We Love Classcraft! A BGL Review

Here at BGL, we love Classcraft! It’s a free classroom management system a la Class Dojo but with deeper options and a fantasy-based theme that the students really enjoy.

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One great element is that a given student’s avatar can “die,” which sounds a bit violent for a classroom setting until you consider a few things:

  • Students are organized into teams and there are disincentives built in to the other team members if one of their teammates dies. In other words, students HAVE to help each other in order to avoid team-wide consequences.
  • The teacher can customize the penalty for death with creative consequences that can otherwise benefit the class.

The latter bullet point is the subject of the following video in which Teacher Travis introduces Classcraft to his 5th grade class via distance learning. Please enjoy! Our students definitely do.

 

The teacher dashboard allows multiple views of the class with varying degrees of detail. It also makes it easy to reward/punish groups of students or the entire class at one time with just a few clicks.

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Another element we enjoy with Classcraft is “Today’s Event,” a randomized act that may or may not affect multiple student accounts at one time. It’s akin to some of the squares on a Monopoly board where rewards or consequences are doled out simply for having been in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

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Almost everything in Classcraft is customizable. From a student perspective, they can customize their avatars and earn the ability to unlock special wardrobe elements and skills. The teacher, like with Class Dojo, can customize the rewards and consequences to target specific class behaviors.

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Given this level of customization, there is definitely a learning curve. It seems a bit unwieldy and user-unfriendly at first, but most tech users will find it to become second nature after using it for a short amount of time. Like with most things in teaching, consistency is key – the more you use it, the more effective it becomes.

Using Video to Teach Current Events

BGL’s own Teacher LaCora has experience in front of the camera as a red carpet host here in Los Angeles. She used those skills to create a video about the recent earthquake in Ecuador as part of BGL’s weekly current events unit.

 

To teach current events, BGL selects a handful of stories from the week and shares links to the stories along with discussion questions to all their teachers across grades K-8. Each teacher chooses the story and discussion questions that are best suited for the ability and interest of their classes. Choosing more discussion questions – or turning them into writing assignments – takes the activity from a short one (5-10 minutes) to a longer one (a full period or two).

Here are the discussion questions for the Ecuadorian earthquake story. As you can see, they get progressively more difficult so that teachers in older grades choose from the bottom and vice versa for younger grades.

  • What can people do to help when there is an earthquake?
  • Have you ever felt an earthquake? What does it feel like?
  • What causes earthquakes? Are there different kinds?
  • What is the Richter scale? What does it mean to increase exponentially?

How do you teach current events? Tell us in the comments section.

Staying Connected While Teaching Abroad: One Teacher’s Perspective

“…well, I guess you must have a touch of crazy in you to move to and live in China. But I think for some, that craziness comes in the form of strength and creativity; and in such cases, you flourish.”

During a recent semester-culminating professional development session at Xing Kong in Kunshan, China, I was asked to share with the group what I deemed to be my “happy place,” or the one time or place that I have felt “complete bliss.” Such a heartfelt question was a bit tricky for my notoriously restless soul, however my answer drew itself quite clearly: my place of happiness is not just one place at all, it is actually a feeling, an all-encompassing overwhelming that is so specific and so poignant that when it comes I get physical goosebumps. For me, nirvana is waking up and venturing out in a place that I have yet to explore, whether it be a city, village, campsite, or beach. Bliss is knowing that a truly unique moment is entirely mine and that in it, I am completely free. Euphoria is the temporary ownership of time and space to explore, get lost and indulge in all before me.

Personally, the sparkling manifestation of what my life was “supposed to look like” has evolved with changing hemispheres, nationalities and languages. I am now overtly aware that in order to balance unavoidable adulthood while simultaneously nourishing my gypsy-soul, I must have a career that allows both travel and financial stability.  This has become a reality for me while living in both Taiwan (previously) and now in China, both of which were with Banyan Global Learning schools. However, being disconnected from your everything at home while living abroad – and, more specifically, teaching abroad – is not always easy and  is even less glamorous. There are days of small triumphs and beautiful glimpses of the traceable footprint you leave behind in a culture that you will never fully understand… but there is also a creeping sense of isolation that comes with living a world away or “in the future” (as my friends in the States lovingly refer to it).

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Pudong, Shanghai Skyline

Yet, through my personal experiences I have found that much of that which is left behind stays constant as it is me who grows, changes, expands and blooms. It’s impossible to write of the excitement that ensues when you are able to plan a weekend get-away to Hong Kong or Macau, or a four-day excursion to South Korea or Singapore. In order to find honest contentment with your path and lose yourself in the adventure and constant wonderment of living abroad, it takes wrapping your mind around the fact that you won’t be gone forever (that is, if you don’t want to be).

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Ko Phi Phi, Krabi, Thailand

One way to do this is by connecting with other expats, both at your place of work and while traveling throughout the region. Through my travels I have met some truly incredible people: explorers from all over the globe that wholeheartedly believe in and embrace the challenge of life outside of the norm; People that live and see life through a uniquely scoped lens; individuals that I admire, trust and love deeply.  The greatest gift has been meeting and loving this select group of wanderers.  They have taught me to believe in the truth and sanctity of every moment that surrounds me.  Through these relationships and the rare mirrors that they provide, I recognize the my undisguised vulnerability along with my softness to new experiences, rare cultures and unique souls. In a world where vulnerability is so quickly coupled with weakness, I choose to wear mine on my sleeve and to allow myself to be unrelinquishingly real. This, in turn, allows me to connect more genuinely with the people with whom I share these experiences.

So, as I sit here, in this lovely cafe in Xintiandi, a small pocket tucked away in the bustle of Shanghai, surrounded by locals and fellow nomads alike, I think back on and embrace the past five months of my life in China and the past 4 years working with BGL. I leave in the morning for Thailand – an adventure I have hoped for since I was a child – and then will be reunited with friends and family in the States for a few short weeks. Very few jobs that I know of offer such a substantial mid-year perk with time off to travel the globe and have your adventure-dreams come to fruition.

In retrospect, I now realize that the ultimate fortune in my adult-life came four years ago when I faithfully took a chance on a young Los Angeles-based company called Banyan Global Learning . I was promised an opportunity to teach internationally but did not realize the extent to which the experience would be defined by my connections to fellow travelers. It has indefinitely changed my life and how I see the world.
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Adorable K1 Students

York, PA’s Weary Arts Group – A 4G Field Trip for Students of Shakespeare

There is perhaps no better way for students to dive into the art of theatrical performance than by studying the greatest playwright of all time, William Shakespeare. While reading an adaptation of the comedy Much Ado about Nothing, BGL‘s 8th grade distance learning students explored the themes of the story while learning how to add expressiveness to their acting of the play’s scenes. This 4G Field Trip with the Weary Arts Group in York, PA brought the concept home for these students in a fun and informative way. Our gracious and dynamic hosts, Calvin and Dante, mesmerized the class with their performances, and the students were grateful to learn from some experts.
Thanks to Teacher Jackie for facilitating the trip and for creating short and long versions of the field trip video. See them below!
SHORT VERSION:
LONG VERSION:

Kung Fu, Zen Buddhism and the Shaolin Temple – An Independent Research Project for 5th Graders

Our 5th graders in Taiwan are new to our distance learning program, so one of the first units we do with them is a familiar topic – Ancient China. We teach about Chinese New Year, the Great Wall, important rivers and inventions, and China’s greatest teacher, Confucius. But the most popular lesson is based on a trip that Teacher Seth took to the Shaolin Temple in the Henan Province of Central China.

First the students read a brief chapter on the history of the Shaolin Temple and its importance to Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. Then, they watch a video about Teacher Seth’s trip:

Then, the students complete the following assignment:

Today, you learned that the Shaolin Temple is the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and of Kung Fu. You will choose ONE of those three topics – Zen Buddhism, Kung Fu, or the Shaolin Temple – and do Internet research on that topic.

Then, answer following questions.

1 – What is your topic?

2 – What are some important things that happened in the history of your topic?

3 – What are some things people do to celebrate or practice it?

4 – Who are some famous people who are associated with your topic? What is their relationship to it?

5 – What is your opinion about your topic?

The best of those reports are linked for download here:

Jasper:                                                            Tiffany:

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Annie 21:                                                            Moe:

 

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Christine:                                                         Nicole 30:

 

 

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Angelica:                                                         Sherry:

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What awesome research projects has your class conducted? Leave a comment!

An Inventive Renaissance Project with 8th Grade ELL’s

While the Renaissance is an important period in history and the artwork is truly amazing, it is not always the most interesting topic for students to study (especially those in the midst of junior high ennui). However, a class of BGL’s ambitious 8th graders at Tsai Hsing School have worked their magic to bring the study of the Renaissance to life.

First students learned about Donatello and through his work were introduced to the techniques of Renaissance artists. From this stemmed an art critique assignment in which students chose a work of art by Donatello and unleashed their best inner art critic. This met with some interesting results, some of which are below.

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Next we learned about Michelangelo. This led students to an in-depth look at his famous works at the Sistine Chapel. They learned that Michelangelo created this art to represent the story of Genesis in the Bible. Students ran with this, creating their creation artwork. For a twist, students traded artwork, then wrote a story about the creation of the world. Below are just a few examples of their endeavors.

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The next famous Renaissance artist in the study was Leonardo, who is famous for his unique perspective on the human form and his many incredible inventions. Students used this a springboard for their own inventions. They chose one of Leonardo’s inventions, but found a way to improve on it.

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Finally, the students studied Raphael, who is arguably one of the most talented painters of the Renaissance and is famous for his realistic portraits. Students channeled their own inner artists to create self portraits. What a beautiful and talented group!

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This class will be moving on to study Shakespeare in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled for the actors and actresses to unveil the works of Shakespeare through the lens of a Taiwanese 8th grader.

Moe’s Blog: A 5th Grade Student’s Perspective on Distance Learning Class

Hello, friends! My name is Moe. I’m a fifth grader studying in Taiwan at Tsai Hsing Elementary School. Today, let’s talk about our special and interesting English class.

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There is a special class in our school which is called distant learning class. We have video teleconference calls with teachers in America. We learn many interesting things. Last semester, we studied different biomes and rainforests, and we also learned math in English. Although I wasn’t used to learning in English last semester, now, I clearly understand the content in class and I like it a lot.

Of course, any great class has a wonderful teacher. We have two great teachers from California. The first few minutes in class, we chat and the teachers will talk about interesting things that happened to them. And then, they use easy and humorous ways to teach us some new knowledge. We also have assignments that we really have to use our brains to think about. It is not as easy as the traditional homework, such as memorizing vocabularies. We have to read an article, understand it, and write our own opinion about it. Instead of copying the answers, we have to think about the information in different ways. It helps us to think outside of the box.

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During class, we also have a lot of group work. We work with classmates in a group of four, and the teachers want us to utilize the different abilities of different teammates and work together. The best example was the presentation of “How Do People Celebrate New Year All around the World.” First, we had to find a website for kids where we can look for information. Then, we chose a country we would like to write about. We read an article about the country and made a Google Slide presentation. Each of us made one page of the presentation. So a six-page Google slide presentation was made from our team effort.

 

This semester we are studying about Confucius, the great teacher in ancient China. We are learning his legacy and his main ideas. We know that he tried to tell the world about “virtue”, and he tried to put his ideas into practice.

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For our assignment, instead of think about things that we already know, we have to think forward. We have to think about the “virtue” for typical jobs in modern life. For example, how should a president behave, or what does virtue mean to a citizen? We also compare different virtues for each job.

 

I know that many of our classmates think that this class is hard. It seems like it’s a lot of pressure for them, but I think this class is very practical for me. First, it improves my English abilities, no matter if is it grammar, understanding, or researching with the iPad. Second, it also gives me the chance to challenge myself to do my best job, and I will always try to make the assignment perfect in the shortest time I have. Third, it helps me understand how kids from other countries learn in class. I also get to do many things that I never had a chance to do, such as making a presentation, making a map or drawing a comic book. All of them make me feel excited.

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I also try my best to help my classmates and I have to say that they are showing great progress. It is pretty difficult, but before, some of our classmates couldn’t communicate with English speakers. Now, they can talk fluently and with confidence.

Well, those are most of the things we do in the distant learning class, but that’s not all, I will keep posting photos and interesting things about our class. I also hope you like it. Farewell!

 

Flipping a Classroom from 6,800 Miles Away

Distance learning (DL) brings exciting possibilities to our Taiwanese students, but also presents some challenges. Our classes have 42 students in them, so how can a distance learning teacher maximize the individual time with each student? Using some #edtech tools we found at EdSurge LA last summer, we decided to do our own version of a ‘flipped’ classroom.

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Teacher Travis flipping his classroom. In the foreground is his laptop, which he is using to teleconference with a small group of students. In the back is the full view of the students in the classroom using H.323 technology to connect to BGL’s offices in Los Angeles. To the right is the view of Teacher Travis that the students see in Taiwan.

In a typical BGL DL classroom, students either do independent Internet research or read iBooks with BGL-designed course content. The teacher will lead a whole-group interactive read-aloud of the latest chapter and then conduct a discussion related to the reading. At that point, the students do an activity that reinforces the content and allows them to practice English in an authentic setting.

A wonderful iPad app and web-based service called Zaption allowed us to flip this model.

Zaption is an online video service that allows you to add question elements into/onto/adjacent to the video. Before Zaption, I would read the chapter with the class and ask individual students comprehension or discussion questions. Obviously I could not get to all 42 students in any given class. Now, I can record the reading and embed questions directly into the video. I can use the Zaption interface to group my students as a class and collect their answers.

Below is an excerpt from the first Zaption lesson we did. Notice that you can ask short answer questions as well as group discussion questions (at the end of the clip):

Here is what some of the analytics look like after students complete the video:

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When the students finish with the Zaption, they use the Quizlet app to practice vocabulary words from that unit or from previous chapters:

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So what is the other half of the class doing? They meet with me (the teacher) through an app called Zoom. Zoom is like a group FaceTime, except that I can also mute individual students, control who is on the main screen, share my screen and record the video (among other features). Now, I am effectively teaching 21 students rather than 42. I can answer more questions, speak to more students and better facilitate the discussion. After we meet on Zoom we may end the meeting so they can work on individual work, we may break off into groups, or I may meet with them one-on-one to discuss their work.

One of the biggest challenges of a distance learning teacher is how to engage ALL your students when you are not in the room with them. By flipping our classroom we cut the number of students we are interacting with in a “whole group” by half. Furthermore, the 21 students who are on their iPad using Zaption are required to respond to all the questions and thus I am able to collect meaningful data during every flipped period. Most importantly, the students LOVE this. Our kids like to be challenged and this allows us to use all 40 minutes of class time VERY efficiently.

This student is practicing vocabulary on Quizlet.

This student is practicing vocabulary on Quizlet.

This student is listening to the zoom meeting. You can see me in the corner of his iPad. I am going over their assignment and sharing my screen.

This student is listening to the zoom meeting. You can see me in the corner of his iPad. I am going over their assignment and sharing my screen.

A student working on an individual assignment after a Zoom meeting.

 

How do you flip your classroom? Leave your ideas in the comments section.