Saturday, March 22, 2014

Motivation & Minecraft

Have you ever had one of those moments during which the disparate minor occurrences of your everyday life suddenly converge into one, cohesive revelation? I experienced one of those moments today. Here is why:

Incident #1: Last week, I went to a conference session about Gamification in Education. I have concerns about the same old "carrot and stick" approach to student motivation in disguise as badges, leaderboards, and XP. I attended the session to better inform myself before making a final decision. After the session, I still feel the same way about gamification. It might improve student engagement for a time, but the focus on extrinsic motivation bothers me.

Incident #2: I'm finally reading Drive by Daniel Pink. I know I'm late to the party here, but wow, I'm loving it. I see connections to all areas of my life: personal, professional, and for my students. If for some crazy reason you haven't read this book yet, stop reading this and go out and get it. The insight into human motivation is powerful.

Incident #3: I had "conversations" with two teachers with amazing ideas this week. I was lucky enough to get an hour of Tricia Shelton's (@tdishelton) time via GHO, during which we talked about how her anatomy students are directing their own learning in the classroom. Her students help to form the questions that drive the content, search out evidence to support or refute a claim, and then present their defense in video format. Via Twitter, I was also introduced to Jodie Deinhammer (@jdeinhammer) who also structures her anatomy class around student questions, and then the student products are included in an iTunesU class accessed by thousands of learners around the world.

Incident #4: My 9 year old son informed me this morning that he had done this in bed last night:

I apologize that it's hard to tell what's going on in these photos, so let me take a moment to explain. My two sons are participating in an online Minecraft class called "Castles and Catapaults." And yes, I know that there might seem to be a conflict between this and my previously-proclaimed anti-gamification stance above. That is a longer discussion for a completely different post. Anyway, my sons are crazy about Minecraft and think about it all the time. So here's what my son explained to me this morning. He wants to set up an alchemy shop in his class's Minecraft world so he can "sell" potions. In order to make these potions, he needs lots of different ingredients. So the blue box is his plan of the actions he needs to take, in the correct sequence, in order to produce enough of the ingredients for the potions he plans to make. The green box is the amounts of each of the ingredient he'll need to make the number of potions he wants for the shop. The orange box summarizes the three-tiered trading scheme he's set up for people to "buy" the potions. They'll trade in items (all of which fit into different categories and rankings) for points, which they can apply to the potion they want to buy. Many of the items people will trade in are things he'll need to make more potions, so the system is self-sustaining. The red box is how many points each of his potions will cost. The white box shows the information for one of the potions; how to make it, how rare the ingredients are, etc. The final photo is a flow chart that he found online that shows the connections for making all of the potions. He decided he needed to make his own copy of it, and correctly explained the entire scheme to me.

While listening to my son describe all of these things to me this morning, bouncing up and down with excitement to share what he had done last night, I had that moment of clarity. This is what I want for my students. I want them to have the time and space in my classroom to unleash their intrinsic motivation and pursue personal questions. I need not fear that they will miss out on the "content" by following this path. When I look at what my son produced, I see the amazing cognitive skills that were used in designing his trade system, developing and planning his next steps, and deciphering models. This is the type of learning I want my students to participate in. I need to change my classroom so that students have more control over the direction of the class and their own learning.  Do your students learn via intrinsic motivation? How do you facilitate this in your classroom? I value your insight and opinions as I continue to plan changes for my own classes.

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