Monday, 25 April 2011

WEEK 6: "But We're Not Done Yet!"

This past week I brought my Mario Kart research project back into the classroom...this time to a Gr. 4/5 split. My focus continued to be literacy centers and a math activity (in particular, division)--though I must confess, after chatting with teacher Brian McLaren, I was eager to branch out and try new Mario Kart activities.

Alas, the timing and parameters of my project do not allow for larger projects, and when I spoke with the teacher of this class, she was pretty excited with what I had done already and was eager for me to use that material again.  I had to remind myself, these students hadn't seen these activities them they were going to seem new & fresh & least, that's what I hoped!

And so it was!

Literacy Centers
As I've mentioned before, one of my favourite parts with the literacy centers is seeing the student reactions to the centers (for details on the literacy centers themselves, see previous post--in this class the numbers of centers was reduced, we excluded the Peach, Donkey Kong and Mario centers).

 There's usually a 'fun' reaction to their initial unveiling, some excitement around who gets to go to which centre, etc.

While all of the centers were fairly well received, the reading scripts, the interview writing and the descriptive writing were probably the most popular.

 There were two boys in particular in this class who responded with obvious enthusiasm to the writing center (neither are considered 'avid writers') who, upon hearing it would soon be time to change centers, cried "But we're not done yet!" They wanted to keep writing.

These guys also, upon hearing that literacy centers would be continued next period, said: "Awesome!"

This is not something they usually say about literacy.

The math focus this week in this class happened to be division. Since I'd already done other operations (addition, multiplication) I took what I'd done previously and adapted here.

Of course, we ranked the race times for each of the four racing groups, as I have done previously. Students really engage in this activity, it has never failed to get their interest.

Once that was done, we did a few division questions with the Mario & Luigi manipulatives to 'warm up'. I would give a division question, like 15 divided equally into 3 groups, how many in each group? and they would have to show it using the manipulates.

After that, the class broke into partners, and each partner received a Mario themed word problem. They then had to use chart paper, divide it in two,  and on one side a) solve the problem as a long division equation and on the other, b) draw a picture of the solution.

They then presented these to class when they were finished. (And there was a lot of interest in hearing the different Mario Kart word problems, each one starred a different MK characters, such as Boo, Bowser, Luigi, etc).

Next Week: next week is my last class, a Gr. 2 class, and then I start analyzing the data!

Sunday, 17 April 2011


 For reasons of scheduling, I didn't run my usual Mario Kart research project this week...though next week I will be back at it, in a Gr. 4/5 classroom with MK literacy centers and MK division!

Even though I didn't run the project, I've a few interesting points related to Mario Kart and game based learning that I thought I might post:

1. "Does yours have Mario?"
There's a teacher at my school who told me this cute story last week. In our photocopy room, there's a recycle bin, and sometimes this teacher pulls paper from there, and then photocopies what she needs on the back of it, as a way to re-use paper. One day, it turned out that she pulled out from the recycle bin some of my Mario Kart math/colouring sheets to use. In class, a student turned it over-- and exclaimed in pleased surprise. "My page has Mario on the back!" This then led the class to turn over their pages--some did have Mario characters, some didn't. It was all very exciting. 

Some eventually coloured them in, too.

I think this is a funny story because it shows the buzz just even a plain ol' MK themed picture creates. Using games in the classroom does not have to be elaborate...

2. Or you can be VERY elaborate!
This week I had the opportunity to Skype with Brian McLaren in Scotland. He worked on the Mairo Kart Leaderboard last school year for the Consolarium, and supported schools there in initiating their own Mairo Kart projects. He kindly consented to share how the Leaderboard worked and some of the projects that happened...these were very inspiring!

I especially liked hearing about the cross curricular projects and the 'real life connections', such as:

  • link MK to Forumla One racing, study effective ads, car designs, race courses, cities in which the races take place
  • then create racing groups, each student owning a particular role: students can design (drawing or 3D), advertise, write about their own racing car, have a budget and plan how to get from one race city to another without risking financial ruin (looking up airfare on the internet, for instance)
  • hold the race! create race courses to scale, then chalk out in the playground-one school even had students create their own karts, which they then used in a real race!
3. Research Participant
I also got to participate in a Phd research project about gaming in education, skyping with Leo Cao from the University of North Carolina. This was a great way for me to articulate the how's and why's of my current project, and also to explain some of my ideas of future projects (as I said to my principal recently: 'you realize I am just getting started with this!'). Participating in this study just doubled my passion for this emerging and engaging subject.

4. Behaviour Wii
A fellow SERT and I were talking one day a few months ago about how to support several junior boys who had issues with work completion and anger/disrespectful behaviour. We wanted to run a social skills group, but since it was going to be held at recess--and would thus be voluntary--we knew it had to have a 'hook'. We didn't think the boys would willing give up playing soccer outside for a mere round of 'role play and strategizing about emotions and respectful behaviour'.

So we incorporated the Wii. We developed a role play game that happens withint the context of the Wii game play. So when the boys play Mario Kart, they also have role play cards (for example, one plays 'angry', the other plays 'uncaring'). The other students are observers, with distinct questions to answer (also on cards), such as: how did their behaviour impact the game results? how did watching their behaviour make you feel? (often, these students are unaware of how their behaviour impacts others), etc. After the game is over, we all come together to discuss what happened, and to examine strategies for handling those emotions in the moment. Then we try them out.

There is also Wii reward time given in their regular class to support positive behaviour. And at the end of the year, we're going to have a Wii tournament via Skype with another group of boys at a school in Toronto (with thanks to the fabulous Diana @MzMollyTL). We in fact started off the group with a co-operate activity/discussion between the boys of both schools via Skype--which really fostered a great sense of connection.

We only just started implementing this, but its clear to us that without the Wii game play, the boys would not volunteer to give up their time! The program would not happen with out it.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Mario Kart: WEEK 5! The Juniors Get a Turn At The Wheel...

I took Mario Kart into my first junior classroom (Gr. 4). It allowed for a bit more expansion in the activities, particularly in the area of writing and multiplication. Here are centers we used:
  • PEACH PARAGRAPH: Use the answer sandwich paragraph writing technique to answer Mario Kart inspired questions.
  • MARIO SPELLING: students had the option to make their own top 10 MK word lists (in addition to the ten I provided) and use in the various activities (such as hangman, create-a-word-search)
  • YOSHI READING: read the Mario Kart scripts (that I made) expressively then write your own
  • DONKEY KONG LISTENING: listen to the media on and answer the questions
  • LUIGI WRITING: in addition to using the ‘description wheel’ graphic organizer to describe a character, setting, or kart (or an invention of one of their own), expand those descriptions into metaphors and similes
  • BOWSER WORD WORK: use Mario Kart related homonyms, such as road and rode,  in various activities (hangman, sentence creation, word search)
 And we added two new centers:
  • DAISY’s NON FICTION TEXT FEATURES: do a scavenger hunt for non-fiction text features (lists, headings, diagrams, table of contents, etc) using the MK manuals (of which I had 2 copies)
  • TOAD’s INTERVIEW STATION: develop interview questions for a partner who will be a MK character, write down the answers in a script format
Some of the student responses were so fantastic, I have to include them here:

Luigi Writing: Descriptions, Metaphors, Simlies
Spiky Flying Goomba: His fangs are swords. His eyes are big, blue oceans. 
Light Bowser: His teeth are like mountains. His sword is as light as the sun.
Din: His eyes are as black as space. Skin is as red as a pool of blood. 

Mario Spelling: Create A Mario Kart Top Ten Word List
Skid, race, character, speech, chant, champion, game, yoshi, catch up, cartoon

Toad Interview: create questions for a Mario Kart character, act out the answer
Sample #1
Toad: What’s your favourite car?
Baby Peach: Stroller.
Toad: What do you say when you win?
Baby Peach: Whoooo.
Toad: Did you’re mom teach you how to race?
Baby Peach. Yes.
Toad: Who is your best friend?
Baby Peach: My mom.

Sample #2
Question: What is your favourite thing to do?
Yoshi: My favourite thing to do is race people in Mario Kart races.
Question: What is your favourite place to race?
Yoshi: My favourite place to race is Yoshi Falls.
Question: What is your favourite kart?
Yoshi: The egg mobile.
Question: What do you like eating?
Yoshi: I like eating apples. 

Yoshi Reading: Read, write and act out scripts with the Mario characters
Princess Peach: Are you racing with Bowser?
Mario: Yes I am
Bowser: Are you ready to lose?
Princess Peach: Are you crazy? When I raced him he nearly broke my car!
Mario: So I am going to race him.
Stage guy: Three, two, one, race!
Princess Peach: Good luck!
Bowser: ha ha ha

Peach Paragraph: Respond to a Mario Kart themed question using the answer sandwich format. 
The best features of Mario Kart are how you can pick your person, your kart and what track you go on. You can also win power blocks.
You can pick any people. You have lots of people to choose from. Same with the karts, you could pick any cart that goes with the person. You can also pick what track you want to race on. You can pick a hard level or an easy level track to race on. The Power Blocks give you different powers to help you win. They give you banana’s to make the other people slip and stuff like that. And that’s the best features!

I thought these show how Mario Kart can inspire writers. These were crafted within 20 minutes approximately while at the literacy stations, sometimes after doing other activities.

Mario Math: Multiplication
 The classroom teacher and I thought it would be great to expand on the multiplication task I did with the Gr. 3's, when I had students draw the explanation/solution for a Mario Kart word problem, such as "There are 3 baby bowsers with 5 spikes each. How many spikes are there all together?"

For the Gr. 4's we thought they could come up with their own word problems. Then they could draw a corresponding picture for it, plus show the number sentence--plus show it as an array (another math expectation for G. 4). We thought they could then post the results in the class...on a giant hanging times table we made out of those handy all-purpose teacher supplies: construction paper, old yarn and masking tape. 

So, after we did our usual sorting of the game data and applauding the 'winners' (which students always, always seem to love doing), we divided them into groups (the students who had more difficulty were given lower numbers to work with, such as the 4 times table), told them to choose a multiplication fact in their group (such as 4x5) and then fill out the corresponding graphic organizer. Then they could tape their page to the giant hanging display. They were to try to fill out the entire time table.

When they were done, they could do one of the multiplication colouring pages I had used in previous classes (again, a big hit...students were very excited over which characters were available, etc.). (I have never thought to see such excitement over math work sheets!)

Collaboration Rocks! One of the joys of implementing this project is that I get to meet teachers and 'hash out' ideas. I brought what I'd done in the other classes to the Gr. 4 teacher and we took some time to explore how those tasks might work with her students. We would get an idea, then one of us would add to it, then it would shift and transform again with another thought...all very jazzy and it made the planning process exciting because we were both feeding off each other ideas & getting enthused by it. I think its especially helpful when implementing a games based learning project to just have a brain storming session, throw ideas out on the table and see what comes of it. It can help solidify the project, get it off the ground running!

Due to timing, my project will take a one week break--but then I'll be back in a Gr. 2 then a Gr. 4/5 class! See you then!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mario Kart: WEEK 4! "It's Working!"

This was another great week bringing Mario Kart into the classroom, this time a grade 2/3 split. In this split, students were fairly evenly matched, though there was the need to differentiate in the math portion for an IEP student working below grade level.

Literacy Centers
The Literacy Centers were primarily the same as last week in the Grade 3 class. Again, the big hits were Luigi Writing Centre, Donkey Kong Listening Station ( and the script reading at the Yoshi Reading Centre.

One of the best parts about this project is witnessing the excitement as I 'unveil' each of the Mario Kart literacy centers and explain what you do at each center. And then the expressions of excitement when students realize which center they will be going to next, especially when its a center they are very interested in.  "Yes!" "Awesome!" (This is exactly what I want students to be saying about literacy!)

Math was similar to two weeks ago, with the focus being on double addition for both the Gr. 2's and 3's. Again, I created Mario word problems while students used place value mats to demonstrate their answers. They also used the 'stoplights', holding up green, yellow and red if the answer was odd, even or greater than 50. (To differentiate, I handed those 2 students separate Mario Math questions at their level and also different criteria for the red stoplight (ie: numbers greater than 15, rather than greater than 50). They also got the same colouring sheets, just with different questions).

Again, what as I've been finding in the other classes, this theme brings a lot of excitement to math. Everyone is keen to sort the game times (data) and determine the winner for the various races (Yoshi, Mario, Donkey Kong, and Luigi). Everyone is keen to answer the questions and do the colour sheets. I'm often asked 'can we keep these?' 'can I take these home?'.

It's working! Having done this now in 4 different classroom, I can tell you anecdotally that this is working. Yes, it needs a bit of tweaking here and there sometimes, and also could be expanded (as I've mentioned previously) into larger, more elaborate lessons. But the general response from the students is overwhelmingly positive.

I've also taken a preliminary look at my data from my first class, and already I can say that the student response to the literacy centers is greater for the Mario Kart version. I take this as their way of communicating: we like this. More, please!

I also enjoy hearing the spontaneous comments of appreciation. In this class, one boy says, quite seriously, out of nowhere: 'thank you, Mrs. Johnson, for bringing the Mario stuff to our class'.

(I've also had other students from other classes stop me in the halls to thank me. Mostly boys. Some more than once!)

Next week's Gr. 4 class brought their consent forms back in record time. I even had a boy stop me (2x) in the halls to let me know he'd brought his form in and was ready to go!

This will be my first junior class next week and it should be a lot of FUN! Check back in one week as I write up the details!