So It Continues…

So It Continues…

One year ago today, I started this website to document my foray into what I believe the 21st Century Classroom looks like. This overhaul, I said a year ago, included “compliance with common core, heavy emphasis on technology, project/problem based learning, using Google apps for school, blending my classroom with Schoology, student self-pacing, a full Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, a flipped classroom, and gamifying my classroom with achievements (badges), leader boards, item shop, and what I believe to be the world’s first ever attempt to turn my students’ work into an Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

There’s a bit more to this story. I wouldn’t say this then, but I am willing to say it now: I wanted to quit teaching. Our broken education system had sucked the life out of me. Whether it was because of politics, administration, tradition, or a number of other things, I was struggling to provide my students with the education they deserved. I decided I would give it one last shot. I would change everything and do things my way. And if it didn’t workout, it clearly wasn’t meant to be; I would quit (or be fired) and find a new career.

One year later and I’m still here. This last year was the best in my teaching career. I loved going to work everyday and I think my kids loved coming to class. Look at some of this data from the end of the year:

So, what have I learned in a year?

Goals in Review:

These were the goals I set for myself last year:

1. A textbook free classroom
2. A paperless classroom
3. Lecture for no more that twenty minutes
4. Group/self-pacing units
5. Increase competition between student
6. Increase student engagement
7. Give a TED talk at the end of the year

A textbook free and paperless classroom:
While my classroom is mostly paperless and textbook free, I set these goals for the wrong reasons. I wanted a paperless, textbook free classroom because all the cool kids were doing it. What I understand now is, it’s not about being paperless or textbook free, it’s about giving choices. The textbook is good for some things and some students like paper. The more choices I give, the more students I can reach. The more students I reach, the more they will learn.

Lecture for no more than twenty minutes:
I’m happy I set this goal. It forced my class to become student-centered. It forced me to flip my classroom (my way) and try new things like the Be About It project. Both my students and I are happy I took myself out from the front of the class and let them take charge.

Group/self-pacing units
Failed miserably. I didn’t get it. Things will be different this year.

Increase Competition and student engagement.
As outlined here, I leaned on Gamification to increase engagement and competition in my classroom, but, again, it was the focus on being student-centered that had the biggest impact on student engagement.

Give a TED talk:
I was nominated by a couple colleagues and quickly rejected from all TED events. It’s cool. I’m not mad at you, TED.

What about the other aspects of my overhaul?

Technology in the Classroom:

I learned EdTech is another weapon in a teacher’s arsenal used to reach every student as they fight the war on apathy. Technology is not a learning outcome. It started out rough, but I am thrilled with the use of technology in my classroom. My kids did a great job with the tools they had and I’m proud of how EdTech eventually drove learning outcomes. What EdTech made the biggest differences?

Schoology - On the left is MP1 data on the right is last day of school data.

I’m so glad I went with Schoology as my LMS! I mean, look at those numbers! 100% of my students said Schoology was easy to use and had a positive impact on their learning! 100%! I’m not sure if my kids would be able to pinpoint why it had a positive impact on their learning, but I think it had to do with Schoology’s ability to allow for differentiated instruction. Students’ received different assignments to best meet their needs, but the best part was students didn’t realize they were sometimes doing different work than their peers. They were getting a personalized education!

I also think Schoology helped created a positive learning community. Students were able to contact me or each other at anytime, had an area where they could just hangout, and were grouped into one massive classroom which allowed for more collaboration. We were learning together and it was fun!

If you haven’t heard, Schoology just rolled out some killer updates and have more coming. There’s no doubt that Schoology will be the HQ of my classroom again next year and for many years to come!

They’re also awesome people!

BYOD - My class went BYOD and used Google Apps for Education for collaborative learning.

I love BYOD and I’m glad I implemented it. My kids never forgot their devices and treated them with respect because they owned them. Having different devices meant we had to get creative and learn what each device was good at. I also liked how BYOD had students sharing and trading devices to best meet their needs. Diversity is a good thing. If everyone was 1:1, I think that extra level of collaboration and togetherness would be missing. BYOD will be back this year.

GAFE also enhanced this collaboration. We were constantly working together this year and I loved it. I am happy with how students grew in this area over the year. On the left is the first marking period, on the right is the last day of school.

These graphs are about more than technology. They’re about growth. Students learned a whole new way to learn: together. My favorite part? On the first day of school, 33 students said they were already comfortable with technology. On the last, 17. Meaning many students realized they had more to learn. That is an important realization for them to make. There is always more to learn and it is important to realize we are preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist yet. Being tech savvy is an important skill to possess.

My school wasn’t a GAFE school at the beginning of my quest, so don’t think you have to be in one to use GAFE in your class.


Despite some systemic flaws, I love Gamification and am glad I implemented it the way I did this year. I think it does a great job motivating and engaging students, especially minority males, and I will be rolling it out again for this coming school year with even more features. You can read more about it in my Gamification Data Dump.

My Alternate Reality Game went well, too, but I think I can do better. I want to get more kids playing, longer. Below you can see participation rates. On the left is data from the end of marking period 1 and on the right is data from the last day of school.

I had kids and then I lost them! I need to explain the ARG better in the beginning and I have developed some new ways to keep students playing throughout the year. I’ve written my new game, N.O.M.A.D, to include less characters who are more interactive. I’d like to have 50% participation rate at the end of the year.

Prediction: I think this will be the year of the Alternate Reality Game. When I started mine, few were talking about ARGs and even less were actually running one. It felt very lonely. Now, I’m seeing a lot of people playing around with the idea in one form or another. I’m also lucky enough to be involved with Pearon’s eLearning team and their “Alternate Reality Learning Experience.” I predict Alternate Reality Games are going to become mainstream in the next couple years. Just wait and see how many teachers are trying to figure out what Ingress is this coming school year.

Surprise of the Year: Twitter

Simply, you need to be on Twitter. I never thought I would get as much out of Twitter as I have.

I loved showing off the amazing things my students were doing. Both parents and students loved seeing the feed which added to our positive learning environment.

I also used Twitter to develop a PLN of educators to collaborate with. I’ve made some great friends who have helped shape me as an educator. I also used Twitter to ask them for help. Never once was I left hanging. Twitter seems to be a world of talented teachers just waiting to help.

I also reached out to companies, too. Not only was I able to bring a lot of free technology into my classroom, but I found a solid core of companies who took a personal interest in my kids and me. The folks at Backchannel Chat, Curriculet, Schoology, Tech & Learning, KI Furniture, Corbett Inc., No Red Ink, and Google Education all played a huge part in making my classroom a better place to learn.

A story that best sums up the power of Twitter: Awesome director Michael D. Stern made a short film version of Poe’s Berenice. It looked amazing, but was brand new and only entered into a couple contests. I reached out to Stern and told him I had a group of high schoolers who just read Berenice and would love to see his version. He responded immediately and, within a few days, I had a copy of Berenice to show my class. In return, my students wrote reviews and offered testimonials as to the quality of this AMAZING film.

Twitter was a pleasant surprise that made me a better teacher, and I encourage every educator to get on it and grow a community of quality teachers to call their own.

Highlight of My Year: Google Teacher Academy

Google Teacher Academy was amazing. It was one of the top three experiences of my life. I can see why some call it the greatest professional development on the planet. What makes it so special are the people. From the Googlers who hung out with us, to the leaders who facilitated the event, to the members of my cohort, everyone was so awesome and taught me tons. It is an experience I’ll never forget. You can read about some of my cohorts’ experiences here and here.

Things I Noticed This Year:

I love doing PD and speaking at conferences. I don’t know why, but I have a real passion for it. I’ve done close to 50 since my first one in November. I think I may be addicted.

ISTE is insane.

It use to take me an hour to make a five minute flipped video because I was so self-conscious. Now a five minute video takes five minutes! I use to proofread these posts for days. Now just a few times. Why? I’ve gotten over my fear of failure. I still don’t think I’m a great writer, nor the best teacher. The difference is now, I’m OK with that. The room to grow is constant and learning is life long. If I mistakes, I just learn from them and move on. Done is better than perfect. I’ve become much more productive now.

I’ve gotten over my fear of success. I take more risks now than ever before because I believe in myself now. This year, especially Google Teacher Academy, was validation that I’m on the right track. I can’t wait to invent and develop new ways for my students to learn.

I just turned thirty. I am consistently one of the youngest teachers in attendance wherever I go. While it has it’s benefits, like teachers trying to fix me up with their daughters, I can’t believe how many young teachers either don’t know or don’t take advantage of great learning opportunities. Get out their young folk!

The best behavior management is a student-centered lesson.

This Year’s Goals:

1. Full year self-paced, self-directed mastery learning.
2. Implement student portfolios.
3. >50% Participation in N.O.M.A.D. at the end of the year.
4. Keynote a conference
5. Ted Talk

Finally, I’m unveiling my new logo even though it’s a work in progress! Last year it was make learning better for my students or quit. This year it’s make learning better for my students or die trying. I think my new logo captures that:

Thanks to everyone, everywhere. You made this year one of the best of my life.

Until Next Time,


cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher

Chris Aviles teaches English at Barnegat High School in New Jersey. He presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more at Teched Up Teacher.

Chris Aviles is a STEM teacher, edtech specialist, and president of Garden State Esports. He is also a regular contributor to Tech & Learning.