Monday, March 2, 2015

Building an Amazing Race Activity!

A lot of people have been asking me about an activity I have used called "The Amazing Race".  I've used the strategy at two professional learning sessions and an Edcamp, and it has been very successful all three times. Therefore, I'd like to continue spreading the love of what I feel is a worth while activity design for a multitude of uses.

First though - full disclosure - the Amazing Race style of content acquisition/discovery was NOT my idea. I learned about it at the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View in 2014.  However, after creating my own, I have a better handle on the design that could potentially go into creating one of these.

The idea of the Amazing Race activity is to get participants owning the learning and exploring in a collaborative and competitive environment.  You might think it is similar to a webquest - I find it to be a vast improvement.  In my set up, the challenges are all points on a map. Students are giving a link to the first challenge, and upon finishing, fill out a form to receive the link to their next challenge.  The following goes into more detail on the planning and thought process side of things.

Step One:  Use Google MyMaps.
I don't know what it is about Maps, but something about them is just incredibly engaging. You could technically do an activity like this without it, but I'm not sure it would hold the same appeal.  My Maps gives you a lot of flexibility in putting clues in different places on a map.  This would be very natural for social studies and geography classes to utilize this tool, but I could see any class use this as a way to revamp the way content is acquired.

Step Two:  Start a planning document.
This is a necessity.  If you are going to have students or participants going to multiple places and filling out multiple forms (as I have), then you are going to have to keep yourself organized. I highly suggest creating a Google Doc with the links for each step.  Click here for an example.

Step Three:  Determine what you want to have students/participants do
An Amazing Race style activity fits perfectly in the flipped classroom. While it isn't the most time friendly of flipped classroom methods, it certainly can be one of the most engaging.  In the above example planning doc, the goal was to have teams of people who haven't really worked together collaborate, and eventually gain some comfort with MyMaps.  I have also done it where participants learn a bunch of different skills. The competitive nature of the "race" helps all participants take it seriously and give it their all. Here is the planning document for an Amazing Race session I ran where participants gained experience with Google Classroom, Kaizena, Flubaroo, and Plickers.

Step Four:  Think about time
In both cases I ran this, I had an hour, in which I also wanted to have some time for reflection.  Both times, it was about the right amount of time. I wish I could offer some guideline in figuring out how long these could take, but ultimately, it depends on the audience and what you'll have them do.  The best piece of advice I can give is to make sure your challenges are chunked in small pieces so participants, at least at the beginning, can feel success and, depending on how quickly they move through the race, get key information and learning regardless of how far they make it.

Step Five:  Consider tutorials
In order to better help the variety of participants I had in a technology training session, I incorporated visual directions on each challenge that essentially walked the participant through exactly what they should do. While there are some cases where you might not want to do that level of detail (for instance, if this is some kind of assessment review), I found it to help sell participants on the face that I wasn't direct instructing them on how to do some of the tech skills.

Step Six: Test it out
Have a friend or colleague go through your Amazing Race and ensure that all the links work correctly and that the directions make sense.

Step Seven:  Unleash and Have Fun!
I guarantee that the day(s) that you run this activity in your class will be intense and enjoyable for everyone.  Designed correctly, and you'll be giving students an opportunity to really experience the "4 C's" in a more authentic way as well as providing a memorable experience that will not only allow them to take more ownership over the learning, but can be differentiated because of the flexibility within the directions.

If you are interested in doing an activity like this but want a little more help, you can reach out to me at, +Josh Gauthier on Google Plus, or @mrgfactoftheday on Twitter. Truly, I believe this could be an "amazing" experience for your class. Looking forward to hearing about how you'll use it!