Posts by Adele

stanfield: 2.0

Now that our TLLP project is finished, the big question is this: what have I learned and how do I apply it to my next year of teaching.

First, my learning. For the most part, I see games as engaging for students. Most of the kids really enjoyed playing the educational games that we chose. They were excited and some even played the games at home. It’s always easy to give game-playing as homework :).

We used games at various parts in our teaching. Some games worked really well as inquiry provocations; to get the creative and critical juices flowing, to instigate good wondering. Other games took the place of direct instruction, giving students the basic knowledge needed to further their inquiry. Other games gave students the opportunity to practice skills.  We used games in various subjects: Science, Social Studies, Health, Math and the Arts.

So, with all of this learning, what does my classroom look like this year? Well, pretty much the same, but better. Stanfield 2.0.  I’ve taken the good parts of last year, the games I know work well (and NOT the games that were disappointing) and fit them in to our inquiry-based learning model. And, we are trying out new games! Minecraft Pocket will be making an appearance or two (or three, or four….) and lots more. Keep an eye on this blog for posts and game reviews :).

I wholly believe that games are an integral part of learning. They engage students to obtain background knowledge and further their understanding of important concepts. If they can acquire information while having fun, they become more invested in the topic and are more open to taking risks and furthering their learning through asking deep questions.

Would you rather sit and listen to a teacher talk for half an hour, or would you rather learn that same information through playing a game?


a new year, another attempt at gamification

Last year, I attempted gamification of my classroom on several occasions (see earlier posts). Most of my students didn’t buy in, and I was on the fence on whether it was intrinsic or extrinsic reward, but I’m not one to give up, so I’m trying again this year.

I have a new teaching partner, Jennifer McKenzie, who is open to gamifying our classes, and we started today! A little background information: our Board, HWDSB, is in the midst of the Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, and our schools are infusing technology to support the collaborative inquiry model of learning, to engage and to prepare them for their digital future. In a few weeks, each of our students will be issued an iPad mini that they will be responsible for. A big job for our little guys, but I think they can handle it. Jen and I considered how to ensure that our students will be ready and we came up with a list of how they could show responsibility, caring and independence.

We took our list and turned them into tasks, then took the tasks and turned them into a quest. Once students complete the quest, they become masters and we would know that they have the skills to be responsible for their ipads and any other technology that they would be using through the year.

Each task involves experience points; after achieving 1000 points, they level up. Our goal is that, by the time the iPads are issued, all our students will have completed 7 levels, mastering the necessary skills and feeling good about their accomplishments.

This I know: these grade fives are all gamers and they are all enthusiastic about earning XP, levelling up and being at the top of the leaderboard.  Last year, that was not the case. I have a feeling this will be a more successful year in gamification.

finally…..real game-based learning

Dave’s right…..having students blog about their learning was really effective. Real time documentation of their learning seemed to be much more realistic and doable for them–they didn’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what to write; as soon as they learned something about energy, they blogged what they learned. Simple, not overwhelming to those who don’t like to write.

But there is so much more to tell you about this unit…..

Here Dave shared what we did in our Conservation of Energy unit. It’s worth a look if you teach about renewable/non-renewable energies. The game we used, Electrocity, is a free web-based game that allows students to be mayors of their own cities. Their goal is, like any real mayor, to grow the city and keep the residents happy. Students must ensure citizens have enough electricity by building energy plants. There are many choices: hydroelectric dams, geothermal plants, coal mines, etc. How to decide? It’s built right into the game! Pros and cons are posted within each choice, allowing students to make informed decisions and learn more about each form of energy.

Next steps were having students develop inquiry questions based on whatever energy sources sparked their interest.  Then, they went down their own learning path. Finally, they shared their learning with the rest of the class.

Feedback was that students enjoyed it. They didn’t feel like they were being forced to learn and they liked that the learning was built right into the game. They cheered when it was Electrocity time….how’s that for engagement!

I will definitely use Electrocity again next year.



finding the right fit…part 2

I’ve been blogging quite a bit about my struggles with gamification in my classroom, but that is only half of our TLLP project. The other part is using game-based learning to deliver curriculum.

GBL is a fun way to up the engagement factor in a classroom, but is that enough to justify its use? At the beginning of this journey, I might have said yes because having the opportunity to play games was motivating for my students. If they were learning while playing, then all the better. It’s kind of like sneaking in the learning while they’re distracted by gaming.

Now that we’ve been using GBL in the classroom for 6 months and I’ve immersed myself in research for even longer, I no longer think engagement is enough to justify gaming in the classroom. The “fun factor” is short-lived as the novelty of iPads and apps wears off and I feel like sometimes we don’t get the biggest bang for our pedagogical buck with the games we have chosen. I still see the value of game-based learning, but I’m seeing that the way we’ve been applying it just isn’t enough.

We’ve been creating TLCPs and then trying to fit games into them. That’s been tough. Ontario curriculum is often different from its US counterpart, and many educational games are based on US content. And sometimes–many times–we can’t find games that explicitly teach Ontario curriculum.  So this time around, we found the game first and then planned our TLCP around it. Instead of the game teaching curriculum, we are using the game to explore curriculum. Simple, minute difference with big results.

I see educational games like this:

1. rote learning games–These games use repetition of skills to improve fluency. They might be for math or for learning the alphabet. If you took the educational piece out of it, there wouldn’t be much left. 12. deeper games –These games are stand-alones; that is, without the educational aspect of it, it would still be a great game. Users need to think critically, problem-solve and make decisions that will affect the outcome.  The game can apply to different pieces of the curriculum.


Early in this project, we used all #1 apps. Now we are making a shift to #2. And it feels right. I still see a place for some #1 games (math fact fluency, practicing writing the alphabet for those with fine motor issues, Daily 5 Word Work), but for deep learning, #2 games are the way to go!


gamification continues

About a month ago, I blogged about the latest in my gamification journey. After being uncomfortable with attaching public badges to academic achievement, I went another route: make quests based on acquisition of technology competencies. These skills are important to students, so motivating them to develop and refine these skills is worthy and important. With that, I felt better.

After I constructed the quests and badges, I reintroduced the idea to our students. Working through quests is voluntary, so the reaction was mixed, as expected. Some are going to be into it, others not so much. I gave them a period to navigate the quest page and start earning. By the end of the period, my class had earned 84 badges! Now, many of them had already acquired said skills and only had to send me a message proving they had completed the step, but still, the motivation for mastery was there. I would say that 2/3 of my students decided to earn badges that day. An added bonus was that some students spent time constructing their own quests for apps/programs that they had already mastered. I quickly added them to our quest page.

Gamification is meant to motivate and engage, and this seemed to be accomplished. I was pleased. So where am I at now?

A few things are cause for reflection:

1. There have not been many opportunities for my students to share their expertise with others, that is, use their special powers. It’s unfortunate that there hasn’t been much interest from others at our school in having grade 5 students show them how to use the apps. I’m sure it has caused some decrease in engagement.

2. I haven’t been giving time for students to work through the quests. We have been using many of the apps in our quests, so I know our students could be earning badges, but I haven’t given them the opportunity to do so. Should I give them 15 minutes every week to work through quests? Should I be incorporating it more naturally by giving a few minutes after we use  the app so students can record that they’ve completed a step?

3. I wonder if my lack of enthusiasm shows through. I was really excited when I revealed the new quest layout, and many students responded positively. But since I’ve been really thinking critically about gamification, maybe my feelings are affecting the students’ motivation. If I’m not regularly giving students time to earn badges, what am I saying about the importance of doing so? I know that in other cases, my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for a certain topic can affect my students’ enthusiasm. Is this happening now with our gamification project?

I’m not giving up. I’ll set a goal to give some time for quests and see what the response is, then reflect and move forward. I’ll keep you posted.


sharing the passion

Yesterday I was at Nipissing University (Brantford Campus) to present to teacher candidates who will be graduating in April. A great little setup there: a bunch of classroom teachers doing something different in their classrooms, sharing with the future of our profession. I felt fortunate to be a part of it.

I chose to present on both game-based learning and gamification. I know that these ideas can be considered outside-of-the-box, not your typical teaching strategies. And I know that these new teachers are trying to become comfortable with just getting through a teaching day, never mind asking them to consider trying something innovative. They are not at the point of taking risks in their profession, they are conservative and safe. I remember being there, treading water, not even thinking about rocking the boat.

So I went in with low expectations, not looking to convert anyone, but certainly hoping to plant some seeds of interest. The end result? Well, several audience members asked thoughtful and relevant questions about iPad configuration, purchasing apps and equity in technology. A few came up to me afterwards to ask about assessment and using games as reward for finishing early.  Many were having fun playing the games on the iPads I had distributed (immerse them in the idea and they might think further about it’s application!).

And I had one teacher candidate who got it. She approached me after the presentation and was excited. She wished she had this when she was in school because there were math concepts she struggled with, and she thought that having more practice using games for engagement would have helped her tremendously. She said she would be contacting me in the future to learn more.

Does that make a successful presentation? You bet! I was thrilled to be able to affect others, for them to now at least consider that games and gamification can be useful in the classroom.

Here is the link to my Prezi.


badges worth achieving?

The gamification piece has definitely been a huge psychological struggle, as detailed in other blog posts. Part of being a good teacher is not only doing what is best for one’s students, but also doing what is in the best interest of said teacher. Even if giving out badges based on marks was good for my students (and that’s a big IF), it’s never going to work if I’m not comfortable with it.

In my last post about gamification, I briefly explained that achievements would be earned via students becoming experts using certain apps. I’ve now got it all organized and ready to introduce to the students, so let me show you what we’ve come up with. (If you’d like to see the students’ blogging area, and where the badges are given, it’s here.)

Before I do that, let me say a few words about Fiero.


No, I don’t mean the cheesy sports car from the 80s. Fiero, according to Jane McGonigal, is an Italian word that doesn’t have an English counterpart. But the feeling and physical reaction is clear: it’s intense pride and satisfaction and usually looks like jumping up with hands over head. Hopefully you’ve felt it: it may be crossing the finish line, it might be getting the job you’ve wanted, it could be your Leaf team winning the Stanley Cup (a girl can dream, can’t she?). It’s a feeling like no other. It’s a feeling I want students to experience in my classroom. That’s what this whole badging/quest thing is about for me. Fiero is not like a certificate where someone else is giving you praise–extrinsic. Fiero is a motivator, because everyone wants to experience it. That’s why I continue to believe that true gamification is intrinsic.

Okay, now onto what I did today. I chose 5 apps/websites that we have showed the students (some of them have used them to create a presentation already). They are all creation/collaboration apps that students could use frequently.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 7.22.42 PM


They can choose to become Masters in whatever app they want. They can also choose to become a Master of nothing. It’s up to them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 7.51.16 PM

If they do choose one, they will enter into a quest, which is basically a number of tasks that, when complete, will have them earn a Master badge. Earn a Master badge and receive a special power:

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 7.55.12 PM


Students love to be in charge! They earn the power to be the teacher! Another motivator perhaps? I’ve chatted with other teachers and they would love to have some student “experts” help mentor others in using these apps.

Will this work with all students. Probably not. But does any teaching strategy? I do think it will be positive for some of our IEP students who are rarely “the best” at anything. How proud will they be!

Any thoughts?


P.S. The only other person at HWDSB that knows about gamification (that I know anyway) is Jared Bennett. He’s been a splendid resource and I know without him, I would have stopped pursuing it long ago. Thanks @mrjarbenne!


gamification ramification

Our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable.

I had this brilliant idea that, to make it easy on us, I would attach our badges to the success criteria. Students would have a clear idea of how to obtain the badges. And boy oh boy would they be motivated!! Students would be craving that next badge, and they’d know just how to get it.

I was wrong.

The students had no inclination to achieve those badges. They didn’t care. Sure, they appreciated having clear success criteria so they knew what the expectations were. And they did very well in that Human Body unit. But it had nothing to do with the spiffy gamification that had been put in place.

Not only did the students react indifferently, but it went against my grain. I don’t like external reward systems, and I am not sure if badging is an external reward, as I have blogged about previously. So, I went into this whole thing quite tentatively, but willing to take the risk to see if it was good for my students.

What I realized, near the end of the unit, was that giving badges relating to success criteria was like giving grades. Okay, not ideal, but so be it.  The upsetting thing was that I was going to make that public—the students’ badges would show up on our blog page. Yikes! The hard work that my entire class had done in being comfortable with trying our hardest, taking risks and doing our best was about to be thrown out the window with this public display of our grades. A fake sense of competition.

I scrapped it. I didn’t give out one single badge. And the students didn’t ask about it.

So yes, our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable. A complete failure.


But failure is what we hope for. Failure begets reflection. Reflection begets new approaches and trying again.

And so this is where I am. Trying again.

This time, I’m not going to connect badges to curriculum. Students can earn badges, as many as they choose, by becoming experts at using certain apps. 5 skills—5 badges—make them experts in that app, thereby finishing the quest and earning the Master badge. I’m hoping that the voluntary aspect of this helps create the intrinsic motivation. As a side benefit, I will have student experts at apps that I’m not sure how to use. Could this promote student leadership in the school?

Fingers crossed that this small, contained use of game mechanics will show some success so I can continue to reflect, make changes and try again.

second time around

So we are just starting our second unit within the game-based learning/gamification project. The topic is brand new to us in grade 5 land due to curriculum changes here in Ontario: First Nations and Early Explorers in Canada (pre-1713). Here are some neat things that are happening, and some others that I hope will happen soon.

1. Finding the game. We spent hours looking for games that might be suitable for this topic. Of course, it’s such a specific point in history, it was a difficult task. Then we shifted our thinking away from the certain era and instead thought about what we wanted our students to learn. We wanted them to understand what it was like to explore and settle in a new environment. This made it much easier and we found a few games that could connect. Then Greg found it: New World Colony. If you’ve ever played the board game Settlers of Catan, it’s quite similar (even down to the hexagonal tiles).

2. Success with the game. Having students play New World Colony was great for our students. The game was one of our provocations for the unit’s start. As the title alludes, students are settlers in a new land where they need to compile resources, build settlements and battle to gain more land and resources. Students began to grasp the idea that early explorers in Canada had little and had to work very hard.

3. Student reflections. At the end of our last gbl-based unit, we had students reflect via blogging how apps and games helped them learn about the topic. The reflections were poor, in that they felt the games didn’t help them at all. I was shocked: they were so engaged that they had to be learning something. Then it hit me: they had learned so much via inquiry throughout the unit that, looking back at the basic information obtained through the games, they felt they didn’t really learn a lot from them. So, in this unit, we got them to blog right after playing the game, before the inquiry begins. This is what we got. Much more reflective than before, and a great assessment piece for the schema that they are developing.

4. Gamification.  I’ve been reflecting a lot on game mechanics as opposed to awarding badges. I want this unit to look different. Have quests and achievements. Celebrate progress. Get the kids excited. Explore our platform  with the help of Jared Bennett. Continue to use Twitter and blogs to further my understanding of this. And being okay with this piece of the project being a work in progress.


great expectations

Good teachers have high, albeit attainable, expectations of their students. I do. Matter of fact, I have high expectations of everyone–my family, my colleagues, myself. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes, not so much. Go figure.

Confession: I thought we would jump into this project, being noobs at game-based learning and gamification, only having a rudimentary idea of what it was all going to look like. And I thought it was going to go perfectly. High–unattainable–expectations.

I don’t expect this of my students. I know they need background knowledge. I know they need time to explore. I know they need to make mistakes and things might need to go badly so they can reflect, learn, make changes, try again.

So, why didn’t I have the same expectations for myself and this project? I don’t know. But I have been disappointed in how things are going. Frustrated with the lack of high-quality games that connect to grade 5 curriculum. Bummed that the streamlining of badge distribution is just not working. Downhearted once I realized that my badge distribution layout I was once so excited about, isn’t true gamification.

And then I reflected.


Figuring out how to learn from my mistakes and move forward in a meaningful way. Taking stock of the good things that are happening in in the project. Allowing some pride in the achievements so far. Realizing that it’s a journey, and that good things take time.

Revising those high expectations into realistic expectations. It’s a struggle for me.


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