the web.

Dare I share with students

What resulted, I’m afraid, is a boring and way too long video about a topic which originally had the potential for being anything but boring! I may be better off using What is 3D Printing and How Does it Work, adding some additional thoughts, in addition to explaining the activity.


My first year as a school librarian, I distinctly remember sharing flipped instruction with a colleague who happens to be a math teacher. And I also remember her reply…”How will I know if my students watch the video?” In addition to access to technology issues, which existed in the district seven years ago, it was not going to happen.

It seems in education that conversations ebb and flow-I haven’t heard about flipped learning in a while and was surprised that the conversation is still a lively one. I’m also glad that the flipped model has moved to something which looks more like a blended learning approach. No matter, the concept fosters student agency and allows for quality instructional time.

My personal experience with flipped instruction is in creating “how to use a tool or resource videos”, which I actually do quite often, (and often on the fly). My plan is to “professionalize” these resources and embed them in my library website. Through video, each student can decide what works best, whether listening to the whole thing before starting, or stopping and starting through out a procedure; either way, they can re-listen whenever they want. In addition, I’ve  used tools such as edpuzzle to annotate content related videos, (created by others!), to emphasize particular thoughts or add thinking questions. Often I’ll use tools such as Versal, to upload annotated videos and add google forms for feedback where appropriate.

Creating engaging video content is far from easy! First thing I learned is the need to create a script, which I obviously failed to do. Not only would it keep me focused and save wasted rerecording time, but hopefully it would also keep me from over annunciating words! Agh!

I’m so glad to know that  Vlog Brother’s videos require a professional studio and professional studio people to create their videos. The good stuff isn’t easy!

Every Child, Every Day

Jane. School Library Journal Summit October 24 – 26, 2014. Flckr.

“People come to see Mooresville GSD to see laptops. They leave talking about culture”  Dr. Mark Edwards

I met Mark Edwards at a School Library Journal Summit in 2014; he was the morning keynote speaker and I was lucky enough to share a table with him for lunch.  Mark is the superintendent of Mooresville School district, whose “digital conversion” is cited by the DOE, the White house and a multitude of organizations and visitors, as a symbolic success. In August 2008, Mooresville distributed 2400  MacBooks to each of their high and middle school students; today each student in grades 3 -12, in addition to  all teachers are each allocated a MacBook Pro. Mark is an accomplished public speaker,butt his message comes from the heart; It’s not about the technology, it’s about supporting, encouraging, and honoring every child, every day.  

Details about Mooresville’s digital conversion can be found on their district’s site,  and I highly recommend Mark Edward’s inspirational  book, Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement, which clearly communicates the need for: formidable planning and preparation, building an “all in” culture, community buy in, ubiquitous leadership and intensive data collection. Marks’ valuable insights include:

  • “All in means that every adult and every student counts in a major way, and every adult and every student is counted on in a major way-and we want them to know it”
  • “You have to trust kids more than you’ve ever trusted them. Your teachers have to be willing to give up control.”
  • Partnering with community businesses to provide broadband to all in need households and local establishments.
  • Creating a celebratory environment for Deployment Day.
  • Continual professional development, including summer institutes.
  • “Students need to see a direct connection between what they do in school and their futures”
  • Continual support for students
  • Cost: (2014) $1.25 per child per day, including hardware, software and online resources

Scott S. Floyd. Purple Panel Trio: Me, Carolyn Foote, Dean Shareski. Flickr

My friend Carolyn Foote is the librarian at Westlake High School,  just outside Austin, TX, and has been integral in her district’s implementation of a successful 1 to 1 iPad program. I spoke to Carolyn last night via Google chat, (as not to bother her husband while watching yet another  primary debate!). Highlights Carolyn shared include:

  • Started with a 40 teacher pilot; 1 to 1 for 5 years in the HS, 3 years in the district.
  • Instructional Tech Coach at each campus and iPadpalooza Summer conference.
  • Process Blog
  • Just finished 6 month evaluation process, chose iPads again!
  • Funded through bonds.
  • Students keep ipads for a few years… they can pay insurance to keep them through the summer.
  • Managed through Casper Jam and Self Serve App, which students use to download apps.
  • A must includes commitment from administrators at each campus

This School Library Journal article  shares Carolyn’s iPad experience.


My son, Charlie, shares his 1 to 1 Macbook Air experience. Highlights include:

  • Family responsible for $90- insurance fee.
  • Learning curve for teachers and administrative processes.
  • “Changed the way we learn” Example “reversed” classroom…flipped!
  • Better than BYOD because there are no excuses!
  • Tech issues are minor to non-existent.
  • Classroom management: “would be no different if we didn’t have computers. Students would still be inattentive if we didn’t have computers, just in different ways.”
  • Sometimes take notes on paper/printout. “Physically writing stuff down can help you recount it better”
  • Computers vs Chromebooks? In HS need applications, such as excel, word and those we find to use personally.

No matter the device, key to successful implementation of a 1 to 1 initiative is continuous support for teachers and students, an all in flexible attitude and an agreed upon move towards student centered learning practices. Personally, I like Kathy Shrock’s advice in a recent Edweek Article, The complete guide to picking the right device for every grade level, where she recommends: full size iPad carts for grades PreK-1, iPad minis with keyboard carts for grades 2-4, 1 to 1 home to school Chromebooks plus full size iPad carts to share between classrooms for grades 5-8 and 1 to 1 home to school laptops plus full size iPad carts to share between classrooms for grades 9-12.

Our current reality, however, is that 1 to 1 access is only a dream for too many  public school students in the United States. I attended a workshop a few weeks ago with New York City School District teachers and administrators and was blown away by the difference in tech availably in schools in the very same city. How can we ever hope to solve current, desperate levels of inequality which permeate every aspect of our society, if we can’t figure out how to create a system of education which gives its students an equal opportunity for success.


Librarians, Curation and OER

Shadowgate. Carnavalet Museum. Aug, 2013. Flickr Creative Commons. https://flic.kr/p/oZHNgc

This morning I was assisting a teacher with using Newsela, an educational platform which “levels” news articles to meet the needs of students with differing reading abilities. The teacher seemed overly concerned about the content contained in Newsela articles, and shared that she had heard that a parent had complained about the “one sidedness” of the articles in a particular Newsela text set.  With a quick investigation, I found out that the parent’s complaint was about something else altogether, however, my interest in the need for sharing “balanced” content with students, and my curiosity about the best way to make that happen, was already piqued.

As a school librarian, I am responsible for providing and promoting access to information resources which meet the needs, and stimulate the curiosities, for members of my school community; curation is something I do on a continual basis. I curate physical collections by creating feeds for choosing and purchasing new and noteworthy books; adding extra value through displays, recommendations and promotions; and implementing shelving scenarios which make sense for our patrons. I curate virtual collections on our library’s website by creating pages which share and promote: subscription databases by subject area, information sources by topic area, web tools by purpose, book recommendations sites by age level and teacher resources by need. I curate for my profession, using tools such as Scoopit, Symbaloo Storify and Educlipper.  Because I serve the needs of many, with many needs, I keep up with all that is new a noteworthy, via blog feeds, Twitter, webinars, google groups and more. Because I know that the best resources are not easily found and not always remembered, I tag, bookmark and annotate resources for later use, using diigo and Evernote. This is what librarians do.

That being said, I still often “go to” master curators and curation platforms when trying to make sense of it all.  For example, before sharing a best tool for a particular purpose, I’ll double check Richard Byrne’s blog first, to see that I haven’t missed anything better. When curating resources for a particular topic, I’ll begin with libguides, to see what other librarians have already shared. As Ross Dawson presents, these curators create “high value” information, by filtering, validating, synthesizing, presenting and customizing information; (Jarche, 2012) they help us make sense and create meaning, which in this age of information overload, has become an incredibly difficult task.

Because I am “always interested” it’s especially difficult for me to chose one topic to research and present. However, in light of curation, in addition to wanting to practice curating for balanced content, I would like to further explore the movement towards OER (Open Education Resources). I am interested to see how schools, districts and individual educators are reacting to the DOE’s push for OER content, especially in making their own content free and open. I am always blown away by the contingent of educators who are not open to freely share; in order to fairly research this topic, I may need to do my best to empathize with “where they’re coming from”. In addition, I’m especially interested in the role of librarians for curating resources.

To find content related to this topic, I will begin with DOE sites, news type articles from a variety of venues, the #OER twitter hashtag, Edutopia, Edweek and the like. In addition to articles related to OER, however, are the platforms educators are using to share OER content. Search and evaluation of web resources is something I am continually trying to refine, more for my students than myself. I do not understand why we don’t spend more time in schools on this vital learning skill. For example, the 7th grade LA teachers at the school where I’m currently working allowed me to work with their students for four class periods. These students had zero background knowledge; they did not know how the internet works, never even considered how to create a search query and thought the site at the top of a google hit list was always the best and most credible source. How could we think that they they could learn all that’s necessary about search and evaluation in four class periods, when it takes that long to unlearn what they already think and do!

With regard to curation tools, I will start with Participate Learning because it works well for curating a variety of information platforms and from what I’m seeing, is quickly becoming a popular tool for educators. That being said, the curated content does not have the “shiny” appeal found in other platforms such as Pinterest or Flipboard; there are tradeoffs.  For me, choosing a curation tool depends on the platform of information I’m curating, in addition to audience and collaboration possibilities. For example, Scoopit works well for curating articles and posts, it allows for comments, is extremely easy to use, offers like content functionality and following features;  I personally have created “Scoops” for  Library Spaces, Teacher Librarians and  Maker Culture, Education and Spaces.  Symbaloo works well for younger students and like content, in addition to browser dashboards; I’ve created this Symbaloo for Making Sites.  Storify is my go to resource for curating tweets; I tend to use this tool for curating my own conference tweets and twitter chats. Edshelf works well for curating web tools and applications.  I personally find Flipboard more about finding content than curating it. For example, I remember hearing  Eric Sheninger saying that he finds most of the content he tweets via Flipboard. Interestingly, he wasn’t exactly sure how it worked; Eli Pariser may shed some light for us on that issue. Similarly, I used to use Paperli to aggregate Tweets, but  could not find information on how they choose what to emphasize; I no longer use this tool.

With regards to my interest in providing balanced information, there are databases which already do a good job of this; for example, Gale’s In Context suite.  However, I am still on the lookout for a process for making this happen on my own. My first thought is to begin by identifying stakeholders surrounding a topic or issue, and reading information from each of their viewpoints. This is something that I like students to do for gleaning all sides of an issue, however, it’s not exactly doable for all topics a librarian needs to curate.  If you have any thoughts or ideas to share, about a process for finding balanced resources, the OER movement, information curation and the need for teaching information literacy skills and dispositions…I’m, as always, interested!

Jarche, 2012. “PKM as pre-curation”. Harold Jarche: adapting to perpetual beta. http://jarche.com/2012/07/pkm-as-pre-curation/


Teaching Civil Discourse…?

At yesterday’s after school staff “Monday Meeting” we heard about an incident at the town’s QuickCheck market involving a student from our school. The incident itself was somewhat minor, however it quickly became a community wide issue due to the accusatory and heated social media discussion posted mostly by adults, and mostly parents, living in town. I went home that evening and shared Common Sense Media’s Family Resources with our principal, thinking that if the school spoke with families about their student’s interactions on social media, some of it might rub off on themselves. Tonight, while working through my own social media feeds, I happened upon a list-serve post entitled, “Helping Young People Embrace Civility in a Society Gone Nasty!” The post shared a Washington Post article about a group of Iowa High School students who were using Donald Trump’s image and chanting his name at a basketball game, as a means of taunting minority players on the opposing school’s team, as a means for highlighting a new program to help young people foster positive relations in school and Embrace Civility in the Digital Age.

“I am continually blown away by students’ disrespect and lack of care; it gets worse every year”  –anonymous educator

In the district where I’m presently working, class periods are shortened one day each week to allow for an additional period at the end of the day called “Character Ed”.  Two teachers with one group of students, from one grade level, meet for the purpose of strengthening students’ characters. A loose range of activities are provided, covering topics such as: respect, citizenship, trustworthiness, responsibility, caring and philanthropy. Considering the sentiment in the above quote, you would think this program would be well received by staff. However, I soon realized that teachers “despise”, (their word not mine), Character Ed, so much so, that when a teacher calls in sick on a Thursday, there’s a 70% chance that the “sickness” has been Character Ed induced!

“…and I blame the parents” -anonymous educator

Whether teacher ambivalence to ours school’s Character Ed program is do to the subject matter, the lack of a defined curriculum, or the fact that by 10th period, the kids and teachers have both “had it” for the day, there is definitely a lack of accordance, in the education community as a whole, about the need for the implementation of character education type programs in schools. According to Maurice Elias, the Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab, resistance comes from: parents, who believe character education is best taught at home; teachers, who agree with parents, (as observed in the above quote); teachers, who don’t feel qualified to teach these understandings; and districts, who are pressured to forego learning that is not directly related to tested subject areas. (Elias,2013).

That being said, there is evidence for both supporting the need for social and emotional intelligence for academic achievement in school in addition to the effectiveness of programs which foster these understandings. One such program is the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, with results including students choosing nonviolent solutions for disputes, exhibiting less aggressive behavior and achieving higher test scores; according to a Columbia University National Center for Children in Poverty two year study of 5000 students and 300 teachers (NCCP. 2003).

Last semester, in a Digital Media class, graduate students held a lengthy discussion about teaching cyber ethics and digital netiquette practices in school. Most students saw it as necessary; a few thought that it was best taught at home. In my humble opinion, the discussion remains the same with regards to in school learning of conflict resolution, citizenship, responsibility and the like -whether in face-to-face or virtual environments. I also believe that these understandings are best learned “naturally” as integral to the learning process no matter the discipline. However, without a formal time set aside for this learning, how will we ensure that it is happening? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Aber et all, (2003). Changing children’s trajectories of development. National Center for Children in Poverty. http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_554.pdf

Curtis, Diane. (2003) Fostering emotional intelligence lets learning happen. Edutopia. http://www.edutopia.org/ounce-of-prevention

 Elias, (2013, Jan). Overcoming resistance to social and emotional character development in your school. Edutopia. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/overcoming-secd-school-resistance-maurice-elias.



Scaffolding to Support Authentic Inquiry


Yes, Information Literacy is my responsibility..I’m a teacher-librarian. I desperately want for our students to be ethical, effective and creative users and producers of information. Contrary to what your image of a librarian may be, however, I’m not a big rule follower; and accordingly, I have no interest in being a school’s rule imposer. Nevertheless,  I’m often caught in the position of feeling that way.

For example, in my current temporary position, a class comes into the library to work on a health project. The teacher wants them to come up with an advertising like slogan about diabetes and “collect” facts and pictures to go along with their slogan on a billboard, actually a poster on construction paper. He gives them two websites to use for information, tells them that they need to use those websites, and as long as they use those websites, they don’t have to cite them on their posters. If they want to use another site, they must see him or me. He also tells them to use Photos for Class for images.

Because I am all too aware of the realities of education, I proceed, Kristen Fonchiaro style, in my act of  “nudging” towards Inquiry. The teacher likes the physical poster aspect, so I leave that alone. After sharing  a statistical report from the CDC, which he added to the resource list,  I offered the suggestion to have students choose an audience which their billboard is aiming to reach,  which he liked. With regards to image selection, I shared that  Photos for Class is great for lifestyle pictures, but I gave him a couple places to try if students needed medically accurate images.  I asked if they discussed persuasive techniques to assist in their slogan creation and he thought that students were fine. I ask if he would like for students to ask questions to support their inquiry, and he didn’t think there was enough time.

I made these suggestions for the following year. Start by having students brainstorm what they think they know about diabetes, share the statistical report from the CDC, (or a couple infographics from the PDF). with the class, and discuss what they find surprising. Have students choose one surprising fact and brainstorm questions, Question Formulation Technique style, related to the fact. In addition I shared virtual ways they might create their “billboards” and suggested having them add QR codes for additional information. I also shared that he could use their constructed questions, and how accurately their created slogans and supporting information reached their chosen audience, as another form of assessment.

However, here’s the issue I’m truly trying to get at for this post. This teacher is saying to students that they “must” use the websites he gave them, because for an earlier project,  I said that if they didn’t use the given resources, they’d need to (find and) evaluate the resources they found, which they have not yet learned to do. He’s telling them that they “must” use Photos for Class, because for the same earlier project, I told him that they needed  to consider their rights to the images they were using, in addition to attribution, (especially) since for that project, they were publishing their creations. (I’m not sure why he told them that they didn’t need to cite their information sources?)

Because these students, and the teacher for that matter, have not had the opportunity to develop information literacy competencies, they don’t understand why they are being told to do what they are being told to do.  I have quickly become the maker of rules and the limiter of options…definitely not a role I want to take on!

So, how do we solve this problem? For students, I believe that we have to start young, scaffold and model.  Kindergartners understand that putting someone else’s name at the bottom of something they created is disrespectful; and handing out Oreos and saying, “I baked these last night” is unethical. First graders can add the information providers name  to their information writing. Second graders can learn to use advanced search options, boolean operators or quotes, within a given database. Third graders, can say “according to”, when sharing fun facts on their morning announcements show.  Fourth graders can  consider, “according to whom?” when presented with an infographic to interpret. Fifth graders can choose a presentation medium according to their determined purpose and audience.

With respect to teachers, it’s more difficult, because most were not introduced to information skills until they were in high school or college, and see them as higher level academic only competencies. In addition, most were not given the opportunity to consider why they were doing what they were doing and plus, too much has changed too quickly for them to keep up. I think the best opportunity we have, is to provide our teachers with age appropriate scaffolds to use with their students and to foster their use across all content areas.  If teachers continue to simply skip what they don’t understand, we are doing our students a disservice. Information literacy is a real world competency;  ethical responsibilities and effective practices do not change because they aren’t required in a teacher generated rubric.

Limiting resources is not the answer, because it does not support authentic inquiry.  There is no way to anticipate the questions students come up with..and there shouldn’t be. With respect to my suggestions for the diabetes project shared earlier, student questions might pertain to ethnically based lifestyle choices, Native American living standards or healthcare for the elderly. The information they are curious about, can’t be found in the limited resources originally shared. Yes, teacher-librarians are there for guidance, however, if the ultimate goal is independence, we have to allow students the means for developing information skills, dispositions and responsibilities, one age appropriate step at a time.


CDC. Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Fontchiaro, K. “Nudging Toward Inquiry” School Library Monthly. Sept. 2009, Vol XXVI, No. 1. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.