Byron's Babbles

The Angry Birds Effect

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 25, 2012

I used to talk about the “Nintendo Effect.” The reason why kids of all ages love and get hooked on video games is because of the great educational best practices these games employ. These best practices are: student-centric instead of monolithic, immediate feedback, actionable feedback, the opportunity to immediately go back and re-try, and the ability to collaborate and watch others play and learn from them. You would have to agree, all of these are important to learning whether you are a p-16 learner, business executive, or pro-football player. Right?

I have now changed my phrase, however, from “Nintendo Effect” to “Angry Birds Effect.” This change is not just to keep me more in tune with the times, but the fact that Angry Birds does a better job of combining all the best practices than Nintendo ever could. For those reading that have never played Angry Birds let me give you a little tutorial. Basically, you are presented with Angry Birds and a sling shot and your job is to destroy green pigs who are sheltered by very creative structures in a variety of settings. This game, designed by the Finnish game developer Rovio Mobile, was first designed for the Apple IOS system in 2009.

Each level starts with the number, types, and order of birds predetermined. If all the pigs are defeated by the time the last bird is used, and you improve your score three times the next level is unlocked. Basically, standards mastery! Upon completing each level, players receive one, two, or three stars, depending on the score received. I want to make sure you understand here, I can play as many times as needed to get all three stars – a little different than the way most students are graded today. Players may reattempt unlocked levels as many times as they wish in order to complete them successfully or to earn additional points or starts.

Angry Birds has many of the components that should be incorporated into great student centric curriculum and lesson planning or development of corporate training programs. The way most schools do feedback right now is by grades and “when the grades are handed out, the privilege of feeling successful is reserved only for the best students. By design, the rest experience failure” (Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, 2011). Let’s take a look at the best practices we can learn from Angry Birds:

1. Early in the game, the single Red Bird is the only one available-basic knowledge.

2. Players advance at their own pace.

3. Mastery is required to advance – You must have cleared a level three times with   score improvement each time before moving on.

4. As the player advances, new levels are introduced.

5. The player can move ahead and clear levels beyond the one they are presently in, but not too far.

6. Different contexts are portrayed (deserts, gem mine, city at night, et cetera) to make it interesting and relevant to the player.

7. The player is given new tools (different types of birds) to use as he/she advances and unlocks higher levels.

8. Immediate feedback is given. The player knows the score immediately.

9. Ability to go back and retry and review any level any time.

10. The next level is always “just above” (Christensen et al., 2011) the players ability. Not too far above, but “just above.”

Let’s dig into this concept of “just above” a little deeper. Christensen et al. (2011) asserted, “There is mounting evidence that students’ learning is maximized when content is delivered “just above” their current capabilities – not too much of a stretch, and not too easy. Customization to the “just above” level for each student is much easier to achieve in software than in the current monolithic delivery of most schools.” This adds a whole new dimension to differentiated instruction and modifying learning according to the way students learn. Remember, this is true for adult learners as well.

So let’s recap what we can learn from Angry Birds. We must provide a learning environment that is student centric, not monolithic (Christensen et al., 2011); we must provide immediate and actionable feedback; we must provide the students with the ability to go back and keep trying and editing till mastery is achieved; and we must introduce material “just above” where each individual student’s capabilities are.

Next time you are planning a lesson, developing a training program, planning a practice, or whatever your profession has you teaching others; think about the best practices of Angry Birds.


Christensen, C.M., Horn, M.B., Johnson, C.W. (2011). Disrupting class:How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns, expanded edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Learning From SMART Coaches

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 18, 2012
Coach Hendrix in SWELL

Coach Hendrix in SWELL

This past week I wrote a post for EDCompass Blog entitled, SMART Coaching. In this post I described how I learned from our basketball coach, Albert Hendrix, how to better differentiate instruction. I encourage you to click here to read the post because I want to go a little deeper in this post. As I reflected on the way Coach Hendrix teaches I realized he is doing what Christensen, Horn, and Johnson (2011) described as “student-centric” in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Expanded Edition. I had this book recommended to me by Scott Shelhart (@KD9SR) during the #TalkToTony Education Twitter Town Hall a couple of weeks ago with Dr. Tony Bennett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Christensen et al. (2011) discussed how our educational system is monolithic and needs to be more student-centric. By monolithic the authors mean we teach to only one learning style. Student centric means teaching to the way a student learns. Coach Hendrix teaches is a student-centric manner. By using the SWELL Classroom he is able to split the team up according to, not only different line-ups, but also the players’ knowledge of the game. Additionally, for those that are more spatial learners (need to see or visual) than kinesthetic, the triangulated SMART Boards give Coach Hendrix the ability to show players what they need to be doing.

What I learned from Coach Hendrix is that all players have specialized needs. They are all at a different starting point, have varied learning styles, and all learn at different paces. In other words, just like every student I teach. You might say every student is “differently-abled.”

During the 1800’s education was customized and student-centric by the teacher for level and pace out of necessity – all students were in one room. It is now important for us to once again become student centric. “Teachers can serve as professional learning coaches and content architects to help individual students progress – and they can be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage” (Christensen et al., 2010).


Christensen, C.M., Horn, M.B., Johnson, C.W. (2011). Disrupting class:How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns, expanded edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Flavor of the Month or Research & Development?

Posted in Coaching, Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 9, 2012

I heard discussion and saw an advertisement talking about education having our “Flavors of the Month.” In other words what’s the next initiative, program, product, or technology that will increase standardized test scores, student performance, student engagement, teacher effectiveness, learning, or whatever other metric we might be using (all of which are important). It’s interesting the advertisement using the “Flavor of the Month” analogy was for a professional development program. Interesting, huh?

Here’s my take. First of all, transformational change does not come from programs and initiatives. Those are things! It comes from having a process where action research is constantly occurring. It also is about having a collaborative culture where learning is always occurring. Garvin (2000) called this environment the learning organization. “A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights” (Garvin, 2000, p. ii). Now, think about that definition. If you think about it you’ll understand when I say it is good to use a few “Flavors of the Month” every so often to try new learning techniques for effectiveness. I would not have known I like Pistachio Ice Cream had I not been tempted to try it on a Flavor of the… trial. What’s wrong with trying new things? We need to view it as Research and Development.

The problem within our schools is we then need to collaborate in a learning organization environment to truly know what worked and did not. We need to have knowledge sharing in conjunction with knowledge generation. Now I know I will get all the negative reactions that are associated with any time of professional development or professional learning communities – no money, no time, yada yada yada. A true learning organization is a culture not a thing.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday I wanted to try using a People Search. This is an activity where students receive a chart with eight questions and they have to collaborate with eight different students to answer each question. They both initial when they believe they have the correct answer. I tweaked this activity to do it electronically and invited another teacher in who uses this activity often with success to observe and critique afterward. We spent time reflecting afterward and it was incredible and worthwhile personal growth time spent. Did you notice this did not cost money, require board approval, or any of the other things we complain about or use as excuses.

This interaction was a true modeling of a learning organization. There was no fear of failure, and even if it had failed, my teacher guest is of the same culture as me. We are not afraid of risk. The process of a learning organization starts from a cognitive phase where new ideas are exposed and are digested by the people followed by a behavioral phase (trying something new) where these ideas are put to use and finally a process improvement phase (reflection). So don’t forget we must develop a culture of Research and Development, knowledge creation and sharing, and the learning organization.


Garvin, D. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Agriculture – Our Next Moon Shot

Posted in Education, Education Reform by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on March 4, 2012

A few weeks ago there was an article that discussed the agriculture industry as not being a viable career choice for students. It seems to me that agriculture continues to be one of the least understood industries, with some of the most tremendous opportunities for our students. When starting the Agriculture Science program at Lebanon Community School Corporation eight years ago, I spoke of the fact that agriculture is more than Cows, Plows, and Sows. I now use the phrase that agriculture is our next “man on the moon” that Kennedy had. Think about it; as our population increases we will need food, clothing, shelter, sustainable fuel sources, cures for diseases, and the list goes on and on. Where will these come from? AGRICULTURE SCIENCE!

When people begin discussing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and careers, I like to remind them that it really should be STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, AGRICULTURE, and Math. But don’t take my word for it, click here to take a look at the results of the 2011 Employment Summary Food, Agriculture, Life, and Natural Resources May Graduates – College of Agriculture, Purdue University.

As our next “moon shot” it is critical that we continue to support agriculture science as an important Career and Technical Education (CTE) component in our secondary schools. It is also critical that teachers, such as myself, take the integration of science very seriously into our curriculum. It is also critical that we continue to recruit the best students into agriculture to be the Neil Armstrong’s of the agricultural industry and take the giant leaps of solving world hunger, disease, fuel needs, and all other areas related to food, life, and natural resources.