Education Perspectives

Season 2 EP2 Adam Watson - Gamification of Education

January 25, 2024 Liza Holland Season 2 Episode 2
Season 2 EP2 Adam Watson - Gamification of Education
Education Perspectives
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Education Perspectives
Season 2 EP2 Adam Watson - Gamification of Education
Jan 25, 2024 Season 2 Episode 2
Liza Holland


Adam Watson
Deeper Learning Design Specialist, OVEC

Quote of the Podcast – 

“Follow your bliss.” -- Joseph Campbell

Introduction of Guest BIO – 

ADAM WATSON (@watsonedtech) is a Kentucky educator with a passion for edtech. Starting as an English teacher in 2005, he was named Teacher of the Year at South Oldham High School in 2009 and became National Board Certified in 2013. Adam's journey into educational technology began with a student podcast project, gaining recognition in Kentucky Teacher and other publications.

 In 2014, his "Shakespeare and Star Wars" unit garnered attention, featuring a Skype Q&A with a best-selling author and a mention in Star Wars Insider. Adam later became Shelby County Public School’s first Technology Integration Coach, contributing to the district's 1:1 initiative and pioneering the Profile of a Graduate.

Among his achievements, Adam developed a digital citizenship curriculum featured in a 2019 ISTE book. Named the 2018-2019 Outstanding Leader of the Year by the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education, Adam is a sought-after speaker at national conferences. He shares insights through his blog "Edtech Elixirs" and YouTube channel, and currently serves as a Deeper Learning Design Specialist for the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative.


Agents of Change: Leaders/Innovators

  •  30,000 Ft. View – Why so we, as a society invest in education?
  • What drew you to education?
  • What do you love about what you do?
  • Tell us about Game Based Learning
  • Tell us a story or favorite memory about your work in education
  • What are the biggest challenges to you?
  • What would you like decision makers to know?

Podcast/book shoutouts

Books: Play (Stuart Brown)

Running with Robots (Greg Toppo and Jim Tracy)

Adam’s You Tube Channel

Podcasts: Teachers in the Dungeon

Websites: Kentucky Educators for Role Playing Games (

Edtech Elixirs (

Support the Show.

Education Perspectives is edited by Shashank P at

Intro and Outro by Dynamix Productions

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Show Notes Transcript


Adam Watson
Deeper Learning Design Specialist, OVEC

Quote of the Podcast – 

“Follow your bliss.” -- Joseph Campbell

Introduction of Guest BIO – 

ADAM WATSON (@watsonedtech) is a Kentucky educator with a passion for edtech. Starting as an English teacher in 2005, he was named Teacher of the Year at South Oldham High School in 2009 and became National Board Certified in 2013. Adam's journey into educational technology began with a student podcast project, gaining recognition in Kentucky Teacher and other publications.

 In 2014, his "Shakespeare and Star Wars" unit garnered attention, featuring a Skype Q&A with a best-selling author and a mention in Star Wars Insider. Adam later became Shelby County Public School’s first Technology Integration Coach, contributing to the district's 1:1 initiative and pioneering the Profile of a Graduate.

Among his achievements, Adam developed a digital citizenship curriculum featured in a 2019 ISTE book. Named the 2018-2019 Outstanding Leader of the Year by the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education, Adam is a sought-after speaker at national conferences. He shares insights through his blog "Edtech Elixirs" and YouTube channel, and currently serves as a Deeper Learning Design Specialist for the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative.


Agents of Change: Leaders/Innovators

  •  30,000 Ft. View – Why so we, as a society invest in education?
  • What drew you to education?
  • What do you love about what you do?
  • Tell us about Game Based Learning
  • Tell us a story or favorite memory about your work in education
  • What are the biggest challenges to you?
  • What would you like decision makers to know?

Podcast/book shoutouts

Books: Play (Stuart Brown)

Running with Robots (Greg Toppo and Jim Tracy)

Adam’s You Tube Channel

Podcasts: Teachers in the Dungeon

Websites: Kentucky Educators for Role Playing Games (

Edtech Elixirs (

Support the Show.

Education Perspectives is edited by Shashank P at

Intro and Outro by Dynamix Productions

Liza Holland [00:00:02]:
Welcome to education perspectives. I am your host, Liza Holland. This is a podcast that explores the role of education in our society from a variety of lenses. Education needs to evolve to meet the needs of today and the future. A solving such huge issues requires understanding. Join me as we begin to explore the many electives of education. Today, we welcome Adam Watson. He is a Kentucky educator with a passion for ed tech.

Liza Holland [00:00:34]:
A Starting as an English teacher in 2005, he was named teacher of the year at South Oldham High School in 2009 a And became national board certified in 2013. Adams' journey into educational technology began with a student podcast project, gaining recognition in Kentucky teacher and other publications. In 2014, his Shakespeare and Star Wars unit garnered attention, a Featuring a Skype q and a with a best selling author and a mention in star wars insider. Adam later became Shelby County Public School's first a technology integration coach contributing to the district's one to one initiative and pioneering the profile of a graduate. A Among his achievements, Adam developed a digital citizenship curriculum featured in a 2019 IST ebook. A Named 2018, 19 outstanding leader of the year by the Kentucky Society For Technology and Education, Adam is a sought after speaker at national conferences. He shares insights through his blog, EdTech Elixirs, and YouTube channel, a And currently serves as a deeper learning design specialist for the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative. A So, Adam Watson, welcome to Education Perspectives.

Liza Holland [00:01:53]:
We're so excited to have you here.

Adam Watson [00:01:55]:
I am so thankful and excited to be here. I appreciate you having me.

Liza Holland [00:01:59]:
A Wonderful. Well, let's dive in. And my first question to every guest is a 30,000 foot type of question. A Why do you think that we, as a society, invest in education?

Adam Watson [00:02:11]:
I believe strongly we need humans to be the best versions of themselves possible, a And there is a personal benefit. You know? It's it's certainly for them to get their personal fulfillment, to a Recognize who am I and and what feeds my soul, but, clearly, it's also for the greater good as well. Right? We need a planet full a of humans that are fulfilled and fulfilling. So education clearly and obviously is the a place and vehicle where that can happen, and it's it's a very ancient noble profession. Right? Like, you know, you could go back and there were people around the campfire who a Shared narratives and stories and myths all with the purpose of how can you find your fulfillment, how can you help our tribe, our village, a And, you know, on a global perspective of the planet. Right? So it's a long lineage of such traditions, and it's and it's an important one. It's developed the human, but it's also to develop humankind, I think, a And develop kind humans. Right? So Yes.

Liza Holland [00:03:13]:
Isn't that the truth? So you are and have been heavily involved in education. What what drew you to the profession.

Adam Watson [00:03:21]:
The opportunity to help in that forward sentence of a of simplicity, which I know is probably fairly common and to the point of almost a stereotype, but that was really true from my perspective. I a was a child that moved around a lot when I was younger. I have family in in Louisville, Kentucky, but I was born in Cocoa, Indiana. I I live in Las Vegas. I lived in Creek, Greece for a year. My dad was in the air force, so that mean meant a lot of moves. And a I think I responded and recognized from a very early age how thankful I was when someone helped. Here's where the bathroom is.

Adam Watson [00:03:59]:
Is what you do to ask for help. This is how we raise our hand in class. You know? All the things in norm the normatives. And, you know, hey. This is, you know, your 1st day here. How, you know, how can I help you? Those little moments of kindness stuck with me. And then moving ahead and forward, you know, in life a As I, you know, went on the education journey, I recognized or felt that I had a knack a for helping someone else and certainly on, I guess, the academic sense. Traditionally in the traditional metrics of things performed pretty well in school, I guess.

Adam Watson [00:04:31]:
And a So with that, maybe I intuitively or whatever happen to understand the concept or the standard or the whatever words you'd like to use. And so when I saw another Fellow peer students struggling with that. How can I help you? How can I rephrase that? You know? Whether that was a 6 year old or 8 year old or 12 year old or 18 year old Adam. A And when I was able to do that successfully and make that click happen, again, stereotypes here, the light in the eyes and all that stuff, a I felt good. You know? It was that virtuous cycle maybe or virtuous circle of selfishness and selflessness. I felt a Wonderful that selflessly, I was able to make another person feel better, understand better, and then selfishly, that feeling of fulfillment to make me feel like this is a thing. This this fills my heart. Like, I I felt like this is something that I could pursue.

Adam Watson [00:05:20]:
And so that's a long answer to that question, but that's that's definitely what led me to how can I be an educator in some fashion? Oh, I should also add that I love I'm a storyteller. I love reading stories. I love telling stories, and there's a powerful piece of that a That really fascinates me whether it's sitting down next to a 7 year old or a 70 year old. Like, what's your story? You know? What do you find life exciting? A I love hearing those stories, and I love being able to tell a story that maybe makes a person feel when they walked away. I learned something. So there's there's kinda both angles of that.

Liza Holland [00:05:53]:
A Oh, I like that so much. And that may be the answer to my next question. Talking about what do you love about what you do a now that you are deep in education.

Adam Watson [00:06:04]:
I would probably say that the learning experience of a child can be transformed or uplifted or a That there's an opportunity to inspire someone. That's obviously an ideal moment in a moment of education. There are some days that you're just trying to, a We don't wanna use the word survival mechanism or survival methods, but sometimes there are just days where it's like, you know, we're we're getting from a to b. But a Beyond just a particular English standard or the objective, an academic goal of a day, whatever the case may be, the more noble idealized version of that really is a That, you know, through your interactions, especially with the child and the student, that you can transform and make it feeling and joyful, that is ultimately a What I I love that if I'm having those opportunities. You know?

Liza Holland [00:06:50]:
Excellent. So in reading your introduction a before we got online here. I am fascinated to learn a little bit more about Shakespeare and Star Wars. Can you tell us a little bit about that? A Yes. Absolutely. Well, any

Adam Watson [00:07:03]:
quick context, although it sounds like it was you know, as far as we know, it was an induction. But as far as me being a high school English teacher, a I did that for my 1st stretch in education in my journey. And in the district I was working at the time in Oldham County, and and I believe they still do, they had kind of a mini grant system where they had opportunities for educators to say, here's a project I'd like to do. It needs some money. It's an overwhelming amount of money, but this amount of money, this micro grant, if you will, would be very helpful. A So over the years, I applied for a few of them, and the one that you're speaking of, I was in a Barnes and Noble. I was with my oldest daughter who was, of course, younger at the time. And And I was walking to the Barnes and Noble, and I saw on a shelf this book, Star Wars, Barely a New Hope.

Adam Watson [00:07:46]:
That's different. Hey. I love Star Wars, and I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, a so I picked the up. And I realized that that the the book was it's the idea of the a Spoken in that Shakespearean language, of Ionic Pentameter and so on. And it was hilarious, and it was well done. And, you know, it was such a clever hook. It could a been executed in a bad way, and I still would have been entertained, but it was really done really well. Lots of inside jokes about Shakespeare, Star Wars, whatever.

Adam Watson [00:08:20]:
So I thought, a Here's an n because I taught Shakespeare for years as a high school English teacher, and and I say that giving grace. You know, when people say, what do you do? You should you're a Teaching content. You're not teaching a book or teaching Shakespeare. You're teaching English skills and all that. But, anyway, I I knew that Shakespeare was certainly a book that we used a lot in our class. A And so I had some freshmen. We're gonna do Romeo and Juliet as one of our anchor text, and I thought this might be a clever way of getting one of a Those problems solve, which is that students often feel really awkward with the language. Right? It's hard.

Adam Watson [00:08:51]:
It's difficult to understand and comprehend. A So what if we did a pretext, if you will? What if we do something with with a book that gets us used to that language, but in a way that's that's a little fun, a little different? A And by the time we get to Romeo and Juliet, we can we're past that. We're used to that Shakespearean language. We can concentrate on the bigger things, the literary aspects and terms and metaphors and and so on. A I asked for the pyramid grant for this Shakespeare book to get a class set of them, and I did. I create a unit around it a where we, you know, went through, and in some parts, we are reading out, you know, parts and scenes of the book. I took a chance and reached out a To the author of the book, Ian Gosher. I sometimes get that name wrong, I feel like, but I believe that's his name.

Adam Watson [00:09:33]:
And he was kind enough. He's you know, I said, hey. Could we talk to you? Absolutely. So we at the time, it was Skype. We had him Skype into the classroom and had a great conversation with him. And, you know, the students were able to, you know, create some questions beforehand and and basically have a q and a with him. A So, yeah, it was glorious because I'm a Star Wars fan from literally that first movie that I just mentioned. You know, I was, I think, 4 years old when I first saw it in a drive in theater in Las Vegas.

Adam Watson [00:09:57]:
A So Star Wars has always been a huge aspect of my life and my love. And so to take those 2 things together, the love of Shakespeare, the love of Star Wars, and the love of teaching, actually, all 3 and put that Together was a great opportunity.

Liza Holland [00:10:09]:
Well, you know, that is just fabulous, and I love the idea of being able to a Look at things in a slightly different way. Shakespeare has been a part of high school English for forever and a day, and to be able to a Find a way that creates a little more context for your students. You know, to me, that sounds like a great a deeper learning experience where they're taking something that is relevant today and making it more accessible to be able to have a a A richer experience with that storytelling than, you know, a lot of us who were rolling our eyes at, Romeo and Juliet a When we were kind of in that sit and get sort of a stage. So and I love the fact that you reached out to the author. That makes a even more real as well. Do you I realize this is probably a while ago, but do you have any remembrances of how your students responded a To that unit.

Adam Watson [00:11:05]:
That's a good question. I wanna go back a second, though, to the author thing as far as reaching out to him. If there are people who are listening, a Especially if you happen to be a a newer educator. One of the things I learned from that experience is, honestly, it doesn't hurt to ask. Sometimes just Try, and you never know. There is a part of me, probably if it had been on my own behalf, certainly, I would have never thought of asking who I think he ended up becoming a a New York Times bestselling author off of the series of books. He adapted I should add for the friends listening. He adapted all the movies.

Adam Watson [00:11:35]:
Eventually, each of them got a book. But, anyway, a To think I had the, you know, the fortitude to ask this gentleman, would you please talk to me? Certainly, probably wouldn't. I'm a mother half ever thought about that, but, you know, for the kids. A The point of the story is is that you just you know, there are people out there. That's the thing that's I love about education. There are so many wonderful people out there, a CEOs of companies, you know, authors of books. They believe so powerfully in the, the importance of students and learning a that they're often eager. They they wanna help.

Adam Watson [00:12:05]:
They just don't know how. And by asking even this lowly little teacher over here who reached out and asked, a You know? The worst thing is that you wouldn't read my email or not or or say no. So, anyway, I just wanna put that in there. As far as the student experience, a They reacted well. They enjoyed it. It was different. I'm gonna give you the most critical answer because there was a few students that said, honestly, mister Watson, this wasn't you know? I didn't a Enjoy every 2nd of this. What I really loved and fell into was I know how much you love Star Wars, and you shared that passion in the classroom.

Adam Watson [00:12:35]:
And There's kinda like that passion was infectious. Maybe Star Wars isn't even my thing, but I really appreciated how you brought in something you loved, and your love of this a was clear and evident. Obviously, articulate a little bit better than maybe the 14 year old would have, but that was the sentiment of even a few of them. They're like, a You know how how a high school kid can be. Right? Like, almost like a rolling eyes of, you know what? This is okay. Now there were some, of course, that it was like, this was glorious. A Right? Like, they love Star Wars and the thought of, like, bringing that to a classroom. But even the ones that were a little reluctant were like, you know what? At the end of the day, this was different, and and I appreciated that, and I appreciate a enthusiasm.

Adam Watson [00:13:11]:
So That's excellent.

Liza Holland [00:13:13]:
I think that a lot of it is that we as teachers and adults, a The more we can share our love of learning, the more we're going to be able to plant the seeds of lifelong learners. A And I just think that's a magical example, so thanks so much for sharing it.

Adam Watson [00:13:28]:
No. No problem.

Liza Holland [00:13:29]:
So you have gotten a little bit in a to game based learning. Can you tell us a little bit about, kinda your journey with that and what you think we ought to know?

Adam Watson [00:13:40]:
A Well, I'm gonna share a quick story. I'll give you an example from a teaching that showed to me the power of something. Before I became a teacher, when I was just a Adam Watson, the child, and it was the 19 eighties. I got introduced to tabletop role playing games. And a role playing games. The most famous one is definitely like Dungeons and Dragons. That's it certainly had a renaissance and a resurgence in the last few years. I played a lot of those games.

Adam Watson [00:14:04]:
Really love the idea of it, the idea of play, of your own character, pretending to do something, and rolling the dice and seeing what happens sometimes, and the whole aspect of that was really engaging. A You're cut 2 years later. I'm an educator, and there was a piece of me that even though a lot of those things at the time I had been a boxer and a bin over here, the idea of a what that could do and the excitement it could bring kind of you know, there's, like, always sitting there speaking or whispering in my ear, like, maybe there's something there. So as an example of that, there was an we a Another book, another anchor text, right, that's a a one that's used a lot is lord of the flies. Lord of the flies, I think, is a really powerful Theme metaphor for for things. There's a lot there till still to this day. Can be sometimes a difficult book. Can be a little bit of a controversial book.

Adam Watson [00:14:45]:
But I knew that I wanted to at the time, it's like, how can I again, it's kinda go back to the Shakespeare and Star Wars thing? How can I introduce this in a way that's a little different, that seems more relevant and authentic? A And so there was a a packet that I probably found online at the time that had a kernel of an idea or a good, you know, kind of a lesson about, You know, students thinking about what it would be like to crash land on an island. I like that. So that was a starting point, but I thought, well, how what can I do extra? So this is what I did. A I'll tell you it as it happened, but, obviously, this involves some prep time beforehand. So one particular day, I had gotten some audio of, like, the ambiance of an airport. So So you're hearing the little things, the flights, the clickety clacks of people, the rolling of suitcases. That's playing in the speakers inside my classroom. As students come into the classroom, a I hand them a airplane ticket, a plane ticket.

Adam Watson [00:15:33]:
What's this? Well, we're going on a flight today. Okay. And it told them I'd range the seats a little bit differently, and there was a little map a that was on a PowerPoint or a slide of where to sit. You know, a 3 means sit here kind of thing. So students are coming in. They're already like, this is different. A Alright. All the students are in.

Adam Watson [00:15:48]:
I close the door, the cockpit. I walk up to the front of the room. I I put on a little jaunty hat, and now I'm I'm playing the flight attendant. A And I hit play in my prerecorded voice as the pilot starts, you know, thank you for flying your airline or Golding Airlines, I think I called it, a And there's a little cockpit picture of looking out the window. And I'm, you know, doing the whole narration with the, you know, fingers in the air to the emergency exits and all those things. And then suddenly, there's a big loud alarm sound, and there's kind of an explosion sound and mayday, mayday. And I turn the lights out for a second, Then I bring the lights back up, and it's like, okay. You're very lucky because you all have just crashed.

Adam Watson [00:16:25]:
Right? So let's go outside. I got you already. If you could look on your ticket, There's already kind of a group a, b, c, d thing sorted out and organized. So group a, group b, group c. Let's go outside, and you have this packet of you only have a you have what's in your pocket. Right? Like, whatever's in your pocket as we walk outside, how can we utilize these things in a survival method? Surviving the elements and the things. So a That was a way of of setting and launching this unit that lord of the flies was the anchor text. And that series of play and an idea of play was something that a I really loved then, and I was like, what can I do to have more opportunities for that? Tried a few things.

Adam Watson [00:17:02]:
But that stayed with me post teaching and all the way to the recent times as far as a Thinking deeply about the idea of play. And, of course, really, games are just structured play, a And tabletop role playing games are just another subsection of that. So that's kind of the thorough line of that. And I can talk some examples about play if you like, but we can, a As far as some examples of what that can do and how powerful that can be.

Liza Holland [00:17:26]:
Yeah. Tell me more. Tell tell me about what that looks like.

Adam Watson [00:17:29]:
A Okay. Well, one of the things there's a book by doctor Stuart Brown that I read recently, and it's a play, How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul, which came out several years ago, but that title is that's it's a pretty good title. And I should say here that that book a that I read became part of a colleague at Ovech of mine, Jen Roterer, and I did a play based learning in PD. A So this is, like, doing some research and thinking about play. He had it really fast. And Doctor Stuart Brown, he launched, like, an institute of play, and he's done many of published article and such. A His starting story was really interesting, and I know it's a little stark, but I think it's it shows you the power of play. He was a young man who was launching his career.

Adam Watson [00:18:12]:
It was 1966. I believe he's he was in Texas at the time, and this Charles Whitman incident happened. And for those that don't know or or or jog your memory, a Charles Whitman was a young man, very troubled, who went up on a tower and, did a mass shooting event. He he shot and killed many people. A Afterwards, it was really worrisome, the powers and the people of the in 1966 because it's like, what would cause a person to do that, basically? He seems such a nice young man. That phrase that's a a Right? Governor Connolly, the famous governor who had been in the you know, JFK in that in that limo in Dallas, was the governor, and he basically put together, a like a a blue ribbon panel of people, and he basically wanted all these great wonderful mind scientist, doctor people to break down the case a Charles Whitman because maybe we could learn something. Who what would create a Charles Whitman? And they did all these studies. They visited.

Adam Watson [00:19:01]:
He had a Unfortunately, been through several situations, had some therapists and therapy in life, doctors of various sorts. So they had some case histories they could examine. And this phrase that someone else a said really triggered doctor Stuart Brown, in fact, launched the rest of his life career. There was a person who was looking at the different notes and information a and said, it's such a shame. If only Charles Whitman played more. It was clear that he was a very lonely child, very isolated child. A His imaginative world was very narrow and shallow. And the idea of play deprivation being not just a wouldn't it be nice if people play or plays a thing of a Sheldon, and it stops there.

Adam Watson [00:19:40]:
It became his really lifelong journey of looking at the power of play and even as adults that we need that. And it's not just a wouldn't it be nice if it's the thing that we need to feed our soul to, foster our creativity and all those things.

Liza Holland [00:19:52]:
Wow. A That's an extremely powerful type of a story. It my last episode here was with Greg Baer, and he wrote a book called when you wonder, you're learning.

Adam Watson [00:20:01]:
Love that title. Yes.

Liza Holland [00:20:03]:
It's a lot of it is grounded in Fred Rogers and all of his work that he did with mister Rogers' neighborhood and that sort of a thing. And a So that's kind of that theme of the need for play is resonating. And

Adam Watson [00:20:16]:
Well, into the into that end, a You know, the power of play in some of the things we're reading and doing. Jen wrote her, that colleague friend, she found example of people who are doing math problems out of a textbook, a And people are doing a study and example and not a shocker. That was an attempt to struggle for students to even complete much less their accuracy and ability. Right? A So the twist was, okay, that was the control versus the variable kind of thing. That was 1 group. But then they decided, what if we use construction paper in different colors and use markers? A Now we talk about technology often with, like, the things that clickety blink with lights. Right? Changing the technology from paper, pencil, textbook to, like, construction paper and marker, in effect, bring a sense of play to the same algebraic problem. The problems were not different at all.

Adam Watson [00:21:01]:
Same problem. A But markers, construction papers, it felt safe. It felt exploratory. It felt a little fun and, you know, probably not a shocker. Not only were kids a completing the problems more. They were doing them with much more depth than accuracy. It's all the things you would hope. You think about the small shift to that, right, but the idea of play in that perspective.

Adam Watson [00:21:19]:
I'll give you one more other quick story. There was some British scientists in the 19 nineties. And all the way up into 1990 that's a really important point to hammer on here. A There was a very well formed belief in terms of cognitive science and and, you know, the development of brain brain science that a Children really are incapable of certain leaps or following certain forms of logic until their brains develop around 10 or 11. A Jean Piaget. I feel like I probably mispronounced that, but I think he was as much a proponent of that as anyone. Like, basically, your brains aren't developed enough into a certain point. Kids can't They can't do a certain thing.

Adam Watson [00:21:53]:
They can't really hold a certain rigor. Their brains aren't cooked enough yet, you know, in their in their little skulls. That was such a foundational belief that people didn't even question a And so this went on. These British scientists in the 19 nineties tried a thing. So they brought kids together, a And they brought him a logical question, starting like 4 year olds, all the way up until, like, 10 or 11. And the logical question was, all cats bark. Muffins a is a cat. Does muffins bark? Now the 1st time they did this, they did this very with a lot of austerity.

Adam Watson [00:22:25]:
Lab coats, a serious clipboards, I imagine, you know, probably talking above the child kind of like this. You know? Now I'm gonna give you a logic problem. And even though the logic problem, obviously, to us a Well, if that's that sound goofy, but if that's the logic, then, yeah, Muffins barks according to the the you know, what you gave is the. A And the thing was, serious time, the 4 year olds, 5 year olds, 7 year olds were like, no. I mean, muffins can't bark. I mean, that's a Silly. We were cats can't bark. Right? The British scientists did this amazing thing.

Adam Watson [00:22:54]:
Again, a small shift, you would think, but they changed the parameters. A Now suddenly, the adults came in the room without that lab coat, and they had a sense of fun in their voice. And they say, okay. Listen to the 5 year old. I'm a I'm a tell you a little bit of a silly story. Alright? What if all cats could bark? Wouldn't that be fun? And then your muffins, this little stuffed animal muffins. You see? Muffins is a Kat, do you think that muffins could bark? Well, the 4 year olds were like, yes. Yes.

Adam Watson [00:23:21]:
Muffins can bark because in our world In our world, all cats bark. That's an imaginative world. Right?

Liza Holland [00:23:27]:

Adam Watson [00:23:28]:
And the point is probably obvious here, but the point is is that by taking a moment a In unleashing the idea of play and fun in a sense of imagination and playfulness shifts that thinking so that a The kids were, of course, able to solve that logic problem, but it was the context. So the Jean Piaget and all those people who assumed that it was just a science thing, the science says, a Which is also a a little that's a cautionary tale. Right? Science always changes. But that's or who's saying the science? Maybe that's a better way of looking at it. But, anyway, it wasn't about the brain. There was nothing about the brain and its plasticity or anything like that. It was the context. So play bringing a sense of changing that and shifting that a is pretty powerful speaking to play.

Liza Holland [00:24:10]:
Yes. And, you know, the other thing that strikes me as far as that power of play is a We have lived for a while in education with a really aggressive focus on you gotta get an a. You gotta get an a. You gotta get an a And it doesn't allow for much space for trying, failing, a Rethinking it, trying again, and having a safe space to do that. And that element of play, I think, a can help to do that. We think about all of our in the news all the time is how our students have so much anxiety and that sort of thing. And I think this pressure to be perfect is a big part of it. So I love that element of play making it a safer space for them, because a I think that's a true line through your stories.

Adam Watson [00:25:00]:
Well and you're so right. So, you know, as we often hear and, you know, we have to look at the system. Right? So a One of the things to your point about you have to be I love what you just said about being perfect because because one of the things that I see and as simple and yet huge and prevalent it is, a Think about, like, the grading system that's very typical and traditional. You have a system of grading. If it's points and percentages, then whether I get a Twenty points on the 1st big test of the unit or whatever and get a 100 points at the end is, in that system, as statistically equal a To me getting a 100 points at the beginning and 20 points at the end, the law of averages, because I did that one time, I did a 20 point test, I will be a a statistical hold that I can ever call out of. Right? Doesn't matter the order that I got better as I went along. You know, averages are averages, so sorry, kid. That System creates a really high level.

Adam Watson [00:25:56]:
I have to in order to get an a, I have to always be a. A Right? Every single time because the points are the points to the points. And if I don't get that average and that's where because that's almost impossible. That's not even the way humans learn. I start a Fumbling, stumbling, taking some risk. That didn't work out. And then as I get along, get a little stronger, and, of course, at the end, we hope you reach mastery. A One assistant that just adds up the points and averages it.

Adam Watson [00:26:21]:
That typical human progress doesn't matter, and you'll probably be a c student because you start at the beginning, a Your f's that become c's that become a's, but it averages out to be a c, so congratulations. That goes back to the idea of play. I think you're absolutely right. I think where you have a system where you feel like you can a Risk and in a safe space. That is what play really can do good things with.

Liza Holland [00:26:42]:
Absolutely. A So I know you've talked a little tabletop gaming.

Adam Watson [00:26:46]:

Liza Holland [00:26:47]:
But I just recently had this really interesting experience with working with the office of innovation at Fayette County Public Schools, and they have connected with a group called KC 7, and it's all involved in cybersecurity. A And they have created a game to learn how to be able to be a cybersecurity person.

Adam Watson [00:27:09]:
A Love it.

Liza Holland [00:27:10]:
And I loved that whole concept because there's this huge growing demand for a topic area that nobody knows about, a And the current learning tends to be very kind of pedantic and very technical and all that kind of stuff. And these they're like, okay. Well, even a People graduating with degrees are not able to do the job that we want them to do. And I thought it was a little magical to a Try to get it out there to where people could play with the idea and see if they might like to do that. And so a Tell me a little bit about your thoughts on the electronic type of gaming and how that might help education.

Adam Watson [00:27:47]:
A That's a great question. I would first say that one of the things that I I know that I discuss and talk about, read a lot about, see a lot about, it's sometimes important to discern the difference between a in game based learning. So briefly, gamification is where you have aspects, elements of a game a that are used, obviously, and hopefully for a positive purpose if it's, you know, a gamified learning experience. Example of that might be a that kids in a PBIS system accumulate points for the good things they do, and those points a are cashed in for a currency of, you know, the popcorn at the pep rally kind of thing. Right? That a Idea of points currency, you know, from games. Right? Going back to tabletop role playing games have experienced points or XP, so it's kind of that idea. That's gamification. A Game based learning approach is that you actually learn by playing a game or the games, which is a different experience.

Adam Watson [00:28:46]:
Right? A That is kind of the analogy I often talk about too in, like, PBL. Like, there's projects at the end of units, and then there's project a based learning, and that's the difference. You know? Projects are the extra add upon as opposed to PBL being we learn through the project. The project is the 3rd line that a goes from day 1 to day, you know, 15 or whatever. So to answer your question directly about video games, I think that that is a great opportunity to be immersive, a To the best of them having opportunity where I play a role. Right? I am Getting back

Liza Holland [00:29:19]:
to that Dungeons and Dragons piece, a That's so foundational to my that experience for me. I was a player when I was young. And to me, that a Is I'm in communications now predominantly for my role, and that was such a great grounding in building a story and building a character and thinking about the setting and the place and all those types of things. Yeah. No. I'm I'm a huge fan. A

Adam Watson [00:29:45]:
Well, obviously, I am as well. I I so love to hear that you played played D and D. That that does my heart. It puts sing my heart's singing right now. Yeah. Just to finish that thought, so the idea is a role playing in that. And, obviously, the best of tabletop role playing games, that can get very sophisticated. But we'll start with the idea of I play this role in this context.

Adam Watson [00:30:04]:
A Right? So on this hacker in this multinational corporation or whatever, the point of it is that another thing that's powerful about those games is that it becomes a cocreated story a That could be narrow or big. In a typical tabletop role playing game, dungeon drags experience, it could be really huge. Like, if I tell a Our group of players with our characters say, we're gonna go over here to the left into the woods. Well, then, my goodness, the person who's leading that, the facilitator, you know, called the dungeon master in D and D, they They have to run with that. Right? Like, alright. I wasn't planning for you to go to the woods, but let's go. In a game, a video game, there's obviously programming. So there's a certain level where a There's only so many branches on that tree in the branching narrative, but still, how powerful is it that I at least have choices a, b, c, and d to go on and and then the consequences call from that, which leads us at least in the best of times to that choose your own adventure branching narrative variant endings.

Adam Watson [00:30:55]:
A And to me, this taps into my what I probably loved about that, as many people do who've experienced those choose your own adventure books a play the video game or play the done something like Dungeons and Dragons is that the ending is kinda up to me. Right? Like, it's not fixed. A That there is even if it's a limited amount of choices, it's still that whether I get to choice b instead of a or c was because of my actions. A Bringing a piece of that into the education world, think about the agency that that is. Right? I had control over the ending. It's not a fixed point in time where I was marched a round or led by the nose and, you know, everyone got to the same place because I shoved you there as an educator. Right? Like, a There's a little built in variance of, you know, the choices I had along the way, the choices of how I approached it. Again, getting meta here for a second.

Adam Watson [00:31:41]:
You know? A Dungeons and Dragons, you could be a cleric. You could be a ranger. You could be a barbarian. You could be a thief. The point is is that I come to it with a sense of choices and strengths. A My narrative is cocreated, and the ending isn't fixed in time. I mean, I have a control over my destiny. If any pieces of that a Can be brought and incorporated into a classroom or educational experience.

Adam Watson [00:32:02]:
That's really powerful.

Liza Holland [00:32:04]:
Yes and yes. Good boy. I could talk about this all day with you, but I'm going being mindful of time here a little bit, and I'm going to tweak my next question just a little bit based upon our conversation. Tell me about your favorite learning experience. That can be as an adult, can be as a kid, and why.

Adam Watson [00:32:22]:
Favorite learning experience. One of the things a That's that's kinda using experience for me being as a teacher. Involves a little bit of technology, but it was one of those things that a Cracked open a a walnut for me as far as thinking differently about how I taught and and how I was with students. I had a conundrum. I had Students doing a very typical thing in English class with students doing literature circles. And, you know, part of it was a On a periodic schedule, they would get together and talk about the book. And this is not gonna be a, again, a high school teacher by trade back in the day. It's probably not gonna be a shocker to you, Liza, that when I did this a Sometimes when I was standing near them, they would have these great conversations.

Adam Watson [00:33:02]:
But for some reason, I know it went this is a shock. When I walked away, the conversations a would turn to, like, the weekend and stuff. Now here's the best part that I always loved about students, and then it's like you all are you know, it's an adolescent mind, I guess.

Liza Holland [00:33:15]:

Adam Watson [00:33:16]:
would only be 3 feet away just because my back was turned. My ears still work. I could tell that they went off topic. Right? But a For some reason, 3 feet away, my back turned. They thought they were in a bubble of of invulnerability, I guess. Okay. Just I wanted them to read books, read well, have rich discussions, a But it wasn't clicking. It wasn't working.

Adam Watson [00:33:35]:
And I thought to myself, what can I do about that? And one of the things we often joke about in teaching is to clone yourself. A So it's like, well, how can I clone myself? But more importantly, I realized if I ever really looked honestly in the mirror, their reason for for, doing it was inauthentic. A Like, what am I doing this for? I mean, for each other? So it may be bad best for me, mister Watson, but okay. So I took a step back, and I thought to myself, what if they did podcast. Now this is you have to understand this is a while back, and the Internet was launched but young, but still, I knew that we had laptops, and we had some microphones, a actually through a podcast grant that I was got some of that technology helped out. And I thought, well, what if they recorded their book conversations? Right?

Liza Holland [00:34:16]:
A Uh-huh.

Adam Watson [00:34:17]:
Yeah. Now if I did that, that'd solve 2 problems. First off, the mic's on. So in theory, they had to kinda be on topic. A It gave me an opportunity to assess in a really thorough well way all of their discussions, which, to be fair, took a little bit of time. This was not for the timid, You know? And and I've stumbled and fumbled myself, but, certainly, that alone kind of gave a rigor, but that was only part of it. The other part of it is is that what's their audience? A Well, the idea of it is it would be beyond me. It goes outside the classroom.

Adam Watson [00:34:44]:
So this is, like, I guess, a PBL, really. That's what I'm saying. It's a project based learning thing. The project is the the podcast. A And so they did a series of them, and here is the really magical thing that happened. I couldn't have asked or paid anyone to do it. It just naturally happened, and I was thankful. The first thing is is that a In a world that we launched this in, we started getting responses from people who were listening to the podcast.

Adam Watson [00:35:05]:
And the one that I'll never forget, a And it changed me, and it changed the students from the podcast they just did to the next one they recorded, is that there was this a group of students in China. A And they were like, dear mister Watson, we heard about your podcast, and we just wanna let you know that we listen to these podcasts. We read the same books here, a And we listen to your podcast, your students' podcast episodes, and then we discuss what we heard in the podcast for our own discussions. A Anyway, I just wanna let you know. I was floored. And when I shared that with students, you know, there was a palpable sense of I mean, you know, we hope the principal listen and maybe their parents, but to think that someone in China wow.

Liza Holland [00:35:45]:
But to know you're making an impact like that. Yeah.

Adam Watson [00:35:48]:
A And, this also goes back to doesn't hurt to ask kind of situation. We talked about that with with the Star Wars and Shakespeare. Some of the authors of the books, I was able to crackdown from their website or what have you, and and so I dropped them all emails saying, hey. I just wanna let you know these students in Oldham County, Kentucky are listening to your books, talking about them. You You know, sometimes they were like, that author, you know, needs to work a little bit on their descriptions. You know what I'm saying? Like, they were they played it real. You know? I shared with them that these podcasts were happening, and a few of those authors replied back a saying. I listen to those episodes.

Adam Watson [00:36:17]:
They wow. You know? It was so wonderful, and they they had some such deep insightful thoughts. And, a Again, what an authentic audience. Right? So to share back that with the students and say, you know, so many authors are listening to what you're saying. Not that that made them pull any punches. They were just a But the point is is that they, you know, were had an opportunity that they were really heard. And and you know what? They had their personalities, which I loved. You know? That little inside jokes, a laughing as they were doing the podcast, finding all that joy and stuff.

Adam Watson [00:36:46]:
You know? It it was wonderful to listen to, wonderful to hear, wonderful to have them have those authentic, a Deep, memorable learning experiences. That was something that you know, you can't do that every day. That was a lot of work, a lot of time. A A PBL, and and I don't have to tell anyone listening to tell you. It's hard. Right?

Liza Holland [00:37:02]:
But It is.

Adam Watson [00:37:03]:
I knew that that the bar had been raised. The bar had been raised, and and if I can't, a Yeah. I can't do this every single minute of every single day, but I gotta make sure they have enough experiences or more experiences like this because it's what they need.

Liza Holland [00:37:14]:
A Well, I think it's a combination, you know, between the slight little changes that we talked about in some other circumstances and some super, like, rich and purposeful types of experiences like that one. That is an awesome answer. I'm glad you chose that.

Adam Watson [00:37:28]:
Well and and I'll just yes. A So that that's definitely something I'm you know, I try to think about and and try if in my in my role is of a god on the side or, you know, a person that can help Other people design things of of deeper learning and and deeper and more authentic experiences is is just at least shooting for that. You know? Shoot for the stars and land on the moon at least. Right? That's that's the kind of the attitude I like to have.

Liza Holland [00:37:51]:
Oh, I like that so much. And that is the kind of work that you're doing right now that as deeper learning design specialist a For OVEC, which stands for the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative. Deeper learning is where we need to be, in my humble opinion. A And but there's always obstacles to making that happen. What are you finding to be the biggest challenges in your new role?

Adam Watson [00:38:13]:
I think that as far as a What can we do? And as far as the biggest challenges, time is certainly, I think, a huge factor.

Liza Holland [00:38:23]:
Valuable commodity.

Adam Watson [00:38:24]:
A It's hard to replicate, and there's only the 24 hours a day and all of those things. And there's a sense of running out of time. I think the pandemic, we learned that that in the sense that a It's not that students weren't having struggles and unhappy before the pandemic, but, boy, the pandemic illustrated how certain features and structures of the system aren't working as well, a And then we really rethink the system. Right? But so if time can't be added, if we can't make the rotation of the earth, you know, where it's 28 hours to 24 or something like that, if a That's how I was out of our reach. It's just thinking differently about that time. You know, I always from my prior work in in districts and such, yeah, in in places I worked before, You know, a lot of people talk about the idea of you know, the problem in education often is that we do autopsies instead of a diagnosis and a treatment. You know? It seems we always after the fact, Especially if you have a standardized test system where it's like, well, those kids, you know, the ones that are already gone, they do the last year. I mean, they're still in our school.

Adam Watson [00:39:19]:
Don't get me wrong. But Yeah. Those kids struggled in this and what or did fantastic either direction. My classroom teacher role kinda ended a At the end of that year, and that became someone else's boon or bane. You know? So, you know, what are ways we can do that? Another thing I think about a It's the idea of you know, we often get to the end of a year when we have a credit recovery situation. Right? We have a situation where we have to recover credits because 9 months of that work, at the end of the day, they weren't able to complete the course. So we come up with very as much as we can, novel ways of compacting that. Of course, I'm being generous here, but a I'm sure reading between the lines.

Adam Watson [00:39:58]:
You know, in a 2 week to 3 week period in the summer, suddenly, we're gonna come up with those credits. It's what the best we can do given the system we have. I really wish we had more of a credit discovery system.

Liza Holland [00:40:08]:
Yes. Yes.

Adam Watson [00:40:09]:
And, again, I'm not unique or or the 1st person to think these things, but it it's just a How can we create opportunities where instead of at the end recognizing, well, that didn't work out, how can we have more proactive systems that a How can we you know, through a cross content class, maybe it's a PBL or maybe it's a passion, maybe it's through the internship of a work opportunity a that you can demonstrate the standard skills and competencies in a way that doesn't fill skill and drill, multiple choice, or or working your way through a Something like that. How can I create systems where, you know, at the end of this process project period of time, a You know, let's discover a way that we can make the credits happen for you? And by the way, no small thing. You might actually enjoy it more a Then, Chanel, being put in the library for 2 weeks in the summer. Right? So, yeah, a It's just if, you know, the the challenge is time and the idea is just thinking

Liza Holland [00:41:08]:
differently about it, I think. Okay. Well, final question. A What would you like for decision makers in education to know?

Adam Watson [00:41:14]:
The biggest learning lesson, it well, not well, not the biggest, but certainly a big one, a Came to me, and it's not it's not the only educator in life that's ever done this, but there's been a series of educators that have basically said, a As the principal or the leader in a building, for example, how can I remove an obstacle for you? That phrase and that idea, that mentality a has kept with me because I recognize that's really what's powerful is, you know, when a principal, for instance, comes to you as a teacher and says, a What's your struggle? What physically can I do to make that different or happen? I think that's a wonderful, beautiful thing. And so for people, you know, legislators and things like that, you know, that's the challenge. Right? I feel like sometimes when the law passes, another thing has to be met. A Often the unfunded mandate as they say. Great. Well, that's another obstacle in my path, you know, that I have to figure and challenge and and struggle through. A Leaders that say, what's something I can take off your plate or change the plate itself entirely, frankly? That to me is something that a Wish there was more of. And if there's in small ways, if there's ways that I can do that for others, great.

Liza Holland [00:42:21]:
Fantastic call to action.

Adam Watson [00:42:24]:
A I hope so. And I know there are great people in the world that are doing and trying those very things, so I'm very appreciative of the obstacle removal people.

Liza Holland [00:42:31]:
A Well, the more of us rowing that boat in the same direction, the better off we're gonna be. Well, Adam, thank you so so much for this incredibly rich conversation. I, I really appreciate your time today.

Adam Watson [00:42:43]:
I appreciate you, Liza. Thank you so much for having me.

Liza Holland [00:42:47]:
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of education perspectives. Feel free to share your thoughts on our Facebook page. Let us know which education perspectives you would like to hear or share. Please subscribe and share with your friends.