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?


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!


finding the right fit

I have been looking over the apps and games available for the Conservation of Energy unit for grade 5 and I have come to the conclusion that when using games or simulations there is a lot of   flexibility required to find that just right fit. I can check the expectations both in Science and in Language and then check whatever resource I am considering and most times I can find something that is appropriate to my learning goals. In most cases I need a combination of resources to be satisfied that I have put together the best opportunity for my students to be successful. I can’t speak for all teachers but I have found that if I want to use something then I can rationalize, bend, convert, adjust and modify it to be able to use it. Sometimes the irrational part of me really wants to use something and I have to be a little creative in my approach. It’s like getting a pair of shoes you want but the only size left is a little tight but you really like them and you persist in wiggling around and trying to convince yourself that the pain you feel in your toes really is quite bearable. Afterwards when you have bought them and taken them home you realize you have to return the shoes because they just won’t work. The point is, I need to be constantly aware of the need to be objective when selecting resources to use.

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.


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.


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!



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