In the last semester of Education at the Werklund School of Education we were given an assignment to choose and work through a problem of practice using a design process we had studied in class. The problem of practice needed to be actionable, impactful, and could be map onto educational goals.
Problem of Practice:
How do we engage disengaged students in a way which is meaningful to them?
The problem of practice I chose was creating an engaging mathematics lesson for students who are completely disengaged by math. This lack of engagement was naturally leading to lower test scores for these students, as well as negative attitudes. This problem, while only focused on a select few students I taught in practicum 3, was a problem that spread to the rest of the classroom due to the students being distractions to teaching and learning, and reducing the classroom enthusiasm to learning.
This problem is an actionable one, because I knew whichever way I wanted to tackle it, either working to create different kinds of lessons for the whole class or creating specific lessons for these students to work through as a group, a solution could be accomplished to help increase these students specific lack of engagement. I ultimately decided to pick to focus on just the select students based on my knowledge of them and that when trying to make engaging options for the whole class tended to elicit adverse reactions from them, I figured it best to try something with just them and focused on something they’d enjoy. Knowing this, I knew I’d want to engage them with gamification.
This problem of practiced maps onto Ministerial goals set by the province through several tenants in the document. In the whereas section the document, it fits under: “WHEREAS an Engaged Thinker knows how to think critically and creatively and make discoveries through inquiry, reflection, exploration,” (2013). Giving these students an opportunity to play a game and apply skills in a more open environment would help them apply their critical thinking and inquiry. And additionally by having the lesson focus on these select students, it also fit under subsection 2: “strive for engagement and personal excellence in their learning journey,” (2013) and also under subsection 4f: “create opportunities through play, imagination, reflection, negotiation, and competition, with an entrepreneurial spirit,” (2013).
So with my desired outcomes being math and increased engagement via a game, I decided to tackle the issue with Understanding by Design. Specifically, as I moved along the design process, I decided to design a lesson based around a game of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), due to the students heightened interest in the game and the malleability of it to create problems that will potentially engage students. The game should have a mix of critical thinking, like this:
Without losing this:
The goal of this ultimately was not to teach them something new, but to supplement that had already been taught to them in an engaging way and if they lacked the initial understanding, this would help them acquire it. When working through the process, I several times found myself looping back around to earlier steps as new thinking and ideas emerged. Additionally, based on peer feedback while working through the design process, it was mentioned for the possibility for this to be more opened to an entire class to play instead of just a select group of students. For the assignment, I stuck with the redesign for just these select students as their lack of engagement was the specific problem of practice, however, in the solutions section towards the bottom I offer some more ideas for additional redesigns on the final solution to make it more accessible to an entire classroom.
|Discipline/Subject||Transfer of Skills|
Converting mixed to improper fractions and back
Students will have a better understanding of how mixed numbers and improper fractions are the same value, including abstract and concrete representations.
How are things that are two different are shapes the same value?
How can improper and mixed numbers be the same value?
The ultimate desired outcome was to engage the students. However, this would come from the design of the learning tasks to create engaging tasks during the game. So when initially looking at engaging them in Math, I needed to focus on areas of Math to ensure the academic side of it was not lost.
I started by looking at an area the students struggled in during my previous practicum. For them, this had been in improper and mixed fractions, and understanding them as an abstract concept and converting them from one to the other.
I took a look through the rest of the numbers unit and considered making the game about a myriad of topics, but then decided that the focus on one specific area of Math would allow me to design different kinds of tasks to engage different parts of their thinking and engage in more authentic learning.
Other desired outcomes emerged later in the design process, which included a greater sense of how to problem solve and how to collaborate with their peers.
Both of these are areas that the students also struggle in and could use more time to work on. When designing learning tasks in stage 3, I realized that some of these outcomes would emerge naturally. So I revisited the first stage and added them in, making sure I was including a focus on these subjects.
Knowing from the initial phases that I wanted to use gamification as my end solution, I knew the assessment would ultimately be the students winning the game. This blended the second stage heavily into stage 3, as I knew that every task or puzzle I had them solve had to have them showcase their understanding in a meaningful way, not just a superficial one. This also meant that much of the assessment would be formative during the game itself. The nature of D&D meant that there would be heavy involvement throughout as a teacher, which would give me an opportunity to see their learning and their progress throughout the game. It would also mean staying hands off during the key hinge moments, which can be difficult as a teacher, but letting them work through the tough challenges and puzzles in their small groups would be infinitely more rewarding.
With my outcomes in mind and knowing I had to design tasks that truly showcased their learning, this was the meat and potatoes of the design process. To save myself some hassle, instead of crafting an entire D&D game from scratch I reached out to other resources to use a pre-built campaign as a stepping stone to design a game steeped in Math. Once I had another campaign, I modified the rooms and challenges the players had to face, making them Math oriented in different ways.
The nature of D&D is to have players roleplay, so knowing that I was able to design a few authentic tasks that would require the students to place themselves in the situation and think critically.
This let me design a couple of Math tasks that made them think authentically, asking them to evaluate how different shaped things in their world could have the same value. By scaffolding this to having them work with actual numbers, their understanding of how mixed and improper fractions can be the same value. It also gave me an opportunity to have them collaborate in a way only a game could. By only giving each of them part of the puzzle in their second task, they’d have to work together to solve the Math problem. This was also a great opportunity to help reduce the chance of one student being the sole leader and just answering all the questions if they started to understand it. This would help make each student more in charge of their own learning.
Lastly, I knew there’d have to be some elements of D&D in there that didn’t adhere to Math to ensure the students stayed engaged. However, by making their ‘boss fight’ have a bit of a puzzle element involved, solving more improper and mixed fractions on the fly while under fire, so to speak, it could replicate the pressure of writing an assessment in a low stakes environment. By making them apply the skills that should be cemented by the other two tasks, it should be a good last assessment to see if they can win at the game.
The solution I came up with was a lesson plan and game plan to be used in tandem with each other when sitting down to play the game with the students. Feel free to check out the links below and use them/adapt them to suit your needs.
If you’d like to adopt this plan to a larger class, here are some additional ideas:
- Separate the class into groups (adventuring parties) who will tackle the puzzles together
- As students begin the adventure and enter the rooms, provide the narration for the entire class
- For combat sequences, instead of running them yourself, provide a sequence of events that the monsters will do, via a deck of cards they pull from, so the students still get to experience that aspect of D&D
Providing this to a class can also let you hit other goals if more outcomes are built around them. It’s possible to build a unit around D&D, having them write stories about their adventures and characters for English Language Arts, discuss politics and the world in the roleplay for Social Studies, and base puzzles around Science, among other multiple art goals that could be accomplished. This can also be modified and adapted to other levels of study, once a suitable level of framework is created that will work for the classroom.
Working through this design process was relatively straightforward for me to work through. The biggest struggle I had was stepping back from a solution I had in mind for the students from the initial phases, and really forcing myself to work through the design process. After taking that step back and tackling each step of Understanding by Design one at a time, the assemblage of the final product came together very readily. The greatest success I had working through Understanding by Design was the authenticity of the lesson that emerged from the design process. By picking and sticking to one outcome from the Program of Studies, and then choosing that a formative assessment (via playing a game with the students), it let me build tasks where I had an opportunity for the students to showcase their thinking in a different light in regards to the outcome. It shined a new light on the outcome for myself, and likely will for the students as well. This also leads to my other success. While gamification was in mind from the get-go, consciously thinking about the assessment after the outcomes before designing the task was initially a failing of the design process for what I had in mind, due to my mentality that the students would just have to win. But then as the realization occurred that the game is something I play with the students, I circled back to the assessment phase and it restructured how I looked at my tasks. While the students winning the game would still be a summative assessment of the task, the opportunities for formative assessment were too big to pass up. It helped me redesign the tasks I had in mind to provide greater opportunities for formative assessment and push the tasks in places where they could be more malleable for the students. The greatest weakness for me personally when working through this design process was the linearity of it. Having already had an idea in mind for a solution, it may have been more beneficial to work through a design process that was more cyclical in nature, such as Project Based Learning or UDL. However, I think that forcing myself to step back from my solution at the forefront and forcing myself to tackle the design process one step at a time ultimately strengthened the solution itself, making it incredibly stronger.
Alberta. Department of Education. (2013). Ministerial Order. (001/2013). Retrieved from: https://education.alberta.ca/policies-and-standards/student-learning/everyone/ministerial-order-on-student-learning-pdf/