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  • April 26, 2023 2:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Artificial Intelligence: To Harness or Halt…

    By Chad A. Stevens

    It seems that everyday I read another article on Generative Artificial Intelligence, most notably ChatGPT. I have been asked for my take on the topic a few times in interviews given my 25+ years in both public education and private technology companies supporting education. Here are some initial thoughts and questions…

    • Could overreliance lead to a lack of understanding of core concepts? 
    • Could that impact the student’s ability to apply these concepts later in life?
    • Should students be allowed to use this on exams, what about cheating? 
    • Will this impact the student’s ability to think independently or reduce comprehension?
    • How will teachers gain confidence to use this new technology in the classroom?

    To be fair, while these questions are all valid, I did not come up with them on my own. I asked ChatGPT to share with me reasons schools resisted calculators in the 1960’s!  Sounds familiar, the talk track is the same and it has been for some time when a new technology enters schools. You could probably find similar articles from when the first computer was put in a classroom, when the internet was first connected in schools, when chalkboards went to whiteboards and then smartboards, mobile devices (remember when those were mostly banned?) and the list goes on and on. The reality is that as difficult as it may be, we have to harness the technology provided to positively impact students. 

    So how might we do that? The term “Artificial Intelligence” was coined in 1956. It was 25 years ago that the Supercomputer Deep Blue was designed, and it defeated the world champion chess player in a match. One of my favorite educators in history was Seymour Papert who once said, “You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.” 

    Here are some ways we could harness Generative AI. It can provide additional information, context and explanations that enhance learning when used the right way. It could potentially provide personalized support to students in need allowing teachers to focus on other tasks. I have never met an educator that doesn’t need more time.

    I would like to revisit the calculator example. Learning and understanding mathematical concepts and principles helps build a strong foundation for problem-solving skills. A calculator can only provide solutions, but it does not teach the underlying principles that enable the solution to be found. You can substitute tools like ChatGPT here, it does not teach. You still have to have a solid understanding of the basic principles to leverage the power of AI to improve things, go faster and enhance productivity.

    Something that I spend time thinking about is, how can artificial intelligence improve family engagement? Steve Wozniak, or “Woz” as many people called him, co-founded Apple in 1976. He said, “Technology is really just an amplifier of our abilities. It builds on itself, letting us do more—and do it faster.” If you apply artificial intelligence technology to communication-only products, you only get amplification of communication. As I have noted in previous writing, we don’t need bigger, faster, stronger (more) one-way communication. We need deeper engagement. Rest assured, ParentSquare will continue to modernize family engagement through innovative use of artificial intelligence. 

    In fact, at ParentSquare we have been using artificial intelligence to focus on family engagement for some time. Artificial intelligence was first used in the product back in 2016 long before the ChatGPT craze. Real-time translations are one good example of this. The key is focusing on how we can thoughtfully harness generative AI technology to impact our customer’s goals for family engagement, just like we did early on with translations. These improvements need to go beyond just generating content. That is available today, and free. I used it for much of this blog. 

    Luckily, our strategy is guided by an amazing team of educators at ParentSquare. Did you know that over 30% of our team has worked in a school district? While we have several past administrators, including principals, directors and an assistant superintendent, the vast majority were classroom teachers. These educators provide valuable insights into the needs and challenges faced by teachers and students. They work with and in our product team to design and develop features that address the pain points and needs of teachers and students. They create content and use their subject matter expertise and pedagogical knowledge to help educators use ParentSquare even more effectively. Last, they work to help us with usability, functionality, and accessibility, always listening to customer feedback to make sure our technology stays aligned with our mission of modern family engagement.

    As always there are big things to come as we continue to disrupt communications and build the modern platform for family engagement. After all the options are thoughtfully considered, by educators, the impacts of harnessing these technologies will be seen clearly.

  • April 19, 2023 9:00 AM | Heather (Administrator)

    gotFeedback - AI Generated Feedback for Student Writing 

    by Steve Wick

    Feedback matters for both teachers and students. When I create and share feedback with my students, it forces me to think about the lessons and activities that led up to the student's responses. It also helps students reflect on the same lessons and activities and sets the stage for what is next. 

    Making time for authentic feedback can be a challenge. I use a variety of formative assessment tools to help with instant feedback, but sometimes I need to provide prompt and effective feedback to short answer responses in a document or form response. I have some "canned responses" to save me some time, but these often are not enough to provide complete feedback. I still struggle to find the time and the right words to personalize all feedback for students. 

    Thanks to Richard Byrne and gotLearning, I have a new tool to explore that should help me create and share personalized feedback more efficiently. gotFeedback's goal is to help teachers provide more individualized feedback to students. gotFeedback is modeled on the research and built to provide feedback that is:

    • Goal-referenced
    • Tangible and Transparent
    • Actionable
    • User-Friendly
    • Timely
    • Ongoing
    • Consistent

    It sounds like gotFeedback will be added to the full gotLearning platform in the future, but right now teachers can use the resource as a stand-alone free product after creating a login. 

    Here is a brief summary of how to get started exploring the platform.

    1. Create a free account. 

    2. Once you are signed in, choose the type of feedback you would like to have the AI generate. Right now the options include, “Narrative Structure”, “Details in This Writing”, “Claims in This Writing”,  and “Evidence in This Writing”. Teachers can also write a custom prompt. gotFeedback has even created a “Prompt Guide” to help. 

    3. Next, a student's work can be uploaded (pdf or Word) or pasted directly on the site.

    4. Click “Evaluate” and the AI will create a customized evaluation for the writing that can be copied,  modified if necessary, and shared directly with the student. 

    I am looking forward to spending some more time exploring both gotFeedback and gotLearning as I prepare to use these resources with my students. 

    Additional AI Generators to Support Teachers and Learners

    • QuestionWell - AI-generated questions connected to a text set.
    • Curipod - AI-generated interactive lesson creation. 
    • TinyWow - AI generator for images, videos, text, and more. 

    Books - Artificial Intelligence for Educators

    Additional AI Resources

    Let me know if you have any questions,

    Steve Wick


    High School Science Teacher & Instructional Technology Coordinator

    IDEA Illinois Executive Secretary

    The More You Share The More You Learn 

    About Steve Wick

    Steve has taught Science & Social Studies at the middle school and high school levels for more than 25 years. His focus as a learner is strongly connected to the 4Cs, Instructional Technology, G Suite for Education, Formative Assessment, and Student-Centered Learning. Helping students and teachers become lifelong learners is his calling. 

  • April 05, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Autism Acceptance NOT Autism Awareness

    By Stefanie Crawford, IDEA Digital Storyteller | Professional Learning Coordinator

    April 1 means Autism Acceptance month NOT Autism Awareness month. If this idea is new to you, it's imperative that you start centering Autistic voices and listening to what many in the Autistic community are asking for. Your INTENT is NOT greater than the IMPACT on the community. 

    Like any community, not every autistic person has the same opinion; however, when you listen to the majority of the autistic voices, you’ll find a few things they wish neurotypical people would understand and take action to change. Here are few things Autistic people are asking you to keep in mind this April and beyond:

    Acceptance not awareness
    • “When I hear awareness, it makes me think it’s something I need to stay away from.” - Gabe, autistic 14-year-old
    • Autism isn’t a disease, and autistic people don’t need to be cured. The world is aware that autistic people exist; now the world needs to accept autistic people for who they are and not expect them to change for the neurotypical world we live in.

    Identify-first language is vastly preferred, "the Autistic person"

      • Autism isn’t a disease, and autism is part of who they are. In surveys conducted, a vast majority of autistic respondents consistently prefer identify-first language while non-autistic people tend to think they’re honoring the person with person-first language. This isn’t the time to say, “My cousin has autism, and she wouldn’t like that.” Again, there is never one voice that can act as the ONLY voice for a group. If your cousin, friend, neighbor, partner, etc. prefers person-first language, use it with them! But know that unless an autistic person tells you their preference, the majority of the autistic community wants identity-first language. This means that in the example above, it should be, “My cousin is autistic,” not “My cousin has autism.” 
      • Aspergers is no longer a medically recognized diagnosis. If you look into the history of Aspergers, you’ll see a label rooted in eugenics and raising one autistic person as better over another. 

      Autism is not a linear spectrum

        • The linear spectrum visual leads us to think of autistic people in terms of functioning labels. Those labeled “high functioning” run the risk of being denied accommodations because “they don’t seem autistic.” Those labeled “low functioning” run the risk of having their true strengths overlooked. See how an autistic person describes that hereAnd check out the visual below to see the autism spectrum as a circle - the preferred depiction.

        ABA is abuse

        • ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) is an approach that creates autistic adults dealing with PTSD. It relies on autistic people hiding who they are through constant masking and teaches them that they're somehow "wrong." Many neurotypical caretakers may say that they feel their autistic children are benefitting from ABA therapy, but it is the autistic adults who have gone through ABA therapy we should be listening to in order to see the damage this causes.

        Autism Speaks is NOT an ally to the Autistic community

        • This one might be a surprise to you, but it’s a very important one. They promote ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) tactics, the puzzle piece, and the color blue, all of which many in the Autistic community abhor and find damaging.
        • They don’t have oversight by the autistic community.

        Stop using the color blue

        • Autism is not a disease they're suffering with; it is part of who they are. The color blue brings with it the idea of grief. The autistic community has chosen red as a color that shows passion and life, so with that in mind, use #RedInstead or even #LightItUpGold. 

        Stop using the puzzle piece

        • The puzzle piece insinuates that something is missing. Nothing is missing from an autistic person, or any neurodivergent person for that matter, which is why the switch to the infinity symbol is preferred.

        Use the rainbow or gold infinity symbol to support acceptance

        • The ribbon is associated with diseases. - Think about the vehicles you see driving around with magnetic ribbons on them. They’re not to make you celebrate something; they exist to remind you of the disease that can claim lives.

        Stimming isn't bad

        • Stimming helps people process their situation and the information they’re taking in. Stimming can be a calming function or help to process an influx of emotion.
        • Asking someone to mask who they are to fit into a neurotypical world isn't okay - for example, stop forcing eye contact or encouraging someone to look at the wall past the shoulder of who they're speaking to.

        Support creators/artists who are autistic and learn from autism advocate organizations run by autistic people

          • That t-shirt you want to buy to show your support, was it created by an Autistic person?
          • On Facebook? Consider joining the Autism Inclusivity Facebook group that has autistic adults willing to help educate neurotypical parents, caregivers, and educators. When in these spaces, it’s important to remember that your neurotypical voice and experiences do NOT take precedence over the experiences of the autistic people offering you free advice and answers to questions. 
          • Follow organizations like Neuroclastic that are run by autistic people and talk about autism according to autistic people.

        • March 29, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

          Do you remember your “Why”? 

          By Kefah Ayesh ( KEE-fah)

          As the end of the year slump encroaches my passion, I force myself to remember my why

          My why begins with a little girl who loved to read, yet never found books with any characters that looked like her. She sits in a classroom and sticks out like a sore thumb as the only muslim in her entire school. That little girl is my Why. I write and teach in an effort to amplify the voices of Arab authors and poets, so that other marginalized students can feel a sense of belonging.

          Seeing oneself in the literature that surrounds them is vividly and fiercely affirming, empowering them with the conscience of their own presence. 

          All writers traversing the human condition attempt to tell a story that is uniquely their own, yet unconditionally human. Each of them forging a path that embodies the essence of light, yet so many of those voices are silenced and muddied along the way.  Othered and discarded;  stereotyped and vilified: the arab voice in the typical literature classroom is nothing but an echo of soft cries that falls on deaf ears. Beautiful diction and mesmerizing syntax, seldom uttered in spaces meant to broaden horizons.

          Libraries and literary tradition attest to the presence of Arab voices and their contributions to the field, yet the modern classroom all but negates their existence. Perhaps a daunting endeavor for teachers who already have too much on their plates, so let me help demystify a few things. 

          Arab writers have existed since the 6th century and continue to exist today.  They do not only write about the past and exist on silk roads and ride magic carpets; they are American born and bred and write about a painfully divided existence. They also write about love and hope too.  So why aren't they in your classrooms, speaking their truth?

          Here are a few novel recommendations that vary in genre, lexical difficulty, and themes.

          1. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsa Faizal 
          2. I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti 
          3. The Inheritance by Sahir Khalifa
          4. The Beauty in Her Face by Sahar Mustafah

          In an effort to alleviate some of this pressure, a few resources have been listed below.

          Sometimes, that nagging voice of why is the hardest to reckon with because ultimately it means more work for me, another lesson plan from scratch added on to an already mounting workload. Yet, that nagging why doesn't seem to let up. 

          The literature classroom is a universe of its own. Unlike other disciplines, we hold the responsibility of cultivating students into open-minded, educated citizens of the world.  We do not merely teach vocabulary and grammar, but rather how to construct thoughts into powerful language that will one day pave new pathways that can ultimately make the world a better place.

          Online Book Club


          Study Guide Questions

          Study Guide: I Saw Ramallah

          Study Guide: The Inheritance

          Study Guide: The Beauty of Your Face

          PopMatters article

          Kefah Ayesh ( KEE-fah) is currently a secondary education English teacher and English Department Chair at Al Ghazaly High School. She is pursuing a Masters in English and Writing Studies at Kean University ( May 23), and she’s passionate about inclusivity in literature and amplifying marginalized voices in the classroom. You can connect with her on Twitter @writnginclusive.

        • March 22, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

          Advocacy Day is the Perfect Forum to Show How Literacy and STREAM Learning Collide in Our School Library

          By: Kristy Gilbert

          Some people stumble when they try to decide what to call me and what to call the space I teach in, somehow assuming that the word “library” alone will bring about images of those silent, spiritless rooms of yesterday where kids simply check out books and leave. They aren’t entirely wrong - as a matter of fact, folks outside of the education world are still dumbfounded when I tell them I don’t just check out books all day long! There is a huge misconception as to what school libraries are all about and many people, including lawmakers, are failing to see the power that school libraries have to redefine learning and create learners who thrive on collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. This is exactly why we need events like Advocacy Day. We need a forum that will allow our students a voice to bring awareness to the amazing things happening in our classrooms and in our libraries, especially in times where budgets are being cut and school libraries are disappearing. 

          I see Advocacy Day as a perfect opportunity for my students to showcase just how STREAM learning (we cannot forget the “R” for reading!) has flourished in our school and changed the way we approach literature in our library. Thanks to what I have coined “BlueSTEM Challenges,” our students now do more than just read - they use literature as a springboard to engage and connect with hands-on activities such as creative makerspace projects, engineering challenges, coding, and robotics. The Bluestem Book Award program is a Reader’s Choice Award for 3rd-5th graders in Illinois. Named after our state grass, the Bluestem Award program encourages students to read a variety of diverse and engaging books and then vote for the nominee they feel most deserves the recognition of being named a Bluestem Award winner. In my “BlueSTEM Challenges,” we read a Bluestem book together and follow it up with a STREAM activity designed to help students make connections to and further their understanding of the text. 

          Of course, none of this could be possible without the funding to support our school initiative of bringing more STREAM learning opportunities into the hands of our students. Only when our state lawmakers see the excitement in our students’ eyes as they explain how they have learned to code robots, design and build 3D models, and execute engineering feats will they understand their important role in funding our schools to be the dynamic and engaging hubs of innovation our students need them to be. And maybe… just maybe, they will finally realize that school librarians are not just checking out books all day long but are instead providing learning opportunities that will mold our students into passionate, lifelong learners!


          Kristy Gilbert is a 3rd - 5th grade school librarian in Orland Park. In addition to being the driving force behind her library’s recent recognition as an “Exemplary School Library” by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE), she is also an Apple Teacher, an Apple Learning Coach, and an ISTE Certified Educator. Her dynamic library program is centered around the tenets of STREAM Learning, Digital Citizenship, and Information Literacy and has helped earn her school the distinction of being an Apple Distinguished School.  

        • March 15, 2023 12:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

          This is the second post in a series about the impact and importance of Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day. If you’ve never been involved, Ami Young’s blog gives you an idea of what Advocacy Day is and how her students have been able to amplify their voices through Advocacy Day.

          Cardinal Tech and Advocacy Day

          by Ami Young

          My students and I have participated in Advocacy Day for the past few years. This experience is one of a kind for students, which is unique from other tech events. Not only do they get to showcase what they have learned over the school year, but they get to present in a historical location, our Illinois state capitol. This unique experience also allows them to view their peers' presentations and in turn learn new ideas. This opportunity also allows my students to really use their voices to promote what they love and for many builds confidence to come out of their shells and be heard.

          Over the years, my students have presented on many different topics including merge cubes, animation, and unique discussions regarding our T.A.P. (Technology Apprentice Program) club. During Covid, in-person opportunities were limited. That year one of my 7th graders was presented with a unique opportunity in place of Advocacy Day. She presented a topic regarding our Technology Apprentice Program and worked with a provided coach to write a chapter for the Ideas to Amplify Student Voice book that was later published.

          Demonstrating our skills learned from school and our Technology Apprentice Program at Advocacy Day is an amazing opportunity. In addition to presenting at the state Capitol Building, the students are able to build on community and enjoy exploring the state capital and the surrounding area landmarks. Overall, this is a truly remarkable experience for my students. My students still reflect on these unique experiences as young adults.


          Interested in learning more about IDEA's Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day? Click here

          Ami Young is a K-8 Technology, 6-8 Science, STEM, Career & Consumer Concepts teacher at St. Dennis School. She has been teaching for about 26 years, and technology has always been a passion of hers.

        • March 08, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

          Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day is an Illinois Digital Educators Alliance event that has been around for 30+ years, but since it hasn’t been in person since 2019, you may not know what it is or why it is so important and impactful. This is the first post in a weekly series that offers different perspectives on how Advocacy Day is amplifying student voices in a big way and why you should be involved. Our first post is from John Closen who was a superintendent at the time he attended his first Advocacy Day, and he has been a staunch advocate for the day ever since! This year, Advocacy Day will be held on Wednesday, May 10. Find out more and apply to attend here.

          Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day….or Tech20xx

          By John Closen

          Approximately 35 years ago I remember receiving some type of notice about an event called Tech 22xx being held in Illinois.  Being some sort of tech geek, this caught my interest.  I decided to look into it.  It was a concept that I thought was amazing.  I decided that I was going to get my students involved. Since I was a school superintendent at the time, it was easy to “persuade” my principals to participate.

          In the late nineties our idea of technology was pretty basic, but many of our students were excited about anything new that involved technology.  I don’t even remember what type of project we presented.  It didn’t matter.  What mattered then, and still matters today, is the look on the students’ faces as they stood next to their projects and answered questions the many politicians, fellow presenters, and news media directed at them.  Every time I attend this event, the building is filled with excitement and enthusiasm.  I see students beaming, teachers that are proud of their students, and adults who are filled with curiosity about the projects and what role the students played in creating the projects.

          Over the years I have been asked why schools should be involved in this event.  Aside from the impact it has on students, there are many other reasons.  By participating in this event, local politicians get a chance to visit with the students and teachers to find out what is going on in the school community.  School leaders from around the state are given the opportunity to see what other schools are doing with technology and this can generate more enthusiasm for more projects.  ISBE leaders can come and see what the schools are doing with funds given to them. News media, both locally and in Springfield, can help create additional publicity that informs the local school’s community what they are accomplishing in their schools.  It is positive PR for everyone!

          Finally, it has a positive impact on the many, many people who help make this event possible.  I know, because I am a past Chair of the Tech 20xx Committee, a past President of IDEA, and a current cheerleader for this event.  Thank you to IDEA and to the Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day/Tech 20xx Committees for all of your efforts over the years. 

          John Closen is a retired school superintendent, a retired university professor, and a former Director of the Area III Learning Technology Center.  He has also served on the board of Directors for the Illinois Digital Educators Association (IDEA) and the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA).  He continues to work in the area of education by facilitating digital skills classes for the Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois.

          Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day 2023 will be held on May 10. Learn more and apply here.

        • March 01, 2023 12:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

          Teacher-led to Student-led SEL:

          Sunnybrook School District's Success Story with moozoom, a teacher’s perspective

          By Amanda Alderfer

          4th grade teacher

          Social and emotional learning (SEL) has, in the last years, become a hot topic in education. With rising safety concerns and the pandemic’s devastating effects on children’s mental health, educators are realizing it's crucial that schools find an effective SEL program that can be implemented easily and quickly. Our district was in search of such a program when we discovered moozoom at the ISTE conference in 2021. After using the program for 60 days, we have already seen positive outcomes worth sharing.

          One of the main challenges we were facing when it came to SEL was the lack of student engagement. Traditional teacher-led lessons can be difficult for students to relate to, and this can lead to disengagement and even mockery. moozoom addresses this issue by providing bite-size “choose your own adventure” real-life movies where students can observe other kids' behaviors and various options on how to react to everyday challenges. 

          Another challenge we faced was the limited expertise of our teachers to deliver SEL and the potential increase in their daily workload in fully implementing a program. moozoom addresses this issue by being easy to use and requiring no training or preparation time. Teachers can just go in, print out questions, look at the videos and get started with the lessons. All were thus able to integrate moozoom into our weekly routines within the first couple of weeks. Our teachers reported that they felt confident enough to start allowing more time than they had before to deliver SEL in class. 

          moozoom also includes a student skill assessment dashboard that allows us to track quick improvements in our school climate. We noted a significant increase in student engagement, with 96% of teachers reporting an increase in engagement during lessons. Teachers have also reported being able to reduce their SEL lesson planning by more than 75% and have seen a decrease in student conflict by 25%.

          To sum up, the integration of moozoom in Sunnybrook School District 171 has greatly improved the fidelity and quality of SEL instruction in the district. The platform has reduced the stress associated with preparation, training, and expertise, and as a result, teachers have been more than willing to incorporate SEL into their lessons. 

          Within 60 days, positive results have been observed and this program is worth considering for other schools and districts seeking to enhance their SEL programs.

          Check out moozoom's free SEL movies by clicking here.

        • February 22, 2023 3:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

          Ideas From Our First IDEAcon

          by Tisha Richmond and Lainie Rowell

          Have you ever walked into a space and immediately felt welcome and at home? Maybe you even take a deep breath and think, “I belong here.” That’s how we felt as we entered IDEAcon 2023. 

          It was a first for both of us, and we couldn’t help but make the connections to ideas that we, as educators, can take from this event and implement in our learning communities. Here are some of our takeaways:

          A Welcoming and Energetic Vibe
          First impressions do set the tone and, at IDEAcon, both the space and the people are heartwarmingly inviting! Convention centers, like an empty classroom, can be pretty cold and impersonal by default. The way the IDEAcon team worked with the space is a direct reflection of how much they care about those coming to learn and share. Here were a couple of our favorite design choices:

          • Signage: When we enter a space for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. It sounds so simple, but making it clear where we can go and what we can do can make all the difference. Throughout the conference center large signs were prominently displayed in the conference theme to help us navigate our learning journey. (e.g. registration, session titles/times, and learning spaces options). 

          • Energy: The energetic vibe was palpable and it echoed in every space we entered. The colors and playful design evoked joy and laughter, conference organizers were welcoming and helpful, and attendees were excited to learn and connect. It was social and emotional contagion in the best way! 

          Dr. Adam Phyall stands in front of the staircase at IDEAcon. The stair stickers create an image on the bottom from left to right of the IDEA logo, the IDEAcon logo, a hand with the pointer finger pointing up the stairs, and on the top of the image are the IDEA lightbulb, the Rival 5 logo, and a text box that says, “Welcome.”

          Spaces to Gather and Spaces to Think Independently 

          While we both advocate for inquiry and collaboration, we also know that some learners (us included) need independent-thinking time too. We appreciated that we could readily find spaces for both throughout the conference center. 

          • Collaboration: There were couches and sitting areas for small group conversation throughout the conference center and hotel. We loved that these spaces were close enough to get to easily, but tucked away from the session hallways so you could take a break when needed as well as gather at the end of a long day of learning.

          • Game Play: In the center of the expo hall was an area that would capture any board game players’ heart. Freestanding shelves stacked with a variety of game choices framed an area of round tables that were ready for play. Like video games instead? They thought of that too. An area was set up with couches, bean bag chairs, giant TV’s and video consoles. We loved how both areas allowed for connection, play, and an opportunity to recharge.

          • Makerspace: The Makerspace area was another brilliant space in the expo hall. Wood tables were ready for making. Shelves were stocked full of materials, drills, safety goggles, and more. Cricket machines were ready for creation. Each time we walked by, this area was buzzing with creative excitement. 

          • Zen Den: As wonderful as it is to connect and socialize at conferences, sometimes you just need a little time to step away from it all. This quiet room tucked away was the perfect place to find some solitude. We also love the backstory- The Zen Den was born as a result of asking self-identified introverts what they would like to see at a conference. 

          A tweet from Tisha Richmond @tishrich that says, “This game area at #IDEAcon was incredible! What a brilliant idea for bringing educators together to connect and play! And, look at this selection of games to choose from! The mind blown emoji is after the text. #MLmagical. The pictures show Tisha in front of one of the game shelves, a game shelf on it’s own, and the tables in the Game On! play area with games at tables and attendees playing at tables.

          Need more inspiration for a redesign? Check out this Edutopia article by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray, Cheap (Yet Valuable) Learning Space Redesign.  

          Encourage Prosocial Behavior and Amplify All Voices 

          At this event, it is clear from the moment you get there that you are more than an attendee, you are a contributing member in this dynamic learning community. 

          • “Little Free Library” - One of the first spaces we noticed was all about promoting prosocial behavior. The “Take a book. Share a book.” space was inspired by the nonprofit, Little Free Library. This organization focuses on building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access. Imagine having one of these on campus! 

          The IDEAcon IDEA’s Little Free Library sign next to the table for people to take a book, leave a book, or to sit and read.
          • Meeting of the Minds - Each morning thought leaders, Mario Herraez, Alberto Herraez, Scott Bricker, Jeni Long, and Sallee Clark began with a Meeting of the Minds following the keynote. Each day focused on a different topic followed by questions that people discussed in small groups. Powerful conversations were had by all!

          • Poster Sessions - Sometimes you want to learn new ideas by chatting with your peers one-on-one. The poster sessions held in the ballroom allowed for discussion surrounding topics and areas of interest. It was a fabulous opportunity to make new connections and brainstorm ways to apply the ideas into classroom learning.

          • Podcasting Station - The podcasting area was another brilliant space set up in the middle of the expo floor. Podcasters could schedule a time to interview guests and amplify voices. It was also a wonderful opportunity for aspiring podcasters to chat with hosts to learn tips and tricks and discuss the best platforms and equipment.

          • Doodle & Chat - Outside of the ballroom Carrie Baughcum & Mandi Tolen interviewed conference speakers and attendees while they doodled the conversation in the style of their Doodle & Chat show. It was fun to be able to see the doodles in action as they projected it to be seen as people walked by. Another innovative way to amplify voices!

          A tweet from Dr. Sawsan Jaber, NBCT @SJEducate that says, “Leyden student journalists..Day One [emoji checkmark]...Tune in for their video compilation tomorrow morning! @leydenpride212 @ideaillinois #IDEAcon.” The pictures show the student journalists in various places around the convention center at IDEAcon.

          There are even more ideas we could share! And if you weren’t able to join this year, we encourage you to come and see for yourself next year!

          Some of these ideas take more time, effort, and/or resources than others, but no matter what, we love being welcomed by warm smiles from people (kids and adults) who are genuinely happy to see us. And this doesn’t cost a thing! 

          Can you bring any of these ideas into your space to make learners feel welcome, nurture a sense of belonging, and activate learning?

          About the authors:

          Lainie Rowell is an educator, international consultant, writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. She is the lead author of Evolving Learner, a contributing author of Because of a Teacher, and her latest book, Evolving with Gratitude, was just released. An experienced teacher and district leader, she is dedicated to building learning communities and her areas of focus include learner-driven design, social-emotional learning, online/blended learning, and professional learning. Since 2014, Lainie has been a consultant for the Orange County Department of Education's Institute for Leadership Development. Learn more about Lainie and see highlights of her work

          Tisha Richmond is an innovative district Student Engagement & Professional Development Specialist, international speaker, Canva Learning Consultant, Canva Education Creator, podcast host, and author of the book Make Learning MAGICAL: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Learning Experiences in the Classroom. Tisha is passionate about infusing joy, passion, play, and gamified strategies to immerse and empower our 21st century learners and make learning a MAGICAL experience for all!

        • February 08, 2023 11:30 AM | Heather (Administrator)

          Using Game Design & Gamestormers to Teach Any Subject

          When I present ideas about how to design games to various organizations and educators, a common question pops up: but how does game design fit MY subject area or age level?

          Incredibly, game design and playful learning integrate seamlessly into teaching just about anything. In game design, the maker focuses on one goal – creating a fun and thought-provoking system full of interesting choices. When trying to teach a skill or piece of knowledge, learners want to know how this new understanding fits into a larger system, what decisions the information might influence, and how it might be intriguing to them personally. Sound familiar?

          Below, I’ll share a few of my favorite ways to incorporate game design and playful learning into any subject, and how you can utilize our new board game, Gamestormers, to do it!

          1. Create Concept Cards

          One of the best ways to have learners demonstrate their understanding is through making connections between terms, ideas, people, and information. In games, we often represent the relationship between these concepts as abilities and options listed on cards within the game world. Combining these two ideas into one makes for a fantastic method for students to think critically about what they are learning.

          To implement this practice, find a good blank card template to use online or print out, such as the Gamestormers Blank Card Template. Then, have your learners choose a handful of concepts from the most recent unit to connect with each other. As the students decide what concepts to turn into cards, they can begin brainstorming what each card might do for its ability and how it interacts with other cards. Some good brainstorming questions might include:

          • If this person, character, or idea was in a game, what would its special ability be?
          • What might be the “currency” or commodity this concept would affect (energy, money, influence, etc)?
          • How does one concept positively or negatively influence another?

          Once learners finish their cards, they can write, reflect, or discuss their rationale behind the abilities and powers they gave each concept for its card, and how the various cards affect each other.

          2. Use Visual Dice and Cards as Assessment Prompts

          It is really easy to fall into the standard assessment involving multiple choice questions, essay questions, and short answer prompts. However, getting students to apply what they have learned to visuals and related concepts can serve to not only challenge their understanding, but also their critical thinking and creativity as well. One simple example would be providing a number of rich images and asking students to use vocabulary words in a sentence about one of the image options. With tools such as visual dice, such as the five found in a copy of Gamestormers, students could roll a set and choose 1-2 image results to connect to a list of terms from the unit.

          Beyond using image dice, a number of games such as Concept and Pictures come with boards and decks of cards with visual cues that could be used for playful assessment. In addition, Gamestormers features 139 unique cards with visuals that students could use as inspiration to connect to various vocabulary terms or important historical figures. Using the images with the cards can help students think outside the box in how to connect their vocabulary to the visual. These types of questions can easily be integrated into an assignment, quiz, or test.

          3. Design a Board or Card Game

          If you want to have students truly engage deeply with a subject, there is no better way than to ask them to teach the concept to others. However, we often default to the tried and true “create a presentation” medium for students to practice delivering information they have acquired. Instead of always relying on the same assessment, what about giving students the challenge of teaching through game design or simulation?

          One big roadblock for students designing a game to teach a concept is the process of game design. Thankfully, GamestormEDU created a step-by-step process along with a student workbook that walks both learners and the teacher through the journey of designing a game. Students quickly learn how to create their overall game goals and objectives, followed by the essential game mechanics that help players reach their goals. From there, learners design the necessary game cards, items, boards, and rules necessary for the game to function as a whole system.

          Another big concern educators have about students designing games is inspiration – how do students find a starting point? A great entry point would be to have students try remixing an existing game’s rules to change how it plays, or reskinning a game’s theme to match the content of the course. If students want to discover different game mechanics and come up with original game ideas, they could also play Gamestormers, our game where you design a 5-card game to win the game. During the playthrough, students discover different game mechanics they could implement in their own design, and they gain the experience of aligning a game story, mechanics, and items into a cohesive experience.

          Closing Thoughts

          Assessments exist to allow students opportunities to demonstrate mastery of content and skills, and game design provides a fantastic way for students to show they understand relationships, essential qualities, and key features of a number of topics. Using games as assessment tools help push students to think critically and creatively about the content in new ways, as well as a familiar and fun medium. We owe it to our students to give them playful assessment opportunities, and game design meets this goal in spades.

          Jon Spike is an educator and game lover who recognizes the power of game based learning and recently went through the process of designing and developing a game for the classroom that was fully funded on Kickstarter and will be available for purchase very soon. Come see Jon at IDEAcon at  GamestormEDU, booth 419. You can also catch Jon giving a hands-on demonstration of Gamestormers in Game On! Tuesday, February 14, from 2:30-3:00PM.

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