It’s all fun and games and that’s alright. This is the concept behind Jen Skowronek’s 7th grade Academics in Action class. Using the concept of gaming, this innovative educator has taken learning to a whole new level… well many levels actually. Her approach is likened to that of a video game where students work in ‘guilds’ for which they design their own avatar as well as guild flag. Learning is primarily project-based, with room for individual growth as students progress through levels to demonstrate learning. A supplemental ELA class, Jen’s focus is on creative writing. “My students work in guilds and write both as a team and individually, about their original characters.”, states Skowronek. Her goal is to create a learning environment where all students can be successful and encouraged to write without feeling intimidated by the process. “I wanted to incorporate technology and 21st Century Skills into my course as much possible. A gamification twist takes the subject of writing and makes it fun and engaging for all.”
Jen uses gaming terminology when designing projects for student learning. Creativity comes into the mix by affording students the opportunity to create an original character called an avatar, which is their player persona for the ‘game of writing’. In addition to creating a graphic, each students writes a backstory to the character. Students are given the choice of how to create their avatars. “Some drew their own, while others used apps like bitmoji to create them”, says Jen. Student teams, otherwise known as guilds, also create guild flags which are all on Skowronek’s classroom wall. The gaming concept of levels provides a way for students to continue their progression in creative writing. Students, for example, are given a scenario for their guilds beginning in a cave. They are then required to write a collaborative story based on video game levels, completing at least four levels as a team. Other innovative projects include avatar video introductions using the augmented reality app, HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma), eBook creation about student avatars adventures with the Book Creator app, and video production based on students’ original scripts using the iMovie and DoInk Green Screen apps. Students create a guild website with Google sites as their capstone project to publish their work. “Students don’t even realize they are working!”, says Jen, whose main goal is always student learning. “When I ask students to write four pages and they write fourteen, I know that they are engaged.”
When asked what advice she has for other educators, Skowronek believes we should not be afraid to let the students drive. “I give my students clear expectations for what I want their final products to be, but I do not tell them how to get there.” Student-centered learning is at the core of her class. “I consider myself a help desk on their journeys, but the adventures belong to them.”
Jennifer Skowronek is a 7th grade ELA teacher at Norton Middle School and co-leader of the MassCUE SLP & Special Education SIG.
Follow her on Twitter @JSkowronekNMS
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