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gamification = gratification ?

I often think so, but does the gratification come at a price?  Some of the apps we have been using are engaging and motivating for our students but the gratification may come all too easy.  With a tap of the screen students can get the right answer or change their wrong answer accordingly, moving on to the next task without a second thought.  They are looking for instant points or a bell, buzzer, song, something to let them know they are doing a good job.  This can be a great motivational and engagement tool but are our students getting rewarded far too easy, with very little effort in some cases?  Should they have to work harder without the bells and buzzers, grind it out as they say to achieve, or have our students come to expect this instant gratification?  Some might say, “no harm in immediate positive feedback”, but could this be giving them a false sense of achievement?

Just some thoughts.


all i really need to know i learned from gaming

Isn’t the hardest part of writing choosing the topic?  This time it was a toss up between this topic and a comparison between winter weather in Southern Ontario and Iqaluit.  Assuming the gaming topic had more content, I chose to quest on (see what I did there.)

In a nod to Robert Fulghum’s  all i really need to know i learned in kindergarten I decided to take a few moments to share some of the things I’ve learned from gaming:

Passwords are like secret codes.

It’s ok to fail.

Nobody gained experience points at a mall.

There will always be another quest.

Don’t spend all your gold in one place.

Sometimes, you just have to run.

Ask a friend for help.

Accept new challenges.

Just pick a spell and play.

Be a healthy avatar.

Take a nap and start again.

Think first.


It’s just a game.

Full disclosure: my experience with gaming is the instructional gaming that my students are using in a K-8 school.  I don’t hide in the basement for days on end playing WOW.  My birds are not angry,  nor do they flap.

What lessons would you add?

Level up,





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.


square peg round hole

I have to say I am still finding that the TLLP on gamification and game based learning is expanding my knowledge and experience as a teacher and I appreciate that. Having said that, I have been thinking lately about the old expression about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Having been a teacher for over 25 years I have the perspective to see that teaching has seen a lot of changes over the years. It seems that we, as educators, go from one approach to another based on theories and findings of various people, (always based on numerous studies and papers) that tell us how children learn and how we should teach them. How many times have I seen thick binders be delivered to schools backed up by hours of inservice time and changes in curriculum only to see them replaced a few years later by something else. The old binders are forgotten and put away or discarded because all of our time is to be spent implementing the latest changes. I once heard a speaker say that we must change. That anyone who does not change is doing a disservice to the students. This brings me back to the square peg in the round hole analogy. Let’s think about some basic facts: children are not robots, they are human beings. Each child is an individual. Yes, all these theories and methods have their merit but if you just go back to basic teaching strategy and know your students, know their learning styles then you should be able to use any method to teach them. I believe gamification and game based learning is a great tool to use in the classroom, but it should not be the only one. If a student wants to use books, then let them. Yes, as society and technology changes books may become obsolete but let’s not forget that just because we are currently thinking that if a child doesn’t use a podcast, video, online source, electronic game or some other sort of tool that we are failing as educators. What happened to good old fashioned board games as an option? Some people get so involved in making sure they are “cutting edge” educators that they lose sight of the basics. Know your students and how they learn. Do whatever it takes to make them comfortable in their learning. We are educators not educaterers, catering to the intellectuals and, sometimes economically driven market, out there.  We need to keep the real purpose of our jobs in mind. This is just my opinion.

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.


when the “lone nut” meets the “what have you done for me latelys”

A thought-provoking part of my experience in the Gamification Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP) has been the opportunity to observe various leaders and followers in their response to ever-changing technology.  In my role as an IT teacher in a K-8 school, I’m able to observe everyone from those who want to be on the cutting edge (including my friends and colleagues Adele Stanfield,  David Bradbury and Greg Holohan) to those who are approaching technology like a passing fad; the Rubik’s cube or ICQ of this decade.  What’s even more interesting is to observe how the leaders accept the challenge of supporting these staff members.  Can the “lone nut” who created the most recent app or video game relate to the staff member who liked it best when they wrote their report cards by hand and enjoyed teaching the apple unit every fall; long before “THE Apple” was invented?  Is the individual who created the most successful  regional social media site really the best person to share their program with the staff member who is 3 years from retirement; “…and if I have another class next year like the one I do this year, I’ll be going sooner!”

My approach is to meet people where they are and support them in their progress, at their own pace.  I’ll admit, I’m not always the best at it but I can see why the “at your elbow” approach works better than trying to explain the benefits of Evernote to 15 people in a 45 minute session, at the end of the day.  After it’s determined we all need to bring a device, 2 don’t know how to create a password and 3 have forgotten their already.  Even if I did have a box of wine to share, it would be a challenging task.  We’ve all experienced the instructor who wants to share their excitement about a concept or a product who speaks over our head or the individual in a workshop suggested by an administrator and can’t see any purpose in another word-processing software program when there’s already so much paper in the school.

A memorable experience for me was with a group of educators who had to attend a technology workshop.  Arriving with expectations of leaving early, a great lunch and a day out of the building, the participants are faced with a trainer who thinks their topic is second only in importance to the invention of the computer.

I’m curious to know about your experiences.  Are you the lone nut (and would you admit it?)  Have you experienced the staff member who is just learning how to turn the computer on and can’t “deal” with the challenge of learning how to adjust the sound, in the same month.  How did you meet the challenge of supporting that person or how did they support you.

Level  Up,


P.S. No need to determine whether I’m writing about anyone in particular.  Most of the examples are fictional and meant to be light-hearted rather than critical.

starting up–musings of the past 2 weeks

It’s been two days short of a month since I last blogged. Thinking back to an initial post, I have not listened to one of my reflections: blog often because the memory ain’t what it used to be.

But I digress.

The exciting news is that we have started our first gamification/game-based learning unit on the human body. My last post described the layout of the badges, which I’m already rethinking. Yes, I would like students to earn badges for the academic achievements aligned with the curriculum. But I want the them to access more: easter eggs that students have no idea they can achieve, character badges such as showing improvement, showing innovation in publishing and giving effective feedback,  and badges  based on achievements within the apps/games they are playing. So much possibility! So little time to design them all!

The apps/games we are using are working out well for the most part. In science, we first introduced Tiny Bop’s Human Body which was the perfect app to begin the unit.


Engaged from the first seconds, students explored the interactive organ systems. Best part for our IEP students and ESL students: no text, nothing to read. This evened the playing field for everyone in that all students had the same entry point and all could independently explore the app. And boy, did they ever explore! After 20 minutes the students were begging for more! Even now, two weeks in, this is their favourite science app.

We are using a couple of other anatomy-type apps: Spongelab’s Build A Body app and Anatomy Browser.


We had to chat with the students about these two apps because they include the reproductive systems for men and women. We will eventually explore that system later in the year when we do our health unit on growth and development, but for now, we’re leaving it alone. Now,  these aren’t games, but they are engaging and interactive informational resources. They are used right now to evoke questions,  curiosity and inquiry for when they do their research project, much more true-to-life than any textbook could be. And we will be introducing the Human Defense app, a Pokemon-like game that teaches about the immune system, soon.


In math, we are focussing on adding and subtracting, with and without decimals. While this is mostly done through pencil and paper practice, we do allow the students time to practice fact fluency so that they can solve equations quickly. We have found several fun ones: Math vs. Zombies is exactly as it sounds; you have to transform the zombie into a person by solving math equations quickly.


Similarly, Sumdog is a game where you have to quickly answer the math equation to gain snowballs to hit down ice towers, akin to Angry Birds. Sumdog is web-based and completely free, and students have been playing at home so they can level up and gain XP (experience points).


3D Math Racing  is a great little app that has users in a truck rally where you have to solve math facts quickly to remain in the race. The equations are changeable (1’s all the way to 15s, easy/medium/hard levels) so everyone can participate.


The common thread in all these apps/websites is that speed is a factor. The faster the number problem is solved, the longer you get to stay in the game and the more points you earn.  Using these apps, we hope, will improve fact fluency and quick problem solving.

Further, as our year progresses, we will be using Prodigy more frequently.

 Screen shot 2013-10-27 at 7.44.21 PM

This is a wonderful, FREE, interactive math game that has participants battling mythical figures by answering math problems correctly. Teachers can align questions with grade level curriculum and the specific expectations of a math unit and they can analyze results of each student when they are finished playing the game. This can inform next instructional steps, and see where specific weaknesses lie. Also, it can be played for free at home as well. The motivation is there for many students to play this game on their own time, so they can earn virtual rewards, level up and gain XP. The single limit to us using Prodigy daily is that it is not yet tablet friendly, as it relies on Adobe Flash technology. In the near future, our hope is that Prodigy will issue a Flash-free website that can be used on our iPads.

If anyone has any other iPad apps or websites that might relate to what we are doing, please let us know. Our next foci are Early Civilizations/First Nations People, and Data Management & Multiplying/Dividing.




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