Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.

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Leader of the Day

If we were to replicate the course we are currently running at Paideia, one of the big things I think we need to spend more time on is team roles. I think I forgot that most students haven’t worked on design teams before and aren’t quite use to the unique dynamics of this kind of work.

I remember before I was introduced to design thinking, and even afterward sometimes, if I was working on a project with a bad team, I would just make sure everything got done in the end. Maybe I would talk to the teacher at some point, but overall the norm would be to just work with the people actually working.

However, in a design team, we try to encourage the ideology that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and is a valuable member of the team. With that, we want project leaders who not only lead by example with getting work done but also try to pull in their distracted team members to include them in the work.

Today we made a point of sharing about this kind of leadership because we had a 3D printed “trophy” we were giving out at the end of class. I think making this point helped a lot because today both teams really made an effort of keeping everyone involved in finishing up our toilet prototypes.

It was great to watch!

More Sticky Notes

Today was a big day for our Paideia students because today was the day we interviewed users!

It seemed as if we might not even have any users to come in to be interviewed with the amount we had to search to find people interested in tiny houses and sustainability who were also available to meet today during the class time. However, somehow we managed to get 4 interviewees, one of which was virtual, who came in today for 15-minute interviews with each of our two teams.

I was incredibly impressed with how far these kids have come with their ability to ask questions. On day 2 during our Flashlab, we were a bit worried because there were a lot of yes or no questions and short, often changing, conversations happening. However, after just a week and a bit they have grown so much! 1334x1000.jpeg.f4cd3a6a28024abe9c5c51eb31c06aec.jpg

Today the interviewees left commenting on how much they liked the teams’ questions and we were having to cut off deep conversations happening due to timing, which was hard to do because it was so wonderful to overhear!

Honestly, what I’ve enjoyed most about teaching this course is seeing how design thinking really affects the lives of students.

Most of these kids didn’t know each other before the class and now we know all sorts of random things about each other; from how we got our names to stories about sibling tensions when the whole family got food poising and were sharing a bathroom.

Plus, Sparks have become a daily norm where we all laugh at how confused the neighboring classrooms must be when they hear us chanting “Jump in, Jump out” or reciting different ice cream flavors, or announcing our superhero names.

1334x1000.jpeg.05f3a73409e1486cbad36c70939e688d.jpgOn the way out of the classroom we’re always told thank you and “can’t wait to see you tomorrow” and one student when doing I Like, I Wish, I Wonder feedback said, “I wish we had more than 18 days in this class!”

They have become learners who question everything, even the challenging topics like “Can you vomit in a composting toilet, and would it be a solid or liquid when separating it into a compartment?”

And they can take those questions and turn them into insights, such as realizing how a toddler might actually be the most receptive family member to adopting a composting toilet because of how the mother said the toddler loves helping out and the ability to take ownership of a process.

I can’t wait to see what insights are found during our unpacking session tomorrow, but first, we need to get more sticky notes- we ran out today…

 

Teachers Fail Up Too

Yesterday we had kind of a sad moment with our class. While the kids were doing research, we were having a bunch of phone calls and emails, but in the end,logistics proved too problematic and we had to cancel our field trip planned for Monday.

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The kids were doing research on tiny homes and eco-hostels and tree houses, etc. Then, we were supposed to be actually going to visit a tiny home but turns out the guy who had previously confirmed with us now says no one can open the building. Then we found a different spot but driving would take far too long compared to the amount of time we could actually stay.

So we finally called it off and instead the guy who was going to give us a tour is going to come to Paideia and present to the class. Obviously, this is not ideal considering such a big part of design thinking is the whole getting out into the world component; however, I guess it goes to show teachers can fail up too.

I guess we should’ve done a better job of getting dates like this overly planned with people ahead of time. This wasn’t something I was in charge of planning and it was a last minute idea, but it still is upsetting that we can’t do it, because it’s so obvious now that we should be.

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On the flip side though, we also had a skype call that was not previously planned with a girl who lived in a tree house with a composting toilet for a year and a half which was super helpful. So sometimes last-minute ideas can work out which was also a good learning moment of the day.

18 Days for Impact

For the past year, I have been working on the Georgia Tech Engineers Without Borders team called WISH for Wash.

“Wish for WASH is a social impact organization that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally-specific research, design, and education because #EVERYBODYPOOPS” – wishforwash.org

2.5 million people do not have access to basic sanitation needs which is the moment of visible empathy that WISH for Wash was founded on; however, it’s important to note that sanitation problems aren’t only a global issue. There are sanitation issues in our own backyard.

Here in Atlanta, we are running out of water and yet our population size is constantly growing. We need to find a way to reduce our water usage, and one place we use a lot of water is in our toilets.

This was the train of thought that a teacher at Paideia School had when he approached the leader of WISH for Wash curious about a collaboration between our two organizations.

This teacher has a five-year plan of developing a tiny home to be put up for rent that will be entirely sustainable; this home will be created by students in different phases over the course of these five years during various “Short Term classes” at Paideia.

Meanwhile, our WISH for Wash team is currently doing research on compositing in order to build our latest prototype of a composting toilet.

The trade-off: our WISH for Wash team is conducting composting research in Magnus’ backyard in exchange for us leading the first of several short-term classes contributing to this tiny home. This course, “Giving a S***: Design for a Better World,” is all about design thinking and sustainability with the goal of having two prototypes of a composting toilet by the end of the 18-day class. The key part of this design challenge is that the composting toilets the students’ design should be a toilet that a family in Decatur (potentially their own family) would be willing to use.

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This partnership is actually why I joined this team back in the fall in the first place; I love working on innovative education endeavors and this team needed someone who had experience with curriculum planning and facilitating design thinking.

Since joining the team, it’s been a crazy process because it’s the first time I’ve ever taken lead on developing a large-scale design thinking curriculum. I’ve helped with workshops and conferences, but I’ve always been working alongside very experienced facilitators. Going from that kind of advanced team to now leading a team who has had minimal design thinking experience has been a big change, to say the least.

We’ve come a long way since the fall though, between having Innovation Diploma members lead us through a Flashlab, creating multiple iterations of our outline, getting feedback from various DT facilitators and then today, leading our first day of the course!!!

To be honest I was low key terrified for today. The stakes are high on day one because if you can’t get kids hooked on day one then you’ve basically lost them already and it’s hard to get them back.

Luckily for us we ended day one on a very positive note! The seven students, four girls and three boys 9th-12th grade, admitted that most of them joined just because they thought the title of the course was amusing and the description seemed intriguing and different from other courses offered. (Different due to it being lead by Georgia Tech students and hinting at very interactive and interdisciplinary learning.) However, by the end of the day, we had everyone pumped about discussing toilets and excited that the work they will be doing is hands-on and has a larger purpose and impact. (They told us this themselves at the end of the day when we asked why everyone joined the class and what their expectations are after what they learned today, so this isn’t just me putting words in their mouths based on observations.)

To me, that means day one was a huge success because everyone is excited about our work moving forward, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

17 days left to go…

 

The Magic of User Feedback

It can be easy to forget the power of user feedback, but it’s truly a remarkable gift.

Today we had our end of the year banquet for Grand Challenges (the living-learning community I’ve been involved with at Georgia Tech where different majors come together to tackle “wicked problems” by utilizing design thinking) where we had some parents and other guests go on a gallery walk of the posters we made for our prototypes and then an honors ceremony afterward.

My team’s prototype is in the field of education (go figure), but we hadn’t really gotten to the point of getting much feedback on our idea from actual teachers yet. Therefore we were all still very hesitant about our idea going into this event and not super sure if it was really impactful at all.

However, during the gallery walk there happened to be several teachers in attendance today who came by and talked with us about our prototype. Turns out, every educator we talked to was really interested in our prototype and wanted to test it out at some point!

It was so refreshing and reigniting for our team to hear positive feedback from potential users. It even got us considering actually working further on this prototype even though we’ve decided to not continue with the Grand Challenges program.

I’ll explain more about our prototype in a soon to come portfolio entry, but for tonight I’m just happy that we finally got some affirmation that we’re on a worthy track right now.

Proof of Concept

One of my favorite parts of working on a project is that first moment when you truly see the whole piece coming together.

Today I got to experience that twice which was amazing!

First up on today’s adventures, I took a trip to Paideia high school due to my work with Engineers Without Borders where we are currently partnering with a teacher to create a design thinking and sustainability short-term course. In today’s meeting, I walked a group of teachers through the outline of our curriculum and we had a discussion around materials, logistics, and feedback on the curriculum itself. It was wonderful to see everyone so impressed and excited about the work our project team has been doing! Especially since the curriculum has primarily been my brain baby, this day was really important because it was a bit of a proof of concept that we’re making progress and that this course is really going to happen this May! (Just a few weeks away and I’m so nervous and excited at the same time to teaching this 18-day class!)

Then after a 30-minute car ride, I ended up at Mount Vernon for Aladdin rehearsal where I got another lovely moment of being able to see my work taking shape. Today I had all my acrobats in rehearsal and now that I’ve been there a few times we’re starting to get into a groove. My little street performers (grades 3-6) learned some new choreography pretty fast today and did a great job keeping up! But the best part of the rehearsal for me was seeing “A Whole New World” now that we finally have an ending to the song/silks routine that works really well!!!! It’s going to be such a great show I can’t wait to see the full run through tomorrow! Hard to believe that show week is less than two weeks away!

Today’s been a lot of running/driving back and forth between classes and meetings (literally from 9-9 today), but having these moments of proof of concept where you can visualize so fully the work coming to life is what makes it worth it every day!

Watching the Years

Today was one of those days where I felt really old…

It’s easy to forget how time flies sometimes, but then something happens to annoying remind you of its existence. I spent pretty much all day at the gym today, and while I was there a meeting happened with all of the teens that will be helping with camp and potentially classes this year.

I felt old partially just because I didn’t need to be at this meeting, but I was okay with that, but I felt especially old because we now have girls who I’ve known since they were 5 and 6 when they use to be on our team and now they are working at the gym!

One of the weirdest and best parts of coaching/teaching is getting to watch kids grow up.

It’s crazy to me when I can have full conversations with coaches kids I still think of as being 3 running around the gym half naked. Or when I realize I’m 10 years older than a handful of our team girls. Or when I see kids I remember having to use three mats to reach some of the equipment now tower over me and have deeper voices and look all grown up.

I don’t think I’ll ever get use to watching kids grow up, but it is kind of amazing in a weird sort of way. I suppose it’s part of the reason some people become teachers- because they enjoy playing a role in that process.

Working Hard

I’ve written a lot about gymnastics this weekend, but honestly, it’s been all I’ve done the past few days. I literally got up this morning at 6:15am to get to our state competition this morning and only got home at 8pm.

But it was totally worth it because all of our girls qualified for regionals!!!!! I’m so glad I got to be there today during everyone’s best competition of the season!

Gymnastics teaches a lot of life lessons, but one of my favorites is when our younger girls experience how hard work pays off.

When Time Flies

Some people hate dealing with kids, but I really do love it most of the time at least.

I love their excited energy. I love their imaginative spirit of believing anything is possible. I love seeing the smiling faces when they learn how to do something on their own.

I worked for a long time today teaching some girls a lot of new gymnastics skills, but even though it was a long time, I didn’t feel like it.

Time flies when you enjoy what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.