Badge Boards: Allowing More Time for what Matters Most

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As a teacher, my biggest wish is more time.

More time to meet with students one on one. More time to fine tune lessons to specific students’ needs. More time to look at data and really use it to drive decisions. More time to build relationships with my students.

I might have found a solution. Thanks to a random Twitter Chat I participated in (still learning how to do those), I was introduced to something called “Gamification”, or similarly “Game-Based Learning”.

Essentially, it’s using games to engage students in activities online and off. The ideas is to pose questions as challenges or quests. Students practice skills and are rewarded with different levels, badges, special items, a class currency, etc. If you’d like to learn more about gamification or game-based learning here are some great sites to check out:

Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going

The Difference between Gamification and Game-Based Learning

After reading and researching, I’ve come up with the idea of what I like to call “Badge Boards”. While the majority of my students are working independently (or collaboratively) within this Badge Board site, I am free to pull small groups, conference with students, but most importantly… HAVE MORE TIME!

The beauty of using Badge Boards is that my students are engaged in fun, game-like activities that are personalized (and differentiated) to meet their own learning needs.

So what are Badge Boards? Let me show you. But, please keep in mind these resources are still in their early stages. They’re a work in progress. They’re subject to changes. They still require work.

Here is the home screen with a brief overview of Badge Boards.

Badge Boards

On the left, students can navigate to the table of contents for all the literature skill badges, language skill badges, discussion skill badges, and behavior badges. Here are the different badges available for each subject area. (Badges are based on Missouri standards and skills for sixth graders.)

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When students click on a button, it will take them to a list of available challenges. Students have a choice of which challenges they’d like to do. They can choose to work independently or with a small team. The challenges are differentiated to include a variety of learning styles as well as different levels of difficulty.

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Here are some examples of various challenges. Some challenges are online games or tutorials that give immediate feedback. Not all challenges will require a computer, though. My goal for blended learning this year is to use technology as much as possible, but that isn’t always realistic. Some challenges will be comprised of completing task cards, or other classwork that has an immediate feedback component. My plan is to keep adding activities as the year progresses. Hopefully, I can recruit my ELA colleagues to contribute some of their activities.

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Once students have submitted proof of three completed challenges, they can request a master-level badge. For my higher learners, they can complete five challenges and request an expert-level badge. I don’t have the request form created yet, but it will be a Google Form since our district uses G Suite products. Here are some examples of what the badges will look like:

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Master Level Badge (three successful challenges)

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Expert Level Badge (five successful challenges)

Student badges will be on display in our Google Classroom. That way, students can view each other’s badges, but their privacy will still be protected. Each student will have his or her own Google Slideshow with the front page you see below, and then a new slide for each new badge he or she earns throughout the year.

My Badges

Notice the XP. For each master badge the student earns, he or she will receive 5 XP (experience) points. Expert badges will result in 10 XP. For positive behavior in class, students can be awarded random XP at the teacher’s discretion. This will be part of my behavior management plan this year. Whenever students are working with the Badge Boards, they have an opportunity to trade in XP for classroom rewards such as leave class early, work with a partner, bring snacks to class, etc.

Another goal is to have a class leaderboard in place for the top ten students with the highest amount of XP. Since students can earn XP for both academic and behavioral acheivements, my hope is that the top ten isn’t all just high achievers. I want to reward students who improve and put forth effort as well.

Hopefully my journey into blended learning this year will be a success. I think that utilizing this Badge Board system will provide me the time it takes to work with students in a small group setting. I think the students will be more engaged since they have the opportunity to choose their own activities. It will take a lot of work to build the Badge Board challenges, but I am more than ready to begin.

Badge Boards

Gallery of Badge Designs

Do you use something similar to Badge Boards? I’d love suggestions from others! If there are any other middle school ELA teachers wanting to collaborate with me on the challenges, I would love help adding activities. Please comment below with your thoughts.

 

Flexible Classroom Seating in Middle School: How I Started the Switch

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Why Flexible Classroom Seating?

Boy, do my students just love to fidget. This year, I have an especially squirrely bunch. It’s been pretty distracting. Even more so now that the end of the year is near. I had heard about flexible seating options before, but didn’t know too much about it. After doing some research, I fell in love. It was the perfect solution!

I’m no expert on flexible seating (sometimes called alternative seating), but I will share with you the steps I have taken to make it happen in my own middle-school classroom.

 

 

Step 1: Research and Plan

I started this whole process by researching and reaching out to some who’ve already done it. I’d recommend the following places to start:

 

 

Classroom Eye Candy: A Flexible-Seating Paradise

Flexible Learning Spaces

Flexible Seating

Flexible Seating – Oh, The Possibilities!

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Flexible Seating in Middle School

Once I decided that, yes indeed, this is what I want to do, I went to my co-worker to tell her about it. She grew more excited by the minute and wanted to give it a try as well.

 

From there, we created a Flexible Seating Pinterest Board and Google Slideshow to store and share our ideas for the project.

Step 2: Request Permission

Before we started searching for items, we wanted to make sure flexible seating was even allowed in our building. No one else has any sort of alternative seating in our middle school.

We spoke to the principals and briefly laid out the reasoning and rationale for switching over from our traditional classrooms. Luckily, our principals are pretty open-minded and willing to let us try new things. They both agreed!

Other than just the principals, we also let our custodians know. Everyone knows the custodians (and the secretaries) are the ones who truly run the school. We were super sweet to them. We’d be asking a lot of their help in the upcoming weeks and months moving things into our rooms.

 

Step 3: Educate and Inform

The next step was to tell our students and parents about flexible seating. We drafted a note home to parents using a template we found. It basically mentioned what flexible seating is, why we’re doing it, and what kinds of donations we’re looking for.

 

In class, we read the letter with students and showed them the inspiration board we had created. For a few minutes, we brainstormed and discussed some items they might want to see in the classroom and where they might find those things.

The very next day, we had donations. Students and parents started bringing in items. The journey was off to a successful start!

Step 4: Start Searching

So the journey of collecting items for our classrooms began.

Within the first week or two we received:

  • bean bag chairs from garage sales
  • gaming chairs from students’ parents
  • coffee tables from a friend and a fellow teacher
  • carpet squares from a local flooring company

So far, most everything has been a donation.

For example, Reinhold Flooring donated two big area rugs and lots of carpet squares simply because we emailed them with an inquiry. We explained we were classroom teachers on a mission to begin flexible classroom seating. They were very generous and responded to us in just a day or two!

It’s like my mom always told me, “It never hurts to ask!”

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Students choose where to sit during independent work time. Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

I would definitely recommend slowing switching out old tables and chairs for new seating options. We brought in a few pieces at a time. Of course, we had to go over expectations with the students almost immediately.

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We love all the different chair choices! Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

Let me tell you, the first true test was our workshop day. Students have always struggled to work quietly and stay on task during this 45-50 minutes of independent reading and writing time. After being allowed to “Pick a Place”, they were focused like I’ve never seem them before. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

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Students can also choose to sit or stand at my podium. Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

It’s working! And the next workshop went the same way. And the next one after that. I can’t wait to see how a full classroom switch will affect our students.

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They’re so focused! Flexible Seating in a Middle School Classroom

We’re still in the midst of searching for several more items. Hopefully, we’ll use this summer to complete our collection. If you’d like to find out more about our finished rooms, stay tuned! We’ll post an update in August! (Click here for my August post and see the finished classroom!)

What are your thoughts on flexible or alternative classroom seating?