I first moved from the old and MAJORLY boring read together or with partners and discuss to using the Nonfiction Notice and Note "3 Big Questions" with my students. They loved this and the discussions that came from it. I really think the love was how "free" our discussions were and that it was okay to have several tangents and things they were wondering about. (More here.) We worked like this through an entire six lessons which is one unit in our book. I wasn't sure that this strategy would keep it's allure through for another six or seven lessons, so I was again on the hunt for something that would engage my kiddos.
In my district we are fortunate enough to get an in-service day in February where we can choose from a variety of sessions being offered. I chose one on Coding/Gaming in the classroom, and boy am I glad I did!!! It was at this professional learning session that I was introduced to Gamestar Mechanic. We were able to play our way through the Quest to get an idea for what students would be doing and then shown several ways that it was being used to integrate content. My ears were perked and eyes open. I soaked it all up and was ready to start the next week!
My student teacher and I looked over the next unit. We decided that it would be best to create a Google Doc to share with the students with key higher level thinking questions from each lesson. A timeline for the studies and creation was set as well. Students would have a week for each lesson. They would read on their own or with a partner the first day of the week. Once the reading was done they would, essentially, do a second read to answer the questions from that lesson. Answers were to be in depth with complete sentences, text evidence, and page numbers. The next step was getting their work checked by one of the teachers. Until it was okayed, they could not begin on their level (this allowed for the "meat" of the work to be done well and we avoided rushing to get to gaming). The assessing and "reteaching" was done practically in real time as students finished at different times and discussions about misunderstandings were happening right then. Checklists and notes were kept to keep track of where everyone was plus any comments necessary.
Once students were on Gamestar, they created one level for each lesson. They had to think about a true game and its set-up. We talked about introducing skills along the way that would help in later levels and making the levels increase in difficulty as they went. Within each level students had to deliver background knowledge for the player in sentence format. The player eventually reaches a "decision point" where they need to use that previously given knowledge to make the correct decision to move forward in the game. Choosing the wrong path/answer could lead to the player's death and make them restart the level.
I cannot tell you how AMAZING this activity has been. It has completely transformed my classroom. You'd never know about any behavior issues we deal with regularly. Students are 100% engaged and all about helping one another. They want to play each others games to test out the levels and offer suggestions. Everyone is interacting with EVERYONE and NO ONE is left out. Students are proud of their work and what they're coming up with to include in their levels. We are on level six out of seven, so they're getting pretty challenging!
Showing off ideas & getting feedback from all.
At the end of our seventh week, students will publish their games and our eighth week will be spent playing each other's games! This will have students immersed in the unit's content for the 5th, 6th, 7th, etc. time and using it to play the games (remember that they've been testing levels and reading content then as well)! Students were assessed as they worked all along, so a final reflection will be given for the final grade of the unit. I cannot recommend trying this in your own classroom more.