Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ninja Board Update: Week 1

Previously, I talked about this silly idea I had to implement an achievement system themed around ninjas for some reason. The original intention was to see whether or not it would have an affect on student motivation in my class, particularly in the academic respect.

While there have only been three days of school so far and it's waaaaay too early to tell whether or not this will be the case (just as is jumping the gun on projecting my Spartans to go to the Rose Bowl), I made an important realization: the Ninja Board is perhaps going to be far more useful as a tool for developing classroom culture (which, of course, would affect student motivation in turn). This is because I can use it to define and recognize those "awesome moments" in class and capture them for posterity.

Some things went according to plan on the first day. I said absolutely nothing about the Ninja Board. I didn't even point it out. I was secretly planning to award the first ninja point to the first student who asked about the Ninja Board. I figured someone was going to at some point.

The entire first block passed without anyone asking about it.

I was genuinely surprised at first; then I began to think that perhaps nobody would ask about it unless there was more to pique their curiosity than just a blank wall.

I looked for other opportunities to award ninja points to a few students. During my second block class -- which also ended up passing by without anyone noticing the Ninja Board -- one of my students asked me if I wanted to see the folder she was using for my class. I said I would love to, so she reached into her binder and pulled this out:


So I decided to award her a ninja point for being the "first to bring in a ninja item."

I have a particular way of awarding ninja points. When a student does something worthy of a ninja point, I say nothing. I don't announce, "CONGRATULATIONS! YOU WIN A NINJA POINT!" (Doing so would be very un-ninja-like; ninjas don't announce to their victims, "GREETINGS! I AM ABOUT TO ASSASSINATE YOU WITH THIS KATANA! YOU'D BEST ATTEMPT TO FLEE!")

Instead, I jot a note to myself on my iPad: I write down the student's name, how many points they earned, and the reason they earned the points. During my planning time, I make a sign for each student that earned ninja points:

Before I leave school for the day, I tape all the signs to the wall. The students don't find out that they earned ninja points until the next day when they come back and see their names posted.

So after the first day, I picked out three students who earned a ninja point. (And the cool thing is that since I tell the students absolutely nothing about the Ninja Board, I can come up with all kinds of reasons to award ninja points.)

The next day, another block period passed without any questions about the Ninja Board. Finally, however, one student approached me during second block with the question:

"Hey Mr. B, what's the Ninja Board?"

I smiled. I smiled partly because I was happy someone had finally asked me that question after nearly two days of waiting. I smiled partly because she was going to get a ninja point for asking that question. Mostly, though, I smiled because I knew what my answer was going to be:

"That is an excellent question."

And I said nothing else. I think I giggled involuntarily.

A few more students earned ninja points on the second day, and more names were added. On Friday, I have several more inquiries about the Ninja Board, and each time I replied with a non-answer. Slowly but surely, interest in the Ninja Board started picking up.

Even though I'm being incredibly stubborn with my refusal to explain the Ninja Board to my students, I do want them to know what they're earning ninja points for. So, in addition to their names, I also post a list of "unlocked ninja achievements." Here's the complete list from the first week of school:

In all honesty, only about one or two of these "achievements" were pre-planned. The rest are being made up as I go. When I notice my students doing something really awesome, like demonstrating leadership or kindness, that kind of thing deserves ninja points. If I have one of those little student/teacher "moments" where we're building or supporting good rapport, I give ninja points for those, too. To keep my students on their toes (and partly to include those students who are traditionally the "invisible" ones), I also award ninja points for other random things.

It seems to add a certain whimsy to our classroom culture that I particularly enjoy. I'm curious to see how the Ninja Board will continue to play out in week two.

Incidentally, there's much more about the Ninja Board that I haven't revealed yet on this blog -- but that can wait for another time.


  1. I agree with your statement about culture building being the most important part of it. I also like that it is not just about getting a math problem right the fastest.

    1. And I think that having a positive impact on classroom culture is ultimately at the heart of what I was going for with this. Hopefully this silly idea ends up being a useful tool to do just that.

  2. I was lying in bed reading through blogs on flipboard. I got to this one and I sat right up because I got so excited. I even had to show the idea to my wife immediately because I loved it so much. She laughed at me and I jumped to the computer right after for this comment.

    My classes begin tomorrow and I want to do this too! I have to run a few things by some people because of some politics... but anyway I will make it happen!!

    I got some questions for you on how you're implementing the achievements and about the setup:
    1. How will you deal with the growing list of achievements? Obviously you will continuously add to it... but if the list is too big, would it fail to have any meaning?
    2. Do you think you will ever reveal what it's for? (I personally think I will use it for positive class culture building) I know, a true ninja doesn't need to announce...
    3. Will you be rewarding ninja points to kids that just do what is on the list over and over? I mean, my concern here is that I don't want the things they do to lose meaning... But I guess with some carefully chosen achievements, that could be avoided.
    4. Do you think you would be removing ninja points? (my first thought is no, since positive reinforcement is what we're aiming for here... but I'd like to hear your thoughts)

    Let me know!!!

    1. That's awesome! I thought it was a pretty silly idea and I didn't know what people would think of it, but I'm glad to hear I'm not the only person who is excited by this. :)

      I'll try to answer your questions as best as I can:

      1. I've thought about this, and I'm not sure what the answer is. I may let the list grow some more this week in an effort to get as many of my students up on the wall as possible. Then I might hold back to prevent the number of achievements from getting out of hand. I don't know. I'll play it by ear, see what works, and blog about it in the future!

      2. While I might be tempted to reveal what it's for, and while there would probably be some good reasons for doing so at some point, I'm sticking to the philosophy of "a magician never reveals his secrets." You're right to look at it as a tool for building positive class culture, because at its core I think that's really what this is. But I think I won't talk about what it's real purpose is. I want to keep my students guessing. Plus, saying nothing about it gives me the flexibility to change the rules of the Ninja Board as I need to in order to keep students interested and invested in it.

      3. I've thought about this as well, and I am definitely being purposeful with the achievements I select. I intentionally phrased many of them as "First to..." in order to signify one-time-only achievements. I don't want students cheaply building up ninja points by calling me evil or bringing in ninja items. What I do want to reward over and over again is students taking opportunities to lead and perform kind deeds. Also, there will be additional requirements for each level. (Level 2 might only require 5 or 10 ninja points, but Level 3 might require 20 ninja points plus complete a certain task. That's yet to be determined, so stay tuned.)

      4. I won't be removing ninja points, and I think doing so would serve to defeat its purpose. I know I'm going to have kids who aren't initially invested in the Ninja Board, so taking away their points would have no effect. I MIGHT be able to get those kids eventually invested in it if I keep awarding them ninja points for various achievements over the long term. I don't know if it will work. But taking away points, I believe, will only be a detriment to what I'm hoping to achieve.

      Hope that helps! Looking forward to hearing how it works out in your classroom if you end up trying it out. Just remember: SAY ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT. That's the key. (At least, as far as I can tell from having done it for three days.)

    2. Hey thanks for the response! I think we're on the same page for those questions and answers, which is great :)

      I just realized that I totally forgot to ask about format. Do you have columns and things are organized? Or do you print out a new sheet each time there are changes to each student?

    3. Formatting is pretty much up to you. Right now I'm just haphazardly printing off signs and slapping them up on my wall. I'm sure there's probably a much better way to do it.

  3. p.s. super glad that I decided to subscribe to more blogs yesterday :)

  4. after posting about my experience with the Ninja Board, I quickly remembered a comment that a student made in my class: "I'm going to google what this is all about!"

    I thought nothing of it at the time. "Pfft," I thought, "Ninja board or Ninja point is going to turn up too many search results for it to be meaningful."

    But after I made my post, I tried searching on google with my name and the words "Ninja Board"... and my post came up.

    I wanted to warn you that it may be the case for your site as well. In fact I just searched "Brenneman" and "Ninja Board" and your website definitely popped up.

    I was searching for alternative solutions to prevent google from finding my webpage, and I got google webmaster and changed privacy settings... but for now my post has been removed.

    I'd love to share my ideas about this with you though -- send me a quick e-mail if you're interested:

    1. This occurred to me a while ago. Blogging about it is certainly a calculated risk on my part. My students can easily find this blog and read all about the Ninja Board. If they do, though, I don't really think there's much that they're going to get out of it that they can't already figure out on their own.

      Besides, I have other ideas for the future of the Ninja Board that I haven't blogged about yet. :)

  5. yeah blogging about a lot of the items that we blog about may potentially come with risks. I've decided to modify my post a bit and post it anyway.

    I need to remind myself to blog about what I did, and not what I am going to do! lol!