Gotta Catch Em’ All: A Guide to Evolving Your Teaching Practice Through a PLN (Pokéfessional Learning Network)
My fiancée and I recently purchased our first home. As we were packing our belongings and getting ready for the big move, I happened to stumble across one of my most prized possessions in my trusty neon orange and royal blue Space Jam suitcase. As I pulled the zipper open, I was surprised to find my old deck of Pokémon cards still intact. Looking at the various cards (e.g., Squirtle, Snorlax, etc.) took me back to my childhood. I couldn’t help but reminisce on my first Pokémon purchase roughly 20 years ago. I remember the day so vividly. It was like the iconic scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You know, the one where the deserving Charlie Bucket finds the much-anticipated golden ticket in his Wonka Bar? My nimble fingers gently tore at the shiny, foil packaging as I shook with uncontrollable excitement. I didn’t find a golden ticket, but I did find a Pikachu! Pika . . . Pika!
If you aren’t familiar with Pokémon, the story follows protagonist, Ash Ketchum, leaving his hometown to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a Pokémon Master. To fulfil his dream though, he must battle and defeat the toughest of gym leaders - all experts in their respective fields. Upon defeating them, Ash is awarded a badge of mastery to highlight his knowledge in specific areas and skills. (Does this sound familiar?) If these challenges weren’t enough, Ash must also deal with pesky Team Rocket constantly trying to interfere with his goals. In a way, the narrative mirrors a bildungsroman - a coming of age-type story. Along his trek, Ash encounters happiness and endures heartbreak – experiences that shape and mold his identify. Most importantly though, Ash makes new friends who have parallel dreams (i.e., parallel because they are consistently in the same direction, yet, always unique). These friends are there for Ash through the good, the bad, and the ugly. In return, Ash is there for them.
The group members may have individual dreams; however, they understand that the path to success is best paved through a team effort. This group bonds and arguably becomes one of the most successful PLN’s of all time. For instance, Ash and his PLN celebrate wins and losses, collectively. When one member earns a badge, they all earn it. When one member has a tough day, the others are there for support. There is never any animosity, only genuine happiness. Moreover, they constantly challenge one another to improve their craft and learn. Each member may have their own specialization, but they each have a growth mindset. Without this group effort, the learning wouldn’t occur so fluidly. Luckily, Ash’s story is not a solo story; it is a story of companionship.
The reason I bring up Ash and his Pokémon quest is because there are so many similarities to my own journey. (Actually, I think many individuals could connect to Ash and his PLN.) 4 months ago, I set out to become a Twitter Master. I wanted the awesome badges to proudly display, but more than that, I wanted the knowledge and friendship! Although I embarked on my journey alone, I have slowly added members to my team every day. These members come from all corners of the Twitterverse. Moreover, these once strangers have transformed into REAL friends. These are friends that I communicate with on a regular basis. When I am frustrated, stuck on a problem, or even happy because of an accomplishment; I reach out to my PLN. In turn, I am there for them. Our learning goals may differ, yet, we support one another as best we can. Without them in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am at.
As you look to expand your PLN, set goals for yourself. If you walk into this blindly, you may stray into a black hole and end up forever lost. Thus, it is imperative that you start with small steps. Scroll through different feeds. Find people that are interesting, inspiring, and ACTIVE! Once you have found the people you want in your PLN, take a risk and reach out to them. Some will respond. Some will ignore you. Just don’t take it personal; everyone is in the middle of their own hustle. You can’t knock them for that. Eventually, you will find your people, or they will find you! Finally, don’t forget, a PLN is about QUALITY, not quantity. Don’t focus on numbers; focus on relationships. You don’t have to add every single person on Twitter. Doing this could lead to a supernova-like explosion in your feed. If this happens, good luck at making sense of anything. Remember, you are here to connect and learn, not to get anxious or overwhelmed. Lastly, be sure to check out the different edu chats. They are a great place to connect. https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-calendar has done an awesome job of organizing them by time and focus. You can find amazing edu rock stars in these chats. If you need help, I’m a click away. Now, go off and become the Twitter Master you were born to be!
What was the last game you played that you truly enjoyed and got lost in? Think about it for a minute. Now, think about the parts and pieces that made it fun. For example, was it single-player or multi-player? What was the goal of the game? What were the challenges preventing you from reaching that goal? Within any well-developed game, there are mechanics/parts that were designed and play-tested over-and-over to create an entertaining and habit-forming experience. So, how does this translate into the classroom? Why is this relevant to you? Well, recently, there has been a major buzz about using games in education. If you don’t believe me, just look at your recent Twitter feed. I guarantee that you will see at least one mention of games in education as your fingers quickly scroll. I want you to understand . . . I’m not talking about games like Math Blaster. I’m talking about interactive, immersive, and well-balanced games – the kind that can level-up any classroom!
For the sake of clarity, these games typically fall under 2 categories. One category is known as gamification. The other is referred to as game-based learning (GBL). All too often do I see people incorrectly labeling these and getting them mixed up – even companies do it! I get it. It’s hard to grasp and make sense of all the dynamic trends in education. By no means am I trying to go after/troll anyone. The purpose of this post is to help bring clarity and understanding to all the confusion. Hope this helps!
What is gamification? The best definition I have ever heard for this term comes from Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate. In his book, he states, “[Gamification is] applying the most motivational techniques of games to non-game settings, like classrooms. Gamification includes elements of game theory, design thinking, and informational literacy. It is a framework layered over your curriculum to enhance what you already do.” In short, gamification is taking the structures from traditional games in non-game contexts. For example, a gamified classroom might use a couple of game mechanics (e.g., points, levels, and badges) to engage and motivate students. Moreover, the game mechanics that can be added are infinite. If you can dream it, you can most likely adapt that idea to fit your gamified classroom. The best examples of gamified classrooms come from rock star educators that have built their game and created a narrative layer-by-layer, year-over-year. There are also companies that have done the leg-work already (e.g., Classcraft, Prodigy, etc.).
Now, let’s talk about GBL. In a discussion I had with Dalton Gray, game designer, out of the Institute of Play, he states, “Game-based learning is designing a game or game like activity where by the learning activity is fundamentally different from traditional teaching modalities. Students are using core mechanics that align to learning goals. They are able to try, fail, receive feedback and try again. All the good stuff about games is densely intermingled with the learning activity affording a learning experience that is active, student centered, potentially social, and more complex than rote repetition or regurgitation.” In short, GBL is using actual games to teach concepts. That is, individuals meet learning objectives by playing a game. GBL games are made up of 6 distinct parts (e.g., goal, components, rules, challenges, core mechanics, and space). While taking a course at the Institute of Play, I learned that to be considered true GBL, a game must have a core mechanic (verb) that is aligned to the learning objective/outcome. Without this feature, the game changes from GBL to gamification. Most educational games have trouble with this connection. In addition, there aren’t many teachers that have created true GBL games in their classroom. Although, Teacher Quest has an awesome library of teacher-made GBL examples. Educational companies that are GBL-focused include Schell Games, Filament Games, and Legends of Learning.
One approach is not necessarily better than the other. Since they are fundamentally different, one can’t compare them in the same regard. Most educators that are using games in their classroom are using mechanics of gamification. That isn’t to say that gamification is better than GBL. On the contrary, some would argue that GBL is the route to go since it is more dependent on intrinsic motivation as compared to extrinsic motivation. It’s all about which option you feel the most comfortable trying out in your classroom. If you find that gamification is the best route for you and you would like to give it a shot, my advice is that you do it slowly with micro-goals in mind. The process can be very overwhelming at first, especially when you try to figure out how all the game mechanics work interdependently. If you get stuck, there are communities with members that are always willing to lend a hand (e.g., #XPLAP, #games4ed, etc.). If you decide to go the GBL route, I recommend looking for a game from one of the companies I mentioned above that meets the learning objective you are aiming for. Dabble with that before you try making your own GBL game. I found that option best for myself when I started. It truly helped cement my knowledge and gave me the understanding I needed to make my own GBL game.
With that said, I hope you have a better understanding of gamification and GBL. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them down below. Looking forward to seeing your journey!
Where Do I Begin?
To be continued . . .
When I am old, unable to care for myself, and ready to rage against the dying of the light; how will I remember my vitality? Will I have regrets as I ponder missed opportunities and what-ifs? Will I have left behind a legacy worth living for? Or, will there be a statue of me, like the notorious King of Kings, Ozymandias? Ok, a statue may be pushing it! The point I am trying to paint is that venturing into the unknown is scary; however, never attempting such a stroll is scarier! Life is to be lived, not controlled!
That’s why we must open the door for opportunity when it comes a-knocking. Unfortunately, opportunity is like a shooting star. Blink and it's gone – forever into the dark void of space! That’s right, some people will never have that chance meeting. So, when you see that familiar flash, I challenge you to embrace it – like an old best friend. Should you feel the urge, you may even tell it how happy you are to see it. My only advice is to do this privately. That way, no one sees you talking to yourself.
This year I have welcomed flash-after-flash. From giving my first PD on gamification/GBL, to launching an educational game, to starting this blog; I have pushed myself to complete and utter chaos. In life, there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired. Prior to engaging in this relentless cataclysmic path of beauty, I was the busy – never stopping for what I wanted or needed. No matter how hard I tried, something deep down prevented me from telling others no. I struggled with remembering that I did not need to ignite myself to keep others warm! However, recently, I have awoken from my long slumber with a vast appetite. I am hungry. My soul must be fed! I no longer want to shun my dreams; I want to acknowledge them in their entirety – big or small – rational or not. Universe, do you hear me? I HAVE DREAMS! Who doesn’t? Living life without such is not a life worth living for.
I remember giving my first PD to a nervous group of soon-to-be educators a few months back. They were eager to make their mark on Earth. I was eager to make a mark on their teaching trajectory. Initially, I was hesitant to commit to such an engagement. I had never given a PD. What did I have to offer? Trust me, when I first heard the knocking, I tried to hide in the shadows. By chance though, my elusive creative genius persuaded me to open the door to the loud knocking. Was I nervous? Yes! Did I survive? Barely! By some miracle, Earth’s magnetic poles didn’t reverse midway through my presentation. As a matter of fact, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. We laughed, learned, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. Moreover, speaking to the wonderful group gave me the confidence to sway, move my hips, and dance with change.
The choice you make today will dictate the path you take tomorrow. Next time you hear that knock, open the door! Whether you are contemplating writing that book or giving that presentation, do not go gentle into that good night. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to try. Give it a shot. Be the pursuing. Rage!
As I sprinted towards the finish line of summer vacation, I knew I needed different. After being inundated with 3 never-ending years of back-to-back-to-back graduate work and induction coursework, I was done - literally and figuratively. I existed purely in a physical state devoid of mental expression, creativity, and thought (i.e., like that dude from Get Out). I felt like I had turned on the autopilot new-teacher feature and hadn’t gotten ahold of the steering wheel ever since. The only glimmer of escaping this funk and taking control of the driver’s wheel existed in three little letters, CUE. These letters would lead me down a path of self-discovery, great awakening, and enlightenment.
During the school year, I had been fortunate to experience CUE. Prior to attending this life-altering phenomenon, I was oblivious as to what this organization stood for, its ability to connect, or its mass following. I thought I was attending another local teaching event - continental breakfastesque. You know . . . the kind with the stale muffins and “fresh” fruit? I won’t get into the fine details of what I saw or experienced (i.e., that’s reserved for another post). I will share that I was wrong - completely and unequivocally wrong!
The event changed my life. One more time, the event CHANGED my life! I didn’t see thespians acting like they were engaged only to secretly follow the tune of the tick-tocking clock. I saw raw, unfiltered passion radiating from educators. The ideas flowing, the relationships being established – I wanted that and more! I wanted to break the restraints and release my soul into this foreign world. I left the conference longing for exploration of the unknown, to see the great wonders of the teaching world (i.e., something about a teaching pirate?), and to taste the fruit of thy Twitterverse.
As I returned home, I was in a daze as I tried to make sense of all the moving parts. I told myself I would focus on one thing I learned, hopefully, avoiding spontaneous human combustion. Thus, I hyper focused my energy on establishing myself on Twitter. This is one of the greatest modern-day tools for educators. I knew I had to make the most out of this valuable resource; however, I first had to figure out what a hashtag was. After about a month of hanging out on the shallow end, I decided to muster up the courage and make my way to the diving board. I admit my first attempts were belly flops (e.g., engaging in Twitter chat by myself because I forgot to include the #nameofthechat, making my account private without even realizing it, etc.); however, my will didn’t falter. I wouldn’t allow that!
Roughly 3 months have gone by since I took my first leap in the deep end. To date, these months have gone unrivaled in my professional development and innate desire to learn. When I needed help, the rock stars reached out and stopped the flailing (e.g., Carrie Baughcum, Tisha Richmond, Norma Gamez, Glen Irvin, Ivan Kaltman, Marilyn McAlister, Kirstin Greig, Melissa Pilakowski, and Jesus Huerta to name a few). I have seen the potential that exists within Twitter, and I am completely hooked. Twitter is the modern-day OASIS – a doorway to a globally networked community of educators.
As I strap on my haptic gloves, enable my VR Visor, and get ready for another plunge; I can’t help but wonder if Twitter is ready for me? Twitter, my name is Andrew Arevalo. However, you can call me @gameboydrew. I am here to stay, learn, and connect! Let’s go!!!!