The GlassLab: A New GBL Initiative


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Earlier this summer, the Institute of Play (famous their work in gamification of education and the Quest to Learn school model), announced the launch of the GlassLab (Games Learning and Assessment Lab). With support from a variety of leaders in education and technology, this non-profit focuses on many aspects of games and learning.

Being an avid game-based learning (GBL) and games for learning (G4L) advocate, I was particularly interested in how this might impact larger education reform. I had a chance to talk with the GlassLab manager Michael John about the project. This post will cover what I learned, as well as some of my reflections.

The GlassLab will in fact be creating educational games for the classroom. These games, often called “serious games,” balance the learning of content with engaging gameplay. MJ told me that these games will be field-tested for a long time, and we most likely would not be seeing anything from them for a while.

Games can provide a lot of data, and the GlassLab hopes to refine and create these games with careful intention. As MJ put it, “We view teachers as the audience for our work in the same way as we view the students — if the game isn’t useful to the teacher, then our work isn’t done.”

It’s exciting to see that teachers will be part of the process in developing these learning tools. GlassLab games will be created through collaboration by teachers, experts and game designers from Electronic Arts.

As a crucial part of the design process, the GlassLab will be focusing much of their effort in the area of research. By tracking student achievement on the Common Core, collecting in-game data, and much more, the GlassLab seeks to provide credible evidence on Games for Learning with the specific intention of proving these three hypotheses:

Digital games with a strong simulation component may be effective learning environments.
Game-based formative assessments may be well-suited to detecting learning gains and offer ethical assessment environments, insofar as they capture learning in the environment where it occurs.
Game-based assessments may yield valid and reliable assessment measures. In order for Games for Learning to be leveraged more in educational settings, research by the GlassLab and other organizations will be needed.

Common Core
MJ told me that the GlassLab games will be targeting standards, specifically the Common Core, and that they will be designed for use in the classroom. As games are natural tools for assessment, it will be interesting to see what specifics are not only learned through gameplay, but also assessed. Being very familiar with the Common Core, I can attest that the standards lend themselves well to game design. In the past, I have seen many Games for Learning targeted to low-level Bloom’s thinking — they offer nothing more than simple drill and kill. The Common Core Standards ask for more that that; words like “analyze,” “real world,” “create” and “higher order thinking skills” are the focus of learning. Let’s hope that by aligning to the Common Core, the games will be targeting higher order application and thinking around the content of the Common Core.

21st Century Skills
In the press release, it seems that content knowledge alone is not enough for these games. “GlassLab reflects a major shift in the way students learn and acquire knowledge. Students today are expected to learn new skills, such as creative problem-solving, collaboration and systems thinking, and master new technologies. GlassLab will address these new challenges by exploring how digital games can be effective environments for learning.” The GlassLab will be creating games that focus not just on knowledge acquisition, but on the 21st century skills that are associated with them. GBL can be used to create situated learning where problem-solving and collaboration can occur.

I believe that the GlassLab and other related organizations have the potential for helping to push along the conversation of education reform, although MJ did not admit it as one of their goals. “We’re not really thinking in terms of systems reform at the moment — that is perhaps too ambitious! We’re thinking in terms of creating some really cool, really effective learning games that excite us and that both teachers and students find engaging and valuable,” MJ said.

Ironically, however, they will be creating educational tools that may cause experts to reflect and think about how we learn, and what these learning environments could look like. Through a grassroots effort by the GlassLab and other related organizations, Games for Learning will continue to gain clout not only as effective tools for learning, but also as a critical learning model in education reform.

Check out the interview with Executive Director Katie Salen and GlassLab General Manager Michael John as they discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by the project.

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4 Ways to Empower Students Through Collaboration


This post originally appeared on Getting Smart, a community passionate about innovations in learning. By covering important events, trends, products, books, and reports, Getting Smart looks for ways that innovation can help reframe historical problems and suggest new solutions.

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If you want students to collaborate it is imperative that educators establish this as a norm at the beginning of the school year. Great teachers leverage group work and collaborative activities and projects in their curriculum and instruction, but oftentimes teachers “push-back” with the difficulties of having their students collaborate. I agree, it is a daunting task, but I always respond, “How have you taught them to collaborate and providing scaffolding of that skill?” This is the key! If you want your students to collaborate effectively, you must give the opportunity to do so, as well as give the necessary instruction in skills and scaffolding.

Team Building: Most teachers take time at the beginning of the to do team building activities to create a community in their classroom. These are great activities that can be intentionally tied to creating a culture of collaboration. Have students participate in an activity like the “Human Knot,” and then reflect individually and in a discussion about the effective and non effective ways they collaborated. After many activities like this, have students create or co-create the norms for collaboration in the classroom. When students create the norms, through reflective activities, they are more likely to own them.

Explicit Instruction: Teachers must model good collaboration. There are many ways to do that. Perhaps you get a group of teachers together and do a fishbowl activity where students watch for effective collaboration. Another lesson might be watching videos of examples and non examples of teams working together to analyze the best ways for students to collaborate. To build authenticity, consider bringing in adults from a variety of fields to share how they collaborate. Through this and other activities, teachers can give explicit attention to the collaboration in the instructional design and build the relevance for the skill itself.

Technology: There are many tools out there that can help foster a culture of collaboration. Whether Edmodo, TitanPad, or Twitter, use technology tools to push students thinking of what it means to collaborate. In addition, you the teacher now have documentation of that collaboration that can be used in the assessment process. Make you choose the best times to use these tools throughout curriculum, but also model and teach students how to use the tool. Teaching collaboration through technology can help build the 21st Century skill of Digital Citizenship. In fact, collaboration is leveraged in the ISTE NETS for Students, further espousing collaboration as critical in person as well as digitally.

Assessment: Coupled with instruction, collaboration must be assessed along with the content in the class. This leverages this as a true 21st Century Skill that is transferable across content and tasks. Using rubrics for collaboration, teachers gave give focused feedback to students on what they are doing well, and how to improve. As 21st century skills like collaboration gain more and more clout, they can be included in the grade-book, as a standard to be met and built upon. Great schools are assessing not only critical content, but also collaboration as crucial to student achievement.

As educators plan for the next year, it is critical that they use some of the strategies above, as well as others, to create a culture of collaboration. Through intentional instruction and scaffolding, we can set our students up for a successful year of collaboration with their teachers, their peers, and experts in the field. We can empower our kids to be effective collaborators in and outside of school!

Getting Started with Project-Based Learning (Hint: Don’t Go Crazy)


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Before the start of the school year, many of us want to use the remaining weeks of summer to learn some new skills — such as project-based learning (PBL). One of the things we stress for new PBL practitioners is, as I say, “don’t go crazy.” It’s easy to go “too big” when you first start PBL. I have heard from many teachers new to PBL that a large, eight-week integrated project was a mistake. So how do you start PBL in ways that will ensure your success as a learner and teacher? Here are a few tips to consider.

Start Small
As I said, “Don’t go crazy!” Instead of targeting a million standards, focus on a few power standards. Concentrate the learning on one subject rather than multiple disciplines. PBL emphasizes in-depth inquiry over coverage. Leverage this principle in designing your first PBL project. Make sure that project won’t take more than two to three weeks. Instead of doing real-life fieldwork, consider having the learning occur in the classroom. Ensure authenticity and public audience, but keep it focused.

Plan Now
One of the challenges of PBL, but also one of the joys, is the planning process. In PBL, you plan upfront. By using the backwards design process, you can effectively map out a project that’s ready to go in the classroom. Once you plan it, you’re free to differentiate instruction and meet the immediate needs of your students rather than being in permanent crisis-mode trying to figure what will happen tomorrow.

Limited Technology
We love technology, but sometimes we get too “tech happy.” When first doing PBL, you should focus on mastering the design and implementation process; technology is another layer to the work that can complicate things. If you plan on using technology, stay limited in your choice. As you get begin to master PBL as a teacher, you can then use technology to manage the process. But as a PBL beginner, focus on the PBL process itself.

Know the Difference Between PBL and Projects
This is the big one! I can’t stress this enough! With PBL, the project itself is the learning, not the “dessert” at the end. If you are doing projects in the classroom, you may or may not be doing PBL. In fact, many teachers think they are doing PBL, but are actually doing projects. Again, in PBL you are teaching through the project, not teaching and then doing the project. If you want a quick way to see if you’re meeting the essential elements of PBL, I highly recommend the Buck Institute for Education’s PBL Project Checklist. It helps to make sure that you are focusing on aspects such as inquiry, voice and choice, and significant content.

We are all learners, and when we start something new, we start small. We limit our focus to help us master the bigger thing step by step. Through mastery of manageable goals, you can be well on your way to becoming an advanced PBL practitioner. Since you are learning a new process, your students are learning one as well. They need a manageable experience just as you do! Start your own learning and planning process now in these last remaining weeks of summer so that you have time to unpack what PBL can mean for your teaching, and implement it in a manageable way for you and your students.

Uncovering “Complex Text” in the Common Core


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


One of the critically mentioned components of the Common Core is the complex text. This need for complex text came out of studies that students were not arriving at college ready to read college-level texts independently. The Common Core documents also indicate other reasons and rationale. One of the most startling claims is: “Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K–12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century.” Overall, the common core believes our students are not only ill-prepared to read complex texts, but also not receiving exposure and instruction coupled with complex text.

Credit: Common Core State Standards Initiative

One of the challenges of the “complex text” is gaining a real understanding of exactly what it is. When reading the prefaces and explanations in one of the Common Core appendices, the case is made for students to read increasingly complex texts, as it has been found that when students reach college they are not as prepared to understand the texts required at that level. Often our students are required to read these texts independently, so it makes sense to arm students not only with the skills to read these texts, but also give them practice in doing so.

But what exactly is a complex text, and how can you ensure that you are using age appropriate texts in the classroom?

Standards of Measurement
The Common Core measures complex text with three aspects.

When examining a text qualitatively for text complexity, you consider a variety of factors. You examine the text to see how much of the language is conversational and how much is academic. In addition, you should examine the language to see how much is literal and how much is figurative. When looking at literary texts specifically, you examine whether the text demands singular to multiple themes or themes that are complex. You should examine the text for singular to multiple perspectives. You also should consider if the text requires everyday or familiar knowledge and/or cultural knowledge outside of the familiar. These are some of the indicators to look for qualitatively. A text may rank high in some and low in others, but higher indicators overall are a good sign that a text is more appropriate for educating your students.

In terms of quantitative texts, there are many things to consider, and the Common Core acknowledges there is no perfect method for examination, rather there are many effective methods. Methods such as the Flesch-Kincaid and Dale Chall are mentioned as possible measurement standards. Although this data might be researched, there is no specific way for teachers to “score” a text independently. Rather, teachers should consider how these factors mentioned next might create challenge for readers. You should examine the text for syntactic complexity, sentence structure and word length. You might also examine for level of vocabulary and Lexile level. One of the most interesting points brought up from the Common Core is that we must demand appropriate Lexile scores to College and Career Readiness standards, as articulated by this chart:

Credit: Common Core State Standards Initiative

Readers and Tasks
To me this is all about instructional design; that we teachers are demanding rigorous and complex tasks for the work we ask our students to do with the text, while creating tasks that are appropriate for their learning objectives. The Common Core emphatically states that students must be engaged in complex texts, but — no matter how rigorous — this is not enough. We must scaffold the learning and reading skills needed, and demand high quality, authentic tasks for students. Educators also need to consider when it is appropriate to remove the scaffolding so students can read and perform independently, hopefully by the end of the year.

A Work in Progress
It is critical to note that the Common Core document states: “The Standards presume that all three elements of the complex text will come into play when text complexity and appropriateness are determined.”

However, I would push back on the idea that all texts need to have them equally at all times. Yes, we need to make sure we are arming students with the skills and stamina to read texts that are complex; where the task assigned to students is rigorous, the quality level of the text is high, and the Lexile levels and other quantitative indicators are high as well. But I know texts requiring rigorous reading that may be low on the quantitative score. Consider the poem Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins, a text I often gave my secondary students. The vocabulary is not too complex, nor is the length of the text too long. Yet it measures high in the qualitative area, because the thematic aspect and the figurative language in which it’s written require critical reading. In addition, it would be crucial to give my students a task for this poem, whether formative or summative, that is rigorous and requires critical thinking. Make sure you are intentional in your choice of texts, regardless of how they measure up in terms of the indicators of a complex text.

Other documents on the Common Core site go into further detail on the ideas explained, and also give examples and contexts. In the Common Core document, texts are also suggested for grade level. These can be used as a guide, but only just as such. As our students come to us with different reading abilities, grade levels and cultural backgrounds, we must differentiate instruction through the texts we pick as well. As the Common Core is implemented more and in more in districts and schools, we as educators need to understand what the “complex text” is both in terms of what is good for our students and what the Common Core might dictate. We must not only carefully choose what they read, but also carefully choose what we are asking in terms of tasks and objectives when students read.

Regardless of whether not you are implementing the Common Core, these considerations and framework can help you intentionally pick texts to challenge your students. I hope this blog helps you to weed through the complexity of complex texts (pun intended)!