Sunday, February 24, 2013

Meaningful Contribution - Hope for keeping students engaged

I've been working on some classroom projects lately where the final result is going to be publicly posted or shared with other classes to help them learn.  It seems there's an increase in motivation and the students are more likely to keep their work at a higher standard.

I also am still working on my series of lessons connecting the power of story to students's lives.  The original idea came from Storyline by Donald Miller (reviewed in the link above), with that work being party based on Viktor Frankl's logotherapy.  According to logotherapy, meaning is our primary need that we seek above all else.

So as I've been addressing classes and forming lessons (for teachers and students) my emphasis has been on projects or learning in general that always results in a meaningful contribution.  

I don't want to manipulate students by bringing up grades.  There are too many examples of fun loving students who have lousy grades.  Grades matter to younger students, but by the time they reach the secondary levels, overemphasis turns the whole system into something about getting credit rather than learning.

I don't want to make promises of good jobs and lots of money.  The connection between school and great employment has been revealed as a fantasy.  And in our consumerist society those things are too far off to motivate students anyway.

My new focus is meaningful contribution now.  As I've done this, I see the focus move toward learning--learning what it takes to get an important job done.  I get less questions about grades and I see better work.

For example, one group of middle school students I'm working with is creating video lessons for third graders.  For a professional development session next week I will have teachers create video presentations that will be shown to our secondary teachers who can't attend the session.  Even just telling the teacher and students that their work will end up on the school website has added some life to the projects.

Of course, this is nothing new.  I am just trying to make sure the projects matter more than just something for the teacher to grade.  But I'm making a conscious effort to present everything in terms of meaningful contribution.  

In working toward that, learning becomes necessary.  Grades, credit, test scores, employment and good citizens are all natural results.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Coming Soon - The Creativity Game of Great Movie Trailers

I'm very excited to announce this new classroom creativity game (or what some are calling classroom presentation games) based on concepts from Donald Miller's Storyline and Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

In the game, students create elements of a great movie trailer.  It's all based on Miller's description of what makes a great story:  A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

Through creativity and competition, three to five players will make up those elements and the class will vote on their favorites.  The objective of the game is to teach students what makes a great story and it is part of a larger work I am developing based on Miller's Storyline book and process for living better stories.

It also makes a fun creativity exercise and can be a great resource for a Creative Writing class.

Here's the link to the online version of the Coming Soon Creativity Game.  The directions for playing and other information is below.

Note that the this post refers to the version of the game that the whole class can play using a computer, projector and other optional technology.  If you want to see a party game version that students can play in groups, you can find it here

Here are the directions for playing this very entertaining game with a class.

Three to five creative students compete to make the best elements of a movie trailer.  As we all know, movie trailers get us excited about those films that are soon to be released by hinting at the characters, action and suspense that make for great stories.

In this game, a random setting and character trait starts creative juices flowing.  Over four rounds the contestants brainstorm one element of the movie at a time and the rest of the class votes for their favorites.  The contestant whose contributions are picked most often over the course of several movies wins the game.

What you will need to play:
(As indicated below, some components can be adapted for available technology in your classroom and another way to use the generator is listed at the end of these directions.)
  • A teacher computer that can access the Coming Soon Creativity Game webpage
  • A projector connected to the teacher computer
  • A way for 3 - 5 contestants to record their responses - Ideally these will be laptops or other devices in a wireless network, but contestants can just use pencil and paper.
  • A way for the class to vote on the contestants' responses - Any classroom response system will work for this as long as you can take a vote from all students.  If a CRS is not available a simple show of hands can suffice.
  • Go to the Coming Soon Creativity Game webpage and project that page at the front of the room.
  • Choose three to five creative students to be the contestants.
  • Have the contestants sit at the front of the class in an arrangement that allows them to easily see the webpage projected on the screen/board.
  • If using laptops or other devices, to record responses, use the Socrative site to create a room and have students join it.  See below for more details on that site.
  • If contestants are just recording responses on paper, make sure each one has a sheet of paper and a pencil.
  • Give other students in the classroom a voting device if using a classroom response system for their votes.
Steps for each movie:
Before getting into the details of play, you need to understand how the contestants and the class will be involved in the creation of a "movie".

In this game, the movie will be created and revealed one element at a time.  The elements will be briefly described and the way they unfold is much like a movie trailer.  Since the creative process lends itself to humor, most movies and stories will be funny, but here's an example of how the actual movie Star Wars might come out in this game:

 Luke works on a farm on a desert planet.
He longs for adventure and a part in the galactic battle for freedom.
His uncle wants him home, he’s untrained and his dream seems like a boy’s fantasy.
Star Wars ­ May the force be with you

Each of those lines would come out of a different round of play.  In each round the contestants will know something more about the developing plot line and they will have one minute to write the next element.  They submit them to the teacher and then the class votes on each of them.  Here are the four elements they create:
  • In the first round the contestants make a character name and describe the character.
  • In the second round they write what the character wants.
  • In the third round they make up one or more obstacles the character will face.
  • And for the final round they write a title and tagline for the movie.  
Once the four elements are done, the movie trailer can be read in a dramatic (and usually hilarious) fashion just for fun.  This process of creating a movie is repeated as many times as desired.  Generally it will take between 5 and 10 minutes for a class to create a movie once they are familiar with the process.

Details of each round:
  • At the start of each movie the teacher will create a prompt by clicking on the Start button (1) as shown in the diagram below.  Remember that this happens only once per movie.  A random setting and character trait will be displayed (2).  Currently the game has 24 of each.
  • Contestants will write an idea for the current element of the movie.  Their ideas are written on either a laptop, device or paper.  As summarized above, here's what they're writing each round:
    • Round 1:  Using the random setting and character trait as a guide, contestants write a name for the character of the movie and something about him or her.  This would be brief, but with a hint of a movie trailer feel.  For example, a player might write, "Meet Duke.  He is a farmer with a gambling problem."  
    • Round 2:  Based on the setting, character trait, name and information they now know, contestants will submit an idea for what the character wants.  Again, it is brief and in the style of a movie trailer.
    • Round 3:  In this round, the contestants write one or more obstacles that the character will encounter as conflict in the quest to achieve the goal from round 2.
    • Round 4:  Finally, contestants write a movie name and tagline that fits with the story they have developed through the previous three rounds.
  • Contestants have one minute to write their idea for the current round.  The timer (3) can be used to mark the time.  The time limit is a general guideline.  If a student is still writing when time runs out, he or she can finish the idea.  Anyone who hasn't started by that time is out for the round.  
Important:  Remind students not to get so caught up in tying all the elements together that they forget the goal is to write something the class will pick.  In other words, in the second round a good idea doesn't necessarily have to be explicitly related to the setting, character trait and winning submission from round 1.  To do that would take a lot more time than the game allows.  Instead, the elements previously revealed and created provide a general working space and the students just have to come up with a good idea the class will like.  How closely they are related is up to their preference and that's all part of the fun and the creative process.
  • When time is up or when they are done, contestants pass or send their ideas to the teacher.  See the notes below about sending responses if using laptops and devices.
  • The teacher will then read each response aloud, but keep them anonymous.  
  • The teacher also will transfer the responses to the text boxes (4) on the webpage.  This can be done while reading them or she might want to wait until all have been read.  The responses must still be kept anonymous, so the boxes (labeled A - E) are not used to identify any particular student at this point.  See the notes below for more information on transferring the responses.
  • After the responses are posted or summarized in the boxes, have the class vote on their favorite.  Just send a multiple choice question with three to five (depending on the number of contestants) possible answers to the devices using your classroom response system.  If you aren't using a CRS, have the students vote by a show of hands.
  • The response that gets the most votes earns the contestant who wrote it one point.  (But for the fourth round give the contestant who writes the chosen title and tagline two points.  The title and tagline is usually revealed at the climatic moment of any movie trailer so this should likewise build to an exciting conclusion for each movie.)  In case of a tie, have the entire class vote on just the tied responses.  Record the point(s) for the contestant who wrote the chosen idea in the score boxes (5) shown in the picture above.
  • Copy the chosen idea into the element at the top of the webpage (6) according to the round/element that was just completed.  For example, after the first round the chosen idea will be copied into the text box labeled A character....  This is so the class and the contestants can be aware of the developing story.  It also reinforces that important description of the elements that make a great story.
  • If you want a record of the game, use your favorite method to take a screen capture of the current prompt, responses and results.
  • Clear out the five text boxes (labeled A - E).  (Just select each response in each text box and delete the contents.  Don't refresh the page because that will erase scores and the story information as well.)  
  • Repeat rounds until the four elements of the movie are complete.  Read the four elements off like a movie trailer at this time.  
  • When the movie is complete, clear out the four elements from the text boxes.
  • Continue with the next movie (by clicking the Start button to get a new random setting and character trait) as time allows.  
  • When the game is over (after some agreed upon number of movies) the contestant with the most points wins.  In case of a tie, all tied players win.

Using Socrative for submitting contestant responses:
Socrative is a free, easy to use online service that is great for having students submit responses to the teacher using any laptop or device through a wireless network.  Since sites change frequently I don't want to list a step by step tutorial for using Socrative.  You can find all details at their site.  Here is the suggested method for using it with the Generic Creativity Game.
  • Create an account on Socrative if you don't already have one.
  • Click the Teacher Log In button in the upper right of the screen.  Sign in using your account information.  You will be given a room number.  
  • Contestants must go to the Socrative site on their laptops or devices and click Student Log In.
  • It will ask them for the room number, so tell them the number for your room.
  • As you are playing the game, when it's time to accept responses from the contestants, click the Short Answer option on your screen.  It will send a "question" to the students allowing them to enter their response.
  • Important:  When contestants are answering the questions, do not have your computer showing on the screen.  It can be too easy for the class to see who wrote which response since it displays them in order as soon as the contestants send them.  Show a different window on the screen or use the A/V mute or similar feature to "blank" your screen whenever you have Socrative showing on your computer.
A couple notes about posting responses on the screen:
If contestants are submitting via Socrative, it will be very easy for the teacher to copy and paste from that site into the text boxes in this game.  Just remember to "blank" your screen as you copy from Socrative so students don't have an idea of which student wrote which response.  (The responses display in order of when they were sent and it can be possible for them to determine who wrote which one.)

Typos, "texting" style writing or poor grammar can be cleaned up or left as is depending on what you feel is appropriate for the class.

Alternatively if contestants are writing the responses on paper, simply type a few key words from the responses in the text boxes so the class will remember each one.  This saves time rather than copying word for word from the paper.

Other ways to use this classroom game:
  • Each round can be started at the end of class (or at another appropriate time) and all students can be required to turn in a response at a later time.  The teacher can select some of his or her favorites, then present those to the class for a vote.  The game would be played this way over several days throughout the course.  In this case a winner is not as important as the creative process and the elements of making a great story.
  • Students can play in groups of four to six.  In this case, they'd use a laptop to access the Coming Soon Creativity Game page and create prompts.  All players but one (who plays a ) can write responses on paper and pass them to the Judge.  He or she reads them aloud, then picks a favorite.  The player who wrote it gets a point.
  • Have groups of students create the trailers as videos after playing.  Students could use the trailer feature in iMovie on the iPad or any other video editing software to compile short video clips or photos.  Include the important elements of the story that developed in the game as text (and possibly narration).
  • As mentioned at the start of this post, there's a party game version of the game that does not use technology.  If you want your class to play with that here is the link.  
This project is an ongoing work and I will be glad to hear any feedback on what worked, what didn't or what you'd need to see before you'd use it with your class.  I am also looking for educators interested in using this and other resources based on Donald Miller's work in class.  Please post any comments below or contact me directly by email if you have feedback or interest in the project.

I will greatly appreciate it if you share this resource on social networks or with other teachers.

Credits and usage:
Mike Petty created Coming Soon - The Creativity Game of Great Movie Trailers.  The prompt generator was made with Stencyl.  All graphics were created by Mike Petty.  If you use the prompt generator in any way, please keep it on the Coming Soon Creativity Game webpage.  That page and these rules for use were also created by Mike Petty.

Coming Soon is based on a creativity game system developed by Mike Petty and Kory Heath.  Kory first recognized the potential for an overall framework for games he and Mike were designing.  His team added several important elements to enhance the play experience.  His version is formalized as The Chicken Game System and I recommend it as one of the most entertaining social games ever created.

The description of a story as A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it comes from Donald Miller's books Storyline and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I recommend both as excellent tools for viewing one's life in terms of story and taking steps to live a more meaningful one.

Most sound effects used in the Classroom Creativity Game were created by Mike Petty.

Coming Soon - The Creativity Game of Great Movie Trailers copyright 2013 by Mike Petty.  These rules will be updated regularly.  The last significant update was posted 2/18/2013.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Lifelong Learner Challenge

I've been inspired by Seth Godin's book, Poke the Box.  I am also enjoying much of what I'm finding in The Icarus Deception.  (I won a copy from Jeremy Statton's blog, Living Better Stories.)

In both books Godin repeatedly challenges the reader to get started, to make things and to keep getting better at making them.  I've been encouraged by the results as I try to put it into practice.  I share the ideas with teachers in the district where I work and I try to incorporate it into the lessons and presentations when I get a chance to teach or speak in the classroom.

I was thinking today of a Lifelong Learner Challenge based on some of the principles of the books.  I'd like to do this as a personal goal and to encourage (or require!) my students to do it is well.

The Lifelong Learner Challenge

Each week I will make at least one thing that is:
  • New - It must be new to me and to the world--original.
  • Good - It must be measured against a realistic, high standard.  (For students, this includes appropriate content standards.)
  • Personal - Those who know me can see me--my style, unique preferences or personal experiences--in the work in some way.
  • Helpful - It must be presented or published in some way so others can find it and benefit from it.

This challenge is currently a draft.  Once I am happy with it and practicing it I will put it on my Passion and Vision page.

If you do something similar or have suggestions I would love to hear them.

My list is inspired from Seth Godin's very challenging list in The Icarus Deception:

Six Daily Habits for Artists

  • Sit alone; sit quietly.
  • Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit.
  • Ask individuals for bold feedback; ignore what you hear from the crowd.
  • Spend time encouraging other artists.
  • Teach, with the intent of making change.
  • Ship something that you created.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Attempt to Encourage Creativity - The Quadratic Formula Song (All Over 2a)

I'm working with a group of middle school students and I told them the final project for the class will be an educational music video.  They were not so sure they liked the idea of singing or being in a video.  In an effort to encourage them, I took the plunge and finished an idea I had been working on.  So here goes.

(The chord sheet for the Quadratic Formula song is here if you're interested.  If you perform this in class, I'd love to hear about it!)

It's not easy for me to play something like this for the students, but I wanted to take the step and encourage them to do something better.

I'm not sure if it looks like it, but the video itself took a long time to create.  We won't have time for something that complex in class, but I think they can do better at making a complete song as opposed to a short chorus like I wrote.

For anyone interested in the process, here's a rough outline of what I did and the software I used.

I knew I wanted to make a song about the quadratic formula.  I obviously didn't write any lyrics.  The formula was the chorus.

I used VoiceBand on my iPad to improvise a melody over a click track.  If it's not apparent, I don't sing that well and the pitch correction in VoiceBand helps me end up with something workable.

From there, I put it in UJam.  I was going to create the whole song in UJam and I might still do that.  When I saw some of the simple chords that came out of one version, though, I realized I could play that on guitar.  I changed what UJam gave me for chords.  I also played around with the melody and rhythm quite a bit after that initial idea.

I programmed the bass, drums and a simple guitar part in the GarageBand app on my iPad.  I recorded my actual guitar using the iRig guitar adapter.  I recorded the vocals (including the spoken part) with the iRig Mic Cast.

To polish the vocals a little more I used GSnap in Audacity for pitch correction.

The song was not done at this point, but I had an idea of how I wanted it to flow.  I started gathering video. Almost all of the video was created or captured with my iPad.  For the stop motion segment in the middle I used Stop Animator.  For the other animated sequences I used DoodleCast Pro.  There's also a short segment of a screen capture where I grabbed the Daum Equation Editor using

I couldn't get a good mix of the audio on the iPad, so I exported each track and converted them to .wav format using  I brought them into my very old version of Music Creator.  I'm sure an updated version would do a lot more, but I just use my old version because it lets me split, copy and paste right on the beats of the song.  I could do this on the iPad or the MacBook with GarageBand, but I'm used to years of playing around with Music Creator.

I'm not a sound engineer by any stretch, but after getting a mix I could live with, it was time to tackle the video editing.

I used iMovie on my daughters MacBook to add a few effects to the clips of me playing the guitar.  Other than those, all the video was done in Corel VideoStudio.  As I wrote previously, I was unhappy with Corel's customer service awhile back, but I do still love that video editing software.  I am always amazed at the level of control and effects that I can achieve for relatively little cost and effort.

When it's all said and done, it took way longer than I hoped (easily over 20 hours, but I lost count) and it's far from perfect.  I am happy with it as a first effort and I look forward to seeing how it encourages my students.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Creativity Exercise for Creative Writing: A game about making stories for movies

I'm really excited about this project.  Here's a draft of the rules and components for a creativity exercise in the style of other games I have posted.  In this one players develop short movie trailers as they explore what makes a powerful story.

Right now the game is low tech.  Three to five players will play in a social/party game format.  We have had a lot of fun with it in testing and I will be glad to hear any feedback on the rules or how the game plays.

In this game, a story is summed up as a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it.  Players create each element of that simple definition and then they make a title and tagline for their movie.  Since it develops a step at a time and it's only a rough outline, it plays out with the fun and hints of action or drama like a great movie trailer ending with the movie title and tagline.

As an example, here's how Star Wars might look in the game:

Luke works on a farm on a desert planet.
He longs for adventure and a part in the galactic battle for freedom.
His uncle wants him home, he’s untrained and his dream seems like a boy’s fantasy.
Star Wars - May the force be with you

Because of how the story is created by the players during the game, the movies usually end up being humorous in nature.  It's makes for a very fun exercise that reinforces the key elements of all great stories.

My plan is to make an online version like my Classroom Creativity Game.  Furthermore, it will be an activity in the lesson plans I am developing based on Donald Miller's Storyline book and conference.  Through it, students learn to view their lives as stories and clarify their passion and purpose.