Get Gamified

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock (Flickr Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock (Flickr Creative Commons)

Ask any middle school student what they do for fun outside of school and a vast majority of them will unsheathe their Excalibur-like thumbs and declare video games as their number one pastime. It is no wonder that many students – regardless of their skills and abilities – have suffered a loss of motivation, attention-span, and interest in the comparatively mundane, one-dimensional world of school.  So how can teachers compete with the programmed, interactive, instant-gratification of video games? Easy. Gamification.

Say what?  Gabe Zichermann of Gamification Corp defines buzzword gamification as ” the process of engaging people and changing behavior with game design, loyalty, and behavioral economics”. Gamification is a motivational system that many schools and businesses have been experimenting with.  To put it simply in terms of education, it is a way to motivate your students through game-like features such as tutorial and modeling, badges and trophies, leveling up, and teams.  It sounds easy enough, but if you are unfamiliar with the world of video games, this is a daunting challenge to take on.  Don’t worry – you can simply dip your toe into gamification next year to try it out, or you can go full force – the point is, there are varying levels of intensity in which you can “gamify” your classroom. Whatever level of gamification you might be implementing next year, you must always remember that the ultimate goal is that your students are making meaningful learning experiences. If it isn’t working out for you or your students – that’s fine. You should never support a method that you know does not work for your students or the desired learning outcome.

Here are some basic steps you can follow to play around with gamification in your classroom this coming school year:

Step 1. Identify what learning goals your students will achieve.

This can either be skills specific to your content area or even social and behavioral skills. Make sure that your goal is specific and measurable.

Example: In the middle school language arts classroom, a goal could be that students will be able to successfully identify three personality (character) traits of a given character.

Step 2. Define the essential question that these learning goals will be answering.

There should be some big idea that you want to get across to your students. Often, teachers use essential questions to guide these big ideas. All of your learning goals should lead up to an understanding of this big idea.

Example: The big idea for the pervious example could be What can we learn from the characters or stories that we read? or Why is it important to analyze the literature we read?

Step 3. Plan out your game board.

This is probably the most difficult part of gamification. In order to plan out your game board, you will need to first ask yourself how much of your classroom flow will be “gamification”. It would take a lot of work to fully integrate gamification to every aspect of your class, and I would not recommend it for your first trial year. Instead, choose two to three days a week to implement gamification or one or two aspects of every lesson. That way, it is manageable and the students begin to understand the policies and procedures that go along with your personal style of gamification. Your game board should be basically a unit plan that integrates how you will gamify certain elements of that unit plan.

Example: See example for step 4.

Step 4. Design gamified learning activities.

Once you have set up your game board, you need to design the learning activities that you have mapped out. If you have two learning activities every week, you need to plan those activities out appropriately and make sure you have the appropriate materials ready.

Example: For a three-week unit on literary analysis, my game board might look something like this. Week one: students will be learning about different character traits and practicing identifying character traits in various short stories and in video clips. One gamified learning activity could be a presentation of movie clips. In groups, students will have to write down three character traits for the given character on a personal whiteboard and present their answer after a specified time-limit. The groups that earn a certain amount of points in this activity, will earn a badge or trophy to show off their accomplishment.  Later that week, students might receive a “challenge” learning activity (a.k.a. assessment), such as a short story they have never seen before. Students will be asked to read the story and point out one character trait along with evidence to prove their answer. Students who successfully complete the challenge will receive a point that could help them to move up to the next “level”. Students who do not successfully complete the challenge can receive extra help and try again during recess or as an additional homework assignment in order to earn the points.

Step 5. Create teams.

One great outcome of gamifying the classroom is that students learn to collaborate and work together in teams. Many video games foster the idea of helping out other players or working together to accomplish a quest or mission. Teams can be created a variety of ways: by ability level, by varying ability level, randomly, or student-choice. Teams should stay together for as long as possible in order to build trust and unity. Daily do-nows could involve team-related activities such as “make a team flag” or “solve this problem as a team”. Teams can also be utilized for various purposes either to amp up competition within the classroom or to help struggling students and to challenge advanced students.

Example: If a group of students struggled with the challenge in the last example, I could create groups based on their performance on the challenge activity. I could give each group a modified task to either give them more practice or to improve on a different area of writing that was not covered in class as an additional challenge.

Step 6. Introduce students to procedures/policies/groups and let the games begin!

It may be wise to take a week to set up gaming protocols and let students get familiar with how learning activities are run in game-mode or what all of the lingo means (badges, points, leveling up, etc). Using an online tool such as Edmodo – which already has badges built-in – can also be a great way to keep students motivated and up-to-date from home.  See what works for you!

If you are interested in learning more about gamification, visit this helpful sites and blogs:

http://www.gamification.co/getting-started/

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/gamifying-student-engagement-matthew-farber

http://www.knewton.com/gamification-education/

http://www.edudemic.com/2013/05/25-things-teachers-should-know-about-gamification/

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