In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast we speak with Mike Ginicola about the value of leveraging student choice & voice in thje Physical Education classroom. This has taken many forms in Mike’s classes & has been empowered by the use of Gamification & Emerging Technologies. He also shares his love for the Plickers app and how he was able to take it to the next level using Magnets.

Resources mentioned in this episode

  1. Plickers, ClassCraft,
  2. Balance It, Jump It

Press play to listen to the episode below or listen here. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here

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[00:00:28] Jarrod Robinson: Alright hello everyone and welcome to episode number 92 of the
PE podcast and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. Now, I’m joined today by
Mike Ginicola. How are you?
[00:00:39] Mike Ginicola: Good Jarrod, thank you for having me here.
[00:00:42] Jarrod Robinson: Absolute pleasure. Now, we’re sitting here doing a little bit of
time zone math trying to work out where we are in relation to each other, but for our listeners
where are you based and how long have you been in that area?
[00:00:53] Mike Ginicola: Yeah I’m in Connecticut in the United States and I’ve been teaching
here in the area for twenty years. Originally I grew up in Ohio.
[00:01:02] Jarrod Robinson: Oh nice, so I mean is that something that you can map back to
your childhood as having an interest in wanting to be a teacher or did this come about through a
different path?
[00:01:13] Mike Ginicola: Yeah I always had a natural affinity for all things sports, physical so
it seemed natural that I ended up going in the army to get college money and that kind of
cemented even more just really loving the movement of everything.
[00:01:27] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so I mean sport-wise growing up was there a particular
sport that you really enjoyed or it was just an all-around passion?
[00:01:34] Mike Ginicola: I’ve been playing volleyball for about thirty years now.
[00:01:38] Jarrod Robinson: Wow, and that’s something that you still do to this day?
[00:01:43] Mike Ginicola: I do. Not as well as I used to, but definitely keeping up in my midforties.
[00:01:48] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, is it one of those sports though because you have had such a
lifelong enjoyment with it that it’s one of the lesser enjoyable things that you like to teach or is,
or do you like that moment when you get to share your passion with the kids?
[00:02:03] Mike Ginicola: For about fifteen years I really did enjoy teaching it and now really
moved on to just ever since Twitter and social media and the PLN just branching off to all types
of striking and making it even more for the students, better experiences for them.
[00:02:19] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah I mean similar for me like I grew up with track and
field and I loved it but just that teaching of it is a completely different thing altogether and it was
one of my lesser things to teach and I gradually moved away to enjoying other subject areas and
other things. With tech being one of those and I know for you’ve gone through this journey in the
last three years and it’s been great to see with a lot of sharing of stuff that you’re doing in your
classroom practice. So, my question is when did you get started with this whole social media
journey and how has it helped you in your practice?
[00:02:57] Mike Ginicola: Yeah well you’re going to make me feel like a dinosaur here, for
twenty years of teaching I only joined social media really about a year ago, Twitter I think was
last April so it’s about 15/16 months now and that set me on course from there. I was invited to
Voxer, the PE Central Facebook group and kind of went from there.
[00:03:17] Jarrod Robinson: Sure how did that even come about? Because there’s way more
teachers off line than there are online and it’s often difficult to even know that these worlds exist.
So for you was it like did you go to a conference and stumble across it or was it just a word for
someone who was on, how did that happen?
[00:03:38] Mike Ginicola: It was actually our Connecticut APHERD which basically Shape
America for Connecticut and someone had a presentation, a session on using social media and I
was like wow I definitely have to get out there and see how it is and I fell in love from the first
[00:03:55] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah I mean I’ve just watched what you’ve done in the last year or
so and it’s been great, the amount of sharing, the amount of discussion and collaboration that sort
of comes through the channel and you can see your passion there and obviously you’ve got this
passion for technology as well and in particular gamification. So where did that technology
passion come from because it seemed like you’re really interested in it even though you didn’t or
were not aware that social media was there for you to share that passion with.
[00:04:25] Mike Ginicola: Yeah I think the first issue was like a lot of other school districts
really having a low tech situation, it seems like your district doesn’t want you to use it, they’re
afraid of it. And I really pushed back and I think that once I got into it and started to see how
powerful it was if used correctly I wanted to show my district that even in the gymnasium it can
be done and done really well and be a powerful tool for learning.
[00:04:52] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, I mean absolutely. So do you remember what that first thing
was that you saw and thought I have to try this out and you pursued it and added to your
classroom? What was that thing?
[00:05:05] Mike Ginicola: Oh yeah definitely the first thing I tried was Plickers cards for
assessment and just amazing.
[00:05:14] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah.
[00:05:14] Mike Ginicola: Really just took to it immediately.
[00:05:17] Jarrod Robinson: And it was, was it, I think because it works really well in that
situation where you don’t have a lot of devices and you’ve got your own device so you can do the
scanning. But you were able to capture some authentic assessment data, was that the context?
[00:05:31] Mike Ginicola: Definitely. The assessment right there formative, even summative if
you really wanted to was powerful because there aren’t many ways to collect data that quickly.
[00:05:42] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah that’s the real benefit, the speed of the capture and the fact
that you can be utilizing Plickers but you don’t actually have to eat into the activity time, you can
have that right at the end of an activity or at the end of the class and it’s just a very easy way to
get a snapshot of what’s taken place and there are some amazing things that people are doing
with it and I’m thinking very heavily about something that you shared recently and I think you
even have a name for it. What am I thinking of if you can read my mind.
[00:06:13] Mike Ginicola: Are we talking about Plickers magnets or Plagnets?
[00:06:16] Jarrod Robinson: We absolutely are. I think you might have to trade market that
term. What is a Plagnet?
[00:06:22] Mike Ginicola: Well, originally I was watching Joey Feith go through his magnet
transformation and really keeping track of student learning and when I tried it I was like there’s
no way to really collect this data, you can take pictures and manually input it but I just didn’t
have time for that. So I said hey let me throw a little mini Plickers on top of these magnets and
the student, I can instantly within seconds collect the data that the students are whatever activity
it is that you’re doing.
[00:06:51] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so you’ve sort of got the benefit of that magnet and how
easy it is to, for the students to submit their answers and visually sort them and so forth. But then
you’ve got the Plickers component which was essentially you just stuck them onto the magnets
and then people could use the Plickers app to scan the magnets and then get that data recorded.
And I think that has exploded since you released that and there’s a lot of different variations that
have popped up in the recent weeks and it sort of speaks to how simple an idea is when it catches
on fire like that has. So what have you seen people do in the recent weeks with that task?
[00:07:35] Mike Ginicola: Yeah they’re very versatile. You can use them just as regular Plickers
answer devices or as exit tickets but I really like to use them, I’ve seen a lot of people explore the
student self-paced progressions where the kids are going through the lessons and keeping track
of their learning and turning the magnets, the Plickers to kind of chart their level of progress. So
from I’m not getting it all the way up to the wow category that Joey kind of made famous.
[00:08:04] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, so that speaks, that sort of progressive nature that you
hinted at there speaks to the gamification stuff that you’ve also got a really fond affinity with.
What’s gamification all about and why do you love it so much?
[00:08:19] Mike Ginicola: Yeah gamification, I don’t even remember exactly probably on
Twitter where I saw it for the first time it’s really just taking the best parts of why everyone loves
videogames or even board games and taking those details with the parts and pieces and putting it
into a non-video game like education or business and really it just draws people in, the same
engagement level you would have in a video game.
[00:08:44] Jarrod Robinson: YEah, yeah. I mean I know you’ve done some really good entry
level things with that gamification concept and like because you can take it to extremes can’t
you. You can have all varying levels of gamification and a lot of people think that they have to
go to that level to get any value but the thing that I love about what you’ve done if you’ve made
some really nice on ramps for people who might just getting started with the idea of gamification
in their classroom and made it achievable for people. So what’s a very simple way that someone
could take this gamification word that they keep hearing and be able to roll that out into their
classroom and see some of the benefits that it produces?
[00:09:28] Mike Ginicola: Yeah really the easiest way to get started is to take a unit or a lesson
like let’s say jump rope and giving the kids different levels of success, maybe martial arts, belts
like I got from Ryan Armstrong and giving them some different criteria, give them some choice
and voice and how to get to each belt level. But let the kids go through and try to chart their own
progress and as they work their way up to the blackbelt that status and the achievement it’s really
amazing what you see with them the engagement and focus in a lesson.
[00:09:59] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah I think you made a really good point there that this isn’t let’s
go and put everything that we do for every unit into a gamification theme which sounds
extremely daunting. It’s the opposite. It’s let’s pick a unit that makes sense for a gamification
element, in this case you mentioned the jump rope example that has logical progressions anyway
and then you’re mapping, what was it badges or belts to each of those steps that they take?
[00:10:27] Mike Ginicola: Yup, yup different belt levels for martial arts, basically ninja belt
jump rope they call it.
[00:10:32] Jarrod Robinson: Amazing and then how would they collect those belts as they
achieve them like is there a process that involved, that you involved in that?
[00:10:40] Mike Ginicola: Yup well for me I was actually using a Plickers magnet so they were
moving their magnets on the belts on the board and when they left they would get a laminated
belt of that color to take with them.
[00:10:50] Jarrod Robinson: Amazing, amazing.
[00:10:50] Mike Ginicola: Simple but–
[00:10:52] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah so it’s got that hybrid of some offline components just to
make it super easy but then you’re capturing some of that data with the use of Plickers. Where
could you take it next? So if someone had introduced that progressive element to their class and
they wanted to further gamify it what sort of things could you do?
[00:11:12] Mike Ginicola: Oh yeah the rabbit hole’s really deep if you want to do spreadsheets, I
started with Classcraft which was pretty deep in itself, like an all year theme essentially, I turned
my whole entire gym into a castle, it took about ten days. And the kids loved it, you could use
powers in class, they get to maybe switch places with someone or skip a station, a lot of neat
things you can do with it. But you can get down to collecting points and spreadsheets and having
leader boards. It can be pretty intensive if you want.
[00:11:41] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah but I guess the real lesson is there that it doesn’t have
to be 100% every element of everything that you do is game, has gamification built into it. It can
be those core components and you can sort of make it as big or as small as you like but the
reward is the student’s engagement and have you noticed that they tend to sort of come here with
a completely different level of enjoyment from activities that maybe previously weren’t so as
[00:12:07] Mike Ginicola: Definitely. I mentioned that Ninja belt jump rope lesson, grade six
typically because I teach K to 6 typically the older students not always as engaged obviously as
they want to be, they don’t want to sweat. But when I did that gamification, the Ninja belt one
with them I truly amazed with how much sweat saw off of, I had never seen these kids work so
hard in my life, so I was a believer at that point.
[00:12:32] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah for sure and you can definitely take it to the extreme with
Classcraft. I know you did a video for the PE Geek TV on Instagram with us I think it might
have been last year where you sort of gave a bit of an overview of Classcraft and how that works.
But it is essentially a turnkey out of the box platform that you can wrap around your classroom
shell so you could take it to the next level. But I just love the fact that there is a very simple ways
to get started with gamification and it doesn’t have to be this huge all-encompassing thing for
there to be value. So with gamification and obviously with Plickers and so on in your world is
there room for anything else? Are there things that you’re experiencing and exploring at the
moment that you think people might enjoy?
[00:13:18] Mike Ginicola: Well right now I’ve actually focused this year on using responsive
classroom as a culture changer to kind of help out because I had a lot of people that were using
Plickers while this was anonymous and are your kids making fun of each in class and trying to
build that culture around everyone being accepting of all the differences. And then further trying
to push the technology use with the Plickers magnets, I want to start giving them multiple
stations to work at and multiple locations where they’re using the magnets so they’re a little bit
less centralized, so they are spread out more just to make, help other people that are a little bit
more worried about anonymous skill development with students.
[00:14:04] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah nice. So what are your essential tools then because you’ve
mentioned a couple of things in here and what would you typically walk into your gymnasium
with during most sessions?
[00:14:19] Mike Ginicola: Well I definitely think that a projector and I actually use two at some
points is essential.
[00:14:25] Jarrod Robinson: Wow. Yeah, I think so too. It’s a big game changer, it just makes
it, it makes it a social thing almost because you can take something that’s very individualized like
a device and make it viewable by everyone. So, two projectors. What else?
[00:14:42] Mike Ginicola: Yeah definitely projectors. I have worked, as I told you I’m in a low
tech situation, I’ve worked my way up to about six Apple devices now that I can use at stations
which took a while to build. But, I think using some of your apps on there has been amazing,
although Balance IT was really the first time I had even tried anything like that. It was a neat
experience for the students to work together, sometimes a little scary at first too for those of us in
America our culture’s a little bit different here with some of the higher level things like that. So it
was definitely eye opening to see the students really enjoy something that they don’t always get
to do.
[00:15:22] Jarrod Robinson: Sure, nice. I mean Balance IT has been an absolute wonder to just
watch it get taken up by so many different schools and so many different places and it’s
progressive, it’s designed to get more and more challenging and it is great to see and hear those
stories too of people that have enjoyed it. It’s very simple task though, there’s no rocket science
in there is it, like it’s an app or you can print them out even and it’s just kids doing some activities
like I think sometimes the best things are simple, would you agree?
[00:15:55] Mike Ginicola: Definitely, and that’s the thing about technology is you want it be
functional but also meaningful and I think some people use it just because it’s shiny and new
which may not be the best way to go about it.
[00:16:06] Jarrod Robinson: Shiny object syndrome, hey?
[00:16:08] Mike Ginicola: Yeah definitely.
[00:16:09] Jarrod Robinson: It’s a real thing.
[00:16:10] Mike Ginicola: It’s tempting.
[00:16:11] Jarrod Robinson: It is and I’ve been guilty of it too. But like I think the best stuff
comes from simple and being mindful about what the purpose of it is and that’s the best place to
start from. So we’ll get, we’ll wrap up here with one final piece of advice and it probably maps to
any mistakes that you’ve ever made. Now I’ve just put you on the spot here by asking this
question but have you ever gone to do something and it just hasn’t been as taken up by the
students as you might have hoped?
[00:16:44] Mike Ginicola: Well, definitely think that as a veteran and a military guy really just
trying to force my will on students at any age level just adding that some choice and voice which
scares a lot of teachers still today.
[00:17:00] Jarrod Robinson: Absolutely.
[00:17:01] Mike Ginicola: Giving kids a little more say in their learning definitely is something
that I wish I had started a lot earlier instead of trying to force everything on students that I
thought would keep calm and organization in the classroom but that’s not always the best way to
have learning.
[00:17:16] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, yeah I mean I love that the whole choice and voice concept
is really powerful but still very comforting for not just people that we work with locally but just
seems to be a common theme, there’s a lot of the same problems and worries that people think
will happen when they give, hand over choice. But in a lot of cases it works to be an absolute
changer in terms of how they engage in that classroom. So I think it’s worth exploring. Now,
where can people follow up with the work that you’re doing? Is there a best place to connect with
you or anywhere you go regularly?
[00:17:54] Mike Ginicola: Yeah I’m definitely always floating Twitter as PhysEdDepot and on
the PE Central, the PE Central Facebook group.
[00:18:05] Jarrod Robinson: And I know you mentioned Voxer as well. Is that a regular
[00:18:09] Mike Ginicola: Yeah, definitely on Voxer which is the first place where I really got
to connect with you.
[00:18:15] Jarrod Robinson: It’s a crazy, Voxer is like a virtual staffroom that’s how I think of
[00:18:20] Mike Ginicola: Enough can’t be said about how powerful it is just to have a question
or a need or just to have those constant conversations with some amazing educators.
[00:18:29] Jarrod Robinson: Yeah, it is, it is. It really is and you also have a couple of different
web presences as well?
[00:18:35] Mike Ginicola: I do. You have Nichols Phys Ed Depot on YouTube where I have a
channel trying to build it up and add a lot of cool things. Started off as a dance channel for my
school at first and I have expanded from there.
[00:18:46] Jarrod Robinson: Wow, wow. Awesome stuff. And we’ll link to all of these
different websites and social platforms in the show notes over at for episode
92 and I definitely recommend reaching out and ask any questions that you have about
gamification and how to get started because as I’ve mentioned the way that you’ve sort of carved
it out so that people can really achieve it is admirable and I really want to thank you for that. So,
thanks for stopping by.
[00:19:15] Mike Ginicola: Thank you, it’s been an honor to be here.
[00:19:17] Jarrod Robinson: Absolutely, speak soon mate, bye.
[00:19:20] Mike Ginicola: Take care.

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