The Students Have Begun Driving the Dojo!

My students are, like, so cool.  At the end of last week, I introduced the idea that student learning teams would be designing some dojo achievement challenges. (Background on the dojo, the badges, and whatnot can be found here and here.)   Then I asked them to mull over some possibilities for a while, and we got busy with the academic business.  Today we revisited the idea and teams had a short time period to discuss and list possibilities.  The three guidelines I gave were that the achievements had to:  involve learning of some kind, be reasonably achievable for all students, and be enjoyable.

I was so impressed with the initial discussions.  Groups were going in different directions–some wanted to set up reading challenges (eg “Read 4 chapter books in a single month”), and others wanted to do some sort of knowledge-based challenge (eg “Name 10 different kinds of dinosaurs.”)  Lots of questions, wrangling over parameters, and some laughing as I walked around.

In my wanderings, I heard two groups talking about achievements related to our behavior expectations.  They are:

C-Commit to Learning

R-Respect Others

E-Everyone is Safe

E-Everyone is Responsible

K-Kindness Counts

This is the standard for the whole district, and being a “CREEK kid” is kind of a big deal at our school.  One team was discussing how to create an achievement for kindness. “What if you ding by getting 5 kindness points in the dojo?”  (Ding = level up or gain an achievement) This caught my attention.  We’ve never done anything specific with the point breakdown in our Class Dojo, but we do have points based on the above expectations.  I had NEVER even considered this (bad gamer!  no cookie!), and I find the idea intriguing.  Aren’t kids so good at making games?  I’m hoping this idea gets developed, because I want to add just one twist–the kindness points must be rewarded by fellow students, not me.

I look forward to working with students to develop opportunities for using Class Dojo and Classbadges.  It could be disastrous.  It could be wondrous.  Whatever happens, it surely won’t be boring!


Missives from the Dojo

Back in November I wrote about using a couple of new tools for motivating students and managing/tracking behavior, Class Dojo and  We’ve been at it for a few months now, and I’ve learned a few things.

1.  I am pretty good with the whole Positive Behavior Management thing, and using the dojo helps me to stay on track.  Since every point that a child gets has to be immediately classified, I can give specific feedback about behavior–no “caught being ‘good'” scenarios for me!  And I’ve trained my students that, if another staff member hands them that kind of thing, they need to ask WHY they are being rewarded.  Because guess what?  Before I taught them to ask, most student did NOT know why they were getting little reward cards.

2.  I have some routine items that students expect.  Each day I pick one or two points that everyone gets a dojo point opportunity on–sometimes as simple as having first and last name at the top of assignments, other times showing reflective listening skills in partner talk.  Y’know, positive behaviors.  That keeps me from forgetting completely as we get immersed in lessons.

3.  I kind of suck at tracking negative behaviors.  I am not as consistent about making sure that these behaviors are recorded in the dojo.  It’s just so HARD to lose instructional time, even a few seconds beyond that already lost in giving corrective feedback and problem-solving these behaviors.  I haven’t got this part down.  Yet.

4.  So far students are still invested in the Dojo leveling process I’ve cooked up, and I haven’t seen any competitiveness or jerk-like behaviors.  Kids have their badges displayed proudly, stuck on their desks or on a binder.  We do a badge/dojo mini-ceremony once every two weeks, and the students seem to be invested in earning badges.

5.  The struggle is keeping each “level” fresh.  We’ve talked about how, in most games, leveling up sometimes comes with rewards, and sometimes just comes with the glory of achievement.  Students are at various levels, from Level 2 to Level 4, and most have earned some achievement badges that are separate from the dojo/leveling, for things like mastering math facts or visiting a local museum or planetarium on their own time.  I want to do more event-based badges, just for the fun of it.  Partly because, that’s how achievements in most games work, and also because I don’t want this to become a “grind-fest” for points and levels. (Non-gamers–grinding in a game is when you have to complete tasks that are repetitive and non-engaging simply to move forward in a game.)

I am still pretty excited about this aspect of our classroom community, and ready to take some next steps.  First, I’d like to have students design some achievements.  Second, I think I’m ready to invite parents into this experience more.  Class Dojo has a reporting form and classbadges has special logins for both students and parents to view achievements.

So this week, students will work in groups to design proposals for achievement and also perks for leveling.  I’ll get back to you on that.

One more thing.  I would not–no way, uh-uh, forgetaboutit–attempt classroom management/motivation stuff this complex without the support of these technology tools.  Time is an incredibly precious resource to all teachers, and I am so not an exception to that rule.  The dojo and badge systems are quick to use, easy to manage, and simple to communicate to others.


So I’ve joined a learning community at my local ISD called Tech2Teach. We will meet in person only a few times, but will connect via Edmodo, Google Drive, and who knows what else at various times during the year.
Today was our launch, and we had lots of time and guidance to explore apps like Edmodo, and later to share other useful apps for increasing productivity and engaging students in meaningful learning opportunities.
Honestly, I was a bit worried this would be a basic tech usage deal, but there is a lot of encouragement for participants to plot their own course as learners.
So what should my course be?  Here’s what I’m thinking:

1.  I started using Class Dojo as a replacement for the positive behavior support program in my school, which has kind of devolved into one of those “Caught Being Good” scenarios where we hand out tickets to children for doing what they should be doing anyway.  I like the dojo because I can take it anywhere (iPad) and track both positive and negative behaviors.  The students seems to like it to–it has a novelty factor, and they enjoy the cartoon-y monster avatars.  I started by giving each child the same avatar, and they were allowed to “level up” when they accumulated 10 net positive points in a single week.  Then they could choose from a couple dozen avatars–this was a BIG deal for them, and thankfully everyone has managed to get this far.

2.  Once I started the whole leveling process, I knew I had to keep it up.  So now the default leveling is the net 10 points in a week.  Most kids made it to level 2.  But the level needs to have some kind of marker, as it would in any video game.  This is about the time I heard a podcast featuring the developers of Class Badges.  I could customize badges for the levels!

3.  So I set my class up at Class Badges and created a level 2 badge.  I sweetened the deal with a coupon that allows one late assignment to be turned in without lateness counting against the student.  They were MORE interested in the cool sticker I made of the badge that they could stick to their desks.

4.  And then I started thinking about the badges and video games.  One of my favorite parts of many games is earning special achievements.  So I started creating achievement badges–one for math facts, another for eating a bug during a special larva-eating event in my class.  The kids love earning achievements and getting badges–it’s crazy!

5.  Which brings me to my work in Tech2Teach.  I’m thinking I want to continue to “gamefy” my classroom management using both Class Dojo and the badge system throughout the year, tracking student engagement and trying to make strategic use of the tools to maximize student learning.

I like it, but it sounds hard-ish.  But it does combine two things I love–teaching kids and video games.  And the research on gaming and education is very hot right now.  Huh.  Could be cool.