Affinity Spaces: What Video Games and Virtual PLNs Can Teach Educators About Informal Learning

Untitled drawing

On any given night, you can find my children (grades 5 & 9) along with millions of others, playing video games. From Fortnite, to Minecraft, to Roblox; many hours are logged in these virtual spaces playing… and also learning. The learning taking place is not necessarily organized by specific disciplines but instead, a collective intelligence which blends content knowledge, creative problem solving, design thinking, along with collaborating and communicating with peers around the globe.

This informal learning is similar to my own when I think about jumping on Twitter to connect, consume, and share with other passionate educators, my virtual PLN. So what can we learn from video games, #EdChat, and other virtual spaces? All of these spaces include similar characteristics that James Paul Gee calls Affinity Spaces. While technology has led to an explosion of these spaces, they are possible to replicate face to face although it is difficult because, “institutional constraints, pre-existing status, geographical boundaries. A Classroom where students did not choose to be there and the teacher grades everyone.”

As educators, the goal is not for everyone to use video games in the classroom, but instead, understand the features of Affinity Spaces and work towards creating similar conditions in our classroom.

 15 Features of Affinity Spaces (by Gee)

  1. Organized around a common passion – A common passion, not race, gender, or socioeconomics, is primary and respected by all in the space.
  2. Not segregated by age – Older people can be beginners and younger people can be veterans. Passion, skill, and learning are respected
  3. Common space shared by all (Newbies, Veterans, Masters, etc.) – Everyone is accommodated in the same space. Newbies are not segregated from those that are considered masters of the game.
  4. Everyone can consume and create – Affinity spaces allow everyone to consume not only game-based creations but those created by players in the space. Consuming and creating are encouraged to allow everyone to build if they choose to.
  5. Content is transformed through interaction – The content is not fixed and constantly is transformed through interaction.
  6. Development and pooled broad, general knowledge as well as specialists – People are enabled to create and share knowledge and skill within the space.
  7. Individual and distributed knowledge encouraged – People are enabled to gain individual knowledge and share and spread specialized knowledge.
  8. Use of dispersed knowledge is encouraged (hacking and smashing to gain the desired product) The use of onsite and outside resources and tools is encouraged and supported to gain the creations people seek.
  9. Tacit knowledge is used and honored – Affinity spaces support people to learn by doing rather than memorizing tutorials or reading lengthy directions.
  10. Many different ways to participate – Participation in the space is varied and on multiple levels.
  11. Multiple ways to gain status – People can gain status, if they want to, in many different ways.
  12. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources – There are no bosses. People can be both leaders and followers.
  13. Roles are reciprocal – People sometimes lead, sometimes follow; mentor or be mentored; ask questions or answer them. The bottom line is there is always more to learn.
  14. Learning is individually proactive -Affinity spaces view failure as a means to success. Help is available, but individuals are still responsible for own learning.
  15. Encouragement from audience and feedback from peers – Feedback is welcomed from others interacting with your creations, while peers play an important role in providing critical advice to move individuals forward.

While all of these features are not required, an Affinity Space has most of these features. And upon reflection, most of the popular video games that our students play have these features. That is why we have students, and in my case children, who play hours on end. I, too, see some of these features in the spaces I spend my time as an educator. It is time to pay attention to attributes that make this type of learning successful for students and ask ourselves how these features can be reimagined in our own classrooms. Education is not merely producing consumers but those that can create and produce for the betterment of their space.

Source: Gee, James Paul. Literacy and Education. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Writer’s Workshop in the High School Classroom

My Post (9)

Typically, the discussion around Workshop takes place against the backdrop of the elementary classroom. When I tell other educators I also used workshop in my high school classes I am inundated with endless questions… How did you do that? What curriculum did you use? How much time did you have?

First, before jumping into the weekly schedule and content I used, I always explain a few things up front.

Logistics and Important Information About My Classroom:

  • Class periods were 42 minutes and I met with the students every day for one semester.
  • I worked hard at the beginning to build a community of writers, one where students would be willing to take risks in their style and content and share with a wider audience than the traditional lone teacher.
  • All students submitted a writing portfolio at the end of the course, sharing their chosen pieces, paragraphs, lines, etc. which demonstrated mastery in standards.
  • All students were required to complete, at least, three typed-pages every week of original work or one that was heavily revised and edited.
  • Students were part of a blogging community and required to post something every other week and comment on 2 other blog posts every week. This public sharing of work provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher and helped grow writers faster than anything else I had done throughout my writing. (This community was high school students from across the US and in 4 different classrooms.)
  • Students chose content and type of writing each week. Portfolio asked for examples in multiple types, subgenres, and media; but students had complete control over the when, what, and how during the semester.
  • Along with typical types and subgenres of writing, students also created and wrote in contemporary modes including images, videos, music, infographics, etc.
  • Every two to three weeks students turned in a “publishable piece” to be assessed.
  • Finally, I wrote with my students. I modeled my thinking, shared my pieces, and asked for feedback!  

 

I used the traditional Workshop model where I tried to keep my direct instruction at a minimum so that students could write, apply the learning, and collaborate with each other and me when needed. The following is a typical weekly schedule. During student Independent Writing time they had three options: write, collaborate with peers, collaborate with me. As long as their actions were done with intent, the climate and culture in my classroom allowed them to decide what they needed most at that moment to move them forward as a writer, and then do it!

A Simplified weekly schedule of Writer’s Workshop for a 12th-grade writing class:

MondayInspiration. Brainstorm. Share Every Monday I would take time to launch students into writing. I called this “Monday Inspiration”. There were many methods I used to get kids excited about writing. Students were inspired by a mentor text, video, image, or other types of communication. I would pose a question or prompt to contemplate and write about. Students would take part in an inspiring writing activity that typically had them developing lists, sketching, moving, and so forth. All inspiration and accompanying thinking were recorded in their digital Writer’s Notebook section we labeled, Writing Territories, a term from Nancy Atwell. After the 10 to 15 minute inspiration, students would continue to brainstorm and write about the topic or in the genre at hand. This beginning may be something that they continue to develop throughout the week, or remain in their Writing Territories to call upon if they “don’t know what to write about.” At the very end of the class period, I would make sure to leave time to share. I learned early on, students loved sharing their thoughts, writing, and ideas on Monday after the inspiring start. The sharing was sometimes done as a whole class or in a small group.

TuesdayIndependent Writing. Peer Collaboration. Small Group. 1 on 1  On Tuesday, students were writing or creating independently on a piece of their choice. While they could continue the piece they started on Monday, students in my classroom always had a choice in Type and content of their writing. During this time, I worked with small groups, to teach a skill, reinforce something previously learned, or meet individual needs, collectively. I also had time to meet with a few students 1 on 1. This allowed me to know them as writers, address specific needs that either they or I identified, and to just do a check-in on their process. Along with working independently, or meeting with me, students also had the option to work with a partner or small group. During a writer’s workshop, students are at multiple points in the writing process. Some continued pieces week to week, others may just be in the beginning stages; students would revise, edit, and provide feedback to each other and their “virtual classmates” in the blogging community based on their needs as a writer.

Wednesday Language Study. Independent Writing. Portfolio. Blog. On Wednesdays, the class period began with a lesson over grammar, usage, or mechanics. Teaching grammar in isolation does not lead to use in writing. With this in mind, I used student writing, identify common errors made by the class and this is where I would focus my teaching. After the lesson, students continue to write or work with peers. Wednesday was also time for students to work on their writing portfolio, a collection of their best examples and reflections throughout the year and aligned to the standards or teaching goals. Students could also add a new post to their blogs or leave a comment on another student blog from our community.  

Thursday –  Independent Writing. Revising. Editing. Small Groups. 1 on 1. Thursday was spent much like Tuesday. Students chose how they spent their time based on their writing needs. Some worked independently, others worked with a partner or small group. During the revising and editing stages, students used a variety of strategies to accomplish their goals. These strategies were taught via whole class and small groups. They also prepared for Friday, making sure they had something of substance to share the following day. I spent my time working one on one with students, teaching specific techniques that would move them forward as writers.  

FridaySharing with Feedback. Fridays were typically spent sharing writing. To help build a community of growth, we started off sharing in small groups of 3 using the PQP strategy (Praise, Question, Polish by Bill Lyons). This allows the writer to receive the specific feedback needed. Another method used was Go, Fish, a whole class strategy that allowed every writer to give and receive feedback. An Author’s Spotlight was used to highlight individuals and often included multiple pieces by 2 or 3 writers. Important things about students sharing their writing: Everyone shared what they wanted to with the rest of the class, feedback was specific (more strategies were taught for this) and used to move everyone forward, finally, sharing their writing honored the process and provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher.

It is possible to use a workshop framework in a high school classroom. In fact, I cannot imagine teaching writing a different way. Students had a choice in content and writing type. They also shared their work with classmates and to a larger, public audience. Students were writing for real, not just writing for school, and created in multiple mediums to communicate their voice through video, text, visuals, and more. And although this post shared a basic structure, I hope that it provided you with enough information to see the possibilities when considering how to structure a writer’s workshop in your own classroom.

New Course Offering: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Influential educators Shaelynn Farnsworth and Steven W. Anderson introduce a course where you can find the answers to these questions and more. In partnership with Participate, explore what it means to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher.

From Shaelynn – In 2008, the district I worked in adopted a 1:1 Laptop Initiative. Through this initiative, every student and staff member in grades 9-12 were given a laptop. Students and staff members were not only able to use technology in the classroom but were able to bring their computer home with them each night. Ubiquitous technology shifted the educational landscape in our building. Along with reimagining learning, I also quickly learned that traditional and evidenced-based practices looked different in the classroom. Every day brought a new opportunity to provide my students relevant and engaging learning. It also helped me become a better educator as I analyzed and reflected upon my classroom and craft.

From Steven – When I was leading a large technology program in NC as Director of Instructional Technology we invited a group of teachers to spend an afternoon talking to us about a new Bring Your Own Device Initiative we were undertaking. What my team and I wanted to understand was what teachers believed would need to change when the devices are the smartest in the room? We thought we’d hear questions about how to teach or was to incorporate the technology more seamlessly. What we got were questions about the latest apps or websites that were flashy and fun.

Using technology today isn’t just about what app to use or what new website looks like fun. Technology use in the classroom requires a pedagogical shift from the traditional methods of teacher-driven learning to modern day student-driven discovery. Not only do educators need to understand how to choose the best technology for learning but the research behind the collaboration or student reflection or formative assessment. Once we understand the why of learning, the how, layered with appropriate use of technology, because fundamentally easier.

Steven Anderson and I are pleased to offer a new course through Participate. This course focuses on 6 Areas of Development we have identified on having a high impact on student learning and teacher professional learning when integrated with intentional technology.

Course: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Length: 8 weeks

Cost: $79

Audience: Educators, Coaches, Administrators

Benefits:

  • Specially designed tasks blending high-impact technology with each component
  • Research supporting each of the 6 Areas of Development
  • Examples and stories from our own classrooms
  • Collaborative, reflective tasks to help you connect with other educators while engaging in low-stress, professional learning
  • Feedback from Steven and Shaelynn
  • Access to collections on the Participate Community
  • Badge upon completion of the course

We understand the needs educators and administrators have when technology is integrated into the learning environment. Our focus isn’t on the tool, it’s on the reimagining of learning and teaching. Each we week we will explore the research related to specific aspects of pedagogy and discuss what the effective integration of these tools really look like. While there will be tool and resource exploration each week, the main focus is on pedagogy and how best to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher!

Digital Storytelling: My Favorite Phone Apps for Editing, Typography, Gif-making, & Sharing

Applegify.gif

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is Top Global Teacher Blogger’s guide to what’s hot in tech. What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?”

The camera is often the most powerful app on any device to capture, edit, and share learning, and the current landscape of digital storytelling allows users innovative ways to share. In a generation of selfies and Snapchat stories, it is no surprise that mobilography has made its way into the classroom. Images allow students to capture their learning and share their stories all from their phone. Phone apps add a creative element to these images through photo editing, typography, gif-making all while sharing them one image at a time or strung together as a multi-image.

With the plethora of available options, I offer you my favorite FREE (mostly) apps that I use personally as well as in the classroom. Most apps are available for both Android and iOS devices.

Photo Editing Apps

  • Snapseed – a photo editor created by Google. Available for both iOS and Android Snapseeddevices, Snapseed is my favorite and most comprehensive photo editor. Tune images, apply filters, curve and rotate to change perspective; the possibilities are endless.  
  • Prisma – allows users to transform their photos into works of art based on the stylesIMG_2707 of famous artists, ornaments, and patterns. Available for both iOS and Android devices. Prisma is free and used frequently in the classroom to edit images so faces of students are not recognizable.
  • Pixlr – photo editing app that allows users to use a combination of effects, filters, and overlays. Available for both iOS and Android, Pixlr is free and also available as a Chrome Browser App!
  • Lively – Only available for iOS devices, the Lively App is perfect to create gifs, video, or different frames from Apple’s Live Photos. I have used this app multiple times to capture the perfect frame from a live photo when my eyes were open and not closed!

Typography

  • Word Swag – is one of the few apps that I pay for. It is a quick way to add text to images in seconds. It is available for both iOS and Android. Create unique text layouts that turn any image into a shareable post!  
  • Adobe Spark Post – allows users to create beautifully designed graphics. IMG_2201Templates, color palettes, sizes allow users to customize images. This free app is one of my favorites and allows you to share your message with aesthetics that match. Available for iOS and will be available for Android users soon!

New: Google recently released 3 new picture apps for phones, Storyboard, Selfissimo, Scrubbies as part of “appsperiments: usable and useful mobile photography experiences built on experimental technology.” I have recently added these apps to my phone and am excited to explore possibilities.  Storyboard is only available on Android Devices, Selfissimo is available on both iOS and Android, and Scrubbies is only available on iOS.

gifs

  • Motion Stills – originally an iOS app, Motion Stills stabilizes Apple’s Live Photo and allows you to view as a looping gif or video. Now, Motion Stills is available for Android and includes a capturing mechanism that instantly transforms it to viewable clips (aka a live photo, sorta).
  • Loop or bounce – helps your Apple Live Photos come to life. Relive the exact moment in the photo, and through a simple swipe upwards, transform your capture into a short clip, perfect for animations and gifs. Pair with Giphy (see below) and create and share your own gifs.
  • Giphy – not only does Giphy have an extensive library of gifs, it also allows you to create your own. Plus, this is web-based which means no app needed but available on any smartphone. The fantastic thing about this option is that when paired with Live Photos in loop/bounce or Motion Stills, you can create your own gif, save, and share all from your phone. (The image for this post was done in this way.) Add text, effects, and stickers to customize your gif!
  • Boomerang – created by Instagram, captures short clips and loops them automatically. Taking 10 seconds of video, Boomerang creativity loops back and forth. Share to Instagram or save to your camera roll. Boomerang is available for both iOS and Android.

Sharing  (There are many ways to share images and digital stories. Here are a few to consider, and many of these have built-in filters and editing options to share creatively.)

  • Instagram Stories – share images and videos with your followers or hashtag. Stories disappear from your profile feed after 24 hours unless you add it as a highlight. Take or upload an image to add to your story. Users can edit, add text, create stop motions, etc. and add it to their story to share throughout the day.
  • Facebook Stories – short, user-generated photos and videos that can be viewed up to times and disappear after 24 hours. You can capture and share directly from the app. Facebook stories also have editing options, overlays, and filters. Users can also share their story with the main feed once done.
  • Snapchat Stories – is a collection of snaps played one right after the other. Stories can be viewed by anyone and last for 24 hours and disappear. There is an option to download Snapchat Stories to save and share a small video. Snapchat was the originator of Stories and Instagram and Facebook quickly followed suit. Upload your own images, or capture using Snapchat and add text, filters, or create a custom filter for your school or event.  Group stories and Geo stories allow multiple users to add Snaps!

The smartphone has turned millions of users into photographers, all of which have varying levels of expertise and artistic talent. Using images to tell one’s story or demonstrate understanding can not only be done via images but via beautiful and intention images with just the download of an app. I would love to hear your favorite mobilography apps or how you use them in your classroom!

10 Instructional Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom

new-piktochart_23292676_dcdad183320c183ec16c0ade9edbc8a638b8f6ec (2)

In a Differentiated Classroom, teachers begin where students are, not from the front of the textbook. They recognize the strengths and areas of growth in each individual and use multiple instructional practices to meet student needs and boost them up a level. No student’s roadmap for learning is identical to anyone else’s and differentiating in Process, Product, & Content recognizes these differences.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leading expert in this field and I often draw upon her work to support literacy learning in the classroom and with teachers. Her methods and instructional practices are practical and applicable to any grade level or discipline. It is the teacher, not a set of curriculum materials, that makes the difference in the learner’s achievement. Teachers who differentiate shape what is learned, how it is learned and the learning environment based on the student.

The “How” in a Differentiated Classroom is often the area most educators find most challenging. Because of this need, I highlighted 10 Instructional Strategies (based off of Tomlinson’s work) that promote differentiation in the classroom. Just as all learners are different, so too are instructional practices and a classroom full of individuals may require the savvy teacher to employ multiple practices simultaneously.