Tomorrow morning will be my first day with my students. When they walk into the room, this is one of the things they'll see:
Yep. A section of blank wall that I have dubbed "The Ninja Board."
What is it?
That's what my students are inevitably going to ask me. And I'm not going to tell them.
But I'll tell you: It's a type of "achievement" system, similar to what one might find in video games. In fact, I'm pretty much ripping this off of the clan rank system from Final Fantasy XII, which I played in my spare time this summer.
The idea is simple: Students do things in class that earn them "ninja points." This can be anything: Completing assignments, demonstrating knowledge at a certain threshold of rigor, developing an interesting project, etc. Lots of things can earn "ninja points." Enough ninja points, along with completing other certain tasks, will allow students to gain a ninja rank ("Level 1 Ninja," "Apprentice Ninja," "Super-Awesome Math Ninja," etc.). Their ranks, in turn, will be displayed alongside their names on the ninja board.
I'm purposely not going to tell my students what they can do to earn ninja points or ranks. I want them to discover that on their own. They'll have no idea what's up until the first student earns ninja points and gets their name put on the board, with a point tally and a rank.
Then everyone will start to get it. And chances are they'll want a piece of the glory, too.
I want them to be curious about what they can do in class to earn ninja points, and then try to figure out on their own what those things are. When a student does do something that earns ninja points, or when a student does gain a rank, the knowledge of how they did so will be published to the ninja board. So they'll slowly learn how to get ninja points and ninja ranks as they go along.
Is it cheesy? Yes.
Is it completely silly? Of course.
But what if my students buy into it?
It's possible some really cool stuff could happen as a result.
I'm hoping to see increased student motivation in different areas of our class. I'm trying many new things this year -- discussion board posts, journal prompts, student blogging, and so forth -- and I would love to see my students get really creative and really deep with these things. The Ninja Board might help facilitate this. Like I said, there are many things that could earn ninja points. Perhaps a particularly thoughtful discussion post; a journal entry where the student talks about a real learning breakthrough they had; or a voluntarily-written blog post on a really cool topic.
Here's what I think might be the real beauty of it: I honestly haven't given much thought to what specifically can earn ninja points. But I'm willing to bet that my students will try out a bunch of different things, or ask me about different ways to earn ninja points. And some of what they try might actually be pretty cool, thus legitimately worthy of ninja points.
In other words, the students themselves will determine what earns ninja points, not me.
So it starts tomorrow, and we're going to see how it goes. It could fall flat on its face. It could be fun for a while and then get old. Or, it could be really super-cool and lead to some unexpected (and pleasant) results.
"Why ninjas?" you might ask.
I'll tell you why: because they're totally sweet.
Related: Ninja Board Update: Week 1