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.


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.

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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.

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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:

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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.


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.

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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.




planning the badges

We finally were in a place and time where we could start considering what gamification was going to look like in our classrooms. I had a difficult time wrapping my head around it…no matter how many articles I read, how many videos I watched (oh how I love you, TED), it was an abstract idea. Until last Wednesday.

Dave and I wanted to start small. Last thing we wanted was for the entire venture to go pear-shaped because we bit off more than we could chew. We brainstormed a few questions. When do we want to start? October 7th. Check. What did we want to gamify? Math and Science TLCP. Check. How are we going to award badges? Well, that was the abstract idea that I had to get down on paper to understand. Yes, I’m a visual learner ;).

What seemed to make the most sense was using the Success Criteria (shown below, from Growing Success document, Ontario Ministry of Education) from our TLCP to inform our badge distribution.

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Since we use the Success Criteria to make up a rubric/checklist for summative assessment, it seemed to make sense to use it to award badges. As we award badges for achieving one criterion, we could easily use it to formatively assess how students were doing in the task. That is, if students aren’t getting badges, we know they are struggling and need support.

So, Dave and I created the Success Criteria for our TLCP, then put them into four levels: level 1–early stages of success, level 2–approaching grade level standards, level 3–grade level standards, level 4–above grade level standards. Slapped on some spiffy names, and bob’s your uncle.

What we are considering is these levels will be displayed as anchor charts, in conjunction with Success Criteria, so students will be able to self-assess; to determine where they are on the spectrum of success.

Conclusion: I think we can easily incorporate badges into our daily teaching. The only addition to our workload is laying out the badge distribution (which is based on the Success Criteria). Considering how much I think the badge layout is going to assist students in being more successful, it’s a small price to pay.

Next step: Creating the badges! This is going to be fun ;).



extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards

Many teachers create a rewards-based classroom management system to help curb undesirable behaviour. I’ve used one myself after one of our Board’s “behaviour teams” came to my classroom to observe an unruly student. They suggested a ticket system, where students were given a ticket when they demonstrated a particular positive behaviour. Once a week, they could purchase things from a treasure box, cheap dollar store items usually.

The key was that I had to specifically identify that behaviour so the rest of the students could hear. The hopeful outcome was that all students would want a ticket or want the praise,  so they would demonstrate the behaviour. At the start, all the students enjoyed the tickets and the praise, and in fact, demonstrated the desired behaviour. Within a few weeks though, many lost interest, desire or motivation (or all three). The praise was given out so often, it lost meaning. And, if I didn’t acknowledge certain students constantly, they felt no reward for their behaviour. For me, it took a lot of time and energy that could have been used more productively.

It’s true that some students respond to extrinsic rewards like this, but most do not. They often quickly become bored and disengaged. I’m sure that many of you could tell similar stories about extrinsic reward systems and their lack of efficacy. As educators, we all want our students to feel good about their learning, to be intrinsically engaged and motivated. How do we create that?

I struggle with whether or not a badging system is extrinsic or intrinsic. Isn’t a badge or experience points just like a ticket? If so, aren’t my students going to get bored with gamification of the classroom, just like they get bored with the tickets?  Does gamification create intrinsic feelings of success?

I’ve begun reading Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal, as suggested by fellow hummingbird and speaker extraordinaire, Michelle Cordy. By the way, she posts a thought-provoking and exciting blog here. I’m only two chapters in and I’m beginning to see how games can evoke intrinsic feelings. One only has to read the chapter entitled “The Rise of the Happiness Engineers” to understand that McGonigal wholeheartedly believes games make us much happier than reality does.

I’m not yet a convert, but I am starting to see the flip side here. There is so much more to gamification than just points, badges, etc. I’ll have to explore that and what it looks like in the classroom. Until then, I’m diving back into this book….a great summer read!



badges, levels, points and quests, I don’t know which is the best

Met with Jared Bennett, 21st Century Fluencies Consultant, so I could get some background information and training on the achievements that we’ll be using in gamification. Here is a quick synopsis of my learning (believe me, there was a lot, and next time I’ll take notes while Jared is talking because I am sure I missed stuff):

1. We’ll be using Badges OS to create and share online achievements such as badges, quests, levels and points. It’s supported by WordPress and Credly so that achievements can be displayed on WordPress and Credly pages. The hope is that the badge displays will stay attached to the student forever, if they wish: displaying badges on their HWDSB Commons page, accruing until they are 13, at which time they can legally create a Credly account where they can display all achievements for as long as they want.

2. The achievements are created using the Badges OS badge designer. It’s quite user friendly, even for newbies like me. I’m actually having fun, enjoying my rarely-explored creative side. There’s lots of choice, so I’ll be able to create eye-catching incentives that the students will hopefully like. Templates are created so each badge type will look individual. This means my Tribes badges will have one colour/style, my Ecology badges another, and so on.

3. I can, and will, have non-curriculum badges that relate to best practice. Achievements based around digital citizenship, giving good feedback/acting on good feedback, effective collaboration, etc. will be of critical importance. I’ll also be having non-academic foci such as Tribes/Character badges and Environmental (my passion!) badges. I’m hoping that this “levels out the playing field” in that, even for those that aren’t academically strong can still be high badge achievers.

4. ELLs and those on IEPs will have the same set of badges but will be given based on their individual academic expectations.

5. There will many levels in each section or unit. Achieve a certain number of initial badges, you will achieve the next level (quests).  Achieve a certain number of mid-level badges, you move to the next level. Each TLCP unit will have these levels

6. Each badge earns points. Earn enough points to achieve more badges (the “level-up”badge?).

7. Possibly have “the ultimate badge” for achieving all badges in a unit. My struggle with this is, how can I give feedback on improving when they’ve achieved the highest badge? Hmm….

8. Students can nominate each other for badges. I can set criteria for achievement as well. Awards can happen automatically or when I give them.

9. The possibilities are endless. I can gamify any and all aspects of school life. Joining clubs, mentoring, anything. But, do I WANT to do that. Is gamifying entire school life the best thing for my students?

This entire project will take me out of my comfort zone and this meeting with Jared has certainly got me thinking. I’m very much a believer in intrinsic motivation. Gamification seems to fly in the face of my beliefs. That’s part of the reason why I’m so excited/anxious. But this, my dear friends, is a topic for another day :).


the journey begins

Last fall I attended the ECOO12 Conference in Toronto. I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge not only in the session leaders but in the participants as well. I was excited to be there and the vibe was incredible. High interest leads to high engagement in adults too!

One session in particular caught my eye: Gaming in the Classroom, by Oren Grebler. The thought of engaging students with fun activities sounded appealing, a no-brainer really. What kid doesn’t like games? The session was great, and when I came out of there I knew I wanted to try this and take it even further.

Shortly after, I ran into Jared Bennett, one of our tech gurus (in grown-up terms, 21st Century Fluencies Consultant) at HWDSB, who suggested that, along with game-based learning, I might consider gamification in the classroom as well. I’ll be honest, I had no clue what he was talking about.

Returning to school, I spoke with my administrators, Joanne McIntosh and Stephen Yull, who suggested I pursue an application to the TLLP. Dave and Derek joined in and the rest, folks, is history.


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