I Can’t Make it Rain

Every morning at school this quarter, I have the privilege of watching students eat breakfast, socializing, texting, playing games on their phones, or just waking up before they start their school day. It is probably no surprise to people who know me to learn that, for the most part, I enjoy talking to the kids as I walk around and see what they are up to each morning. A few days ago, something happened at breakfast that has had me thinking about my classroom and what sort of learning environment I create.

As I was making my way around the cafeteria, talking to students, I saw one of my students playing the game “Make it Rain” on his phone. If you are unfamiliar with the game (as I was), here is a video of what the game entails: 

I asked my student about the game and then walked away, looking at the time to see how long he was going to play this. As I continued to watch him, I noticed that he wasn’t even looking at his phone at times. He would look away, but continued “making it rain,” progressing through the game. As far as I could tell, he ended up playing the game for 12 minutes straight before he put his phone away and moved on to talking to his friends. Two days later, I watched him and a girl he was sitting with switch back and forth playing “Make it Rain” until it was time to go to their locker to start their day. To give you an idea of this student I’m talking about, he is currently failing two classes and missing 6 assignments. His attendance is very good and he is not a discipline problem at all.

You may be wondering why I paid such attention to this student playing “Make it Rain.” In order to do that, I have to tell you about a conversation I had last year with my principal and an ELA teacher on my team. Last year, we had a student who was failing every class and  never turned in any assignments. When asked what he did at night, he told us about being home alone and playing video games all night long, sometimes past midnight. This led to us having a conversation about our classrooms. What is the video game doing for a student to keep him engaged for hours when I can’t get that student engaged for even 5-10 minutes? As I’ve mentioned before, I take a lot of pride in lesson construction in order to allow for curiosity and creativity. As I watched the student play “Make it Rain,” I didn’t feel that the game had much going for it. You flick your finger, moving money off of a stack. It just doesn’t seem very stimulating. At times it didn’t even seem as if my student was engaged in the game as he would look away for minutes at a time while he continued to play.

So here I sit, still wondering what I could do differently in my class in order to engage students like this in mathematics. I’ve tried everything I can think of in order to make my class more stimulating, entertaining, and rewarding, but feel I’m still missing some students.  I’m currently reading the book Transforming the Difficult Child by Glasser and Easley for completely unrelated reasons, but, in the chapter I just read, they had a great piece about students and video games. Students love video games because they are safe, there is structure that doesn’t change, they are rewarded for success. Once students realize that there are all of these rewards and only a small consequence of starting over, they throw themselves into performing at their highest level.

Since I allow students unlimited retakes on assessments with them receiving the highest grade earned, I feel I’ve created a classroom where taking chances is safe. From the first day, I show students what is expected in my class and how our classroom works, creating structure that doesn’t change. While students are working on solving a problem in their Kagan groups, I am constantly walking around making a huge deal of student success. So, it seems as if I am doing everything that Glasser and Easley believe students look for in video games. Maybe it just comes down to the fact that I can’t make it rain.