Don’t panic: Ask the gamers for help

Warning: This post contains important information about COVID-19 and online schools. Some teachers might find this distressing and choose to waste a few more days trying to get Adobe Connect to work. However, if you want a fast and easy online space up in less time it will take to read this rubbish … welcome to the server.

how-does-discord-make-money

All this fuss about closing bricks and mortar schools is distressing. It’s also a timely reminder of how the billions (yes billions) which has flowed into the pockets of “EdTech” which is a long, drawn out crash site of experiments and failures.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how poorly prepared western schools are for working at arms length, let alone ‘online’ in a meaningful way.

Today, I was informed my students need to be 1.5m apart.  – This is of course impossible. The message was telegraphed and then ignored due to pragmatics. Kids carried on in exactly the same way – because the paraphernalia of school was unchanged.

Schools are not ready of ‘online’ in the sense that few are able to meet students at the intersection of youth communications and actual usage. This results in dull conversations as to whether Google Classrooms “will do” or “can I just email it in”. A direct result of Audrey’s shit show of edtech.

95% of teachers are perhaps familiar with, or using, Ista, Email and FB with their friends and family, re-sharing photos of dogs or inspirational quotes.

95% of kids are online in Discord because they know it’s a productive way to save time and improve your chances of success and enjoyment.

Yep, Discord: That means every kid in you class can (or knows someone who can) use it right now.

They can also show you. You don’t need to panic or waste more time and money on “edtech” just because you’re a special snowflake teacher who only uses ‘teacher’ apps.

Just get your kids to create a server and relax. It took mine less than a minute and they are all over it.

Xbox one installing help.

Plenty of social media reports have said how problematic Xbox one installs have been. I’ve picked mine up and fought with it most of the afternoon. Here’s my advice … I’m two frustrating hours into ownership at the time I tapped this out.  There’s seemed no real help online, just trolls in forums … So if your here because you googled for help … this is just me, telling you what I did to get playing.

First of all, don’t freak out when it demand you type in your Wi-Fi name. If it can’t find it … then it shows you those it can see. Yeah I know right? So off the bat, connect the Wi-Fi, so i can do it’s Xbox Live thing.

1. Let it install the 500mb system patch after you connect to your Wi-Fi. It’s pretty slow and took me about 30 mins (given I’m on a crappy 2mbps link).

2. Turn off your Wi-Fi before installing your game. You can’t play off the disc like you can on the 360. I don’t know why – probably because I haven’t been following all the Mashable tidbits.

Let it install the game from the disc you paid for. Feroza wanted 6gig update, Black Flag 500mb. Either way, with the Wi-Fi on, it will sit at 1% seemingly forever.

Note that the install progress can only be seen from the tiny green line that grows vertically from the “you games and apps page”. It’s tiny!. After a while, maybe 12% it will say you can play the game and the install bar now runs horizontally. It is slow. Like really slow.

3. If you turn on the Wi-Fi, you can’t do anything other than wait for the patch. Welcome to the future, there is no other option. So if you want to play, and why not as most of us handed over $800 to play … keep that Wi-Fi disconnected, while you install the discs. Of course you can’t go online at the same time.

Other issues.

Really long boot time. Yes. Especially when first running the system. Limited information. Minimal options and system feedback is annoying. As the update window is simply a numeral, it’s hard to know if it’s doing anything. If you are getting no where. Remove the game from the my games and apps list, turn of fir ten seconds, re boot and disconnect the Wi-Fi. Once it starts, it wants to pause the download and will refuse to move on.

How to select great topics for PBL in Australia

The driving question is always a sticking point for teachers new to PBL. Writing a few powerful words in a sentence or two, powerful enough to charge curiosity and enthusiasm is a skill. This is why great copyrighters get paid vast sums for writing relatively little.

The driving question, I always found to be an awkward and misleading term. What PBL is trying to do is drive a topic, not a reply to a philosophic question. Kids are not tested on their philosophic ponderings by the machine. This to me is the biggest reason teachers struggle with PBL early on – it seems too arty or foggy to hit those content standards hard enough. This is not a reflection on BIE, more a reality of the vast cultural differences between how Australia goes about teaching and how America does. America, great at lots of things, drives on the other side of the road and can’t make a car that goes around a corner anything like the Europeans. My point is – Australian teachers need to adapt all US-Import PBL models – and that is hard work.

I prefer to think about topics. I’m not sure crafting one kick-ass question is a brilliant strategy, as learning for kids is all about the extremes of experience and the limits of reality. A kid won’t discover these using the BIE framework though it’s better than the relentless lecture/exercise regime.

PBL in Australia is significantly different to the US (warning to those gazing at US consultancy networks for the answer) – our and their frameworks are significantly different as is the culture and side of the road we drive on. While I respect the hard work and success of groups such saw New Tech Foundation, they are selling a product that was built for America, it still needs heavy adaptation for Australian culture, methods, environments and approaches. It’s not a “one click head-shot” to get better performance or outcomes. Worse still it assumes one method supplants another, and at the really really rubbish end are those who are proposing that PBL combined with business development models are somehow going to improve critical thinking – with no evidence at all to back it up.

PBL is better (in Australian contexts) to be thought of as topic based. Being able to identify quality topics requires using a criteria that can be sustained and justified. It’s easy to be too vague and philosophic when scratching down ‘the driving question’. Don’t do that, it’s a really bad idea.

Not every aspect of the Australian curriculum (or a topic in it) is suitable or needs it! This relates to the idea that PBL is not a full-time requirement either (but if you sell cars, you don’t talk about bikes much), so I wince when people say “we’re a PBL school” – if they are, they are doing the students an injustice in my view.

I prefer the idea that teachers use the best strategy for the job – and the job is to create wonder and curiosity such that students explore the limits and extremes of the world, not the prescriptive view. Even though they undoubtedly benefit from puking up the ‘model answer’ in the big test, and high-stakes HSC teacher (PBL or otherwise) will coach the last term to get those grades (for the students and the school), as least with PBL you can be honest and say, this the answer they want, what would be the opposite, what would be the biggest mistake, the smallest use and so on. It’s better than pretending, and everyone knows how the game is being played – they do anyway, we just elephant in the room it I guess.

So what is the criteria for topics? In my experience, this is something the PBL-lead group establish and help the rest of the staff identify – ahead of trying to actually do it. PBL requires BOTH teacher and exec training of course … it’s dan hard for a teacher to drive on the right when the rest of the school drives on the left.

  • sufficient width
  • sufficient depth
  • sufficient connections with the self—cultural, imaginative, and emotional ties
  • not too constrainedly technical
  • not too general or too unconstrained (e.g. animal is too general, tiger is maybe OK, but cats is optimal)
  • not focused on the more degrading features of human existence or common phobias
  • each topic must provide an equivalently rich experience for all students.

So once you have identified your topics (not based on the fact you HAVE to teach them) – then you can start to think about the kinds of questions that will get kids emotionally involved – and that to my mind is also going to be quite different to much of what I’ve seen in the BIE handbook too.

How to use Balance, Gimping, Campaign mode to improve assessment tasks easily

How about trying something from my  epic book “Living with games, dying with zombies” or something like that. This is how to use game-methods to improve something most students hate – getting marks and grades back from exercises and tests. No game needed, no tech either … a Zombie could do this.

Let’s assume most teachers issue marks to their class and we know from research marks and class-ranks are really de-motivating for most people. If there are 30 students, then it’s not hard to work out someone will get top and someone bottom. League tables are a common feature of games however, so how come publishing them are considered a bad educational idea, yet an almost expected in games. There’s something obviously missing then.

The game solution

Rather than avoid posting a class-rank on the wall, or handing out individual ones privately to avoid awkwardness, use Excel. I know Excel right, that old donkey which comes with Office. The funky people might use Google Docs or a database. Depends on your geek-power. You could use paper if you want to be old school.

The Method

You get excel to read each row and pick out the student name and their mark and comment on what EXACTLY they need to do in order to improve their grade in DIRECT relation to the grades of the students TWO rows immediately above them.

The easiest way to do this is to MAIL MERGE it. Select the student’s row and include the two names and marks of those immediately ABOVE them and two names and marks of those immediately BELOW. Now print that stuff out and hand it out.

Each student (if you’ve followed me) has their mark and a comment on EXACTLY what they need to do to beat the two in front of them. They also know who are their nearest academic peers. You have just generated a second thing, better ‘groups’ by clustering. Yes, some are at the top and some at the bottom, but nothing’s changed right? – that was going to happen anyway. Wrong.

The top group has to SUSTAIN itself and bottom group has everything to play for. But now the fun part – how to get them to play. You’ve just created GROUPS of 5 to power peer-learning based on EVIDENCE.

Now start cheating. Break the norm-rules! I won’t bore you with a speech about the types of rules games use – but cheating is a very valuable rule in game-theory. It’s called GIMPING, I’ll explain that later.

Give the bottom THIRD of kids things they can grind on to improve as a GROUP. Repeating, re-doing, coaching, whatever. Tell them they’ve got a WEEK to re-submit a different task which you PROMISE will be no easier or harder than the last.

Give the MIDDLE third kids nothing new to do at all.

Give the TOP third something more philiophical to deal with with the promise of a few more marks if they do it. This should be something more open, not easily answered etc.,

Here’s what has happened. You have 3 key working groups (top, middle, bottom (you do anyway). You also have a peer-assisted learning loop happening, you are allowing the middle kids to float between the bottom and the top (choice), the top are being extended (or sitting on their laurels which won’t last long). The bottom kids are repeating the task, now working in a group to improve together because they feel more trusted and valued.

What changed in terms of teacher practice?

Ultimately, there is nothing radically changed in what’s being taught or the assessment itself. The big change is to way it is being reported and the finality of it. For the most able academic students, there are being given a new opportunity to explore the metanarrative

These theories may be political, economic, social, literary, philosophical, or any other kind that claim to explain the material to be learned. Challenge the students to find the most powerful underlying idea or principle – and what example(s) they can find to explain it. This, for high-achieving students focuses them away for ‘getting the answer’ and finding what is emotionally engaging about  the topic.

Why is this Game Based Learning?

If you like, call this learning in ‘campaign mode’. It taunts you with getting content that is ‘locked out’. This is typical of how Modern Warfare or Battlefield get you to work harder, to get better gear. In the context of the top-kids, it’s called balancing (wikipedia simple version) which creates uncertainty, leading to the tension and excitement. Why do this? Because the way marks and tables are managed in the classroom is the equivalent to what gamer’s call GIMPING. Most players don’t mind ‘some’ gimping if the game is balanced, but it if’s always GIMPED, it just sucks. And players who want to be better hate it.

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