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There’s a great episode of Seinfeld (really, they’re all great) where the character George declares he will have “The Summer of George,” doing only things he found worthwhile, such as sitting on the couch devouring cheese. That was, in part, my goal this summer. Not the cheese part, but as mentioned before in this space, it was a rather stressful school year last time around, and I needed to get my head clear before getting ready to welcome the new squirrels.

In addition to running my kids all across the area for sports, much of that involved reading. I didn’t keep track, but I’m sure I did more reading this summer than I have in some time. Granted, part of this involves reading books that I think might belong on my bookshelf in my classroom, but mostly I stayed out of the process at school.

And now I think I’m ready, or at least will be by September 8! My long-time readers are aware that I have worked with a different grading system the last two years, focusing more on meeting the English standards in place. This will be my third year of that, and I hope I have worked out the bugs over the first two years to give my students the best opportunity to show improvement in their skills.

One new element I am trying this year is a version of gamifying my classroom. I read about a junior high science teacher in Roseville who took some of these elements and found success in motivating students to complete their work at a high level. After touching base with him, he was kind enough to provide some details, and I, like any teacher, took some of what works for him and will try it myself.

Let’s face it. Kids today are largely enmeshed in a gaming culture. They play games like Call of Duty and Clash of Clans, which sometimes use working with others to solve a problem part of the basic game structure. They reach various experience levels and earn badges of honor to adorn their game and social media pages with. So why not take some of what works in their lives and use it in my classroom?

I will be randomly placing students in “clans.” It is the job of each clan to earn rolls of the dice through various tasks. These are as simple as turning an assignment in on time and as difficult as earning an “exceeds the standard” twice in a row. Students will earn badges for things such as turning ten assignments in on time in a row or redoing a paper and moving up a grade level. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but students seem to like it when you paste things on their lockers!

At the end of each quarter, my classroom may become quite loud as teams roll off to earn the highest score in the class and claim victory over the boss (me). This will earn them fabulous prizes that largely involve food, the best motivator for most kids this age!

Being my first go-around with this, I’m sure I’ll find things that work and things that don’t work. My main goal is to continue to motivate students to do their best. Sometimes we see that using bribery to a degree leads them to a path where intrinsic motivation takes hold and they don’t need that constant reinforcement to do their best.

Another educational item before I go. Lately we’ve all read numerous letters to the editor proffering the idea of letting our students choose what they want to learn. Let’s clear the air here at NRHEG – there is some of this happening already. Many teachers in our elementary will have students who have shown mastery of basic skills choose an area to research and learn about. In the secondary building, we have times where students have choices about topics to explore or choices about how best to learn something. True choice arrives in high school when students begin choosing elective classes, including our English department, which allows for many choices the last two years of high school.

However, to allow children to choose their entire curriculum is both unwieldy and incomprehensible. Public schools are at the whim of the government in many of the basic ideas we must present to our customers. How we do it is often up to us, but to just let Johnny learn about butterflies because he’s eight and thinks they’re pretty and then have Suzy check out asteroids because they’re big and cool doesn’t give ALL our students the basic skills they will need.

People who choose to home school their children are working only with those kids, and that works well for some folks. We have 20-30 kids at a time to teach and challenge. While the idea has some merit, it’s simply not the answer. Alternative learning environments are fine for those who want to go that route, but public education teaches everyone who walks through our doors. We’re not perfect, but we’re doing the best we can to create citizens for a global society!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is nescience, which means ignorance, as in, “The teachers all hoped to eradicate nescience by the end of the year.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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