The 2020 Kevie Awards Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the 2020 Kevie awards! If you missed part 1, be sure to check it out.

Today's categories are: Best Disney Thing, Best Game (Digital), Best Game (Non-digital), Best Distance Learning Tool and Best New School History Thing

Best Disney Thing

Val - I wrote about this in detail back in August in a post called Know Your Audience. In short, I was privileged with helping provide one of my students with an experience she'll never forget. She got to sit in the director's booth in the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure during a performance of Frozen Live. It was incredible and a day I will never, ever forget. Easily one of, if not the, highlight of my teaching career.

Rise of the Resistance - The reason I missed the last day of CCSS is because it was held just 15 minutes from Disneyland. Honestly, what did they expect me to do?! On day 3 I took advantage of my hotel in Anaheim to make my first attempt to get a spot on Rise of the Resistance. I was in line (and definitely NOT social distancing!) at 6:45 AM for an 8 AM park open. We got in and managed to get our boarding pass with a fairly low number. By 11 AM we were in line for Imagineering's latest creation. ROTR is an experience like no other. I don't even like to talk about it because to do so could potentially lesson the experience. It is everything an interactive experience ought to be. It mixes every trick Imagineers have learned and used since 1955. As a ride it is somewhere near the middle of the pack. As an experience it is above anything else they've ever done. It perfectly represents the wow I want in my classroom. Here's a bit more I wrote about it.

Mom's Birthday - Birthdays matter. Just recognizing them for our students is huge. They matter to adults too! For this birthday for my mom we snuck my sister up from San Diego to surprise join us for the day. We'd done that before so, as cool as it was, we needed just a little more! I learned that you can order Disney birthday cakes from certain restaurants in the park. We did that and it was awesome. What was especially awesome was that I kept unintentionally saying we were eating at the French Market and my mom couldn't figure out why that was special. It is just a simple fast-casual affair. In fact our reservation was across the road at Cafe Orleans which is, in my opinion, far and away the best restaurant in the park (not counting Club 33 of course!) It was an awesome day with the important lesson that recognizing people's special days is always important.

And the winner is... Val. If I could just live this one day over and over again for the remainder of my time on Earth I'd be set. Listen to your students. Learn their interests. You never know when it might pay off.

Best Game (Digital)

Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo Switch) - This year we officially started an eSports club at our school. Our competition game was Smash. As a result it got played a whole bunch. We played 2 players, 4 players and even 8 from time to time. It was a blast. We didn't do great in the competitions but the kids loved it anyway which was great to see. Our last tournament was lost to COVID but thankfully my whole team was 7th graders so we'll get another shot next year.

Ultimate Chicken Horse (PC/Switch) - A delightfully silly game where players build the level as they go. The goal is to build it so that you can reach the end of the level but no one else can. You can build bridges to help others or traps to stop them. You can imagine which one middle schoolers (and their teacher) tend to pick. It's the kind of game where nobody really cares who wins or loses since you're all just laughing anyway.

Jackbox Party Pack (Everything) - While I haven't played this one with students (it can be a bit risque to say the least) it has been hugely important to our staff. We first played in October when I hosted a staff get together at my house. We played again (and again and again) when our get-togethers moved online. The games are a great way to connect with friends and family. It just gives you something to do as you're chatting and hanging out online (which can otherwise get a bit awkward.) I am excited to try a few of the games with students next year if we're still stuck in this mess.

And the winner is... Jackbox Party Pack - This game connected my friends and family in a time when I needed it most. If you don't believe me on how big this is just search google for "Jackbox on Zoom" and you'll see the thousands of other people with the same experience. It was huge.

Best Game (Non-digital)

Monopoly Deal - Playing board/card games with my students at lunch is one of my favorite parts of my job. Amazon knows this and, therefore, recommends me games to buy all the time. I usually ignore them but when this one popped up for $4 I figured why not? It turned out to be the perfect lunch game. It plays quickly enough to be able to finish a game in about 20 minutes and it is social enough to keep the great conversations flowing. There's also plenty of luck involved so I definitely don't win every game. The game had a special connection as it was how I got to know the student who was ripped off by the union. It was so loved by one of my kids that I sent her a copy for her birthday during the lockdown. Great game!

Love Letter - Love Letter is best described as advanced Go Fish. Each turn you draw a card, play a card, and do what the card says. Try to have the highest number at the end of the round. It is a ridiculously simple game that has somehow remained interesting for years. This year it was especially popular. I have two copies of the game and it maxes out at 4 players. Kids were literally racing to my room at lunch to claim one of the two sets (particularly the Adventure Time themed version.) I also played it a bit with my adult family during lockdown. Great Game!

Uno Flip - Amazon came through again recommending me this one. I'm a sucker for every new version of Uno. I own at least 5 varients of the game now and multiple copies of the base game. Uno (often the spicy version!) is played almost daily by some group or another in my room. I get rather bored of it to be honest. Flip definitely shakes it up. Cards are two-sided and when you hit a certain card everyone flips their hand over along with the deck. This gives you a whole new hand and much more powerful cards. Draw 1s turn to Draw 5s and Skips turn into Skip Alls for example. It adds the layer of needing to pay attention to everyone at all times since you can literally see their cards. It's not nearly as wild as Uno Dare but it adds enough to make Uno playable again which is pretty good to me.

And the winner is... Love Letter. For me to still enjoy such a simple game after so many years is incredibly rare. Seeing the huge resurgence among my students this year was a big surprise. I know they will be banging down the doors to play again whenever we're back.

Best Distance Learning Tool

Pear Deck - I've been to a few Pear Deck trainings/demos in the last couple years and it just never clicked for me. Our district put on a training in February and asked us to try using it. They had purchased it for all of us and if we didn't use it they wouldn't do so next year. So, I resolved to try it. I thought up a lesson about Chinese architectural wonders where Pear Deck would be used to show answers to some comparative math questions. Essentially, Pear Deck would be a worksheet. That was the part I never got. If it's just a digital worksheet, why not just use a worksheet? Well, when fate stepped in and we couldn't use regular worksheets any longer I was really glad I had started with Pear Deck. It is much more than a digital worksheet. It is a digital engagement tool. I ended up using it multiple times during our 8 weeks away. The ability to see my students work in real time as we chatted was huge. It also allowed us to play Pictionary a couple times which was also awesome. If we're stuck in this again next year I can see using Pear Deck multiple times a week.

Google Slides (Tables) - I don't like Google Slides very much. It's ugly. PowerPoint is so much more feature rich and allows for far more engaging use of visuals. Like with Pear Deck, I have been thinking about it wrong. Slide is a terrible presentation tool, but it is a fantastic workflow tool. One of the problems with students doing work online is that they don't really understand formatting. Things are organized strangely and colored oddly making it frustrating to grade assignments as they all look a little bit different. Google Slides (and Docs too if you really want to be ugly...) make this easier. By inserting Tables into your slides you ensure that students will write their answers exactly where you want. Okay, ensure is a strong word... How about, highly encourage? It also means they don't have to switch back and forth between your presentation and their writing doc. It's all on the same screen. This helped a ton with my digital organization and I suspect will be a near daily tool if we continue.

Google Meet - I do not understand how anyone taught without live meetings with their students. I know quite a few teachers who just posted links to work online and called it a day. Yikes. For me, these meetings were the highlight of my day. I had meetings 4 days a week at 9 AM. I wanted to keep my kids on some sort of normal routine. At the highest point I was getting 60 kids. That trailed down into the 40s as quarantine went on but most teachers I talked to had far less engagement with the "post it and pray" approach. Google Meet is far from perfect but it was simple and generally worked. Zoom has some fun features but a bit more of a learning curve. I may use Zoom a bit more next year (it can share sound!) but Meet did exactly what I wanted it to do in keeping me connected with my students. Sure, many never turned on their cameras but just seeing their names in the list and having them type to chat every once in awhile made it feel so much more like were together.

And the winner is... Google Meet! If you did not do face to face chats with your students this year, please do it next year. My students loved it and I NEEDED it. Google Meet is easy (and now free for everyone) so you have no excuse!

Best New School (History) thing

Pear Deck - While Pear Deck worked great with distance learning I'm pretty sure it will just work great with learning face to face. The China: By the Numbers activity was so awesome that I'm in the planning stages for at least one more By the Numbers for Rome. I could easily see making one for each unit as we shift our focus (as you'll see shortly.) I love that I can set the pace and ensure that everyone is together. Especially with my Special Ed kids they often will get stuck on a step and literally never progress. Now I can force them to push past that mental block and keep learning. Great tool that I can't wait to further explore.

Gimkit - Necessity is the mother of finding new things on the Internet as they always say. Our first distance learning Kahoot ended in with a bot flood crashing our game twice. At the time Kahoot didn't have any way to block people from joining your game. That forced me to look elsewhere so I finally tried Gimkit. It is definitely Kahoot-like but is more suited to repeated questions. The game runs for a set amount of time and students earn as many possible as possible during that time. Questions repeat once they've done them all. My first one had 40ish questions and we played for 15 minutes. Kids begged for more time when it ended despite the questions repeating multiple times. This wasn't drill and kill. This was drill and thrill! Gimkit stands out in how it offers power ups and attacks. Students an blur or freeze an opponent or even link their points to theirs and share in their brilliance. There's a ton of options we loved it. Using my teacher powers to freeze a leader or booster a laggard was huge. I made sure to play the best Game Show Host role possible. Next, we played a 25 minute game with over 100 questions that covered our entire year. They begged for more time there too! They loved it so much we even played a random Disney version on the last day of school.

Focus: Accomplishments - My department started the Impact Team process this year. That involved looking at all of our tests and rubrics again. While I remain fine with them as they were, there was great hesitation about the challenge. Lots (and lots) of discussion and adjustments led us to a bit of a eureka moment. What if every unit question was the same question? Then, we could truly track growth throughout the year. We decided on "What were the three greatest accomplishments of <insert unit here>?" This means each unit will also tell essentially the same story, that being the progress of humanity throughout the medieval period. It makes everything much more positive. I'm very excited about what this means for potential unit redesigns. I may not have loved where our conversation started but I'm quite happy with where we ended up.

And the winner is... Gimkit! As excited as I am about our new focus it is only a matter of time before the powers-that-be give us a new one. Gimkit is here to stay. My students loved it and I've already seen it add new features. Plus, it was designed by a high school kid which is a great story to share with students!

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