Thursday, January 10, 2019

Industry Relevant Project

I can't believe it's been over two years since my last post! My school recently transitioned from a part-time school that students attend for two periods a day to a brand new, state of the art facility and full time high school. This has afforded my students and I a lot of time to work on in-depth projects. Currently we are starting a new project that is geared around industry relevancy. Many times in a game studio people specialize on individual pieces of a game rather than one person doing all programming or creating every asset. In a classroom setting it proved difficult to do more than a few people in each group so students ended up doing a lot more rather than one specialty field. That is all changing with our current project. Students are working on a project that requires every student in the class the collaboration and work together. It began with students choosing what specialty they wanted. Now students are meeting in large groups (the entire class) as well as small groups with those they need to work closely with. Every student will become a specialist in their particular area. Students have to communicate effectively and often to make the project a success. Two project managers lead each class and set guidelines and rules for communication, collaboration, sharing work, conflict resolution and more.

It has been an exciting and amazing two days! The room is buzzing with relevant conversations and excitement. Students are idea sharing and collaborating on everything. I am able to take a step back from a leading role into a truly facilitation role and the project managers are the classroom leaders. The invaluable experience all students are gaining brings a smile to my face. This project is a game changer.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Here we go again!

It is that time of year again!  Tomorrow is my first day back to school then August 10th the students return.  We have a new Principal- Mrs. Giancola who is bringing a wealth of ideas and positivity to the table.

My goals for this year are to increase the quality of the projects I give my students, create a culture that allows them to think  for themselves, and expect a lot out of them while supporting them in every way I can.  I have already begun working on re-doing some projects from past years- increasing expectations and providing more opportunity for flexibility, creativity, and self-research.

I am excited to meet the new students, catch up with the past ones and help them all grow beyond my expectations. Wishing all fellow teachers a great year and hoping my students have inspirational teachers who believe in them like I do!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Schools out for Summer

Wow! It has been such a long time since I posted.  It has been so busy (as the school years tend to be).  I am now waiting on students to finish up exams and reflecting on the year as a whole.  I had three Next Generation Tech (NGT) finalist teams this year and out of those one got the "Everyday Hero" honorable mention and the other placed third winning $1,500.  I had 15 students earn industry certifications, our articulation with SPC college is now official, 19 students who completed the program, two scholarship winners, and two students that won "Yes, I Can" awards. All of the recognition has been wonderful but it doesn't compare to the outstanding projects the students created.  Getting to sit down and grade games created that not only look good but are mechanically entertaining.  I am in awe of how much the games improve from one year to the next and I can't wait to see where the program goes in the next few years. 

It's always wonderful and also kind of sad this time of year.  That time when seniors go off to bigger and better things- students that I will miss; who I've seen grow so  much in a short amount of time.  With that comes the summer which means time to refresh, reflect, adjust, and dedicate time to my own personal learning.  I am excited about attending the Project Based Learning (PBL) World Conference in Napa Valley in June as well as downtime reading, relaxing, painting, playing video games, and paddleboarding.

We at CAS are also entering a new chapter where our current principal is retiring and a new one was announced.  I am not only excited about the possibilities with this new principal but love how passionate she is about the students.  I can't wait to see how much our students accomplish under her leadership.  Next year my focus will be on increasing work based opportunities, improving and refreshing current projects, researching the latest trends in gaming and hopefully adding some application development projects.  I am always full of ideas and excitement and cannot wait to continue this journey called teaching.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finland Teachers in The U.S.A.

I recently read an article that interviewed three teachers originally from Finland that now teach here in the United States.  I found that article interesting and somewhat sad.  I have always been fascinated by Finland's education system because of their flexibility, allowance for individuality, and impressive  results like 66% of students moving on to attend college, 43% attending vocational schools, and a 93% graduation rate (wow!).  Finland also consistently tests at the top or close to the top on international standardized tests despite the fact that they do not measure children at all the first six years of education and have only one mandatory standardized test at the age of sixteen.

The teachers that now work in the United States and had previous experience in Finland report being overworked, overwhelmed, and all mention the fact that there is very little autonomy.  Standards are strict, specific, and curriculum is basically predetermined to be taught in a certain way.  One quote from the article states exactly how our classrooms look. "Muja finds that her level of professional freedom is often restricted by the structure of the school day and a long list of teaching responsibilities in America. “I teach six classes a day with a one 45-[minute] ‘planning’ period,” she said. “My classes are at three different proficiency levels, and I have four minutes between classes to prepare for the next class. At the same time, I am expected to stand in the hallways to monitor students as [they] transfer from class to class, and to check my email for last-minute updates and changes because of ongoing testing or other events."" She goes on to say: "All of those tasks, and several others, wear her down: “I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking (in order to create meaningful activities for students).”" which I 100% agree with.  Reflection is such an important piece of lesson planning and we have time for very little, if any.

The article talks about how teachers and students in Finland get a 15 minute break every hour.  In contrast our students are expected to take their 4 (maybe 5) minutes in between class to use the restroom, walk to the other side of the building, stop at a locker, and get to class without being even a second late to not be marked tardy- can you even imagine if adults were held to these same standards at work?  How stressed would we all feel if we needed to ask permission to use the restroom, had designated times we could get out of seats, could not talk to others around us or check our phones?

In Finland there are so many things that make their schools successful but here are some of the things that stand out to me as a teacher.  Teachers have a similar status to doctor and lawyers, are seen as important and treated that way, are required to have a masters degree (which is subsidized) and are selected from the top 10% of graduates.  There is national curriculum but it is used as a broad guideline instead of specific standards meant to be used with curriculum maps and unit guidelines that outline almost every aspect of what is to come.  While Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City it has a lot fewer students.  Teachers only spend four hours in the classroom each day (apposed to our 7.5) and take two hours per week for professional development (we have no weekly professional development time but are forced into several useless meetings and trainings- usually during our own time or planning time).  Finally, Finland sees the value of play in development and gives their elementary students 75 minutes of recess a day instead of the 25-30 minutes our students get.

It is easy to say we need to make changes but what changes need made?  I have a few suggestions for our education system from my own experiences and research on successful education systems all over the world.  First things first, Finland's system works because there are better quality teachers (and yes I am a teacher saying this, but lets be honest there are so many teachers that should not be teachers, they lack education as well as passion).  Higher education requirements for teachers- a masters level at least and possible willingness to work towards a doctorate and assist those teachers with their education costs. Education is one piece but also requiring teachers to be passionate is a must!  Treating teachers like professionals by allowing autonomy, throw out curriculum maps and strictly structured standards that are followed to the letter and instead make a guideline that can be adjusted and changed to meet students needs.  Allowing teachers to take their planning time at home or at a coffee shop- planning can be done anywhere and often being outside the classroom where there are no distractions is better in my experience.  More planning time, less class time- Finland's four hours of class time a day allows for so much more planning, reflection, and creativity to the point where I can't even imagine how great my lessons would be.  Students aren't absorbing information when they are rushed and overwhelmed so allow for more time in between classes, longer recess for younger students, and less standardized testing.  Allow for longer classes so students can achieve more (instead of 40 min) like Finland's 75 minute classes, but only do 3 or 4 classes a day with several breaks in between (15 minutes every hour is a great start).  Meaningful learning experience come from hands on projects, reflection, and critical thinking which is not possible with our overly short class periods. No more than 20 students per class!  I can see a major difference in my student's classwork when I have 20 students vs. 29- it is so major that I feel so strongly we are cheating our students whenever there are more than 20 students in a room.  Less truly is more.  I also believe everything from 16 years on should be completely career focused instead of general education that has nothing to do with a students future career.  Why should a student take honors chemistry if they want to work in graphic design?  Why is a future plumber required to take Algebra II rather than math related to plumbing in a vocational school offered to students 16-18 years old? Why is America so convinced that more is more?  Students learning a few subjects in depth and fully (that are relevant to their lives) is so much more valuable than students briefly memorizing something to pass standardized tests in every single subject that they will not use again to that extent nor would they remember it even if they needed to use it later on because it wasn't fully and effectively absorbed.

In closing, instead of making no child left behind legislature which helps no one, increasing standardized testing, or offering vouchers to private schools how about funding our education system to value teachers? Require more of teachers upfront- better training and education to begin with, an advanced interview process to ensure they are not only educated but PASSIONATE, along with time to continue to improve each week and reflect, and subsidizing our education to ensure all that is possible. Change our outdated structure of 7 short classes a day with 4 minute "breaks" to 4 long classes where students have real breaks to actually absorb what they're learning and refocus.  How about making education relevant to individual student needs and not a one size fits all solution to a student who is only 2 years away from the workforce?  Lets stop failing our children and forcing an enormous amount of stress and pressure on them with little positive results and effects!  Lets allow them to find a love for education rather than a dread of the school day.

Interesting articles to explore this further:

Thursday, October 20, 2016


As a teacher aesthetics may not be the first thing we think about when we design lessons.  I realize more and more though that the aesthetics of our classroom and lessons is important.  I incorporate posters, graphics, and vinyl wall stickers to try to improve the overall aesthetics of my room.  I also have oversized colorful bean bags that can be used in brainstorming sessions.  One thing  I was lacking was aesthetics in my assignment sheets.  I have begun to rework all my assignment sheets to have color, borders, images, and a work scenario.

The visual improvements align with the overall gamification of my classroom but the work scenario takes the aesthetics (or the overall game experience) a step further. By "work scenario" I mean I am giving the students a real world situation in which they would have to do the project we are doing in class.  I am starting to include a brief story or background that would justify how the project would be proposed by an industry professional.  Some may be a little bit of a stretch but overall the work scenarios are things that could happen in industry.  I went back and adjusted all assignment sheets we've done this year to include the "work scenario" and let my students know they can find those in the lesson archives if they were interested.  I also told them that future assignments will always have work scenarios on them.

I stressed to the students that I want them to give me feedback on the new look of the assignments, work scenarios, and anything else they feel I should adjust.  It is important for me to get feedback from my students and put that feedback to work so students know they are a part of the process.  The point of all this is after all to improve their overall learning experience.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Software Development Class Project

My students are currently working on a software development project that includes everything in the process from brainstorming through release. A lot of my students are currently trying to narrow down their problem statements, target market, and completing customer surveys to guide project direction.  I want to help them understand that software development isn't just about coming up with an idea they are excited about but adjusting that idea to match customer wants and needs. 

Students are giving people within their target market demographics surveys that give them feedback on what those potential customers want to see in the game or app they are developing.  The survey results help guide revisions they make to their problem statement and design.  I am proud of my students everyday when I walk around the room and hear conversations about timelines, adjustments to mechanics, fatal errors that need fixed, and how to deal with problems which arise daily.  They may not realize it but this project is directly preparing them for the workforce by improving problem solving and critical thinking. 

I keep saying that I don't want to teach my students; I want to guide them down a path that leads to learning and most importantly thinking for themselves.  If my students rely on me to provide resources and walk them through each problem they never find out their capability which is more than they (or I) can imagine.  With online resources possibilities are endless if they know how to find answers and work toward solutions.  As teachers let's take a step back from our own egos and say that it is the students who do the hard work and we need to trust them to do so.  When we provide step by step instructions and allow no flexibility, creativity, or choice in assignments we stifle student's ability to really learn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gamification Expanded

I have been thinking about what information I want to offer for my gamification consulting workshops.  I've also started to revamp some of the things I am doing in class to redesign and improve what I am doing.   It is important for me to design gamification techniques for those who have computers for each student and those that may not have any technology in the classroom because I want my techniques to be user friendly for all types of classrooms and subjects.

I'm reading every article and peer reviewed research I can get my hands on and have started to narrow down what I think is important.  I know the main topics I want to cover include: what is gamification, how it looks in my classroom, setting the right classroom culture, game based principles, using storytelling, aesthetics (electronic and non electronic techniques), game mechanics, and a final closing and reflection piece.  I believe it would be a good gamification 101 workshop for any teacher so that they would enough information to actually get started in their own class afterwards. 

One of the things I've considered while designing the workshop is how many trainings I've gone to that either cover too much information and I feel overwhelmed or too little so that I feel like I need several more before I can put anything into practice.  I want to find a happy medium so that teachers can implement practices right away and know where to start.  I also began to work on my website which is:  I am excited to start this new adventure soon!