Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School

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1 Case Study Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School DOWNERS GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT #58 DOWNERS GROVE ILLINOIS Gamification grabs students interest and results in collaboration, creating and sharing work, critical thinking and fun for this middle school. Tasha Squires knows what makes middle school students tick. Watching them play games on their electronic devices, she saw engagement, joy, the drive to compete and do well, and the desire to learn more. She also recognizes the importance of helping them gain the skills they ll need to succeed for the rest of their lives, and knew there must be a way to combine the two. When Squires learned about gamification at an EdCamp event, her imagination went to work. As the librarian/media specialist at O Neill Middle School, she pondered how she could apply this to her library, and decided to gamify the reading program to make it more interesting. I was instantly drawn to gamification, said Squires. You can take anything and make it into a learning lesson. With a little creativity and some late nights spent planning, she knew she could use gamification to create drive and joy in her students, get them reading, working together, and building 21st-century skills while they were having fun.

2 Case Study Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School The Conquest of the Realm is born and engagement skyrockets. What I really wanted was to get students out of their comfort zone, said Squires. I set out to create something that would require them to start experiencing, collaborating and problem-solving together. With a mythical, Harry Potter-type theme, the Conquest of the Realm game came to fruition. With four houses to which kids could belong, the team competition would have Challenges that were rewarded with Strategy Cards for each house. These Challenges required students to interact with people they normally did not, and would stretch each and every person involved in new ways. Participation was voluntary, although Squires hoped it would be enticing enough to make kids want to join. She outlined objectives for the game with 21st-century skills in mind. Throughout the game and to help their house earn points, students would: Create their own works of literature. Write reviews of books they had read for the Destiny Library Manager online catalog. Interact with other students and teachers regarding works they had read or planned to read. Work collaboratively across their House to make decisions. Evaluate works relevance to specific challenges. Assess texts for an authentic audience by creating blog reviews. Produce original pieces using digital means to entice others to read. 1

3 Case Study Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School The process of playing the game would be fun, competitive, and would increase critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills through interactions with others. As part of the game, Squires designed specific Challenges to meet all of the objectives outlined above. She was thrilled with the students level of involvement and excitement, and so were the Follett Challenge judges, who selected Conquest of the Realm as the middle school category winner and the Grand Prize winner for this year s Follett Challenge. The Follett Challenge is about innovation, and innovation is the heart of O Neill s gamification program, said Britten Follett, who leads the Follett Challenge team. This unique game inspires kids to read and write more because they want to strategize together, improve communication and learn to think more critically while using digital resources. It s a great way to get kids using 21st-century skills while they have fun. O Neill s gamification program is very deserving of the honor of Grand Prize. As part of the game, different Challenges required different skills and students were, for the most part, unaware of the skills they were learning and practicing as they set out to complete each one. One Challenge required kids to create a book trailer using digital resources, while other Challenges focused on students partnering to piece together word scrambles, comparing notes on booktalks to figure out a vital clue for the game, and compiling read-alike lists (choosing a common theme and coming up with four books to fit within that theme) with book descriptions. The kids played the game with such enthusiasm, and they recruited other kids to join to earn points and make their houses more powerful, said Squires. They really produced on behalf of their houses, too. Squires was amazed at the increase in reading and writing skills, revealed as the game got underway. We saw students provide thoughtful, insightful responses to things they had read; they created imaginative original works of fiction, and they wrote over thirty stories to submit for our state s Young Authors competition, she said. Their writing was not only an exercise in literacy for them, but was helpful to the library and their larger effort to connect beyond their own school. The kids also wrote 217 reviews for our Destiny online catalog, 63 pages of character stories and 42 postings for our blog (www.booksinthemiddle.wordpress.com), which has been viewed in 90+ countries and illustrates collaboration between schools in our district and the local public library, said Squires. 2

4 Case Study Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School Improved test scores and essential 21st-century skills, built right into the game. Perhaps the most exciting piece of data to come out of the Conquest of the Realm game at O Neill is the lack of a summer slide for students this year. Using our Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test scores, O Neill had the highest gain coming back from summer out of our 13 district schools, showing NO slide and even gains from where the students were at the end of last year, said Squires. The impact of the game enhanced the culture of reading and writing we are committed to establishing. It focused on bringing together the skills necessary for our students to succeed in high school and beyond. As Squires pointed out, the game format enabled them to generate student collaboration, communication and critical thinking all necessary 21st-century skills. To keep kids enthused, a spreadsheet was circulated with all participating students, each House, and how many points had been earned. We wanted to keep it exciting and competitive, and this way everyone knew where they stood in the game, and what they needed to do to move forward. Students could analyze the point situation and determine how to play strategy cards their House had earned, said Squires. With each House having so many students, communication among them became very important. Each student had to understand individual challenges to be able to earn points. Students ed the school librarian for clarification and contacted her through online groups. They also met with each other during their study hall times and lunch. For some challenges, students needed to seek out teachers or other school personnel, such as the Head Custodian. Without collaboration, this game never would have happened at our school, said Squires. Through the personal learning networks of our teachers using Twitter and attending Ed Tech Camp, gamification emerged as a way to engage students in developing skills without them even realizing they were learning. 3

5 Case Study Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School The Follett Challenge encouraged personal and professional growth in everyone not just students. Squires explained how the process of entering the Follett Challenge bestowed lessons and valuable learning upon everyone involved. The Follett Challenge really solidified in my mind how much utilizing my Personal Learning Network (PLN) has helped me evolve into a better teacher and librarian as well as learner, she explained. The process of creating the required Challenge essay responses confirmed my belief in how supportive my administration is of me and our library program, and the assistance I gained from fellow teachers was invaluable. Squires pointed out how people in the school and the larger community joined in with the excitement, and soon they had a strong contingent of supporters voting for the Conquest of the Realm. All the other librarians in the district were incredibly enthusiastic about promoting the competition. My science teachers went above and beyond in our school. They set aside time each day in their classes for our students to vote, and I know it was their dedication that helped us advance as far as we did in the voting. The support from the community was tremendous as well, whether it was coming from other staff members in our other schools, to the public library, and the high school our students feed into it all served to create a fabulous momentum. As the day of the semifinalists announcement drew near, Squires began to worry about her school s chances of being named a semifinalist. As the day got closer and I didn t hear anything, I pretty much felt there was no way we were going to win for the middle school category. I had viewed all the videos that seemed to fall into the division and knew we had some pretty stiff competition. But the support for us through voting was amazing, which was encouraging. 4

6 When I realized we won, I started screaming, and I ran back to check to be sure. It was stunning. Amazing. Incredible. This is hugely satisfying because we believed in our program, and we put in a huge amount of time. It was one those moments you never forget. Tasha Squires, Librarian/Media Specialist Case Study Conquest of the Realm: O Neill Middle School Learning we were a semifinalist, and we had won the middle school category, was a moment I will remember forever! said Squires. And then when we learned we won the Grand Prize, I thought, is this real? and I can t believe it! Hearing our name called was one of those rare moments when you feel like everything you have been working toward has been accomplished and it is a wonderful feeling. It really was the culmination of a year s worth of work for me from getting the idea to creating it and implementing it, to entering the Challenge and then gaining the support of an entire community. Truly a stunning and unforgettable moment, and I m so glad I was able to be part of bringing such an amazing win to our wonderful school, students and staff. When it comes to winning $60,000 in Follett goods and services, Squires plans to share the wealth with other schools in her district, since they were so supportive, and also plans to improve her school s graphic novel collection, revitalize the nonfiction collection, use Titlewave to select books for several new teachers to enhance and build their classroom libraries. I also want to grow our ebook digital collection through Follett Shelf to accommodate our 1:1 district initiative, purchase multiple titles of popular genre titles to support the reading curriculum in our school and, of course, add to our fiction collection in the library. As you can see, I plan to stretch this money as far as it will go! Winning the Follett Challenge shows me that ideas like Conquest of the Realm are right on track. It shows me it is always worth trying something new, because you have no idea what the results will be until you throw your hat in the ring. Winning will allow me to move the program forward with a new sense of purpose. As an educator, I think it is paramount to continue to change and grow. Watch Downers Grove s winning video: 5

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