Featured Teacher: Chris Aviles

This month’s Featured Teacher is someone who has had a significant influence on my teaching. Chris Aviles runs the Teched Up Teacher. I came across his work when I was first developing an interest in gamification. It was through his site that I was able to take my college courses and work to gamify them. I always go to Chris when I need inspiration. His work is amazing, and he is excellent at communicating what he does. His posts always make it onto my syllabus as required reading.

While he writes about a range of technological uses in education, gamification is truly one of his specialties. He recently published a free (you have to get it – go right now. I will wait) gamification guide that is in addition to all the great materials he already has on his site. You can get it here (scroll to the bottom and enter your email to receive it).

You can also find him on Twitter and FB.

Note: In the following sections what you will read are predominately Chris’s words with very minor editing.

About Chris

I taught high school English for ten years. Now I’m the edtech coach at Fair Haven, New Jersey. There I run the Innovation Lab with my partner in crime Ms. Smith! The Innovation Lab is our middle school think-tank where we learn about Design thinking through computer science, engineering, the digital arts, and entrepreneurship.

Your work on gamification has transformed my teaching. How has it changed your thinking about teaching and learning?

I’ve gamified for the last six years, but only in the last two years have I realized why I love Gamification. When I started the Innovation Lab at Fair Haven, I found out about Design Thinking. Design Thinking is all about designing with empathy for your user. Thanks to Design Thinking, I was able to see how video games are designed to provide a great experience for the player.

Gamifying forces me to think about the student first when I design a class. That’s why I love Gamification; it makes me explore the student experience in my classroom. Often, we design our class around standards, objectives, and, worse, assessments. We design a class around what we want students to learn instead of designing the class of how we want students to learn. Gamification helps me be empathetic to the student experience in my class. My class has become an infinitely better place to learn because of Gamification. Oh, and gamification is just fun.

You’re a part of the Maker Movement. How do you think teachers can become a part of this movement? What does it take to get started?

I think it’s a lot easier than people think. When I taught high school English, my classroom became a makerspace because I asked my kids, “how would you like to show me what they know?” and “how would you like to show me what you learned?” That’s all it took. When you focus on student-centered learning, kids have no choice but to create.

One of the major misconceptions people have is that the maker movement and the STEM movement are the same thing. They’re not. The Maker movement is just that: Making. It doesn’t have to be STEM-making. You don’t have to have a makerspace. You don’t have to go somewhere to make. If you want to be part of the movement, jump by encouraging your kids to make by showing what they know.

As a teacher educator, I feel like I’m always introducing new ways to the teachers I work with that are seen as exciting, strange, and scary (sometimes all at once!). What kinds of support do you think teachers need in order to launch into something like Gamification or maker spaces?

I’m lucky that my current district is incredibly supportive. I haven’t always worked in a supportive district. Not because they didn’t like what I did; I don’t think they got it. Either way, I don’t like worrying about things I can’t control. I can’t control whether I get support for what I do. I can, however, control my attitude. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable and reframing failure as iteration are the two most important changes to my attitude I made when I started to leave the edu-reservation. No matter what you teach, you have to have a growth mindset and a relentless attitude. If you are going to change what you do to make learning better for your kids, you have to realize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Get your mind right.

What are you excited to work on in your teaching right now or in the future?

FH Gizmos! Long story short, I see a lot of missed opportunity in the maker movement to teach entrepreneurship, so I built an online store for my students. My kids can create and manage their own online store and sell their products for real money (we accept check or card!). When a product sells or if there is a problem, students handle customer service. I run FH Gizmos as a startup (there is the Gamification). As members of Gizmos, students become a voting member of how we spend the money we earn. Through teaching entrepreneurship, I can better teach Design Thinking because students have a customer to design for, I can (hopefully) self-fund the Innovation Lab, and students are learning the soft-skills it takes to become successful. For me, FH Gizmos was the missing piece that helped tie everything we do together.

Do you know an interesting educator who should be featured? Email me at leighahall39@gmail.com

Take a look at last month’s Featured Teacher: Eddie Kim