A New Brunswick elementary class recently placed third at the InterroBang (http://playinterrobang.com/) competition, and international social networking contest designed to develop 21st Century learning skills.
The interesting twist is that the Grade 4 class was competing against middle and high school students in both Canada and the United States.
New Maryland Elementary School (NMES) (http://nmes.nbed.nb.ca) is one of New Brunswick’s 21st Century schools. Teachers are integrating 21st Century competencies, such as leadership, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurialism, collaboration and digital competency into instructional practices. Steve Pierce, the principal, is leading the learning and teaching transformation and states that results are inspiring.
InterroBang is an on-line game where students complete real-world “missions” to learn and win prizes. It is a “social networking game for middle and high school students that encourages their natural energy and inclination to help others.
Players compete against other schools and students around the world to make a real difference in their communities, learning 21st century skills like problem solving, creative thinking and collaboration”.
To play, students complete missions and record their accomplishments. The missions are divided into four areas of inquiry: culture; creativity; exploration and science.
For example, a “culture mission” calls for students to: “Teach someone from a different generation about how to do something new that pertains to your own generation. Then ask that same person to teach you something you don’t know that pertains to their generation. Document what you taught and learned.” Another mission states: Go to your local community centre and learn how you can help the community. Do at least 15 hours of community service. Show proof. Document your experience with video. Write a diary on what it feels like to help a community.
Each mission has a value ranging from 10 to 40 points, reflecting level of difficulty. Students are judged on their submissions and prizes awarded to top performers. Students can also create missions and if approved for use by the game they are awarded 15 bonus points.
A mission must:
- Challenge players to do something interesting that they might not ordinarily do.
- Be reasonably fun and not boring.
- Be clear and concise. Avoid long-winded explanation.
- Ask the player to accomplish some kind of physical action, not simply thinking or writing.
- Allow for creativity. Not give step-by-step directions about how exactly the mission should be completed.
- Connect to concepts raised by the four areas of inquiry.
- Be possible to complete in a relatively short amount of time, but be open-ended enough that someone who invests a lot of time can complete it in epic fashion.
Teachers like InterroBang’s emphasis on creativity and problem solving, and because students see the intersection between the classroom and the real-world. Plus it is free. Since November 2010, more than 20,000 students in over 72 countries have submitted thousands of completed missions.
James Dunn, the teacher leading the Grade 4 class at NMES believes his school’s focus on 21st Century learning positioned his class for success against the older students. He also believes that InterroBang is an excellent way to teach 21st Century skills.
Dunn says his students were not very adept with computers when classes began, but learned quickly. When students were asked what their biggest challenge was, they said their computers were now too slow for them.
The next round of PlayInterrobang commenced in April, 2011 and Dunn was hoping to partner with a class located in the United States which had also ranked well in the last round. Why? Dunn says it’s because his students will learn about international collaboration. And, you also get bonus points for cross border projects.
John Kershaw, is co-president of 21st Century Learning Associates and the former Deputy Minister of the New Brunswick Dept. of Education, Anglophone Sector.