With so many educators today discussing the possibilities and promises of online learning, one key aspect of education often forgotten in the quest to tear down these learning walls is the ability to create classroom magic within those very same walls. Along with blended learning, flipped classrooms, gamification and many other new instructional buzz words, virtual classrooms are unquestionably valuable educational instruments in a teacher’s pedagogical toolbox.
However, let’s remember the power of an engaging, all-inclusive, in-class learning structure within a traditional classroom. To witness one of these environments where teachers and students interact in a challenging, accountable, spontaneous, and creative atmosphere is to witness a work of art—or classroom magic.
The Game: A “Voting Chips Structure”
One game guaranteed to produce the excitement needed to engage students and achieve the assigned standards is what I call the “Voting Chips Structure,” a learning game that asks students to represent their understanding of an assigned prompt with colored poker chips. Although many of our learning models do not include competition, “Voting Chips Structure” is definitely a competitive game.
Oddly enough, the foundation of this structure in Studio 113 does not originate from the standards. The success is predicated on the students’ choice of final rewards and/or consequences for all participants. Whether it be lip-syncing to Justin Beiber’s “Baby,” performing a version of an arthritic T-Rex dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” or receiving an ice-cold Coke and fresh Milky Way from a classmate, students energetically embrace the consequences and rewards system before diving head first into creating classroom magic.
The “Voting Chips Structure” Procedures
- Set up the structure. Assign each student a teammate and organize the partnerships in a circle with one student as the front channel representative and the other as the back channel representative.
- Assign the prompt. The students and I created the “Voting Chips Structure” to apply pressure and prepare our Advanced Placement Language class for the timed, rigorous, multiple-choice section of the College Board exam. However, one excellent feature of this learning model is its “plug-and-play” flexibility. Simply plug in the standard, the algebraic problem, the science experiment, the historical fact, the literary excerpt, the conjugation of a second-language’s verb, the skills needed to perform a physical activity, or anything deemed important by the classroom’s learning family. A teacher should simply ask, “What do I want my students to learn with this activity?” Then, simply plug-in the prompts each round and witness the students play with the learning objectives.
- Allow thinking time. The amount of thinking time for each round should be determined by the complexity of the prompt. Since we utilized this structure in conjunction with AP Language multiple-choice questions, one-two minutes were given for each team to discuss its answer, and a digital timer was posted on the screen to keep the structure running smoothly and fairly. This may not seem like enough time, but please remember we began this structure the day after each student individually completed the very same questions as a mock portion of the exam.
- Poll the back channel. When the thinking time expires, the back channel students are asked to indicate their initial answers by raising their hands. If the assigned prompts are not of the multiple-choice nature, students can voice their answers by verbalizing their responses, by posting to Polleverywhere.com, by tweeting with a pre-determined hashtag, or by any other creative measure established by the learning family. The purpose of polling the back channel is to clarify the majority answer within the classroom. This usually entices all students to reconsider their previous answer.
- Allow limited time to change answers. Giving thirty seconds for students to re-challenge their interpretation of the prompt and their initial responses is a powerful technique that causes them to dive even deeper into the unknowns of the learning cue. Oftentimes, students resurface from the deep with a solid understanding of the assigned task.
- Ask front channel to announce final answer. After the final deliberation, only the students on the front channel have the authority to announce their final answers. Again, various tech resources may be used to disseminate these answers, however, the old-school method of voicing the answers one-at-a-time is the most efficient method.
- Ask students to vote their confidence with chips. Using a set of colored poker chips ranging in value from 1, 3, 5, 10, and 25, students match their partnership’s overall confidence of their final answer with a value determined by the offered chips stacked in front of the front channel members. The starting number of chips should be discussed prior to beginning the model. Our teams agreed upon a starting amount of one hundred.
- Announce/discuss the correct answer. The excitement derived from announcing the final answer is awesome. Be creative and have some fun with it.
- Ask students to make corrections and re-calculate. After making any needed corrections, front channel students re-calculate their chips by either adding to or subtracting from the trays of organized chips in the center of the circle. If needed, students may use their smartphones or calculators to accurately score themselves. The longer the structure is used, the more complex the numbers may be.
- Add any necessary clarifications. If further elaboration or clarification is needed to extend the learning moment, either the teacher or the students may be asked to validate the answer with more detail.
- Reset. An optional announcement of each team’s score is harmless and actually adds to the competitive atmosphere. Periodically rotating the front and back channels is also recommended. All that is left to do now is reset and move to round two.
Take a quick look at the “Voting Chips Structure” in action here.
Simply Plug-in the Standards and Play to Learn Flexibility
Whether it is Math, History, Language Arts, Health & P.E., Computer Basics, Chemistry, Webpage Design, Band, Art, or any class at all, I honestly cannot think of any limitations to implementing this structure. Sure, certain learning environments and disciplines will need to take advantage of the flexibility of this structure in order to create one that better serves them. That is the beauty of this “plug-and-play” design.
Simply determine the standards of focus, give the students a voice in creating the procedures for the “Voting Chips Structure,” and simply plug-and-play to create classroom magic. You may not pull a rabbit out of a hat, make a card “jump” from the middle of the stack to the top like David Blaine, or manipulate a Frisbee with no hands like Chris Angel. Heck, I’m quite sure you won’t solve all the educational problems in our country, but you will wipe out students’ lethargy and boredom by creating an engaging classroom full of magic. You can do it, and I’m betting your class will go “all-in” with the voting chips.
Experience “Voting Chips” and many other learning structures from John Hardison & Studio 113 at Georgia’s Educational Technology Conference in November. Please also add your comments by joining the #votingchips discussion on Twitter.