HELPING HANDS AND HEALING HEARTS FOR HEALTHY MINDS: HOW LADY GAGA, DONORSCHOOSE, FLIPGRID, 100 STUDENTS, AND A FRIEND MADE A DIFFERENCE
Some years ago, my friend and colleague Claudia Leon and I brought our NYS Liberty Partnerships students on a field trip to the Ronald McDonald House in New Hyde Park, Long Island. We brought with us:
This year I had been speaking to a group of students about the Ronald McDonald House and what an impact that field trip made. At the same time, a new program was being promoted by DonorsChoose.org and the Born This Way Foundation, led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, to support mental and emotional wellness. As an advocate for student voice to empower children to become agents of change, I had used the Flipgrid video recording tool for our SLIME event's Make a Difference Charity Pitch Fest. With all of these in mind, tt was time to write a new project with my students:
"Many of us visit the library because it is a place where we can relax and meet with our friends during free time. Our library has a classroom area, a reading lounge, and a makerspace. We even have exercise bikes that we ride on when we read. Our "Kids Kindness Kart" that has supplies so we can make things for others. During a day of working so hard, it's nice to visit the library and make things with our friends like toys for shelter dogs, cards for sick kids, and kindness rocks. Mrs. Holzweiss told us about the Ronald McDonald House, a place where families stay when their children are in the hospital. We want to help these families to cheer them up, and to know that people are thinking about them. We know that it's hard when people you love are sick, so we can take turn our pain into something positive.
If this project is funded we will have the supplies that we need to create beautiful works of art, and enjoy the wonderful smells and sounds of the library. After we paint our pictures, we are going to record video messages of hope with the Flipgrid app. Then we will print the QR code and attach it to the back of the artwork before we give them to the families at the Ronald McDonald House. They will have the artwork and a video to remind them when they need cheering up. If they want, they can even respond to our videos. We can do some awesome things together! This can make our school and the whole world a better place."
A few students participated by creating works of art in the library during their free periods, but I soon realized that it would take quite some time to paint 100 pieces of artwork to donate to the Ronald McDonald House. And so how it usually happens in the library, one thing leads to another...
My colleague Amy Scognamillo, a 6th grade ELA teacher, explained how she had been reading the picture books We're All Wonders by R.J. Palacio and Malala's Magic Pencil by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai with her students so that they could develop not only literacy skills, but also empathy. Listening to Amy speak was magical!
I explained my idea of this Ronald McDonald House art project to complement her lessons, and Amy immediately agreed to join me. For three days, my library was transformed into an art studio. With paints, crayons, markers, canvases, and brushes Amy's students created heartwarming messages of hope and inspiration. They not only learned ABOUT empathy, but they were given the opportunity to make a difference with their hands, hearts, and minds.
This project is particularly special for both Amy and me. Today is the 19th anniversary of her mother Marie's passing, and the 13th anniversary of my sister Laryssa's passing. I thank Amy not only for collaborating with me as a colleague, but the gift of making a difference with her and her students.
Click here to view the student messages: https://flipgrid.com/6af621
"There are more authentic ways to assess our students' understanding and measure their learning, than tests. Learning can be fun, while meaningful and challenging. Through playing and creating games, students are empowered to take ownership of their learning."
Through this project we were able to purchase 3 Breakout EDU kits and VersaTiles Answer cases. Breakout EDU is a educational concept that has been around for about a year, where participants solve riddles, puzzles, and clues in order to "break out" of the scenario. Kits include an assortment of combination locks, boxes, and accessories such as a invisible ink pen and an ultraviolet flashlight. Cipher wheels, secret messages, and other elements can be added to make the scenario more challenging. My students added the VersaTiles low tech, self-assessment tool to customize their games.
Originally, my students had planned to make curriculum-based content area games for classroom teachers, after they created one for the library. The students and I found that it actually was more difficult than we had originally thought to create these games. First, my students played and analyzed pre-made games shared on the Breakout EDU website. Then, I modeled for my students how to create puzzles for various ability levels, and how to connect these puzzles into a breakout scenario. My students created a breakout game to help introduce our incoming 6th graders to our library during orientation. They brainstormed and worked individually, in pairs, and finally as a full group. They also tested it themselves, so that they could "work out the kinks" by rewording riddles and adjusting the location of clues. My students plan to beta test it with other students before we roll it out in September.
The biggest success of this project is that my students were empowered to create a learning activity for other students. They have helped me to transform what could be a boring library orientation lesson into an activity that promotes collaboration, problem-solving, and active learning. Some of my students have even offered to help me facilitate the game in September during their free periods. This is encouraging to me because my students’ view our library as a dynamic place of learning. Even though our original goal had been to create breakout games for teachers, now that my students know how to create one they can show teachers how to create their own. In this way, the teachers can customize their games as appropriate for their classes. They can also demonstrate to teachers how to create puzzles using the VersaTiles self-assessment kits.
There were many unexpected outcomes of this project. My students learned that they could have as much fun playing a Breakout EDU game as they could by playing video games. They became so immersed in the experience of creating their own game (with my guidance), because they had a vested interest in it. They wanted to make it a game that their new peers would enjoy. Having other kids as their audience, I believe, was the driving force in making their game the best that it could be. Their contribution will have a lasting impact on our 6th grade library orientation program. My students also now appreciate the process of creating a game, from researching to brainstorming to creating to testing and to modifying. Even though this was a long process, my students demonstrated grit and perseverance. By working together, they were willing to continue for the benefit of the team.
Through this experience I have learned so much not only about gamification, but also about my students and myself. Recently, coding and video game design have been hot trends in education. But, it all relies on the story. I appreciate the aspect of stories as a school librarian, but never realized the impact on gaming. If you strip down a game to its most basic elements, the story is always the most important, regardless of medium. If the story is not engaging, challenging, and fun than the game can't succeed. I also learned more about how middle school students' minds work, and that I am very much like them! They tend to think more in pieces and need support making connections. Through this process I discovered that I am also a nonlinear thinker. Being creative and a free thinker, I'm comfortable with inspiring my students to tap into their imaginations. However, I have learned from working with my students that I must develop my own sequential, logic skills so that I can support them.
This project is still in its beginning stages in my school as a pilot program. I worked with a small group of students after school in our Imagination Foundation-SLIME Chapter. Through working with them, I feel more confident now helping teachers, and even their own students, to create games. One of my original goals had been for our students to create a breakout game for our SLIME-Students of Long Island Maker Expo (slimemakerexpo.com). More than 600 participants (students, parents, educators, and community members) attended our expo from all over Long Island, NY. The game was to be based on Long Island trivia. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to create one in time because we only received the resources in March. Next year, our club will begin preparing earlier. Now that they have experienced the obstacles of creating a game, it will be much easier to create other ones. My students are also excited about the idea of presenting at a local conference to share what they have learned during the process.
My colleague Gina Seymour, a librarian from a neighboring school district, and I have formed a consortium of Long Island educators interested in the maker movement. I would like to introduce them to Breakout EDU for student engagement, as well as professional development. Games are beneficial not only for problem-solving skills and demonstrating understanding of content, but also for promoting collaboration and building teamwork skills. My students have shown me the power of working together for a common goal. This is one of the most important skills for anyone to learn regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic background, religion, academic ability, or culture. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Through play we can learn how to lead, be a part of a team, cooperate, compromise, solve problems, and be reflective. These human aspects transcend curriculum. They help us to connect with others, and envision scenarios that we would not consider if confined to practicality and the “real world.” Though competitive, play has the power to unite people for a common goal.
To learn more about Breakout EDU, go to http://www.breakoutedu.com/.
To join the Breakout EDU Facebook Group, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/breakoutedu/
To learn more about VersaTiles, go to http://www.hand2mind.com/brands/versatiles
To learn more about DonorsChoose, go to https://www.donorschoose.org/
To learn more about Think It Up, go to http://www.thinkitup.org/
To see the inspiration for our library Breakout EDU game, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoXLWZMwORA
Links to clues:
QUOTES FROM KIDS
“I learned that I can make a game. I never thought that I would be able to do that. It was hard sometimes to make it, especially the puzzles. But my friends and I worked together. Now we made something that other kids can learn from.”
“I thought school was boring. I like to play video games at home all the time, but we can’t play video games in school. We can have breakout games. I’m not lying, I like video games better because there is more action. But if we can’t do that, breakout games would at least get us to walk around during class instead of being stuck in a chair.”
“New kids to our school will get to play our game. That is really cool!”
“It takes a lot more work than I thought. I learned more about the library, and how to decide what kinds of riddles to make to help the students go from one clue so they can find another. It was like a scavenger hunt.”
“I learned that it’s very important to pay attention to details and to follow directions. Our teachers tell us this all of the time. It’s different when you are making something. Then you have to REALLY know your stuff! You have to pretend that you are someone else and think like them.”
“I want to design video games. I like coding, but now I know that I have to have an idea of a game that people would like to play. It can’t be boring or no one will buy it.”
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up. Mrs. H. showed me that there are other ways that I can teach kids so they will learn. I really love making arts and crafts, and using cardboard. I think I am going to make my own games with things that I have around my house.”
“This was hard for me. I’m not very good at making puzzles, but my friends were helping so it made it easier. Mrs. H. said that I should try and do my best. I liked helping my friends and working with them.”
Our "Let Us Out of Here!: Gamifying Our Library" student-led DonorsChoose project was nominated for a Think It Up Innovation Award. While my students and I weren't selected to be one of the 8 winners, our project was one of the 200 finalists. My students will be disappointed that they didn't win, but I am so proud of them. I also can't wait to really delve into the world of Breakout EDU during the upcoming school year.
Meet the Think It Up winners!
Student Book Recommendations, Microsoft "Choose to Code," Earth Day, Virtual Field Trips, DonorsChoose
MY TOP TEN TRICKS
1. Always have a project up. You never know who might fund it.
2. Take advantage of matches, promo codes, and partner funding opportunities (student-led, financial literacy, environmental awareness, Quill). Pay attention to the details.
3. Prime times are at the end of the summer and December.
4. Check your email and the blog for new opportunities: http://www.donorschoose.org/blog
5. Promote your project, especially during the first week, for extra funding.
6. Donate to your own project first to get the ball rolling.
7. Don’t use too much jargon. Speak the language that a donor will understand.
8, Say “thank you.” Have your students write thank-you cards either handwritten or typed. Your thank you notes are a reflection of you, your students, and your school. Express your thanks through social media.
9. Be patient. Your first project will probably be funded very quickly. Your others might not. The more you market, the more likely it will be funded.
10. Browse through other teacher’s projects to get ideas for your own project.
CREATIVE MARKETING STRATEGIES
1. Twitter (add appropriate hashtags and handles: @donorschoose, #donorschoose, subject-specific organizations, companies)
2. Facebook groups, Remind101, emails, student learning management systems,
Back to School and parent-teacher conference flyers.
3. Donate to other projects. Become a part of a community of donors.
4. Share, showcase, and then ask for funding. Share some great teaching resources, links, or teaching ideas. Showcase what your students are doing in your classroom. Explain how donors can further support your mission.
5. Many teachers leverage the power of social media through Facebook and Twitter to share their DonorsChoose projects, but here ways that you can enhance your marketing.
a. One "old school" ways is to create flyers, but who has the time? Use http://printandshare.org to quickly and easily create flyers to send home with your students and to give to parents during Open House and conferences.
b. A "new school" way is to combine web tools. I like to use https://www.edu.buncee.com to create a digital flyer that I can share with parents and community members through https://www.remind.com. Then people who receive my message through their email or text can instantly visit my project page to donate.
c. A picture is worth a thousand words, so use more pictures! Create collages of pictures using the PicCollage app or kick it up a notch and insert video using the PicPlayPost app. If you don't have permission to share pictures or videos of your students, show pictures of the items you are requesting . For example, who knows what a Hokki stool is?
As I reflect on how my library program has evolved over the years, I must take a moment to thank visionary Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose. When I began creating the makerspace in my library two years ago, the only supplies that I had were yoghurt containers, cardboard, and bottle caps that I had saved over the summer. Now my students have access to iPads, Chromebooks, Dash and Dot, MiP, Ozobots, Osmo, a 3D printer, a drone, duct tape, a Cricut vinyl cutter, and supplies to transform trash into treasure. With your help I have also been able to transform our makerspace into a fun, inviting place for kids not only to learn, but to express themselves and to make friends. Here are some pictures of people who have visited our makerspace over the past two years:
I was so excited to have the chance to meet Katie Vallas at the DonorsChoose office in NYC. Having a tour of the office and meeting these wonderful people behind the scenes was a dream come true for me.
Kristina A Holzweiss