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An interview with Dan Koch
Voted teacher of the year at his school for 2015, Dan Koch helped pilot the 1:1 iPad initiative for Citrus County, FL, in which students were issued an iPad to take home for the school year. Dan works with Apple and FASA and has helped design an iTunes U course for other educators linking to apps and ELA standards, and he leads professional development technology trainings throughout Citrus County. He was named an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2015.
I teach 8th grade language arts at Citrus Springs Middle School in Florida. I’m the yearbook advisor for the school, and this is my fifth year teaching.
Our school has been 1:1 with iPads since 2012, so this is our third full year with the devices. Next year, we’ll have all three grade levels with devices that they [can] take home and bring back to school with them every day.
I was at a professional development session where this woman was giving a presentation. She talked about gamification and giving rewards for students in the classroom and making the whole environment a game. That’s something I latched onto.
I was intrigued to get something going in my classroom and get the kids motivated. I searched online for different ways to do that, and some people had their own XP system and Google sheets, and there were huge algorhythms they were using. I thought, “It’s going to take me a long time to do this.” So I kept clicking around, and I came to one website that talked about a new, up-and-coming ed-tech startup called Classcraft — it’s like World of Warcraft meets Class Dojo. I thought, “That is cool. I used to play World of Warcraft, and I’d get sucked in for days. So if I can get the kids sucked in with that type of mentality …” I was all over it.
When I first started implementing it and starting tying XP to getting [assignments] in on time or early, I saw 100 percent work completion for my classes. I was like, “Oh my god, this is excellent!” That’s good for teachers, too, when you talk about evaluations. You always want to differentiate your classrooms, and your administrator is looking for viable [methods]. “This gamification thing is great, but can I tie it to any sort of data?” And that’s data right there.
Yeah, I was just playing around with that before. That’s even better. I can pull that [data] up for any student.
Honestly, teaching gets boring, especially if you’re in the same curriculum. You know your stuff and you try to make it engaging, but there are days that are just like, “Oh, man.” It’s Monday, and you feel the same way the kids are feeling. All I have to do is fire up Classcraft, and it makes our morning interesting. It just supercharges me, the kids, and it gets us going. Even on those days where it’s like a rainy Monday and nobody wants to be there, it turns the day around for us.
I have added so many random events and so many death sentences [when falling in battle] because, for the kids, that’s their favorite thing. I have a Google form that attaches to a “suggest a quest” form that I made. Students will submit [ideas], and I’ll see them right on my iPad when I check the spreadsheet. I have [events where] the kids have to talk in quotes from the movie Mean Girls, or they have to plank on the ground for a minute … random stuff like that. A lip sync battle is another one that a kid suggested.
They enjoy [helping me] customize the game and tailoring it to the things that they want to see. And when they feel a part of the process, just like anything else, it makes them want to come to class and makes them feel more a part of the community of the learning that’s going on. So I appreciate it for that, too.
They have to arm wrestle me in a death sentence.
Nobody’s won. [Laughter] And there are kids who are like, “I’m gonna do it this time.” There’s that moment where everyone goes, “Oooooh. You have to arm wrestle Mr. K.” I like that just because it’s funny. And I’ll ham it up and act like I’m losing.
They enjoy the comradery they have with me, because I take their suggestions seriously. … Just seeing me as the Gamemaster, and the fact that I introduced it to the class and tried to make it more fun — they appreciate that. They understand that it’s for them to have a good time in class. It’s meant to make it more immersive than that. They do appreciate that, and they tell me that.
Do it. Don’t be afraid. I had some reluctance, and if I had just said, “Oh, I don’t have time,” I don’t know what I’d be doing right now, honestly. I’d just be going through my curriculum, and I’d be teaching and doing the best I could, but I don’t know how this year would have been.
And I didn’t start in the beginning of the year. I started October, maybe November. After I started this, it just changed how class runs for me every day for the better.
So don’t be afraid. It’s a risk to try something new, but you miss all the shots you don’t take. So you should do it.