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TEDxBozeman-Paul Andersen-Classroom Game Design

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Hello. My name is Mr. Andersen and my classroom is a video game. I can't think of a better way to start a story than Alice falling down the rabbit hole and she comes upon a bottle and the bottle says, simply, drink me. and so I'm a teacher and so I wanted to try to recreate that so what I did is I left my computer in my class and I had angry birds on it and then I had a card next to it and it simply said the word "play" and then I walked away. But I wanted to see what would happen and so I left the webcam on and so I've got a little video of the kids as they come into class and so would you like to see that? As if you have an option (laughter) I love how they took turns. and I love Jackson's eyes. if you watch him (laughter) Yes! Success! (laughter) That look in his eyes that look of learning and trying something new and failing and trying it again is something that we aspire to see in the eyes of our kids and we don't do that a lot of the time is a glazed-over look and so I wanted to try to apply some of these dynamics into my classroom So I grew up in the 1980s playing video games and these video games taught me lessons that I think we could apply in schools today The first thing I learned is that video games are fun and schools should be fun as well Unfortunately most kids wouldn't say their typical day is fun However, there are elements of school that all students love. They love seeing their friends and they love learning unfortunately they spend most of the day just passively sitting in front listening to a teacher lecture So I think school should be fun. The second thing I learned is that failure is OK. If it takes you eighty times to clear the third elevator stage in Donkey Kong that's OK Failure is simply part of the learning process. However, in schools we tend to stigmatize failure. You don't get to take a quiz over and over and over again until you finally pass it. In fact, failure of individuals, and right now failure of schools, is highly stigmatized. I think we need to send the message that failure is OK. The third thing I learned is the importance of leveling. This could applied in schools in two ways. When the teacher decides to move at a specific pace that's OK for some of the students in their class but some of the students are automatically going to be bored, and some of the students are quickly going to be confused. And so I think that students should be able to move at their own pace through a mastery system where they master a level and then they can move on to the next one They also should be able to level up becoming more powerful as they learn new material in the class. I also think that we give the wrong lecture at the beginning of the year. And I use to give this lecture at the beginning of the year. I would say, you all have an "A" from this point forward you will fall precipitously until you eventually land at your final grade. (laughter) No game would ever be designed this way. One of the great things about being a teacher is that you get summer break. And summer break is great because you get a break from school but also can reinvent your class make it something that it has never been before. If you try to do that during the year, if you try to make radical changes, the kids will just simply be confused. But if you change it during the summer, you can make huge, sweeping changes in your class, and the kids will never know what hit them. So this was my dream. I wanted to reinvent my class as a video game. But I didn't want the kids to just sit in front and watch a video game like Oregon Trail or Where in the World in Carmen San Diego I wanted to take the most compelling elements of gaming and then apply it in the classroom. This took a lot of work. I had to create a class, it's called Biohazard Five, it's got a narrator, it's got a narrative all the kids come together there I've created about one hundred video podcasts that take them through the lecture And so when they get that point they can kind of learn. I have all these special activities so in class the kids can apply the material that we're learning in the real world. I have a bunch of inquiry labs this one right here is a photosynthesis lab you can see my students very riveted. (laughter) they're studying photosynthesis using little chads that we cut out of a leaf I've developed hundreds of questions and I have a mastery system where the students can take quizzes over and over and over again until they finally get it. I have a leveling system where they start with zero experience points at the beginning of the year I borrowed this from Lee Sheldon at the University of Indiana So basically they come in on day one I invented the bottom level as primordial soup because I teach biology so they gain experience points and they can move their way up to dumbo octopus and mountain gorilla and maybe grand master at the end. I also have a leader board so they play with an avatar and they can see how they're doing in the class, how they're doing against everybody else. This is the most popular resource in the class. Kids are constantly logging in to see how they stack up I also got to pilot a classroom set of iPads and so kids had an internet-connected device at all times. Finally, the summer was over. And I stood in front of the class. Like this apparently. (laughter) and I said, "Hello, my name is Mr. Andersen and my class is a video game." So what I want you to do, is grab an iPad I want you to login to Biohazard Five I want you to watch a video I want you to do some reading, I want you to take a quiz and then I want you to head off into the class. Now, if I would have done this with my students' parents, it would have been the most frustrating day of my life. (laughter) But the kids grew up with this technology And the technology today simply works, and so they were headed off on their own. My class is a learning classroom. If you were to come in, you would find kids reading watching videos, doing special activities trying to solve challenges working together or working alone It's really neat. I had a teacher come, and we were just talking about half way through the class and he said, "what you've created is like a shop class." Because he was a shop teacher once, and he said "As a shop teacher you teach them some skills and the kids can apply that." And so it's like that. I would love to keep telling you about how great it is how the test scores seemed to be going up, and how the kids are learning how to learn independently but I am a science teacher and that's not what gets us excited. In science, what gets us excited is discovering something new. So I want to talk about three ways that I failed. Number one: a conventional classroom is like a schoolbus where all the students login, they get on and the teacher is like the bus driver and it drives from point A to point B and you can make sure that all the students get there. And so what I had done is I had given each of them a brand new car, keys, and said "drive." (laughter) And so some of them stalled out, and some of them raced ahead, and some of them drove right into a wall. So I need to give them more scaffolding next year. The next thing I learned is the importance of reading. Kids struggled with reading when you make your class independent. And I should have seen this coming because it's the biggest indicator of success. And I think the reason I didn't see it coming, is that I had never stopped talking because that's what good teachers do. We read the book, and then we come up with really good examples, and then we present it in a dynamic way and then the kids can just sit there, and then they can learn it. Why would they want to read the book? We read it for them. And so when I force them to read the book, a lot of them struggled and we've had to work with that. The last thing I learned, is that we are not Vulcans in the most recent Star Trek movie, young Spok sits in a little module and he's surrounded by computer screens and the computer keeps throwing questions at him in philosophy and relativity and that's his school day he just sits in a little module like that. And so a lot of people think that they can change education by somehow using videos or automating the learning process. That sucks. Who would want to be in a school like that? Kids are coming to school to be social. So I had to add elements of social learning in my class to make it more compelling. And so this is a TED Talk and all good TED Talks always end with a call to action. What can you do? I think schools need to move from a passive, teacher-centered learning environment to an active, student-centered learning environment. And that's what I did. I was off to the side now, I was a mentor in the class. So how do we do that? Well, if you're a student, you give feedback to your teachers Everything I do in my class is a result of feedback I've gotten from my students. What do you do if you're a parent? You write an email if you want your schools to change. The only emails I get from parents are complaining about their student's grade. I never get: "My kid has an A in your class, but I have problems with the philosophy of your class." That doesn't happen. And so the message you're sending teachers is that the grade is the only thing that's important. But maybe you're not a parent and maybe you're not a student but you are a human and so what's the lesson what's in the bottle what's in there, it's your passion it's the one thing that you want to do Can you figure out what my passion is? I love my family and I love teaching. And of you can drink that bottle also remembering to fail, learn and then repeat the process over again then I think you'll have a life worth living. Thank you. (applause)

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 53 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: Christina Choate
Director: Steve Spence
Views: 290
Posted by: tedxbozeman on Apr 18, 2012

Paul Andersen has been teaching science in Montana for the last eighteen years. He explains how he is using elements of game design to improve learning in his AP Biology classroom. Paul's science videos have been viewed millions of times by students around the world. He was the 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year and he is currently a science teacher at Bozeman High School. For more information on Paul's work visit

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