Saturday, March 15, 2014

MACUL: Thoughts and Reflections

Yesterday I was able to attend the MACUL conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan with the rest of the Secondary MAC cohort.  I was excited to have this opportunity to attend a professional conference where so many creative minds come together to talk about education and technology.  Throughout the day I was able to attend three very different sessions.  In this blog post, I will briefly talk about two of the sessions I attended and what I took away from them.

The first session I attended was presented by Liz Kolb and focused on gamification in the classroom.  Liz spoke about shifting the focus from grades to acquiring skills for her university students.  While I do not see myself "gamifying" my entire class, I appreciated that Liz spoke about the upsides and downsides to gamification.  She mentioned that while students had choice in which quest they could pursue to receive badges, students did not always like this choice.  Sometimes giving students less choice makes the learning process less overwhelming (and easier to grade!).  If I do gamify an aspect of my classroom, I will also be sure to remove the leaderboard factor.  Leaderboards were meant to act as a motivational tool for students to work harder on quests.  However, students only resented the leaderboard because it made grades too public and created animosity among students.  I appreciate hearing what worked and what didn't before I try to implement any features of gamification in my classroom.

The next session I went to was focused on using pictures and videos in science and math classrooms to create more engagement.  The presenter treated the session as an actual classroom and asked the audience to solve the math problems he provided on the board.  However, instead of using traditional math problems from a textbook, the presenter used pictures of a wedding cake and a can of frosting to understand volume and surface area.  Drawing students in with problems that are applicable to their lives outside of the classroom induces engagement and provides meaning to learning.  Throughout the session the presenter stopped and asked about the teaching moves he implemented during the session.  This reminded me of one of our MAC classes, but I appreciated the way the presenter reflected on his own practice and asked the audience to do so, as well.  As a science person, I felt that I learned the most from this session even though it was geared towards math.  I want to try to incorporate pictures and videos into my science classroom that allow students to think about the world scientifically.  It is not just about finding "real world connections", but it is about developing students' minds to see the world both mathematically and scientifically.


  1. Rachael, I liked reading your well-written summary of Professor Kolb’s talk. I almost popped in to hear her as I walked by en route to another talk down the hall. I also liked your summary about her emphasis on “shifting the focus from grades to acquiring skills for her university students.” But I wonder if one could try to do this in a high school setting, where the increasing demand placed on high-stakes testing is reaching an all time high, as the recently-released MEAP scores illustrate so well. Nevertheless, your comments (and Liz’s talk) connect rather well with another session that I attended on fostering authentic writing through digital feedback. I was left wondering, after the talk, how we, as high school teachers, can strike a balance between teaching students some much-needed 21st-century skills in an atmosphere of ever-increasing emphasis placed upon grades, not to mention high test scores. Are the two mutually exclusive? Or overlapping? It has been my experience, as this early stage of my career, that most students are more concerned with the grade than the feedback. Take, for example, a standard 5-paragraph essay. How many students actually take the time to read the teachers comments in the margins? Students generally flip to the last page, look at the grade, and then stuff the papers into their backpacks. Perhaps there is a better way, a more authentic way? Perhaps we could prolong the grades – that is, give students credit for handing in their drafts, but consider their essays as a work-in-progress rather than the final product. Perhaps this is was Liz was getting at when she suggested that we should “shift the focus from grades to acquiring skills”?

  2. It's interesting how, based on your descriptions of the presentations, technology was being used quite lightly. It wasn't like gamification actually requires all students to have computers in class, everyday. It just requires the teacher to be familiar with the inner workings of video games, and replicate the motivating factors present in video games in the design of their classrooms.
    Likewise, to show how math and science is used in the real-world, the teacher just needs one computer to project pictures and videos of such concepts. Or she can have the class find their own by taking them to the school's media center.

    It is great that under-resourced schools can still get in on the Ed Tech trends, by understanding how newfangled tools solve traditional problems (i.e., motivation and content relevance).

  3. Your second session sounds really interesting. I think it was cool of the presenter to model their instruction with the people attending, maybe you were able to get some ideas from them. I think one of the things I always liked about science and math classes was being able to see how the content I was learning could be made relevant to my everyday life as a middle and high schooler. I think this could really be elevated by using pictures and video in the classroom. I feel as though I learn better visually and think this would help me to conceptualize things being discussed in your science classes. I also wonder how it would work out if you asked students to collect examples of pictures and videos they either create or come across in their daily lives that represent concepts they have learned in class. It would be something they could take pride in and engage even further in the material.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the upsides and downsides of gamification. It's reassuring to hear that too much choice can be paralyzing for students. I tend to agree with that reality. Also, I think your takeaway from the second session you attended has incredible applicability to all teachers. Students are growing up as one of the first generations to experience an overwhelmingly digital world. Therefore, it's helpful to hear that digital media, such as simple visual aids like images and videos, can help spur engagement. I have been thinking about that a lot in my teaching. I think that videos especially can help students apply content in ways that mere conversation can't. Thank you for sharing your experience at MACUL. I found it very enjoyable and helpful to read.

  5. Rachael,

    I want to echo the comments of our classmates- thanks for sharing about your experiences at MACUL! I like that we each get to learn from the presentations that we didn't get to attend by reading the reflections of our classmates and think more deeply about presentations that we did attend.

    I also attended the Homemade Math and Science presentation and I loved it! In your reflection of your experience of it, you remarked that "it is not just about finding "real world connections", but it is about developing students' minds to see the world both mathematically and scientifically." I think that this was really the core message of Andrew's presentation around engaging students with content through pictures and videos and appreciate that you shared this key insight! It seems easy to focus on setting our content in contexts that interest students in order to get them to listen and participate, but you point out that our focus should be on supporting our students' skills that will allow them to be better prepared for the "real world."

    Thanks again for sharing your insights from the conference! You've given me a lot to think about!


  6. Yeah, I too agree that the photography and video session was more math-oriented. I could only imagine how great it would be to have a physics class to use that type of format. I actually tried it out in one of my classes and almost all of my students were completely engaged. I think one of the most effective elements about using this type of activity is that because it uses real-world scenarios, almost every student is able to connect to the content somehow. As a result, students of mine who are struggling in math and have never spoken in class before were still able to participate in our discussion. It was really amazing.

    In regards to a leaderboard from my own gaming experience, I am actually motivated by them when playing with games. I guess with all things, you will never be able to please all of your students and meet all of their needs. Even in this technological age, not all students like video games and not all of them like competition. If you had a classroom full of students like me, it could possibly work. Thanks for sharing Rachael!