Game On!

What started two months ago as a manipulative plot to get my seniors to prepare for IB exams has turned into an epic quest:  to annihilate Lida the Mango (#1 in the world in biology) in a battle of wits while accidentally preparing for exams of course. The QuizUp biology topic update has finally gone live and my students  couldn't be more excited... or sleep deprived.

QuizUp: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em!

 Click through on the image to find out more about QuizUp

Click through on the image to find out more about QuizUp

For a while now I have been using Quizlet to help my IB Biology students learn vocabulary for my course.  Finals are just around the corner, so I posted the following messages to our class Facebook group: 


My first reaction was to dismiss this idea as I suspected that it was going to serve the same function on a different platform, which means twice as much work for the same result.  However, I went ahead and signed up for QuizUp to see what the fuss was all about. 


A week later, I find myself ranked #2 in India hot on Rams tail, though admittedly he has a bit of a lead on me.  A couple of days into my obsession with this game I mentioned it to a colleague of mine.  At midnight a couple of days later he sent me this message: 


We have decided to start a QA group at our school:  QuizUp Anonymous or 12 steps to getting more sleep at night.  But enough about us... it IS all about the students after all. 

To play the game, you choose a category (there are tons of options) and then you either challenge a friend to play with you (in real time or asynchronously) or you can challenge a random person in the world in real time.  Each game has 7 questions and you have 10 seconds to answer the question. You get experience points for guessing a correct answer, your speed in answering the questions, completing games and victories.  For each category, points add up to numerical levels and levels add up to achievements in the form of player titles (I am an Evolutionary Einstein formerly a Genetics Genius) as well as badges such as this one:


There are even a few badges for the not-so-fortunate among us: 


A student of mine discovered this after challenging me one too many times.  He should have known better than to go after an Evolutionary Einstein! 

Anyway, you can check out your stats as well as the stats of your "friends".  Here is a breakdown of the games played by the student that introduced me to this game. 



Can you tell that he is studying for his SAT in December?  I love that his top three topics include Biology and Physics.  Unfortunately, after playing "a few" games under the topic of Biology, I realized that the biology questions for the most part didn't address the IB Biology curriculum.  In passing my student had mentioned that we could create content for QuizUp, so I wrote to them and asked if I could create content for a new Science category with my students that would be focused on the IB Biology content that they would be tested on in May.  I figure if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join them.  How great would it be to leverage a tool like this for student learning?

They loved the idea, and have charged me with creating a spreadsheet with a minimum of 300 questions to launch the new topic.  Once this new topic is released, students all over the world will be able to access this question bank and play other students while accidentally preparing for their exams in May. 

I would like to open this up to other IB Biology teachers.  The format required for the questions is as follows: 

  • All questions are multiple choice and need to be submitted in a spreadsheet
  • Questions can be a maximum of 130 characters
  • Answers are limited to 30 characters
  • The order on the spreadsheet needs to have the question first then the CORRECT answer, followed by 3 wrong answers.

If you are an IB Biology teacher, and you are interested in helping me to create content for this game, send me a message and I will be happy to add you to the Google Spreadsheet that I have started with my students.  The faster we get this done, the sooner it will be available for our students to use.  You can reach me at my Twitter handle @roryaileen, or by email at  I am also looking for a catchy title (with IB somewhere in it to avoid the addition of non-related content) as well as achievement level title suggestions.  I am thinking of going with an evolutionary theme.  Instead of beginner, they start as primordial slime, and progress to higher organisms until they reach the top level, Super Human Intellectual Terrestrials.

I will keep you updated on the release, but for now, my arch nemesis from Spain has just challenged me to a rematch, so I must go. 

Twitter PLNs: Geographical Isolation Doesn't Really Exist

I have been living overseas for 14 years now on four different continents.  It has been one exciting adventure after another, and most of the time, I wouldn't trade my life for the world.  However, when it comes to forming PLCs and learning with colleagues, the isolation can sometimes be overwhelming and in some cases a deterrent.  Sometimes I crave the world.  It's really a numbers game when you get down to it.  The sample size of educators in your physical proximity or even time zone that share in your specific passions and interest can be quite limited.  In most of the places I have taught, there were at most two schools with an even smaller group of teachers interested in learning about the same topics, pedagogical strategies, or technological tools to the depth that I wanted to go with my professional development.  In countries outside of the US, you frequently have to contend with language issues, cultural/educational barriers, and in places like India traffic and logistical difficulties. 

 Kenya, December 2012

Kenya, December 2012

Relying on my biology metaphors, it can sometimes feel like I am an opportunistic predator (read educator) –always searching for the PD rich experience but always aware of the energy and motivation costs of the hunt.  It can be hit or miss, and I have found that localized PD experiences in my host countries can frequently be a miss.  Having said that, limiting my professional development to the small group of teachers that I work with in my physical space can be just as much of a miss for no other reason than the statistical significance of a small sample size.  What is the likelihood that I will find another teacher in my building who wants to explore iPad apps that will help me to better illustrate the movement of electrons and hydrogen ions in the electron transport chain during both the cyclical and non-cyclical light dependent reactions in photosynthesis for my 12th grade IB class or gamifying my chemistry unit for 10th grade? 

Another issue is technology.  It is impossible to stay abreast of every new app, tool, and resource that hits the market.  It is even more difficult in international schools if you don't have a critical mass of connected educators constantly sharing out resources that they have discovered outside of our little bubble.  The key word here is connected.  It is because of Twitter, that all of the issues mentioned above have completely disappeared for me in the past year. 


Before I joined Twitter a year ago, PLC used to stand for Professional Learning Community.  It was the edupopculture (yes, I just made that word up) buzz word for your department, vertical team, grade level team etc.  It usually consisted of less than 10 people who shared a common goal, often a goal predetermined by the administrators dictating your meeting agendas.  PD was delivered and often watered down to address all grade levels and all disciplines.  In the international schools that I have worked at in the past, this frequently involved literacy or something more tool oriented like Atlas Rubicon.  My PLC time was often spent documenting what were already doing rather creating or discovering new ideas in uncharted territory.  Then I joined Twitter.

I have now expanded my PLC into a PLN.  Though it may look like only a difference in one letter, there were actually two major paradigm shifts that took place.  The obvious change is that I now have a network rather than a community.  Instead of being isolated by an ocean from other educators that share my vision and mission as an educator, I am now connected to them through my network.   


The second shift is more subtle on the surface, but has a far greater impact on my development as an educator.  Instead of a Professional Learning Network, I now refer to my PLN as my Passionate Learning Network.  Whenever I have time to explore or discover, I simply turn to Twitter.  In no time at all, I am connected to people who share in my passion for learning and offer far more insight and an endless stream of new ideas for me to dig into.  My world now looks a little more like this:

 Image originally from  via  Reddit

Image originally from via Reddit

This image came from a great post that you should check out:  40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World

Snapshot:  How do PLN's Work

So today, I went onto Twitter and one of my fellow Tweeps from California posted this:   



My question was what is this ThingLink and why are you awake at 1:30 am California time?  So he responds: 

Twitter___Mentions 2.jpg

Hmmm....Note to self:  Check out ThingLink; it could be the answer to my photosynthesis dilemma.  What is #playdate13?   

Before I could ask him, another Twitter friend, @clongbh sent me the link to the Google site for the unconference that they are going to attend, Playdate Los Angeles.  After taking one look at the site, I felt the isolation creeping in...but only for a moment.  I was frustrated that I couldn't be there to participate and learn from the amazing educators that are participating in this creative playdate.  It then occurred to me that I can still participate by following the hashtag #playdate13 this evening as all of the people attending are connected educators and will be tweeting out resources and commentary throughout the event.  I suspect that several of the sessions will also be aired live via Google Hangouts.  Chris then invited me to a new Google+ Community that can answer all of the questions that I have about Thinglink and connect me to other educators using it in their classrooms.  

This just in:  While writing this post, I received this tweet:   


I do not follow ThingLinkEducation, but their search engine must have alerted them to the fact that I was tweeting about ThingLink so they sent me a link to their educator's toolkit and a Google presentation on 70+ Interesting Ways to Use ThingLink in the Classroom.  Need I say more?  Two minutes on Twitter, and I now have hours of exploring and creating to do with an instant support network made of people who are passionate enough about ThingLink to share their expertise.  I am definitely looking forward to digging deeper when I finish this post.  If you are still not convinced, or not sure how to get started, here are some previous posts that I have written about using Twitter for professional development. 

What it Means to be a Connected Educator 

Twitter for Professional Development Series  

Update:  I received these two tweets from @CoffeeNancy after sharing this post on Twitter.   

_1__Twitter___Interactions 2.jpg

Myth Busters: Summer Slide and The Loss of Learning

So I had this great evil plan to destroy the confidence of my grade 12 IB Biology students on the first day of school today ... with the intention of developing great strategies to start the year of course :-)  My 12th graders had returned from a very restful summer filled with very little biology revision (I suspect).  It is crunch time, the final stretch before their exams in May, so I decided to start class with an activity to show them how little they remember from their first year of IB.  I divided them into two groups and assigned them to two white boards.  No smart phones, no computers, no syllabus, no prompts...just their collective bank of memories that were formed back in January of this year.   One group was told to diagram everything that happens in respiration (aerobic and anaerobic) outside of the mitochondria, and the other group was instructed to diagram everything that happens inside of the mitochondria during respiration.  I then loaded up a couple of the videos they had produced in an activity I had them do last year as a comparison of what they knew then to what they know now.  Turns out the answer was almost everything.  One group had zero mistakes, and the other had only one error in the sequencing of two of biochemical steps in glycolysis.  They remembered all of the terms, were able to distinguish reduced molecules from oxidized ones, and accurately described all of the products for all of the stages in both anaerobic and aerobic respiration.  Here is one of the drawings produced.  


Now in the past this had been a foolproof plan...but then last year, I approached the teaching of the material differently than before.  When planning the unit on Cellular Respiration, I paid careful attention to the type of activities that I had the students engage in along with the sequence and spacing of exposure to the content according the current neuroscience research on memory retention.  Eric Jensen recommends the following strategy for content exposure to maximize retention in his book, Teaching with the Brain in Mind


By following Jensen's schedule of learning exposure combined with the use of collaborative multimedia learning activities, particularly this one, I have to put this one in the win column.  We reviewed a couple of the videos that my students created for this assessment, and were surprised to find that one of them had over 650 views!  Even better, one of the students claimed that she was probably responsible for 100 of them while she was reviewing for her final, and it wasn't even her video!  I will definitely be rethinking my plan for teaching photosynthesis over the next couple of weeks.  It is pretty awesome walking away from day feeling this optimistic!  Maybe that other shoe won't drop!