1st steps to Civ Lab

As I promised I am beginning the journey of explaining Civ Lab to the world.  Below are links that will help to explain everything I have written on gamification so far:

Finding the words to describe how to use this as a teaching tool has been difficult, but I am going to try. I think the best way to share how to use this is to take you through how I do it from the beginning.  I think for the sake of my own brain I need to chunk this down into small mini concepts that can be explained in shorter bursts.  Every time I have tried to wrestle with this concept to find the words I tend to become overwhelmed and my brain tries to jump from one concept to another.  I have tossed out several different drafts and attempts so I am hoping the chunking will make it more effective for you all as a reader.  Below are a few things that will help you get started.

It's been a year: My first Vlog post

This year has been really great.  I wrote a lot of different stuff and have grown my blog much more than I thought I was going to.  42 posts later, I have entered many different conversations and have been loving how much my thought process has grown.  I have started meeting great people and have grown as an educator.  I have surely come a long way since these 1st two posts:

I Don't Care Anymore

On twitter and elsewhere, there has been much talk about we need to do to fix our situation in the world of education.  Everyone seems to have the silver bullet to save our children.  I agree that we cannot keep losing children, but I almost wonder if we are mentally defeating ourselves by constantly focusing on outcomes.  They almost are never what we were hoping they would be.  In fact, for all we know they may be unrealistic.  I think overall I don’t care what the scores are anymore.  

 When I coach soccer I don’t care about wins or loses any more.  I used to care about my record more than what skills were being taught.  When I switched my mentality to caring about giving the athletes skills and reminding myself that the players results were a result of the training I provided them.  This past year I focused on training, reminding them that winning is a choice, talking about mindset, how to make themselves feel better about being men in our current world, and the power of body language.   In the most intense games the ones who choose to be successful are and the ones who are hoping to win never do.  This year we choose to put in the work and it really showed. 

Test Day

The students sat with their bodies facing forward. 
Their eyes twitched back and forth, but each was afraid. 
The consequences were too great to move.
This was test day.

How to Gamify Reviewing: Ms. Kinkoph Style

When people think about gamification most people think about traditional types of games.  I think that most people think of students playing games like Jeopardy or Deal or No Deal.  I have created many games like these to help my students review and learn.  It really is my first foray into creating a culture where games play a part of a students learning.   

When I was younger my 8th grade teacher had a game called News Game she got weekly and was kind of like jeopardy where we played in groups.  She also kept all the results and at the end of the quarter we played a large final round for several days.  So you could win a week and you could win the final end round.  We never won anything, but man did I have fun playing every week.  In honor of Ms. Kinkoph my 8th grade SS teacher,  I have a few games below that you can try out in your classroom. 

Does having a blog for your students work? (10 tips on how to get started)

The simple answer to the above question is yes.  The blog I have been using for four years now has become a simple and important part of my classroom.  I have review materials, class lectures, games, and more that I have posted for students who are interested in bettering themselves.  

I was inspired to write this small post today because of something a student said today.  I was telling them all that I would be organizing the blog for review purposes to help them review materials for the final exam/mid-term so they could find all the materials in one place.  When I was done one boy shouted out, “That’s great.  I check the blog at least once a week to make sure I understand everything.”  This to me was proof that this works.  I have also had some kids ask me how to start their own, which prompted me to show a few of them how.  I think that it is something that I am showing them how to do by example.  One of these days when I have more technology available I plan to have students do most of their writing on a blog instead of everywhere else so they have a place they can have a digital portfolio.  Just need to wait until everyone in the school isn’t fighting over the computers…

If you are wondering how to get started here are a few tips I have found useful:


1.    Go to blogger or wordpress and get started.  It’s not as hard as you think.  Just sign up and start creating.  The templates start you out right away.

2.    Understand that creating a blog takes time and effort.  Success does not appear overnight.  Just keep working at it.  Be a tinkerer.  The tweaks will always make it better.   

3.    The layout isn’t as important as you think.  Just get started posting things for your students.  The templates pretty much set it all up for you.  

4.    Show the students how to get there and make sure they know how to use it.  

5.    Someone once told me that students will use something the more you use it.  So far that seems to be true.  The more I have them use it the more likely they are to use it.  I use this for projects in class to review.  It all helps.     

6.    The internet is your friend.  So many people have posted guides on how to expand on your blog.  If you get stuck and are not sure how to proceed just use Google.  It really is your friend. 

7.    It can be a place where you house things you do year in and year out.  I used to save links and stuff to word documents, but then I lost the flash drive or something happened to my hard drive and they were gone.  The cloud helps make things easier.  I doubt Google will be going away any time soon.  “What did I save that as?” becomes “Oh here it is on such and such date.”  I like this because I have moved states and schools many times.  The blog keeps your resources together no matter where you go.  

8.    Remember that most of the blogs you are seeing are the result of lots of time being put in.  Like anything the work has to be done.  Success is a choice.  But don’t let that discourage you.  I spent lots of my years worrying about why my creations did not look like everyone else’s.  Each blog is an extension of the person you are reading from.  Yours will not look like everyone else’s because you are you. 

9.    Videos help my students study and some have really liked the games I post.  Content you choose to make available can be supplemental or relate directly to what you are learning.  It can come from your own videos you make or ones that other have made.  So far I have only posted ones made by others, but who knows.  Maybe one day I’ll make some more.  There is no wrong way to do this as long as the content is appropriate for the grade level.   

10. Just be brave.  Most will be grateful you are doing this.  No one is going to come after you.  Even if they do, can they really argue with you providing a place for your students to continue to grow outside of school?  Plus, having a positive digital footprint will only benefit you. 

Happy Blogging!  Just give it a try!  Remember, the important thing is to just start!  Once you start things will continue moving in the right direction!

The Power of Social Media and Education (Pics of Kronborg Castle)

View from Kronborg Castle Window (Copyright Steve Schwarten)

This is going to be a short post, but the information has been bouncing around in my head for a while now.  I am convinced that as teachers we need to push the boundaries of the classroom beyond the walls.  For years I was terrified of interacting with students on social media.  I was afraid that somehow it would come back around  and and bite me.  A few years ago I started posting reminders about homework on twitter, which resulted in a better return in home work completion.  Over time, it grew into me using it to connect with other educators and me posting more information for my students as retweets and my thoughts on current events.  But it wasn’t until recently I began to see the tool as a high powered tool for connection between students and teacher.

Kronborg Castle (Copyright Steve Schwarten)
 Over the holiday break, I spent time in Europe enjoying the sights and flavors of Denmark and Sweden. While there I spent time taking oodles of pictures to share with those I love and those I teach.  I always feel like I need to bring back information to share with those who may never have an opportunity to go where I have been.  The only difference was that this time I have students who follow me on Instagram and twitter.  For the first time I didn’t have to wait to post a picture with a description and some interesting facts.  I could just connect with my students immediately.  When I was looking at the ceiling of St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC before I had to go to the airport I could share that with them.  When I was looking out at the waves from the window of a castle I could take a picture and share it with them.  When I came across a book written by John Green I was able to take a picture and post immediately with a comment about how the Danish people liked him just as much as we do.  We no longer have to wait to talk with people about our adventures.  Now our students can see what we see immediately.  Think for a second of the power the rests within our social network.  Their eyes can see immediately what my eyes can see.  That is deep…

John Green Ad while waiting for the metro. (Copyright Steve Schwarten)
Students today operate in worlds that are separate from their parents and teachers.  For decades people used to complain that we all occupied different generational spaces.  The old could not penetrate the locations of the young as they figured themselves out.  When someone older found their space the youth would scatter.  The result was a sad dismembering of society where each generation distrusted the other and learning between them severed.  

Today we are given a window into what their world looks like through the panes of social media and they are given one into ours.  I make it a priority not to follow students on twitter or other places, but I like to think of my own accounts that some of my students follow as a way for them to peer into my mind and my adventures.  I like seeing historical locations and doing social studies related activities outside of school.  They are fun for me and often I used to think if only I could share the experience with my students.  For the first time ever I can.  

I remember once going out to lunch with a former teacher and while we ordered food he began to lecture the waiter on the origins of the Margarita pizza.  I remember smiling, but also thinking of how I missed learning things with him.  For the first time ever we can continue to educate our students even after they have left our classroom.  They might not stop by every day, but the pull will be there.  I know because on my Instagram and twitter accounts I have students who occasionally post comments or like pictures.  I still feel like I am making a difference for them.  Giving them at least a little piece of my intellect and expanding their horizons through my pictures.  

The Main gate entrance into Kronborg Castle.  (Copyright Steve Schwarten)

I think that social media has revolutionized how we can communicate with one another and the classroom should be no different.  I think some of the nuances might have been replaced or have changed, but if used properly it can be such a powerful tool.  I know not all students will ever follow me or like the things I post, but those few who feel like they want to still be connected should be allowed to.  Those that are afraid of this have no idea how nice it is to post a picture of my classroom and have students send me a message about how much they missed the environment we created together.  

If you have not given social media a try you should.  If done properly the results can be staggering.  Or at least it will make you smile knowing that you can reach a wider audience as you explain the origins of the Margarita Pizza.       

(All pictures are originals taken by Steve Schwarten of the Kronborg Castle and one of a John Green Advertisement.  Please, don't steal them.  I can send you a print if you want.  They also are examples of pictures I shared with my students.)

Being Abroad Changed My Perspective On The United States and My Classroom

I haven’t posted for a while because I went abroad on a European adventure with my wife to Denmark and Sweden.  While there I was able to see lots of things I had read about in books.  I saw castles, art that I could only see there, and viewed how the people interacted with one another.  I think the Danish people are probably some of the friendliest people I have ever met and most had some sort of a background in English, which made life easier for me as I traveled because my Danish was very rudimentary.  They were also quiet, but still louder than the Germans who took offense to my loudness in the Mercedes Museum when I visited years ago.   The food was wonderful.  It tasted so much purer.  I think there might be something going on with our food supply, but that is for another post. ..   I took many pictures and posted on the social media sites, where I gained likes from former students.  I think I might write a post on social media and the potential it has for connecting with students outside of school.  All in all, it was a great trip.

I think the thing I noticed the most is that the society in Denmark is not tearing itself apart.  There are struggles and decisions, but when contrasted with our own society the people were much happier.  I know that I passed homeless people who did not love life while freezing cold outside, but in general the people as a whole were enjoying life.  There was much laughter.  The people were mostly fit.  The question that kept coming to mind was, “Where are we going wrong?”      

In the US society is tearing itself apart in so many ways.  Everyone is demanding what they think is their own version of justice, but no one is offering solutions.  We appear to be a deeply unhappy group of people.  Everyone is angry about something and just attempting to tear down everything around them.  I know that America has always operated this way.  We are always on the brink.   We are always full of passion and opinion, but often short on solutions or the will to implement them.  It is how the system was intended to work at least for the discussion piece, but at this time nothing is being accomplished.  Our government seems inept or unwilling to offer solutions.  Groups of people are going around hating themselves as well as others.  The internet, which was supposed to revolutionize the discourse, is full of anger, hate, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion going in all directions.   Online lynch mobs are "swatting" people and causing people to lose their livelihood.  Due process is now being scoffed at or circumvented and freedom of speech is being shackled by political correctness.    When did this become America?  

What happened to the belief that we all can succeed?  Almost yearly now I get students who come to me believing America is a giant lie.  That the things I am trying to show them is just a farce.  Are things that bad?  What if we all choose to stop believing that we can get ahead or that our lives can be better if we work at it?  Think about that.   If everyone stopped believing that we the masters of our lives what would the US look like?  The answer is one giant riot or one docile group of people.  Those prospects make me shudder...

We still need the American dream.  Everyone in the nation needs that dream.  When a group of people feel like that is not possible they riot.  That is a scary proposition.  Is it that bad or as a society are we all convinced it is really that bad, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Personally, I still believe in teaching my students they can succeed if they keep trying and teaching them that the American dream is still attainable no matter where or when they were born. 

I feel like we are missing something.  There has to be a better way than what we have been doing for the last fifteen years.  We have to figure out how to heal the nation so we can all move forward.  We have so many wounds that have been bleeding for so long.  It is time to figure out how to really apply a societal treatment...  I am not sure what that treatment is, but I do know it cannot involve different groups of people projecting anger at another.  We all have to work together instead of resorting to divisive measures. We have to understand we are all Americans who have a stake in the process.  When Americans work together it is an impressive sight.  When we fight it is truly ugly.  Lets commit to working together for 2015.    

The above has been rattling around in my head for the last week and it influenced what I wanted to do for 2015 in my classroom.  I am hoping that maybe I can make a difference for the next group of people.  Maybe if I do enough in twenty years the US will have figured some of this out.  

Goals for 2015:

-Teach students skills that will help them think more than the information that will be on county/state tests. 
This world is so confusing and people everywhere are trying to sort it out.  Just look at the blogs/vlogs.  Maybe if we give them these skills they can figure this world out better than we can.  I think this will help relieve them of some of their stress.  

-Show students that this nation is still one of the few places on earth that if you choose to make something of yourself you can. 
I know this to be true.  I don’t care if everyone seems to think it is not.  For some it will be harder than others, but it is still possible for everyone.  It is all about mindset and how dominant you decide to be in your life.  You want to complain about your lot in life go ahead.  Just remember that others are not complaining and are climbing into the place you want to be.  As a coach I have worked with once said, “You have to choose to win.”  

-Show my students that there is a point to the history I am trying to teach them. 
My class fluctuates between government and history due to the nature of the course.  My class is not a parade of white men, like so many people like to think it is.  In fact, everyone gets represented somewhere.  This is the story of the US.  This is where we came from.  This is why we exist in the state we do.  Everything good and bad was the foundation on which we now stand.  You cannot understand our current world and our relationships without understanding those that came before.  

-Help each student begin to develop their own personage.
Many teachers push themselves upon their students.  I had many of them.  In fact, I became extremely confused about the influence and meaning of the Jackson administration because I had two separate teachers tell me very different narratives.  I have never felt this is my business.  My purpose is to help them develop their own self.  8th grade is where it really beings.  I know that by 8th grade my own beliefs began to take shape.  How else could I have formed an opinion about the state of American prisons and presented a presentation and written a ten page paper?  I still hold those opinions to this day.  Sister Patricia helped me begin to think about what I wanted to believe.  I know that I am only step one, but I still need to be that 1st step.  

-Allow the students to explore.  They need it more than I need peace.
The Danish were very hands off with their children.  They ran around and no one seemed to care in public.  In the US everyone would be yelling or judging or just plain old getting upset.  Most people there just smiled and moved out of the way.  Parents let their kids fail and fall over.  I am going to try to be more like this.  Let them explore the information.  Help them process.  If they really want to show me something they created I need to let them.  They just want a little reassurance and guidance.