“There is tremendous energy around games, and what is even better is that there are games that can be played (and made) around every discipline in our schools. Teachers will find students who never really connected with their class suddenly staying after school, working on projects and loving it!” – Doug Bergman, USA

When Daily Edventures first spoke to Doug Bergman last year, we were struck by his unbridled enthusiasm for teaching and the cross-curricular power of computer science in the classroom. As computer science department head at his school, Bergman knows a good bit about the impact technology can have on learning. He put that knowledge to work as a judge at last year’s Partners in Learning US Forum, where he forged strong connections with other judges and participants, leading him to collaborate on a number of new projects and paths of exploration.

Since we first checked in with Bergman, he’s been busy developing his own expertise in games-based learning, and has begun to see the positive impact the Kinect — which his students are now creating programs for — can have on learning. Today, he joins us via video-blog, exploring what he considers to be the key success factor for teachers: not technology, but connection with students. Bergman also updates us on his latest projects, and issues a challenge to other teachers to discover the benefits of gamification and video-blog evaluations. I’m happy to share this update from Doug Bergman, and can’t wait to see what he does next.

What significant event(s) have taken place in your professional life since we last heard from you?

I was incredibly honored to be invited, along with one of my colleagues Lou Zulli, to be a judge at the 2012 Partners in Learning U.S. Innovator Forum. That experience was just as powerful as being there as a participant the previous year. What was especially amazing was to see how thorough the judging process is. You have to remember, the very fact that each teacher is there means they have already been evaluated as exceptional, so to try to distinguish between all excellent projects is extremely challenging. I learned so much from Deirdre Butler and Kirsten Panton, who led a team of 30 judges from across the country. The rubric that is used to evaluate has been developed over many years and is based on a great deal of research.  It truly does give you the tools to accurately and fairly evaluate great projects. I continue to use that rubric in my own classes now.

Outside of class, I enjoyed spending a few months working with Pat Yongpradit and Tim McMichael to develop curricula based on project-based learning involving Kinect (me), advanced XNA (Pat) Xbox game design, and Windows Phone (Tim) programming. What is so exciting is that Microsoft has made all of that free to anyone who would like to push the envelope in their class: Get it here.

What have you learned in the last year as part of your professional development that you would like to share with our readers?

In the classroom, the most exciting thing has been the success of pushing the envelope using the Kinect.  I have always used games in my classroom, but we have always designed keyboard, mouse, joystick, and gamepad controlled games. The step-up to Kinect has been a wonderful experience.  It is a change of thinking, both for me and the students, to think in terms of skeletal position in front of the camera—and how we interpret the motions of up to two skeletons.  What we found was that rather quickly, students made the jump (no pun intended, well OK, maybe a bit intended), and were able to write some pretty amazing games.

Some of the ideas were amazing: using your arms to paddle a kayak up a river while avoiding the rocks; using your hands to play musical notes in the air, playing a first-person goalie and blocking shots on goal, a dodgeball-style game with dragons and fireballs, a limbo game complete with a bar that lowers, and an activity where you “grab” an animal and place it in the appropriate geologic time period.

I was so proud of my seniors who were able to take four years of Computer Science and put it to work! Their Kinect projects were incredible. One student created a motion-balance Concussion Test measurement system; another programmed a tutorial to teach all the moves (and verify when they’ve been accomplished) of a complex cheerleading sequence; another designed a program which is used to evaluate the quality of a cartwheel — she made it take a snapshot at the beginning, middle, and end; another had the idea to use the Kinect to have students use gestures to help them through an entire virtual chemistry lab; and two other students created interactive language arts activities to help learn grammar and sentence structure. The possibilities are endless. Really all it takes is showing your kids the basics of how to write simple programs using the Kinect and how to think in gestures and movement. In just a few days, they will have enough to go off on their own. I am amazed at how many of our students come into my lab during study hall, break, and lunch just to work on their programs.

Gamification: I’d like to challenge teachers out there to investigate this idea. Andrew Miller has some great ideas and resources to begin that journey. And I would like to recommend that everyone read “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal as an introduction into that world. Research tells us that students spend thousands of hours eagerly playing games. They will lose a game hundreds of times, yet can’t wait to play again. They will spend hours researching and practicing for a game. They will work together to figure things out. They will figure out incredibly complex problems through trial and error. They cheer each other on for their successes and help each other learn from failures. They will blog and discuss online about their experiences. But we don’t necessarily see that same excitement in schools. Why not?

I’ve spent the last 20 years bringing games into the classroom, but not just playing games… making video games that address real social causes, such as poverty, hunger, education, disease, and the environment. We do that on a variety of devices including android phones and tablets, Windows phones, iPads and iPhones, and Windows laptops. You’d be amazed at what students can create given a set of digital tools (called Computer Science) and time to bring their ideas, imagination, concerns, and even possible solutions into an interactive experience on the screen in front of them. Students are going to play games; why not let them create their own, thus leading the next generation of games based on topics that have real meaning to them?! There are a tremendous amount of resources and tutorials available, most free just for the asking, that can help teachers and students get started. There is tremendous energy around games, and what is even better is that there are games that can be played (and made) around every discipline in our schools. Teachers will find students who never really connected with their class suddenly staying after school, working on projects and loving it!  A well-planned game-design project can incorporate a great deal of subject-specific content into the game. Because of the success we see in game design, we even brought “badges” into class that can be earned by helping another student in the class. No grades or other rewards attached to them, just personal satisfaction.  The first two weeks of trying it, I had over 250 instances of students helping students. I literally have kids announcing, “Who needs help?” in class. And I find that weaker students who want a badge have to find something that others don’t know how to do (yet), and they’ll go figure it out, so they can be the first to help someone.

Video blog evaluations: In my classes which have a single project all semester long, I use written blogging as one of the tools to mark progress and evaluate students on making progress, but also reflecting on that process.  Students are required to submit weekly reflections on successes and failures and stumbling blocks for the previous week as well as identify the immediate and long term to-do list for the coming week. It is really helpful for you as a teacher to see how things are going, and where students are struggling, as well as where they are succeeding. For the student, it is helpful in keeping yourself on target to complete the project at the quality you are hoping for and also on-time.

This semester, I tried something new, and it may very well have been one of the best additions to my teacher toolset: video blog evaluations.  At the end of a semester-long project, I had each student submit their reflections on the entire semester. They were prompted with four or five questions to get them talking, then they were just asked to speak freely. Wow. Some students would talk for five to 10 minutes, giving me insights into what they considered the strengths of the project, as well as areas for improvement. Some students re-recorded their thoughts three or four times just to “get it right.” And because they knew I would watch them at a later time, they felt comfortable being completely honest. It was important that I had established a relationship of trust, so they felt that they could be honest with me, knowing that any comments they had would be used to help make our program stronger.  Because of the incredible success and value the VBLOGs brought me, I will now be using those in all my classes. I encourage teachers out there to try it. They can use their phone, a webcam, or digital camera.

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One Response to “There is tremendous energy around games, and what is even better is that there are games that can be played (and made) around every discipline in our schools. Teachers will find students who never really connected with their class suddenly staying after school, working on projects and loving it!” – Doug Bergman, USA

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