Creativity Inspires

First-year teacher gets creative to engage students

During his job interview with Great Western Academy Principal Kathryn Kountz, Mackenzie Pidgeon shared his creative ideas for keeping students engaged while learning remotely. She loved his concept of introducing characters – a hero and several villains – and using Gamification to make learning fun.

After his interview, Pidgeon sent Kountz a picture of himself in costume as Professor Peacock, the hero who would defend against the villains who would always be up to no good. Pidgeon landed his first teaching job eager to provide science instruction to the school’s fourth-grade students.

“The teaching staff were encouraged to get creative and given freedom to run with their best ideas,” Pidgeon said. “We all became problem solvers and given the confidence to implement our individual plans. In some ways being new to teaching was an asset. Unlike seasoned teachers – who I give a lot of credit to – I wasn’t held back by comparisons to what a ‘normal’ school year looks like.”

Pidgeon exudes a very positive energy – he’s a “glass half full” kind of guy who likes to think that his students match the energy he projects. His goal in using Gamification is to make learning fun, not unlike the popular Candy Crush video game in which players win each level of play by completing goals and earning points to progress.

Sergeant Seagull

“The idea of Professor Peacock and the various villains – including Barn Owl Bandit, Dangerous Duck, and the most prominent Sergeant Seagull – came from my own experiences as a kid,” Pidgeon said. “I had a third-grade teacher who assumed the character of the popular sportscaster Harry Caray, and as a kid I really enjoyed Young Life Camping which used characters in creative ways. So, I built on those experiences.”

Each student at Great Western Academy received a Chromebook to facilitate remote learning during the COVID pandemic. But Pidgeon wanted his students to have experiences off-line as well and made sure that all the labs – which were led by Professor Peacock – involved activities that students could do from home with basic supplies.

Pidgeon relied on Canvas – a learning management system made available to Great Western Academy students and teachers – to post assignments and announcements, to message students, and to allow students to engage with one another through message boards. It also provides a wealth of data useful in assessing individual and classroom performance.

“Like most teachers, I saw a dip in student performance and thought that perhaps my Gamification wasn’t working as well as I’d expected,” Pidgeon said. “So, I dialed back on the use of Professor Peacock and the villains until students began asking about the characters and expressed disappointment that they had limited opportunities to earn rewards. I was thrilled to learn from our intervention specialists that third-grade students are super excited about the opportunity to be in my science class next school year.”

Pidgeon plans to continue and expand upon his use of Gamification in the 2021-2022 school year which, hopefully, will return to “normal.” He plans to create new villains for Professor Peacock to battle to keep students engaged.

He’ll also continue to leverage Canvas which he says has “opened up a world of opportunity.”

So, how does Pidgeon feel about his career choice as his first year of teaching draws to a close?

“I wake up every day and am ecstatic that this is my job,” he said. “They say your first year of teaching is about basic survival, and that’s been true for me. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from other teachers and administrative staff. It’s been a challenging, but very positive, experience!” Professor Peacock Sergeant Seagull