I’m constantly looking for ways to turn learning and classroom behaviour into a game for students. This enhances their sense of autonomy by distracting them from the fact that they are doing what I want them to do. Plus they get a real kick out of it. Here’s part one of my series on classroom gamification.
Teacher Ears: An Endangered Species
For some reason, most classrooms in London have the acoustics of a reverberation chamber. On top of that, today’s younglings rarely acknowledge the need to pause between raising their hand and voicing their opinion. Many have done away with the hand raise altogether. Trapped between reverberant rooms and exuberant hoons, teacher ears everywhere are battling extinction. But I am not willing to forfeit mine just yet. Yesterday, after an exhaustive search for free online volume monitor programs that actually work, I hit the jackpot with calmCounter.
Setting up calmCounter is simple if you know your way around a computer. Before using it, you need to:
- make sure your microphone is active and turned up to its maximum
- turn off your webcam
- turn off your speakers
These things are all easily done via Control Panel (PC) or System Preferences (Mac). If you get stuck at this stage hit me up in the comments and I’ll go into further detail.
Once up and running, the volume input can be adjusted via the “microphone sensitivity” bar. Since my students were doing an art lesson, I tweaked it to a level where a low level of general chat was tolerated, but a full-classroom chatfest launched the indicator into the red zone.
At the commencement of the lesson, I displayed calmCounter on the interactive whiteboard for all to see. The kids were immediately drawn in by the playful-looking interface, and predictably set about the task of maxing out the meter using poorly-disguised coughs and yelps. I had anticipated this, and allowed them a couple of minutes to play around with it before calling an end to the tomfoolery and defining the purpose of the experiment: to keep our classroom noise down.
I’d soon discover that using calmCounter in this way is an effective gamification because it provides the students with a common goal. Their fusion was palpable. Initially my TA and I had to keep reminding the class when noise was rising, and reproaching the class when the volume entered the dreaded red zone. Gradually they became more aware of the device, and the fact that the best way to avoid the red zone was to focus on their work. A few hands were even raised! After about twenty minutes, I (cruelly) added a new rule to the game. Every time the volume hit red, I would deduct one minute from the next day’s break time.
You’ve got to love the risk-taking attitude of a few boys who then decided to try and get the sound meter as close to red as possible without crossing over into the red zone. Unfortunately for them, the calmCounter algorithm seems to operate on “vocal inertia”. Sharp, sporadic bursts of noise barely register, but consistent sound, even at a fairly low volume, will eventually cause the meter to steadily creep up and keep going until a few seconds after the sound has stopped. This dynamic works beautifully in the classroom, and my risk-takers soon found out that it’s not easy to rig.
In future I will reward them for each five-minute blocks where they don’t go above red, as it’s important to have positive incentives as well as negative consequences.
Overall, the students enjoyed the experiment and both my ears and those of the TA relished the unusually quiet hour. CalmCounter is available at http://www.ictgames.com/calmCounter.html. Get in while it’s free!