Saturday, April 20, 2013

Angry Bird Learning

Angry Birds was an instant hit when it came out on the app store several years ago. The addictive seduction of the game was based on trying to get three stars at each level. I could get through a level with one star, but that wasn't good enough for me. I had to get the most points and the most stars before I would allow myself to move to the next level. Experimenting with the trajectory of my shot as well as where to place the birds to destroy the pigs' lair fed my addiction.

So why can't learning be that way?
The traditional way of learning motivates students to strive to solve easy problems and avoid difficult ones to get the most points. Knowing that mindset was the challenge for most students, we decided to flip this paradigm on its head. Our teacher teams in mathematics created three levels of difficulty for each math concept that all students needed to master:  1-Star, 2-Star, 3-Star. 

1 Star Problems

Level 1 challenges students to master the skill in its most basic form.  The good thing about having level 1 problems is that it helps teachers drive intervention.  If students fail to understand the basic concept in its simplest form, teachers know that remediation begins at the basic level of understanding. 

2 Star Problems 

Once students master level one problems, they move on to 2-Star Problems. These problems challenge students to master the skill in problem-solving situations that are limited to one or two steps. The idea behind 2-Star is that students apply their basic knowledge with more challenging problems.  If students master 2-Star problems for that skill, the student earns a blue star where they write their name and the skill on the star. The star is then posted on the wall in the grade level hall for all students and staff to see. Again, the great thing about 2-star problems is that teachers can focus their interventions on guiding students to understand how to apply their knowledge of the skill in basic problem-solving situations. 

But two stars isn't good enough for our students.   They are hungry for 3 star problems. 

3 Star Problems

Once students master 2-Star problems, they now solve the most difficult problems at level 3. 3-Star problems involve the highest level of rigor, and exceed the complexity that students will see on state standardized test (STAAR). Now, most students groan when they see challenging problems, but this is where the Angry Birds philosophy transforms students into learners. Because the students are motivated to do their personal best on one particular skill and they want their name posted in the hall, they do not see challenging problems as an obstacle but an opportunity they tackle with their mental dexterity. To be honest, it's pretty amazing to watch the students jump up and down with excitement when they have mastered the third level. Moaning is transformed into motivation. 

Angry Bird Learning 

The beauty of the Angry Birds philosophy is that it is not a massive change in the task, but a massive change in the mindset. By converting the problem into the prize, students are hungry and eager to demonstrate their learning quickly, so they can have their name on a star posted in the hall.  Excitement about learning gets harder as the year goes on, but if you build new and different extrinsic motivators into your learning, intrinsic motivation will follow. This spring, tie your learning to the philosophy of one of the best selling games of all time, and then watch the students get fired up to master skills and become intrinsically motivated to excel at learning.

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